Laine and Adam series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  There are two main stories and a short epilogue story.  A Rolling Stone —  Adam is discontented on the Ponderosa and finds a more satisfying career with travel although he’s still close to home. There is romance, and there are numerous references to the episode The Avenger with OCs from that one included in this story.   Turn, Turn, Turn — Adam had a fall at work, but things got worse until he had to give up his job and move back to the Ponderosa. There he tells his family the news. No one wants to accept it, and they keep trying to find a better answer. A French doctor offers hope, but Adam is reluctant to believe that things will go his way, and they don’t.   Snow Angels — An epilogue to Turn, Turn, Turn with a little bit of Laine remembering a better time with Adam and then how it was for her when he was gone.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  49,471


A Rolling Stone

Chapter 1

The feel of that rope around his neck and the weight of it pulling against his skin and catching at the hair at the back of his head made him want to twist away from it, but he knew he couldn’t. All those days of waiting in that damp, dank cell sitting on that lumpy mattress listening to his father read from the Bible and now this. He didn’t want to die and especially he didn’t want to die like this. If he did die, he wanted it to have a purpose or to be at the end of a long, fruitful life such as his father had already had. At twenty-nine, he had so much left to do and now would never be able to do it. Both he and his father had told Joe and Hoss not to do anything that could endanger innocent people. At the moment, he had some second thoughts about that decision but no time to debate it with anyone. He knew in a few moments, they would use that hammer and slam it into the pin holding the trap doors. He guessed by the rope that he would drop further than his father by perhaps a foot or two. The hangman must have wanted to be sure his neck snapped and he didn’t die slowly twisting in agony as his life was slowly strangled away. He could hope that would be the case. He hadn’t had anything to eat for almost a day not being able to tolerate food and hadn’t had anything to drink for at least eight hours. Partly that had been to ensure that he wouldn’t humiliate himself there on the gallows and the rest was because his stomach would likely have thrown back anything he put in it. He didn’t know why staying clean while he died was important to him, but it was.

Then before the execution could occur, he awoke as he always did to remember his brothers and Lassiter and even Sally Byrnes coming to their rescue. He didn’t remember though if he had ever thanked any of them that night or even the next day. He guessed that he must have. As usual upon awakening, he was covered in sweat. Throwing back the damp sheet, he slipped from the bed and stood naked by the window letting the night air dry him as he did every night and wondering if his father had this recurring nightmare as he did. He had had a bitter argument with his father that night but nothing had been resolved. Adam wanted to know why Mister Byrnes would have bought stolen Ponderosa horses as they had accused him and why someone like Cy Hawkins would have been involved in wanting them dead after they had been accused of killing Byrnes. In fact, why anyone would want Byrnes dead was a burning question. For him, it was essential to have to know the truth. Deuce Martin had been there and saw them shooting at the man who had shot Byrnes but had immediately given a statement saying that he and his father had shot Byrnes. Then Deuce had left town only to be found dead later by Joe and Hoss. Either accidentally or by another’s hand, the man had gone over a cliff. The charges against Ben and Adam had clearly been a set-up, but still Adam questioned why it had happened. He had lost his temper when his father had said his business dealings with Cy Hawkins were his business and none of Adam’s concern.

“I almost died because of those business dealings. I think that makes them my concern.”

“It’s over now so it doesn’t matter any more. Let it go, boy. I’m not going to talk about this again.”

“Well. I’m going to talk about it, and I’m going to ask questions about it until I get some answers. I’m not a boy, and I deserve to know why I was going to die as a man. I was no boy up there on that gallows platform with a noose around my neck! I’m going to find out what was going on and ask as many questions as I need to ask to know the truth.”

“You will do nothing of the kind. All you will do is hurt Sally by besmirching her father’s name and stirring up dirt about men who are already dead. That won’t do any good for you and it will hurt others.”

“Will it hurt you too? Is there something in this that you don’t want me to know?”

“How dare you insinuate that I did something wrong and brought this on us. I will not be spoken to in this manner by my son. I will not talk about this with you again, ever! This subject is closed.”

That had been it. His father had turned his back on him and stormed up the stairs not to return. Joe had told him to drop it and then done the same. Hoss had put a hand on his shoulder in silent sympathy because he knew how much Adam was hurting but knew too that there was no way to pry information from their father when he was not in a mood to give it. Now standing by the window once again recovering from that recurring nightmare, Adam wondered how long it would persist and how long it would be before he would be able to sleep through the night again. He returned to his bed but fell asleep only after more than two hours of restlessness and then it was dawn and time to rise again.

When guests arrived from England, Adam was more than happy to guide them on a hunting trip even though he thought perhaps his moral compass was a bit off kilter when he nearly kissed the man’s wife. He righted himself in time though and survived the trip without betraying his core values. More issues faced the ranch and he buried himself in those and in work and over time, there were no more nightmares involving nooses until they were nearly hanged again in another town with a crooked sheriff who wanted their money. The nightmares returned briefly then. His father and brothers questioned him about the nightmares and he brushed off their concerns never telling them the content of the nightmares although they were as vivid as they had been when he originally had them. Once more, ranch business and work took so much time that he was able to exhaust himself with those and other things so that he could forget all that he wanted to forget. As the years passed, he had more and more that he wanted to forget and found that working hard and working long days was his solution to that problem. Joe thought he was too serious and too focused on work, which he told him regularly because he did not understand the burdens Adam carried and couldn’t put down. All Adam could do was bristle with anger at the teasing because he couldn’t tell the truth about what he saw as his weakness.

Some of that pressure did ease at the end of the first trail drive the brothers did without their father. In Sacramento, Joe and Hoss had quite a night with the hands the first night after the drive. Then the second night, the drovers were all headed home and Joe suggested the brothers ought to spend one night together celebrating their first successful drive together. He looked at Adam expecting his oldest brother to object so he was ready to argue for his proposition.

“Pa is never going to believe we did it all without ever having a single fight and not even a serious argument among us. He’ll think we’re not telling the truth or it was a miracle.”

“I’m guessing he’ll trust the miracle version. He puts a lot of faith in divine providence.”

“Dontcha do that, Adam?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. The one time I prayed so hard, I still stood on that gallows with a rope around my neck and it was you and Joe and Lassiter who saved me.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“It was, but the feel of that rope around my neck has never left me.”

“Mebbe we oughta find a tall bottle of some fine whisky and see ifn that could help you forgit it.”

“I’d like a good dinner first, and I know of a fine establishment that has both.”

“Lead on, older brother. Me and Joe is willing to go there ifn they got both. Right, Joe?”

Somewhat surprised at how easily Adam had conceded the extra night in town, Joe readily agreed. “Yeah, that sounds good to me.”

With a good dinner and two bottles of the finest whisky they could find, the three brothers had a long night of drinking and talking. Not only did Adam talk about that night when he stood on the gallows and the nightmares it still gave him, he opened up about his time in the desert with Kane and what had happened there. His brothers were shocked of course, and then there were more questions. Adam was surprised at how easily he was able to talk to his brothers once the first things were shared and without his father there. There was no judgment by his brothers and he guessed that was probably one of the reasons why he found it easier to talk. He wasn’t looking into their eyes and expecting disappointment. All he saw was sympathy when they found out some of the hardships he had endured and the pain he had suffered with things that had happened not only with Kane with in other things that had happened. By the time the first light of dawn appeared, the three were ready for some sleep but had found out a lot about each other. Adam opening up to his brothers had shown how much he trusted them, and they had reciprocated by confiding in him. There were no more secrets among the brothers. They made a pledge that what one of them knew would be shared with the others. Once they awoke, they had a late lunch and Hoss asked if they all remembered what they had promised to do.

“I remember and I stick by it. Adam?”

“I’m in.”

“All right then, Joe and me got something to tell ya that we remembered when we was talking this morning after we got up. It didn’t seem important at the time, but after what you said last night and what we remember you arguing about with Pa, maybe it is important. One of Hawkins’ men laughed once and said something about poor Byrnes not knowing what was in his own corral.”

Because Adam was quiet, Joe interjected what he thought. “Doesn’t that sound like Byrnes didn’t steal those horses but maybe somebody put them in his corral so it would look like he did?”

Nodding, Adam was still thinking. He looked at his brothers. “It still comes back to Pa knowing something he’s not telling. Why would someone set Byrnes up that way to bring me and Pa there, and then why kill Byrnes? It had to be the plan because Deuce was there, and he gave his false statement right away as if he was there to do just that.”

“Adam, what if you weren’t supposed to be there? What if it was supposed to be Pa there only and not you?”

Shaking his head, Adam looked at Joe. “That’s as good a theory as any. You may be right, but without any other information, there’s no way to know. Maybe someday, Pa will tell us more, but every time I make any reference to that, he gets his back up and there’s no talking.”

“I know. Joe and me talked about that too. I know you rubbed him wrong when you first argued with him about it, but he seems right raw about it even now. It’s like he’s got a burr under his saddle and that sore can’t heal.”

“There are times I wish I could talk to Sally about it, but whenever I get near her, she gives me a look that says she doesn’t even want me to say good day to her. I usually walk on with a tip of my hat and nothing more. She’ll turn and go another way if she has a choice. I think she’s still not sure Pa and I didn’t have something to do with her father being killed.”

“Adam, maybe me or Hoss could go tell her what we remembered and what we’ve talked about. We can tell her that we’re all sure her father never stole those horses and that Cy Hawkins set her father up, but we don’t know why, and Cy is dead so he can’t tell us either. Deuce was probably in on it, but he’s dead too.”

After frowning at first, Adam nodded. “That might help her. She doesn’t need to know the other questions we have. If you only tell her that much, it might ease her mind and let her get some peace.”

“Good, we’ll do that when we get back. I like her pie anyway so it’ll be a good excuse to go there. Maybe we’ll be able to jest get to talking and we can sorta bring it up like we was talking and remembering and that came up kinda casual like.”

“Hoss, don’t try to make too much of a production out of it. Tell her the story more straight up than that or she’ll think you’re playing some game on her. Tell her we got drunk and got to talking about that time, and then you and Joe remembered what that man said. Once you did that, you realized that it probably meant her father was innocent of the horse stealing.”

“Right! We can do that. Right, Joe?”

Joe agreed, and the three brothers spent the rest of the day touring the town and doing a bit of shopping. The next morning, they headed for home and had a nice time traveling together. As expected, their father was surprised at how well they had gotten along and proclaimed it a miracle that there had been no fights among them. They all smiled indulgently so much so that Ben questioned whether they had told him the whole truth. They swore they had and invited him to question the hands if he had any doubts. Of course, in his roundabout way, he did as they suspected he would. The hands told them about his offhand but probing remarks. They laughed about it although they were irritated especially Adam who found that kind of treatment more and more unacceptable. Hoss knew it and tried to let his father know that it wasn’t appreciated.

“Oh, you boys know it’s a father’s right to find out what kind of shenanigans go on when he’s not around.”

“Pa, that’s jest it. We ain’t boys and there ain’t shenanigans to find out about when we tell you there ain’t.”

Ben didn’t take it seriously. “Now if I believed that, I wouldn’t have found out about a lot of things I’ve found out about in the past. Oh, Hoss, don’t let Adam’s moodiness get to you too. He’ll get over it.”

Knowing he didn’t have the words for it, Hoss simply turned and walked away. The way he looked gave Ben a moment’s pause, but then he thought it couldn’t be true that Hoss felt the same way Adam did at times when he got peevish. He smiled and went back to work on his ledgers.

*****

Chapter 2

There was a lot of work to do on the ranch so it was a week before Hoss and Joe got a chance to go to town early enough to have lunch at Sally Byrnes café. She smiled when she saw them and told them to take the nice table by the window. She had put fresh flowers on that table and said she would be with them in a minute. True to her word, she was there as soon as she dropped off a plate of food for a man at another table. Joe and Hoss ordered lunch and made a point of saying they hoped she had pie. That got her smiling.

“It’s summer so of course I have pie. We got some fresh peaches in from California so I made peach pie this morning.”

“Ooh, Miss Sally, I love me some peach pie. Mebbe I’ll only have one of them ham sandwiches so I can have two pieces of your peach pie.”

“Hoss Cartwright, you always make me smile. I’ll be right out with your order including two big slices of peach pie for you.”

Hoss and Joe had timed their arrival near the end of the lunch hour so by the time they finished eating, they were the only patrons left in the restaurant. As they enjoyed their slices of pie, Sally sat down with them with a cup of coffee as they had hoped she would. Hoss decided it was time to broach the subject that had brought them there. She seemed relaxed enough and there were no witnesses especially if things didn’t go well. He hoped it would go well though for her sake as well as for Adam’s.

“Miss Sally, I got something serious to talk to you about. I know we been all smiles and all but I got some serious talking to do with ya, and I hope ya are willing ta listen to me.” Sally looked wary but didn’t leave. “When we was on the cattle drive, well really we was already done with it, and we got to drinking, and thinking, and doing a lot of talking, and well, we remembered something important.”

“Yeah, and me and Hoss thought maybe we ought to tell you. You see, back when your father got killed and my father and Adam were accused of doing it, Hoss and me were out trying to find out what really happened.”

“Listen, I don’t know if I want to go through all of that again. That was all very painful, and even now, I can’t forget it. I still have nightmares about it.”

Hoss and Joe looked at each other but wouldn’t betray Adam’s confidence by telling her that he also had those nightmares at times. Instead, Hoss asked her to stay. “I know it probably hurts ya to think on yer pa getting killed like that and not knowing who done it. We got something that might make things a little better for ya. Ya see, one of Cy Hawkins’ men said something once that makes us think yer pa never stole no horses but somebody wanted our Pa to think he did.”

“What did he say?” That had gotten Sally more interested than worried.

“He said ‘Byrnes don’t know what he’s got in his own corral’ and that seems to us like maybe somebody set him up saying something like that. I guess at the time we didn’t know it was important ’cause we was so worried about our Pa and Adam and sorry, but we wasn’t thinking on saving your pa’s reputation.”

Sally paused only a moment. “Hawkins put those stolen horses in Father’s corral?”

“It’s what seems to be what happened after what the man said. At least, that’s what we’re thinking probably happened. Now it was a long time ago and Hawkins is dead so we can’t ask him why he done it to your father. We can’t ask Deuce who paid him to lie about things, and we can’t ask anybody why they killed your father in order to make it look like my Pa and my brother done it, but what we do know for certain in our minds is your father was innocent.”

“Yeah, like Hoss said. It’s pretty clear he didn’t do anything wrong. That’s why he kept arguing that he didn’t do it because he didn’t, but my Pa thought he did because the horses were right there in his corral.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything about this before?”

“I guess it didn’t seem so important before we got Pa and Adam outta that jail and once we knew our Pa and our brother Adam weren’t gonna hang, well all we wanted to do was to go home and forget about it all.”

“But something has made you remember it.” She looked at the two men as they squirmed a bit and were obviously uncomfortable with that and not wanting to say anything more. “I can tell you don’t want to betray any confidences, but let me guess. Your father is too righteous to ever question anything like this, but I remember that Adam always wanted answers. He always wanted to know everything about everything. My guess is that he can’t let this rest because he wants to know the rest of the story.” Hoss and Joe could only shrug. They weren’t going to say anything. “Well, I’ve been thinking about this for years too. I think I may want to talk to Adam about it. You tell him that. You tell him that I know he didn’t do it, and I’d like to talk to him. We were friends once. Maybe we can be friends again.”

“Miss Sally, I think he’d like that. We’ll tell him, and we’ll tell him about the peach pie. He likes peach pie a lot, and I’ll tell ‘im it was dadblamed good too.”

“I’ll be sure to make more peach pie in the next couple of days if he’s willing to stop by and have a talk with me.”

“Thank you, Sally. You’re a peach.” Joe gave her one of his cheekiest grins and the two brothers bid her good day and headed out.

When Hoss and Joe got back to the ranch, they were in a hurry to tell Adam what had happened, and he was equally anxious to hear how Sally had reacted to the news they had brought. That was unfortunate though because their father walked to the stable to welcome them home and overheard some of their conversation. He stepped into the stable already upset knowing the topic of their discussion.

“There’s nothing to be gained by dredging up that old case. No one can know what really happened because all the main participants are dead. Adam, why can’t you let it go, and now you’ve dragged your brothers into your obsession.”

Hoss put his hand on Adam’s arm hoping to stop the explosion of anger he expected after what their father had said. He felt the tension in Adam and wrapped his fingers around his arm firmly doing his best to communicate with his brother that nothing good could come from responding to the gibe. Luckily Joe interjected a comment that calmed things down.

