Dream Series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  There are three stories.  In Bustin’ Loose — Broken Dreams, Adam leaves  the shambles of his dream in Boston and takes an entirely different direction for his life in Colorado but doesn’t tell his family what he is doing. Meanwhile Joe has a romance.  In Dream CatcherAdam’s former fiancée creates trouble for him but the solution is one that no one ever anticipated.  In By Chance To Dream, a troublemaker, a gang, and babies on the way complicate life for the family.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  65,886


Bustin’ Loose – Broken Dreams

Chapter 1

Journal Entry: Friday, January 25, 1868

If my father could see me now, he would surely enjoy this or he might have pity on me and look on me with that sad and condescending look of his that says without words that he knew this was going to happen. After I told him I needed to leave to find my dream, to establish my own life, and to live in the east or in Europe, I find that it is all a shambles, and I wish more than anything that I was living on the Ponderosa at this moment. He warned me, I think, that I was chasing a dream that was nearly twenty years old. I had an idea of what I wanted to do when I was sixteen, and when I was thirty-four, I had not truly developed that idea much except to let the wanderlust eat away at my soul until it felt like it had to burst free of its bonds or die. So I left to make my own way in the world, find my dream, and build my fortune.

One thing that I am very good at doing is making money, but that is more of a problem than I ever thought it would be. I imagined that if I could develop that skill, it would open doors and make it possible for me to do things I dreamed of doing. Instead, it has tied me to people who drag me down and attempt to suck the life and joy out of everything that I do. In only four years, I have built a fortune with a firm that designs and builds structures, but it has entangled me in a morass of relationships that is worse than any den of Mojave diamondbacks could ever be. I find sleep elusive at night and peace of mind eludes me every day. There must be a solution to this dilemma, but I wish I knew what it could be for at the moment I have no idea of how to proceed. I have commitments, obligations, and responsibilities, and most of all, I have Lucille. I feel I cannot walk away from them, and yet those are the very things that make my days hell and my nights torment.

In this mess, I can’t blame Lucille. She is a fine woman and would I had met her under different circumstances and in another city, we might very well have a bright future together. She is intelligent, reads the same books I do, and loves so many of the same things I love, and of course her lovely features are what first made me notice her and strike up a conversation. She is goodness and light, but her father and his cronies are the very men I must escape. It is mainly because of her that I have not simply exploded in anger and gotten myself thrown out of every establishment and organization that has me tied here. After all she has done for me, I cannot treat her that way. It was through her influence that I got my first contract here. I remember the first day I was here and met her after being at the pastry shop where I had treated myself to a fine pastry thinking of it as a reward and a sign of a better life. How wrong I was.

*****

Journal Entry: Friday, April 4, 1868

Tonight, I shall be going to what is supposed to be my engagement party. It is all so logical and expected. Step by step into this morass I’ve gone with seeming ease never realizing that that taste of pastry with a fine lady on one beautiful winter’s day a few years ago would have led to this. I’m sure that Lucille’s father is engaged in illegal contract work with the city bosses and other criminal elements. By working with my firm, he has entangled me in those enterprises. Financially I am tied to him and to them, and emotionally, I am tied to his daughter and thus to him again. I am being strangled, and I see only one way out. I plan to employ it this evening before our engagement is formally announced. It will either be formally announced and I will be on my way to freeing myself from her father’s illicit business dealings or the engagement will be off and Lucille will toss me out of her house and her life. If she does so, her father will sever his business ties with me. Either way, I am free of that which I cannot tolerate. I will most likely be free of Lucille too because although she is a fine woman, her father will always be there. I cannot see her letting go of her ties to her family especially her father, and he is a tumor on society, a carbuncle of the worst sort. I cannot defeat him alone, and the forces who could are mostly allied with him. I fear the only moral recourse I truly have is to leave.

*****

Friday, April 4, 1868

Taking special care to dress, Adam double-checked everything that evening including his shaving to make sure there was nothing that anyone could think to criticize in his appearance. He wanted everyone who saw him to know that he had gone to the Mason home ready to announce his engagement to Lucille Mason as anticipated. If she threw him out, he wanted to walk out of there looking like a success and not a failure. He had a carriage waiting and went down early hoping that he might have ample time to talk with Lucille before too many guests arrived. When he arrived at the Mason house, he was glad to see that there was only one other carriage there ahead of him. His driver was able to get a spot near the front walk. If he had to leave in a hurry, at least he wouldn’t have to go far before climbing into the carriage and relative safety. He did worry about how Horace Mason would react after what he had planned. He hoped the surprise of it and the seeming innocence of it would be enough to mask his true intent long enough for him to clear out of the city one way or another. Despite his hopes, he felt the sweat on his neck as it slid down under the collar and down his neck. He wiped his brow before alighting from the carriage to walk with as light a step as he could manage up to the house greeting the servants as he always did with respect and a polite nod to each. Lucille always smiled indulgently at him when he did that not understanding at all why he did it. If they did marry, it was one of the things she needed to learn. Everyone deserved respect until they proved they didn’t.

When Adam was admitted to the house, he was shown into the library and told that Lucille would join him there soon. A half hour later, she did. Adam had a half hour to rehearse.

After the usual greetings, he began his prepared script and waited for her reaction.

“Lucille, I’ve been thinking quite a lot, and I’ve come to some decisions. I think Boston has become a much colder and dirtier city than I remember. I want to go some place where the air is cleaner and the opportunities are more abundant. I don’t want to be tied to what others have done. I want to make my own way. I have enough money that I can open a business anywhere.”

“Of course, darling, we can do that. Father was just saying a few days ago that we need to think of expanding out into other cities. There are many lovely places we could go. I like Newport, and then there are several beautiful towns developing in the country outside Boston where the air is clean, and we could have a large estate with horses. You would like that, wouldn’t you?”

“No, Lucille, I don’t mean here. I was thinking of perhaps Australia or even the Sandwich Islands. I want to see more of the world and create something from nothing that is all my doing.”

“Now, Adam, that is just ridiculous when we have so much here already. Why would we want to sink so low when we are the cream of society here?”

“Because I had nothing to do with building it. I want to build things, create things, and I’m not doing that here because I’m tied into working for firms that are well established already. Oh, I get plenty of work and lots of money, but that’s not the point.”

“Of course that’s the point. Father did all of that for you because I wanted him to do that.”

“You wanted him to do that?”

“Of course it was me. You don’t think that they would have given that much to you based only on your merits, do you? There are so many other firms in the city. He favored your firm because of me. I told him that I favored you so he favored you. It’s how things work in the world. Surely you knew that.”

“Yes, I do know that, but I would think he wanted me to do work for him because I do the best work of any firm in the city. I have to turn down work because I’m stuck with commitments to your father’s firms.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is true. I’ve wanted to do other projects, but I can’t because I’m stuck doing the work he contracts with his cronies for me to do. Oh, it pays very well, but I question the source of the money and have for some time. I’m afraid my wealth has been built on the backs of the taxpayers here. I can’t do anything about the system. It’s too entrenched, but I can leave it.” At that point, Adam knew he had said far too much. His heart and conscience had betrayed him, and he had told the truth. He had told many people in the past that he did not lie. Once more he had proven that to be the case. Even when it meant so much to obfuscate, the truth is what he said.

“You’ve decided that you think we should leave but never consulted me? Is that how you think a marriage should work. My father is a good man.”

“Lucille, in your heart, you know I’m right. If ever you face yourself in the mirror and tell yourself the truth, know that I love you, but I had to be true to myself first. I do wish you would think of the possibility of going with me. We could have a good life together. If you cannot consider that, then perhaps I should leave.”

“If you want to make me choose between you and my family, then I guess that may be the only choice.”

“Our engagement is broken then, I presume?”

“Our engagement is broken, and you can assume that you will not have any further business for your firm as of Monday morning. I’m sure my father will find a legal way to break every single contract you have. Oh, Adam, do you know what you’re doing?”

“I know, and it has been every bit as painful as you can imagine. Very well. Good evening then. I hope you find someone more to your liking.”

Reaching out, Lucille grabbed his arm. With tears in her eyes, she implored him. “Adam, I’m sorry for those things I said. I’m angry and hurt. I didn’t mean them. Please reconsider. I do love you. You are to ‘my liking’ and I would want you as my husband, but you have to be realistic. We can’t simply go wandering off into the world. We’ll have a family to consider and responsibilities.”

“It is those responsibilities to your father’s business that have me the most concerned.”

“But you would be marrying me not my father.”

“I’m afraid your father will only approve of a man without a conscience and a soul.”

Pulling free of her hand and turning away then, Adam walked out of the room as a vase crashed into the wall next to the door as he exited. He was glad at that point that her aim was so poor and had known that turning his back on her would infuriate her, but he regretted the noise because it drew everyone’s attention. He had not wanted to hurt her so much, but had expected the anger to erupt if things did not go well and they had not. That noise wasn’t going to allow him to make it to the carriage before word spread, and Horace’s goons might be on him before he could make a clean getaway. Holding a hand over the pocket pistol in his fancy coat, he thought there was a good chance he was going to have to use it.

It was close too, but he only had to brandish it as he climbed into his carriage. His bags were packed and stashed away, and his funds had been transferred to a bank in New York earlier that week as a precaution. He did feel some sympathy for his employees whom he was leaving in the lurch, but he had left each a bonus in what was now their final paycheck. It had been a precaution but the odds had favored the necessity of it. He guessed they were wondering about that but would probably understand when they found the firm closed and shuttered on Monday morning. News of his Friday night activity and his flight from the city would spread fast in the business community, and they would understand why all of it had happened. His hired carriage took him to where the carriage he owned waited for him. It was loaded with his things and some food. He planned to drive himself so that no one would know where he had gone. By Saturday, Horace Mason was going to have a very difficult time finding him and would likely give up before he found him. At least, he hoped that would be true.

*****

Journal Entry: Saturday, April 5, 1868

Last night, I thought it was the right thing to do. It is surprising what the morning light can do to your thoughts. When I went to talk with Lucille, there was that chance, and I wished she would take it, that she would come with me. We could still have that dream of a family and a life together loving each other and sharing joy. She would have given herself to me. There were times when we were so close to that happening that I had to say no because I still had this romantic notion that my wife would be mine on my wedding night. Another dream shattered like all the others. I wanted to create great buildings to leave to the future but ended up building rather ordinary buildings for contracts shoved my way by my future father-in-law. If that police inspector had not visited me four months ago questioning me about those projects and all but accusing me of bribery and kickbacks, I would probably still be doing the same. That opened my eyes to what I had blissfully been ignoring. It didn’t take that long once I examined the books and the contracts and realized the discrepancies between costs and contracted prices. For too long, I had ignored the more mundane accounting side of the business and concentrated on the part that I enjoyed. That had been a huge error in judgment. Of course, the biggest revelation had been when I had slipped into Horace’s office in his home while visiting Lucille. Her parents weren’t home and she needed some time to take care of personal needs. What I found was appalling and likely only the tip of that iceberg. I heard my father tell tales that when you saw a chunk of ice floating on the north Atlantic, you knew there was probably ten times that much hiding below the surface. Ships were wise to give such things a wide berth. I needed to give Horace a wide berth, but it was too late. I was already stuck and had to use force to free myself. I did, but in the process, I hurt a fine woman and broke my dreams into a million shards.

There will be no more thoughts of a loving wife and children in my own home. There will be no firm with my name on it as my reputation is now shattered as well. I sent all those records I had in a large crate to the inspector. My name will now be tied to corruption even if I was part of it without my knowledge. Without a reputation as a reputable architect, there will be no buildings either. All that I had sought to do is now lost. Sadly Lucille’s name also will be soiled. I’m sure she had no idea of what her father was doing. She thinks he is a legitimate businessman. It will shock her to find the truth. I hope it does not make her too bitter.

This morning, I sold the carriage as well as most of the possessions I had originally packed thinking to make a new home in the east somewhere. I know now that was an unrealistic plan. I have no other plan, but know that I have to go further west to have any chance at establishing a new life and perhaps creating some new dreams. I have no idea what those might be. I am lost and alone.

*****

Chapter 2

Journal Entry: July 5, 1868

Yesterday was Independence Day, but I do not feel free. I feel lost. Leaving the Ponderosa and my family wasn’t easy even though I had dreamed of doing so for many years, and logically I had worked out that it was the one option that made sense. My father was convinced more easily than my brothers, but there was some residual anger in all of them, I think. They had to feel that I was abandoning them. So now, it is unlikely I suppose that they would welcome me back. My father would, I daresay, but what place would I have there? I no longer would be his partner, if I ever was, and I could not tolerate being ordered about. Joe would quite possibly resent my reappearance as it seems he has asserted himself as the second-in-command and could see me as a potential rival. Hoss was hurt that I left and has made a good friend in Candy from what I gather in his letters. He has written that Candy is like a brother to him. Hoss probably doesn’t know how those words hurt me. Going back, I would be more the odd man out than I ever was. No, there’s no place for me there any more. I can’t go home again even if Pa said I would always be welcome to return. It wouldn’t work. Leaving Boston wasn’t easy but it was a relief to be free of it. Now though, I am more adrift than I have ever been. I have cut my ties to every mooring I ever had, and there’s no likely spot on the horizon that I can see as a safe harbor. I suppose I shall wander and wonder and find where my trail leads. It’s not a situation that is comfortable for me. I like to plan and be organized, but circumstances have thrust me into this with no place to call home, no plan, and few options unless I travel.

For a few months now, I have been living simply and traveling slowly from place to place spending time in interesting places and finding none that seem suitable to me. Tennessee would be wonderful if I was perhaps twenty years older and ready to use a rocking chair in the evenings and look out over a pastoral scene of horses in my paddocks. It was a nice respite, but my spirit chafed at the nature of it. Chicago was bustling and energetic yet reminded me too much of Boston with so much of the same system in place. The names are different but the men are the same. St. Louis seems trapped in the past and struggling with the needs of the future. It too has many of the same elements I fled in Boston. I think that I’ll travel to Denver. It’s younger and more vibrant. Perhaps I can find the spark I need there to light a fire. I still feel cold inside even after these months. I feel that I left my heart and soul buried in the rubble of my career and my failed relationship in Boston. I haven’t been able to revive either yet. I feel dead inside and find that nothing brings a smile to my face or joy to my heart. I still appreciate beauty in a logical way, but it doesn’t move me as it once did. I nod in recognition of it and then move on. I’ve seen people like me in the past, people who were dead but weren’t buried yet because the shell was still functioning even if the important parts had died.

*****

It was the next morning that Adam sealed his journal and packed it away. He had decided that he was getting too morose and self-centered in his writing. He no longer had an outlet to write to others because he had written a letter soon after leaving Boston telling his father that he had left there and ended his relationship with Lucille and thus the impending nuptials. He had said he planned to travel and extolled the virtues of cities such as Paris implying of course that he might visit there. He had no intention of doing so but wanted his father to believe he might so his father wouldn’t worry when he didn’t hear from him for a long time. He also would have no mailing address so his father would know he couldn’t write. The situation might cause some worry and Adam knew it was crass and selfish, but at the time, he simply wanted to go away and lick his wounds without anyone knowing how badly he had been injured by all that had happened. Now though he was not healing because he was letting the wounds fester by writing about the lingering pain in his journal. He decided to stop that and to try to look forward and not back. Knowing it wasn’t going to be easy, he accepted the challenge as he had so many already in his life.

After buying a ticket to ride the train to Denver, Adam stopped at a gun store to purchase a pistol rig. He had decided that the pocket pistol he carried wasn’t likely to be enough protection and thought that as he ventured into the western regions, he might revert to old habits and would want a reliable weight on his right hip. The owner of the shop looked a bit skeptical when he asked for what he wanted but when he buckled it on and drew a few times, the man nodded. Even rusty as he was, Adam clearly knew how to handle a pistol with ease and his draw was smooth and practiced. He bought some extra ammunition as well although at the time, he wasn’t sure why he did it. It was a premonition or what his brother Hoss would have called a gut feeling. He grabbed his bag and headed to the train station for his train was due to depart in two hours.

As Adam neared the platform of the railroad depot, he heard taunting of some men. They were making fun of a rather homely young man who obviously was unable to ignore their comments. His face was getting red and his temper was clearly near the breaking point. About the time Adam arrived, the young man exploded in anger challenging the men to a fight as he stood there with his hand poised above his pistol ready to have a gun fight right there next to the platform. A number of men had been there to watch but scattered then knowing how innocent bystanders were often shot in such a fight especially with such an inexperienced shooter as the young man appeared to be. The men who had been taunting him told him to back off because they didn’t want to kill him.

“So you’re afraid of me? You’re afraid to fight me?”

“Boy, that ain’t what we’re sayin’ cuz anyone of us could take you and will. We’re saying we was funnin’ with ya and never meant it to be so serious.”

“The things you was saying was serious from what I could tell.”

“Boy, ya gotta learn to take a little of that ’til you’re all growed up, and you ain’t ever gonna be that lessen ya back off now.”

“Then you’ll be calling me a coward too, I suppose. Well, I ain’t the coward here. You are. All three of you are yeller.”

“Boy, you back off now, or one of us is gonna hafta shoot ya.”

“No, coward.”

The one who had been talking moved forward then loosening the pistol in the holster in preparation for a draw. He began to move down the steps, and Adam could tell he had probably killed men before this day simply by how calmly he moved. Adam stepped up behind the young man and pulled the pistol from his holster.

“Hey, you had no right to do that.”

Putting a hand on the young man’s shoulder, Adam spun him around and out of the way. The man who had stepped down from the platform paused.

“This ain’t your fight, mister.”

Nodding, Adam looked at him and said nothing for a moment. “Nobody needs to die here today.” His voice was quiet but had that cold, hard quality that said he meant what he said and could back it up. Dressed like a city slicker, he gave the three men pause, but he pushed his coat back and held it with his left hand, which still held the young man’s pistol. On his right side was a pistol rig hanging low and tied down like he knew how to use it.

“He a friend of yours?”

“Nope, just a young fool. I’ve seen too many of them die for no reason. I’ll try to talk some sense into him. If I can’t, maybe next time, somebody will kill him.”

“Got your work cut out for you with that one.”

“I know. Had to do some work with a younger brother like that. Gave me some practice.”

The man laughed then. “Guess we have that in common. Good luck to you, and thanks. I didn’t really want to kill him.”

“Didn’t figure you did. He pushed you to it.”

“He did.”

“Good day to you.” Turning then to the young man, Adam pointed down the platform.

“I don’t have to do what you say.”

Speaking in a whisper that was still powerful, Adam addressed the young man from inches away from his face. “I just saved your life. Every man within hearing distance knows it. If I have to, I’ll take you by the collar and the seat of the pants and drag you away from here so you don’t ruin the work I’ve done. Now do you want to walk on your own or have me help you?”

“I’ll walk but only because I want to go that way anyway.”

During the walk to the end of the platform, Adam said nothing and still said nothing as they reached the end, and he sat on a bench. He didn’t give the young man his pistol back though having stuck it in his belt. The young man glanced at him several times and away getting more curious with each minute until he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Figured you were the one who had something to say.”

“Like what?”

Once more, Adam was silent and sat staring out at the railyard saying nothing. Finally the young man had to speak again to break the silence.

“I suppose you think I ought to thank you.” Adam didn’t respond. “Why aren’t you saying anything? I said something to you.”

“It wasn’t a question and it wasn’t a thank you. There wasn’t anything for me to say. Still isn’t.”

“All right, then. Thank you.”

“There, now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? You’re welcome.”

“How come you get to talk so smart and I don’t?”

“I can back up what I say.”

The young man was going to object but stopped before he did knowing how foolish he was going to sound. He waited a moment before he did say something. “You think he woulda killed me?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know that?”

“He’s killed before, and you never shot at a man before. It wouldn’t have been an even fight. He was ready to shoot you. No matter how fast you are, you would have paused. He would have killed you.”

“How did you know all that?”

“I’m not nineteen any more.”

“Have you killed men?” When Adam didn’t answer, the young man frowned. “Is that a question I shouldn’t ask?” That got a slight nod. “What do I do the next time somebody gets on me like those men were doing?”

“Ignore them, play along, or do better than they do at it.”

“I could never ignore it. They were saying things that no man could ignore.”

“The stronger the man, the more he could ignore. If you let words get to you, you give power to the man saying them. By not letting the words get to you, you get stronger than they are. Restraint is power. It gets them upset instead of you.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“That’s a start. Thinking about things is what you need to do.”

“All right then, how do you play along with them?”

“What was the first thing he said to you?”

“He said it looked like my mama must have paired up with a boar to have something that looked like me.”

“Then you look him square in the eye, and say ‘No, she never knew your pappy, I’m sure of that’ or something like it. His friends would have busted out laughing, and he would have had to come up with something better or concede it to you.”

“What if he said something even worse to me?”

“If you couldn’t do better, you give him a thumbs up that he won.”

“That’s it.”

“Unless the men are drunk, that’ll do.”

“What if they’re drunk?”

“Then you could win the gun fight.”

“Oh. But they probably wouldn’t want to fight if they’re drunk.”

“Next lesson: you never know with a drunk so never assume anything.”

The train pulled in, people disembarked, and then people began climbing aboard. Adam handed the pistol to the young man, picked up his bag, and headed to the train. The young man followed him.

“Where you going, mister?”

“Denver.”

“Me too.”

For the next couple of days, Adam guessed he would have a hobby, teaching the young man some survival skills he sorely needed. He hoped enough would sink in that might actually mean the young man could reach his next birthday. It would feel good at least to do something useful. “My name’s Adam.”

“I’m Thomas, Thomas Carpenter. Most folks call me Tommy, but I prefer Tom.”

They found seats and once the train was underway, they started talking.

“Where are you from, Tom?” By the accent, Adam guessed he was going to say Tennessee and wasn’t disappointed. “Why are you leaving?”

“I want to go out west and be a cowboy. I’m tired of training horses for somebody else to ride. I want my own horse and I want to ride horses in my job.”

“You trained horses?”

“Since I was about ten years old, I’ve been working on a horse farm. I started by mucking out stables and grooming and taking care of the foals. As I got older, I helped the horses get used to a saddle. I was light so they weren’t as bothered by me as by a man on them. Then eventually I trained them to do whatever they wanted them to do. But every time I trained one, they’d take that one away and sell it just when I was really getting to like it, ya know. I’d go to horse shows and help pick out which horses to buy. I liked doing anything with horses.”

“Listen, when we’re in Denver, you’re going to show me how well you know horses by picking out one to buy. If you do it well enough, I’ll buy that horse for you and send both of you to Virginia City, Nevada.”

“Why would you do that?”

“There’s a ranch out there called the Ponderosa. If what you say is true, Joe Cartwright would hire you especially if you ride in on a horse that shows you know a great horse when you see one.”

“I mean it: why would you do that?”

“I have my reasons. You only have to keep my part in this secret if it happens. Deal?”

Pausing because it seemed too good to be true, Tom finally agreed. “Deal!”

“I’ll need to go to a bank in Denver to get some funds when we get there, and then we can go look at some horses. I don’t want you getting in any more trouble before I have a chance to send you off to Nevada.”

But Adam knew things don’t always work out the way you plan them, and this had been a spur of the moment kind of plan. For the rest of the trip, they mostly talked about horses although Adam did find that there was a lot of advice about living in the west that he was able to give the young man. He hoped he could remember enough of it to stay safe.

As they left the train in Denver, the three men who had given the young man a hard time got off too. They carried their saddles and gear and looked like they were headed out to look for work probably. Adam and Tom tipped their hats to the three. The one of the three who seemed to do the most talking offered Tom some advice.

“Boy, be careful not to walk in any shit out here and mess up them fancy new boots of yours and your pretty new clothes.”

“No, sir, I won’t. I’ll stay as far off to the side of you as I can, sir.”

Adam did his best not to smile as the two men with the loudmouth burst into laughter, and he stood with his mouth open for a while before looking at Adam.

“Ya done good with ‘im.” He turned his attention to Tom next. “Boy, you’re gonna be all right.” Then the three turned and walked off.

“It worked.”

Adam did smile then. It felt good to do something worthwhile for a change.

*****

Chapter 3

As Adam left the station with Tom, he didn’t ask directions but headed to the bank where he had sent money ahead in anticipation of spending some time in the city. As he walked with confidence toward his destination, Tom walked with him but couldn’t contain his curiosity.

“You’ve been here before, huh?” Adam didn’t answer thinking that answer was obvious. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d been here before?”

“Why would I need to tell you something like that?”

“I dunno. Just seems like you coulda told me.”

“I could have told you a lot of things. I told you what you needed to know. There were a lot of things far more important for you to know than my life history, and in fact, there is no reason whatsoever for me to tell you about my past.”

“But you asked me about mine.”

“I needed to know.”

“But I don’t need to know nothing about you?”

“That’s right.”

“It don’t seem right to me.”

“You haven’t thought about it yet.”

“How do you know I haven’t?” Adam said nothing, and Tom couldn’t argue with him because he was correct. Tom thought about what he had said as they walked to the bank. Adam said only one thing on that walk and that was to shift his bag from his right hand to his left. Tom was going to ask why, but thought better about the question thinking instead about why Adam had told him to do it. When they reached the bank that Adam wanted to enter, he paused and looked at Tom wondering if the young man was ready to say anything. Tom got the silent message.

“You told me to switch hands so my gun hand would be free in case I needed it. I suppose I should always keep that in mind, and it keeps my gun hand from getting too stiff or tired too. It don’t matter that much if my left hand is stiff and tired.” Adam waited to see if there was more. Tom shrugged a little and sheepishly admitted the rest. “And you asked about me ’cause you was thinking on getting me that horse and sending me to that ranch for a job.”

As they walked into the bank, Tom had another question. “Are you always so in control of yourself, you know, watching what you say and do and such?”

“I try to be because when I’m not, I make mistakes.” And right about then, Adam knew he had made one, but later couldn’t think of how he could have avoided it either. There were no telltale signs of what was happening until they passed through the vestibule and into the bank itself. Then he heard the distinct click of a pistol being cocked and saw the scared faces of the two bank tellers standing rigidly at their stations. A voice behind them froze them in place too.

“Now you two boys just stop right there and drop those bags and then your weapons so nobody gets hurt. We don’t want to shoot nobody now, do we, Roy?”

Next to the safe, a second man turned around with a pistol in his hand as another man, presumably the bank manager, filled a bag with money. “No, we certainly don’t, but we might have to now that you used my name.”

Both Adam and Tom had dropped their bags and moved to untie their holsters from their legs. Adam sensed as much as saw Tom stop that and straighten a bit, and he knew what the young man was going to do before he did it. Mentally he swore but had no choice but to do the same as Tom planned to do drawing his pistol and firing at the man by the safe. Then he swirled around and shot the man behind them who had the most shocked expression on his face as he fell. He had never thought that two men would draw on them when he and his partner already had their pistols out and cocked. That overconfidence had cost him his life. The one by the safe was still alive but badly wounded. Tom had his pistol out but hadn’t fired yet. He stared at Adam as if looking at a miracle that had occurred.

“You shot both of them.”

“I had to. You were going to draw on them and get us both killed otherwise.”

“But you hit both of them.”

“You’re lucky I’ve had a few months to practice with a little pistol I had. I was rusty and wouldn’t have been able to do it except for that.”

People were crowding into the bank by then including a marshal and various others. Those there in an official capacity quickly took charge and got the curious escorted back outside. The marshal stepped over to look at the dead man after talking to the bank manager and the two clerks and then approached Adam.

“They say you shot both of them and stopped the robbery.”

“I did.”

“Wells Fargo has been anxious to get these two apprehended although what you did was a bit more final than they expected. The one by the safe there isn’t going to make it either. He’s shot in the gut, and it’s not common for men with wounds like that to survive. There’s a bounty on each of these men. You can fill out the paperwork in my office. The money should be here within a short time.”

“I don’t need the money.”

“You earned it.”

“I don’t want any money for killing two men.”

Taking the measure of the man for only a moment longer, the marshal nodded. “My name’s Jim Warner. I’ve got a family and a house here in town. I’d be pleased to have you to dinner tonight and welcome you to Denver.”

“Marshals must be getting paid better than I remember.”

“Wells Fargo will send me a stipend for expenses for cleaning this one up for them. I’ll add dinner to the cost of burying these two. They won’t mind a bit especially as you won’t be taking the reward money.”

With a grin, Adam accepted and got directions to the man’s house. He said he and Tom had an errand to run and then he was getting a room, but Tom might be leaving by day’s end. Adam said he would explain at dinner and got a knowing look from the marshal who had been around and had some idea of what had happened in the bank after talking with the two tellers. He looked forward to hearing the story from the man dressed in black who had turned out to be the hero of this day’s events. After he left, Tom had another question.

“Why am I going to leave today already?”

“Tom, I’ve known you only a few days, and I’ve had to save you from getting killed twice. I don’t want to turn it into a full-time job.”

If he wasn’t so tanned by his previous occupation, Tom would probably have been blushing by the embarrassment that comment caused because he knew it was true. Adam simply slapped him on the shoulder and said he still needed to withdraw some funds so they could do what he had promised they were going to do. The tellers were more than happy to help him stumbling over each other to be the one to help him. With the money in his pocket, he headed out with Tom to see about buying a horse. He wanted it to be one that would impress Joe, and if Tom could pick one out, then he would be sending Joe two prizes. When they got to the stable, Adam had Tom tell the livery owner that he wanted to buy a good horse. Then Adam observed as Tom evaluated the horses the man brought out. He told the man that the first one was too old despite the man’s claim that it was a three-year-old and told him the second one couldn’t fully straighten his back legs so he would never run right. Frustrated with the poor quality of the horses he saw, he was ready to give up and leave when Adam intervened.

“You’ve wasted a lot of our time. If you don’t have a good horse to sell, tell us now so we can go to another stable. Otherwise bring out something worth buying.”

Knowing he had been bested by men who knew horses even if one was hardly more than a boy and the other one looked like a city slicker, the liveryman brought out three fine horses then. Tom walked among them checking them out. He looked over at Adam.

“The gelding has been used hard, but he’s a fine horse and maybe the best one here. He might have a problem though if anyone spurs him or comes at him hard. He’s been abused. The black has a lot of spirit, but he’s a head tosser and looks like the kind who won’t take commands easily until he accepts a rider as his master. He’ll be a one-man kind of horse. He’s likely to offer good stud service though and his get could improve stock in any string. The mare is sound and sturdy stuff with good spirit and she’s smart. She’ll take any kind of terrain or weather. She could produce some strong offspring too to improve a herd. Which one is likely going to help me most where I’m going?”

“You’ll probably do best with the mare as your horse. I’ll take the black. I’ll need a standard western saddle for the mare and basic tack.”

“What about the black?”

“I’ll be back with gear for him in a few days. I’ll pay for you to board him until I need him. How much for all of that?”

For a few minutes, Adam and the liveryman bargained the price until both were satisfied. Then Adam helped Tom get the saddle on the mare and they walked back to the train station where Adam bought passage for both to Virginia City telling him where he would need to change trains in order to get there. He told him how to make contact with the Ponderosa when he got there and reminded him not to mention his name.

“Well, they’re gonna want to know who sent me.”

“Tell them it’s an old friend of the family from years ago and you never did know much about him, but he knew about you and thought you and the Ponderosa would be a good match.”

There wasn’t much more to say about that so the two men loaded the mare on the train. With his experience in Tennessee, Tom had loaded horses into boxcars before and got his horse safely up the ramp without trouble. He seemed so happy that Adam had to smile to see him so. It was infectious, and he realized it was the first time he had truly smiled in over six months. He had not had any reason to be happy about anything enough to smile without reservation in that time. He had killed two men that day though and the realization of that made the smile fade.

“Somebody step on your grave or something?”

“What?”

“Well, you was smiling and then you got this look like you have sometimes like you’re going to a funeral ‘cept it looks like it could be your own.”

“Sorry, I was thinking of things.”

“The men you shot today.”

“I didn’t only shoot them. I killed them. It’s a heavy load to bear.”

“But they woulda killed us if they coulda.”

“Yes, but ending a life is still something no man should ever have to do. It happens all too often though.”

“At least you did it for the right reasons. They woulda done it for greed.”

“We’re all greedy. We were greedy for life. They wanted money.”

“Yeah, maybe, but we got a right to the one, and they didn’t have a right to the other. Makes all the difference that’s needed far as I can see.”

“Tom, you have a natural philosophy within you. You’re going to fit in well at the Ponderosa. Good luck to you.”

“Thanks, Adam. How can I ever repay you for what you done for me?”

“You’ve already paid me.”

“Huh?”

“You helped me find my way back to where I needed to be.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That’s all right. I tried an experiment of finding pleasure in good and fine things and satisfaction in doing work I wanted to do, but it was all smoke, there was nothing there. Without doing for others, there is no substance.”

“That sounds a little like something from Ecclesiastes that I remember the preacher talkin’ about once. It’s hard to remember. He liked to talk for two hours at a time, and by the time he finished I forgot usually everything he said except maybe for the beginning and the last part.”

“I remember having such a discussion with my father who didn’t appreciate my logic. If the minister wanted to have a greater impact, he should make one point, hammer it home, and then let everyone think about that instead of talking about so many things that people forget most of them. He has a different opinion of sermons than I do. But yes, that was loosely based on Ecclesiastes, which had advice I should have heeded. Mistakes are usually called experience. I’ve had lots of experience so far in my life.”

Tom wanted to argue with him but didn’t know enough to do that. Instead, he wisely remained silent causing Adam to have one of those hints of a smile that showed an inner amusement at events. He wished Tom well when he saw the conductor pulling in the steps indicating the train was about to pull out. The young man stepped up on the back of the car and waved as the train began to slowly roll away. Watching him go, Adam was a little envious of the young man in his innocence with so many opportunities and so many years to pursue them. He felt doors closing already and time starting to limit his options. He shook himself to rid himself of the negative energy and began the walk back to his hotel. He had decided to do more walking though he generally disliked the activity. All that time working in Boston had made him soft in comparison to what he needed to be if he was going to live in the west again. He pushed himself to walk a bit faster as he thought about that. Once back at the hotel, Adam stretched out on the bed for a short nap that turned into a long nap free of the bad dreams he had been having. Instead he dreamed of tall pines and blue skies and mountains that touched the sky. When he woke, he realized he was probably going to be late to dinner and rushed down the stairs at the hotel hailing a carriage and telling the driver to rush. He paid him well and walked up the walk to the modest home ready to apologize profusely for being late. Instead, he was hailed from behind by the marshal who apparently was running further behind schedule than he was.