“Actually Pa, it was me and Hoss who brought it up. We remembered something that might make Sally feel better and it did. One of Cy’s men said that ‘Byrne didn’t know what was in his own corral’ so we told her that. She thought what we thought too that somebody put those horses there and her father never did anything wrong. You see, it was all just to make Sally feel better about things.”

“Ya, Pa, it weren’t Adam here. It was me and Joe talking after we’d had a mite to drink after the drive. Adam weren’t even in the room when we first talked about it, but he did agree we should tell Sally cause she would feel better ’bout things ifn we did. Boy, she makes the best dang peach pie too, Pa. You oughta stop in there sometime and try some.”

“Yeah, you should because Hoss is probably going to be stopping in there a lot. He ate two pieces today and they were huge pieces too.”

Realizing he had overreacted, Ben was grateful for the chance to talk about other things. “Well, I do like peach pie. Adam, if I recall, it’s one of your favorites too. Maybe you would like to stop in there sometime and have a piece of pie as well.”

Forcing himself to be civil, Adam had a short reply that let everyone know he wasn’t altogether forgetting what had been said. “Maybe I will.” Then he went back to work in the tack room leaving the other three standing there quietly before each brother turned to his horse and Ben retreated to the house.

“Some day, Hoss, I want to know why Pa gets so upset at any mention of what happened back then. Knowing we were talking about it was enough to make him mad. I wonder why that is.”

“Guilt can do that to a man.” Adam re-emerged from the tack room once he realized his father had left the stable.

“Aw, Adam, why would Pa feel guilty about all that. Both of ya was gonna be hanged. It wasn’t like he got you up there on the gallows alone.”

“No, not alone, but there’s something there. There’s something bothering him a great deal about this whole mess.”

“Maybe he jest needs to forgit ’bout it.”

“No, Hoss, it’s more than that. But, I won’t talk to him about it and upset him for no good reason. I will talk to Sally Byrnes though because I would like to settle that, and now that she wants to see me, I feel better about that part of it.”

It was another week before Adam got to town and saw Sally at the café. By then, she had shared what she had learned from Hoss and Joe. There were several people who had talked to Adam as he made his way to the café and each was supportive of him and his brothers for helping Sally feel better about her father’s death. Of course, the big question for everyone was who killed her father then. Many supposed that Cy Hawkins had something to do with it, and when Adam and Sally talked in the restaurant, she proclaimed exactly that.

“Sally, you have to be careful talking like that especially so loudly and openly that people can hear you.” Adam was upset and his voice and manner showed it. He took Sally by the arm and suggested rather emphatically that they continue their discussion back in the kitchen away from the customers.

Once in the kitchen, Sally was ready to argue with him. “Why should I be quiet about it? It’s great news and I want everyone to know.”

She had reduced the volume of her voice so Adam was grateful for that at least. “Yes, sharing that information is wonderful, but accusing Cy Hawkins is probably not a good idea at all.”

“Oh, Adam, he’s dead too, and you must suspect him of being behind it all as much as I do. Why not simply state the obvious?”

“Because Cy has two sons who are running his business now, and both of them were old enough to be involved in what happened back then. They could be a lot of trouble if that’s true.”

“Oh, we can’t prove anything, so what would they be worried about?”

“Their reputation and that of their father are probably foremost on their minds. Sally, I’m only asking you as a friend to be careful. Gossip could be inflammatory and stir up a lot of trouble for you. They’re wealthy enough men and have a lot of influence in this town. It could hurt your business and by doing that, hurt you.”

“All right, what you say makes a lot of sense. I guess I was so happy to hear the news your brothers brought that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I am happy too to know that you weren’t involved in killing my father.” Sally paused then before continuing because she wasn’t sure if Adam had thought much about the rest of what she had to say. “Adam, have you wondered who did shoot my father and why they wanted you and your father blamed for it?”

Sally had struck at the crux of the mystery. Adam nodded. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to be thinking along those lines too. I should have known better. You always were the curious kind. Yes, I have been wondering that, and I can’t think of any reason why especially as it seems that Cy Hawkins was the one behind it. I have no idea why he would have wanted me and my father dead and especially why he would have wanted your father dead. I can’t make any sense out of it.”

“Maybe your father knows a reason for it.”

“My father doesn’t like to talk about it. He would rather forget all about it.”

“Cy always wanted more of everything and always had some scheme in mind to get it. Maybe he wanted to buy some land or get something else from your father.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me, but why was I brought into it? I don’t understand why it was important that I hang next to my father.”

“That only adds a mystery to our mystery, doesn’t it?”

“It does, but I have no idea how to proceed to get any further in solving it.”

“Well, at least I know my father was an innocent man, and if I have to, I can live with that and let the mysteries be mysteries. I don’t have to have the answers.

It wasn’t going to be that simple however because Sally had already set in motion events that would mean she couldn’t live with what she knew and let the mysteries be mysteries. She was much too curious and talkative, and had already spoken to a few friends about what Hoss and Joe had told her. Adam wanted answers as well, but the manner in which he learned them was not the way he would have chosen.

*****

Chapter 3

Three days later, Sheriff Roy Coffee knocked on the door of the Ponderosa ranch house to perform a duty he didn’t want to do. When Joe answered the door and invited him in, he took off his hat and entered but declined to sit down at the dining table with the family. Instead he stood, hat in hand, to tell them two very bad pieces of information. The first was going to be difficult, but he knew the second was going to be explosive.

“Roy, what brings you out here so early, and why such a dour expression?”

“Ben, I got some bad news to share with ya. I hate to have to tell ya these things, but there ain’t no way around it.”

Ben and his sons were silent then waiting for Roy to continue. Looking at each of them in turn, Roy could see they had no idea what he was going to say. He paid special attention to Adam and saw how relaxed he was. Now Roy had a lot of experience arresting men for crimes and knew how a guilty man might look. None of these men fit that mode at all. He had to do his job though so he went ahead with what he had to say.

“Sally Byrnes was murdered last night. Shot through the window of her café. According to a witness, the man who did it was dressed all in black and rode a chestnut horse with three white socks.”

Waiting for all of them to draw the same conclusion that many of the people in town had drawn, Roy was ready for the explosion. They all protested at once especially Adam and his father. Holding up his hands, Roy asked for one to speak at a time. Ben asserted that he would go first.

“Roy, Adam was here last night. You can’t think he had anything to do with this?”

“My whole family saw me here. Surely that’s a good alibi.”

“Adam, having your family as your alibi is good, but probably not good enough when there’s a witness says it was a man looked like you shot Sally.”

“I have another alibi witness. I played chess with Candy last night. I could hardly have done that and ridden to town and back.”

“Adam, you still need to come with me. I gotta get this all checked out right and proper according to the law. Now I need you to trust me on this.”

Ben objected but Adam held up his hand as he and Roy stared at each other. “It’s all right, Pa. I’ll go with Roy. We’ll get this all straightened out. You can come to town later and get a lawyer for me if I need one. I don’t think that will be necessary though.”

“Probably not, Adam. I think your cooperation is all we’re gonna need.”

As not only Ben, but Hoss and Joe looked on with confusion, Adam left with Roy. On the road a short time later, Adam pulled up and looked over at his friend.

“All right, now you can tell me what this is all about. I have an alibi and no motive to hurt Sally so you know there’s no basis to arrest me.”

“I kinda figured you was guessing there was more going on than I was saying. Well, Sally ain’t dead, but you, me, Doc Martin, and a few others are the only ones who know that. We want whoever wanted her dead to think they succeeded so they don’t try again. She’s got a nasty wound but it’s not gonna kill her.”

“Who was the witness who said it was me?”

“Cletus Hawkins is the one.”

“He never goes anywhere without Calvin.”

“Cal rode in a bit later saying he had been working and just then had ridden to town, except his shirt was clean and so was his pants like he hadn’t been riding at all.”

It didn’t take much for Adam to think through that and draw the same conclusion that Roy had. “You think Cal shot Sally and had Clete standing by to be the witness who would say it was me. He was probably dressed like me and then rode out and changed and rode back in on another horse he had stashed outside of town. Anyone else seeing it happen would hear Clete’s version and probably agree it looked like me.”

“Yeah, Cal’s a lot like his father always scheming. Clete does whatever his brother tells him to do. I remember your brothers thinking that maybe they were the ones who went after Deuce Martin and pushed him off that cliff. No one did see those boys around for a while. They coulda been the ones who done it.”

“I still wonder about why that all happened, and now why this?”

“If they were the ones who killed Deuce, they might be worried now that you and Sally are asking questions about that time. Sally has been talking a bit about it.”

“I told her not to do that. I thought she understood it wasn’t a good idea.”

“She felt she had to tell what your brothers said that cleared her father’s name. The conversations kinda always got around then to why her father was killed then if he done nothing wrong. You know how people start to talking ’bout things without thinking ’bout the consequences.”

“So now what?”

“I get you over to the jail, and then when you’re sitting in that cell, I ask Clete to make a positive identification and make a statement to me without his brother present. I’ll tell Cal I can’t have anyone influencing a witness statement. He won’t like it, but what can he say to that if he wants you to stay in that jail?”

“And you hope to trip up Clete when you question him.” Roy nodded. “Let’s go then.”

Things developed much as Roy had predicted with Cal objecting to Clete giving his statement without Cal present. Roy told him the reason why and insisted that Clete had to just say what he had to say and then sign the statement. Cal left but told Clete to get it said and then sign it and not to do any more talking than necessary. Clete nodded dutifully and then sat in the chair Roy pulled out for him. He could still see Adam sitting in the cell through the open door. He kept glancing at Adam as he sat there clearly uncomfortable with the cold hard stare he was getting. Roy asked if he wanted some coffee and then if he wanted a peppermint stick.

“I just got these this morning over at the general store. They’re real good. Here ya go. I’m gonna have one too.”

Clete accepted the candy and began to enjoy it until he glanced back to see Adam still staring at him. Roy patted him on the arm.

“Don’t you worry. If you tell the truth, nothing bad can happen to you. It’s only people who tell lies in their statements that get in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Well, you see, that’s perjury to a judge. You know, lying under oath because you’re gonna swear that everything you say in there is the God’s honest truth and then you’re gonna sign it. Now if there was anything in there that wasn’t the truth when you sign it, well then you could be in a heap of trouble. People go to prison for that kind of thing.”

“They do?”

“Yes, but don’t you worry. I’m going to ask you a lot of questions and make sure that everything that’s in there is true so no one can question it and you won’t have a worry at all about it.”

Clete didn’t look at all reassured by those words. Adam made it worse for him. “Roy, if he says he saw me, then that would be a lie and he goes to prison. I was playing chess with Candy last night. When Candy testifies to that, they’ll all know Clete’s lying. I have to wonder why he’s lying. What do you suppose he wants to cover up?”

Clete looked terribly nervous. “Maybe I should go talk to Cal first before I make this statement to you.”

“No, you see I told him and I’m sure you was listening. You can’t talk to people about making a statement. It has to be the truth as you remember it and not what someone tells you to say because that wouldn’t be the truth. That would be a lie.” Roy leaned back in his chair. “I jest can’t understand why anyone would want to kill Sally. I mean all she was doing was explaining to folks how her father was innocent of horse stealing all those years ago. Why would anyone want to shut her up about that unless of course they were involved in that somehow?”

“Or maybe they’re the ones who killed her father and Deuce Martin, and they’re afraid she’ll make the law take another look. That might mean they’ll get found out after all these years.”

“We didn’t have nothing to do with killing her father!”

“Now Clete we never said you did. You feeling guilty about something else though. Maybe you know what happened to Deuce Martin? I noticed you didn’t say anything about not killing him.”

“Well we didn’t kill him either. It was an accident. Everybody knows that.”

“No, no, not everybody knows that. Somebody pushed him or he fell. That’s what we know. He could have been killed.”

“No, Cal was arguing with him and he turned to pull away from Cal, and he tripped. When he tried to catch himself, he lost his balance and he fell. It was an accident. We was supposed to tell him he had to come back to testify at the trial. Pa said he wanted him to come back, but Deuce said he wouldn’t. Cal argued with him and grabbed his arm. Deuce pulled his arm away, and that’s when it happened.”

“So Cal pushed him over the cliff?”

“No, he tripped. That’s what Cal said we should say. He tripped and then he lost his balance.”

“Now if I wrote that down, would you swear to it and sign your name knowing what I told you about what happens if you lie in a statement?”

“Well, no, yes, I don’t know. You got me all confused now.”

“Is that why Cal shot Sally? He didn’t want anyone to know that he killed Deuce?”

“He didn’t want, no, no, Adam was the one.”

“Clete, I think you’re lying to me. You know I got to lock you up if you’re lying to me.”

“Oh, I don’t know what to say.”

“How about I say it and write it down, and then you sign it as the truth?”

“I guess if that’s the way it’s gotta be, but Cal is gonna be so mad at me.”

“Cal’s the one who sent you in here to lie and go to prison. Think about that for a bit. Now, Cal argued with Deuce Martin and when Deuce wouldn’t come back with him like Cy wanted, Cal pushed Deuce and caused him to fall off the cliff. Deuce died.”

Clete put his head down unable to say or do anything at that point. He was helpless without someone there to help him.

“When Sally started talking about the case again, Cal was afraid that what he did might come out so he decided to kill Sally and get Adam blamed for it so that would get rid of him too. He dressed up like Adam and found a horse that looked like Adam’s horse. He did the shooting in the evening so people couldn’t get a clear look at him. He set you up to see the whole thing and step out to say Adam Cartwright did it so other people would draw the same conclusion.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Think it was Adam because you said it was him.”

“Yeah, that’s what Cal said.”

“Now, Clete, who killed Mister Byrnes?”

“You don’t know?”

“I think I know, but I need you to say it.”

“Pa and Cal did it. They didn’t want me along ’cause they said I would like as not get caught at it. Cal said he thought it was his bullet that did it ’cause he was a better shot than Pa. Then Pa ended up getting killed so none of it was worth it. We never got that land we needed and we didn’t have Pa so we couldn’t get the loan either.”

“The land and the loan?”

“Yeah, Pa wanted some land from the Ponderosa so we could build a road to the lake and then set up boats to take cargo across the lake. Ben Cartwright said he wouldn’t sell any of the land. Pa said maybe when he was dead, he could take it. Ben said no because that land belonged to Adam according to his will. Pa said but what if Adam is dead too and asked who got it in his will. That’s what Pa laughed about most because Ben said Adam didn’t have a will yet ’cause he was too young.”

In the cell, Adam gripped the cell bars so hard his knuckles were white. Roy could see it from where he sat. He kept questioning Clete though because once a man started talking like that letting the truth out, it was best to keep him talking before he realized what he was doing.

“But why was Byrnes killed? He had nothing to do with any of that.”

“He was there when they had the argument because we were all in his café. The four of us and Byrnes were there and nobody else. Pa said if Ben and Adam ended up dead, Byrnes would bring the law down on us.”

Roy looked back at Adam who stared at him silently. All the questions had been answered and far faster than either of them had even hoped. They had thought that Clete might let a few clues slip that they could use to investigate and try to put a case together. Instead, they had the whole thing. Apparently the young man had been carrying a load of guilt for so long that the fear of being found out had taken its toll. He sat with his head down and stared at the floor. He nearly jumped when Roy put a hand on his shoulder after he finished writing.

“It’s all here, boy. You ready to read it and sign it?”

By the time Ben, Hoss, and Joe got to town, Cal Hawkins was in a jail cell for attempted murder of Sally Byrnes, the murder of her father, and the murder of Deuce Martin. Clete still sat on the chair by Roy’s desk as Cal flung curses at him from the cell in back. When Hoss asked about him, Adam asked Hoss if he could see that Clete got home safely.

“After what he done?”

“Mostly, he was a witness. He didn’t do anything as far as those murders went and took back his statement against me.”

“All right, I’ll get him home.”

Roy said everything was settled as far as he was concerned with Adam so he was free to go. Adam walked out of the office without acknowledging his father and headed to Doctor Martin’s office where he visited briefly with Sally who was in pain but recovering. She was relieved to find out that her father’s killer was identified and was going to be punished. Adam told her why he was killed too. The mystery was solved. She thanked him, but then Paul said he had to leave because she needed rest.

When Adam left the office, Ben and Joe were there with his horse. He mounted up after taking the reins from Joe and thanking him but again ignored his father. Joe was perplexed by it, but Ben seemed resigned. Joe wanted to ask Adam about it, but Ben told him to wait until they were home.

*****

Chapter 4

The feel of that rope around his neck and the weight of it pulling against his skin and catching at the hair at the back of his head made him want to twist away from it, but he knew he couldn’t. All those days of waiting in that damp, dank cell sitting on that lumpy mattress listening to his father read from the Bible and now this. He didn’t want to die and especially he didn’t want to die like this. The terrible nightmare was back. He woke again that night covered in sweat with a damp sheet covering him. He threw it off and stood slightly shaky in front of the open window even though the breeze was a bit cool. He preferred it in his state as he remembered the conversation with his father and brothers earlier that evening as he related what Cletus had said which explained everything that happened. Then he had turned to his father.

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you trust me with the truth? I remember now how you wanted me with you keeping me here doing jobs while Joe got sent with Hoss to do all the dirty work. I remember how upset he was with you about that. It was nice for me, but why didn’t you ever tell my why you were doing it? When we sat in that cell and I faced my death, why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

Ben had paused and then told the only truth that mattered. “I felt guilty. I had caused my own son to end up facing the gallows because I was stubborn and refused to work with Cy Hawkins. I spoke without thinking. I did what I had cautioned all of you not to do. I was emotional and impulsive. I thought it was my fault that Byrnes was dead. I guessed that had to be true, but somehow I knew too that what I had done and what I had said had led to you being drawn into the mess with me.”

“Why didn’t you say something? It would have at least been a theory we could have used for our defense.”

“That’s all it was. It would have been a theory with nothing to back it up once Hoss and Joe found Deuce dead.”

“And then there’s your pride.”

“It wasn’t my pride! It was a practical matter that there was nothing to be gained by telling a story with no witnesses and no evidence.”

“I still had a right to know.”

At that point, Hoss and Joe had gotten involved telling Adam to let it go because it was nearly six years previously that it had all happened and nothing could be changed. Joe mostly wanted to protect his father, but Hoss was the more persuasive.

“A lot has happened since and ya need to balance it all out. Can one thing like this wipe out all the other things? C’mon Adam, give it some time and let the wounds heal now.” Hoss had put a hand on his shoulder and urged him to relent. He couldn’t keep going with Hoss asking him to back off so he backed off, but the pain was still there. In the morning, he said nothing more about it, but the experience of the nightmare and the lack of sleep showed. For the next few days, he was quieter than usual, and he did nothing to stir up anything in the family. However it was clear that he was struggling with something and when he and Hoss were out working and took a break for lunch, Hoss zeroed in on the exact thing that Adam had been contemplating.

“Adam, you ain’t thinking on leaving, are ya?”

“You’re really good at reading my mind sometimes. Must be that gut-feeling thing you have. Yes, I am, but you already knew I’ve thought of it before.”

“Why? I’ve never really understood why. Don’t you want to stay and keep your share of the Ponderosa and stay with your family? I don’t understand you wanting to leave.”

“I will miss you and Joe and Pa, but I don’t really have a share of the Ponderosa.”

“Sure you do. We all do.”

Looking out over the valleys spread before them, Adam gestured at the whole landscape. “No, Pa said he cleared this land and planted the grass.”

“You helped him.”

“No, he said with the Lord’s help, it grew.” Silent for a time as Hoss struggled to come up with an answer to that, Adam had a question for him. “Do you get paid at the end of the month?”

“Course I do same as you and Joe.”

“And all the men working for us herding cattle and doing any other job that needs doing, and Hop Sing collects his pay too. All of us are hired hands working for the only man who owns the Ponderosa, the only man whose opinions count and whose decisions matter.”

“Adam, that ain’t fair. Pa listens to us.”

“Does he? If we disagree with him, what opinion matters then?”

“Well somebody has to be in charge.”

“When all three of us have agreed and he disagreed, we still have had to do it his way, and often found that wasn’t the best way to go. Yet the next time we were in that same kind of situation, nothing was any different, was it?” Hoss hung his head for he knew he couldn’t argue effectively against that. “Hoss, I need my opinions to be heard and respected. I don’t want to have to try to win over someone by being louder or more persistent. Being logical and reasonable should be enough.”

“Maybe Pa could change.”

“He does for a while whenever he realizes that he’s pushing me to go, but then he slips back into it. The change never lasts. I can’t trust it any more. I will not accept being treated like a boy any longer.”

“You’re a lot like him.”

“I know. He taught me well. From the earliest memories I have, the lessons to be strong, to be proud, to hold my ground and not give in, and to know what was right and fight for it were among the most frequent ones I was taught. For him to have a proud, stubborn son shouldn’t surprise him.”

“Yeah, makes it hard for you to give in to him just like it’s hard for him to give in to you.”

“But he doesn’t have to give in. He gets to do it his way whenever he wants.”

“This all has a lot to do with what happened, don’t it?”

“Some of it does. He said it was his business. He said it wasn’t our concern so there was no reason to tell us anything about it. Hoss, I was in that jail cell ready to hang beside him all those years ago, and he never told me. Now he says he felt so guilty about it then that he couldn’t admit it to me. But what about all those days and weeks after that? What about when we got home, and for weeks, I couldn’t sleep decently at night. He knew. Every night, I had nightmares about swinging at the end of that rope. Why couldn’t he tell me then?”

“I reckon he still felt awful darn bad ’bout it all.”

“And what about my feelings? Do you think he cared about how I felt?”

“Adam, I’m sure he cared.”

“I don’t know if I’m so sure about that, Hoss. He had years to explain it all to me, and he never did. If I had known, maybe I could have looked out for myself better. When Sally said she wanted to talk to me about her father’s death, I would have been more worried about her safety and mine. Instead, I was as curious as she was, and although I warned her not to talk publicly, I never thought she would get hurt like that. I was more worried about stirring up gossip and stirring up old stories.”

“And then she got shot.”

“Yes, and I suppose he thinks he still was right not to tell me. Do you suppose he will tell me now yet that it was none of my concern? Will he tell me it was his business and had nothing to do with me?”

“I ain’t got no answers for ya. I guess you should talk it out with Pa.”

“Why? He’ll either argue with me about it again or he’ll apologize, but either way, next time, nothing will change.”

“And you know the truth of it all now.”

“Yes, I know the truth so there’s nothing to be gained by another confrontation. There’s nothing to be gained by any confrontation.”

“So you done made up your mind to go, ain’t ya?” Adam nodded. “When?”

“As soon as I can tell Pa that I’ve made the arrangements and when I’ve told Joe too. That won’t be any easier than telling Pa.”

“After some of what’s happened lately, Joe’s likely to think it’s his fault. He said some harsh things to you about not forgiving Pa about all that.”

“It’s no one’s fault. I know we’ve had some disagreements, but when it comes to family, there’s no issue. I love my family.”

“It’s gonna be hard for Joe to see how you can love your family and leave too. Kinda hard to me to accept it, and I kinda guess I saw it coming.”

“It’s a decision that I feel is best for all of us. I’m not happy here, and that’s not good for the family and not good for me. We’ll be better with me somewhere else.”

“Where you going?”

“I thought to spend some time in San Francisco first.”

“Then?”

“I’m not sure. It depends on what happens in San Francisco.”

“You gonna be finding out ifn you kin fit in to that kind of life?”

“Yes, you’ve got that part exactly right. I’ve lived in a society where fists and guns help settle issues so often that I’m not sure what will happen when I’m some place where those are not an option.”

“You’re pretty darn good with both of ’em.”

“I’m pretty darn good with other things too, or at least I used to be. I haven’t had much practice doing other things while I’ve been using my education to herd cattle, fix fences, and break horses in between chopping wood, working the forge, and clearing brush.”

“Don’t forget moving the necessary, stocking the line shacks, mucking out the stable, and going to town for supplies.”

Hoss had such a big grin that Adam could only shake his head.

“And then there’s cleaning the tack, stacking hay, fixing the shingles on the roof, whitewashing the chicken coop for Hop Sing, and peeling potatoes. Let me see, did I forget anything?”

Tossing his last quarter of a sandwich to his larger brother, Adam stood and packed the large red napkin it had been wrapped in back into his saddlebag. “With all that extra thinking you’re doing, you probably need that extra food.”

“Why thank you, older brother. That’s right kindly of ya.”

As usual, Hoss was able to get Adam out of his melancholy state and smiling again. When they returned that day and Adam was smiling, Ben thought things were getting better. He had been getting worried that Adam was again thinking of leaving and this time, Ben was more worried than usual that he might actually go. However seeing him smiling and talking with Hoss made him relax a bit and worry less about that. At least he did until the next morning when Adam asked to go to town because he had some business to do. When Ben asked him what it was, he said he would explain when he got back. The worry was back full force then with the look Adam had when he said that. It was that odd mixture of regret and relief that made Ben think he had made up his mind to leave. After Adam had ridden to town, Ben sought out Hoss.

“Has Adam again been talking about leaving?”

“Pa, I think that’s something Adam should tell you and not me.”

“I think perhaps you just did. Hoss, is it my fault? Is it because of what I did?”

“Pa, you and Adam should talk. It’s way overdue, dontcha think?”

After Ben had turned and gone back to the house, Joe walked up to Hoss. “Adam’s leaving?”

“Ain’t my place to say whether he is or isn’t.”

“Like Pa said, that kinda says it right there, doesn’t it? Is he mad at me and Pa so he’s leaving?”

“Joe, Adam wouldn’t leave for that kind of reason. Now, you need to talk with him and not me about this.”

It was a difficult talk when Adam returned from town after making his arrangements to leave. It took quite a bit of convincing for Joe to understand that Adam wasn’t leaving because he was mad but because he was discontented and had been for some time. Ben had known of course that his son had been thinking of leaving and had expected it on several occasions before that day. It wasn’t so much a surprise but still was sad for him. He did understand it though having had those same feelings when he was a much younger man and knowing that Adam had fought those urges for far longer than he had. He thanked his son for staying and building the ranch and helping his brothers.

“Will you come back?”

“I don’t know. I can’t promise that. I think I will, but at this point I don’t know what I’m going to do so I can’t say I will or if I will, when that would be.”

After telling of his plans to live in San Francisco first, Ben got him to agree to do Ponderosa business for them while he was there. He could help them by using skills he liked to use negotiating and working out deals. Adam liked being trusted with that responsibility and agreed it was a good deal for all of them. Hoss said he planned on seeing him at the end of the next trail drive and hoped Adam would have some good entertainment all lined up for them. With a promise that he would if he could, the conversation ended on a positive note. The next day, Adam left.

*****

Chapter 5

Riding away from the only permanent home he had ever known, on the train that morning, Adam didn’t think he would feel such deep sorrow, but the pain threatened to make him reconsider and return home. He had left before but never with such finality. There had always been the plan to go back with a definite timeframe for doing so. To leave without even a promise to return was almost overwhelming as he realized the ties that he had cut and the hurt he had caused. He wondered what they would do with his things if he never sent for them. He had said he might, but wasn’t sure because he wasn’t at all sure that he would have a permanent residence in which to keep them. He had seen the pain in their eyes when he said that, but taught from his earliest years to tell the truth when he spoke, he either would have had to refuse to answer or avoided answering as alternatives and either way, they would have known the same thing they knew as when he told them the truth. He was feeling too forlorn to feel excited about his trip and didn’t even converse with his fellow travelers until he made a few switches and finally perked up a bit when he was on the steamer that was to take him from Sacramento to San Francisco. He sat on a deck chair reading a newspaper when two gentlemen sought him out and engaged him in conversation. Once introductions were made, the three talked for most of the trip down the river. The two men were employees of Wells Fargo and had top positions in that company although that was not divulged to Adam. They didn’t immediately recognize the name Cartwright, but he had piqued their curiosity.

“I must say, sir, that we have been intrigued by you since we saw you in Reno. You emerged from the train from Virginia City looking like an ordinary cowboy or perhaps not so ordinary with your black clothes and that gun you wore. But then that night in the dining car, you looked more like a western businessman with your white shirt and tie. We took you for perhaps a reasonably successful rancher based on your previous appearance.”

“And now?”

“Sir, you have us flummoxed entirely. You look like any businessman one might meet on the streets of San Francisco or Sacramento. Your dress is stylish and in season. You, sir, are a chameleon.”

“I’ve never seen one of those but would like to someday. I think seeing the change in colors would be fascinating.”

“A master at bending the conversation your way too. You see, Bernard, he is perhaps what we thought.”

“Oh, and what do you think I am?”

“We guessed perhaps a Pinkerton or a Treasury Agent or a U.S. Marshal. All of those have this uncanny ability to fit into various guises with ease.”

“Would it worry you if I was one of those?”

“Not at all. We work for Wells Fargo and often have need of the services of men like that. We are always, in fact, looking for such men to work for us.”

“If that is a roundabout way of trying to find out if I’m interested, the answer is no. I hope to continue negotiating contracts for my family while I seek out work more to my liking.”

“Your family?”

“My family owns the Ponderosa Ranch in Nevada. I’ve negotiated most of the timber, cattle, and mining contracts we’ve had in the past and will continue to do so while I’m in San Francisco.”

“I’ve heard of the Ponderosa. So you’re one of those Cartwrights. We’ve done business with your father, I believe.”

“Yes, it would be his name on the bottom line.” Adam managed to say it without the bitterness he still felt inside.

“I believe he has made an investment in Wells Fargo too.”

“No, that would be me. My father prefers to keep his investments closer to home generally speaking.”

“Ah, so you are also part owner of our company. We too invest in our company.”

“What is the other work you would prefer doing?”

“In college, I studied math, architecture, engineering, and other related coursework. What I would like to do most is get some work in designing and constructing buildings especially some of some size.”

“A rancher from Nevada who’s been to college, can design and build, and negotiates contracts and moves with ease from cowboy to city businessman. I don’t think you realize the full scope of what your abilities might offer you.”

“Yes, take our business cards, and once you get settled, perhaps you would contact us to see if there might be some agreement on employment we could work out to our mutual benefit.” Both men smiled and produced some elegantly produced business cards with their names. Adam graciously accepted but told them he didn’t have one to offer in return.

“Not a problem, sir. We’ll remember you, and we’ll leave word at the front desk should you call. Simply show one of those cards and you will be admitted.”

At that point, Adam was well aware that they were not simple employees of Wells Fargo. They knew that he knew but nothing was said about it. They simply relaxed the rest of the way and talked of ordinary things as well as the entertainment all of them enjoyed in the city. Adam was promised some tickets to an exclusive performance by a visiting opera singer if he came to their offices within the month. He knew it was a bribe but it was an elegant one, so he nodded in admiration of their skill and accepted the offer. Not even in the city yet and his prospects looked bright making him relax a bit about the future.

When he strode down the steps from the steamer, he paused to breathe in the air of the city but soon wished he had not. There were some distinct drawbacks to living in the city and one was that the air was not so fresh as it was at home. The smells of dead fish, sewage, unwashed people, garbage, smoke from various sources, and who knew what else merged into an unsavory stench. It would be better when he got away from the docks, but unless he traveled to the edges of the city or the shore, it wouldn’t smell nearly as good as being in the countryside. The other option of course was to get an apartment on an upper floor but that would deplete his resources too quickly. Instead, he began searching for a second floor flat and had secured one that was reasonable by the next day having to spend only one night in the hotel. His apartment was efficient and only sparsely furnished, but for the time being, that was sufficient. He toured the city and enjoyed some of the specialties of a few of the better restaurants and stopped in to let various acquaintances know he was in town. Then it was Monday and time to head out looking for employment possibilities.

That quest didn’t work out well at all. Either potential employers thought he lacked the experience and recent education that they preferred or they offered such minimal salary that he would do better offering his services directly to potential customers. By the end of two weeks, he decided the latter might be what he had to do. He did have a letter from his father with some work to do for the Ponderosa that was going to keep him busy for most of the next week, and he did have that offer to visit with Wells Fargo to see what they might offer. He thought about that and decided it couldn’t hurt to see what his two new acquaintances would have in the way of potential employment to offer to him.

It wasn’t difficult to find the offices of Wells Fargo at the corner of California and Montgomery Streets. What was difficult was getting to the front desk with so many people moving in and out of the building with business to conduct. When he finally got the attention of the clerk there, he handed over the two cards and said he had been told to do so and would be granted admission. The young man looked at him in an appraising way and told him to take a seat and he would have someone there soon to escort him upstairs. Unexpectedly to Adam, that was exactly what happened and he was soon sitting and waiting in a small conference room upstairs with a cup of coffee until one of his new friends made it there about fifteen minutes later.