“Hey, Adam, don’t get there before I do or I’ll be in even more hot water than I already am. I got tied up in another mess at the office. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you, but now we can go in together. She won’t be able to say too much to me with you there, and maybe by the time you leave, she’ll have forgiven me my tardiness.”

“Well, Jim, that seems fair enough as you will be saving me from having to excuse my late arrival as well.”

Once inside the house, Jim introduced Adam to Belinda who was suitably impressed by the dark handsome man with the impeccable manners and blushed at his compliments for her home and for her. She hadn’t heard so many flowery words since Jim had courted her five years earlier. When she went back to the kitchen to bring out the meal, she was smiling and seemed to walk with a lighter step. Jim looked over at Adam.

“Maybe I have a job for you if you’re interested. You could be my deputy and come home to dinner every time I’m late. That was real smooth.”

“She’s quite a pretty lady and very nice.”

“Don’t go getting any ideas. She’s taken. We got a young one upstairs sleeping by now and another on the way.”

“A lawman with a family: that seems unusual.”

“It’s not so unusual. Maybe you’ve been gone a while, but things are settling down. Most of the time, I’m working with banks on fraud cases or I’m working against banks who try to defraud. It’s rare that I get into violent situations. Bank robberies get a lot of notice but are really rather rare. Embezzlement or plain theft is more common a problem.”

Belinda came in with dinner and told them to stop talking business. She tried to get Adam to talk about himself during dinner, but Jim noted how deftly Adam evaded all of those queries and turned the attention back to Belinda, the children, Jim, or Denver. By the end of the meal when Belinda went to clean up, they knew little more about Adam than they knew when they had first met him.

“You’re quite good at evasion and distraction.”

“My father always said that too. Made him upset with me.”

“I could come right out and ask you questions, I suppose.”

“You could, and then I could ask you why you need to know anything about me.”

“And there you go again.”

“I think we already established that. Now, why don’t we talk about your job. What kind of work have you been doing or what kind of mess made you late today. Surely that’s not a taboo subject.”

“No, it’s not taboo, but Belinda isn’t going to like it at all. I have to go to Nevada and California. Seems that some banks have been colluding to defraud customers and foreclose on properties out there. I’ll have to head out there to try to help clean up the mess before too many more ranchers lose their ranches. Soon the banks are going to be the biggest landholders in Nevada by the way things are going. I can’t do anything about the ones who have already lost their property, but maybe I can stop the practice before any more get drawn into bad deals.”

Perking up at the mention of Nevada, Adam had a foreboding that grew with every word Jim spoke. He had warned his father for many years to break the Ponderosa in multiple legal entities for purposes of securing loans so he wouldn’t risk the whole when the loan was for a fraction of the total worth. He doubted that his father had taken his advice in his absence, and feared the possibility that his father had been caught in this banking scheme.

“Maybe I’ll go with you to Nevada. I haven’t been there in a long time. What city do you plan to go to first?”

“Carson City will be my first and probably only stop. Then I’ll head to Sacramento. I was serious about offering you a job too. I can tell you’re educated. I know you can handle yourself in a crisis. I could use a man like you by my side.”

“Sorry, but I don’t need a job. I don’t know what I want to do right now, but being a deputy marshal wasn’t on my list of possibilities.”

“That’s too bad, but I will welcome the company on the trip. I’m leaving on the morning train if you want to join me. I already have my fare paid. You might want to buy yours tonight yet to be sure you have a spot. The morning train fills up faster than the night train.”

After bidding Jim and Belinda a good evening, Adam headed to the livery stable to pay for a few weeks of boarding his black horse, went to the train station to buy his fare, and then to the hotel to tell them he was leaving the next morning, but he paid to have them hold most of his belongings in storage until he returned. He told them he guessed he would be back within a couple of weeks at most but perhaps in less for he thought it could take that long to find out what he needed to know and to do something about it if he had to do anything. Then he asked them to wake him if he wasn’t downstairs by six before he went to his room for another night of troubled sleep, but this time, he worried about his family and not himself.

*****

Chapter 4

In Nevada

Sitting at his desk with his brow furrowed, Ben Cartwright didn’t know what worried him more at the moment. He hadn’t heard from Adam in months and knew he wouldn’t likely hear from him in a long time. Worried about him for many reasons especially knowing how he could brood about things, Ben wished he had come home after all the trouble he had and after breaking his engagement to Lucille. Ben didn’t know all that had happened, but he had gotten hold of some newspaper accounts of investigations that had landed Lucille’s father in jail facing charges of bribery and fraud. Adam’s name had been mentioned prominently in those accounts and there were hints that his absence indicated some guilt on his part. Ben knew that could not be true, but he did wonder why Adam had left. He guessed that the scandal was why his engagement to Lucille had ended as well but wished he could be there to help Adam with facing yet another loss.

However Ben was worried too about what had happened recently to two of their neighbors. They had made loans against their ranches and those loans had been called. Unable to pay the loan, they had lost their ranches to foreclosure. Ben had a fifty thousand dollar loan outstanding for an expansion of their timber and lumber operation that had been necessary to meet some lucrative contract. Within six months, the ranch could easily produce enough income to pay that loan if called or he could secure other loans, but they were vulnerable at the moment. If that loan got called any time in the next few months, Ben didn’t know how it would be possible to pay the principal amount. He was going to have to admit to his sons what he had done, and that was going to be the hardest part. He had put the ranch, their heritage, at risk.

“What’s up, Pa? You wanted to talk to us?”

Hoss and Joe came in from working summoned by a ranch hand that Ben had sent to get them. Spreading out a few newspapers on the desk with the headlines about the called loans and the foreclosures, Ben wanted them to know the subject of the conversation right from the start.

“Sure, Pa, Hoss and I knew about those. Heck, everybody knows about them. It’s a different kind of bank robbery where the banks are robbing the customers, but what can we do about it?”

“Joe, it is that. But what I need to tell you is what I did. In order to get those big contracts, we had to do a lot of expanding of our operations.”

“Ya, Pa, we all said to go ahead and do it. Why is that a problem now?”

“Because I took a loan to do it.”

“But, Pa, in a couple of months, we’ll pay that loan off and have plenty to spare. Those are the best contracts we’ve had in years. With the timber going to the mines like usual, the cattle drive, the contract with the Army for horses, and those real good contracts with the railroads, we’ll do better than we ever done.”

“In months, yes, that’s probably true, but Hoss, what if they call the loan now?”

“Ah, they cain’t do that, can they?”

“I’m afraid that with the way things have been going, and with no laws to stop them, they can. It’s happened to others, and their ranches were far less attractive a prize than ours.”

“Pa, you’re really worried, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Joe, I am. I don’t see a way out of this.”

“Can’t we go get another loan from a different bank to pay off that first loan?”

“Joe, I wish we could, but I checked with our lawyer. Because I used the Ponderosa as collateral for the first loan, I can’t use it for another loan. I should have done what Adam told me to do years ago and split the ranch into parts for purposes of a loan. Now it’s too late. I gambled and lost.”

“Pa, they ain’t called it yet, have they?”

Ben pushed a note across the desk then. Joe opened it and read it before handing it to Hoss who read it out loud. It summoned Ben to the bank for a meeting the next day. Undoubtedly they were going to call the loan. The typical message was that they would have a week to come up with the money or forfeit the collateral. In this case, the bank would foreclose on the Ponderosa and there would be nothing they could do about it.

“Pa, what would we own if they took the ranch?”

“Technically, our personal property in the house, our horses, and the herds. I checked with our lawyer. The loan specifically refers to the ranch and describes the property but makes no mention of the animals. We could still take those and sell them. That would be it.”

“Dadburnit, it’s done then. We’re likely gonna lose it all?”

“Unless we can think of a way out of this mess, I’m afraid we could.”

“I wish Adam hadn’t run off. We could use his help about now.”

“Joe, that’s not fair. What could Adam do that we can’t do, and he has his own demons at the moment.”

“I suppose, but it would feel better if we were all together at least to face this.”

“He’d probably feel a heap better too ifn he was here with somebody to lean on a bit to help take some of the load.”

“He was good at leaning, wasn’t he?”

“Bet he still is.”

The light moment helped but only briefly as the three men thought about what they might do about the loan and could think of no solutions. In Carson City, Adam was dressed in his city slicker clothing and had a fine short full beard obscuring his features. He was finding out some information that led him to the same conclusions his father had reached. The difference was that he had a solution although it was complex and required him to use all of his resources. It wasn’t going to be easy to do, and he was going to have to walk a legal tightrope, but he knew it could be done. He owned shares in the bank that had his father’s loan. He went to a broker’s office and significantly increased that investment until he had enough shares to deserve a position on the board of directors of the bank. Then he went to the branch bank in Carson City and talked to the manager of the bank there telling him what he wanted. The man didn’t like it, and as soon as Adam left, he hurried to the telegraph office to send a message to the home bank. Adam went to the telegraph office after he left and for a hefty tip got the copy of the message that had been sent. He smiled for it was about what he suspected, but now he had the name of the man he needed to know. He sent a message to the same man, and took his name for Jim to use. Then he went to the offices of the railroad company and talked to the manager there who was in charge of construction projects. Within a few hours, he had made a deal there too for a hefty fee and a significant investment as well.

That evening, Adam met Jim for dinner. While Adam was relaxed and sported a slight smile, Jim was frustrated and angry having had no luck with any of the agencies or officials with whom he had met that day. Adam handed him the name of the bank official he had gotten.

“Who’s this?”

“The man who’s behind calling the loans.”

“How do you know this?”

“Probably best if I don’t tell you how I found out. He’ll likely be sending me a message though, and I can share it with you tomorrow.”

“You’re doing something devious. It’s not illegal, is it?”

“No, not quite, but shady enough that you shouldn’t be part of it. It’s not for me, but it will thwart their plans to take over a big ranch here.”

“The Ponderosa? I heard that they’ve targeted it. The people over at the capital expect it to happen soon.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“You seem rather sure of yourself.”

“I worked with bigger crooks than this in Boston. These men aren’t in the same league. At least, they aren’t yet. You do your job, and maybe they’ll never get there. I hope not. There’s not a city in the east that isn’t rife with corruption.”

“Is that why you came back home?”

Crooking one eyebrow at him, Adam said nothing.

“All right, I won’t say any more, but you grew that beard over the last two days and you’re keeping to the shadows as much as any man I’ve ever seen who didn’t want to be recognized. Your reasons are your own, but I would like to be your friend. Maybe someday, you can tell me why it’s all a big secret.”

No more was said about any of that. Jim spent a few more days in Carson City before heading to Sacramento and the other end of the ring. Adam spent those days in Carson City wrapping up his business, and he headed back to Denver when Jim headed out to California. Jim asked Adam to let Belinda know he was all right and that things were peaceful. Adam promised he would watch out for Belinda until Jim returned.

While Adam was working his scheme in Carson City, Ben rode into Virginia City with Hoss and Joe. They went to the bank like they were going to a funeral expecting to mourn their loss and not knowing what they could do about it. At the bank, they got a big surprise. The manager called them into his office where they met with the man from the home bank. They had expected as much but what he said shocked them.

“We were prepared to call your loan, but now that you have such a large balance in your account, there is no purpose to that action. If you would like to make a significant payment, that would be sufficient. You can otherwise make payments on the loan according to the agreement until the loan is paid.”

“I don’t understand. What large balance?”

The bank manager who had been a friend of the family for a long time was relieved to be able to tell Ben the news. “Don’t you know, Ben? The railroad paid the contracts to you in advance and in full. You have over thirty thousand dollars in your Ponderosa account.”

Speechless, Ben said nothing. He had never heard of the railroad doing such a thing. Joe had negotiated contracts since Adam had left and in his experience, nothing like that was ever done. He too had nothing to say. Hoss was exuberant though.

“Hot diggity! We ain’t gonna lose the ranch after all. Hey, Pa, you was all fired worried for nothing. Let’s pay them a bunch so we don’t hafta worry no more, and then we can go get us a big ole steak for lunch and celebrate.”

“We still have to meet those contracts, Hoss. Maybe we ought to head home to work instead.”

Except by then, Ben was grinning so widely that Hoss knew he was kidding him. Joe was grinning too. The only one not smiling was the man from the home bank. His plans had gone up in smoke and he knew his boss was very upset wondering how anyone had done this to them. There was a marshal on his way to Sacramento who had already requested a meeting with his boss. Things had gone sour very fast, and they were going to have to go back to legitimate banking at least until they could figure out a way around these new obstacles if they ever could. The bank had a new investor too, or rather an old investor who had bought up more shares so that now he was a major holder on par with the top owners. Everyone was wondering who he was and knew they had to watch their backs because this could be a government man or someone with ties to the government. It made all of them nervous, and nervous men wouldn’t be willing to break any laws. Adam would have been pleased to know how his investment alone was having a positive effect.

As Adam traveled back to Denver, he opened up his small business ledger and tallied up where he had put his funds and spent others. By the time he finished and looked at the bottom line, he whistled softly to himself. He had a small fortune when he left Boston and could likely have lived most of the rest of his life on it had he chosen to do so and lived reasonably frugally. However, now those funds were reduced to a level that required that he seek a source of income within a few months. He was still wealthy on paper, but those investments weren’t going to put money in his pocket for some time yet. He leaned back in the seat staring out the window at the scenery as the train rolled on its way to Denver. He looked at the land but didn’t see anything because his thoughts were directed inward. Once more he wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

On the Ponderosa, Joe met a young man who rode in a fine looking mare and asked for a job. His timing couldn’t have been better. Joe had an Army contract to meet and needed men to work with the horses to finish their training after they were broken to the saddle. A short time talking with Tom and seeing what he could do, and Joe was thrilled to have him there.

“What brought you all the way from Tennessee to the Ponderosa, Tom?”

“A man I met along the way said he was an old friend of your family and he said you might have a job for me.”

“What was the man’s name?”

“He didn’t say much about himself. Mostly he asked about me and talked about you and how you loved horses and seeing as how I love horses too, he said maybe you’d like me to work for you. It seemed like a good idea.”

“That horse you have there. I’d like to put her with one of my stallions if you wouldn’t mind and see what kind of foal we could get from her.”

“I’d like that too. I think she’d produce some fine horses. I’d like to see her offspring too.”

“Great! Once we get done with this contract, we’ve got a big cattle drive coming up. We’ll need help with the remuda. I think you’re the man for that job.”

“Great! What’s a remuda?”

Laughing then, Joe liked Tom’s enthusiasm and his honesty. He spent the next few weeks working with him and explaining how a ranch worked as well as what a cattle drive was and what the needs of the men were for horses. The first night out on the cattle drive, the men decided to test the new man a little. Candy was the first. He looked over at Tom with his homely looks. Tom saw him staring.

“Something wrong, Candy?”

“Nah, Tom, nothing that can be fixed. I reckon though that your mama must have eaten some really sour food before having you.”

Tom swallowed the food he had been chewing and calmly responded. “Nah, Candy, my mama never ate none of your mama’s cooking.”

Hoss started laughing so hard at that and the look on Candy’s face that he spit out the food he had in his mouth. That and what Tom had said got everyone laughing. Tom calmly ate the rest of his food and waited to see if there was going to be anything else said. When Hoss got control of himself again, he wiped his eyes and smiled at Candy and the others.

“Dang, if that didn’t sound just like something my brother Adam woulda said. He woulda said it just that quiet like too. Tom, that was a good one, a real good one.”

Nodding in agreement, Tom was thinking too. Hoss had surprised him when he mentioned that he had a brother named Adam. Tom had a strong suspicion he had met the man. He told the others he was going to check on the horses before turning in. One of the young men followed him to the rope line, and Joe went to check on Cochise who had seemed to be favoring one leg that day. He heard the two younger men talking.

“Tom, how’d you do that. I mean, how’d you not get mad at them picking on your mama like that. When they did it to me, I got mad and well, it didn’t go too well for me. Now you, you got them all to say what a good job ya done.”

“Man taught me that not too long ago. He said ifn I let a man’s words control me, then he has power over me. He said I was stronger ifn I could let the words go by and not let them hit me so hard. He said restraint is power. So I took a little time to think about what Candy said and just sent them words back at ‘im.”

“They told me I looked like a horse’s behind.”

Tom paused, frowned for a minute before grinning. “Well that’s better than looking like what comes outta one.”

The two young men laughed then and began trying out other lines. Joe finished checking on Cochise and walked back to camp deep in thought. Hoss noticed him looking very serious.

“Cochise all right?”

“Yeah, Cooch is fine. Say, Hoss, that new guy, Tom. He remind you of anyone?”

“No, nobody I can think of. Why?”

“I don’t know, but like you said when we were eating. What he said to Candy and how he said it sounded just like Adam. I just heard him telling Mike that ‘Restraint is power’ and I can’t remember how many times Adam told me that when he was trying to get me to think before talking.”

“Yeah, that does sound a little like Adam, but that’s only a couple of things.”

“Tom said an old friend of the family said he’d probably fit in real well here because he loved horses just like I did. Not that many people know that except for people around here.”

“That is kind of funny. It does kind of make ya wonder. You ask Tom about it?”

“I asked him the name of the old friend, and he said the man didn’t say much about himself. He never said anything about him at all.”

“That’s a lot like Adam too. Maybe sometime we can get Tom to have a beer or two and maybe he’ll talk to us about this old friend of the family.”

“Yeah, maybe. It could be interesting.”

*****

Chapter 5

When Adam got back to Denver, he made a trip to Jim’s house before he went to the hotel. He let Belinda know that Jim was fine and that he was in California doing some investigation mainly through talking with officials and looking through paperwork. That reassured her quite a bit. She invited Adam to stay for dinner and talk about his trip. He did and enjoyed the chance to spend some time in a normal setting away from any worries. Over the next week and several more dinners as he checked on her to make sure she was all right, he opened up a bit to her about what had happened in Boston without revealing any names and realized that he wanted to talk about it even though what had happened couldn’t be changed. He knew too that she would tell Jim anything he told her. Married couples were like that, but he trusted that neither would tell anyone else. However if he was in any legal jeopardy because of what had happened, Jim was going to be duty bound to do something about it. He had not yet told them his last name, but he knew that Jim had probably guessed who he was by this time. When Jim returned two weeks later, he tracked Adam down to talk to him. He found him living at a boarding house.

“You should go home. You never really left.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I figured out what you did, or mostly I figured it out. I’m not sure about the specifics, but I know the big picture of what you did.”

“And what is it that you think I did?”

“You don’t have to play coy with me. I have access to a lot of records. Two large deposits were made to the Ponderosa account shortly before their loan was going to be called. There was no point to it then because they could have paid it off. Another interesting development was that someone bought up all available shares in the bank that was going to call the loan. It has made the whole board of directors there scared and looking over their shoulders wondering who holds all those shares now and if it could be someone with government connections. The next meeting could be very interesting. The current chairman of the board is resigning due to health reasons apparently. Seems he has developed a case of nerves that won’t go away. Might you have something to do with that too and how is it that they don’t know who bought up all those shares?”

“I formed a company to make investments many years ago. I also used it when I did some engineering work and had payments made to me through that company. I checked. It’s still valid in Nevada. I used it to buy up those shares. They will have a heck of a time though finding the records as to who started up that company that many years ago if they even exist any more.”

“You’re rather sneaky.”

“I have a brother who said that about me.”

“And you haven’t really answered my main questions and offered any information I couldn’t have found out myself.”

“I didn’t do anything illegal.”

“Well I don’t know what you did, but you did make my job easier. There aren’t any loans being called. There’s too much attention now and the state legislatures have taken up the issue. By year’s end, there should be some safeguards in place.”

“Then all’s well that end’s well.”

“There was a warrant out for you.”

Startled, Adam had no response to that wondering what Jim would say next.

“It was a witness warrant for some big mess in Boston. It’s not valid any more. It’s been withdrawn. Seems they managed to prosecute the case without the key witness.”

“The key witness wouldn’t have survived being there to testify.”

“Marshals can protect witnesses.”

“Jim, you don’t know Boston.”

“You think you were in that much danger? You seem to be able to handle yourself pretty well.”

“No one can handle what they can’t see coming. I sent all the records I had to the authorities. If they wanted to prosecute, they had all the evidence they needed.”

“Then why did they put out a witness warrant for you?” Realization hit Jim almost as soon as he finished asking the question. “That level of corruption is almost too much to believe. They corrupted the marshals’ service there? They wanted us to find you to send you back so they could eliminate you.”

“Yes, eliminate me, then eliminate the evidence. Without me, they could claim the rest was a fraud. They may not have corrupted the marshals service. It could be that the marshals think they were doing a legal errand, but with all the others they have bought including judges and prosecutors, it would be difficult to be sure of anyone.”

“But you weren’t there and they could still claim it was a fraud.”

“I wrote a letter when I sent the records. I said if they weren’t used in court, I might contact the newspapers with the originals and let them do an expose on why the justice system in Boston was corrupt.”

“Clever, but you never had any originals, did you, so that was a lie?”

“I said ‘might’ and never specified what the originals were so it wasn’t actually a lie but an exaggeration from which they made assumptions. I could produce enough records to make a mess of things for them though. They probably know that.”

“Which you knew they would know. I’m kinda getting a better idea of how you worked things in Nevada. You got them chasing their own tails at the bank, but how did you get the railroad to advance the money for those contracts?”

“I invested that amount in their project which will pay off well eventually, I hope, and invested more in the railroad itself. I also greased the way with some well placed honorariums for help given.”

“You bribed people.”

“Not to do anything illegal. Everyone benefited. The railroad companies are in better shape, and the Ponderosa stays in the hands of the family that built it.”

“Like I said. You should go home. Your heart is still there.”

“I can’t. There’s no place for me there any more.”

“I think you’re too proud to go back. You don’t want to tell them what happened in Boston. I’m guessing there’s even more to it than I know.”

Looking a little sheepish then, Adam admitted he had talked with Belinda about some of what had happened including his failed relationship with Lucille and what worried him still. Jim only smiled softly on hearing that.

“Yeah, after she met you, she told me that she figured you had a sad story to tell. She said you had sad eyes. Look, you’ve lost your way a little bit. Families understand how that can happen. But do you actually think they would come after you all the way out here? That’s a long way to come for revenge.”

“It is, and the longer I go with no one coming after me, the more I can relax and think they’ll never come, but until then, I don’t want to bring that kind of trouble down on anyone.”

“So, what are you going to do next?”

“You offered me a job once, and I turned you down. As it turns out, I need a job now, but not as your deputy and not checking over bank records and studying paperwork.” Lifting his vest, Adam showed the marshal’s badge pinned to his shirt.

“So you aren’t going home yet?”

“I applied to the marshals’ service and they accepted me. For now, I’ll be working this region apprehending fugitives and providing security for railroads and any visiting dignitaries. I’m to assist you as needed.”

“And I guess when I get to the office, I’ll probably have a letter saying I’m to assist you as needed. You don’t know the territory around here so you’re going to need some help. I’ll introduce you to the men I’ve hired to guide me a few times.”

“Thank you. That will help. Oh, and Jim, as to your office, we’re supposed to share it, but don’t worry too much. I won’t take up much room.”

“With the jobs you have, you may not be there that much. The man who had that job last wasn’t in town much.”

“What happened to him?” Jim’s silence was answer enough. “I’ll be more careful than he was. What happened?”

“He got ambushed. Adam, one of the worst duties you’ll have is escorting a prisoner. Their partners and families often don’t like where they’re going and knowing that it’s only one or two of you taking him somewhere seems to make them bolder in what they’re willing to try. We do our best to keep our plans secret and often leave at night, but no matter how well we plan, sooner or later, we’re bound to make a mistake. It only takes one.”

“What mistake did he make?”

“We’ll never know. We found his body about a week after he was overdue to arrive here with a prisoner. There wasn’t much left of him, and no sign of what had happened other than he was shot. That’s about all we could tell. Bullet shattered a bone in his arm. He may have been shot more than once. Heck, he probably was. I hope he was. Hard to think of him dying alone and slow out there.”

“It can be a hard life.”

“It can be. It’s why I chose this part of it. I rarely ever have to use my weapon or even think about using it. Mostly I work with agents of the Treasury Department and work cases involving problems with the banks and sometimes with the railroads. About the toughest jobs I do there involve riding guard on valuable shipments or transfers of big sums of cash. You’ll probably be helping with those too.”

For the next couple of months, life was rather routine for Adam and Jim doing those jobs that Jim had outlined as the usual responsibilities of their employment. They rode trains guarding shipments of money printed at the mint in Denver. They guarded shipments of gold and silver going to the Treasury Department passing the responsibility over to other agents in St. Louis. Occasionally they were called upon to assist a Senator with security at an official function. A few times when Adam had no other duties, he helped Jim with his work. On his off duty time, Adam got to enjoy the plays and other entertainment offered in Denver. He usually attended such presentations alone as he resisted all of Belinda’s attempts at matchmaking.

Most of his days were spent working in the office with Jim when he wasn’t sent out on a job escorting a prisoner. He only had a couple of those and they were without incident. He also had a few rides on trains by himself watching for any suspicious behavior and never detected any. Most new assignment arrived by telegram. Therefore he wasn’t surprised to get one sending him to Cripple Creek to pick up a prisoner to escort to Denver for trial. It sounded very routine, but he hadn’t been to Cripple Creek yet.

“I’ve heard of it, of course, but where is it?”

“Hard to give directions to get there. Your best bet is to hire Delbert again. He’s a good guide and a handy gun hand too if you need him. He stays pretty calm under pressure.”

“I haven’t had any problems so far.”

“You never know when it could happen. Maybe this man has friends in Cripple Creek. They could follow you to free their friend. It’s that kind of thing you have to watch for.”

“All right. I’ll go find Del, and I’ll see you when we get back with the prisoner.”

Jim wished him well and knew Belinda was going to be disappointed. That morning, she had mentioned another woman that she thought might interest Adam and was going to try to invite her to dinner and then of course invite Adam too. Now that whole plan of hers for matchmaking for their friend was going to be put on hold again.

However on the Ponderosa, matchmaking wasn’t necessary for Joe who had proposed to a lady and she had accepted. Ben was pleased, and Hoss couldn’t have been happier for his younger brother. However Hoss talked to Candy one day in the stable about the situation and Tom overheard them.

“Seems a shame that Joe’s getting married and we ain’t got no way of letting Adam know he should be here for the wedding.”

“You think he’d come? From the way Joe talks, he walked out on the family and didn’t look back.”

“Aw, Joe was upset that he left. He never did understand why he did.”

“And you do?”

“Sort of, I guess. You should maybe more than me. I never had that urge to wander. Adam always did. He always was the one wanted to take trips. Pa could count on him to go wherever he wanted him to go. He always went. I like my own bed and having my family around me all the time. Adam liked new things.”

“What do you think happened because Joe says he stopped writing to you.”

“I dunno. He wrote about some kind of trouble and then he didn’t marry his gal and up and closed up his business and left Boston. We don’t have any idea where he is. He kinda hinted at going to Paris, but I don’t think he went there.”

“I thought Joe said that’s where he was going.”

“Nah, he hinted, but that’s Adam’s way. Ifn he was really going there, he woulda up and said he was going there. I remember when he was seeing a gal over in Gold City once and Pa didn’t like her. He’d say something like “I’m thinking about going over to Carson City to look at some horses.” And then Pa would say not to take more than two days ’cause like we needed him back on Monday. He’d give me a wink as he went out the door, and I knew what he was doing.”

“Where do you think he is then?”

“Wish I knew, but I got this gut feeling that he ain’t that far off. I wish I knew where to look though.” Hoss remembered the conversation with Joe about trying to use a few beers to get Tom to tell them what he knew of the stranger who had told him about using ‘restraint’. He and Joe had discovered that Tom didn’t drink and had never come up with a different plan to get the young man to tell them anything. That was already few months ago now and the information was probably too old to use by his estimation.

After Candy and Hoss left the stable, Tom came out from the tack room where he had been putting away items that Joe had sent him to store. He was feeling guilty for not telling Hoss and Joe where their brother probably was, but at the same time, he felt he owed loyalty to Adam and had made a promise to him. It was a quandary and he wasn’t able to work out a way to resolve those two conflicting goals.

In Denver, Jim also had a problem too after he got two big surprises. The first was something he set aside to share with Adam when he returned. It was a report on Horace Mason who was appealing his conviction. His lawyers had dug up a witness who said Adam had forged all those documents that were submitted and he was the one who had actually taken all the kickbacks and made all the bribes. Unless Adam could be produced as a witness, there was a chance that Horace could get a new trial and get out based on reasonable doubt. Despite Adam’s concern about going back to Boston, Jim was going to try to convince him that he needed to do it. He was a U.S. Marshal now and they protected their own. It was Jim’s opinion that the forces of the federal government were not going to let Boston criminals kill a U.S. Marshal with impunity.

The next surprise was actually more of a shock. Jim got a telegram assigning Adam to pick up a prisoner in a small town in the opposite direction from Denver than the road to Cripple Creek. He wired back that Adam wasn’t back yet with the prisoner from Cripple Creek. Then he got a wire that made him know Adam was in serious trouble. There had never been an assignment to pick up a prisoner in Cripple Creek. He knew it must have been a ruse to get Adam on that road. Jim quickly got several men hired for a rescue party, told Belinda where he was going, and headed out on the road toward Cripple Creek worried about what he was going to find. It had been three days since Adam had left with Del. That was a lot of time to be out there facing men who wanted to kill you. He had to hope he wouldn’t find him the way he had found the previous man with whom he had worked. That image still invaded his dreams on occasion, and Adam was a friend. It was going to be a nightmare to find him that way. He prayed every mile he rode that it wasn’t true. He kept telling himself that Adam was more resourceful and more intelligent and anything else he could think that would help him keep the other thoughts at bay.

*****

Chapter 6

After several weeks of wrestling with thinking he knew where Adam was but not telling Adam’s family and having trouble sleeping, Tom decided to go to the smartest man he knew on the Ponderosa and whom he thought could handle such a complex problem.

“Hop Sing, can I talk to you about a personal problem and have you promise not to tell nobody what I’m gonna tell you?”

“Cannot make such a promise and not know what is secret. I friend to you and I help you, but I friend to Cartwrights too and I help them.”

“Then I don’t know if I can rightly talk to you about this.”

At that point, Hop Sing knew he had to adjust what he had said. Obviously the young man knew something that could have an impact on his family and Hop Sing needed to know what that was. “You sit. You talk. I do what is best for you and what is best for Cartwrights. You trust Hop Sing?”

“I trust you.”

“All right, you tell me what you hold inside.”

So Tom told Hop Sing about meeting a man named Adam, described him and what he had done, and then how he had sent Tom to the Ponderosa. “But he said not to tell them who it was who sent me. I was to say it was an old friend of the family.”

“So he not want you to tell the family here. You promise this?”

“I did.”

“I too much like family and you tell me. Now I have to keep secret too. It is matter of honor.” Hop Sing saw how disappointed Tom was with that for he had hoped that somehow telling Hop Sing would remove his burden, but now both had the same burden. Hop Sing had an idea though. He went to the kitchen door and saw Candy outside working where he had been earlier. Hop Sing called to him and asked him to come into the kitchen. He looked to Tom. “He make you promise not to tell them and you think he mean family here, right?”

“Yes, that is exactly who he meant, I think.”

“Mister Candy not family but as close as a brother to Mister Hoss and Mister Joe. You tell him.”

“Why?”

“Because he tell Mister Hoss and Mister Joe.”

“Oh, and that way I didn’t break my promise because I didn’t tell the family. I told him, and he’s not family.”

Hop Sing was beaming because he felt very clever but especially because he thought he had helped the family find the missing son. Candy simply looked very confused until Tom began explaining what he knew. When Tom finished, Candy looked to Hop Sing.

“You think this is Adam Cartwright?”

Hop Sing nodded. “It him. I know it. You tell story like Tom told you and Mister Hoss and Mister Joe know it too.”

“If he’s that close, why doesn’t he just come on home. Why the big secret?”

The only one who had any clue to that answer was Tom. “He seemed really sad a lot of the time. I don’t know what happened to him, but it kinda seemed he didn’t want anyone to know his name like maybe he was worried somebody might be after him. Might be they are, and he didn’t want to bring that trouble here. If he really cares about his family, he’d want to keep any big trouble away from them. Right?”

“What kind of trouble could he have gotten in like that by building buildings?”

There was no answer to that, but in Colorado, Adam was in a lot of trouble because of that very thing. He and Delbert had escaped the ambush because Adam had seen the glint of sunlight on metal in the trees and guessed that there shouldn’t be any there. He had paused and told Delbert he thought they might want to backtrack and check things out when shots were fired. Del was hit in the leg but managed to turn his horse and direct Adam to ride to the northwest.

“Ride hard, boy, and I think we still got a chance. There’s a hill up that way that’s a natural for us to use. Go!”

Riding hard, the two men managed to elude the pursuit behind them and reached the slope of the hill Del had mentioned. Adam rode up the slope following Del until they reached a natural depression near the top. There, Del dismounted and fell. Adam got the rifles and canteens from the horses as well as the blankets and saddlebags even though shots were being fired at them. Shooting up the hill, the men hadn’t yet gotten the range so Adam took full advantage of it getting as much of the gear from the horses as he could before they did. Del crawled into the depression and pulled his bandana and wrapped it around his leg waiting for Adam to get to him to give him some help. There wasn’t enough cover for the horses nor was there a source of water. Adam let the horses free because they were likely to be shot otherwise. After checking down the slope to be sure there was no one advancing on them, he headed into the depression to help Del.

“Who you figure them jaspers are. We ain’t got us no prisoner or no witness. Ifn they took one good look at us, they could see we don’t have much worth stealing. Now if they wanted the horses, they got ’em.”