“Good to see you, Adam. I’ve been preparing a presentation for you and hoped you would stop by so my efforts would not have been in vain.”

“You were so sure of me?”

“No, I was rather sure that the city might not appreciate the assets you have. The city is new and some of the men running businesses here lack some of the finer points of business acumen that would help them be more successful.”

“But not Wells Fargo because as I recall, you were the only bank that survived the Panic of 1855 relatively unscathed.”

“Oh, we were hit hard enough, but we had enough assets on hand to handle the run on the bank because we hadn’t shipped our core assets back east as the other banks had done. It put us in an advantageous position then to expand.”

“Yes, that’s when I invested in your bank.”

“Then? You must have been very young. I’m surprised you had the resources at such a young age to make investments.”

“I was twenty-five and I’m frugal, more or less. I will spend my money for value.”

“As a stockholder in our company, you are probably well aware then that we are acquiring not only Overland but also Holladay’s operations. We have been expanding rapidly these past eleven years and have hundreds of express and banking offices already and now we will have that many more. We’re buying and selling gold dust and gold bullion in the mining camps and towns, and buying and selling gold coins through various banks. With money transfers, basic banking services, and our freight and mail services, we have need of many new employees too.”

“And I would be one of those new employees?”

“Yes, but you would be a very special new employee. We have talked about this, and we would like to send you to places where we need to build a secure office. Now none of these are going to be grand edifices, but they do need to be sound construction with security in mind. We also want them to present the image of a company that is growing but is already sound and stable. When someone walks up to a Wells Fargo office, we want the building and the employees there to inspire confidence in the services of the company.”

“So you want me to design and construct buildings for you? I don’t see how that would make me a ‘special’ kind of employee.”

“But you have other skills. You have negotiated, you have served on posses, you are educated, and you have many other experiences. With so many new employees, we haven’t been able to screen them as carefully as we would like, and now we have all these others coming into our operation from companies we are acquiring.”

Smiling as he understood the implication of what was being said, Adam stated what he thought he was understanding. “You want me to evaluate the personnel at each place as I go in to design a building for them and set up the construction. There would be no need for me to stay there for the actual building because as you say, none of these buildings are going to be grand edifices requiring someone on site to inspect the process as it was going on.”

“Yes, but as you interview the people working there for their needs to be incorporated into the new building, you would certainly get a feel for the atmosphere of the place and the type of people working there. Written evaluations of personnel could be given to us then of all the personnel so that we have a better understanding of who is working for us. It would certainly give us a better idea of whom to promote and who should be in charge of each operation.”

“You would not fire anyone though based on what I said, would you?”

“Only if that was recommendation that you made. If you saw something that warranted such an action, we would expect to hear about that and would take appropriate action.”

“They would likely find out who told you.”

“There are ways around that. We have other agents who move around and do investigations. We could send one of them there if necessary. With a little poking around, they would likely find exactly what you found, but it would be much easier if they knew what it was they were looking to find.”

Smiling, Adam realized they were both talking as if he had already accepted the job.

“I see you smiling. I take it you think you would like this position? I think it is uniquely suited to you. It allows you to use the skills you acquired in college but it also gives you the freedom to travel and see new places, makes you your own boss in many ways, and not least of all earns you a very nice salary.” With that, he slid a sheet of paper across the table. “These are our salary proposals to you. We have over three hundred offices and are adding more. Don’t expect to have much time to yourself for the next five years or so and then after that, not much will likely change.” He smiled then as Adam couldn’t withhold his look of surprise at the amount they had offered in salary and compensation.

“The one with the stock option is one that I prefer. That is very generous too.” At the end of each year of employment, he was to receive additional stock in the company. There was a nice salary too and expenses were to be paid by the company.”

“Of course travel will be by our stages or rail cars when available, and you will stay and eat at our stations when accessible. Otherwise, you pay for meals, lodging, and other expenses and submit an expense voucher when you return, and that will be paid. I’ll have you work with our construction division on how to handle the billing for construction materials and so on.”

They shook hands, and Adam spent the rest of the day getting to know as much as he could about what was expected of him and how he was supposed to do things. After doing some shopping, he went to his apartment and began sketching out ideas for how to make an office a secure facility as well as attractive. He had already gotten ideas from the staff at the main office and expected he would get more ideas from men working in the branch offices but needed to get his mind working on the issue too. It was exciting to have this challenge. He also had tickets in his pocket for the opera singer who was to be in town the following week. All he had to do was find someone to accompany him to the theatre.

That night, when Adam went to bed, he slept better than he could remember sleeping in years. There were not disturbing dreams and no nightmares. It was refreshing to get up in the morning and have only good things to prepare to do. He wondered if his father had thought that when he was first setting out for the west and his dream. Then he realized he had not yet written to his family and decided he ought to do that before he did anything more. He posted a letter to his family as he headed to the offices and more work that day.

*****

Chapter 6

Six months later, Adam settled back on a bed in a room in a small town in Wyoming that had been added to Wells Fargo’s list of towns with a need for a station. Mainly, it was because the little town was midway in travel time between Laramie and Ruby, and sometimes they needed secure storage for a shipment and didn’t have it anywhere in between those two towns. His job was to design a small station and hire a crew to build it. Then he was to return to help make sure the safe was properly installed and that the building met the specifications he had set. Looking at the size of the town, he was skeptical that he was going to be able to find a building crew that could construct the station in the time that had been allotted. He had been moving around so much that he thought perhaps he would like to stay here and do the job himself. This was the fourth town in six months, and frankly he was tired of being the rolling stone that gathered no moss. In between those stops, he had returned to San Francisco three times as well to make reports and consult with others at the headquarters. His bank account was growing well and his investment in Wells Fargo was growing too as that was part of his compensation. His bank account was growing mainly because he had no time to spend any money other than on necessities and those went on his expense vouchers.

Loosening his tie, Adam thought too about how he should dress when he went downstairs in search of some dinner. His room was above the saloon and was the only place in town that rented rooms. When he worked in Oregon, the family oriented community there had appreciated that he was well dressed so he had been that way every day. In two California mining communities, he dressed in his cream-colored coat and ordinary clothing, which seemed to put the men there more at ease. When he had gotten off the stage the day before dressed as he usually did when traveling for Wells Fargo, he had seen the looks and knew they thought him some kind of dandy. He thought he probably needed to wear his more usual clothing and try to fit in better if he could by looking the part of a cowboy more than anything else. So after a short nap, he dress in his black shirt and pants and strapped on his gunbelt before heading down the stairs to have a drink and hopefully a hearty dinner because he was hungry. He was delayed in getting dinner because as soon as he went to the bar and ordered a drink, he drew too much attention from some of the regulars in the saloon.

“Well, lookee there, Bert, the pretty boy up and tried to dress himself as a real cowboy.”

“Yep, Giles, probably lucky he didn’t shoot himself in the foot when he strapped on that rig.”

“Uh-huh, and he must of seen some real gunfighter somewhere and thought he’d wear it low like he knows how to use it.”

The two who had been drinking and thought they were toying with a city slicker weren’t paying close attention. The others in the saloon were. Adam kept his drink in his left hand and let his right hand hang loosely at his side not far from his pistol. Clearly, he didn’t know how serious a threat the two toughs were and was evaluating the situation. Those who knew better moved to the sides of a possible confrontation knowing that in gunplay, many times the innocent were shot as often as those who were directly involved. As Adam remained calm and didn’t react to the taunts, Bert began to get a bit nervous and said nothing more. Giles kept going with the taunts and moved closer and closer to Adam until he was only a few yards away. When it looked like things might get very ugly, suddenly as Giles said he was going to teach Adam a lesson and began to make a move to placing his hand on his pistol grip, the situation rapidly changed. Most witnesses later couldn’t accurately say in what order everything that happened next, but Adam was soon standing there with his pistol up under Giles’ chin, Giles’ pistol lay on the floor, and Adam was staring into the man’s watery eyes as he gripped the man’s shirtfront in his fist.

“I don’t like being threatened.”

From the doorway, there was another voice. “I didn’t save you from hanging in order to throw you in jail here and watch you hang from the gallows in my town. You shoot him now and that’s what will happen.”

Slowly Adam glanced to the door, smiled a bit, and lowered his pistol as he loosened his grip on Giles’ shirtfront. “I wasn’t going to shoot him, Lassiter. I only meant to make sure he knew not to insult someone when he wasn’t sure he was dealing with a grass snake or a Mojave sidewinder.”

“From the smell, I think he got the message.” There was quite a bit of snickering as Giles hurriedly left the saloon. “He’s really not a bad sort, but he gets to thinking he’s quite a tough guy after he’s had a few beers. He rather regularly gets put in his place but not as hard as you did it. Word will get around, and his wife will do more than you did. It will keep him in line until next month’s paycheck probably.”

Looking at the shotgun resting in the crook of Lassiter’s arm and the badge on his shirt, Adam drew the obvious conclusion. “How long have you been sheriff here?”

“About three years now. Found the last man I was looking for here. He’s buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery now along with his chief ally.”

“I came in here to have a drink and dinner. Would you care to join me for either or both?”

“I wouldn’t mind the drink, but then I should get home for dinner.” His response caused Adam to smile, and Lassiter answered with one of his own. He didn’t mind people knowing.

As they had that drink, and Adam ordered a dinner, Lassiter explained what had happened when he had come to this town. “The man I was after was running this town like his own personal kingdom. He knew who I was as soon as I rode in. He must have heard that I had tracked all the others down, so he challenged me right away and thought his men would back him. They weren’t ready to die for him. He wasn’t missed at all. The people here asked me to stay on as sheriff seeing as how they didn’t have one, and I seemed to have the necessary skills. Seemed as good a place as any to stop. I was tired of rolling from town to town without a place to call home.”

“So this is home now?”

“Wasn’t sure it was going to be, but I got married, and I’ve got children now too: two of hers and one of ours. She owns the general store too.”

“How did she manage that with what was going on here?”

“Man I killed was her stepfather. He pushed her into marrying a friend of his. Man was nasty and objected to me being sheriff and that didn’t end well for him either. I married her about a year later.”

“How did the children react to that?”

“They were only three and four years old so they’re too young even now to understand much of what happened. We’ll explain it all someday when they can understand it.”

“What about all the other property those men had?”

“She turned almost all of it all back to the town and the ranchers and homesteaders around here. Said it wasn’t really hers, but that she wanted to keep running the store and keep her house. It seemed like a fair deal to folks. Town needed a general store, and nobody needed that house. His big house is now the county seat. There’s plenty of room there for all the offices with room to spare. We even use one of the rooms for the school. Not that many children here for a school so they all fit in one room.”

As Adam nodded and continued with his meal, Lassiter took a good look at him. As usual, Adam was well dressed but looked like a man who had lost some weight recently because his clothes were a bit loose on him. A man like Adam could afford to buy clothing that fit or he could have them tailored. Therefore, there must be a reason why he was losing weight. It might be work or it could be emotional turmoil or illness or some combination. Lassiter was a direct kind of man so he asked.

“Get tired of working on your father’s ranch?” He didn’t miss the unmistakable if brief look of pain that crossed the man’s face before the mask came down.

“In a way, yes. I wanted to do more than punch cattle and fix fences.”

“In an operation as big as the Ponderosa, I would think you could do more than that.”

“Yes, you might think that, but in many ways, you would be wrong. So, I set out to make my own way and do things on my own.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

“Well, in some ways, not so well in others. I work for Wells Fargo. I have a lot of independence and responsibility. I design stations for them, organize the construction, and oversee the hiring. Then I head out and do the next one before I head back to make sure the previous one was done correctly. In between, I evaluate personnel and make visits to the main office for consultations.”

“How many have you done?”

“Three done so far, and when I get one here, that will be the fourth.”

“How long has it taken you to do that?”

“Six months.”

Shocked, Lassiter set his drink down and stared at Adam for a moment to be sure he wasn’t being joshed. “You’re serious?”

“I am.”

“So maybe the part about your job you don’t like is you don’t have a spare minute to yourself?”

“That would about sum it up. I wanted responsibility, autonomy, respect, challenges, and so on, and got all of that.”

Waiting for a moment to let Adam think and to eat more of his meal, Lassiter had a final statement to make. “When I met you and your father, I immediately respected both of you a great deal in how you handled yourselves. I also envied you a bit for what you had. Now you gave it up voluntarily. That’s a big surprise to me, and I guess I don’t understand it very well, but maybe we’ll have more chances to talk and I’ll be able to figure it out in time. Meanwhile, anything I can do to help, just ask. My office is across the street, and I’m there by seven every morning.”

“Thank you. Do you think I’ll have any more trouble with Giles?”

“No, by now he’s home and his wife is letting him have it for drinking too much. By tomorrow, she’ll hear the rest of the story and he’ll probably be coming to you to say he’s sorry he was such a jackass. No, things should be quiet the rest of the night. By the way, Giles does a pretty good job building things. You might want to hire him. He’s not a bad sort as long as he isn’t drinking. Usually he’s working on building something for somebody. Your job would probably pay better and he can always do the other jobs later.”

“And that would go a long way to settling things between us.”

With a sardonic smile, Lassiter nodded and said good night heading out with a few words to other men in the saloon. Everyone seemed to respect and like him. After finishing his dinner, Adam was going to head up for some sleep but men asked him if it was true he was going to be hiring men to build a Wells Fargo station. Quite obviously there had been a great effort to eavesdrop on his conversation with Lassiter. He told them he would be and would be setting up a table probably the next afternoon in the saloon to begin the process. That was met with smiles from men who anticipated being hired. Then one man had another question.

“Were they really going to hang you one time until Lassiter saved you?”

“It was a bit more complicated than what he made it sound, but yes.”

Remembering Lassiter’s role in all of that, Adam realized that he should tell him that the whole mystery of that event had been settled. They could have another drink and another conversation. He did like the man and appreciated what he had done. When he went to bed that night, he had a lot on his mind, but most of all, he was glad, more than he had first realized, to have someone in town that he knew and someone who knew him even if it was only superficially. He liked a lot about his life, but the lack of time to do anything but work was a problem. Living with strangers was another big issue for him. Knowing how much he missed his family and his home bothered him on many levels, but he wasn’t ready to go back there yet.

*****

Chapter 7

The next morning, Adam did walk over to talk with Lassiter as the town was quiet and no one would likely interrupt them. He had questions to ask as well as a story to tell. Much as he had anticipated, Lassiter was interested in what had happened to Sally and what the rest of the story had been behind the death of her father, which had been so inexplicable at the time. He listened to as Adam explained how that had precipitated his decision to leave although he had been considering the move for a long time for a number of other reasons as well.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for by roaming the way you are.”

“I’m not exactly roaming. I have steady employment and goals to meet.”

“Oh, I did too. I left my hometown with lofty goals of truth and justice. I sought them for a long time, but they left me feeling empty. It wasn’t until I settled here, got married, made friends, and made a real home for myself, that I realized what it was I had really wanted all along. When they murdered my father, they took it away. Bringing all those men to justice didn’t give it back to me. I found it here again. I rolled from town to town on my mission until then. I can see you doing something of the same.”

Wishing he could argue that there was no similarity, Adam couldn’t. He was feeling that he had lost something important as he sought the respect and challenges he felt he had been missing in his life. The problem was that he couldn’t see himself returning home to punching cattle and fixing fences again. He had felt smothered in that life and knew it would be even worse now that he had tasted a different way of living.

“I can’t go back to the life I had.”

“Maybe you can go home and make a new life. Maybe you can have both things you want. I couldn’t because my father was gone. Yours is still there and quite a good father too as I recall.”

“Yes, he is, but that’s the biggest part of the problem. He can’t stop being my father. He doesn’t see me as a man who can do things without him there overseeing everything and questioning everything. He feels the need to be part of every decision and to say yea or nay.”

“Isn’t that the same with Wells Fargo?”

“Surprisingly perhaps, no, it isn’t. The last contract I negotiated when I was still at home, I did my best and beat out countless others to win the bid. When I brought it home, I hoped my father would be pleased, but all he said to me was ‘Aw, Adam, this is two percent less than we got last time’ and then sighed like he could have done better. That was it. When I negotiate a deal for Wells Fargo, and I tell them it was the best I can get, they tell me to go ahead and thank me for my work. I have not been questioned even once since I’ve been hired that I didn’t do the best that could be done under the circumstances. When I go back to the main office, I’m met with smiles and congratulations on getting things organized so well and without any major problems. I didn’t get that at home, and I can’t see that I ever would.”

“It might be different now that you’ve been gone.”

Sipping coffee, Adam simply shrugged. He wasn’t at all ready to give up what he had to test that hypothesis. Instead he asked Lassiter how he liked his job.

“I like it. Like last night, I haven’t had to shoot anyone. I carry that scattergun because it scares men a lot more than a pistol does. I haven’t had a single man think to draw on me when I’ve got that with me. Rarely does it ever get to the stage that I even have to point it at someone. I hate to do that because that means I might have to pull the trigger. I’ve killed men, and I guess that something in the way I look and act lets them know that. When I have to point it at them, they back down. I’ve rarely even had anyone in that cell. I like it that way and so does the town.”

“What about when cowhands come to town at the end of the month?”

“Most of them want to drink and dance so there’s a social set up for the two nights at the end of every month. The bathhouse sets up extra canvas tubs and the saloon offers a beer and steak dinner for a bargain price. I might get a few in here to sleep off drinking too much and not being able to ride home safely. Either that or they sleep with their horses down at the livery stable.”

“What about cardsharks?”

Smiling, Lassiter put a foot up on his desk and leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, I didn’t know about that problem the first month. The second month, I hired two men and had one stand right behind each of them to watch them deal and make sure there was nothing illegal about how they did anything. They also inspected the deck at regular intervals. Interesting that sometimes the deck only had fifty-one cards and the bartender would have to put a new deck on the table with a different design of course. A couple of months of that and I didn’t have any more problems with cardsharks coming in and trying to cheat men out of their hard-earned money. Now we do have some locals who are better at faro than others and some who play poker pretty darn well, but then it’s up to the others if they want to play them.”

“I haven’t ever played much faro preferring poker myself.”

“My guess is that you would be one of those who would be pretty good at it.”

With a smile, Adam answered that without a word. Then he asked about a likely place to start looking for some land to buy for a station and where Lassiter would recommend it. The two took a walk to look at some likely places. The best spot turned out to be right next to the general store. It was near the sheriff’s office, had a natural grade, and was in the center of town where the stage would normally stop anyway. There was plenty of room to put in a loading dock on the side if necessary.

“Who owns this property?” Lassiter’s smile gave him his answer. “I suppose you and your wife wouldn’t mind giving me a good price seeing as how I would be providing such a sizeable number of good paying jobs to members of the community?”

“Well, there is that, but we also have three children and their future to consider.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam had to ask. “How much?”

“Come to lunch today, and we’ll talk about it. Perhaps if you were to make an arrangement to buy supplies through the general store here, there could be an adjustment in the price to reflect that.”

“I didn’t know you were related to the Shylocks.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. What time is lunch?”

“Caroline expects me home at noon every day, so I usually get there about fifteen minutes before then.”

“Smart man.”

“Yes, and don’t make me late. Meet me at the office, and we’ll walk there together. Caroline closes the general store for two hours from eleven to one every day. It’s open from nine to eleven and then from one until three. If you need anything, keep that in mind. Folks around here know it.”

“She has a helper and they take all three children to the store in the morning and then home at eleven, they get lunch, and then have their naps. She’ll fix lunch for us and we can talk. The children stay home in the afternoon with her helper as they seldom wake in time to go back with her and she does her books and stocking in the afternoon too as most customers are there in the morning. I’ll let her know that you’ll be joining us for lunch.”

“I’ll head over to the saloon then and see about hiring some men. You said that Giles is good with construction?”

“Probably the best in town if he has someone telling him what they want. You’ll need a foreman and for that, I’d suggest the man who runs the livery stable. He can do both jobs. He built that stable himself if you need a recommendation. You might want to take a look at that and talk to him before you hire anyone.”

Thanking Lassiter for all of his help, Adam headed to the livery stable and was impressed not only by the skillful work that had put it together very soundly but also by the efficient design of the place. He looked around the outside and when he stepped inside, he looked at the beams and rafters as well as the roof making the proprietor wonder what he was doing.

“It’s not for sale if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, not at all. Lassiter told me you designed and built it. I was taking a good look at it, and you did a great job.”

“Thank you, but why would you and Lassiter be talking about me building my stable?”

So Adam explained what he needed and why to satisfy the man’s curiosity and see if he would agree to work with him. Soon, he and Matt Jeffords had made a deal with both men pleased with how easily they were able to come to an agreement. That afternoon after Adam hoped to have a deal on the property, he and Jeffords were going to inspect the site and look over Adam’s plans for a building. Then the following day, the two were going to visit a few men that Jeffords wanted on the construction crew before they opened it up for general laborers. Adam was not surprised that one of the men they were going to visit was Giles. He told Jeffords about meeting Giles the previous night.

“Oh, Helen is going to be giving him holy hell then. She’ll ease up on him a bit if we get there and offer him a good job. Maybe we could do that this evening. It would do a lot to ease any hard feelings between the two of you if you got him out of Helen hell by tonight.”

“She’s that tough on him?”

“You’ve met Giles. Someone has to keep him in line. The man has the common sense of a grasshopper.”

Laughing, Adam agreed they could hire Giles that evening. With all of that done, there was even time for Adam to go back to his room to freshen up a bit before heading to the sheriff’s office to go with him to his home for lunch. It took most of lunch for Lassiter and Adam to explain all of their history and the story behind it to Caroline enough to satisfy her curiosity. Then with the dishes cleared away, she and Adam go to bargaining about the piece of property he wanted. Lassiter simply sat back smiling as the two negotiated a deal. When both were smiling at the end, he finally said something.

“Good, I didn’t want to lose a friend over this, and it appears I haven’t. Now what else have you been up to?”

“I’ve hired Matt as you probably thought I would, and tonight we’re going to go visit Giles.”

“And get him out of Helen hell early?” Both men snickered at Caroline’s comment. “Oh, everyone knows what you men call it, and even Helen knows it. She thinks it’s funny and makes sure he knows though that he will have hell to pay every time he steps over the line. Doesn’t seem to stop the man though.”

“I don’t know. I’ve heard some stories about him doing even worse things before he got married.”

“That’s the other thing. Why did she ever marry him?”

“Caroline, we all know he’s a good man when he isn’t drinking, and he only drinks once a month usually.”

“Now, but he used to drink more. Well, I guess she was good for him then. One never knows what is the best for a man, I guess, until it happens to him.”

Then it was time for Caroline to get back to the store, and the two men walked her there as Adam was quiet mulling over that last statement she had made. He wondered if he had found what was best for him, or if it was yet to happen for him. The more he thought about it that day and that night, he concluded that he hadn’t found the best thing for him yet, and that was a revelation. He realized that he had decided not to make a career with Wells Fargo. He wasn’t sure how long he would work with them, but he knew it wouldn’t be that much longer. He was on a quest to find the right life for himself and this wasn’t it. It wasn’t fulfilling enough.

*****

Chapter 8

On Sunday, Adam found that he had a day with nothing to do. It was such a shock to him that he wasn’t prepared for it. He didn’t even have a book with him. On his first two trips for Wells Fargo, he had packed books and never had a chance to even open them. On his previous trip and this one, he hadn’t even bothered to bring a book with him. He had worked every day on earlier jobs. However, in this quiet little town, everything closed on Sundays. The church service was the only activity and that had been in the saloon, which was closed for business on Sundays except for serving lunch after church services. Then it shut its doors and wouldn’t open again until Monday morning. Adam had access to his room via the stairs to the second floor balcony across the front of the building. He sat there after lunch wondering what he would do until it was time for sleep. He had ordered extra food for lunch and set it aside for his dinner. There was water in a pitcher in his room so that wasn’t a problem. It was going to be nice to sleep with no noise, but until then, it was rather eerie being in the center of a town that was so quiet. Lassiter was home having a quiet day with his children. Most people were having quiet times with loved ones or the young people were out having picnics or rides through the countryside. He had seen the eager faces of those couples as they headed out in carriages and buckboards after church. He guessed he was probably the only one in town who was alone. Moreover, he was feeling lonely too. Long ago, Adam had mastered the ability to be alone without being lonely, but having cut his ties with his family and having formed no lasting friendships in the past six months, he had no one on whom to depend and no regular social contacts. He was feeling lonely and knew that it would start to be a serious problem if something didn’t change.

With nothing else to do, he got a pad of paper and began drawing pictures. He drew the town and then drew Lassiter and Caroline. He realized then that he didn’t know the man’s first name always referring to him as Lassiter. Next up, he began drawing his family from memory drawing them individually and then as a group. Soothing in some ways to see them, it was jarring too when he realized that he had drawn three and not four because he had not included himself. As he closed his drawing pad, he heard a woman’s laughter and saw a couple drive by in a carriage. If he hadn’t been feeling lonely before that moment, he would have then because the old familiar longing was back. He thought about the women he had loved and lost and sank deeper into sadness as he sat alone in a small town while everyone else he knew there as well as everyone else he didn’t know too probably were with those they loved and who loved them. Pulling his pistol from his holster, he checked to see that it was clean and loaded as he thought about doing some practice. However, doing so near town would likely disrupt the peace and quiet too much, and the livery stable was closed so he couldn’t rent a horse to ride out from town to do it in a more secluded place. Frustrated, he pulled his hat lower and stared off into the distance wondering how he was going to fill the next eight hours. A woman’s voice startled him.

“I’ve come to offer you an invitation if you aren’t too busy, and you don’t look busy at all.”

If he could have conjured up an answer to his fantasies, she stood there before him. The woman was taller than most but still about four inches shorter than he was, but she was dark haired with an exotic look to her that intrigued and attracted him at the same time. Her eyes were dark with a greenish cast and her skin was darker than usual. In the white dress she wore, those features were accentuated even with the light cowboy style hat she wore and with the boots he could see peeking out from under the ankle length of her dress. He realized he was staring and had looked her up and down from her face to her feet and back again noticing the curves that were pleasantly full and rounded in all the right places. He smiled and wondered what she would say next.

“Adam Cartwright, I’m not sure if I should slap you or laugh at what you’re thinking right now.”

“What is it you think that I’m thinking?”

“Whatever it is, I’m only here to deliver my father’s invitation to our ranch. He and my mother thought you might have found yourself in this rather boring kind of situation. My father has invited you to our ranch for dinner. He thinks he may have met you or your father in Denver at one time. He says he’s not sure which but did meet a Cartwright when he was there once after a cattle drive and so were the Cartwrights.”

“That would be me then because my father never took a drive to Denver. I took one once with my brothers. Most of the time, we drove cattle to the California market.”

“Well, then, would you like to come to dinner?”

“I would be pleased to accept except I have no means to travel as the livery stable is closed.”

Rolling her eyes, she pursed her lips as she looked at him as if he wasn’t too bright. A bit irritated to have been bested so easily in conversation, Adam of course realized why she reacted that way.

“And of course you knew that, and I suppose you have arranged transportation. May I ask whether it’s riding in a carriage or on a horse?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not too much except in the way I dress. I would dress a bit more formally if you have brought a carriage, but if we’re going by horseback, I’ll stay like this.”

“Stay like that. I rather like that gunfighter look you have affected. It makes you look like you might be dangerous.”

“I might be.”

“Oh, you build buildings and work for Wells Fargo, but you’re dangerous? Maybe with a hammer but I seriously doubt that we have to worry about you otherwise. The horses are probably getting hot waiting downstairs. Are you ready to go?”

“As soon as I put these things in my room.”

Watching him pick up a drawing pad and pencils, she smiled. “An artist too. My, oh, my, I am afraid of you now.” Adam gave her an irritated look making her chuckle. As he headed to his room to put his things away, she called after him. “Bring a coat too. It will likely be a lot colder by the time we ride back in.”

When he walked back, he had a few questions for her. “First of all, may I know your name as you seem to know mine?”

“It’s Laine. I was baptized Elaine but my grandparents were hard of hearing and never could hear the ‘e’ so they always called me Laine. It kind of stuck. What’s your next question?”

“You said when ‘we’ come back. I should think I could find my own way back especially if it’s late. I hardly think you ought to be riding alone if it’s that late.”

“You don’t know your way around here yet and I do. I’ll stay over at my sister’s house anyway if it’s any business of yours. Well, she’s my half-sister, but we’re close enough now that we’ve moved back here. After her stepfather got killed, mama decided it was safe enough to bring me back, and my papa thought this would be a good place to have a ranch.”

“It sounds like there’s a complicated story there.”

“Not too complicated, but messy it is. My mother is also Caroline’s mother. She married very young and had Caroline. Then her husband was killed in a stampede. With a baby and no one to support her, she accepted the first offer of marriage she got. It was a mistake. He was a brute, but he had this man who worked for him who was kind to her and did his best to make her life tolerable. Eventually, they fell in love. When he found out she was with child and knew it wasn’t his, he said he would kill them both. They left taking money from him when they did. After seven years, he had her declared legally dead. She and my father changed their names and married. They tried to get Caroline, but she was upset thinking she had been abandoned. Over and over, they tried to get her, but he found out and then they couldn’t try any more. When Lassiter killed him, they contacted her, and things have been straightened out mostly among us.”

“That is quite a story.”

“Yes, my father is very grateful to Lassiter, and he’s the one who asked him to stay. Then when he wanted to marry Caroline, it was my father who helped talk her into accepting. It’s all been darn good ever since.”

“So the grandparents you talked about are your father’s parents?”

“Yes, we lived with them for a time until they died, and papa got half of their ranch. Then he sold that to his brother when we had the chance to come here.”

“I think I may have to write this all down to keep it straight. It is better than a dime novel.”

“You read that trash?”

“No, but I have a younger brother who loves the stuff.”

By then, they were at the horses, checked cinches, and mounted up to ride. Laine took the lead and soon had them on a good pace. An hour later, they took a break. She told him it was only another half hour or so to the ranchhouse and waited for his surprise. When he showed not reaction, she was the one surprised unaware that he had lived on a ranch much larger than her father’s ranch even though his was quite large. She had hoped to impress him and was feeling a bit disappointed that she had not. Meanwhile, Laine had not mentioned that she was married, and Adam felt happy about that. He wondered why he should feel that way because he had only met her a short time ago, but he was attracted to her and thought perhaps they might spend some time together which would resolved his feelings of loneliness at least as well as take care of his need for female companionship. He wondered if she looked at him that way at all because it didn’t appear that she was at all interested in him. She was much younger than he was too so he began to think that perhaps he ought to get all thoughts of her out of his mind so he wouldn’t have to face another disappointment. He had had enough of those in his life already.

After meeting Laine’s parents, Adam got a tour of the house from her mother, Eleanor, before sitting on the porch with her father, John, and having a whisky with him. It was fine sipping whisky and Adam leaned back relaxing in the wide wooden rocking chairs on the wraparound porch. The porch went all the way around the house sheltering the downstairs windows from the sun. There were thick shutters for each one as well that could be secured during a storm or probably during a good part of the winter against the cold winds that blew. The house was situated with a large hill protecting it from the northwest winds and a small grove of trees protected it from the southwest. Adam remarked on that, and John smiled.

“Most of it was Laine and Eleanor telling me how the house had to be set and done. They didn’t say much about anything else, but they had some right specific things to say about the house. I didn’t mind. I knew they only wanted to make it the most comfortable and secure home they could make it.”

“It’s very well designed with an efficient layout. There’s not much wasted space inside at all.”

“That was mostly Laine and her mother again, but Laine is especially good at organizing and being efficient like that. She and her sister are both good at that.”

They talked about ranching, Denver, Lassiter, Wells Fargo, and about every other topic they could think to discuss until they were called into have dinner. There the conversation focused more on Adam and where he had been and what he had been doing. Laine said little which did disappoint Adam again as he had hoped she would be more interested. He didn’t notice that her eyes rarely left him and that she hardly ate anything as she listened to him talk. When it was time to ride back to town, John offered to ride back with him.

“Won’t it be rather late for you to ride back here? It will be dark.”

“I only thought to make it easier on Laine.”

“It’s all right, Papa. I don’t mind, and Caroline and I can visit. I’ll help her at the store tomorrow and I’ll get to spend some time with the children too.”

“Now you be back here by three or I’ll be heading up a posse to come look for you.”

“Papa, you know you don’t have to worry about me.”

As Laine and Adam rode toward town, John looked at Eleanor who was smiling. “I don’t know why you’re smiling, woman. We just sent her off with a man she’s clearly smitten with. Who knows what she would do if he asks.”

“Oh, John, he’s a gentleman, and she’s a lady. Nothing is going to happen tonight. Now, in the future, who knows. Those two seem to like each other, but they’re as wary of each other as any two I’ve ever seen. Well, at least she’s showing an interest. He’s the first one in a long time that’s perked her up a little. It’s hard to heal a broken heart, but he might be the one to do it.”