“Maybe that’s what they want. Maybe they thought to steal the little we had and take our horses.”

“Why is it you don’t sound too much like you even believe what you’re sayin’ to me?”

Fastening his own bandana around Del’s leg, Adam took another look down the slope to be sure they were still safe from an assault, and then leaned back to regard Del with a somber look. “They shoot like they know what they’re doing. They didn’t chase us up this slope and put themselves in jeopardy.”

“You think they done things like this before.” Pausing briefly, Del regarded Adam as somberly as Adam had looked at him earlier. “They mean to kill one or both of us. That ambush wasn’t about stealing nothing. It was to kill. That’s why the first shots were rifle shots. I wondered about that as I sat here watching you get the gear. To steal our stuff, it woulda like as not been pistol or scatterguns up close.”

“I was thinking the same.”

“I ain’t made anyone that mad in a while. You?”

“Yeah, there are some who have reason to be upset. I was starting to think they had given up the idea of coming after me though. I guess I shouldn’t have gotten so sure of myself.”

“Jim isn’t gonna miss us for at least three or four days.”

“We’re going to get thirsty up here. We only have two canteens.”

“We could always jump into the river. If the rocks down below don’t kill us though, the rapids about a half-mile from here would. My fault too. I thought that they’d give up seeing us in a spot they could never get to. Didn’t know that they really wanted then. This is a real pickle we’re in now.”

“We can see a long way. Maybe we can get some people to help by shooting if we see somebody coming.”

“That might work, Adam, except they’ll ride right into that hornets’ nest down below without ever seeing ’em until it’s too late. You see the way the road curves around this slope. They got cover no matter which way the riders come in.”

“So if Jim comes with help?”

“They might gun him down.”

“I can’t let that happen. He’s got a wife and little boy, and he’s got another one on the way.”

“Well, somehow you’d have to draw them jaspers out of their positions so they could be seen. Be a suicide to do it though. There’s no cover between here and there.”

Del could see Adam thinking, and he guessed that Adam had already decided that didn’t matter. What he needed was a plan and was already trying to think of one. He had a few days to come up with it.

On the Ponderosa, Candy tried to think of a plausible reason to ask the Cartwrights to assemble so he could talk to them but couldn’t come up with anything. He decided to simply ask them to do it because he had something to tell them that was important. When they all sat down waiting for him to speak, he could see them smiling. They probably thought he had some good news about himself. He started out instead by saying he had been asked by Hop Sing to speak to them.

“I know that sounds odd but hear me out.”

Candy explained why Tom told Hop Sing what he knew and why neither of them felt they could honorably tell the family but that they didn’t think the promise that Tom made covered Candy so he was telling what the man in Denver had told Tom and what Tom knew about him. “First of all, the man’s name is Adam.”

“I knew it. I knew it had to be him.” Joe stood by the fireplace and looked at Hoss. “Didn’t I tell you when we were on the cattle drive, that the man that Tom talked about sounded an awful lot like Adam?”

Looking a little confused, Ben had a question. “You knew that months ago and didn’t say anything about it?”

Sheepish then, Joe had to admit the truth. “Well, when I asked Tom, he wouldn’t say much only that the man never gave his name and that he didn’t talk about himself. Hoss said we should get Tom to drink a few beers and maybe loosen him up a little so he would talk, but that was before we found out that Tom doesn’t drink.”

“He doesn’t drink?”

“Nah, says he doesn’t like the taste of the stuff.” Hoss looked almost offended by the idea.

“Don’t you want to know the rest of what Tom said?” Candy was baffled a bit.

“Sorry, Candy, but me and Joe been talking about this, and as soon as you said his name was Adam, it kinda made us jump to the end. Go ahead and tell us the rest especially since Pa don’t know all of it.”

So Candy told them everything that Tom had told him including the attempted bank robbery thwarted by Adam, the invitation by the marshal to dinner, some of the things Adam had said to him about church and other things, and then about buying the horses including the one Adam had picked out for himself. Ben agreed it certainly sounded like Adam. Hoss got directly to the main idea.

“Now I think me and Joe oughta take Tom and go to Denver to get Adam and bring him home.”

“There are a couple of things wrong with that plan. Joe has a wedding to plan with his future wife. She is going to be upset if he leaves now only weeks before the wedding. Joe also is in the middle of that contract for the Army and that has a deadline, which is fast approaching. With Tom’s help, it should be done without a problem.”

“Well, I suppose I could go do it alone ifn Tom was ta give me the particulars of what he knew.”

“No, he’ll give us the information, and we’ll go.”

Hoss grinned broadly then. “Yup, Pa, he’ll give us the information, and then we’ll go.”

There was one problem with that plan. Tom wouldn’t answer any of their questions directly. They had to ask Candy who had to talk to Tom and then come back with the information for them. The main thing they learned was the name of the bank where Adam had prevented a bank robbery and apparently had an account. Tom also remembered the name of the federal marshal who had invited Adam to dinner that same night. It wasn’t much especially as the information was months old, but Ben thought it was enough to find him if he was still in Denver. They hoped that if he wasn’t, they would still have enough information to get an idea of where he had gone. Hoss and Ben packed their things and were ready to travel the next morning. Hop Sing was supposed to give them a ride to town, but it was Joe who did so they could take the first train out.

“You bring my older brother back with you or you tell him I’m coming to get him, and I’m a lot stronger and smarter than I was when he left, and he’s a lot older now too.”

“I guess we better bring him back, Pa, ’cause I sure don’t want to be the one to tell Adam that.”

The three shared a laugh before Hoss and Ben boarded the train. Joe waved goodbye and couldn’t keep his eyes dry. He found the ride home seemed very long.

Once Ben and Hoss made their connections via spur lines to the main line, it would only be a few days and they would be in Denver. Both were anxious to see Adam again. They had been to Denver before, but somehow the trip seemed to take so much longer this time. Finally the conductor announced that they were approaching Denver. They grabbed their bags and waited for the train to arrive at the depot.

Anxious to find Adam, they were already moving to the door as soon as the train began to slow and were the first to disembark. They got directions to the bank that Tom had named and within a half hour were inside that bank asking to speak to the bank manager. The man was either incompetent or downright unfriendly by Hoss’ estimation because he didn’t seem to have any idea what Adam’s name was nor how the man who had helped them so much could be found. Abruptly in the middle of their conversation, he had left the office and then come back saying nothing about why he had left. They had hoped he had gone to get information but he had nothing more to say. So the next thing they did was to ask where Marshal Jim Warner’s office was. They got the same response they got when asking anything about Adam. The man seemed to know nothing. As they grew more frustrated, the manager suggested that perhaps it was time for them to leave. Unable to make any progress with him, they had little choice except to do that. When they walked out, there was a line at the teller’s window because now there was only one teller when before there had been two. The manager asked people to be patient as the other teller had been required to run a short errand, but the manager assured them that he would be right back. The line of men waiting for service was only partially mollified, but were certainly more pleased than Hoss or Ben who stepped outside the bank to decide what to do next.

“How do we find a marshal’s office?”

“Hoss, I would think any good carriage driver would know. Let’s hail a carriage and get a hotel room, and then come back and find the marshal’s office. If it ends up being as difficult as this was, I don’t want to be carrying my bag with me all day.”

“It looks like a nice place right across the street there, Pa.”

“It does, and it convenient to the bank. Maybe Adam stayed there. We can ask.”

Hoping to get a room and possibly some information after being stymied at the bank, Ben and Hoss headed across the street to the hotel not noticing some men arriving and two others following them across the street. Those two signaled the new arrivals who walked ahead of all of them and into the hotel. When Hoss and Ben entered the hotel, the group of men fanned out around them. When Ben and Hoss got to the desk to ask for a room, the men moved in and guns were pressed into the backs of the two as their pistols were taken from them. They were told to stay quiet and put their hands on the hotel front desk. A quick search was done to make sure they had no more weapons. Then the guns were removed from their backs. It was a relief to father and son not to have that pressure applied, but they were shocked by the questions that followed the action.

“Who are you and why do you want to find Adam Cartwright?”

*****

Chapter 7

Standing nearly six feet tall and with experience as a leader, Ben Cartwright was not easily intimidated even by four men with guns especially when he was searching for his son. These men obviously knew something he wanted to know.

“Adam is my son. I’m Ben Cartwright, and I’m here to see him. Now where is he?”

Slightly taken aback by the forceful tone of what he had said as well as by the content, the four men paused before the man who had spoken first recovered enough to be suspicious.

“What proof do you have of any of that?”

As Ben moved to reach inside his coat for his wallet, four pistols were raised even more causing him to stop. “I’m only reaching for my wallet. You already have my pistol.” He carefully and slowly removed his wallet and produced a bank draft from it that had his name on it showing it to the man who had asked. “We came here only knowing that Adam had stopped a bank robbery and that he knew a Marshal Jim Warner. We want to find him and talk to him.”

“We can help you with the finding, but as far as talking to him, that may be a bit more difficult at the moment. You can leave your bags here.”

Although Ben tried to get more information, none of the men would answer any questions telling him instead to book his room so they could leave. It took only a few minutes for Ben and Hoss to sign for a room and have their bags sent there, and then they walked with the four men outside where a large carriage was summoned. It had clearly been waiting for them. Once inside the carriage, Ben asked what the man had meant by his statement, but as with previous attempts, he said all would be answered in good time. The silence had Ben and Hoss worried, and those worries were confirmed when the carriage pulled up to a small hospital. The spokesman for the group led them inside as the others left. They were greeted by another man who was introduced as Marshal Jim Warner. They were finally getting closer to Adam, but in this setting, they were worried about his condition.

“Adam and another man, Delbert McCracken, are in this room. Both were injured in an ambush. Del is awake, but Adam hasn’t been since it happened.”

“What exactly happened? Why was my son ambushed?”

“Your son is a U.S. Marshal. He thought he was on a job assigned by the Marshal Service. However it was a ruse to get him out where he could be attacked. Somehow, he detected the ambush and they escaped it but Del was wounded. They took a defensive position and waited for help. It took three days for help to come. It was that long before we knew he had been set up. Because Del was shot, he developed a fever and wasn’t much help to Adam who apparently stayed up all night every night to be sure they weren’t attacked in the dark. The first night, he made a small fire and when he thought that men were approaching up the slope, he tossed out the burning sticks and started the slope on fire. Del said he heard the men hollering as they ran to get away from the burning grass. It also burned off the cover they could use to sneak up the slope.”

“Yup, sounds like my brother.” Hoss was proud hearing how Adam had been able to handle himself.

Ben was more worried though. “But why is he here?”

“He apparently acted like he was drinking some of the water they had but actually wasn’t. He gave all the water to Del and that probably saved Del’s life. But for Adam, that made him weaker. He didn’t have water. He didn’t have sleep. On the third day, when he saw us coming, he knew the men down below could ambush us. He had to make them show their position so we would be able to defend ourselves against them. He ran down that open slope firing at them until they had to shoot back or be shot by him. He took a bullet in the leg and went down.”

“A bullet to the leg? Did it break the bone then or something awful like that?”

“No sir, your son was lucky in that regard, but blood loss added to the other problems and then a three day ride back here. He was only weak at first, but it got worse as we traveled. He would pass out and it would be hard to get him to wake so we could give him water. Now he’s so weak that the doctors can’t rouse him. They can’t get him to take enough water. If they can’t, there’s no way to save him.”

A woman stepped out of the room then and it was clear she had cried. Jim introduced her as his wife Belinda. “I didn’t want her to come. You can see she’s about to have our baby, but she thought maybe Adam would respond to her. They’ve talked a lot in the last few months. I can tell though that it didn’t work.”

“We want to see him.”

“Of course, but I’ll have to lead you in.” Jim stepped into the room first and nodded to two men inside. Ben and Hoss followed him in and saw two armed men inside, one by the door and one by the window. “They’re U.S. Marshals. Someone tried to kill these two men. They won’t get another chance. There are men outside the hospital keeping watch, and two in the hallway outside staying out of sight but watching.”

Ben and Hoss heard what he said, but their eyes were on the bed on the right in the room where Adam lay very still. They moved to his bed with one on either side of him. Jim watched as each man took one of Adam’s hands and held it gently. Ben spoke softly to his son.

“Adam, son, I’ve missed you so. You can’t leave now when I’ve found you. Joe’s getting married. We all want you home for the wedding. I want you home.” There was no response.

“C’mon now, Adam. Joe said ta tell ya that he’s stronger and smarter now than he used ta be, and he said this, not me, but he said you was older now too. He said ifn ya wasn’t coming home with us, he was gonna come for ya. I think he thinks he can take ya now. Ya better wake up and start taking nourishment or it might be true.” Still there was no response.

As Ben continued to talk softly to his son encouraging him to wake, Hoss looked over at Jim and the others. He could see how disappointed they were. Obviously they had hoped that Adam’s family might be able to pull him up out of the abyss into which he had dropped. It wasn’t working. Hoss had an idea though.

“Pa, when Adam was being stubborn with ya, that was never the way you two worked it out. You never talked soft and gentle with him. You always blew up at him like a steam locomotive got too much coal shoveled in. There was always lots of smoke and noise.”

“He’s laying in bed helpless and weak, and you want me to yell at him?”

Hoss shrugged and looked at his father with those baby blue eyes full of innocence. “Could it hurt?”

Ben stared at Hoss as if his middle son was going slightly batty. Hoss stared back challenging his father to come up with an answer. Ben couldn’t. He tried to do that and couldn’t. He looked down at Adam and remembered what Jim had said. If they couldn’t rouse him, he couldn’t be saved.

“Adam Cartwright!”

Hoss had to smile a little seeing the three other men in the room involuntarily jump just a little at his father’s booming voice.

“You have laid there long enough. You will open those eyes of yours and take some water or so help me, I’ll think about tanning you for the first time in over twenty years!”

Adam didn’t miraculously open his eyes, but he did move his head and there was a sound from him almost as if he had suddenly expelled a breath with some force.

“That’s it, Pa. Keep going.”

“That’s not enough. You don’t get to be lazy now. You’ve got to set a good example for your brothers and I won’t have you laying here and giving up like some whipped puppy.”

By then, Belinda and a doctor had entered the room. The doctor objected to what Ben was doing, but Jim turned to both him and Belinda and quickly explained what was happening. Both watched to see if there was any additional response. There was.

“Pa, he’s squeezing my hand a little.”

“Mine too, Hoss.”

“All right, Adam, I gave you a job to do, and I don’t accept you doing half of it. I told you to open your eyes so you could take water and nourishment. I expect you to do that right now.”

Clearly Adam was trying to respond. Once more he expelled breath forcefully but several times and not just once. His eyelids were moving a little but his eyes were not open. The doctor had left the room but returned with a nurse and moved to the bedside asking Hoss to step aside. The nurse placed a spoonful of sugar water at Adam’s lips. There was almost a cheer in the room when he opened his mouth just enough for her to tip the spoonful of liquid inside his mouth. Then he swallowed. The doctor reached down and pulled back an eyelid and when he released it, it didn’t close completely. He did the same on the other side.

“He is very weak yet, but you completed a miracle cure. With his eyes open even that little, he can see you now, but you may be a bit blurry to him. Don’t expect him to be able to hold a conversation with you. He’s much too weak for that, and if he tries, he’ll use up what little energy he has. He can’t afford to waste that. Nurse Parsons will give him as much of that cup of sugar water as he will take. Right now that is the most important thing. If we can get enough fluid into him, he can make it.”

“How will you do that?”

“We’ll see if we can get him to take more liquid in about a half hour. We’ll try broth and other liquids as well as water. If we can, we’ll try to do that every half hour until we can get him on solid foods too. I do think that is enough yelling at him though.” The doctor smiled as he said it however and then left. Once the nurse finished spooning the liquid into Adam’s mouth, she left too.

Jim told them that he needed to get Belinda home. “We have a friend taking care of our son, and she’ll stay with Belinda too to help out.”

“Jim, will you come back at some point and tell us more about this situation and why Adam was ambushed? I’m afraid he isn’t going to be able to tell us much for a long time.”

“I can come back and tell you the bare bones of it. I have some newspaper accounts I can bring with me too. You might find them interesting reading while you wait. I don’t know the whole story, and I don’t know that I have the right to share all the personal details that I do know. You’ll have to wait until Adam is strong enough and then see what he’ll tell you.”

Knowing full well Adam’s penchant for holding things in and not sharing too much of his personal life, Ben and Hoss accepted that. They would take whatever they could get to try to understand what had happened and why Adam had not come home. They did ask for their pistols and those were returned to them. Then they took turns standing by Adam’s side and talking to him telling him about Joe’s upcoming wedding and about Tom arriving on the Ponderosa and fitting in so well there. When it was clear that Adam was sleeping, they sat and waited until the nurse reappeared with a cup of broth, and then Ben helped wake him but not with yelling. Simpler means worked the second time.

After two hours, Jim returned with the newspapers but said he couldn’t stay to talk. It seemed Belinda had gone into her labor and would likely deliver that night. They understood and had the newspapers to read, and Del volunteered to tell them what he knew. It was probably going to be enough because they were going to need some sleep too. Adam fell into a deeper sleep soon after that, and there were no more attempts to get him to take liquid. When the nurse came to check the urinal that was placed in his bed though, she smiled and said things were beginning to work. It was a positive sign. She replaced it with an empty clean one and left. Hoss chuckled.

“Ifn Adam knew what she was doing, he’d be so embarrassed.”

Del looked over and frowned. “Why? She’s a right nice looking woman. I wouldn’t mind too much ifn she wanted to do it for me, but they make me use the chamberpot here by my bed.”

Hoss and Ben laughed at the look of disgust that Del had. Then Ben asked if there was anything they could do for him. He looked over at the two men and then glanced at Adam sleeping in his bed. He was quiet for a time before he looked back at Ben and Hoss. It was clear he had something serious on his mind.

“I’ve met some brave men in my life. I’ve seen ordinary men too, and I’ve seen a few crack under pressure and be cowardly. Until that day when he charged down that slope, I’d never seen a real hero. He is, ya know. He coulda waited up there on that slope and slunk off in the darkness. I knowed he had the skills ta do it. Being shot and all, I was here in the hospital before I figured out that he didn’t drink any of the water we had up there but give it all to me ’cause I was wounded. He knew I needed it to survive, and he took his chances that we’d get rescued in time.” Ben and Hoss could hardly breathe listening to the story. The only sound in the room except for Del’s voice was Adam’s soft breathing. “Then we saw riders coming, and Adam said he knew it was Jim by the way he was riding. There were men there who were coming to rescue us, but them men down in the trees woulda gunned ’em down before they had a chance. The only way to stop ’em was to get ’em to give away their position before Jim and the others were in range. Adam took his pistol and rifle and started running down that slope as well as he could, which really wasn’t that good. I figured it was on purpose, but I know now that he was ready to collapse. He fired at ’em and made a heck of a racket, but the worst thing for them was he was gonna shoot ’em if they didn’t shoot back. They did, and that’s how Jim and the others knew where they was. They got ’em and a couple of ’em they got alive. They’re gonna find out who hired ’em too.”

“It was probably that Horace fellow in Boston. That’s who I figure it is.” Hoss was fairly sure of that after reading the papers Jim had left.

“Could be them bankers he snookered in Nevada too ifn they figured out it was him.” Del had heard the marshals talking often enough to have heard that story.

That got Ben and Hoss to sit up and pay very close attention. Ben was the first to say something though. “He fooled some bankers?”

“”Yeah, Jim’s in charge of a lot of stuff to do with banks, and he went out that way because some bank was working with other banks to deny ranchers loans when this here bank called loans, you know, they said pay up now or lose your ranch. It was a pretty slick operation and almost legal too. Anyway, Adam got hold of a bunch of shares of this one bank without using his real name, and they didn’t know who was investing in the bank. Then he sent a funny kind of telegram to the head of the bank. Something like saying he was watching him and the fellow ought to watch his back. Man resigned a couple of weeks later. Couldn’t stand the pressure. Anyway, they stopped trying to steal ranches out from under folks, and well Jim did his part too.”

Ben and Hoss said nothing as they digested all of that information. It was getting late though, and Del thought they weren’t that interested. He told them he was going to go to sleep and rolled over turning his back to them. Soon they heard him snoring. Hoss looked at his father.

“You don’t suppose he had anything to do with the railroad advancing us those payments, do you?”

Thoughtfully regarding his son, Ben had only one comment. “I think my son has been a busy man.”

*****

Chapter 8

About ten, there was a change in shift of the marshal’s guarding Adam. Two new men came into the room and told Ben and Hoss they ought to head to the hotel to get some rest. Ben didn’t want to go though so a cot was brought in allowing him to stay there. Hoss headed to the hotel promising to be back in the morning. Outside the hospital, Hoss had seen four armed men and assumed they were marshals. As the carriage pulled away from the hospital, he remembered something Jim had said earlier though. They had fewer men on guard at night because the hospital was locked at night and had two security guards. Therefore, they only had men inside at night. He told the carriage driver to stop and ran back the block to the hospital. The four men were gone. Hoss looked around and found where they apparently had forced their way in and killed a security guard. He took that man’s gun to supplement the pistol he had and began the climb up the stairs to Adam’s room. His caution paid off as he found one man waiting at the top of the stairs watching out the door probably for a signal to move. Hoss hit him on the back of the head knocking him out. He lowered him to the floor none too gently, disarmed him too, and secured him so he couldn’t get away. Then he looked out into the hallway by opening the door a crack. He saw two men moving down the hallway toward Adam’s room as a third seemed to be standing watch at the other end. One of the two men waved toward him as if to signal him to join them not realizing he wasn’t their man. He took a deep breath, got a firm grip on his pistol, pushed the door open about a foot and yelled.

“Pa, look out, they’re coming for Adam!”

One of the two in the hallway froze momentarily but the other as well as the lookout turned to fire in Hoss’ direction. In the room, Ben was startled but hadn’t yet gone to sleep. He fumbled for his pistol, but the two men in the room immediately took up defensive positions with one at the door and the other crouched by Adam’s bed with his weapon aimed at the door as well. One man from the hallway brazenly opened the door and was immediately shot. There were more shots from the hallway and Hoss’ yelled for help. Ben moved to go there, and the two were going to stop him and one grabbed his arm.

“You protect this son. I’ll help my other one.”

They let him go, and he pushed the door open a crack to see that Hoss was firing in two directions with a man on either side of him. Ben had a good line of sight to the one on Hoss’ right so he yelled to his son.

“I’ll take the one to Adam’s gun hand. You take Little Joe’s.”

Ben stepped out then and fired rapidly at the man to Hoss’ right hitting him. Hoss fired at the man to his left then and got him to retreat. He and his father pursued the man but lost him. A short time later, they heard shooting outside and wondered what had happened. They found out minutes later. The other hospital security guard had summoned the authorities who had ordered the other gunman to stop outside, but he had opened fire instead.

“So they’re all dead, and we don’t know who hired them.”

Hoss grinned. “Nah, there’s one with a nasty headache in the stairwell. I used his own belt to tie his feet together and my bandana on his wrists. I’ll show these men where he is. He might not be awake yet.”

Even Adam couldn’t sleep through that much noise. When Ben got back to the room, one of the men there was at the bedside talking to Adam and telling him everything was all right. Ben moved there next and reassured his son that all was well. It was his father’s voice that worked. Adam calmed hearing his father. Ben asked if he was thirsty. He nodded slightly so Ben did his best to give him a drink using the nurse’s glass by the bedside. It worked reasonably well, and then Adam relaxed and fell back asleep again. His color was better though and he had been able to keep his eyes open and focused on his father too. Ben and Hoss smiled at each other across the bed. It seemed Adam was on the road to recovery. However, there were still those who wanted to kill him.

The next morning, Ben and Jim talked. The men they had in custody were still refusing to name who had hired them. Ben thought that as soon as possible, it would be best to move Adam to the Ponderosa.

“If we can get him out of here, they won’t know where he is.”

“It won’t take them that long to find out.”
“Jim, the Ponderosa is a big place. It will be very difficult for them to approach the house without us knowing. I can set a lot of men to watch.”

“All right. As soon as the doctors say he can be moved, that might be the best plan because I don’t know how many more men have been hired to kill him. Too many have tried already.”

That day, Adam was able to drink without difficulty and ate some soft foods. The doctor reluctantly admitted that he could travel by train as his wound was not serious and he had no infection. By late in the day, an ambulance was brought to the hospital and Adam was loaded into the back of that wagon to be taken to the train station. Ben and Hoss rode in another carriage and marshals escorted the ambulance although surreptitiously so as not to draw attention to it. Adam was loaded into a sleeper car and immediately fell asleep after the strain of the transfer. A few days later, they arrived in Virginia City where Joe and Hop Sing met them with a wagon outfitted as Ben had requested with a thick mattress and a canvas cover. Adam rode in relative comfort and slowly to the Ponderosa. He was getting stronger by the day, but was still too weak to even sit by himself. Joe was shocked by his appearance but managed to hide it by kidding Adam instead about his thinning hair.

“Boy, you wait until I can get up to do something about that smart mouth of yours.”

“I’m looking forward to that, Adam. First though, I’d like to see you standing by my side at my wedding. Hoss will be there. You can lean on him.”

Overwhelmed by emotion, Adam could only nod and then closed his eyes as if he was tired, but mostly it was because he didn’t want to show the tears he had. He opened his eyes wide a minute or so later though when Ben read aloud the telegram Joe gave to him.
“It’s kinda long, Pa, but I guessed it was important too.”

With Adam missing, bosses impatient. Horace dead now. Threatened to expose bosses unless Adam killed. They found easier solution.

“What’s that all mean, Pa?” Hoss wondered what it meant and if it meant that Adam was safe now or still in jeopardy.

“It should mean that Adam is now safe. We’ll stay vigilant, but there should be no one who wants him dead any more. Apparently Horace Mason wasn’t the one hiring the men who tried to kill him. He threatened to expose the other criminals with whom he worked unless they killed Adam so Horace could get out of prison. Adam proved too difficult and expensive to kill, so they killed Horace. As far as they are concerned, that takes care of the problem.”

Looking at Adam, his family expected to see him with a smile or at least a pleased expression, but instead he appeared sad. They had to ask why.

“Lucille must be devastated by all of this. She’s a good woman and didn’t know what her father was doing. I’m sure of that. Her mother, on the other hand, probably knew. She had that pinched face look when she talked about Horace.”

“Oh, like she done bit into a lemon, that kind of face.”

“Yes, that kind of face. I don’t think she approved, but what can a woman do about something like that?” Shifting slightly and doing his best to slide toward the end of the wagon, Adam reached out a hand toward Hoss. “I could use help one more time here. It’s rather awkward getting out of here.”

Stepping forward to help, Joe was surprised at how much Adam leaned on him when he got out of the wagon. He had been shocked in town to see Hoss helping Adam walk, but now knew that Hoss had been supporting him too. He pulled Adam’s arm up around his shoulder and grinned.

“I’m stronger now. I can help you into the house.”

With one arm around Hoss’ broad shoulders and another around Joe’s slender shoulders, Adam grinned. The three brothers headed to the house walking in tandem as Ben walked proudly behind them. Hop Sing went ahead and opened the door for them as they laughed and turned sideways to enter without letting go of each other. Candy watched and realized that Hoss had been correct and all of Joe’s complaints had been him venting his frustration and disappointment that Adam wasn’t on the ranch. It was clear how much the brothers loved each other seeing how they were at that moment.

Once inside, Adam settled into a soft leather chair and put his feet up on an ottoman. He sighed in contentment and then looked at Joe. “So, tell me about this woman you’re going to marry whom I’ve not met yet.”

“Oh, you’ve met her. I went with her to a few dances and socials back a few years. You were still here. Well I have seen a few ladies.”

“A few?” Adam started chuckling but Hoss started laughing hard and even their father couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“Oh, all right, I’ve seen quite a few ladies.”

“Quite a few? Joe, that’s like saying a tornado is kinda windy outside.” Adam smiled broadly.

“Of maybe a blizzard is a pretty little snowfall. Or the War Between the States was a bit of a fight. Or maybe . . .”

“All right, all right, I get it. You think I’ve been with too many ladies. The point is, that after seeing the other ladies, my thoughts often came back to this one, but she was supposed to marry Tom Burgess. Well Tom kept putting off the wedding for one reason or another, and when she finally said no more delays, he up and left town. His family doesn’t even know where he went or why he left, but it’s clear he didn’t want to get married. So I decided to go see her again. It’s Sarah Matthews. We were in school together for a few years. She’s smart and not a lot of men came calling because of that. I like that she’s smart. We’ll have real smart children.”

“I think I remember her. Isn’t she kind of quiet and serious?”

“She is, and if you’re thinking that won’t fit with me, then I have to tell you that I’ve changed. I like that in a woman now. We have great conversations about things.”

“I didn’t mean anything by the question, Joe. I was just trying to remember which of your friends she was. I look forward to seeing her again.”

“I’m sorry, Adam. I guess I get defensive whenever I think anyone is being critical of Sarah. So, are you going to tell us what happened with you and Lucille? She sounded like the right kind of woman for you.”

Adam dropped his head, and when he looked up, his expression was pained. “She was and she wasn’t. We had a lot in common. We liked the same things. We enjoyed our time together.” Adam stopped talking and looked down again obviously upset by the subject.

“Son, what was wrong then? Why call off the wedding?”

It was always difficult for Adam to share his innermost thoughts and feelings, but after what his family had done, he thought they deserved to know what had happened. He forced the words to come out. He told them about how he met her and how he ended up doing work for her father and then found out that work was part of the political corruption in Boston involving bribes and kickbacks. “Sadly, I knew she would take her father’s side against me. It was then I realized that her love for her father would always be stronger than her love for me. I would always be second. It wouldn’t work. I had to defy him and she would never do that.”

“When all of this happened, why didn’t you come home?”

“I expected them to follow me. I didn’t want to bring that trouble here. I did my best to cover my tracks and watched my back. When I was in Denver, it seemed that there was no pursuit, and I learned that Horace had been convicted and sent to prison. There seemed to be no reason for anyone to come after me any more. I thought I would wait a short time and if things remained calm, then I would contact you. But instead, they tried to kill me. And, well, you know the rest.”

“Now what about the bank that you own a large part of and the banker you scared so much?”

Stunned, Adam stared at his father who couldn’t help but smile a little at that. He liked it when he could surprise his eldest son. It was a bluff too, but he really did want to find out what Adam had done and this was one way to get him to tell the story.

“I think Jim talks too much.”

“Oh, the deputy marshals know and so does Del.”

“I suppose you got as much out of them as you could. Yes, I invested a lot of funds in that bank, but I already owned quite a few shares so it gave me a large voting block which I can use at this point to get a seat on the board if I want it.”

Before Ben could pursue that line of conversation, Hoss decided to play a card in this game too. He had guessed what his father was doing. “So how exactly did you get the railroads to advance us those payments though? That was pretty slick.”

“Jim didn’t tell you?”

Pausing then, Adam looked through narrowed eyes at his father and brother. Each had the good grace to look a little embarrassed knowing they had been found out in their scheme.

“You’ve been scamming me. You didn’t know anything and you got me to tell you by tricking me. Why didn’t you come out and ask me if you wanted to know instead of playing this game with me?”

“Well, older brother, you ain’t always willing to tell us.” Hoss knew how feeble that was when he said it.

“Shouldn’t that be my choice?”

Both rather sheepishly nodded. Then they apologized. Adam never told them any more of what they wanted to know and they asked no more questions. It was quiet for an uncomfortable minute.

“I’m tired and I’d like to go to my room now. Joe, could you give me a hand, please?”

About ten minutes later, Joe walked down the stairs whistling. Hoss stared at him.

“How can ya be so durn happy after what jest happened?”

“It was fun.”

“Fun?” Ben was a bit stunned.

“Yes, things are getting back to normal around here. You tried playing Adam, and he played you right back. It was like watching the master at work seeing you two dancing like puppets on a string. You should have seen him grinning as we walked up the stairs. C’mon, think about it. If Adam was really upset, would he have been that calm? You would have heard some real thunder if he had been mad.”

Now it was Ben’s turn to be stunned. Hoss was perturbed.

“I suppose he’s up there now laughing at us.”

“No, that part of what he said was true. He is tired. He laid down on the bed and closed his eyes almost right away. He’s probably sleeping by now. I’m going to town to see Sarah. You two have a nice evening.”

Hoss looked up the stairs and then over to his father. “Remind me, Pa, why we went to Denver to bring him home.”

All Ben could do was laugh and Hoss joined in. Joe was correct in his evaluation of what had happened. Things were definitely getting back to normal. For the next few weeks, that was the way the days went as the family got back into a more normal routine and Adam fully recovered from what had happened to him. That is, it was normal again until the day it wasn’t, and there was going to be a new normal forever because Joe was getting married.

*****

Chapter 9

As Adam stood next to Hoss and watched their little brother say his wedding vows, he couldn’t help thinking about the wedding he almost had that would have happened about this time if the engagement had not been broken. So much had happened since that night that it seemed it was years ago instead of months. He smiled for his brother’s sake and tried to hide the hurt he had inside but wasn’t entirely successful. Luckily it was only Hoss though who seemed to be able to tell.

“Still hurts that much, huh?”

“No, my leg is fine. It’s all this dancing that’s making my feet hurt. That’s all it is.”

“That ain’t what I’m talkin’ ’bout and you know it too. You shoulda been saying your ‘I do’ about now to Lucille. I don’t care what you said. It’s still gotta hurt some.”

“Can’t be helped.”

“Maybe not, but at least you can forget a little, can’t ya dancing with these pretty ladies here tonight? I sure have had fun dancing tonight. Seems the gals can’t get enough of me. You too. Now that Joe isn’t available no more, looks like we’re gonna get all the attention.”

That was true to some extent, but Adam had helped it along. Now that the oldest Cartwright was back and obviously once more available, there were any number of women willing to mend his broken heart. He had made a simple request of quite a few of them though. If they wanted a second dance with him, he asked that they dance with Hoss first. He said he couldn’t be happy at the party to celebrate one brother’s happiness and see another brother so unhappy and moping about. Adam guessed that once the ladies spent some time with Hoss, some of them would likely want a second or third dance with him. It seemed to be working out that way too. As the night progressed, Adam got tired of all the dancing and wished for some quiet time. He hadn’t had so much activity and noise in quite a while and found that it made him long for a more peaceful space without so many people in it. His dance partner gave him the perfect opportunity.