“Or break it worse.”

With a sigh and a frown, Eleanor clasped his hand. “I pray that won’t happen. A body should only have to suffer only so much loss and heartache in a lifetime. I found you. Caroline found Lassiter. It’s time Laine found someone. I hope this is the one.”

“He’ll be gone in a couple of weeks.”

“I think he’ll be back.”

*****

Chapter 9

By the next evening, Lassiter and Caroline had a lot to discuss and were all smiles while they were doing it. Both had noticed how much Adam and Laine seemed to be paying attention to each other while trying to avoid looking as if they were. Most of the day, Adam was in the lot he had purchased for Wells Fargo laying out stakes and measuring the property and recording various distances and grades. It seemed he often needed additional string or nails to complete the tasks and had to come into the store where Laine was helping Caroline. Meanwhile Laine seemed to take every opportunity to bring water to Adam or to go ask him if he needed anything to complete his tasks. Each interruption seemed not to bother him at all and resulted in a short conversation between the two.

“It’s a good thing Laine isn’t going to be in town the rest of the week or Adam might get fired. He won’t get that job done in a month working at the rate he was going today.”

“I’m glad that he likes her. I hope that something might come of it, but at least it’s got her thinking that there’s another man out there for her.”

“I know she was upset that I decided to court you instead of her.”

“Upset? She was devastated. She had her heart set on you and she was completely taken with you. She had no idea you would seek me out when I had no interest in you at all at that time. My goodness, you were the one who shot my husband, not that he didn’t deserve it and not that I missed him, but the impropriety of it made her think it was impossible.”

“I thought you were the most desirable woman in this town the first time I ever saw you. I knew you were married and untouchable, but that didn’t mean I didn’t dream about you. Every man has an idea of the kind of woman they would like to be with, and you were mine.”

“What kind of woman do you think Adam has in mind?”

“I don’t think he even knows. From what I can tell, he’s too lonely to know his own mind on that one. He’s never talked to me about it, but I get the feeling there’s been some that have hurt him.”

“Laine is quite a handful. She speaks her mind and won’t ever want to be tied down to raising children and cooking meals.”

Wrapping his arms around his wife, Lassiter had to smile. “And that would be different from you in what way?”

“All right, I’m a bit like that too, but Laine is much more of all of those things. John has always allowed her to do far more than most girls ever get to do. It doesn’t matter too much in a little town like this where everyone can watch out for her, but what would happen if she left here?”

“If it was with Adam, I think he could take care of her, one way or another.”

“Hmm, the other could be interesting. He seems like he could be rather forceful if need be, and Laine could make it necessary.”

“We’re probably getting way ahead of ourselves here. He leaves by the end of the week most likely and won’t be back for at least a couple of weeks. When he comes back, he may only stay a couple of days. Nothing might happen at all.”

“That’s true. I guess I was kind of hoping and dreaming of what that would be like. Maybe you could talk to him and see if you can tell how he’s thinking.”

“I could try, but he doesn’t say much about his personal life. Nobody gets him to say anything he’s not ready to say.”

“I think I know why the two of you like each other then. You’re a lot alike.”

In his room, Adam was thinking much along the same lines as Lassiter and Caroline had been talking except he had more doubts than anything. Laine was much younger than he was and he wondered if she was more infatuated than seriously interested in him. He didn’t want a dalliance. If he was going to invest time, he wanted to have some assurance that there was at least the real possibility that there might be a long-term relationship. He was beginning to accept that he needed that in his life and perhaps the lack of that was a reason he was so unhappy in his life on the Ponderosa. He needed to be more than part of a family. He needed to have his own family as much as he needed to be able to make his own decisions and be accepted for what he could do on his own. He had already proved the last two to his own satisfaction in only a short time, but he was overwhelmingly lonely. He went to sleep with images of Laine in his mind and then in his dreams.

In the morning, he awoke and met with Matt Jeffords and Giles at the site showing them what he wanted for corners with the design he had in mind for the station. Matt made a few suggestions, and Giles told him how many men he thought they could get who could do the work that Adam wanted done. They settled on a plan by noon and headed to the saloon for lunch. Adam paused when ordering and looked to Giles when he was ordering beers for him and for Matt. Giles shook his head.

“I better not. My wife finds out even if you buy and I’m in hell again. I’ll wait until the job is done and you pay me. You might have noticed I don’t handle it well even though I like it a lot. I can’t drink too often. I’ll drink coffee with my lunch.”

Adam’s respect for the man went up a couple of notches at that point. By the next day, construction began and by Friday, it was well underway when Adam got on the stage for San Francisco promising to be back within two weeks with pay for everyone on the job. Wells Fargo always paid so no one was worried. Caroline already had been paid for supplies as had the freight haulers who brought in the lumber they needed.

Laine managed to get to town on Friday before the stage left alerted by Caroline that Adam was leaving that day. She was dressed well for a weekday hoping to impress the man. He gave her that look up and down that said he was. With a dimpled smile, he took her hand and asked her if she was going to miss him.

“I only came to town to see my sister. I haven’t seen her since Monday, you know.”

“I know. I guess it was presumptuous of me to think you might have come to see me off.”

“What would you think if I had?”

“Well, if you had, I would have been very pleased, and I might even have asked if it would be all right to give you a kiss goodbye, not as anything more than a friend to a friend, mind you. But as you didn’t, then I can’t.”

“We could pretend I’m here to see you off, and then you could give me that kiss, you know, as a friend to a friend, because you know, I don’t know what kind of kiss that would be never having been kissed that way. It would be educational for me.”

“Well, I hate to give up an opportunity to teach, so I guess we could make believe for a little while that you care enough about me to show up to see me off.” Then Adam wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close touching his lips softly to hers and kissing her gently. “Now, if I was kissing you friend to friend, I’d kiss you like that.”

A bit breathless to be kissed in public like that and being held so close to Adam that she could inhale his smell and feel his warmth through her light dress, Laine was a bit disconcerted. She wasn’t sure what to say. Later, she could have kicked herself for what she said, but admitted it did work out rather well. “How is that different than other kisses?”

“Oh, if you were someone who meant a great deal to me, then I would kiss you like this.” Adam put his other hand on her cheek and drew her close starting that kiss gently but increasing the pressure gradually until the kiss was more passionate and Laine was pressed against him. Then he released her.

Laine took a deep breath and looked all around to see that quite a few people had witnessed their encounter. She turned dark and looked at the ground. “You’ve embarrassed me.”

Adam put a finger under her chin and raised it until their eyes met. He spoke softly. “That was not my intent. I wanted very much to kiss you, and I thought you wanted to kiss me too. If I was wrong, then I apologize.”

For what was probably less than half a minute but seemed much longer, they stood like that until Laine answered him as softly as he had spoken. “You weren’t wrong.”

Smiling again then, Adam offered his arm and they walked to the general store where the stage would stop when it came through town. His bag was already there on the wooden walk in front of the store. He asked her to sit with him to wait for the stage, and then he asked if she would please have dinner with him when he came back.

“There’s not really any place for us to have dinner together in town. I can’t go in the saloon. I may be able to do a lot of things, but Papa would kill me if I did that.”

“The station is going to have living quarters in it which will include a stove and table and chairs. Those should be here by the time I get back in two weeks. Give me a day to install the stove, and I’ll cook dinner for us if you’ll help.”

“Adam, yes, I would love to do that. Yes, I’ll have dinner with you.”

That encounter answered a lot of the questions that Adam had about Laine, and he felt much better about the situation. He had asked Lassiter about her and been told that she was as serious about him as he had ever seen her be serious about a man. Lassiter didn’t share the details of that assuming that Laine would do that at some point much as Adam would have to share his past with her. How much each shared was going to be up to them. As Adam rode back toward San Francisco to make his report and consult with the men at headquarters, he realized he was smiling much of the time. He felt better about his life in general now and wondered how the men at the headquarters would feel when he told them he wasn’t interested in continuing this kind of work. He was surprised by their response.

“We wondered when you would finally say something. You set a killer schedule and we weren’t going to complain, but we did think that sooner or later you would. You’ve done an amazing amount of work in the seven months that you have worked here. Now, we don’t want you to leave, so what can we do to have you stay?”

Unprepared for that response, Adam didn’t have an answer so they told him to take a few days off and relax before coming to them with a proposal. They said they might have some ideas too and they would work together on a solution that would hopefully be mutually beneficial. When they met later in the week, Adam was rested and had had a chance to go to the theatre and visit with old friends. He knew then that having time off was a necessity in any new arrangement. His associates were in agreement with him on that thinking that he had been overworking.

“None of us put in the hours that you do. You should always take one day a week off, and at the conclusion of any assignment, you will get a week to two weeks off before being assigned to another. Also, we want you to stay at an assignment from beginning to end. That is from the purchase of the property until the staff is hired and the first shipments are coming through to make sure the station is operating efficiently. That could be up to two months or more of staying in one place instead of the constant travel.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Our first such assignment like that would be Denver. There are lots of opportunities there for leisure activities and dining so it wouldn’t be as tiresome as that little town in Wyoming.”

Adam only smiled at that, but they weren’t done yet.

“We also want you to have a regular crew of several men who will travel with you. You will be in charge, but they will be there from beginning to end as well. When the job in Denver is completed, we can have them go to some of the smaller towns and do the kind of work you have been doing. We want you to concentrate on the larger jobs. Eventually we’re going to need to expand our operations here, and you’ll be the one we’ll look to for help then.”

“I like your ideas, but I am thinking of getting married. I’ll have to ask her if she likes the idea.” Until he said it, Adam hadn’t fully thought out the idea but as he said it, he knew he meant it.

“However did you find time to fit a romance into that schedule of yours? Well, of course, we’ll await your answer. How long do you think that will take?”

“About as long as it takes me to get back to that little town in Wyoming to finish up that job.” Thinking it would be good to have a bit more information, Adam had a question. “Where would I be assigned after Denver?”

“Carson City and Virginia City and then back here.”

“That sounds very good. Yes, I think I can make that work. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you very much.”

*****

Chapter 10

When Adam arrived back in Wyoming, the town was as quiet as it usually was. There were crates stacked on the walk in front of his new station which looked complete. The smell of new wood was in the air and the building stood out with its nice fresh coat of red paint. The air was so dry here that Adam wanted the wood sealed so he had made sure there was an ample supply of paint to put on a thick coat. It looked like the crew had done a good job. It didn’t take long for news of his arrival to spread, and the crew was there to watch him as he inspected their work. They looked a bit nervous as he wasn’t smiling as he went on a point-to-point inspection of the project, but when he finished and turned to them, he couldn’t hold back and smiled broadly.

“This is perfect. You’ve followed the plans exactly and made a few improvements too. The design of the living quarters is better than what I had set originally with more room for cooking and cleaning. All I have to do is install the locks and set the stove to make the station ready to go.”

Matt thought he had to explain why there had been a change in plans. “Caroline and Laine were the ones suggested moving that wall in the living quarters and putting in more storage. They walked through the place when we had the walls first roughed in. I thought it was a good idea. We could always move that wall back if you didn’t like it. It’s not load bearing.”

“No, I like it where it is. Now, if you all want to step up here, I have the pay envelopes. It’s all in cash because I knew that there isn’t a bank close to here.” The men understood then why Adam had two Wells Fargo agents with him. “Yes, that’s why these two gentlemen are with me. Wells Fargo doesn’t ship large amounts of cash without two guards to protect the shipment. Wells Fargo will be doing banking services from this station as soon as we can get a safe big enough shipped here by the way.”

That was welcome news to the men too. It was welcome news to the whole community because if they had a Wells Fargo station and banking services too, their community was likely to grow. They were already the county seat, had the only stage stop in the county, and this would help the community become even more important. Lassiter walked up to Adam after the men left with their money heading to the saloon to celebrate.

“You’re having quite an impact on my little town.”

“I hope you like the changes.”

“I do. Anything that’s good for the people here is good with me. Now, are you planning to hire anyone here to work in this station?”

“Probably only one at first. Wells Fargo will be sending men to operate the station as soon as it’s ready to open for business, which should be next week. They’ll be living at the station, but will need more suitable housing eventually. They’ll need a man to do lifting of freight and taking care of the horses as well as any minor maintenance.”

“Giles needs a regular job, and he worked well on this one.”

“I’ll consider it, and I’ll talk to him about it.”

“There are a couple of empty houses in town that are a bit run-down. With a bit of fixing up, they would make nice places for the men to stay. Small but nice enough and close in.”

“Who owns them?”

“The town does. Part of the property they got when Caroline turned everything back over to the town. Nobody needed those houses though so they’ve been sitting empty.”

“Good, perhaps we can make a deal. I’ll take a look at them, and then perhaps the men can make an offer based on my recommendation.”

“Fair enough.”

The two men who had arrived with Adam had carried crates and luggage into the station. Finished with that, they told Adam they were headed to the saloon too. He nodded and they left.

“They’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“How long will you be here?”

“I get to stay until the station is fully operational so at least a few weeks and perhaps a month. I hope it’s long enough.”

“Got some plans?”

“I do.”

“Thinking on saying those words again in a more formal setting?”

“If I’m lucky enough.”

“From what I can tell, your luck should hold. She does tend to be infatuated at first, but she can love deeply too. I made that mistake with her.”

Frowning for a moment, Adam had to ask. “You were involved with her?” He had not had any idea of that relationship and Laine had never mentioned anything about it.

“When I was first here. I thought it was only an infatuation and didn’t take it too seriously. I hurt her without intending to. I had my eyes on her sister.”

“That must have hurt her especially hard.”

“It did. She didn’t want anything to do with any man until you showed up. All of a sudden, she was interested again.”

“I’m interested too, but she is a lot younger than I am.”

“I don’t think that matters much. Caroline is a lot younger than me too.”

“I want to spend some time with her to be sure.”

“You’ve got that time now. Some ranch hands are in town. I’ll let them know to tell Laine you’re here and want to see her. She’ll be in town tomorrow. She can stay over with us.”

As Lassiter expected, Laine arrived in town early the next day. She went to the station hoping to surprise Adam but was surprised herself. When she entered, she saw him working to install the pipe for the stove. It was hot in the station and he was stripped to the waist as he worked. She stared at the sweat glistening on the muscles of his arms and back and when he turned saw it on the curly hairs of his chest too. His eyes were aimed up at the roofline as he struggled to get the stovepipe in alignment with the stove. At first, she thought the movement that showed off his physique might have been for her benefit, but knew he didn’t know she was there when he pinched his finger and let loose with an expletive laced blast at the offending pipe. She had to laugh at his startled look that turned to embarrassment rather quickly.

“I’m sorry. My father taught me not to talk like that, but there are times when it slips out. I do apologize most sincerely. If I had known you were there, I would never have said any of that.”

“What would you have done? Suffered in silence?”

Stepping down from the crate on which he had been standing, Adam smiled. “Perhaps I would have asked for your merciful benevolence to please care for my damaged finger.”

“I suppose I would have to do something for you so you can cook that dinner for us.”

Moving very close to Laine, Adam leaned down. “Perhaps a kiss could help.”

Having him so close was nearly overwhelming and she did want to reach out and touch that chest of his, but she held back. “I’m not in the habit of kissing half-naked men. Please put on your shirt if you want me to stay.”

Intent on teasing her a bit more, Adam had one more taunt. “Are you sure?”

“Am I interrupting anything?”

Caroline’s arrival and her smirk broke the moment and Adam rolled his eyes and picked up his shirt donning it as Laine was the one who looked embarrassed. Laine was upset at Adam for the situation.

“No, nothing, and he’s simply uncouth. I’ll be at the store if anyone wants me.” With that, Laine stalked from the station.

“Oh, my, I didn’t intend to do that.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure she won’t go far. We’re having dinner here later. At least, I think we’re still having dinner here later.”

“Oh, I was going to invite you to our house for dinner. I’ll amend that and invite you for Sunday dinner. John and Mama will be there too.”

“I’ll accept. Thank you. Now, do I need to go after her, or let her have time?”

“Time, I think. It’s hard to know with Laine sometimes. She can be moody.”

“I guess we have that in common.”

“I think the two of you may have a lot in common. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.”

They were startled then by the sound of gunfire. It was rather regular though. Six shots and then a short time later, six more shots.

“Oh, they must be having a shooting contest out behind the saloon again. If you want to find Laine, I know where she’ll be.”

“It sounds interesting. I think I’ll go take a look too.”

“May as well. The whole town will be there soon.”