“You seem miles away even though you’re dancing with me. I get the feeling that you would rather not be here.”

“I’m sorry to be such a poor partner. I’ve only recently returned to such an active social life, and I find it to be more taxing than I remembered.”

“You prefer a quiet night looking at the stars and talking about important ideas to small talk, loud music, and large crowds of people who may have had a bit too much to drink?” She smiled as she asked it though so Adam knew she had not taken offense in his behavior.

“You are a perceptive lady. Do you prefer the same or would you like to stay here with the loud, talkative, and somewhat inebriated friends of my brother?”

“You have somewhere else in mind?”

“There’s a garden bench behind the house where the stars can be seen clearly on a night like this, and though you can still hear the music, it is not so loud as to drown out conversation should you wish to engage in that.”

“Lead on, gallant sir. I think that sounds delightful.”

“Yes, my lady, you wish is my command.” Adam offered his arm.

She took his arm and they walked to the garden, but she was smiling too. Adam had to ask why. “Oh, I was thinking that you probably have forgotten my name and are too polite to ask again.”

Tipping his head down a little in embarrassment, Adam had to admit that was true. He politely asked then if she could tell him her name again.

“I’m Hortense Martin, but no one calls me that. My parents never considered what the unfortunate nickname would be for a girl with that name. When I was old enough for school, they started using my middle name, Adella, but that got shortened to Adele by my brothers so that’s my name.”

“That name sounds familiar to me.” Adam looked thoughtful for a moment until he remembered. “You wrote that article about two men dying in the mines because of improper shoring. I remember that now. It helped pressure the mines to use more square set timbering.”

“Yes, those two men were my brothers. Martin is my married name.” Adam only looked questioning hoping she would explain that one. “My husband died in the typhoid epidemic that hit here about ten years ago. We weren’t married very long. We never had any children. I got a small house and enough money from what we owned to live on if I watch my spending and do some writing to earn a little as stories are needed. I fill in as a teacher or as the librarian too when the town needs me.”

“Do you like to read?”

“Very much, but I think I’ve read everything in the library here and I don’t have enough in my budget to buy books.”

“I have books here that I could lend to you. I have more in Denver.”

“Denver?”

So Adam gave a brief account of what he did there, and then they relaxed and looked at the stars. Adam named the constellations and that led to a discussion of how his father had taught those to him on the journey west and for a few years after that. Finally they realized the music had stopped.

“I suppose I ought to walk you back to the party so you can get your ride back to town.”

“I took my own carriage here. I’ll drive back.”

“Oh, I don’t want you to go alone. I could go with you.”

“But then you would have to ride alone in the dark to get back here.”

“No, I could take a room in town. I’ve done it before. I could ride back home with my family after church in the morning.”

Standing, Adam offered his arm again. He thought about kissing her, but it didn’t seem right to rush it so he passed on the attempt not sure if she would expect that anyway. They walked back to the party finding that most of the guests had already left. With a grin, Hoss hailed them as they returned.

“Ya missed the big toast to the happy couple and watching them leave. Pa says we gotta get this all cleaned up tonight. He don’t want to wake up in the morning to see this mess.”

“Hoss, Adele was going to drive herself back to town. I offered to drive her so she wouldn’t be going alone. If we’re going to be part of the stream of carriages, we need to leave right now.”

Hoss slapped him on the shoulder. “You go right on ahead then. See you in the morning at church?”

With a nod, Adam agreed and then accompanied Adele to her carriage. Ben came out of the house to see Adam walking away and asked Hoss where he was going.

“He’s giving that gal a ride to town. He’ll meet up with us at church tomorrow.”

“Is that Adele Martin?”

“It shore is. She ain’t let a man within ten feet of her for years now. I think she likes Adam.”

“Yes, usually she comes to parties and sits with the ladies and helps with refreshments. I was surprised to see her dancing. You danced with her too.”

“Yeah, it was funny, Pa. Gals would dance with Adam and then they would come dance with me. Some of ’em would dance with me again and some would go back and dance with Adam again.”

Ben started to get a little smile and Hoss stared at him wondering what was funny until he thought about what he had said.

“You don’t think he did that, do you?”

“Hoss, you’re the one who always tells everyone that your older brother is sneaky.”

“Well, mostly it’s a nice kind of sneaky. I got me a gal wants to see me again. A week from today, we’re gonna go have ourselves a picnic ifn the weather ain’t too cold.”

“If it’s cold, what will you do?”

“She said it’s warm at her house.” Hoss grinned then, and Ben had to smile. He wished and prayed frequently that a good woman would finally appreciate the wonderful qualities of his middle son. Perhaps someone finally did. They talked about her more as they helped to clean up the yard and put away all the chairs and tables that had been brought out for the wedding celebration. Then it was time to pack away food that wasn’t eaten. Much of it went to the bunkhouse where the men assured Ben they would eat it all the next day. They were smiling when they said it and Ben knew it was probably because they seldom ate that well two days in a row. It would be a banquet again.

“Just so you don’t expect to eat that well every Saturday and Sunday.”

“No sir, we don’t, but we do appreciate when we get to have a couple of days like this.”

Hop Sing was happy too because with all the extra food, Ben gave him Sunday off telling him he didn’t need to be back until Monday morning. With all the praise he had gotten for the food, the bonus with his paycheck, and now a day off, Hop Sing couldn’t have been happier.

In town, Adam was feeling good too. The ride to town had been very pleasant as he and Adele continued their conversation or sometimes simply enjoyed the silence and the companionship. Adam appreciated that she didn’t feel the need to fill every silence with words. When they got to her house, he insisted on taking care of the horse for her telling her that she wasn’t dressed for it. She stayed in her small stable with him though until he finished and then offered to fix a pot of coffee if he wanted some. He smiled and agreed that would be nice but wondered if it was proper.

“Proper?”

“Adele, if I go in your house now, people will talk. Perhaps, it would be best if we didn’t have coffee. I could come by in the morning and walk with you to church if you wanted to go.”

“I haven’t been the most diligent churchgoer, but I’m willing to give it another go. Maybe I won’t be bored by a long redundant sermon. I swear though if that man could simply make one point and then stop, he would be more effective. But he goes on and on and on until no one can remember half or perhaps even a quarter of what he’s said.”

Adam was grinning.

“What did I say that was funny?”

“Nothing funny, but that was my complaint about him years ago. My father did not appreciate that opinion by the way so you might want to hold that in when he’s around.”

“Oh, that’s right. I suppose we’re supposed to sit with your family.”

“Yes, is that a problem?”

“Well, just like you coming in the house for coffee, people might start talking. They might start saying things about us.”

“Things like what? Like Adam Cartwright likes Adele Martin and would like to see more of her? Because if they said that, they would be correct.” As Adam had said that, he had moved closer to her. He reached down and tipped her chin up to look at him. There was no resistance so he took a chance and leaned down to kiss her. She made it clear that she was willing and wrapped her arms around his neck as he put his arms around her and pulled her close.

“I was wondering if you were going to kiss me.”

“I was wondering if you wanted me to kiss you.”

“I think we both got our answers there.”

“I better get going or your neighbors are going to be talking. Goodnight Adele. I’ll see you in the morning.”

With one light kiss, Adam released her and waited until she climbed her back steps and entered her house. Then he walked to the hotel with a lightness in his step that hadn’t been there in quite a long time. By the morning though, Adam had second-guessed himself into a lot of doubt about what he had done. It was so quick and so soon after he had been thinking yet of his love for Lucille that he wondered whether what he had done was because he truly liked Adele that much or if he was trying to wipe out the memory of Lucille which still hurt so. When he arrived to walk with Adele to church services, she sensed the change in him. After a short time, she halted the walk.

“What’s wrong?”

“Adam, that’s why I stopped. I want to know what’s wrong with you.”

“Wrong with me?”

“Yes, last night, you were relaxed and friendly. Now you act like you’re my lawyer or some official escort or at least it feels like that. There’s no warmth or sense of friendship in anything you do. If you’d rather not be with me, I can go back home.”

“It’s not you. It’s that I’m not sure of myself.”

Adele frowned and waited but there was no more. She decided to take a stab at what she thought perhaps he meant by that statement. “Last night, we showed we could be friends. It was just a kiss not a lifetime commitment. All we are so far are new friends who have interests in common and we were going to explore those. Neither of us knows what might happen next. Perhaps we won’t like enough about each other to even stay friends. Who knows. There’s no reason to give it up though, is there? I mean, we haven’t done anything yet that pushes the scales to one side or the other, have we?”

“I do like your directness. If anything, I’m the one to have done something negative already. I am moody and given to skepticism about most things.”

“That’s all right. I appreciate that. I don’t like men who are impulsive and foolhardy.”

“Maybe there are a few things about me that I won’t tell you then.”

“Oh, it sounds like there are some stories you need to tell me now.”

“Let’s just walk to church for now so we aren’t late. We don’t want people talking after we were so good last night.”

“Yes, thank goodness that wanting to be bad doesn’t count against you.”

Soon they were both laughing as they walked and that was what people saw as the couple approached the church: a happy couple walking arm in arm. Ben and Hoss were there and looked at each other pleased as could be to see Adam like that.

Over the next few weeks, Adam was in a good mood as he began to do some light work on the ranch and see Adele when he could. Then a large crate arrived from Denver. On opening it, Adam found all of his property that he had left in Denver as well as a letter from Jim. He opened it and then put it in his pocket without telling anyone what was in it. It was clear that there was something in the letter which he wanted time to consider before discussing it with anyone. Two days later at breakfast, he brought up the letter and pulled out a marshal’s badge.

“Jim sent this because I’m still a sworn member of the service. There’s an opening for the eastern Sierra district. I’ve been offered that job. I’m going to take it.”

“Adam, I thought you would resign and stay here on the ranch.”

“Pa, I considered it, but the reasons I left are still valid. I was chasing a dream then that was smoke. This one is real. I found I liked doing it. I don’t think I’ll do it for the rest of my life but for now, I will.”

“What will Adele say about this?”

“I asked her last night. She had no objections. She has concerns, and we talked about those. I don’t know where our relationship is going. If it gets more serious, then her concerns will become more important.”

“Where will you live?”

“I’ll have to live in a town because I need to have ready access to a telegraph line. I thought Carson City because of the transportation convenience there and it’s not that far.”

“When will you go?”

“I have to let them know I’ll accept and then they will have to send a formal letter of appointment and send some money for me to set up an office and do some hiring. I would think it will be weeks or even a month or more.”

Ben was relieved at that news. They still had a lot of time together, and he wouldn’t be moving far away. He would be close. With him so close, he guessed he would have time to discuss this with Adam again although he doubted he would be able to change his mind. When Adam made a decision, it was difficult to sway him, but at least he could get him to examine his logic and see if he had thought about all the ramifications of it. At least by the end of their discussions, he would be sure that Adam had made a decision that at least he thought was the best for him at that point.
“Pa, I have one request of you though. Would you be willing to sit on the board of directors of a bank? In my position, it wouldn’t be proper to hold such a role in a bank, but you could. I could sell you one of my shares and then give you the proxies to vote all the other shares. That would give you enough votes to get elected to the board. You could do more good on there than anyone in state government could do.”

That idea appealed to Ben, and he agreed. Adam smiled too. By doing this, he was able to achieve another goal without having to compromise any of his principles. He wasn’t sure where any of this was going to lead, but he had a good feeling about his life now and was developing a new dream of his future to replace his broken dreams. As the son of a sailor, he knew a lot about charting a course and about recalculating after a storm threw you off course. He was doing that now and felt good about it.

*****

Dream Catcher

Chapter 1

“After all we talked about, you never once mentioned that you had a fiancé in Boston!”

Dismounting, Adam tied Sport’s reins to the hitching post in front of Adele’s home. He looked up at her and knew this was the make or break moment of their relationship. He wanted to smile at the way her hair had come undone and had fallen over her forehead, but didn’t dare do that. Instead he said what he had to say in the simplest of terms and waited for her response. “I don’t have a fiancé.”

Staring at Adam for what seemed like a long time but was less than a minute, Adele sighed and nodded knowing he wouldn’t lie to her. “Come in the house, Adam. We need to talk. There are things I need to know.”

Going up the walk to her front porch, Adam still wasn’t too sure of his reception, but she had invited him into the house so that had to be a good sign. Only a short time earlier, he had arrived in town and stopped at the livery stable intending to leave Sport there, get a room and clean up, and then go to see Adele. What he had heard there had made him ride to her house though still dusty and sweaty from riding for days on the trail of some men who had eluded him and probably were in California by now. He had sent a telegram ahead to alert authorities there to watch for them and turned back at Placerville knowing they were too far ahead for him to catch up to them. Then he had decided that a stop in Virginia City to see Adele and a visit to his family on the Ponderosa were in order. However, the liveryman had mentioned how his fiancé had arrived and was staying at the International House and charging things all over town getting ready for their wedding. He had been astonished and then angry but finally worried most about the effect it would have had on Adele for that to have happened. He knew from the man’s description that it was Lucille. He intended to deal with her but wanted to make sure first that Adele understood that Lucille was not his fiancé.

As Adam closed Adele’s front door, she stood with her back to him. He didn’t know what her expression was but decided to start explaining regardless. “I never told you about any of the women I almost married. I made a lot of mistakes. None of those relationships ever worked out. I hoped that our relationship would possibly be the one that would. You are a better person than any of the other women that I might have married or certainly a better person for me. You don’t hold back. You tell me the truth I need to hear. You’re not afraid that I might walk out that door because you want our relationship based on trust so honesty is a key component of it. I didn’t tell you about Lucille for the same reason I didn’t tell you about any of the other women. She was in the past. It’s over. Why she’s here and claiming to be my fiancé again, I don’t know.”

“She has told people that you asked her to marry you.”

“I did. She called it off and I agreed to that. I left town. We have had no communication since then except a letter I sent her explaining what I did and why I did it. I assumed that would only make her angrier. I am the reason her father went to prison. He was killed there because his fellow criminals were not able to kill me. They tried.”

Adele turned then. “That’s when your family brought you back here and everyone said you were dying, but clearly you were not?”

“Yes, that was the time. It was a close call. Her father threatened to expose them if they didn’t kill me. When they found me difficult to kill, they had him killed. It solved their problem.”

“I would think she would blame you for his death and be upset with you.”

“I thought so too. I guess I will have to go see her and tell her in no uncertain terms that her scheme will not work, whatever it is.”

“Adam, she’s been shopping all over town and eating in the finest restaurants. She’s staying at the International. I’m sure your family knows by now. They must have contacted you.”

“They couldn’t. I’ve been trailing some men who robbed a bank in Denver and then headed this way. I thought I could intercept them, but they knew there was a marshal here and they got by me. I sent word to California to be on the lookout for them. Then I decided to come here to see you and to see my family. I had no idea she was here.”

“Maybe you should go see her right now.” Adele crinkled up her nose a bit and stared rather pointedly at his clothing.

“That bad?”

“Nothing a long bath and a shave and a complete change of clothing couldn’t fix.” She smiled so Adam knew things were better. She trusted him and that meant more than anything she could have said or done.

“It may be late by the time I get everything done. Will you still be up and willing to accept a gentleman caller?”

“If he looks and smells like a gentleman, then I would be happy to receive him here.” She had that smirk then that he loved. Adam turned to leave but Adele wasn’t done. She stepped to him and took his arm. “Just one more thing, cowboy.”

That kiss expressed more than any words could ever convey how both felt about the other. There was nothing said for a minute after the kiss as Adam looked into her eyes and smiled at her smoothing her wayward locks and holding her close. There was a lot to do though so Adam released her.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Have I helped you gird up thy loins for battle, sir knight?”

Dropping his hat to hold it in front of him, Adam grinned and leaned forward to kiss Adele on the cheek as she began to blush furiously. “I’ll be back later.” Walking to Sport, Adam decided that a walk to the livery stable might be more comfortable than a ride and give him a chance to take care of a few errands along the way. He stopped at the general store and found Lucille had made purchases there. He paid the bill but said that she was not allowed to charge anything more on his account or the Ponderosa account.

“She is not my fiancé. I understand that you advanced credit to her in good faith so I will honor the debt, but know that she perpetuated a fraud. Anything more you allow her to charge is your fault, and I will not be responsible.”

Adam stopped at several more places she might have shopped and repeated the same. At the main dress shop, he found that she had ordered a number of dresses made. He told them that they were not to be delivered to her. He paid for the work that had been done and said that they could finish them and sell them for whatever fee they wished to charge for the rest of it. He repeated the warning he had been giving all the other shop owners. At the livery stable, he found she had twice already rented a carriage. He paid that bill and gave the same warning. Then he took his rifle and saddlebags to head to the hotel.

“Ah, Mister Cartwright: do you want your regular room?”

“Yes, and a bath drawn please. Which room is Lucille Mason in?”

“You fiancé is in our finest suite, Mister Cartwright. I hope that everything is fine.”

“No, everything is not fine.” In a voice loud enough for everyone in the lobby and the adjoining restaurant to hear, Adam announced what he had told shopkeepers, dressmakers, and anyone else who needed to know. “I’ll pay the bill she has to this point, but as of tonight, I will not pay any additional expenses she incurs because now you know she is a fraud. She is not my fiancé and had perpetrated a hoax on this whole town. I’m going up to tell her now.”

“Adam, dear, you don’t have to do that. I’m right here.”

Lucille walked out from the dining room with tears streaming down her face. Many looked embarrassed for her and others were openly upset with her. Many waited to see what would happen when the two confronted each other.

“You said you loved me. You asked me to marry you.”

“Yes, and you called it off and I agreed. I left town. Your father tried to have me murdered.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is, and because he couldn’t, his fellow criminals had him killed in prison. It’s a harsh truth, but that’s what it is. You could have stayed in Boston and not have had to listen to me say it. It was your choice to come here. It was your choice to lie to all the people here.”

“I couldn’t stay there. I had nothing. You took it all away. You ruined my life. The least you could do is to keep your promise to marry me. You promised to marry me. You promised to love me forever.”

“It’s over. Our betrothal was never announced. You threw me out before that ever happened. It was never official. I left town that night.”

“You had it all planned. My father told me that you had left paychecks for all your employees and shuttered your business. You had moved all your bank accounts out of the city. You had sold everything you could and left. You never intended to marry me, did you? Why did you ask me to marry you?”

Adam didn’t want to have this conversation with so many witnesses and wasn’t going to answer that last question in front of them. “I was prepared to leave because I knew that once you and your father knew what I had done, my life was in danger. If you had decided to stick with me, you could have come with me. You chose instead to be loyal to your father. That told me all that I needed to know about our relationship.”

It was at that moment that Lucille understood for the first time the huge mistake she had made that night. She had not thought much about what she had said to Adam. She had thought he would come back to her because he loved her. She had thought she could control him with that love like her father controlled her with his love. She had made a terrible mistake. She had one hope left.

“I made a terrible mistake that night. I love you. I should have gone with you. I never stopped loving you and I should never have called off our engagement. In my heart, you are my fiancé and I could never love another.”

“It’s too late, Lucille. Go back to Boston.” Even as Adam said it, he knew it wasn’t going to be that simple. He could see the faces of the people watching and the sympathy that many seemed to have for Lucille. This was going to be far more difficult than the thought. “I’m going to my room. I need a bath and I have someone to see later.”

“The woman you’ve let come between us?”

Adam sighed deeply and turned to Lucille. “Let it go. It’s over.” Then he turned and walked up the stairs to his room. As he soaked in his bath later, he tried to think of how he could have handled that better. He wished there was some way to make Lucille leave town. She had no money. He guessed that probably paying her to leave was going to be the only way to go. It irritated him, but he could see no other solution. He thought he could talk it over with his father the next day. It wasn’t the kind of thing he wanted to talk over with Adele. He had many other things he wanted to do with Adele. Thinking about those made him smile.

When Adam left the hotel to walk to Adele’s home, he had no idea he was being followed. Lucille wore the mourning clothing she had worn for her father’s funeral. She had a black dress, black cape, and black veil. She looked like more a shadow in the night than a person even if someone had looked directly at her. Following Adam all the way to Adele’s home, Lucille was upset to see Adam hug and then kiss Adele when she opened the door to her home. The door closed and Lucille could see very little. However, Adele’s porch had no railing but was low. Lucille guessed she could easily step up on that porch undetected and because there were windows that were open, she might hear quite a bit if she was quiet. She walked to Adele’s yard and carefully removed her shoes. Then in stocking feet, she moved to the porch and carefully and slowly stepped up on the porch hoping that there would be no creaky boards. She was a small woman and made no sound. She was rewarded by realizing that Adam and Adele were seated on a settee near the window adjacent to the porch. She could hear them clearly even though they spoke softly and gently to each other. Lucille got tears in her eyes as she remembered Adam speaking with her that way. Her sadness turned to anger though as she heard more of the conversation.

“Adele, you’re the one I want to be with.”

“Adam, we can’t have a satisfactory relationship until you settle this thing with Lucille.”

“There is no thing with Lucille.”

“She has to understand that for it to be truly over or she’ll continue to pester you and create trouble.”

“I’ve cut off her credit. I’ve made it as clear as I can to people in town that she is not my fiancé. What more can I do?”

“I don’t think either of us is going to be comfortable with this situation until she’s on a stage or on the train headed out of town.”

Lucille listened and thought about what she had heard. In her mind, there was only one main thought. If they thought they were uncomfortable now and thought they had trouble now, well they were only beginning to get a taste of what she could do. Lucille planned to do a lot more until Adam came to his senses and gave up this silly job and headed back to civilization with her as his wife. She had a goal now and knew this Adele wouldn’t marry Adam as long as she was still in town, so she planned to stay in town. Adam couldn’t make her leave. She watched and listened until she could take no more. Then she retreated, put on her shoes, and headed back to the hotel.

*****

Chapter 2

Very early the next day, Lucille packed her bags and let the hotel know she was heading out to look for a place to stay. The desk clerk was as sympathetic and helpful as he could be offering some options she might try and suggesting a few places she could look for temporary work to get some money to pay for a room or work for a room. He apologized profusely telling her that he knew all of those places were beneath her status.

“Is there a job here I could do to earn a place to stay here?”

“Um, well, we do have a housekeeper’s room and it’s currently unoccupied because the lady doing most of our washing is married so she doesn’t need the room.”

“What would I have to do to get that room?”

“Ma’am, it would be so far beneath your station, I don’t even want to tell you.”

“Adam Cartwright has left me few other options. I am willing to do almost anything as long as it isn’t morally repugnant. What is it?”

“The only job we currently have unfilled is the washroom attendant. You would have to wash the tubs and scrub the floor of the washrooms daily. You would have to make sure there is a supply of clean towels in each one.”

“How many of those are there?”

“There are six of those.”

“And that would get me a room?”

“And three meals per day. You would have to eat in the kitchen, but the full menu would be available to you except for the more expensive items.”

“Is there any salary for this job?”

Looking even more embarrassed, the clerk shook his head. “But there is a canister in each washroom, and gentlemen especially will leave coins in it if they like the condition of the washroom. If it is clean and smells good and there are enough clean towels for their use, they will leave coins in appreciation.”

“Who is doing the job now?”

“We’ve had to pull people from our kitchen staff to fill in. They don’t like it at all, and they do only the minimum necessary. It is a difficult job, and with the jobs in the mines paying better right now, it is difficult to find someone to do it.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Ma’am, are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure. Maybe when Adam sees what he has forced me to do, his cold hard heart will soften and he will remember our love.”

The clerk didn’t know what to say. He had seen Adam and Adele Martin together and doubted that Adam was going to end that relationship to get back with Lucille especially the way he had glowered at the night before when they had words in front of so many people. Lucille wasn’t done yet though. Seeing a few people in the lobby doing their best to listen in, she raised her voice a bit to make sure they could hear.

“Last night, I waited for Adam to get back so that I could talk to him. He never came back. Is that his habit? To take a room but spend the night elsewhere?”

“Oh, no, ma’am, I’m sure he came back.”

“Did you see him come back?”

“No, I didn’t, but I don’t work at night.”

“I suppose he could have come back in at dawn skulking up the back steps so that people would think he was here all night. Well, I guess you better show me that room and what I have to do. I’ll have to try to talk to Adam when he’s here and not sleeping somewhere else.”

When Adam came down to get some breakfast and check out a short time later, he was aware of the cool reception and the stares he was getting. He thought it had to do with the scene the night before and was unaware of the new gossip circulating because of what Lucille had done that morning. He got Sport and headed out to the Ponderosa unaware of the rolling tide of gossip in town that was the best the wagging tongues had to share in a very long time. However Adele got hit with it by midday as she did some shopping and overheard some things in the general store as ladies talked loudly enough for her to hear. Some thought of her as the other woman now and thought too that she had entertained Adam overnight because of what Lucille had said. She gathered both of those ideas from the verbal barbs thrown her way. She wasn’t the type to take anything so unfair without responding so she turned to the ladies before leaving the store.

“Your comments thrown out so cowardly are not true. Adam ended the relationship with that woman before he left Boston. She has chased him out here hoping to extort something from him. By gossiping, you are helping her to smear the reputation of a fine man. He did not spend the night at my home. He left, as he does every evening he visits, at a proper time. You could have checked with my neighbors. I know they watch because I see their curtains part every time he arrives and every time he departs.”

With that, Adele departed the store to the smiles of the shop owner and his wife as well as a few patrons who admired the courage of the woman. However the gossips were incensed instead of chastised. They had been put in their place over that one piece of their story, but now they were intent on finding out something that they could use to smear Adele because she had humiliated them. Many of the people there knew it was probably going to get more ugly before it got better and worried about the two nice people who were likely to be hurt by it. By the end of the day, Lucille heard enough to know that her scheme was working. Not only did she hear people talking, but some women came up to her to express their sympathy to her especially after hearing that she had been reduced to working as a washroom attendant in order to have a place to live and food to eat.

“Yes, Adam has abandoned me and left me destitute all for another woman after he promised to marry me. I wonder if he will promise to marry her.”

Many of the women offered to help her, and with some persuasion, she did tell them about dresses she had ordered but couldn’t afford to get and that she had no money and could only wait and hope that someone would leave gratuities if they found the washrooms to their liking after she cleaned them and supplied them with towels. More than a few people slipped a few coins or bills to her after hearing that sad tale. She had a small stash of money by the end of the day and promises by some of the women that they would see about getting her some new dresses and other new clothing to wear. By the time she finished her dinner that evening, she was no longer depressed and feeling hopeless. She was planning again.

On the Ponderosa, Adam had a good visit with his father and brothers telling them about setting up the U.S. Marshal’s office in Carson City, hiring a deputy and a clerk for the office, and making contact with the governor’s office as well as the various departments of state government involved in law enforcement and the administration of justice. He had taken a temporary room at a boardinghouse until he could set up a more suitable living arrangement by renting or buying a small house with a stable. He admitted to them that he was thinking of asking Adele to be his wife. That got Hoss and Joe slapping his back as his father grinned.

“I haven’t asked her yet. She could say no.”

“Aw, c’mon now, Adam. I done seen you two together at church and such for almost two months now. Heck, you two act almost like you’re married already. She kin practically finish your sentences for ya.”

“It’s scary, isn’t it, Hoss, how much alike they are in how they think. Can you imagine what their children are going to be like. That’s very scary.”

“Hold it. I haven’t asked her yet and you have us with children. We’re both older. There may not be children even if she decides she will marry me.”

“Son, is there something you’re not telling us? I can’t think of a single reason why she would say no.”

When Adam grimaced, dropped his head, and rubbed his neck, his family knew that something had happened. They waited for him to tell them knowing he would when he was ready and would tell them what he felt comfortable saying. It took a moment for Adam to collect his thoughts and put them into a framework for explaining Lucille. He had rather hoped that they had heard some of what had happened in town, but apparently it was all too recent for any word of it to have gotten out to the Ponderosa.

“You, of course, remember that I asked Lucille Mason in Boston to marry me but that was ended before it was announced when I went against her father. Well, she’s in Virginia City and making trouble.”

“Aw, Adam, what could one little gal do ta make trouble for you with you bein’ a marshal and all. Cain’t ya jest arrest her or sumthin’?”

“Son, how does this affect your relationship with Adele?”

“Jeez, Adam, you were the one always telling me not to be involved with two women at once.”

Ben had been perturbed with Hoss for not taking Adam seriously and let Joe know with a glower that his comment was out of line.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to make trouble. It just seems funny that Adam is the one with trouble with two women at the same time. Sorry.”

“Joe, you should know by now that your brother does not have dalliances with women. If he is involved with a woman, then he is serious about that relationship and you should be too.”

“It’s all right, Pa. If this wasn’t such a pain in my backside and was happening to someone else, I might actually see some humor in it. No, Lucille is here claiming all over town that I am still her fiancé. She charged all sorts of things against my accounts. I got that straightened out. I hope she will leave town, but I may have to pay her to go. At this point, I see no way to force her to leave.”

“And this has bothered Adele?”

“Pa, of course it has. People are talking, and it’s too difficult to have a relationship when there’s a third party trying to break it up. I wish Lucille would go away, but she is a stubborn one. I’m afraid of what she may do next.”

“Aw, what can she do ifn she ain’t got no money?”

“Hoss, she is smart and clever. I liked those things about her, but now that worries me. At least she’s honest. She won’t break any laws or hurt anyone directly.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“For now, go back to town and talk to Adele to see if she’ll marry me. I still want to ask her.”

“Adam, before you go, Tom Carpenter and I would like to talk to you about something. I know you have some serious things on your mind, but this could be something to take your mind off that and give you something more positive to think about.”

“I have some time. What is it you want to talk about?”

“I’d like Tom to explain it. He’ll be doing most of the work so he should tell you.”

Leading Adam to the bunkhouse, Joe said very little about the idea except that it involved horses and buying up the Marquette ranch that was for sale once more. No one had made a go of it trying to raise cattle on the property.

“I think it’s too small for a herd big enough to support a cattle ranch. What Tom and I want to do is turn it into a horse ranch.”

Once they found Tom, he explained the rest. “Joe would be the major investor to start, and I would be the manager of the operation. The Ponderosa would get first pick of the horses for sale, and then others could be sold to anyone. I would take over the responsibility of buying the breeding stock and then matching the mares and stallions to get the best foals. There would be training and such to do. I would have to hire and trains staff to do all that, but they would learn as we grew and the foals grew up.”

“That all sounds like a great plan. Why do you need to talk to me, and I hope it’s not about money for investing because I’m all tapped out for that.”

“No, older brother, what we need is in your head. Tom knows all about horses, and I’ve been saving money and can get some loan money too, but you saw the horse barns, stables, training rings, and foal birthing stalls, and all of that when you were in Tennessee. We need you to draw up plans for building all of that. Tom knows what they look like but not enough to draw up what we would need to build them.”

“I suppose you want me to do them free of charge?” Adam had a serious look but grinned a moment later at the looks on the faces of the two younger men. “Of course I’ll do it. It may take some time though because I do have a full time job. So what do you want first?”

“The basic stable probably with stalls for the birthing of the foals.” Tom thought that was the best place to start.

“Well, Tom, it seems you are well on your way to being a successful businessman. Congratulations. I think you’ve finally gotten my youngest brother to invest in a scheme that could actually work.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, ask Hoss about some of the schemes he’s tried out in the past. It should be entertaining to hear the stories.”

“Dang, Adam, don’t you ever forget anything?”

The brothers laughed, and Tom joined in. The three looked forward to working together. Late in the day, Adam rode back to town to see Adele and hoped to take her to dinner. Instead he had another evening of talking to her about Lucille, a topic he had hoped to avoid discussing with her, but Lucille’s antics that day made it inevitable.

*****

Chapter 3

After spending some time listening to Adele explain what she had learned that day, Adam decided to ask if he had it all straight. “So, she’s gotten a job at the hotel to earn her room and meals, but she also has managed to get a number of women to give her money. They have bragged about their generosity to each other and now know that she has gotten money from each of them by complaining that she had none. She has also extracted promises from some of them to get those dresses and other items she tried to charge to me but now they have agreed to pay for them. Is that about all of it?”

Not wanting to tell him the rest, Adele agreed to that but said it wasn’t all of it. “There’s more but you got the gist of it. You understand now that she isn’t going to be that easy to scare off.”

Noticing the evasion in that statement, Adam paused waiting to see if there would be more. When there was no more, he added his own. “She’s done more, and I want to know what it is. I can’t deal with her effectively until I know all of it.”

“I don’t know that you can deal with her if you’re terribly angry with her either.”

“So what she did isn’t some minor thing that I could forget about. It’s something important and you need to tell me because I should know what I’m facing when I see her.”

Still reluctant to tell him but knowing she had to do that, Adele paused for a long time until working up her courage and began by reminding Adam of Little Joe’s state when his family had found him in a military prison about to be executed. Adam had told her that story about Hoss and his father rescuing Joe, and she had been impressed that Joe had kept his balance in that one.

“Why are you bringing up Joe being held like that?”

“Because in the worst of circumstances, when he could have wanted to kill someone, he kept his composure and didn’t.”

Frowning slightly, Adam looked into Adele’s eyes to make sure she understood him clearly enough. “And what you’re about to tell me is going to make me want to kill Lucille and you want to make sure I don’t leave here in a killing rage? Surely you know me better than that by now?”

“Lucille has started people talking by somehow making them think that you slept here last night with me.”

Adam stood then despite Adele putting a hand on his arm to try to keep him on the settee next to her. His fists balled, he was breathing deeply and was highly agitated but trying not to explode with the anger he felt. “I’m sorry. You were right to be worried. At this moment, I would like to wring her neck. I can’t believe she would stoop so low.”

Standing then and moving to wrap her arms around him, Adele soothed him as well as she could under the circumstances because she was feeling hurt too. Adam understood that and responded in kind. Soon, they were both hugging and then kissing again. Outside on the porch, Lucille was disgusted and turned to leave once more. Her plan wasn’t working as she had hoped. It seemed to be driving them closer together instead of apart. The neighbors once more watched as the dark figure slipped across the lawn. The husband said he ought to go tell the couple what was going on. His wife said it was none of their business. The husband wasn’t so sure and thought he ought to find a way to let the two know about the spy because he had a fairly good idea of whom it was. He liked Adele and he liked Adam. He decided on how he could do it too and planned it out.

In the house, Adam had calmed down and wanted to talk about a different subject entirely. “Adele, I’ve got my office set up in Carson City now. I’ve got a room at a boarding house but I’m looking at some homes to buy or rent. What I would like to know is how big a house to choose. What I’m saying is, will you be there with me? Adele, I want you to marry me. I want to spend my life with you.”

“Oh, Adam, when I’m with you, all I can think of is you. When I’m talking with you, I think about all those times when I thought I would never find a man with whom I could talk like that, trust like I trust you, and feel so good simply by being in your company. But Adam until Lucille is out of the picture, I can’t marry you. She’s a dark cloud hanging over us. Don’t you see that? While she’s here, she’s making up stories and I’m sorry if it seems I’m so shallow. I can’t marry you when it looks like I’m the other woman and shamed into it because you spent the night here.”

“But I never spent the night. Damn, you know how difficult it’s been to hold back. You must have had some of the same thoughts and feelings I’ve had. We’ve taken it slowly to be sure. We’ve talked about that, but now it’s time to move forward.”

“Except suddenly we have a major roadblock. I am sorry, but she is quite an impediment. Don’t you see that?”

Any further conversation was cut off by a knock on the door. Adele answered it and announced that it was for Adam. He went to the door and found a telegraph messenger who was relieved to find both Adam and Adele fully dressed because he had heard stories that day and had been afraid of what he might interrupt. Instead they appeared to be fully proper and having a normal conversation.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Marshal, but this came for you and it’s marked as official and urgent business.”

Taking it from the young man and paying for it, Adam read it quickly and turned to Adele. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be gone for a while. The men I was tracking doubled back and have been spotted near Reno. They suspect they may try to rob the bank there or one of the Wells Fargo shipments. I have to head there now.”

“Alone?”

“No, there will be others converging on the area. We’ll work together and hopefully get this group corralled soon. I should be back within the week.” With a quick kiss, Adam was gone.

Smiling softly for Adam’s benefit, Adele was worried and knew too that this was a taste of the future. She had had a fairly good idea already of what it might be like but it was something else to actually experience it. For four nights, she didn’t sleep very well, and then on the next evening after strong rainstorms had passed through, a knock on the door let her know Adam was back because he always knocked the same way. She rushed to the door and opened it to let him in,

“I shouldn’t come in because I’m soaked, but what are these tack strips on your porch?”

“Oh, one of the neighbors said there’s been a problem with raccoons and he said that would keep them off my porch.” Adam looked skeptical but didn’t have too much time to think about that. He wanted so much to grab Adele and kiss her, but he was soaked through and chilled as well. “I wanted to let you know I was back, but I’m a mess. I should go to the hotel and get a hot bath and change, but by then it would be too late to see you.”

“I don’t care if you’re soaked through. I haven’t seen you in almost five days. You come in and go to the kitchen. You can strip off your wet clothing in there and I’ll get you a blanket to wrap in. Then I’ll get the washtub and put some hot water in it. You can sit on a chair and tell me all about your adventure while I heat water.”

“Now that does sound quite a bit better than what I had in mind. Maybe I ought to walk around to the back though instead of through your house.”

Taking a look at how sodden Adam was, Adele smiled and nodded. He retreated down the front steps and headed around to the back of the house to enter by the kitchen door and dropped his saddlebags and rifle by the door. In the shadows, Lucille saw that and wondered why so she followed and watched from the shadows in the back yard as Adam stripped his clothing off in the kitchen. She got the full views of front and back before he wrapped a blanket around himself and sat in a chair. Then she saw Adele come back into the kitchen and busy herself.

“Oh, Adam, I should have pulled these curtains before you undressed in my kitchen.” Adele pulled the curtains closed then.

“Why? Who could see me from your backyard? I don’t think the birds and squirrels or a few raccoons care too much to look in to see me undress.”

Frustrated at being able to see nothing then, Lucille retreated to the front to see if she could see anything from the front porch by looking in. She took off her shoes and climbed up on the front porch.

“Did you hear that?”

“Yes, and it sounded like you have rather large, female raccoons in this neighborhood.”

“What do you mean?”

“Adele, that was a woman’s voice, and my guess is that she stepped on that tack strip that is on your porch. We’ve had a spy, and your neighbor knew it.”

“So he let us know by putting that tack strip there so she would step on it.”

“Yes, you have one very good neighbor.”

“Yes, yes I do. Now, did you catch those men you were chasing?”

“We didn’t have to chase them. They came right to us. We set up the bank in Reno with our men. We had two outside and I was inside with two. They walked in, pulled their guns, and announced it was a robbery. The clerks dropped down below the counters as we had instructed them to do and the bank manager dropped to the floor. We were the customers and we had them covered with scatterguns. No one wants to take on a scattergun. I told them it was hopeless and that there were two standing outside the door with the same weapons. They looked over their shoulders and could see them. They were smart enough not to want to die for robbery. They surrendered. They’re being sent back to Denver to face the most serious charges against them. Whenever they get out, they’ll come back here to face charges so they’ll be locked up for a long time.”

“I’m glad that there was no shooting.”

“I like it like that too. With good planning, it could be that way a lot more. I learned that much from Roy Coffee.”

“Speaking of which, would you like some coffee to warm up?”

After coffee and some food, the water was heated enough so Adele left Adam to his bathing getting his clean clothing from his saddlebags. His boots were a sodden muddy mess though so she began rubbing those down with rags to clean them as well as she could even though Adam told her she shouldn’t do that for him.

“I have clean dry ones at the hotel.”

Her answer had surprised him and made him have trouble concentrating on his bath. “These will be fine in the morning if I get them clean.”

Once he finished his bath, Adam dressed, emptied the small washtub, hung the towels in her washroom by the kitchen, and walked into her parlor in his stocking feet. “What did you mean by my boots being fine in the morning?”

Standing and moving next to him, Adele wrapped her arms around him before looking up into his eyes. “I’ve had time to think. I don’t want to waste any more time. Lucille is a waste of our time. Let her do whatever she wants to do. It has nothing to do with us. I love you. I missed you terribly when you were gone. I don’t want to wait any more.”

“Can you wait just a little bit longer? I have to clean and oil my pistol and rifle.”

“I’ll help. I know how to do that.”

They worked side-by-side at the kitchen table to complete those tasks and oiled Adam’s holster and belts too. Then they washed their hands together and Adam asked if she had changed her mind. He got only a smile in response. Arm-in-arm, they walked through the house putting out the lamps and then entered her bedroom.

“We could wait one more day and be married?”

“In my heart, we’re married now. We can do the formalities any time you want.”

Wrapping his arms around her, Adam kissed her softly at first from her cheeks and her neck to her ears and finally softly brushing across her lips as his hands began undoing the many buttons at the back of her dress one-by-one. He didn’t mind too much though because he was afraid that otherwise he would rush much too fast. Her complicated clothing was going to help him to go more slowly and let both of them savor their first time together that much more. As he got all of the buttons undone, he pushed her dress from her shoulders and began kissing those for the first time and then pushed the dress down lower and lower exposing more of her than he had ever seen. Then of course, her chemise covered her so he touched her through that before pulling that up and over her head as she raised her arms to let him do it. She still had more clothing to pull down and off and each piece required more touching and kissing until she was breathless.

“Stop. Now it’s my turn.”

With some authority, Adele began unbuttoning his shirt and pulled it from his pants a bit before realizing it would be easier to unbuckle his belt and undo the buttons on his pants first so she did that. She felt Adam’s warm breath as he leaned forward to caress her back as she worked on undressing him. His breathing was becoming very rapid and she looked up to see him focused entirely on her. As she pushed his shirt from his shoulders and let it fall to the floor, the two of them were able to press their bodies together unimpeded for the first time. It was a glorious feeling. Adam reached down and lifted her then moving to the bed and laying her gently on the bed before moving in beside her. Kissing and touching, they soon joined together because both had waited so long. When they finished, exhausted by the physical and emotional release, Adam said he hoped she wasn’t disappointed.

“Oh, Adam, that was all I hoped it would be. My heart would have exploded with anything more. Now we have all night to find out more as soon as we get some rest.”

“Lord, I was hoping you would say that. I’m exhausted. I love you.” Adam pulled her close and closed his eyes.

“I love you.” And Adele hoped that those would be the last words she heard every night.

*****

Chapter 4

The next morning, Adam and Adele got up and dressed prepared to go see the minister to get married. Adam knew his father would want a big wedding and a big party but that could come later. He wanted the wedding to take place as soon as possible. When they met with the minister, he had some reservations but Adam was bluntly honest so he married them as soon as he got a witness to sign the papers. Adam and Adele were smiling as they walked to the hotel to get his things to bring to her house. The smiles didn’t last long as they entered the lobby and were met by Lucille and another man who turned out to be a lawyer. He handed some legal papers to Adam and another set to Adele. Lucille stood smugly at his side as he did so.

“I’m being sued for breach of promise.”

“I’m being sued for alienation of affection.”

Adam and Adele looked at each other first a bit angry and then slowly building into grins. Adam shrugged. “Well, we’ll countersue, I guess. Let me see, I can sue her for defamation of character. You can sue her for trespassing and defamation of character. I guess slander would work too. I wonder what else we can come up with. My guess is that I can hire more and better lawyers than she can. As my wife, you can have very good lawyers too. I wonder where she got this one.”

“Your wife? What? What did you do?”

“We’re married, Lucille. I married Adele. We’re husband and wife. We don’t care what you do.”

“You’ll have to get the marriage annulled.”

“That’s not happening.”

“But you were with her last night and I saw you naked in her house and you weren’t married then.”

“How did you see that, Lucille? Were you skulking about peaking in windows? Are you sure it was me you saw? Whose windows were you peaking in?”

Regaining some confidence, Lucille was more direct. “You undressed in her kitchen last night and she came back into that kitchen and closed the curtains. Are you denying that? You always claim you tell the truth and don’t lie. Well, tell the truth now. Were you naked in her house last night?”

“I was soaking wet when I arrived there, and she offered a bath. Yes, I undressed and wrapped in a blanket. Adele was not in the kitchen to see me undressed. When she was in the kitchen, I was wrapped in a blanket.”

That was too easy, and Lucille knew it. She was missing something important but didn’t know what it was. All she could think to do was to ask the obvious. “Well, then, when did you get married?”

“We got married this morning. We’re going to take my things to her house now and begin to live there until Adele can move to Carson City to live with me.”

“When did you ask her to marry you?”

“I asked her six days ago before I got called to Reno to do my job. Do you have any more questions or can we go get my things?”

It was at that point that Lucille was inspired. “But where did you sleep last night?”

Adam had walked into a trap of his own making and nearly swore. “Lucille, why can’t you move on with your life and forget about my life. I have a life with Adele now. You should think about making a life with someone else.”

“You slept with her last night, didn’t you? That’s why you got married this morning. Now I have even more grounds for my lawsuits. We’ll see you in court, Adam Cartwright.” Lucille flounced out of the lobby before Adam could say anything more.

He did swear under his breath. “Damn! Why does she have to be so smart?”

Unfortunately for Lucille, it was the last straw for the hotel management. They fired her and kicked her out that morning. She had spent what money she had hiring the lawyer, and found that with all the trouble she had caused for Adam, no one in town was willing to give her a job. She sat on a bench by the general store by mid-afternoon wondering what she could do when she saw the middle Cartwright brother arrive with a nice looking woman by his side. Hoss Cartwright was known to be nice to everyone. She decided to try to play on his compassionate heart.

“Mister Cartwright, you might not know who I am.”

“No, ma’am, I don’t rightly know, but nobody calls me Mister Cartwright ’cause that’s my Pa. No, ma’am, I’m Hoss. Can I help ya somehow?”

“Yes, you most certainly can. You see, I’m Lucille Mason. I’m the woman Adam is supposed to marry but has broken his promise to me.”

“Now, ma’am, that ain’t rightly how I done heard the story.”

“Oh, I know, now that Adam is involved with that other woman, he isn’t so sure of how he feels, but now I have no money and no place to stay. I am homeless and destitute. Please, could I stay at your Ponderosa and have a chance to talk with your family about this and explain my side of things?”

Hoss’ lady, Emmaline Wilson, tugged on his arm to pull him to the side for a whispered conversation. “Hoss, you shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s between Adam and her, and we know how he feels about it. From what I’ve heard, she’s poison and the gossip she’s spread has been nasty.”

“Emma, I cain’t let her stranded neither.”

“Pay for her to leave town or pay for her to stay one night at the hotel. Do anything except take her to the Ponderosa.”

“Well, I think you’re probably right, but first, I’ll take her there and let her talk to Pa. Maybe he needs to meet her too. After what you said, I’m thinkin’ you’re right, but I want Pa to meet her too to see what she’s like.”

“All right, but be prepared for him to give her the boot. I don’t know your father that well yet, but I can see those eyebrows of his coming down and that pointy finger coming out at her after what she’s done.”

Hoss grinned. “Maybe that’s what this gal needs.” Emma grinned in response to that. They turned back to Lucille.

“All right, Miss Lucille, after I get a few things from the store, you kin ride back with us, but I cain’t rightly say ifn you can stay the night. That’ll be up to my Pa, and I don’t think he’s likely to be too happy to see ya. Still want ta come wit us?”

Sighing then, Lucille nodded but wasn’t so sure of herself any more. She had done things that had made her ashamed of herself and that morning had crossed the line of acceptable behavior. She knew that and knew she was desperate. She didn’t know what she was doing any more. It was an obsession. She had come west expecting to find Adam and win him back, and had never considered any other possibility. The shock of finding him with another woman already and living in an environment so different from anything she had ever experienced after having lost all that she had known made her into a person she hardly recognized. Adam had not even asked her about her mother. She would have told him that her mother had committed suicide after losing their home and then hearing her husband had been murdered in prison. It had been too much for her. That had left Lucille with almost nothing. She had some family heirlooms, which she sold to get the money to go west. Adam had told her to go back home, but she had no home to which to return. It was all lost. Family, house, reputation, and family fortune were all gone. Now she was in the west and had nothing there either. She was adrift. Hoss and Emma noted how quiet Lucille was on the ride to the Ponderosa. Unlike most visitors, she didn’t even comment on the beautiful terrain as they passed one outstanding vista after another. It was only as they neared the house that she became somewhat agitated and sat up in the seat. When they arrived, Ben did come out to see them not expecting them back so soon because he had thought that Hoss was taking Emma home first.

“Hoss, I didn’t expect you until later and I didn’t expect to see Emma again although it is a pleasure. Oh, and who is this with you?”

“It’s why we’re back so soon, Pa. She wants to talk with you and maybe spend the night cause she ain’t got no other place to stay. Pa, this is Lucille Mason.”

His face darkening, Ben’s hand which had been extended in greeting fell. “I would welcome any guest here, but you are not a guest and will not be. Hoss, please take her back to town.”

“Mister Cartwright, won’t you hear me out? Won’t you listen to my side of the story?”

“No, there is no need. My son is an honest man and has told us the whole story.”

“Pa, I cain’t take her back to town. I gotta get Emma home before these next storms hit. At this rate, I might hafta stay at her folks anyway.”

Ben looked up then and saw the storm clouds in the distance. He looked over and saw Tom Carpenter busy at the stable and called out to him. “Tom, do you have time to give this woman a ride to town?”

“Yessir, Mister Cartwright, I can do that. I’ll hitch up the carriage right away.”

“Mister Cartwright, now that Adam is married, I want you to know I won’t cause any more trouble.”

Shocked, both Hoss and Ben almost simultaneously responded to that. “Married?”

“Yes, he got married to Adele. I was trying so hard to get him back, and now I have to accept that won’t happen. As I rode out here, I had a lot of time to think about what I’ve done. I do love Adam. I wanted to marry him. I was desperate, and desperate people do things they shouldn’t. I will apologize to him when I have the chance. I am sorry.”

Lucille had tears by then but neither Hoss nor Ben knew if they were genuine. Emma thought they were.

“I don’t know Adam well, but I have heard he is a forgiving man. I think he will help you if you are truly remorseful and willing to change your behavior.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now though. I truly have nothing left.”

“You wouldn’t be the first one out here to start like that. Be honest and ask for help. It will do wonders.”

“Thank you. I don’t deserve your kindness.”

Lucille got out of that carriage and climbed into the other carriage to sit next to Tom who looked a little bit embarrassed to have her sit next to him. Ben told Tom to take her to the hotel and have one night’s stay put on the Ponderosa tab. She thanked him and waved to the others.

“Pa, ya think she was being honest there?”

“Maybe she was. At the core, she is probably a good person. I don’t think Adam would have considered marrying her if she wasn’t, but she lost her way for a bit.”

“Well, I gotta git going. Them storms is gitting closer all the time.”

The storms were getting closer and as Tom drove the team, he kept glancing back over his shoulder at the approaching weather. Lucille finally asked him why he was so nervous.

“Ma’am, those storms are coming a lot faster than we can go. I’m afraid they’re gonna catch us in the open before we get to Virginia City. It could be very dangerous.”

“What other choice do we have?”

“Well, there’s a line shack about five miles from here that the Cartwrights have for situations like this. It has a place for the horse to be safe and we’d be safer and drier inside there instead of in this carriage. We could stay there until the storm passes.”

“You said it’s a shack?”

“Well they call it that, but it’s got four solid log walls, a roof, a stone chimney fireplace, probably a small stove inside, a table and chairs, and a bunk or two. They usually keep them stocked with some basic food too.”

“That does sound better than getting caught in a dangerous storm. I’ll trust your judgment. You’re from here and I’m not.”

“Well, I’m not from here either. I’m from Tennessee, but I’ve learned quite a bit since I got here. Let’s go for the line shack. It sounds quite a bit better to me too.”

The first rain was hitting them as they arrived at the line shack. Lucille only got a little wet as Tom told her to go inside as he took care of the horse. By the time he got inside, he was soaked, but the winds had only begun to blow hard then. Soon there were gale force winds howling outside and it got very dark. Tom headed for the wooden bin for firewood and for the small cabinet where he expected to find some matches. Soon he had a small fire in the fireplace and then got the small stove fired up as well. The lamp was the last thing he lit and he set that on the small table. He was shivering however with the drop in temperature because of the storm and the fact that he was in wet clothing.

“Why don’t you take your clothing off when I look away and wrap yourself in a blanket so you’ll be warmer?”

“Thank you so much, ma’am. I wanted to do that, but didn’t know if you would be offended if I asked.”

Turning toward the door, Lucille heard the sound of clothing dropping to the floor and then realized that with the light from the fireplace and the lamp, she could see a reflection of Tom in the one small window. She had only seen one naked man and that had been Adam the night before and now she had seen two although this one was a reflection in glass. Tom was so busy, he didn’t notice her staring at his reflection and when he told her he was done, he probably thought her red face was from knowing he was naked under that blanket and not from seeing him that way. He had hung his wet clothing over a chair positioned in front of the fireplace. Even looking at that made Lucille picture him once more. She tried to banish the image but was unable to do so. When Tom asked her what she was thinking, she shook her head.

“Oh, a lot of things. I’ve done a lot I shouldn’t have done, but I was so upset over so many things that I acted in ways that were wrong. I know that now, but I don’t know what to do next.” Lucille began to cry softly then feeling truly lost and feeling all the grief from her losses.

Tom shuffled over to the cabinet and took out two tin cups and reached to the far back of the cabinet pulling out a small brown bottle. He opened it and poured a generous amount into each cup and grasping both in one hand while holding the blanket to himself with the other, he headed back to the table. He pushed one across the table to Lucille and kept one for himself.

“They keep a little medicinal alcohol in these cabins. I need some to get warm. You just need some.”

“I don’t drink alcohol except for a little wine now and then.”

“Sip it then.”

Lucille took a sip and coughed. Tom laughed. “Take another sip right away and it will soothe that first one. My daddy taught me to drink that way and it seemed to work.”

Lucille took another sip and didn’t cough. “It burns a little on the way down.”

“The next one might actually taste good to you.”

Lucille took another sip. “Hmm, yes, I think I’m beginning to like this.”

On the next drink, Lucille drained the rest of her cup. “Can I have more?”

Tom got up and got the bottle and brought it to the table. He poured another generous dose into Lucille’s cup. She had not eaten that day so the alcohol had no impediment at getting into her system. Tom was relaxing too. After his second cup, he was feeling warmer and let the blanket drop to his waist. He told her about the horse ranch he and Joe were developing and that he was now a businessman. She was impressed that he had done that as such a young age. She looked over at him naked to the waist and giggled.

“I saw you earlier, you know. I saw you in the window. It was like a mirror. I’ve never been with a man.”

“Well, I’ve never been with a woman, well, not like that. I mean I’ve done some kissing and touching and had some kissing and touching but never been with with , you know.”

“I know, but I never had the touching even. I mean I had the kissing, but Adam said he wanted to wait until we were married. I would have liked some touching, I think.”

The two drank a bit more.

“We could do some kissing and touching if you want.”

“I think that’s a great idea. You’re already undressed. I’ll have to get undressed too, I suppose.”

“Well, that would make it easier, I guess. I never saw a woman undressed before.”

“It’s only fair, I suppose. I saw you undressed.”

“All right. I’ll put the two mattresses from those bunks on the floor. That’ll make it easier. The last time I did some kissing and touching we were on a picnic and we were on a blanket but that was on grass. This floor is hard. I think we can use the mattresses instead of grass.”

“Tom, you’re really smart.”

“Thank you. You’re a really smart lady too. You want the rest of this?”

Tom held up the bottle to show the last of the whisky. They had had quite a lot to drink and nothing to eat.

“Let’s split it.”

So they did that and a whole lot more before they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

*****

Chapter 5

The next day, Hoss came home but Tom didn’t. A ride to town showed he never made it there. Adam and Hoss got a small search party together and went out looking for Tom and Lucille. Adam and Hoss were riding together when they saw smoke from the line cabin. It was a very faint wisp of smoke as if from a smoldering fire from the night before but it was there.

“We better hurry, Adam. If they ain’t built up the fire this morning, they might be hurt.”

Riding faster than Hoss by quite a bit, Adam arrived at the line cabin, dismounted, and rushed to the door opening it and then standing in shock before reacting more to what he saw. Tom continued to snore softly, but Lucille lifted her head from Tom’s shoulder to gaze up at Adam standing in the doorway with the infuriating smirk he had and that way he had of leaning when there was nothing to lean against. Then he laughed and turned pulling the door closed behind him. Lucille put her hand to her throbbing head and looked down at Tom still sleeping beside her. It was so warm and cozy next to him, and the world was so cold and cruel out there. She put her head down and closed her eyes to wait for Tom to wake. She had no idea what she was going to do next, but at least for the moment, she had this.

Outside, Adam told Hoss what he had found. Hoss was shocked.

“Tom? Our Tom is bedded down with your Lucille?”

“She’s not my Lucille! This certainly takes care of any lawsuits she filed.” Then Adam explained about that, and Hoss told him what Lucille had said the day before when visiting the Ponderosa. Then Hoss had his own questions because of what Lucille had told them about Adam.

“You really get married?”

“Yes, and I know Pa will want a party and such, but I didn’t want to wait. Adele and I will live in her house in town until she can join me in Carson City. Pa can plan any kind of party he wants to plan.”

“Maybe we can have a double wedding and a really big party.”

Surprised but pleased, Adam slapped his brother on the shoulder. “When are you going to ask her?”

“This Saturday. I got the ring. She’s really smart, Adam, and really nice. Pa likes her too, which is a good thing ’cause I want to live at the house. Joe’s built his own place, and you’re getting your own place, but I like the house.”

“That’s wonderful. I’m sure Pa will love that. He would be too lonely in that house alone. Joe and I are better off in our own houses, but you and Pa will do well together. Besides, Hop Sing needs you.”

“Speaking of Hop Sing, I ain’t had no decent breakfast yet and it’s almost lunchtime. Let’s go get some food and then come back here to see if they’re ready to go see a preacher.”

“I am looking forward to this. Yes, that’s a great plan.”

When the two brothers got to the house, they were anxious to tell the story to their father but he was more interested in interrogating Adam about his marriage. It took quite a while to explain all of that and get it settled and Hoss added in his news, which got his father even more interested. As expected, Ben was happy to hear that Hoss was planning to live at the house with Emma.

“Oh, we have lots of room now with Adam leaving, and Joe has his own place. I am very happy to have you make this your home.”

Finally they were able to tell the story about Tom and Lucille. Ben found that highly amusing too but wondered how Tom was going to feel about it. He decided that it might be best if he rode back with his two sons when they went to the cabin to see if the two were awake and ready to deal with the consequences of the night they had spent together. Before they left, Joe rode in with a big grin saying he had news to share. By the time, everyone shared their news, Joe said he could still top it.

“Sarah and I are having babies. Yes, I said it. Not only is Sarah with child, but Doc says it’s two. We’re gonna start with two.”

Ben was almost overcome with joy at that point. So much good news was coming his way that he almost forgot for a moment about poor Tom and his predicament. When they told Joe, he had a difficult time mounting up on Cochise to ride with them because he kept breaking out in giggles that wouldn’t stop.

“Joseph, when we get there, you need to control that. It will not be funny to Tom.”

“Yessir, but it sure is funny now.”

Adam and Hoss started chuckling too and Ben couldn’t help smiling. There was something so inherently funny in it, it was impossible not to smile. When they got to the cabin, there was more smoke coming from the chimney of the stove and the carriage was hitched up. It was clear that Tom had awakened and that they were preparing to leave. All four men dismounted and approached the cabin but Tom and Lucille stepped out at that time to greet them.

“I know this looks bad, Mister Cartwright, but we had to take shelter from those storms.”

“I understand that, Tom. However, I have been told that a bit more than taking shelter may have happened here.”

“Mister Cartwright, what happened was between me and Tom, and no one else need be concerned. It’s over, and Tom can give me a ride to town. I won’t be a bother to him or anyone else again. Adam, I’m sorry for all that I did. I was wrong to do it. I was desperate and did things I shouldn’t have done.”

Looking at Lucille, Tom was shocked. “Lucille, what if you have my baby? You can’t walk away from me now after we done all that. I have to marry you. You have to marry me. It’s the only right thing to do.”

“Tom, you don’t have to marry me. You don’t love me.”

“I might. I do like you a lot. I think after last night, I might be in love with you.”

“Tom, we hardly know each other.”

“You told me all about your father and your mother dying and all. I told you all about my family. We know more about each other than most people know about each other when they get married.”

“What if we don’t get along with each other?”

“We got along real well yesterday and this morning. You like what I plan to do for business. We talked about that today when we hadn’t been drinking, and you said how you thought it was a good business plan. You said you used to do some business records for your father. You could do that for me and Joe in our business.”

Ben felt he had to interject a question. “Tom, are you sure of this? I mean, this isn’t a spur of the moment decision that you will come to regret later?”

“Mister Cartwright, sometimes you just know when something is right. This feels right to me. We need each other. I need her, and she needs me even if she doesn’t want to admit it right now.”

“Tom, you’re younger than I am.”

“I don’t know what that has to do with anything. I’m a man, and you’re a woman. We’re both old enough to make up our own minds about what we want to do. Now, you made a decision last night to be with me. I think that should tell you something right there. This morning, you told me you had no regrets about that. That should tell you something else.”

Adam wasn’t smirking, He was serious. “Lucille, he’s making good sense.”

Looking at Adam, Lucille could see he meant what he said. She looked back at Tom. “You mean it. You think this could work?”

“I know it could if you want it to work.”

“If you gentlemen wouldn’t mind, Tom and I could use some time to talk privately.”

Ben acknowledged the request, and he and his sons rode back to the house to talk about their news and make plans. Late that afternoon, Tom knocked on the door. He said he and Lucille had decided to marry and would be living on the house on the Marquette ranch if that was all right with Joe. Joe was fine with it. All of them gave their approval, and then Tom asked if he could use the carriage for one more day as he needed to get Lucille to town for a wedding and then to the ranch. Ben offered to have a small party on the ranch for them on Friday night, but Tom said they were going to have a party at their ranch on Friday night and they were all invited. Ben smiled for that was how it ought to be.

“Tom, I don’t know if Adele and I will be there.”

“Adam, I hope you will. It’s time to settle it all and move forward, and that would be a big step.”

“Tom, you’re getting to be a wise young man.”

“Thank you, Adam. You set me on the right road. I’m doing my best to stay there.”

That Friday, there was a small party to celebrate the Carpenter wedding. A week and a day later on Saturday, there was a very large party on the Ponderosa to celebrate Adam’s wedding to Adele. Ben determined that he didn’t want a double wedding party but wanted to celebrate each son’s wedding separately. Yes, Emma said yes to Hoss. That was announced at the end of the party celebrating Adam’s wedding. Fireworks were set off just after the announcement, and Adam and Hoss shook their heads and said ‘Joe’ at the same time. Their very proud little brother came walking up to them later asking if they liked his contribution to the celebration. They threatened to throw him in a horse trough, but Ben intervened and said ‘no’ before things got out of hand. Adam said they were only kidding, but Ben never knew with those three.

The next day, Adam packed up Adele’s clothing, personal things, and other items from her home she wanted to keep, and they made the trip to Carson City. On arrival, Adam took her to a colonnaded home on the outskirts of the city. At first, she thought he was showing her a home he admired, but then he turned into the drive and went to the back entrance and stopped.

“Adam, this is our home?”

“Yes, I’ve started to get some return on my investments in the bank and the railroads so I was able to buy a nicer home than I first thought. I don’t plan to be a U.S. Marshal for the rest of my life. It’s my job for now, but I have other ideas for the future. This home will be a place we can plan to live in no matter what job I have. There’s a nice yard and about five acres in back that belong with the property too. Right now nothing’s been done with it, but if you have any ideas about gardens or anything, we have room.”

“This is wonderful, and I would love to have an orchard. Could we have an orchard?”

“Of course we could. Whatever you wish.”

“And roses, I would love some roses.”

“Yes, that too. You see, that’s another thing I love about you. You see things and dream of what could be. I like to do that too. I see things and try to catch those thoughts and make them real. You do too.”

“Is there any water on those five acres?”

“No, but perhaps we could build a small pond. Why?”

“Oh, I was picturing children playing and splashing in a pool. Maybe skipping stones on the water.”

“Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Not yet. I’m only dreaming and hoping to catch that dream.”

*****

By Chance To Dream

Chapter 1

Missing his older brother, Hoss volunteered to take some contracts over to Carson City for his father and stopped in to visit Adam who suggested that they might like to have a beer together and then some lunch. Hoss never was one to turn down that kind of offer. Once they had their beer and ordered lunch, they had a chance to talk.

“Adam, I sure could use your help around the ranch ifn ya got any extra time in the next few weeks. Joe’s spending as much time with Sarah as he can, and well, with everything going on, I can’t hardly keep up with things. I’m trying to set up things with Emma at the house, but I ain’t hardly got time to do it and I know she’s disappointed not to see me more during the days.”

“Hoss, I’d love to help you.” Adam hated to disappoint his big brother especially after the hopeful expression he saw on his face and the way those blue eyes were looking at him expecting him to help solve the problems he was having. “But I am so busy right now, I’m exhausted. I don’t get enough sleep at night as it is. My job has gotten hectic and Adele has a long list of things she wants me to do.”

“That should make you sleep real good at night.”

“It should.” Adam paused though wondering how much he should say, but he and Hoss had always had the ability to be honest with each other and get some understanding and support when they needed it. “Hoss, I swear, there are times I think that I should have married an ugly woman who smelled bad.”

Nearly spitting out his beer at that, Hoss stared at his older brother before he began to grin as he understood what Adam meant. “Can’t resist her, kin ya?”

“No, I can’t. I go to bed thinking I’m so exhausted that I’ll fall asleep immediately, and then she snuggles up to me and I smell her hair and she’s so warm, and well before you know it, I’m not sleepy at all.”

“Every night?” Adam only raised an eyebrow. “Dang, me too. Don’t these women know how tough it is to work during the day and not get any sleep at night, not that I’m complaining all that much. It sure does feel good to have that opportunity ifn ya know what I mean.”

“Oh, I know what you mean. I wasn’t actually complaining. I was only explaining why I’m too tired to help you out. Why are things so busy on the ranch?”

“Well we are doing the roundup. You knew that, but we’re coming up real short on the count. That means we’re hunting through every little valley or small canyon or any other place we think any cows coulda ended up. We ain’t finding all that many. Looks like we had some rustling being done but they took a few here and there from all over the ranch so it didn’t look like many until we started adding up the totals.”

“I was afraid you were going to tell me that. We’ve been getting reports starting to filter in like that from all over the region and even into parts of the western slopes.”

“How long you think it’s been going on?”

“I sent some men to check the mining camps and timber camps. In some places, the supply of beef has gotten so good that the price has dropped over the last four months. My guess is that it started in California and worked its way here. I’m still mapping it out. As more reports come in, I’ll have a better idea of where the problem is exactly.”

“That the only problem you’re working on cause you said you was real busy?”

“No, we’ve had a number of small robberies too. A number of stores and trading posts have been hit. Nothing too serious but a gang of three, four, or five men show up and take the cash and small amounts of valuable goods like ammunition, pistols, rifles, and things like that. Then they ride off in separate directions so a posse has little chance of catching even one of them.”

“If it’s not the same number of men each time, why do you think it’s the same gang?”

“The method is unusual, the targets are similar, and the escape is the same each time. The pattern is too unique to be more than one gang. Now I’m wondering if they might have something to do with the rustling. It fits their pattern of a small job and not attracting too much attention.”

“They must have a lot of money by now. Wouldn’t somebody notice them spending it ifn they stayed here for long?”

“If they’re smart and it seems they are, they’re stashing the money somewhere. Yes, it could add up to quite a lot already, and if they keep this up, a small fortune fairly soon. We’ll watch for men spending money who shouldn’t have that much money, but so far nothing like that seems to have happened anywhere. I have sent word to sheriffs from here to Reno and Placerville, but I’ve gotten nothing back that’s been helpful.”