Walking with Caroline, Adam was soon joined by Lassiter and others who headed to the back of the saloon for the impromptu shooting contest. Entry was for two bits with the winner taking all. Six bottles were set up on a fallen tree trunk. The unofficial timing was a man who tossed a bottle in the air. The contestant had until that bottle hit the ground to shoot as many of the bottles off that trunk as possible. Chalked into the back wall of the saloon was the current record, which was three. The next shooter though managed four so the number was wiped out and a four was chalked up. There were others who managed four, but the first to post a four was the one to beat. Shooters could enter more than once but had to drop in two bits for each time they entered. Shooters who hit four, each tried again. One fanned his pistol hoping to do better and got raucous laughter when he hit only two that way. The crowd called on Lassiter then to show what he could do. It was clear that he was a favorite because as he stepped up, money exchanged hands in the crowd as bets were made as to how many he would hit. When he finished, the four was erased and replaced with a five. That should have likely wrapped up the contest except some of the men had been drinking and called out Adam.

“Hey, how about the Wells Fargo guy with the fancy rig?”

“Yeah, Adam, show us if you can use that thing.”

Adam politely declined saying it was something for the town and he didn’t live there. Then it got a bit ugly.

“You’re jest yeller. You’re a coward is what you are. Got a yellow streak up your back.”

As Adam bristled under the assault, Caroline asked Lassiter who the man was because he wasn’t from town. Lassiter didn’t know him either. Laine apparently did.

“Jasper, you cut that out. You’ve got no call to talk like that. If my Pa knew you were going to be like that, he never would have hired you.”

“Oh, so now the yellow belly’s got a woman taking up for him. He can’t stand on his own. He’s got to have a gal who’s sweet on him do it.”

Lassiter pushed away from the crowd then to approach the young man. “No need to get ugly about things.”

“Then why don’t he just pay his two bits and shoot?”

There was a bit of murmuring from the crowd, and Adam realized the easiest way out was to do just that. “It’s all right, Lassiter. If he wants to see me shoot so badly, I will. Although I didn’t see him shoot, but I guess it wasn’t one of the ones that was chalked on the wall.”

There was some laughter then as Jasper had hit only one bottle when he had tried. Adam paid his two bits and six bottles were put on the tree trunk. The man with the bottle looked to see if he was ready. He nodded that he was, so the bottle was tossed, and Adam drew firing rapidly. The next sound was the bottle hitting the ground well after he had finished shooting and all six bottles were missing. The contest was over. No one could beat that, and no one in the past had ever shot all six although typically they knew that Lassiter had a good chance at hitting five because he had done so a few times. Lassiter walked up to slap him on the shoulder to congratulate him. A number of men did also. Adam told them to take the winnings inside and pay for some food for everyone. He guessed that some of them could use some.

“My husband guessed you were good by the way you wore that rig, but I would never have guessed how good. That was very impressive, Adam.”

“Thank you, Caroline. It’s a useful skill to have sometimes especially when you have a big ranch to protect.”

Laine came over to him then. “I think Papa needs to fire that Jasper.”

“Over this?”

“No, he’s been bothering me some, and he always seems to be around wherever I am. It’s kind of spooky, and now this. It’s too much.”

“How has he been bothering you?” Adam was concerned.

“He says things to me.”

Now Caroline was concerned too. “What does he say to you?”

“Oh, like ‘When we’re married’ and things like that. I’ve never encouraged him at all.”

“I don’t think you should go anywhere alone until he’s gone. A man like that is a bit unhinged. There’s no telling what he might do next.”

“Adam’s right, Laine. Don’t go anywhere alone. One of us should be with you at all times. I had no idea he was bothering you. Did you tell John?”

“No, you know what he might have done. I thought I could handle it.”

“John might still kill him. I’ll warn Jasper and tell him he might want to quit that job first before John finds out tomorrow.”

“Why tomorrow?”

“Because if you don’t tell him, we will. Now I’m going inside to have a talk with Jasper. Adam, will you walk the ladies back to the store?”

Lassiter thought it was resolved when Jasper agreed he probably should quit the job and move on. However as Adam served dinner to Laine that evening, he was lucky enough to drop a fork and bend over to pick it up as a rifle shot was fired through the window. Jasper may not have been very good at a fast draw, but that rifle shot would have been fatal if Adam had been standing when it came through the window. As it was, he grabbed Laine and pushed her to the floor and got both of them away from the windows. Unfortunately his weapons were on the opposite side of the room and he would have to crawl under the windows to get to them. He began to do that when he heard voices outside and Lassiter’s was among them.

“No, no one’s hurt in here.”

“Stay down then. We’re chasing the one who did it. There’s a full moon. He won’t get away.”

He didn’t. Within an hour, they were back with a badly wounded Jasper. He was hit in the side because he had chosen to shoot back when surrounded, and the men had opened fire. There was no doctor within a hundred miles of the town. The closest was Laramie, and they all knew that Jasper would be dead if they tried to take him there. Instead, they brought him to the saloon where a couple of the ladies who had done some doctoring took a look at the wound. Both came out and said there was no hope because the intestines had been damaged. He would die soon or die later. It would be better if it was sooner, they said, because if he died of the infection that would happen, it would be extremely painful. Lassiter asked what should be done then.

“Nothing would be best. Give him some alcohol to dull the pain or even make him pass out. Don’t try to stop the bleeding. Let him think that the bandages are doing that, but keep a blanket over them and he won’t see the blood soaking through. We think he’ll be gone by morning.”

The second woman looked at Laine who was standing with Adam. “He’s asking for you.”

*****

Chapter 11

Although reluctant to let her do so, Adam accompanied Laine in to see Jasper. The dying man whispered that he loved her and wanted to marry her. She took his hand and smiled before taking a chair and sitting by his side. Adam sat where Jasper couldn’t see him but close enough to offer support to Laine. Caroline brought a cup half-filled with whiskey from the bar and gave small sips of it to Jasper until he had consumed all of it. After an hour or so, the whiskey and the blood loss combined to make him unconscious. Adam told Laine she could go.

“No, no one should die alone. I’ll stay here with him. You can go if you need to go.”

“I’ll stay here with you.”

Caroline brought a blanket and wrapped it around her sister’s shoulders before she left. It was about three in the morning when there was a series of noises from Jasper and then his chest stopped moving. Adam stood and placed his hand on the man’s chest as Laine watched. He pulled the blanket up over Jasper’s face. Laine stood to leave but began to shake so Adam wrapped his arms around her and held her close as she began to sob. He wrapped the blanket tightly around her then and picked her up. He was never going to admit to her how difficult that was, but he carried her across to the station and sat on the bench outside holding her in his arms until she stopped crying.

“You can put me down now.”

“You need to get some sleep.”

“It’s too late to go to Caroline’s house. I would wake the children.”

“You can sleep here.”

So about eight the next morning when John and Eleanor arrived in town to pick up Laine for church services, they were shocked to find out what had happened and that Laine was not at Lassiter’s house nor at the saloon. John bulled his way into the station slamming the door open and clearly startling Adam from sleep at the table. That surprised John who had been expecting something else entirely. Adam pushed the blanket from his shoulders and rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he pointed at the closed door behind him.

“She’s sleeping there. Or she was.”

Eleanor hurried into the sleeping quarters and there was the sound of murmuring as John apologized to Adam. “I’m sorry that I assumed what I thought had happened. You took good care of my girl. I should have known better.”

“It was a crazy night. Jasper died about three, and Laine was upset. We decided it wasn’t a good idea to wake the children so she slept back there and I slept here.”

“I’m surprised she let you do that.”

“She was too exhausted to put up much of a fight.”

“She would have to be exhausted not to fight.”

“I’m beginning to learn that.”

“She should have told me about Jasper.”

“She’s a bit overconfident about some things.”

“That she is. How about you? Is she overconfident about you?”

“No, not about me. How do you feel about that?”

“I like it.”

“I have your permission then?”

“And my heartfelt admiration and gratitude if you can pull it off. That girl of mine deserves a good man and needs one.”

Eleanor walked out then with Laine who had bloodshot eyes and looked drawn and pale. She smiled wanly at Adam who asked if he was still invited to dinner that evening. John answered that of course he was, but that he should probably shave and get some decent sleep before then.

“I’ll try, but I have a few repairs and some cleaning up to do around here too.”

“I’ll go over to the church services and see about getting some men to help you.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“It’s how we are here, so get used to it.”

True to his word, John did that and an hour later, two men showed up to help Adam replace the window after Caroline opened the store to sell him the glass and other items he needed. He had already cleaned up the remnants of the meal and the broken glass, so it didn’t take long with the men helping to get the window fixed. Then Adam fell into a bunk able to sleep soundly but unfortunately too long. Lassiter woke him later. With a quick shave, he changed clothing and headed out a bit late for dinner but feeling quite a bit better. The family was already at the table so he quickly slid into the empty spot and dropped his head as grace was being said. He was going to apologize for being late, but Eleanor cut him off telling him they were so glad he could join them. The rest of the meal passed pleasantly as Adam discovered that Eleanor and Caroline were capable of producing exquisitely delicious dishes. He looked at Laine.

“If you can cook half as good as this, I should let you cook dinner for me instead of me cooking dinner for you at the station.”

There was silence as everyone looked everywhere except at Adam until they couldn’t hold it in any more and began to chuckle. Laine looked over at Adam. “What they think is so funny is that I’ve never taken to cooking very well. I can do basics like frying eggs but when I try anything more complicated, it seems to turn out lumpy and burned no matter how hard I try to do it right.”

“I guess that’s why they have restaurants.” He smiled at her letting her know that wasn’t a problem as far as he was concerned.

Feeling she had passed an obstacle, Laine sat up a little prouder then. After dinner, she and Adam walked from the house out into the prairie to watch the sun set. Of course, it allowed for a chance to hug and to kiss too so there was that ulterior motive.

“I’d like to spend every evening like this.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I would want more eventually.”

Although Adam didn’t say more, Laine had a very good idea of what he was thinking. Over the next week, she found several reasons to be in town on errands. Adam didn’t seem to mind at all taking time away from work to visit with her. On the following Saturday, she was in town again for the whole day helping him by putting curtains in the station, and getting linens ready for the men who would be arriving to run the station. They stocked the kitchen with foodstuffs too and cleaned it thoroughly. On Sunday afternoon, they had a picnic up on the hill behind Lassiter’s house. As they reclined on the blanket, kissing and hugging of course, in between talking and looking at the clouds, Adam got serious.

“I asked your father permission to court you. He was very much in favor of the idea. Now, I need to know what you think of it.”

“I think you know. I love you.”

Surprised to hear that, Adam paused. The words had flowed so smoothly and easily from her. It wasn’t easy for Adam to admit that kind of thing, and it amazed him when others could so easily express their feelings. Laine seemed to know what had happened.

“I caught you off guard there, didn’t I. I’m not the type to be coy and hold back. I know you’re not either, but somehow, you guard those emotions of yours like Wells Fargo guards their gold shipments. I don’t. I tell people how I feel. The first time I saw you, I was attracted to you. The first time I talked with you, I wanted to talk with you more. Each time I’ve been with you, I’ve wanted to be with you more. I’ve been falling in love with you step-by-step since that first day I saw you. Of course, seeing you with your shirt off didn’t hurt.” She had to laugh then and tickle him. It wasn’t in her to be too serious for too long.

Grabbing her hands, he wrestled with her until he was above her and looking down into her face from only inches away. He kissed her softly then and as gently as he could kissed her cheeks and her nose and then kissed her cheeks again and then her lips. “I do love you.”

Releasing her hands, Adam rolled onto his back and Laine rolled with him until she was above him and looking down. She kissed him then as he had kissed her. Gently and softly kissing and tasting him until she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a more passionate embrace. “So now what, love?”

Pausing and looking into her eyes, Adam pushed some of her wayward hair back behind her ears and then cupped her cheek in his hand. “Will you marry me?”

Kissing him even as tears flowed, Adam had to assume she meant to say yes but she didn’t say it. Finally after much kissing and hugging, he had to ask.

“Of course, I meant yes. What do you think all of that was for? I wouldn’t have been kissing and hugging someone like that if I meant no.”

“I needed to hear it.”

“Then, yes, love, I will marry you. I would love to marry you. I will marry you anytime and anywhere. I love you.”

“Can we get married in two weeks because I think that’s about how long I can stretch my stay here?”

“Sooner than that if you want. Papa and Mama have been asking when. I think they’re wondering what was taking you so long.”

“I think your father was worried I might change my mind and he’d be stuck with you longer.”

With that, Laine punched him in the arm. That happened often enough that he was learning to brace himself for it. She laughed as she saw him get ready for it, and the two wrestled some more and then kissed and hugged before it was time to head back for Sunday dinner and time to tell the family of their wedding plans.

“By the way, where are we going to live?”

“Well, I’m on the road a lot.”

“Don’t you dare think you’re going to leave me here or someplace by myself.”

“No, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind traveling for a few years as long as I have this position with Wells Fargo. Next up is Denver, and after that it’s Carson City and Virginia City, and then San Francisco. After that, I don’t know. In between assignments, there’ll be time off.”

“So will there be time off after this assignment?”

“Yes, I’ll get two weeks between finishing here and reporting to Denver. I thought I would like to go home to visit and introduce you to my family and show you the Ponderosa. Then we can take some time to ourselves if you want.”

“I like the sound of all of that. You’re a good planner. I tend to do things on the spur of the moment.”

“I’ve noticed.” Adam ducked away before his arm could get hit again.

As expected, Laine’s family was thrilled with the news and teased Adam a bit about what life was going to be like with her. He took it in good humor because he was thinking that no matter what happened, life was going to be so much better with her in his life. He was under no illusions knowing there would be difficulties and even times when one or both might regret this decision, but he didn’t think they would ever come to think they had made a wrong choice. He had talked to Laine about his moodiness and she had confessed her own tendency to be that way. They made a pledge to do their best to be honest with each other and to try to deal with those issues with sensitivity. It might not always work, but they could remind each other they had made such a promise.

The wedding was at John’s ranch and was quite a big party with everyone who lived in the area invited. Everyone came. There weren’t enough social occasions there for anyone to forego even one. Adam played guitar and sang helping out too by calling some square dances which were more skills that the family didn’t realize he had. When it was time to leave, John and Eleanor told them that there was a cabin that had been fixed up for them to use for the night and Laine said she knew exactly where it was so she directed Adam to the location. He carried her over the threshold of the small cabin, which had been a homesteader’s cabin until the man had quit and gone back east. It had a relatively low ceiling, but as Laine giggled, she said she didn’t think that was going to matter. It didn’t as they spent most of the next eight hours in the bed becoming husband and wife in fact as well as in name as Adam used all of his skills and a large measure of patience to teach his wife about the art of lovemaking. The next morning, she had a question.

“Will I have a baby now?”

“Maybe. We won’t know for a while. If you’re late, that would be a sign, but usually women don’t know for sure for a couple of months, I guess. It’s not something I know much about. Maybe you ought to talk a bit more with your mother and Caroline before we leave on Monday.”

“I don’t know if I want to see them. I think if they see me, they’ll know exactly what I’ve been doing.”

Smiling then, Adam pulled her down onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her. “Sweetheart, they’re going to know regardless. They know already. They’ve both been in love and they know what it’s like to be together the first time.”

“Ooh, I don’t even want to think about that.”

“Then don’t. Think about us. We get to be with each other as much as we want now.”

“I want to, but, Adam, I may need some time to recover.”

Kissing her neck then and using his hands to caress her, Adam murmured agreement as Laine leaned into him letting him kiss and touch her which made her feel so good. She turned to him so he kissed her cheeks and then her lips putting a hand behind her head to draw her into a deeper kiss.

“Should I stop now?”

“No, don’t stop. I was only kidding about needing time to recover. This is much better.”

An hour later, they had to get dressed again. It wasn’t too bad though because they weren’t expected at her parents’ home until lunchtime and still had time to spare. After making sure that they had packed up everything, they drove back to the ranchhouse where the family waited for them. The other guests were gone, and no one mentioned anything about their honeymoon night so Laine was relieved about that. As she helped her mother and sister clean up after lunch, she asked a few questions about becoming with child and so forth that were more important to know now that it might actually happen.

As Adam drove to town with Laine on Monday morning to catch the stage after Laine said her tearful farewells to her family, Eleanor stood with Caroline and watched them drive away.

“I’m glad she’s happy. Adam is such an intimidating man I admit that I did have a little worry that he might be too much for her.”