“Roy knows?”

Nodding, Adam finished his beer and his lunch. “I have to get back to the office. There is far more paperwork to this job than I ever imagined. I thought only Jim had to do the paperwork like this because he was investigating bank fraud and things like that, but I get a lot of reports to read too.”

“I thought you liked to read.”

“I do, but not for a job. It gets tedious sitting at a desk and reading reports and taking notes. The only interesting part is trying to see if there’s a pattern in things I’m reading to see if I can tie things together.”

“Well I’m hoping you kin tie something up with these rustlers ’cause they’re costing us a mighty big amount now with what they done. It mighta only been a few at a time here and there but it shur has added up to a heap of cows now that it’s all tallied up.”

“I’m not sure it’s the same group. That’s only a possibility because of some similarities. I’ll work on it though and see how many reports I get in from other ranches and see how it compares to the robbery reports. The other problem is that if it’s one gang or two, where are they hiding out that we’re getting no trace of them in between jobs? That’s another mystery to be solved.”

“Well, older brother, I’m glad it’s you that’s got that job. I couldn’t do it, and not many men could, but I think you’ll figure it all out.”

“I hope I do before someone gets hurt. So far, that hasn’t happened, but armed robberies are only one step away from someone being hurt or killed. That’s what I’m most worried about. I want to stop these men before they take that next step.”

There wasn’t much left to say. Adam bid his brother farewell and paid the bill including paying for a dessert he ordered for Hoss before he left. The last thing he saw was a big smile from his younger brother as dessert was delivered with a cup of coffee and Hoss realized that Adam had ordered it for him. It was a good image for Adam to carry with him back to the office, and a good feeling for Hoss to carry back home that day. He arrived home late and found that Emma was worried.

“Now I done told ya it was gonna be late. Pa musta told ya too.”

“I know, but I worry about you. I don’t know what I’d do without you especially now.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry ’bout that. I ain’t gonna have no troubles.” Hoss hugged Emma and was going to suggest they could go up to bed and get some rest when he had a thought. A few things she had said lately were niggling at him and again she had said something that had the same effect. He decided he better ask before his curiosity got him thinking something that wasn’t true. He had to know.

“Darling, now I bin wondering ’cause we’re still getting to know each other real well and all, and we ain’t so used to each other’s habits and all neither, but you got some peculiar ways of saying some things and it’s got me to thinking so I got a question to ask you. Now I know you might think it’s silly, but when you say things like ‘especially now’, well, that’s get’s me to wondering ifn ya got some news for me or ifn that’s just your way of speakin’ to me.”

Emma looked up at Hoss and from her much shorter stature, that was a stretch, and she nodded with glistening eyes. He knew then without her saying a word. She couldn’t talk anyway. She’d been trying for a week to tell him and the words had never come out.

“Are you sure?”

Emma shrugged. She had never been with child so she couldn’t be absolutely sure, but from what she could tell, she was. “I think so.”

“Kin ya tell me why ya think so?”

“I’ve never been late even, and now I missed two times. Haven’t you noticed?”

“Tell ya the truth, I don’t keep track of things like that, but come to think on it, it has been a long time since ya said no. I been worried about the work and the rustling and trying to make sure Joe gets all the time he needs with Sarah that I guess I wasn’t paying the attention I should have. I never expected it so soon I guess. Adam and Adele been married longer than us and they ain’t said nothing yet.”

“Could be they haven’t told anyone else yet. I don’t want to tell anyone else yet either. It will be our secret for a while yet. All right?”

“That sounds about right. Joe and Sarah are supposed to have theirs inside of two months now. We can tell after they have theirs. How ’bout that?”

“That sounds about right to me.”

“Pa might guess sooner, and Hop Sing always seems to know these things.”

“I think he might have guessed. He’s been putting a glass of milk with my breakfast this past week.”

“I noticed that. I thought you asked for it.”

“No, he just did it on his own.”

“He’s like that. He won’t say nothing to nobody though. You can trust him on that. He’s only looking out for you to make sure you get all you need and the baby too.”

“Hoss, I thought it was going to be difficult living out here with no other women, but Hop Sing is like having my mother here but without the lectures.” Hoss chuckled. “And your father is as much a mother hen as any mother could be.”

Hoss started laughing with that one and had to hold it in so he didn’t disturb his father as Emma had said he had gone to bed already. He knew his father probably hadn’t gone to sleep as he seldom slept until any son expected home was there, but it was only polite to keep it quiet.

“And tomorrow, I’m going over to help Sarah again with getting things ready for the babies. We’re sewing together, and it’s nicer than sewing with the group in town because we talk about serious things more and there isn’t that gossiping that the ladies in town like to do. I always feel good when we’re done. Five miles seemed like such a long distance when I first heard it too, but I find it’s a nice drive in the carriage. I get to see all sorts of pretty things along the way.” And Emma proceeded to tell Hoss all about the small animals she had seen on her last trip, and he told her where to stop and watch to see if she might see some deer. Hoss decided to save the more serious talk about the things he and Adam had discussed for the breakfast table.

In his room, Ben pulled the covers up to his chin, smiled, and closed his eyes when he heard the door to their bedroom close. As Hoss had guessed, he had been reading in bed waiting for his son to get home. Then he had heard them talking and relaxed when he heard Hoss laughing. When he heard them come up the stairs and head to their room, he knew all was well in his household and with Adam. If anything had been wrong, Hoss would have told him. He could sleep easy one more night knowing his sons were doing well.

*****

Chapter 2

Early the next morning, Joe was reluctant to leave Sarah alone for the day. He knew she still had nearly two months to her due date, but Doctor Martin had said that twins sometimes came early. He was worried every day about her and the babies and tried to spend as much time near the house as possible. Sarah was getting almost as annoyed with him as Hoss was annoyed that Joe wasn’t getting all his work done. Sarah decided it was time to assert herself a bit.

“Joe Cartwright, these babies are not arriving today. I can pretty much guarantee that. Now I have no discomfort, and you know my Mama told me what I would feel as my time got close. Well, I’m feeling none of that. If I was, I would tell you.”

“I hate to leave you alone though. What if you need to lift something or need to carry something.”

“Joe, I can wait for you to come home. I’m sure nothing urgent is going to happen that requires me to do those things. Besides, Emma is coming over this morning to do some sewing with me. You won’t want to be around for that.”

“Emma is even smaller than you. She can’t help much if you need something heavy lifted.”

“I already told you that kind of thing can wait. Now, Adam set up that pump for me right in the kitchen and I’ve got a washroom with facilities right next to the kitchen too. I don’t even have to leave the house if I don’t want to. Emma and I can sit inside or on the porch. We’ll be fine. Now you go do your work and help Hoss. That poor man has been carrying the load too much.”

“Has he been complaining?”

“No, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how tired he looks. I know he’s been working very hard too by what Sarah tells me about his long days. Not complaints, mind you, but a lot like what Adele says about Adam’s long days. Your older brothers are very hard workers, but sometimes they seem to work too much.”

“I know. Hoss asked Adam if he could help out some, but he found out that Adam is swamped with work at his job, and Adele has a long list of jobs at home too.”

“Oh, I heard her talk about all the things she wanted to do, and I was afraid of that. I don’t know that Adele knows how hard it is to put in a rose garden, a pond, a gazebo, and a smokehouse.”

“She’s got my older brother doing all of that?”

“She was talking about those things, and I’m afraid that Adam is trying to do all of them to please her. You know how he is.”

“All right, I’ll do better at helping out Hoss, but I don’t know that we can do anything to help Adam.”

“Maybe some help digging that pond?”

Smiling, Joe nodded. “Yes, maybe we can go help him out at some point. Maybe we can do it like a barn raising but kind of in reverse digging down instead of building up.”

“That sounds like fun. A party could be just what we all need. I would like to get out of the house once before we have the twins. I have a feeling I’m not going to get out much once they’re here.”

“I guess I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right. I’ll talk to Pa and Hoss about it.”

With a kiss goodbye and a smile, Joe left for the day. When Sarah heard a horse, she thought that Emma had arrived in her carriage. Instead she was shocked to turn to the kitchen door to see Tom Burgess standing there grinning at her.

“Damn, woman, you filled out some and it suits you real fine. You was such a skinny little thing last I saw you, but you’re all woman now.”

Burgess stepped forward then and wrapped his arms around Sarah to pull her to him and tried to kiss her. She pushed against him and turned her head away.

“Now what’s this? You was all set to marry me and now you won’t even kiss me?”

“I’m married to Joe. You know that. You must know that because you came here to our house. What do you want?”

“I want you back, Sarah. I made a mistake leaving you like I did. Now I got a future. I found a way to make some money and I got a real future.”

“I’m glad you have a good job now on the Ponderosa, but I have a life with Joe now.”

“I want you back, I said. I’ll still take you even if you been with him.”

“Joe and I are going to have babies. I’m with child.”

Stunned, Burgess stepped back and looked at Sarah more closely noting the wrap around dress. “So that’s why you filled out especially up top where I noticed and your face is fuller too and even your lips look fuller. You’re getting ready to have a baby.”

“Twins. The doctor said we’re going to have two babies.”

“Damn, that’s really something. Tell you what. I’ll take you even with his spawn inside you. I’ll raise them two like they was my own. That’s how much I want you. Now in a couple of weeks, I’ll be coming to get you and we’ll be leaving here. Don’t you go telling anybody until the time comes. I don’t want them interfering. You know what I mean.” He rested his hand on his pistol for emphasis.

“I know what you mean. You should go now. My sister-in-law, Emma, is supposed to be here soon.”

“All right. One kiss, and then I’ll go. You don’t kiss me, and I’ll stay until you do. How you gonna explain that to her? You entertaining one of the hands while your husband is gone.”

Unable to think of what to do, Sarah hesitated and he moved to her grabbing her in a hug again and moving in for that kiss. She didn’t turn away and thought to give him a light peck on the lips, but he had other ideas. He pressed for a passionate kiss and when she resisted, he pinched her nose until she had to open her mouth to breathe. He pawed at her as he kissed her and then hissed in her ear as he pressed himself against her.

“We done things, you and me, that you don’t want me telling Joe, I bet. Did you tell him I had you first? If that had taken, your first babies coulda been mine now, couldn’t they?”

“I thought we were going to marry. I wouldn’t have let you do those things if I knew you were going to run off instead.”

“I didn’t run off. I went to make my way so I could come back for you. Now I’m back to claim my own. No rich boy is gonna stand in my way. You hear that? Now I’m going but you mind what I said.” He paused for a moment. “You know, maybe if you don’t cooperate, I’ll tell folks you done those things for me but you wanted money for doing them. I got friends who’ll swear you done the same with them for money too. Maybe even while I was watching. How do you think people will look at you then? You better come with me because I can ruin you otherwise. You can’t deny you done those things with me so folks will believe what I say about it too.” With a sneer, he walked out the door and rode away.

About a mile away, Emma had stopped the carriage in a grove of trees to watch for deer at a spring that Hoss had told her often attracted them. He said if she stopped and made no noise, she might see some. She didn’t, but was surprised to see one of the hands riding away from Joe’s house. She thought that odd and quickly snapped the reins to go to see that Sarah was all right. When she got to the house and entered the kitchen, she found Sarah in tears.

“What’s wrong? Did that man hurt you?”

“Oh, Emma, I don’t know what to do. That was Tom Burgess. He’s awful, and you don’t know what he wants. That’s awful too, and I can’t tell Joe. Tom is so fast with a gun. He could kill Joe, and he would like that too. He would want to do that, I think.”

“You were supposed to marry him at one point, weren’t you, but he left. That’s when Joe started seeing you, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, and Joe was everything that he wasn’t. I’m so happy now, but it could all be ruined. He said he might tell Joe things. Sarah, I thought I was going to marry him. I let him do things I only let him do because I thought we were going to be married. I wouldn’t have let him do those things otherwise, but now he’s going to tell Joe, and maybe even tell him worse things that I never did. He’ll ruin my life one way or another.”

“What kind of things did he say he would do?”

After another bout of crying, Sarah told Emma the threats Tom Burgess had made. They talked but had no solution to the dilemma even by noon when Hoss came by with some lunch that Hop Sing had sent over for the ladies. He was surprised to see his wife with such a serious look and Sarah with red rimmed eyes.

“What’s bin goin’ on here ’cause this shur ain’t at’all what I was expectin’ when I come over with lunch?”

Sarah didn’t want to tell Hoss, but Emma reassured her that Hoss could keep a secret as needed and that they needed help. She proceeded to tell Hoss everything that Sarah had told her about the visit that Tom Burgess had made to the house that morning and the threats he had made.

“Hoss, I don’t know the man, but he sounds almost kind of crazy like he might really do those things. He already did enough that we could get Roy to lock him up for a bit, but that won’t be enough. He’ll only get thirty days most likely because she has no injuries other than that bruise to her cheek where his thumb pressed too hard. Without that, she wouldn’t have any proof at all that he accosted her.”

“I know, and I’m worried about telling Joe too. You know the temper my little brother has, and that Burgess is mighty fast. I’d hate to see them two in a gunfight, and maybe it could come to that.”

“But what else can we do? We have to do something to help Sarah. She’s terrified of this man, and that’s not at all good for her in her condition.”

“It’s not good for any woman, now, is it? Listen, I think I need to talk to Adam about this. He knows more about men like that than I do, and he’s a better planner than anybody I know. If anyone can come up with an idea of what to do about Burgess, he’s the one. Meanwhile, I think we gotta tell Pa too.”

“Oh, no, you can’t tell him! What’s he going to think of me when he learns what I did?”

“Sarah, men and women been doing things like that for a long time ‘specially men and women who’s planning on getting married up with each other. I know Adam and Adele was together before they got married. It was only one night, but I think the whole town knew it. Heck her neighbors knew every time he was there and how long. Nobody thought too much about it for very long seeing as how they got married the next day. It’s how things are sometimes. Might be some holier than thou kinds who can’t ever see past it, but regular folks understand. Pa will understand. He knows you’re good people and love Joe. You’re family. We Cartwrights all stick together. Now, Joe’s got to know though but let’s let things get a bit settled first before you tell him.”

“I don’t want to tell him!”

“Sarah, you have to be the one to tell him. It’s the only way. Now, I’m gonna go make a point to see Adam again, probably tomorrow ifn I can. You get yourself together as well as you can and I know Emma will help. Tomorrow, Emma will come back and be here right after breakfast too so there won’t be any unwelcome visitors. I’ll assign somebody trustworthy to work near your place too. Probably I’ll have Candy working nearby. You trust him, dontcha?”

Sarah nodded. “I’ll make sure that Burgess is on a crew a long way from here.”

“You’re not going to fire him?” Emma was shocked.

“Darling, if we fire him, then we don’t know where he is. This way we can keep an eye on him.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.”

“Emma, you stay here the rest of the afternoon with Sarah. I’ll send a man to work near here and keep an eye on the place to make sure you don’t get any more visits today.”

Sarah had tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Hoss. You’re a great brother-in-law!”

“Sarah, like I said, we’re family.”

With a smile that disappeared as soon as he stepped outside, Hoss left the two ladies to talk and console each other. Worried about Burgess, about Joe, and about the rustling, Hoss had a lot on his mind and headed out to send a man to do as he promised and then to go to talk with his father. This was serious business and he wanted him to know. He gave him a quick rundown of what had happened and then that evening, Hoss and Ben talked more about the issue with Ben in agreement that it might be a good idea for Hoss to talk to Adam about it. He agreed too that it would be best if Sarah told Joe about the visit, but he thought that one of them should be there when she did so that if Joe’s temper got the best of him, they could help settle him down. They left it there until Hoss could go over to talk with Adam and see if he could help.

“Adam’s awful busy, Pa, but for this, I think he’ll find the time.”

****

Chapter 3

Tired, or more accurately, exhausted, Adam pulled off his boots, and then lay back on the bed almost past the point of having the energy to remove his shirt and pants. Adele moved beside him and began unbuttoning his shirt for him, but he put a hand over her hand.

“I’m sorry, but I’m too tired tonight. I finally have to say no. I simply can’t keep up with you any more. You’re only a few years younger, but woman, you seem to have the energy of a woman much younger than that.”

“I don’t know. I’ve heard that women in my condition sometimes are like this, but until now I didn’t realize that it might be what’s driving me. I’m sorry if it’s too much for you. I do know how very hard you’ve been working. I’ll help you get undressed and I’ll behave myself too.”

“Thank you.” Adam let her hand go then and she did unbutton his shirt and then began undoing his belt buckle when he suddenly grabbed her hand again. “Wait! What condition?”

“You really are exhausted, aren’t you? That took a while.”

“That’s evasion. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh, are you being the big tough U.S. Marshal with me now, and I’m your helpless prisoner?”

“Adele, what condition? Are you sick?”

“”Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. How would being sick make me want you every night, and every day, and maybe more than once come to think of it.”

Grabbing her then and rolling over until he was above her and looking down into her face, Adam had her hands grasped in his. “I am not above torture. It seems to me that there is someone in this bed who is highly susceptible to tickling and you must know by now that I know all the right places. So out with it, woman.”

“We’re going to have a baby.”

Adam had known. He had to have known by then with what she had said and the flippant tone of her remarks, but hearing it still stunned him. Adele smiled up at him as she saw his emotions reflected in his expressions before he leaned down to kiss her passionately. His resolve to be tired and only sleep that night was gone again. It was a special night, and he wasn’t going to simply go to sleep after hearing such news. At midnight when he fell asleep with Adele in his arms, she wondered at his comment whispered to her shortly before she heard his breathing become slow and regular indicating that he had slipped into restful slumber. It was in response to her apology for having kept him awake so late once more.

“I did tell Hoss that I would get more rest if I had married an ugly, smelly woman. I’ll explain at breakfast.”

It seemed such an odd thing to say, but she couldn’t question his love for her so she settled into his warm embrace and closed her eyes. She would wait until breakfast to see what he had to say. At breakfast, Adam tried to avoid that conversation realizing he had revealed something he had never meant to say. However he had already said too much to evade a woman as smart as Adele for long so he had to admit what he had said to Hoss. He cringed inside expecting the response he did get.

“You talked to your brother about what we do in bed? I can’t believe you. That is the most private and intimate part of our lives. You say you value your privacy, but you violate our privacy that way.”

In a huff, Adele stomped from the dining table to their bedroom to dress. Adam guessed things might be a bit icy around the house for a while. He called out a farewell and didn’t get a response. He left for the office for the first time in his marriage without getting a kiss from his wife and a wish from her to stay safe. On her part, when Adele calmed down, she felt terribly guilty about that.

At the office for only about two hours, Adam was quite surprised to see Hoss step through the doorway with a sheepish look. He hadn’t seen him for quite some time and then to see him twice in two days was remarkable so he expressed that.

“Well, we got ourselves a family problem brewing, and me and Pa too decided that maybe you might be able to help. You oughta know ’bout it at the least. Burgess is back.”

“The one who was supposed to marry Sarah but left town?”

“Yeah, he’s the one. But the worst part is, he threatened Sarah.”

“Tell Roy and he’ll arrest him.”

“It ain’t that simple, Adam. Burgess is real fast with a gun. He does that quick draw and fanning thing. Now he done said he’s gonna take Sarah away with him. He threatened to tell people she done things with him for money if she don’t go. Says he’s got friends who’ll swear to the same. He already done gone and forced her to kiss him. I saw the bruise on her face. With what he done, he could easy get at least thirty days in jail and maybe a bit more, but then we’re right back where we started.”

“How did Joe react?”

“He don’t know yet. Sarah don’t want to tell ‘im. I told her she should, but both me and Pa think one or more of us needs to be there in case his temper explodes when he hears.”

“Where’s Burgess now?”

“He’s working for us.”

“And you didn’t fire him because you want to keep an eye on him and keep him away from Sarah. That’s smart, but that also means it will be easy for him and Joe to lock horns.”

“I know. I was hoping you might have an idea or two of what we can do ’bout this.”

“I agree that you should probably be nearby when Sarah tells Joe. I’d keep Burgess working as far from Joe as possible too. He’ll probably want him fired so be prepared to explain to him why that’s not a good idea yet. I’ll check with the prosecutor here to see what can legally be done and get back to you as fast as I can. Pa knows so maybe he can go talk to Roy and see if he has any ideas. Roy sometimes knows a few little tricks too to keep things from getting out of hand in situations like this.”

“I was kinda hoping maybe you could come up with something.”

“I’ll do what I can. I wish I could help more, but I have to go out of town. I have set up some meetings with people who have been robbed by the gang. I want more information before I have a meeting with some of the sheriffs and some marshals here next week. I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

“All right then. I’ll make sure Joe don’t do nothing stupid.”

“I assume you’ve set someone to watch over the house?”

“Yeah, but we can’t hardly afford to have one of our best men spending time doing that when we got so much work to do.”

“Hoss, we can’t hardly afford not to.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Hey I stopped by your house on the way in to say howdy and to make sure you was at your office. Seemed like things was a might off with Adele. Things all right at your house?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on.”

“Yeah, I heard she’s got a lot for you to do with a rose garden, a gazebo, a pond, and something else she wanted.”

“A smokehouse.”

“Yeah, but is there more?”

“I slipped and let her know I talked to you about us and what we do together. It would be an understatement to say she wasn’t pleased that I violated our privacy that way.”

“Well, I don’t know why we can’t talk about it if they do.”

“What?”

“Well last time we was all at the house, I went to the kitchen to see if there was more pie and before I went in, I overheard them all a snickering and talking ’bout the three of us and comparing us to animals. I was a big ole bear according to my wife. She said I was strong and big but could be warm and gentle too especially in bed. I kinda liked that.”

“What about me?”

“You was a cougar, all fierce and powerful but kinda, let me see, what did she say, something about being graceful and sleek or something like that too and real exciting to be around especially in the bedroom.”

“And Joe?”

Hoss laughed then. “A rabbit.” That got Adam laughing and forgetting some of the seriousness of the day and the problems facing them.

“I guess that perhaps I can have an honest conversation with my wife about all this without mentioning names of course.”

“Of course.” Hoss laughed again. “Glad to help out.” Then his expression became far more serious. “That conversation is likely to go a lot better than the one Sarah is gonna have with Joe. I better head back and see ’bout that.”

That day, Adam had an easier conversation at home than Hoss had when he talked with Joe after Sarah did. Joe wanted to ride out to confront Burgess so it was a good thing that Hoss was there.

“Hoss, you don’t know what he said.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why didn’t you fire him? It was the least you could have done for me.”

“No, then we wouldn’t know where he was. I put Candy to watching your house and I set Burgess on jobs a long way from the house. I knew you and Tom was working mainly with the horses we was gonna need for the drive so the two of you wasn’t gonna meet up.”

“I want to meet up with him.”

“So you can do what? End up in jail for killing him? End up shot when he’s faster than you? You got a wife and babies on the way. You got to think of that first.”

Jerking his arm away from Hoss who had been holding him firmly and not allowing him to mount up on Cochise, Joe stalked away to the corral by his small stable and leaned on the fence putting his head down on his arms. “What am I supposed to do then?”

“Go inside to your wife. She needs you right now. She’s hurting real bad cause of all this and don’t know if you’re mad at only Burgess or ifn you’re upset at her too.”

Surprised, Joe turned back toward Hoss. “Why would I be mad at her?”

“She admitted some things to you that she didn’t think you knew. She’s embarrassed by them and worried that you’ll think less of her because of that.”

“No, I kind of knew or really kind of guessed anyway. I mean, I knew she and Burgess were supposed to get married and were together for a long time. I don’t hold it against her.”

“You ought to be telling her that instead a me, dontcha think?”

“Thank you, big brother.”

“Meanwhile, you kin trust me to watch Burgess until we get some word from Roy or Adam as to what we might be able to do ’bout him.”

“They know too?”

“I thought they should. We need all the help we can get on this one.”

“Pa too?”

“Yeah, he agreed that I should tell Adam, and when I told him about bringing Roy in for some extra help, he thought that was a good idea too.”

“Sure is a change from the old days, isn’t it, when Pa thought we could handle everything ourselves?”

“Sure is. Maybe having a lawman in the family is making him see things a mite different.”

The lawman in the family was done teasing his wife about talking about him as a cougar, and was packing up his bags for his trip. Adele noted the pencils and sketchpad he packed and asked him about that.

“I want to talk to people and find out what these outlaws looked like. We have some descriptions but no drawings. I want to get as many as I can, and then next week when I have the meeting with the sheriffs and the other marshals, I’ll show the drawings to see if anyone recognizes anyone.”

“You’re a very clever man, Marshal Cartwright.”

“Thank you. Now, let’s see about me being a cougar, shall we?”

It was still relatively early so Adam got enough sleep that night. Then he was on the road visiting places where the gang had hit. Some said they saw little because the men wore masks but Adam drew as much as they could see and got better drawings at a few spots that were more remote and the gang members had come in without masks probably thinking that they didn’t need them. After his trip, he was fairly confident that someone would recognize these men from the drawings if anyone knew them or had seen them. He arrived home ready for his meeting to find that there had been another robbery and headed to that trading post near Virginia City before he even got to his house. He was even more convinced at that point that the men lived and worked in the area.

****

Chapter 4

Homecoming after a long trip was one of the nicest parts of Adam’s job because Adele always missed him dearly and a wonderful meal and some time snuggling and talking about his trip filled the early evening before they went to bed. There they made up for missing each other and slept better than either had since they had been separated. It was the next morning at breakfast that Adele mentioned that Joe had confronted Burgess on the Ponderosa.

“What!”

“I knew you would be upset. I didn’t tell you last night because there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Hoss told me when I visited the ranch while you were gone. I wanted to see Sarah and dropped off some things I had made for the babies. I sewed up some small blankets. Twins are probably going to be small and they’ll need more blankets.”

“Enough with the delaying tactics. Tell me what happened.”

“You know your brother. It ate at him too much. He found out where Burgess was working and rode over to see him. He told him he knew everything he had said to Sarah, and he told him if he tried to follow through on either threat, Joe would kill him.”

“Damn. Sorry, I can’t help it though. Joe put himself in a bad position there. Burgess might challenge him to a fight now, and Hoss said he’s fast. Or if anything happens to Burgess, everyone is going to be looking at Joe as the one who did it.”

“I know. Hoss said about the same. He wanted you to know. He’s got Tom Carpenter and Candy now trying to keep Joe away from Burgess and trying to keep an eye on Burgess at the same time. He’s got two other men watching Joe’s house. It’s really hurting their ability to do the work they need to get done though.”

“I know. Hoss wanted me to help out, but with this gang operating so actively, I can’t take any time away from the job right now.”

“Hopefully with your meeting tomorrow, you can begin to make some progress on catching these men.”

“I hope so. If one or two of them can be identified, then we’ll be well on our way to doing that. It depends a lot on whether anyone recognizes anyone in any of the sketches I’ve done.”

The next morning, Adam got more than he wished when the lawmen gathered in his office for a meeting. There were sheriffs and deputy sheriffs from a number of towns as well as marshals from the adjoining regions. When Adam stood, the men quieted and waited to see what he had to say.

“The reason I’ve called you all here is that the men who have been doing these robberies and the men who have been rustling cattle from the ranches are the same men. This is one gang of five or six men. They’ve been getting themselves hired on at ranches in an area, robbing the small shops and trading posts, and rustling cattle and selling them to mining camps through various suppliers. They’ve bribed a few telegraph operators along the way to know when shipments have come in of new items so they know when to hit places to get the best hauls. When it gets too hot in one spot, they move on to the next looking like drifting cowboys looking for their next job. They move singly so no one would associate them with each other. There’s always a gap of about two to three weeks from activity in one area until it starts in the adjoining region. It probably takes that long for each of them to quit a job and move on to a new one without the group attracting any attention to the group as a whole. Whoever came up with the plan was creative, but they have been careless. In some more isolated spots, they’ve let their faces be seen probably thinking no one there would ever see them again. That’s true, but I went to talk to those people and drew the faces from their descriptions.”

The lawmen in the room were silent for a moment as they processed everything he had said. It all made sense and fit with what they knew. Impressed at how he had worked it out, they wanted to see the sketches so he showed them, and several sheriffs thought they recognized a couple of the men. It was determined where they were at that time, and Adam assigned two deputy marshals to head to those two places asking them to get themselves hired on the same ranches where these men were working. He said he would write a letter for them to take and hoped the local sheriff in each town would do the same. They said they would. Then Roy Coffee spoke up.

“Adam, you must recognize that last one you showed us.”

“No, I’m afraid I didn’t recognize any of the men.”

“To me, that looked a lot like Tom Burgess. I thought you might have thought so too.”

“Roy, I’ve never met Tom Burgess. I’ve heard a lot about him, but I don’t know what he looks like. He fits the pattern though, doesn’t he? He’s arrived in the area recently and works on one of the large ranches, which has been hit hard by the rustlers. There would be lots of places there to hide what was stolen too.”

“Are you going to send someone to the Ponderosa to watch him?”

“He’s already being watched. We’ll alert them to this news and they’ll put an even closer watch on him. Now, I want to tell all of you the next part of the plan.” Adam detailed what was going to happen in about a week and how he planned to lure the gang into a trap. If all worked as he hoped, the gang would be out of business by the time the week was up. He got the support of the men there for the plan and promised to keep in touch with them, but told them why that communication might be slower than usual. They understood that too.

“Adam, you want me to ride on out to tell your family about Tom Burgess?”

“Roy, I would appreciate that. I’m very busy here trying to coordinate all of this so that would be a big help.”

“I can do that. I haven’t seen Ben in a while, and I haven’t had Hop Sing’s cooking in a very long time. I think I may ride in that direction on the way home. If I get lucky enough, I’ll get there about time for dinner and then maybe Ben will invite me to stay over and I can have breakfast too.”

“He probably will too. There’s a lot of extra room in that house now. I think he might like the company.”

“One thing I gotta say before I go though. You’re doing a real good job as the Marshal. I wish all the men in this job were as good as you.” Adam thank Roy for the compliment. “It’s not a compliment. It’s the truth.”

“Thank you. It’s good to hear that from a man I respect so much.”

With that, Roy left and did ride to the Ponderosa, but he wasn’t going to get the reception he expected nor the meals and the hospitality he anticipated as he made the ride. When he got to the Ponderosa, there was a lot of commotion and two riders racing to town and a slew of men up by the house. A carriage pulled out and drove toward Joe’s house. He knew something was terribly wrong but had no idea what it was. When he got there, he walked into the house through the door that was standing open and found Ben in the middle of the great room issuing orders and holding a stack of towels that he handed to Hoss who headed up the stairs with them.

“Ben, what’s happened?”

“Joe’s been shot. It looks real bad. Hop Sing and Emma are with him. Hoss brought up the towels they asked for. If I could do anything to help, I’d be there too, but the room is crowded already with the three of them in there. I’m trying to think of everything else that needs to be done. I sent Candy to go get Sarah. I’m worried about what this might do to her.”

“Her time getting that close?”

“About a month and a half. Those babies can’t come now. It’s much too soon. Paul said they might come a few weeks early and that he thought they could deal with that but six weeks is too much. Oh, I forgot to tell those two men I sent to town to send a telegram to Adam to let him know. I’ll have to send someone else to do that.”

“I can do it, Ben. I was just in Carson City at a meeting that Adam called. Ben, it wasn’t this Burgess fella that done it, was it?”

“No, Candy went to question him immediately and found him exactly where he was supposed to be. He was sick today and stayed in the bunkhouse. The two men watching him, Candy and Tom Carpenter, checked on him a few times and he was there. When they brought Joe in, Burgess was in the bunkhouse sound asleep. No matter how good he is, he couldn’t have gotten back here that fast, put his horse away cooled down, and then sneaked into the bunkhouse to fall asleep.”

“He had somebody do it for him.”

“I thought the same thing but how could we ever prove it?”

“Impossible to catch the man.”

“Yes, the men there went to help Joe. Whoever did it has had hours to get away.” Ben paused then. “Burgess knows we’ve been watching him. He said as much when Candy woke him. He said that he couldn’t have done it regardless because we’ve had our eye on him the whole time he’s been here.”

“Listening to that, I gotta tell you what your boy, Adam, has figured out. It’s a good plan, and it’s got a real good chance of working. He’s got the angles covered.” Roy explained about the sketches, assigning deputy marshals to work on the same ranches as the two identified gang members, and how Adam had set up a fake shipment to the Carson City mint to lure the gang into a big job. “I gotta tell you, Adam was one of the youngest and definitely the least experienced lawman in that room, but he’s already got the respect of those other men. He plans, he listens, and he includes everyone. He’s doing a real good job.”

“Yes, I’m very proud of him.”

“Have you told him that? I ask because I get the feeling he’s not so sure of himself in that job even though he’s doing a really good at it. He might need to hear from some men he admires that he is doing better than anyone else could do.”

“He’s that good?”

“Ben, he’s got a knack for putting all the pieces together. He’s in the right kind of job for him. He’s using all the talents he’s got. Lots of lawmen are good at planning and working out strategies for things, but he’s got that way for figuring things out that most of us don’t have. How he figured all of this was tied together makes a lot of sense now that he explained it, but none of us saw it ’til he said it.”

“Well, maybe he can get the man who’s done this to Joe.”

“He might already be on his way to doing that. He’s got an idea that’s a pretty good one of who’s been doing all these robberies and the rustling, and we figure Tom Burgess is part of it. It’s likely that one of the others he’s in that gang with done the shooting for him. He probably thought to get Joe out of the way so he could go after Sarah. It probably means he heard about the big shipment coming in and thinks they’re about to get a huge payday and be able to retire from this business.”

“Adam’s planning something?”

“He is, and he needs you to keep an extra special watch on Tom Burgess, but it seems Tom knew he was being watched so you’re going to have to put a man or two on him who are better at watching that whoever was doing it.”

“It was probably Tom Carpenter he saw. I’ll have Candy take over. He’s more capable of doing it without being seen. It will be his job and nothing else.”

“I’ll head on in to town then and send a wire to Adam to let him know what’s happened. How bad is Joe?”

“It’s bad, Roy, but until Paul gets here, I can’t tell you how bad. I can only hope the bullet didn’t hit anything vital. At least it was a rifle shot from a long way off. It didn’t hit as hard as if it was fired from up close but he still bled a lot before help got to him. I sent someone to get Sarah and hope this doesn’t create a problem for her. This is all so terrible.”

“I’ll pray for him. Is there anything else I can do.”

“Catch these animals and lock them up. That’s all that would help now.”

*****

Chapter 5

Struggling up from darkness, Joe thought he heard someone crying and it sounded like Sarah. He wanted to reach out to comfort her but couldn’t even open his eyes. The pain stopped him too. There was a throbbing pain in his side that was awful, but then there would be hands there making it worse with sharp pains from pulls and pokes. He reached out to try to stop the torture, but large hands grasped his arms and held him back. Those hands felt like his brother Hoss, but why would Hoss let anyone torture him. It made no sense, and too weak to fight him or even to think much, he fell back into the darkness too exhausted to deal with any of those things.

“I think he’s done passed out again, Doc. Ya think you’re about done there? I don’t know if any of us kin take much more of this.”

“Hoss, almost stitched up tight. He lost a lot of blood, but as all of you hoped, there doesn’t seem to be any serious damage internally. It ripped a long path across his abdomen but luckily he must have turned to the side for some reason and it entered from the right and went out the left. The damage is all to muscle and skin especially where it exited because that’s where it went the deepest. He’s going to be feeling a lot of pain right here because of that. There was no entrance into the abdominal cavity itself so I have no fear for him having an abscess of anything like that. We’ll still have to watch this wound for infection. I’ve cleaned it out but it may need to be cleaned again. If necessary, I’ll open it again and do that.”

“I bet that’s gonna hurt like the dickens.”

“Yes, but for now, there’s no more bleeding, and at the moment, that’s more important than anything. He needs rest, and when he wakes, as much fluid as he can comfortably take. Bed rest then, change the bandages often and call me at the first sign of any infection, and keep him on fluids until I return in a day or two.”

Hop Sing began cleaning up the soiled linens as Doctor Martin packed his bag. Sarah moved next to Joe to sit and hold his hand. Hoss had made her sit in the rocking chair while they cared for Joe because she had refused to leave the room. Now Hoss had a chair next to the bed for her.

“I’ll bring up some tea for you as soon as Hop Sing gets a chance to get back to his kitchen. I’ll do what I can to help him out down there.”

“Hoss, you go sit with your father. I’ll help Hop Sing and get things up here to Sarah.” Emma had assisted Doctor Martin with the surgery and now helped with the bandaging too finishing up as the doctor looked on approvingly.

“Hoss, your wife makes a fine nurse. She was one of the best assistants I’ve ever had. If I could have her and Hop Sing work with me all the time, my job would be a lot easier.”

“Oh, no, Doc, ya ain’t stealing either one of ’em away from me.”

“I knew that, but I wanted to make sure you knew what gems you have here.”

“We know it. I know it for sure. I’m a lucky man. Let’s go tell Pa how lucky Joe turned out to be too.”

Ben was relieved at the news, but of course, Joe didn’t feel that lucky for those short periods when he did wake. He was in great pain and there was little that could be done about it as those muscles were going to take some time to heal. He couldn’t move without pulling at them so his discomfort was increased with everything that had to be done. Even sliding a pillow behind his head so that it was easier to give him fluids caused him more pain. He tried to hide the grimace and didn’t make a sound but the strain was evident. He didn’t want any laudanum as sometimes that made him nauseated, and the very last thing he wanted to do at this point was to retch at all. He could only imagine the torment if that happened. Ben and Hoss stopped in every so often to check on him and with Hop Sing bringing in fluids and Sarah sitting with him, Emma finally called a halt.

“He can’t rest with so much traffic. I know you’re all worried about him, but it’s busy road through here. From now on, I’ll bring in the things he needs and Sarah and I will care for him unless we need help. Each of you will get a visit in the morning and one later in the day when he’s awake. Otherwise, you need to stay away and let him rest.”

Hoss didn’t say anything and didn’t turn toward his father at all, but he did turn his eyes as far to the right as he could in order to see how his father was reacting to Emma taking charge. He could only imagine the look on his face, but Emma had that look too. She stood there in the hallway outside of the room where Joe was resting and dared his father to challenge her. Hoss waited and nothing was said. Finally he turned and saw his father’s face was a bit red, but he wasn’t responding yet. Then in a forced voice, he did.

“Very well. What you’ve said makes sense. Doctor Martin did say you made a very good nurse, but I do reserve the right to peek in the door from time to time to see how my son is doing.”

“I guess that would be fine as long as you’re quiet and there’s no disturbance. He’s resting now so if you want to peek in the door, this would be a good time.” Emma conceded and apparently peace was maintained. “I need to go get some fresh water. Sarah is asleep in the rocker. I moved it next to the bed. So don’t be concerned that she isn’t moving.” Emma walked away and down the stairs then.

Ben looked at Hoss and rolled his eyes a little before sighing. But he did only crack the door open to look in to see both Joe and Sarah apparently resting comfortably for the time being. He stood there until Emma returned, nodded, and then went back down the stairs with Hoss who had smiled at his wife after Ben had turned to leave. He was proud of her but was a bit shocked that she had done what she had done. He was still learning about his wife. Occasionally, he had seen spurts of that strength of character before, and it seemed it was there ready to be utilized when necessary. Otherwise, she tended to be quiet and didn’t challenge anything. Hoss was gaining more respect for her all along, and began to realize in that respect, they were quite a bit alike.

After dinner, Ben went up to see Joe when Emma came to the top of the stairs to say that he was awake. Hoss followed him up the stairs and stood at the foot of the bed as his father talked softly with his youngest son. It was clear that Joe was still in a great deal of pain, but his color looked a little better than it had earlier in the day when he had been found and brought to the house. Noting Emma watching over Joe, Ben was careful not to stay too long and told Joe to rest. He thought that he should probably try to get Sarah to go to the bedroom next door to do the same and saw Emma nod when he started talking to Sarah.

“Dear, you can see now that Joe is out of danger. Perhaps you should consider resting now too. You have a very precious set of babies that you need to protect and you wouldn’t want to strain too much, now would you. You can have the bedroom right next to this one and even leave that adjoining door open if you would feel better doing that.”

Everyone could see how much Sarah wanted to object, but even Joe wanted her to listen to Ben. He pulled his hand from hers even though that took some effort. She looked at him and he nodded ever so slightly. She knew it was the right thing to do and agreed.

“Tomorrow, we’ll go to your house and get your things and Joe’s things and bring them here. Until this is settled, the two of you will be safer right here.”

“But how long will that be?”

“Adam is working on it, dear, and if Sheriff Coffee’s assessment is correct, this might all be over in a week or so.”

“Oh, I pray Adam can do that. It would be a miracle.”

“No, not a miracle, but Adam does like to put a plan together, and this is a good one. Now, you go get some rest.”

Joe’s raised eyebrow made it clear that he was curious so Ben sat down in the rocker and gave him a quick synopsis of what Roy had told him. Hoss listened too not having heard that story yet. Once he told him the gist of what was planned, Ben told Joe to close his eyes and waited for Emma to return. When she did, he asked if she was going to sit with Joe all night. He asked it in a tone that was a bit sarcastic and she raised her eyebrows at him.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have talked like that.”

“No, I don’t plan to sit with him. Hop Sing has given me this bell to give to Joe. He can ring it if he needs anything. We can keep our doors open and we’ll hear it. Hop Sing said he’s used it before and even has this ribbon to tie it to his wrist so he won’t lose it during the night. I can stay here with him until he’s asleep again.” Looking at Joe and seeing the expression he had, Emma smiled. “I think that Joe would like you and Hoss to help him right now though. I’ll wait outside.”

Later, they were downstairs and when it was nearly dark, they heard a carriage in the yard. Hoss guessed that it was Adam and wasn’t disappointed. He was surprised that he was in a carriage though until he saw that Adele was with him.

“Hi there, older brother. Good evening to you, Adele.”

“Halloo, yourself, big brother, how is our little brother?”

“Doing pretty well. He’s got a nasty wound, but Doc said not anything that could kill him. It went in the right side about here and came out over here but mostly ripped up skin and muscle. It made quite a mess, and he lost a lot of blood, but Doc says he should be fine after he rests in bed and lets those muscles heal.”

“Our little brother rest in bed?”

“You ain’t seen him. It hurts him something fierce to move at all. That’ll keep him in bed for a while.”

By then, Adam had grabbed his bag and Adele’s and the three moved to the house to greet Ben who had come to the porch and Emma who followed him out. It was a warm night and Adam had taken off his coat making that marshal’s badge pinned to his vest shine even in the moonlight. From the bunkhouse, a number of men had looked out to see who had arrived and then sat down when they saw Adam. Tom Burgess didn’t know him though.

“Why is there a marshal here?”

“It’s just Adam.”

“Who’s Adam?”

“Adam is the oldest. He’s the marshal for this area. He’s got an office over in Carson City. Didn’t you know that? I guess he came over here ’cause somebody up and shot his little brother. I know I wouldn’t want to get him coming after me. I remember a few men had him after them. I don’t think they’re still alive, any of them.”

Standing at the window, Burgess watched until the group entered the house and closed the door. Candy watched him from his bunk and looked over at a couple of the other hands who had been assigned to watch Joe’s house and knew that Burgess was a problem. They nodded ever so slightly at Candy because it was clear that Burgess was worried about Adam which only made it all the more clear that he had something to do with Joe being shot. A short time later, Hoss came to the bunkhouse and asked if there were two men who could take care of the carriage horse and Sport who had been tied to the back of the carriage.

“Adam and Adele been on the road for over six hours. I’d like for them to be able to have dinner and then get some rest.”

He thanked the two men who volunteered to help out. Candy jumped up and told Hoss that he needed to talk to him about the work for the next day. Once they got outside and far enough away from the bunkhouse not to be overheard, Candy had a few things to tell him.

“Burgess didn’t know Adam was a marshal. You should have seen how worried he looked when he found out.”

“You think he looked like he was gonna do anything about it?”

“No, he looked more like he was ready to run.”

“All right, keep a real close watch on him then. He might just do that. Ifn he does, we want to know where he goes.”

Candy didn’t get any sleep because he had to stay awake in case Burgess took off during the night. About midnight, Candy heard noise and feigned snoring. Burgess walked out of the bunkhouse in his stocking feet. Candy got two of the others awake. He told one to tell the Cartwrights what had happened but to wait until morning to do it. He and other man went to where they had horses ready and quietly followed Burgess as he snuck away.

*****

Chapter 6

In the morning, Ben was up early checking on Joe. He hadn’t heard the bell all night long and was worried. Joe’s eyes opened when he went in the room.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the bell.”

“I never rang it. I only woke a short time ago and saw that it was getting light. I figured you would be here soon.” Joe managed a slight smile.

Ben checked his son’s cheek and forehead for a fever and found none. “Thirsty?”

“Yes, but then I need to do something before anyone else gets here.”

Ben got him a drink and then closed the door and helped him through the necessary business before tucking the blankets around him again and opening the door once more. The limited activity had exhausted him again and made him close his eyes.

“Want to sleep?”

“No, but I need to rest. Maybe you could just tell me what’s been going on and I’ll lay here and listen.”

Knowing that Joe wouldn’t be satisfied with some limited account, Ben told him the whole story including what Adam had told him and their suspicions about Tom Burgess. He told him that Candy was watching Burgess and that as long as he was on the Ponderosa, he would be watched.

“He’s gone.” Adam was in the doorway and softly told his father and brother what he had just found out. He had gone downstairs leaving Adele sleeping peacefully. When he went outside, one of the hands was there to tell him that Burgess had slipped away. “Candy and another man followed him. We’ll get a report back as to where he went as soon as he stops moving. Apparently he left around midnight as soon as he thought everyone was sound asleep.”

“That does tell us that he’s probably guilty of what we suspect then, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it certainly does appear that he has guilty knowledge. He got out of here when he saw me arrive apparently. According to the man I spoke with, he didn’t know Joe’s older brother was a marshal and was shaken to see me arrive here last night.”

In bed, Joe grinned despite the pain. Emma came in about then and was pleased to see Joe looking better. She asked if the two men would help her change the dressing before Sarah got there because it was going to be a messy job and it was probably best if Sarah didn’t see any more of that especially in her condition.

“Paul wants her to go at least a couple more weeks. The more bed rest she has now, the better. Sitting in the rocker here by Joe will help too. Now Joe, you can help too by being a good patient. I know it’s not in your nature, but you will be helping Sarah if you will stay quietly in this bed for the next week or two.”

“Two?”

“You heard me. Doctor Martin suggested two weeks as the proper time to let those muscles heal before you try getting up and moving around much. You two can take your meals up here and do most everything you need right here. That way, Sarah will get the quiet time she needs too, and those babies will arrive in a better state.”

“Son, you know she’s right. It may be difficult, but the reward will be well worth it.” Ben didn’t have to add that they would be a lot safer on the Ponderosa too. They all knew that. With the unpredictable Tom Burgess out there, the main house was the best place to be.

“Pa, I’d like Adele to stay here too. I want to question the hands to get some information and then go to wherever Candy says Burgess is to see what kind of set-up he has. I would feel better too knowing that Adele is safe. It would give her some time to get to know the family better too, and right now, you could use a bit of help around here.”

“Have you told her yet?”

“No, I wanted to broach the subject with you first. I’ll talk with her when she wakes. It was a long day yesterday and she’s still sleeping.”

Emma smiled too. “Hoss is still sleeping too. He’s been working so hard lately and worrying so much. With everyone in the house, I guess he finally relaxed and is catching up on his sleep.”

Grinning as he leaned on the doorsill, Adam shook his head too. “It won’t be for long though. I can smell breakfast. He won’t sleep through that.
Almost on cue, they heard noises coming from that bedroom and a short time later, Hoss emerged rubbing sleep from his eyes as he looked at everyone gathered around Joe’s bed or standing by the door. “Well, he must be better. You’re all looking mighty relaxed so I know ain’t nothing bad going on. I smell breakfast. Ain’t nobody going down to eat?”

As Adam went to check on Adele, the others did go to get breakfast. Emma promised a tray for Joe and said she would see how Sarah was doing as well. A short time later, Adele and Adam joined the group at the table. Ben noted that Hop Sing not only put a glass of milk on the tray for Sarah but set one in front of Adele and one in front of Emma. He wondered if Hop Sing knew something or was only preparing for the inevitable.

The man who had gone with Candy reported back by midday. Burgess was at an old, partially burned out trading post. Adam had that information and talked to the hands and got the names of all the men from other ranches with whom Burgess had been seen. The hands only knew a few names but they were names Adam didn’t have yet so it added to the list he was making. He had five names so he had all of most of the gang identified. Once they got them in the act and went the old trading post where they had likely stashed goods they had stolen, there would be no doubt of their guilt. Their crime spree would be over. Adam had come to check on his youngest brother, which had turned out to be unnecessary, but the trip had yielded some valuable rewards. He was very pleased. Adele told him not to be smug because that part had only been luck not planning. His family laughed to hear her chide him so.

On a more serious note, Adele wasn’t happy with Adam’s suggestion that she stay on the Ponderosa. She preferred seeing him at the end of each day and knowing that he was fine and of course sleeping beside her each night. However his arguments for her staying on the Ponderosa were sound too so she agreed to do it for the rest of the week but that was it.

“At the end of the week, I plan to go home.”

“What if the gang hasn’t been caught by then?”

“They have never been a threat to me. I know Sarah was threatened, but I never have been so there shouldn’t be any concern in that regard any more than there is any other time because of the job you have.” And Adele knew then she shouldn’t have said that. It was the unspoken worry that the whole family probably had. “Now, everyone knows that men out here except for unhinged ones like Tom Burgess would not hurt a woman. I’ll be fine. I’m not worried.” She could see though that the men in the family were worried. “Listen, Adam is exceptionally good at this job. There really is no reason to worry.”

Adam had to smile at that. It was the first time that Adele had declared that so strongly and she had done it publicly too.

“Yes, I’m proud of my son and the job he’s doing.”

If Adam was a bit surprised by Adele’s announcement, shock was the only way to describe his first reaction to his father’s unexpected pronouncement. Then he was pleased. His father had rarely praised him so openly, and it felt very good.

“Thank you, Pa.”

“It’s the truth, son.” Ben said nothing more not wanting to diminish his praise with any explanation of his initial misgivings about his son’s choice of job. He could see too how well received his slight praise had been and resolved that he once again needed to remember to tell all of his sons how well they did their jobs not only the youngest who so openly looked for his father’s approval.

“Well, speaking of doing my job, are there two men I could take with me when I go to see what Candy has found? He must be tired by now, and I can’t stay there to watch Burgess. Until I get to Carson and send one of my men there, I’ll need someone to keep an eye on the man.”

Soon, Adam was kissing Adele goodbye and heading to the old trading post with two men who had supplies so that they could stay there for a day or two. Ben said he could spare them that long because the job was worth doing. Candy was relieved to see them and said that Burgess apparently was still sleeping because there had been no movement at the old post since he had first arrived. His horse was tied up behind the post and untended. That alone made the men there upset with him, but they couldn’t do anything to help the horse. Before Candy left, Adam had one favor to ask.

“I know you’ve done a lot already, and I thank you especially for all the help you’ve been to my family.”

“I smell a ‘but’ coming up in this conversation.”

“Yes, I have one small favor to ask. When any of the men go to town or interact with men from other ranches, have them mention that Burgess took off during the night. It will be a big mystery and they can come up with any crazy theory they want or even make a joke of it. The key thing is to get the word out that he’s gone. I want to see who leaves the other ranches to come here to see him.”

“Hoss said you’re sneaky. I can see why. Yeah, I can do that. We can even have a bit of fun with that probably. Sure, we’ll do it.”

Adam thanked him and then chatted with the two men for a short time. When it was clear Burgess wasn’t planning to do anything that day, Adam rode back to Carson City to find out if anyone there had any new information. He told the two men he would be back by late the next day. On schedule, he was back with a deputy the next day.

“Did anyone come to see Burgess?”

There had been two visitors and the Ponderosa hands identified them. They matched names on the list Adam had confirming that they were probably part of the gang. They were also on ranches where Adam had deputies so he had to get word to them to follow them if they left the ranch again because the trap was about to be sprung. He had sent out the message that morning that was going to lead these men into their last raid hopefully. It was a telegram sent via one of the bribed telegraph agents that a shipment was coming from Denver to the Carson City mint for storage until it could be shipped to banks in the area of one hundred thousand dollars in new bills. In the message, Adam told them that he was ready for the shipment to arrive. He let ‘slip’ that the shipment was disguised as a crate of ordinary goods so that there was no guard traveling with it. It was a plan concocted by the marshal in Denver so that no criminals would even suspect it was a shipment of money. He was talking to one of his deputies but was ‘too close’ to the agent so that he could be overheard. It was part of his plan and he had no doubt the information was going to be passed to Burgess and his men.

Once that was done, all Adam and the others could do was to wait for the railcar to arrive and for the trap to be sprung. They hoped that Burgess and the others would be there and this crime spree would be over. Adam didn’t sleep well for those nights. He was worried that he might not have planned for something and that it might not work. He was also lonely having gotten used to having his wife by his side. On the Ponderosa, Adele was having the same kind of sleeplessness and was lonely at night with the other side of the bed empty and cold.

*****

Chapter 7

As Joe recovered, Emma had less to do with him and turned some of her attention to the others in the house telling Ben that he needed more sleep now that Joe was no longer in danger. She gave special attention to Sarah making sure she took naps, had good meals, and didn’t exert herself. With Hop Sing’s help, Emma had no problems taking care of those three. After a few days, one evening as they prepared to go to bed, Hoss expressed a concern though over another family member.

“Darling, dontcha think Adele is looking a bit peaked. I mean she looks kinda pale and sickly some times.”
“I’ve noticed that too. She asks Hop Sing for some tea to settle her stomach and then she seems fine though. I think she’s worried about Adam too much. Maybe you could talk to her.”

“What could I do?”

“Oh, you know Adam better than anyone. You could tell her all the reasons why she shouldn’t worry so.”

“Hmm, I was wondering ifn ya noticed the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

“Well, you remember how I said Hop Sing has a way of knowing things long before anybody tells him anything? You know how he’s been putting milk out with your breakfast every morning just like he does with Sarah’s breakfast tray? Ain’t ya noticed he does the same with Adele’s?”

“He does? No, I guess I had other things on my mind. That would explain a lot and why she’s especially lonely and worried now. You really ought to go talk to her.”

“No, I mean, well, I thought if she is with child, you’d be the more likely one she’d be wanting to talk with.”

“Hoss, she needs reassurance that Adam is going to be safe. That’s her main worry. If she’s with child, that only increases the worry. She wants the father of her child to be with her. Now, when do you think you could talk with her?”

“I suppose right now would be the best time.”

“But she already went into her bedroom.”

“Dontcha trust me to talk to her there?” Hoss had a big crooked grin as he said that.

“Oh, of course I trust you to talk to her anywhere, but it doesn’t seem proper for a man to go talk to a woman in her bedroom.”

“Darling, she’s family. Now one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some in this family talk a lot better when they’re sitting in their bedrooms. It kinda makes them let their guard down somehow to be there. It’s their place so they feel safe and when they invite ya in, it means they’re still in charge and kin tell ya to go ifn ya ask too much. It makes ’em open up more.”

“You really are very good at this. You should be a doctor the way you can heal people in their heart and soul.”

With that aw shucks look that he could get sometimes, Hoss looked down before asking her to wish him luck. Then he headed down the hall to the bedroom where Adele was staying. He knocked and Adele answered the door with the look on her face showing that she was clearly wondering why he was there.

“I thought maybe I could help you with that worry you got about Adam.”

With a sigh, Adele opened the door wide for Hoss to enter. “I didn’t know it was so obvious. I do miss him and thought you would all think it was that.”

“Oh, I figured it was that but how you could miss all that smart mouth talk and those smirks and that thing he has about leaning on anything that he can lean against is a mystery to me.”

That got the intended response as Adele smiled. “And if there’s nothing to lean against, he can manage to lean anyway.”

“Ya, I think he may be the only man I ever did know could do that. It is a peculiar habit.”

“Thank you. You’ve already made me feel better.”

“Good, and while you’re thinking on him, remember too that he’s careful and he likes a plan. He’s had a lot of time to plan all of this, and he’s called on a lot of people to help him. One thing I’ve noticed about Adam that’s different since he came back is he’s more open to asking for help. I think all that trouble in Boston when he was pretty much all alone taught him a lesson. I can only guess how he felt knowing he had nobody there to watch his back.”

“But he has a lot of people to watch his back this time, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does. He’s made sure of that. He’s taken a lot of precautions including convincing you to stay here to be safe. It means that they can’t got through you to get to him either. That was smart. He’s right that most men out here would never do that, but that Burgess might have tried.”

“He knew that so he wanted me here after what happened to Joe?”

“That’s how I figure it.”

“But what if Burgess tries to do to him what he did to Joe?”

“When he had Joe shot, we didn’t know he might do something like that so we didn’t take precautions. We didn’t have anyone watching out for Joe. Now we know. Adam isn’t going anywhere alone any more. He knows better now.”

“I wish Adam had told me all of this.”

“I don’t think he wanted you to be thinking about all of this especially now.”

“Especially now?”

“Well, me and Emma noticed the glass of milk that Hop Sing’s been putting with your breakfast. He started doing the same with Emma’s breakfast too same as he does with Sarah’s.”

Thinking only for a short time, Adele smiled. “The two of you are too?”

“Yup, we figure in about four or five months.”

“Oh, that’s what we think too.”

“I think maybe you and Emma got a lot to start talking about with Sarah. Tomorrow maybe the three of you could all get together up here in one of the rooms and start sewing baby things. No one will know it’s for your own babies. Well except me and Emma and Sarah will know.”

“Oh, Hoss, thank you for making me feel so much better. I do think I will sleep better tonight.” She gave Hoss a kiss on the cheek as they moved to the door.

Hoss had one final bit of advice before departing. “One thing is to ask Hop Sing for hot chocolate before bed too. He’ll fix you up a cup of his hot chocolate ifn you ask. Emma has some every now and then, and it helps her to sleep.”

Hop Sing was more than willing to provide the hot chocolate, and said if she preferred, he could make that for her breakfast instead pouring the milk for her. He had noticed that she seldom drank much of the milk he provided at the breakfast table. She thanked him for that agreeing that she did like hot chocolate much better than plain milk. He found she also liked tea with milk in it so that was another way to drink milk. He nodded and smiled happy to be able to help once more. Adele gave him a kiss on the cheek surprising him. At first, he didn’t know how to respond, but Adele told him that Adam said he was family and that was what she did for the other men in the family when they were being sweet.

No one was in Carson City reassuring Adam though as he was second-guessing every decision he had made and each part of the plan he had devised. The night before it was all to reach a climax, he didn’t fall asleep until after midnight and was groggy in the morning. He knew that wasn’t a good way to start the day, but hoped by that night, he would be sleeping soundly with his major worries put to rest. If all was working as expected, the rail car would be dropped on a siding outside of town in about three hours. They expected the attempted robbery to occur outside of town where the train had to make a grade that was steep enough to slow the train. It would make it fairly easy for men on horseback to stop the train by taking over the engine. Then they could get to the appropriate freight car and get it open for the crate of money they expected to find. However each of the gang that they knew was being trailed by one man each, and Adam was going to be at that grade with two more men. Inside the car, his friend Marshal Jim Warner was waiting with two deputy marshals. Because the gang had stolen one Wells Fargo shipment from a postal station at a store, Wells Fargo had two men along to help as well. If all went according to plan, there shouldn’t even be any shooting. Most likely, the outlaws were going to be outnumbered about two to one and nearly surrounded so it was hoped they would surrender without shooting.

The sun was very hot later as Adam waited with the others and watched the train chug slowly up the grade. He and the men with him were all hot and nervous. Nothing had happened yet and they had been expecting it for fifteen minutes already. Slowly they moved parallel to the train waiting for the expected assault and nothing happened. About the time Adam was ready to swear thinking all of his planning had been wasted effort, they heard a shot. Adam smiled then. They slowly and carefully moved to a vantage point where they could see the engine of the train and saw five men riding alongside the train there with guns trained on the engineers. The train’s brakes were pulled and steam released from the locomotive as the train ground to a halt over the next mile. As it slowed, four of the men rode back to the freight cars and looked for the one with a lock on it. Adam noted that they had thought to bring a pack horse with them. He hadn’t planned for one of them staying with the engineers and realized that was a mistake on his part although why the man stayed there, he didn’t know. They were being extremely cautious. With a bar that had obviously been brought for a purpose, the lock was pried from the door. All four of those men were on foot then and slid the door back only to find themselves looking into five drawn weapons. As the door had been swung open, Adam and his men had broken from cover as did the men who had trailed the men to the train. They rode behind the four with guns drawn and all did the sensible thing and raised their arms high not wanting to die for robbery. Turning then, Adam and some of the men on horseback took off after the man who had been at the engine. He rode hard in the direction of Carson City probably hoping to lose himself in the crowd there and not be recognized as one of the gang. He didn’t know that Adam had all the names of the gang already and knew too that the man he was chasing was Tom Burgess. In Carson City, Adam and the others fanned out looking for Burgess. It was Adam who spotted him first as he crossed a street after leaving a store. He had already purchased a new shirt and was wearing it.

“Burgess, hold up. I have a few questions for you.”

Turning toward Adam, Burgess held his hand over his pistol. It had never failed him and he as ready to use it again. “Stop right there. You want to try to say I was responsible for your brother being shot, but I didn’t do it.”

“Oh, I know you’re responsible for it though, but what I really want to talk to you about is you riding away from the attempted robbery of the train about two hours ago.”

“That’s a damn lie. You take it back or draw.”

“You kill a U.S. Marshal, and you could hang.”

“Who’s going to do anything about it? You’ll be dead.”

By that time, the deputies who had been searching were getting there and one-by-one stepped into the street to form up on either side of Adam.

“I think these gentlemen might have some objection to you killing me and leaving town.”

Burgess was fast, but even he knew that no man was fast enough to defeat five men. He put his hands up and closed his eyes rather than face the inevitable.

“Not quite good enough, Burgess. Put your hands behind your neck and lace your fingers together.”

With a lot of respect for how fast he had heard the man was, Adam didn’t want anyone there to be shot in some desperate last-ditch attempt at freedom that Burgess might make. Once that was done, Adam told two of the deputies to move around behind Burgess and grab his wrists before they disarmed him as he and the other men held their weapons on the man. Burgess was turned over to the sheriff and locked safely in the jail as were the other four when the train got in. Adam met Jim and invited him to have dinner with him once they got all the paperwork completed. That took up much of the afternoon. At dinner, they caught up on family news.

“Belinda and I are having one more. I told her that three should be enough, and then she reminded me of the only way we have of preventing having any more. I told her I was willing to chance having more then.”

That made Adam laugh. “Adele and I are having one too in about four or five months. We haven’t told anyone yet, but you won’t be here long enough to give away our secret, and I’m guessing Belinda will be pleased to know that not only am I married, I’m going to be a father too.”

“She’ll be real happy for you. She thought you needed a family. A good wife and some children seem a natural fit for you. You know, I never thought you would stay in this job, but you’re a natural fit for this too. This plan of yours was really quite amazing. You took out a gang without anyone being hurt.”

“And tomorrow, we’re heading out to where we think they stashed a lot of what they stole. Hopefully we can recover some of it.”

“You’re doing a great job.”

“Thank you. I’ve been hearing that a bit lately. I had thought of leaving this job, but it intrigues me, and if Adele is willing, I may stay on for a while longer.”

“I hope you do.”

*****

Chapter 8

Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork dominated the next few days for Adam as statements were taken from the men arrested. Burgess refused to cooperate as did one of the other men. Three were willing to tell all though in hopes of getting lighter sentences. Adam didn’t dissuade them of the idea and soon had maps of where goods and money were stashed in a number of locations. He sent deputies to find some and alerted lawmen in other areas as to where to look. Overall, Joe was the one most seriously hurt recently that they could tie to the gang directly and all three men said they had no direct knowledge of that, but all three implicated Burgess and the other man who wasn’t talking. It was clear then why he wasn’t. He and Burgess apparently were also the ones who did all the planning and gave the orders. The three who were talking to the authorities were the ones who followed orders and hoped to be wealthy some day by doing so. When word came back that many of the stashes were empty, they got very angry and realized they had been double-crossed. There was no offer to Burgess and the other man of a deal so it was unlikely at that point that the money and goods were going to be recovered from the earlier robberies unless they could come up with an idea of where they might have moved the goods.

Finally everything was ready for the trial and Adam had a few days off. He had sent a telegram to let his wife and family know all was well, but he could finally go to see them and hopefully bring Adele back home. He had more of a happy demeanor when he realized that. The men who worked with him teased him about it, but he didn’t mind because it was true. He rode out early on the fourth day after the attempted robbery after bidding farewell to Jim who was headed back to Denver. When he saw the familiar landscape of the Ponderosa, he got a peaceful feeling but was also anxious to see Adele. She must have known he was heading back because she had asked for a horse to ride that morning and rode out toward Carson City in the hope that he might be on his way. When Adam saw the woman riding toward him wearing that bright green riding dress, he knew who it was and urged Sport into a faster pace. When he neared her, the two of them dismounted in a hurry and rushed into each other’s arms. Coming together so quickly, they tumbled into the meadow grass, kissing and then laughing together as they hugged.

“I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too. That bed seemed so large without you in it. Hoss talked to me and told me not to worry about you, but I did anyway.”

Kissing her neck and then her cheek before kissing her lips again, Adam continued his kissing by kissing over to the other cheek and back to her neck again.

“Adam, we should get back to the house.”

“Hmmm. Maybe later.”

“Not here, out in the open, where anyone could see!”

“Who can see? There’s no one anywhere near here.” Adam began unbuttoning her dress as he continued kissing her. Adele found it nearly impossible to think of any other reason to tell him to stop, so she didn’t and began unbuttoning his shirt.

“It is an unusually warm day for this time of year.”

When they arrived back at the house, there were hands there who volunteered to take care of their horses for them, so they walked into the house together with Adam’s arm wrapped around Adele’s waist. Ben raised one eyebrow at Adele’s slightly disheveled appearance as she had left the house impeccably groomed with her hair pinned up under her hat. Quite a few tendrils now hung loose and some still had a few tiny blades of grass clinging to them. Hoss and Joe noticed too but Hoss put a hand on Joe’s arm to get his attention so he wouldn’t say anything.

“Welcome back, older brother. Lookee here. Our little brother got to come downstairs.”

“Good to be back, big brother. Joe, it’s good to see you recovering well.”

“I did need Hoss’ help to dress and get down the stairs, but I was going crazy laying in that bed and staring at the ceiling. Pa said if I behaved myself, Hoss could help me get down here. I guess I get to sit in this chair all day, but it’s such a huge improvement, I’m not complaining.”

“And how is Sarah doing?”

“Sleeping a lot these days. She’s napping right now. Paul says the babies are taking a lot out of her right now, and sleep is the best medicine. I guess it ended up being a good thing that we had to come here. She never would have gotten this much rest at our house.”

“Yeah, she only comes on down for dinner. I help her on the stairs cause we don’t want anything to happen. Otherwise, the ladies go on up to her room, and they sew and such up there. They sure got a passel of baby things sewn up while you was gone.”

Looking down at Adele, Adam waited to see if she was ready to say anything. She looked up and smiled giving him the go ahead to tell the news. “That’s probably a very good thing because in about four months, we think we’re going to be needing some of those too.”

Hoss looked at Emma who was grinning. “Yup, us too and about that same time.”

Joe was probably the only one who was surprised. Ben had noted the glasses of milk at meals and the hot chocolate that Adele was drinking as well as the tea to settle her stomach. He had guessed there was news he was going to enjoy. There were congratulations all around, and Hop Sing was soon there with glasses of champagne as well as one glass of milk and a cup of tea. Even Joe got to have some of the champagne.

“I hope you saved some of that champagne for a couple of weeks from now when the twins get here.”

“Son, have the two of you settled on the names for the twins yet?”

“Well, we’ve got four picked out now. Joshua and Gabriel are for boys and Faith and Hope are for girls. We’ll have to see what combination we get.”

Looking over at his other two sons, Ben only got shrugs. Clearly they hadn’t gotten around to discussing or agreeing on names yet. Well, they had months left to do that. Meanwhile, they had a celebratory dinner to anticipate because with Adam home and the news of two new babies on the way, Hop Sing undoubtedly was going to fix a sumptuous meal. Hoss remarked on that making everyone chuckle.

The next questions were all about Burgess and the case, so Adam explained what had happened. He told them about his planning in preparation for what he had set up with Marshal Jim Warner as well as with local lawmen putting deputies on some ranches. He also had the names of the members of the gang before the showdown at the trains so even if that had not happened, they could still have been arrested. Hoss had more questions though.

“Why didn’t ya jest arrest them yahoos once ya had them names?”

“It’s a lot easier to get a guilty verdict from a jury when you catch the accused in the act. As long as we could set it up well, no one needed to be hurt either. Chasing them down one-by-one had the potential for five shoot-outs too. This way, there was the potential mainly for one, and outnumbered and caught in a possible crossfire, we hoped they would surrender. They did. Burgess acted in a way we didn’t anticipate, but we still had enough men to take him without anyone being hurt.”

“How did that happen exactly? Ya ain’t bin too clear on them details.”

“I caught up to him in town where he hoped to lose himself in the population. He didn’t know we knew his name. I called him out by name then and even with the new shirt he already had, I was able to identify him. He knew then that I was going to be a problem and thought maybe he should do something about that, but four men were there to back me up. He reconsidered then and decided to surrender.”

“You were alone at first?” This was the first time Adele knew that Adam had confronted Burgess alone.

“Only for a moment, and I knew the others were there. Burgess didn’t though.”

“He might have shot you.”

“I doubt that. He wanted to get away. Shooting a U.S. Marshal in the streets of Carson City isn’t a good method of escape. He was trying to bluff his way out of it. All I had to do was talk long enough for the others to get there. It was less than a minute.”

“There are times I wish I didn’t have such a brave husband.”

“I can resign from this job.”

“No, I don’t want you to do that. I only want you to avoid risks as much as you can.”

“I do. Trust me, I do.”

The rest of the family was quiet for a time after that remarkably candid exchange between husband and wife. No one there was used to hearing Adam speak so openly and weren’t sure how to react. After a moment, Adam too realized how much he had said in front of everyone.

“I guess that most of you don’t know that Adele and I have discussed me staying in this job. It can be dangerous, but so can breaking horses or marking timber or any number of other things if you aren’t careful. I have promised to be careful and to plan what I’m doing.”

Joe nodded and smiled. “We know he keeps his promises. But Adele, make sure he hasn’t worded it so that he has a way out. He’s darn good at that too.”

“He wouldn’t do that to me, Joe.”

“No, I know he wouldn’t. You’re too important to him. It was getting so serious in here I was teasing a little to lighten the mood a bit. Besides, it’s not a job like a town sheriff where he has to confront drunks on a Saturday night or have to deal with ruffians on a daily basis.”

Hoss decided that lightening the mood was a good idea. “Yeah, but since you got laid up, Roy and Clem ain’t had to do that much either.” It worked and everyone had a good laugh releasing the tension in the room. The discussion continued but without the feeling of anxiety that seemed to be present earlier.

“Unexpected events could occur, but again that has happened in our lives even without such a job.”

“So ya thinkin’ you’re gonna be stayin’ on as marshal?” Hoss simply asked what everyone was thinking.

“Yes, at this point, I’m planning to continue. I can’t say how long I’ll keep the position, but I’ve done some good work already, and I have already improved communication among the lawmen in this region and with neighboring regions. If I can improve the law and order of this state, then I think I’m doing a job that needs doing.”

“Son, could you end up in a job like your friend Jim who does mainly investigating over a broader area?”

“That’s a possibility. I wouldn’t mind that. At first, I thought I wouldn’t because of all the paperwork involved, but the challenge of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and then the reward of seeing justice done is very satisfying.”

“Dadburnit, what ya done here ought to show ’em you can do it.”

“Oh, I’m sure it has. It cleared dozens of cases across several regions in Nevada and California.”

“I’m proud of you. We’re all proud of you.”

With that praise, Adam did a good imitation of Hoss’ aw shucks look and got everyone to smile. “I’d like to spend a few days here especially after that, but I’m afraid there’s a trial coming up in two days. I need to be back to testify. We’ll have to leave tomorrow.” Adam looked at Adele. “Unless my wife likes it here so much she would rather stay longer while I’m tied up with the trial.”

“Oh, no, you don’t. I’m going home with you. I miss my garden and all my projects. You’ve got some work to do once that trial is done. Now Hoss said that he and Emma might want to come to stay for a couple of days soon and that he could help out. All we need to do is let them know a good time.”

“As soon as the trial is over?” Adam looked over at Hoss who smiled and nodded. “Great. I’m looking forward to having some help with those projects. It’s pretty hot and dusty work back there with that hot wind blowing in my face and the hot sun beating on my head. Yes, such hot and dusty work with that hot wind and that hot sun.”

Joe threw a pillow but grimaced with the effort and Ben admonished him.

“You get to stay down here if you don’t exert yourself. Throwing things is not the way to get yourself time to relax down here.”

“But Pa, he deserved something after that.”

Ben picked up the pillow. “Maybe he did, but not from you.”

Rapidly whirling around, Ben caught Adam by surprise hitting him with the pillow just as he was about to say something. Hoss started laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair. Emma and Adele were so shocked at first that they didn’t do anything, but then they too began to laugh even as Joe held his arms across his middle to protect his wound and did his best not to laugh. Adam shrugged and that only caused more laughter. Hop Sing looked out from the kitchen and shook his head, but he too was smiling. Life was getting back to normal on the Ponderosa at least for the time being.

*****

Chapter 9

In Carson City, the trial of the five in the gang went about as expected. It was a longer trial than the typical one because of all the cases that were brought against the five men with California agreeing to consolidate their cases with the ones in Nevada. That too was unorthodox but not unheard of in the west where boundary lines for such things were more fluid than they were in the east. The most unusual thing was that after the expected guilty verdicts were given by the jury and before the judge decided on a punishment appropriate to the crimes committed in Nevada and California, Tom Burgess turned to Adam.

“I’ll get you when I get out. I’ll get your whole family and make them pay. You ain’t getting away with what you done to me.”

The judge ordered the bailiffs to control Burgess or to gag him if necessary. He then proceeded through the sentencing phase of the trial. The three men who had cooperated got ten years each with a chance at early release on parole if they behaved in prison. The man who had shot Joe at Burgess’ request got twenty years at hard labor and a recommendation that he not get parole. When Burgess stood up, the judge had some harsh words for him especially because of the threat he had made only a short time earlier.

“By all accounts, the activities of these men were your idea. You organized them into this gang, you set up the first robberies, you planned how they were to hide out from the authorities, and you were the one who hid away the stolen property and money much of which has not yet been found. You refuse to cooperate in even the smallest way and have shown not a hint of remorse for your actions. I see no reason to show you any mercy or forbearance. There were thirty-five charges brought against you for robberies, thefts, and rustling. I sentence you to five years for each offense and you are to serve those sentences consecutively at hard labor in the Nevada State Prison.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you will have thirty-five five-year sentences and you will serve one after another until all are served.”

Burgess frowned and then exploded when realization hit. “But that means I’ll never get out of prison.”

“That may be true. It was your choice by the decisions you made. The responsibility is yours for how you will spend the rest of your life. Take him away. The stench is unbearable.”

Even as Burgess swore and struggled with the men who hauled him from the courtroom in chains, there was a cheer then in the courtroom that caused even the veteran judge to have a slight smile. He thought it felt good sometimes to be harsh when you got to dole out justice to a man like that. He wished only that somehow they could have found more of the property and money to return to the rightful owners. That wasn’t likely to ever happen now.

However on the Ponderosa, Sarah was talking to Joe about her family and how they had traveled west. They had a lot of time to sit and talk as Sarah was spending a lot of time resting in bed as her time for delivery was getting closer and Doctor Martin wanted her to avoid any exertion that might make the twins want to come any earlier. Joe talked about how his family had lived in a small cabin when they first arrived, but that he had never had that experience. By the time he arrived, the house had been built and Marie had been there to add more decorations and things like curtains. At some point she mentioned how Tom had complained about the little shack his family had been forced to use for years until they had been able to build a bigger and more comfortable home. When she talked for a little while, she suddenly paused and looked at Joe.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, but I’ve remembered something. Tom said they used to store a lot of things in a cave that was behind their old cabin. He said it was drier than their cabin most of the time but dark. He didn’t like it in there, but it was huge so they used it like a storage shed.”

Beginning to smile, Joe knew what she was thinking. “That may be where Burgess stashed all the stolen stuff.”

“It could be. He said no one could see it was there because a big shelf of rock leaned down and shaded the entrance and there was a lot of brush growing there too.”

“Maybe the money is there too! I want to go check that out.”

“Joe, you can’t.”

“Honey, my stitches are out, and I feel fine. I’ll be careful.”

“No, it’s me. I think my water just broke.”

All thoughts of resuming his career as Joe Cartwright, Detective disappeared. “What do I do now?”

“Go tell Emma or Hop Sing. I think they knew I was getting close. They’ve been hovering about quite a lot the last couple of days because I told them how uncomfortable I’ve been feeling. I guess that may have been the start of it. They’ll know what to do and then come back here as quick as you can because I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Joe wasn’t gone long and Sarah wasn’t alone for long either. Emma was there with a basket of bed linens she had prepared for this moment. Sarah was grateful now for the thick pad that Hop Sing and Emma had insisted should be placed under the sheet on her bed. That and the wet sheet were removed, they got her into a clean dry gown, and in short order, she was resting in a clean dry bed and ready to continue. At that point, Emma said it would probably be best for Joe to go downstairs to wait with his father and brother because he would only likely make Sarah more worried. They needed to get her calm and ready for what was to come next.

“Hoss is waiting outside to walk you down the stairs.”

“I can walk down by myself.”

“Listen, the very last thing we need right now is for you to be hurt. Accept some help from Hoss’ broad shoulders so we can concentrate on helping your wife here.”

Joe couldn’t withstand the sharp rebuke in Emma’s eyes and nodded in agreement. He stepped from the room and walked down the hall with Hoss. “Don’t let it fret ya none, little brother. She only does it ’cause she likes ya. Ifn she didn’t, she wouldn’t mind if ya fell backside over heels all the way down them stairs.”

By the time they got down the stairs, Ben had poured three brandies and handed one to his youngest son as he took a seat next to the fireplace. Standing by his side, Ben raised the glass. “May the Lord bless this home and keep all within it safe and grant the two newest members of the family a safe and rapid entry and may their mother endure this with as little discomfort as possible.”

“What about me?”

“Joe, I think ya dun yer part about eight or nine months ago. Ain’t nothing for ya ta do now ‘cept wait for the others ta do their parts.”

“I’m not good at waiting.”

“We know that. We can play checkers if ya want.”

“Maybe later. I don’t think I could concentrate right now. Do you think Doc will get here soon? I mean, she needs him now, don’t you think?”

“Son, we sent a man to get the doctor, but that was only an hour ago. He hasn’t likely even seen the doctor yet. It will probably take him another hour to see the doctor and then at least two hours after that but probably more before Paul gets here. You have to trust Emma and Hop Sing until then.”

“Somebody should probably let Adam know.”

“You know that he and Adele were planning to be here for a couple of days and are supposed to arrive late tomorrow. Contacting them isn’t likely to get them here any faster.”

It was nearly evening before Doctor Martin arrived. He had been busy with another case and unable to leave when the hand arrived to tell him that Sarah was ready to deliver. Paul didn’t expect any problems with the delivery anyway. He was more concerned with the condition of the babies after they arrived. When he got there, Joe was upset, but Ben calmed him as Hoss assured him that they hadn’t heard much of anything yet so he guessed that the babies had not yet arrived. Paul hurried up the stairs as Joe seethed and Ben spoke to him.

“Joe, you and Sarah are not the only people who live here who need Paul’s services. He has to make judgment calls all the time about who to help first. He knew that Sarah had help here. I’m sure that whomever he was helping when our man got there probably had no one to help him. He couldn’t abandon the man because there might be problems here in the future. He has to deal with what has actually happened.”

“But what if something happens to Sarah or the babies?”

“Sarah is a strong young woman, and Paul has reassured both of you again and again that he sees no reason to be concerned for her. Now, yes, he is concerned about the babies, but he is here to care for them as he said he would be if he could.”

“I guess I’m scared about what could happen.”

“Let’s pray that all will be well, and let Him take care of the worrying for now.”

It was almost two hours later that Paul came to the landing to ask Joe to come upstairs. No one had heard any baby’s cry so they had not known the babies had arrived. Once in Sarah’s bedroom, Joe stood and stared at his wife whose eyes were closed. Paul told Joe that he had a son and a daughter. “Your wife is exhausted and I have both babies tucked in with her to keep them warm. They are very small as we expected, but both are breathing well. Now it’s Sarah’s turn to be confined to a bedroom for a time. I don’t want those babies exposed to a bunch of drafts and other things. Keep the room warm and keep it free of drafts. Keep them clean and wrapped up tightly in swaddling blankets. Hold them as much as possible and rock them if you can to help Sarah. She’s going to have a lot to do over the next few weeks especially. They’ll want to suckle often because of their size.”

“Well. I can’t help with that.”

“Yes, you can. You can hold one while she nurses the other. You can hand one to her and take the other. You can do a lot to help her, and it will keep you from trying to do too much for the next few weeks too.” Paul raised an eyebrow because he guessed correctly that Joe was about ready to try doing some regular work on the Ponderosa. Now he wouldn’t be able to do that.

“Pa and Hoss might need my help.”

“No, son, Candy and the others have really stepped up in your absence to help out. We can do that for a few more weeks until my grandchildren are stronger.”

Ben had come up to see the new arrivals and had been standing in the doorway listening as Paul explained the facts of Joe’s new role in life to him. Hoss was standing behind him and nodding in agreement. Joe had no choice but to accept what had been said.

“Now which two of the names will you use?”

“We had said the first choice for a girl was Faith so I guess that is one. The first choice for a boy was Joshua. Gosh, Pa, I’ve got two children: Faith and Joshua.”

“Congratulations, son. Now, I’ll leave you here to be with your wife and babies. Call if either of you need anything.”

Sarah’s eyes were still closed. Paul said he would wait for a while downstairs too, and Emma said she would be available as well. Hop Sing had taken out soiled linens and towels and was away making dinner already. The household was already settling into a new routine.

*****

Chapter 10

The next evening, Adam and Adele arrived on the Ponderosa and saw Doctor Martin’s carriage there. Thinking that Sarah must have gone into labor, they rushed inside only to find most of the family sitting at the fireplace relaxing with a brandy and talking with the doctor. Adam frowned.

“Everything all right?”

Looking over at him, Joe had to tease him a bit. “You think a top lawman like you could figure this out. I’m relaxed, the doctor is relaxed, and Pa is grinning from ear-to-ear.”

“The babies are here!”

“I knew you could do it.”

Soon, Adam had a brandy too to toast the new arrivals, and Emma and Adele were on their way upstairs to see the babies. Adam and Adele both got the whole story about what happened and the names of the babies. It was close to dinner, and Hop Sing readied a tray for Joe to take up to have dinner with his wife.

“Doc doesn’t want the babies exposed to any drafts or cold or to much of anything for a bit, so Sarah is going to be confined to our room for a while. It’s big enough and warm and dry so she’s comfortable there.” Joe turned to go up the stairs but suddenly turned back, set the tray on the small game table, and snapped his fingers. “I’m glad you came.”

“Thank you, little brother, I’m happy to be here.”

“No, I mean, sure, but it made me remember what Sarah and I were talking about just before she started her labor. We were talking about the old days and how tough it was for families when they first got here. She said the Burgess family had a real small cabin but they used a big cave that was out behind the house. She said Tom said it was big and dry but dark and had a shelf of rock and brush that hid it so no one could see it.”

Adam began with a small smile that spread into a big grin. “And the two of you think that’s where he may have stashed all the things he stole and maybe the money too.”

“It’s worth checking out, isn’t it?” Joe thought Adam’s grin was because he didn’t think much of the idea. He was wrong.

“It’s a great idea to check that out. If I recall, Sarah said once that they were near those alkali flats and that their crops never amounted to much and the few cattle they had were scrawny or got sick. No one ever took over their place after the parents died and the children grew up and left. It would be a perfect place to stash things. Let’s go look in the morning if you have time.”

“Hey, ifn ya don’t mind, I’d like ta see that too.”

“We could make it a family affair.” Ben thought he would like to be with his sons for this one.

“This sounds promising enough that we might like the two of you to take a big wagon there. Would that be all right? That way, if we do find things, we can take a load to town and then I can make arrangements for the rest to be picked up and taken to where it needs to go.”

It was a light-hearted mood for the rest of the night then as the family relaxed. Doctor Martin did one last check on the babies and Sarah before leaving. He had one word of warning for Adele and Emma though. “Sarah may tell you that labor was long but not that difficult. You have to remember that she had twins who were quite small so the pain level was considerably less than it is for most deliveries. Now she did have to work twice so she was more tired with the length of the labor having had to do two. Your experiences will be different as your babies are going to be larger but your labors will likely be shorter only delivering one.” Emma nodded in understanding having attended other women during their labors, but Adele was a bit worried as evidenced by the look she had. Paul advised Emma to talk with Adele about what to expect. Then he left.

The next morning, the four men left for the old Burgess homestead and found the cave quite easily because they knew where to look. The first positive sign was that there were tracks around the area from a horse and rider and from wagons. It was clear that there had been activity there in recent months. As Hoss and Adam pulled brush away from the entrance, Ben and Joe lit two lanterns that had been brought along. Once inside the cave, Hoss whistled loudly and long. There were boxes of ammunition, crates of rifles, a number of pistols in boxes, some other items in boxes that were not labeled, and when they began a search, they found several strong boxes. The strong boxes were locked with large locks but those could easily be removed once they got them to town. Adam pulled a small notebook and short pencil from his pocket and noted some of the items they had found.

“Hoss, would you pull the wagon closer. I think these strong boxes, the rifles, and the pistols should go to town in the first load. There’s so much here though that I think I ought to stay and search through it and see that else is here. If you could have Roy send back a couple of deputies with wagons, that would help me a great deal. Tell him I’ll pay for it out of my budget.” Turning to his father then, Adam had a second request. “Pa, could you send a telegram for me to my office in Carson City. Ask them to send one of my deputies to Virginia City. Roy can direct him out here if I don’t have anyone in town to get him. And could you see if there’s an empty warehouse or store that’s available for rent for a few weeks or a month. I may need it until I can get all of this stuff sorted out and shipped back to the rightful owners.”

“What do you want me to do, Adam?”

“Joe, you shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting. I could use some paper though or a ledger book to start a tally of everything that is found here. This little notebook I have isn’t going to be enough. Is there an old notebook or ledger on the Ponderosa that I could use?”

“I can do that, and I can tell Sarah that her guess was right too. She’ll like that.”

“I’ll wait here and look through things and start sorting things. It looks like a lot of work to get this all done, but it will make a lot of people a lot happier. We won’t probably be able to do anything about the stolen cattle, but we can take care of a lot of the other thieving they did.”

Everyone got busy then and soon Adam was alone sorting through boxes and finding what was there getting it all organized and realizing just what a task it was going to be. He didn’t notice the sounds of a man approaching with the noise he was making opening crates and setting items on the floor of the cave.

In town, Ben and Hoss were greeted by Roy who asked if Adam was with them. When informed that he wasn’t, Roy was disappointed.

“We got word that one of them outlaws escaped jail in Carson City. He killed Tom Burgess and apparently did it real nasty in order to get him to tell where he hid the loot. They think he’s on his way there now to get some money and then probably hightail it outta here. They’re tracking him, but he got a pretty good head start on ’em.”

“How do they know all that?”

“He and Tom told the other three that they was gonna get a deputy at the jail and then free all of ’em. That’s how they got the other three to help out. Only they never meant to let the other three go. They killed that deputy too. Strangled him and took his pistol and then took the keys off his belt. Once they had that, this other one, the one who shot Joe, Strickland, he up and turned the pistol on Burgess. Beat on him something fierce according to the other three and demanded to know where the money and such was. They said Burgess finally said it but they couldn’t hear. Then Strickland held a pillow over Burgess’ face until he was dead. He held the pistol on the other three like he was gonna shoot ’em but musta changed his mind knowing it would bring others.”

“Roy, we need to borrow some horses. Adam is out there where the stolen goods are stashed. We’ve got the money here.”

Surprised that they had found the stash, Roy recovered quickly. “You can have my horse. Clem was getting some men together to go help ifn they needed ’em and they came here for help. He’s behind the jail. Go there and you can get another horse and Clem and the others can ride with ya too.”

In short order, they were on their way, but Adam was already confronted by Strickland who demanded to know where the money was. Of course it was gone, but Adam didn’t want to tell him that.

“I’ve been searching through these crates trying to find it. So far, I’ve had no luck. But I have been keeping a tally of what I’ve found so far so I wasn’t going that fast. I didn’t know that I was going to be under any pressure.”

“Well, Mister Marshal, you’re gonna start looking a lot faster ’cause I ain’t got that much time. Now start tearing into them crates and boxes and find my money.” With his pistol, Strickland pointed toward the boxes and crates but then realized Adam was still armed. “Wait a minute. You need to take off that gunbelt first. I ain’t gonna let you get behind them boxes and shoot me.”

“Hey, Adam, who’s in there? I don’t recognize that horse.”

Joe’s voice startled Strickland who had not expected anyone to be that close behind him. He jerked to look behind him and Adam dove down low to get some cover as he yelled for Joe to get back. Strickland turned to fire at Adam but it was too late. He was silhouetted against the opening and lit up well by the two lanterns. Adam had no problem shooting him and he had no idea where Adam was until he saw the flash of his pistol. By then it was too late. The man staggered backwards and fell against the wall discharging his pistol into the dirt as he did so. When nothing more happened for a full minute, Joe was concerned.

“Adam, you all right? Adam, answer me. What’s going on?”

There was still no response so Joe slowly began moving into the wide cave entrance. First he saw Strickland laying against the cave wall and obviously dead. His heart beat fast as he worried about his brother, but he soon saw him sitting on the floor behind the crates and boxes.

“Adam, why didn’t you answer me? Adam, you hurt?”

Joe went to his brother thinking that perhaps he was shot, but found Adam with his eyes squeezed shut and his hands over his ears. Joe looked him over and realized he wasn’t shot, and then quickly assessed what had happened. He reached down to help Adam stand and helped him walk outside to sit in the soft grass under a shady tree. The loud explosion of three pistol shots in the enclosed space had hurt his ears and his head. Adam confirmed that after a short time.

“I can’t hear very well and I have one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had.”

“Just relax.”

Knowing Adam probably couldn’t hear that very well, Joe put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him to lay back and rest. He did and closed his eyes again. That’s how Ben and Hoss found them when they arrived with Clem and the others only a short time later. It was then that Joe found out who the dead man probably was. Ben explained what Roy had told them and Clem filled in a few more details.

“Adam shot a man in there. My guess is it’s the one they’re looking for. He’s the one who shot me then according to what I’ve been told.”

“Well, I guess this closes the book on those two then. Adam ain’t gonna have to be lookin’ over his shoulder wondrin’ if they was ever gonna bust outta prison and come after him. It’s done now. I’ll go get his carriage to give him a ride to the house. He can figure out how to explain all this to Adele.”

By the time Hoss returned with the carriage, the other posse was there and took Strickland’s body back with them. Most of the men there seemed very satisfied with how it had all turned out. One of Adam’s deputies was with the posse so he took charge of the stolen property with a few words with Adam about what to do. The family returned to the house then where Adele was waiting for her husband and worried about him. He was able to step out of the carriage on his own and walk to the house so that reassured her.

“I have a terrible headache but I’m fine otherwise.”

“Really fine, or fine enough so I won’t worry?”

“Really. It was only the noise that did it. I’ll get over it by tomorrow.”

“Now maybe you would like to tell me why you were alone there. I thought you said you weren’t going to be doing things alone any more.”

“Sweetheart, I was doing inventory. I had no idea there was going to be a problem. I expected Pa and Hoss back in a few hours and Joe back even sooner than that. I’m sorry that this happened, but I don’t think any of them thought I was doing anything dangerous either.”

Ben and Adam’s brothers nodded their heads at that. They hadn’t anticipated any problems either. They had been excited about finding the stash of money and property and had no reason to suspect anyone else would show up there. That satisfied Adele for the time being, and she got back to being sympathetic and told Adam she thought he ought to go to their room to lie down and rest. He said he would if she came with him. She whispered in his ear and he grinned despite the headache but went up to their room alone. Everyone had a fair idea of what she had said but were too polite to say anything. The next morning, Adam did feel much better, and by the end of the week was able to close the book on the Burgess gang and head home to Carson City.

*****

Chapter 11

A few months later, Adam and Adele were due on the Ponderosa for their monthly visit. It was routine for them to be there at least for one Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes if Adam was scheduled to be away for more than a day or two, Adele spent that time on the ranch as well. It had been very helpful for Sarah to have Emma there and often Adele to help her out. The twins were now three months old and able to be held more by other members of the family as they and Sarah were released from their confinement. Doctor Martin was pleased with how fast they were growing. Joe had just moved his wife and children back to their home. Ben missed the babies but Emma was due to deliver so he knew he wouldn’t be without a baby in the house for long, and he wasn’t.

As for Adele who had been a bit cranky for a few days, Adam hoped that time on the ranch would help ease her physical and emotional concerns. He guessed it might be their last visit for perhaps many months because she was due to deliver in three weeks by her estimation. At the very least, for a few days, he would have someone else there to help him because otherwise he was the sole target for her outbursts, which he doubted she would even have with the others around. On the ride, Adele had a list of complaints and that was very unlike her. She had a backache and she also said the seat of the carriage wasn’t comfortable no matter how or how often Adam readjusted the cushions or the extra blanket he had brought along. When the familiar sight of the ranchhouse finally came into view, he was relieved for the trip had seemed to take four days instead of four hours. However he was wise enough not to let out a sigh of relief or even the hint of a smile. He only stated the obvious.

“The house is close now. We’ll get you out of the carriage and into the house where you can be comfortable very soon now.”

“Thank the Lord. I thought this ride was never going to be over.”

Once more he was carefully neutral. In the yard of the house, Adam quickly brought the carriage to a halt and climbed down to go around to assist his now very large wife, or rather his wife with the very large middle, get down from the carriage. Ben was outside very quickly to greet them.

“Adele is so grateful to be here. She’s had a backache for the ride and can’t wait to get inside and rest a bit. I’d like to get her up to a bedroom as quickly as I can.”

“A backache?”

“Yes, and she couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. It’s been a difficult ride for her.”

Ben was smiling a bit and Adam frowned wondering why any of that should elicit a smile from his father. Ben saw the response and knew he had to explain.

“At this stage, I would think you might have guessed what is happening. It’s probably not an ordinary backache.”

Adele stopped and turned to look at her father-in-law. “You don’t think?”

“Oh, yes, I do. Adam was right though. The best thing is probably to get you inside and up to your bedroom. You can lay down to rest. If it’s a backache, you should get relief almost immediately. If not, well, then, you’ll know.”

“But I’m not ready yet.”

“I’m afraid that babies don’t pay attention to our schedules or our needs. They come when they’re ready. This should work out well too as Doctor Martin said he would be back this evening.”

About to ask about that, Adam didn’t because they entered the house to see Hoss and Emma sitting by the fireplace. The blue chair had been replaced by a large rocking chair, and Sarah was sitting in it rocking a blond baby as Hoss stood proudly beside her and watched. He looked toward Adam and Adele as they came into the house.

“She came last night. Her name is Leah.”

Adele forgot for a moment about her discomfort. “Aw, she’s beautiful and that’s a lovely name.” Then she nearly doubled over. “Ow, ow, ow.”

By her side immediately, Adam took her arm and then did his best to assist her to the stairs. Ben got on the other side and between them, they began to move her up the stairs as quickly as they safely could. Adam glanced back over his shoulder at Hoss and Emma. “I think Leah is about to get some company.”

“Oh, Lordy, Pa ain’t gonna get no sleep tonight neither.”

It was even more pressure on Hop Sing with no help to make dinner either. He told them that there was going to have to be a cold dinner as he needed to help Adele. Adam stayed with her too and the two of them did what they could. By the time Paul arrived, Adele was well into her labor. She was holding Adam’s hand so tightly that he could hardly feel his fingers any more. Paul told him he could leave, but Adele said he had to stay. Adam shrugged and offered his other hand while rubbing the numb one on his thigh. Paul wasn’t used to having a husband stay for a delivery, but Adam wasn’t the typical man either. He let him stay. A few hours later, he wrapped a baby in a receiving blanket and handed the bundle to an exhausted Adele who cried when she saw her baby’s face for the first time. Once everything else was done and cleaned up, Paul gave some basic instructions to Adele, and then he left with Hop Sing. The couple was alone with their child.

“Are we still agreed on the name?”

“Yes, I know how you like it.”

“Samuel William Cartwright has a nice sound to it. I would have liked William as a first name but there already is a Will and I didn’t want to usurp that.”

“And be reminded of unpleasant things either.”

“Yes, there is that. Sam Clemens is a good friend. I always liked that name so it brings up good thoughts.”

“Sam is a good strong name for a man too.”

“Yes, I like it. Now, are you ready for the family to see the newest addition?”

“If you’ll brush my hair a bit for me. I know it must look awful. I can’t do much about it, but I would like it brushed at least.”

“I can do that. I can get a cloth and wipe your face and arms too if you like?”

“Do I look that bad?”

“No, but I thought you might like that to freshen up a bit and make you feel more like receiving guests.”

“You’re being very diplomatic, but yes, that would be nice.”

“Then you can hold Samuel for a bit too if you’ll give me a clean gown from my bag. I think I’d like a clean dry one to wear.”

Fifteen minutes later, Adam walked out to call to his father that he could come up to see the baby. However Ben was sleeping in the red leather chair so Adam said nothing. Doctor Martin saw Adam at the top of the stairs and touched Ben’s arm to wake him.

“You can go up to see your new grandson now.”

“Oh, I must have nodded off. Hoss and Emma went up to bed, and it was so quiet here, I guess it caught up with me.”

“That’s understandable, Ben. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay here for the rest of the night. I haven’t had much sleep either with one baby last night and another tonight.”

“Of course you can stay. Take the room down here. I’ll go up to see the baby and then I’ll be locking up the house and going to bed myself. If you want something to eat, there’s some ham in the warmer oven.”

Pleased to see his fourth grandchild, Ben was too exhausted to spend much time with him. He excused himself fairly soon and headed to bed as soon as he locked up the house. The next day he guessed he could spend more time with both of the new arrivals, but he was very tired. All this excitement was taxing.

The next morning when Joe came over to talk over work assignments and saw Doctor Martin’s carriage still there, he rushed inside to see if there was a problem and found that no one was downstairs for breakfast. Hop Sing was waiting and happy to serve the youngest of the Cartwright sons first which was a first too. Ben came down next followed by Hoss a short time later. They told Joe what had happened. Their conversation woke the doctor who joined them at breakfast. They didn’t see Adam until lunchtime. He and Adele had stayed awake a long time with their new son and finally fell asleep at about four in the morning only to be awakened soon after by Samuel who was hungry and again a few hours later for the same reason. Just before lunch, a yawning Adam came down the stairs to join the others and got some good natured ribbing about sleeping so late.

“In my job, I learn to sleep when I can. I can see that’s going to be more difficult in the future.”

“Son, so you’re going to continue with your job as marshal even now?”

“Yes, for now, I will, but I’ve been talking with the governor about a job in state government. I may start working for the attorney general’s office as an investigator. We’ll see. I don’t know yet what they expect of me in that job. It will make the difference whether I accept it or not.”

“But either way, you’re going to stay in Carson City?”

“Yes, Pa, we’re staying. We’re not going anywhere.”

“Good. Now, I was thinking about the christening.”

“Which one?” Hoss asked that before his brothers could.

“All of them. Joe waited because his babies were too small to even think about it before but now they’re strong enough and healthy enough. I was thinking that we could do all four at once and have a big party here to celebrate all four. What do you think?”

“What kind of party?”

“Well, our family, but Emma’s parents, and Sarah has some cousins here. We would have to have all the godparents as well as Paul who helped with all four. And of course we always invite Roy because he’s like an uncle to you boys. The minister and his wife would be invited of course. I think that’s it.”

“Dadburnit, that’s one big ole party, Pa.”

“It would be a big party, but we would have to invite some of these people to three parties otherwise. It seems that one party makes more sense.”

So about a month and a half later, there was a large christening party with all those mentioned plus a few people who more or less invited themselves. At the party, there was more good news as Tom and Lucille, who were godparents to Faith and Joshua, announced that they were going to have a baby in a couple of months. That wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone as Lucille was wearing a wrap dress that did little to hide her large middle. The other big surprise had been the arrival of Jim and Belinda Warner who came to be the godparents to Samuel. Jim said he was glad to do it and said both he and Belinda enjoyed having a vacation away from their growing brood whom a neighbor had graciously agreed to take in for two weeks. At the end of the party, Adam stood with his father looking at the stars in the early evening sky.

“What are you thinking, son?”

“You came out here with a dream, Pa. Have you found your dream?”

“I have now. I have everything I could ever have hoped. How about you? Have you found your dream?”

“I think I have now. I finally found my dream. I used to look at the stars and dream. By chance, I dreamed of this finally and it’s come true. I have a job I like, a wife I love, a family, a home, and I’m happy.”

“That’s all any man can hope to dream, son. I’m glad you found it.”

***The End***

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