“I didn’t. He told me once that he and his family grow some roses on the Ponderosa. He seemed especially proud of that. He knows how to nurture a flower and get it to bloom even one with a few thorns.”

*****

Chapter 12

Taking the stage to the nearest railroad connection, Adam and Laine headed to Virginia City where Adam planned to spend some time with his family knowing that his news must have surprised his family. Laine leaned into his shoulder and slept on the stage, which forestalled any conversation with the other passengers. Adam didn’t mind. The forced camaraderie of a stage trip was never one of his favorite activities. He pulled his hat low and enjoyed the feeling of Laine leaning on him and trusting him to keep her safe. He had enjoyed waking up each of the previous mornings since he had been married to have her by his side sometimes snuggled up beside him and even once with her head resting in the crook of his arm. His arm had been numb, but he had not wanted to move it. He was thirty-six years old and had experience with women, but he had not had the experience of waking up with a woman in such a relaxed atmosphere knowing she would be staying with him. It was a satisfying feeling and especially gratifying with the assurance that she would be there in the future too.

Once they were on the train, it was entertaining for Adam to see Laine’s reactions to everything as she had never been on a train nor had she ever traveled so far from Wyoming. He wondered what her reactions to San Francisco would be especially after her wide-eyed reaction to Carson City. He could have gone to the Ponderosa from there but wanted her to see Virginia City first so they continued their journey by taking the spur line and then rented a carriage in town. Of course, they were hailed by Sheriff Roy Coffee who had heard the news from Ben. Not many in town knew, but seeing Adam in town with a woman who had a ring prominently displayed on her ring finger and headed out to the ranch would likely have the gossips busy very quickly. After a brief conversation with Roy after he was introduced to Laine, Adam took Laine on the trip to the ranch. She settled in beside him without any idea how long their trip was going to be. After about an hour, he slowed the horses and she thought they were at their destination.

“No, I’m just giving the horses a chance to rest a bit before we make the rest of the trip.”

“Wow, your family’s ranch is even farther from town than John’s ranch is.”

“Not really.”

“Adam, we must have been riding for an hour already and we’re not there yet.”

“Sweetheart, we’ve been on the Ponderosa for over a half hour already. It will be about that long before we get to the house though.”

Staring at him for a short time, she had to ask. “Just how big is the Ponderosa?”

Looking almost a bit embarrassed to say it, Adam quietly answered her. “About a thousand square miles.”

Sitting with her mouth slightly open, Laine said nothing for quite a long time until Adam asked her why she was so quiet.

“Your family is rich. I knew you were pretty well off because you had a good job and your family owned a ranch, but your family is rich. All the stories you’ve been telling me led me to believe that your family was just like any other family, but they’re not.”

“That’s just it, Laine. They are. We worked here like any ranch family worked. I punched cattle, broke horses, fixed fences, and repaired roofs, and did all the kinds of things anyone on a ranch has to do.”

Pursing her lips, Laine was quiet as Adam set the carriage in motion again with a flick of the reins to the team. She was suspicious though and had to say what was on her mind.

“Was this a test? Were you testing me to see if I knew you were rich or not? Did I pass, mister, or do you think I married you because you were rich?” With her chin jutted out, Adam could see the stubbornness as well as hear it in her question.

“It was no test. I didn’t want to make it an issue because this is my father’s ranch. We’ve talked a bit already about why I left and why I’m not coming back home to be the dutiful son. This is my father’s empire.”

Not completely convinced, but willing to accept that explanation for the moment, Laine returned to her earlier preoccupation with the scenery. Adam was a bit nervous with how easily she had given in and guessed there was going to be some form of payback although he had no idea what it was going to be. He didn’t have to wait long though. When they pulled into the yard at the house, Joe was in the yard and yelled for Ben and Hoss to come see Adam and Laine. It didn’t take long at all for the other two to rush out of the house to greet them and Hop Sing was there too. Laine was at her charming best acting very ladylike and accepting Ben’s assistance from the carriage before Adam could get around to offer her any help. Ben of course was equally charming as the gentleman he was. Laine looked at Adam, and in a very sweet voice began the payback.

“Adam, your father isn’t at all like a scheming old pirate or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My, he is the most charming, gentile man I think I may have ever met.” Ben gave Adam a rather self-satisfied smug look at that. As Hoss and Joe began to carry the luggage in, Laine turned to Hoss. “Is it true that you eat a cow at every meal? Adam told me that, but you’re not at all fat like he said. You seem to be all hard muscle like the most powerful man I have ever seen.” Smiling at Laine and thanking her for her comment, Hoss threw a dirty look toward Adam as soon as Laine continued into the house on Ben’s arm. Laine’s attention went to Joe next. “Is it true you have notches on your pistol for every female conquest you’ve ever made? I can hardly believe that. As handsome as you are, you would hardly need to chase after any woman. I would think you would need to be beating them off with a stick. However do you have any time to yourself, you handsome man?” Joe was so tongue-tied with that, he could only stammer out a nearly incomprehensible statement. Adam leaned on his rented carriage and sighed. He began to unhitch the team guessing he wasn’t going to get any help with it after Laine’s performance. By the time he got inside, the four of them were laughing and talking and clearly had gotten over the jibes that had been thrown earlier.

“Adam, your bride is absolutely delightful.”

“Dadburnit, older brother, I done thought you’d bring home a serious gal, but you got a fun one. Guess you needed somebody to balance out your serious side, huh?”

“Young too, to balance out his old side.” Joe snickered at his own joke as Adam rolled his eyes again.

“I’ll take our bags up to a room. Which one are we using?”

“Your old room is all set up for you, but you don’t have to do that.”

“I think I would rather do that than stay here for a slow roast.” Adam grabbed their bags and headed up the stairs without saying anything more.

Realizing that the homecoming hadn’t been warm at all for him, the others became more serious and Laine guessed she had probably gone too far. She looked around at the men and found them staring up the stairs.

“Perhaps, you would like to welcome Adam home too?”

By the time Adam came back down the stairs, Ben had gotten a bottle of brandy and four glasses ready. Laine declined to drink never having had anything stronger than wine. Ben poured the brandy and he and his younger sons toasted Adam on his job and his marriage. They all sat until dinner talking about things that had happened since they had been apart and asking about Laine’s family and background. There was a lot to learn and it continued into dinner conversation and after dinner and into the next day as Laine’s time was dominated by Adam’s family. He seemed amused by it except he had no time with her to show her the ranch. That second night, Ben was teaching her to play chess and Hoss and Joe were playing checkers. Adam decided to take a walk outside. After a while, Laine looked around wondering where her husband was and no one seemed to know. Hoss guessed that he had probably gone outside and volunteered to go find him.

“No, I’ll find him. We’ve hardly had a chance to talk since we got here. It will be nice to have a little quiet time. I don’t suppose he will have gone very far.”

He hadn’t. Laine found him leaning on the corral fence and staring at the stars. Turning at her approach, she was relieved to see a smile that was obvious even in the dim light.

“Good, you’re not upset with me.”

“Why would I be upset with you? Let me see: because you made me look bad in front of my family when we arrived? That you teased me incessantly since then? That you have hardly had time for me as you have spent all your time with my family ignoring me almost completely?”

“Not quite ignoring you. I do believe there was some quite good attention you got last night and again this morning.”

“Ah, yes, that was very nice. Now, am I upset with you? No, not at all. I’m very pleased that my family likes you so much and that you’re fitting in so well. Everyone has accepted you so that hurdle is gone.”

“Yes, I like your family, but I can understand why you left.”

“You can? You’ve only been here for less than two days.”

“In that time, your father has given me a slew of fatherly advice. Apparently you are quite difficult to manage. He’s given me quite a few tips on handling you.” Laine couldn’t help grinning about that. “Hoss is so protective, and Joe wants to show me everything at once. I told him that you had expressed an interest in doing that. He’s quite disappointed that he can’t. If I was here for very long, I think I would feel smothered with good will.”

“They mean well.”

“Oh, I know they do, but at home, Mama and Papa knew that I couldn’t stay at home all the time. I needed to be able to be free sometimes. It was scary for them, I suppose, but it would have crushed me to have to be at home all the time. I couldn’t live like Caroline lives with her schedule. I like what we’re doing so much better.”

“If we have children, that could change.”

“But children can travel too. There’s no reason they have to be in one place all the time as long as they have parents who love them, provide for them, and keep them safe. I know your early days of travel were very difficult. I don’t mean to travel like that, but if we had a child and took him to Denver with us, that wouldn’t be so bad.”

“So you would have our children be rolling stones gathering no moss too.”

“No, that sounds like wanderers who have no purpose. Maybe at one time, you thought of yourself that way, but you found your way and I’m by your side for that journey now. I think we ought to think of it as a quest.”

“I do like the way you think.” Wrapping his arms around her, Adam pulled her into a kiss that became deep and long as they expressed their love for one another.

Inside the house, the rest of the family worried that by monopolizing Laine’s time and teasing Adam so much that perhaps they had created a problem. Ben looked out the window behind his desk.

“Ah, I don’t think there’s a problem.”

With a smile, he dropped the curtain back into place. Hoss and Joe rushed to see what he had seen but he told them not to look.

“Pa, ifn we don’t look here, ya know we’re jest gonna go upstairs and look from my room.” As Ben rolled his eyes, Hoss and Joe pulled the curtain back for a look and then dropped it. “Yep, older brother ain’t got no problems a’tall, I’m thinking.”

“Yeah, but maybe tomorrow, we could all back off a little and let our brother and his wife have a little more relaxing time with us.”

Ben smiled and agreed as did Hoss. About then, Adam and Laine came in the door to find all three men behind Ben’s desk. Adam had a smirk when he saw them.

“See anything interesting?”

“Ah, no, Pa was just showing us the ledgers, right, Pa?”

The smirk was fully in place. “I think it would be easier for him to show you if they were on the desk.”

“Oh, he was just about to get them out.”

“Well, Laine and I hope to take a tour of the ranch tomorrow. We’re going up to bed now so we can be up early tomorrow.”

Adam’s look almost dared any one of the three to say anything. With their new resolve, no one said anything, but by the time Adam and Laine were walking down the upstairs hallway, the snickers from down below said that something must have been said. Laine looked at Adam and sighed.

“You win.”

“I have known them far longer than you have.”

“Well, let’s go to bed then and do whatever they think we’re going to do anyway. I guess there aren’t any secrets around here.” Laine smiled as Adam opened the bedroom door and put his hand on her back to usher her in. “As often as we do this, we might be carrying a baby to Denver.”

“I think that would be wonderful.”

“Me too.”

Downstairs, Joe leaned back in his chair with a smile. “Hey, older brother done real good for himself. I have to admit that when he left, I kind of hoped he would have lots of trouble so he would come back home, you know, to be safe again. Now though, I see he’s happy, and I’m glad he found what he was looking for. I’m thinking I ought to do the same.”

Startled, Ben looked at his youngest son with a bit of alarm. “You wouldn’t leave!”

“No, I meant find a gal like that to marry.”

Ben seemed relieved by that news, but Hoss obviously wasn’t. “Joe, you bring a gal like that to live with us permanent like, and I’ll have to thump you upside the head a few times.”

“Why, what’s wrong with Laine?”

“Nothing wrong with her long as she’s Adam’s wife and he has to deal with her. Did you hear how she talked when she got here? She laid it on him pretty thick. She’s teased him darn good since then too. Now older brother kin take it and dish it out too, but I ain’t looking to have a steady diet of it and neither are you. You find yourself a sweet little gal not a handful like that one. Older brother may need challenges in his life to keep it interesting for him, but I’d just as soon have it be more calm and peaceable like.”

Looking over at Hoss and rolling his eyes a bit, Ben had a few things to say too. “Laine is a charming young woman. I’m sure some of what she has said has been because she is nervous in this setting. She only met the three of us and this was all a bit overwhelming. Did you know that Adam never told her how big the ranch was or how much our holdings are? All of this was a huge surprise to her. As for liking it calm and peaceable, did you have someone in mind because at least Adam has actually married a woman and brought her home?”

That brought a couple of sheepish grins and then chuckles when Joe tried to have the final word. “Pa, we were only waiting on Adam. He’s the oldest and had to set the right example. He sure did wait a long time to get married. Maybe you ought to talk to him about waiting so long. By the time you were his age, you had the three of us already.”

There was some laughter at that which was only accentuated by the sound of the rhythmic squeaking sounds of the bedsprings coming from upstairs. Hoss finally choked out a few words.

“Adam seems to be doing his best to catch up on that score.”

“I hope so. I really do want to have some grandchildren.”

*****

Turn, Turn, Turn

Chapter 1

Damn, him, why did he always have to have the last word. Joe stomped through the yard, mounted up on his horse, and rode out to the corrals to supervise the men breaking the horses they needed for the next contract. Their horse business was beginning to rival their cattle business in the amount of profit it brought to the ranch and required far less in the way of resources to accomplish. He couldn’t take a chance that there would be any problems there, and Adam had told him to take some time to think about what he had said before they talked again. Except it hadn’t been much of a talk. It had been more that he had yelled and complained and blasted his brother with all the venom he had stored up for a very long time. He had thought he would feel better about everything once he got it all out. Normally once he vented, he did feel better and it cleared the air. However, Adam had remained calm and not disputed a thing. Then in a few sentences, he had laid a burden of guilt, fear, and sadness on Joe that was so great that he felt worse than when he did when he thought that Hoss had died in that accident. At least that had been over fairly quickly. This news had been delivered quickly but the import was that the pain was going to be anything but easy.

“Don’t tell Pa or Laine anything yet. I have to find a way to explain things to them and although Laine knows some of it, she doesn’t know the worst yet.”

When Joe got to the breaking corrals, he was distracted. Everyone noticed and most assumed it had something to do with Adam. He was the only one of the guests who was at the house because they had seen Ben taking Adam’s wife Laine and daughter Patricia in the carriage for a ride around the ranch. It was clear that Ben was inordinately proud of his granddaughter and doted on her. He and his daughter-in-law got on well too though their personalities didn’t mesh that well. Laine was a free spirited type who liked to try new things and didn’t like being bound by schedules or by doing things the usual way. Some of her unconventional thinking put her father-in-law on edge. However he had no complaints whatsoever on how she was raising his granddaughter. Patsy was quite intelligent but exceptionally well mannered, always well groomed, and respectful in every situation. Ben liked to remark that it was sometimes difficult to believe she was Adam’s daughter. That usually got a roll of the eyes or some other exasperated response from his son, but he knew too that Adam was proud that his father was so pleased with Patsy. She was a remarkable girl and Ben enjoyed being with her. When Adam told him that they planned to stay, he had been overjoyed if surprised and actually quite mystified by Adam’s plans.

When Adam arrived for what Ben and Joe had assumed would be a visit, he told them that he had sold his business in San Francisco and retired from his position with Wells Fargo as well. His home in the city was sold and the furniture and other items were being shipped to Virginia City to be stored until they could decide what to do with everything. Joe had asked if he was going to build a house on the Ponderosa.

“I don’t know. That’s going to be up to Laine and she’s not sure what she wants to do yet.”

That answer had not been at all what they expected either. There were more answers like that which frustrated them and made them wonder what kind of secrets Adam was keeping. Joe had come right out and asked him if he was in some kind of trouble.

“If you’re thinking that I have some kind of legal problems or that the authorities have some interest in me, you can be sure that is not at all the case. I have conducted myself and my affairs well within the law and within ethical and moral standards. There is no one who means to do me harm or harm to my family.”

It would have made more sense to Joe if Adam had said he was in legal trouble or threats had been made against him because this strange behavior was maddening. When their father asked him to help with the ledgers and with the paperwork that sometimes threatened to overwhelm him, Adam had declined. When Joe had tried to get him to help with ranch work even to do some very basic supervision, he had declined. He had not even been to the stable to see his old horse. Granted, Sport wasn’t a working horse any more, but he could still have been used for some rides around the ranch to see changes that had taken place. Instead, Adam stayed in the house or sat on the porch reading or simply talking or sometimes staring off into space. It had become so irritating that after a week, Joe had confronted him about it.

“Why did you ever come back? You won’t help Pa, and God knows, he could use your help. You won’t help me, and I’m so overloaded with work, I don’t have time for anything else. Meanwhile, you loll around the house doing nothing. You don’t even have time to walk out to the corral by the stable to say hello to your old horse who served you faithfully all those years. You don’t seem to care about anyone or anything. I have no idea why you’re even here. When Hoss gets back, are you going to treat him like you’re treating Pa and me: acting like you’re a guest here and not a member of the family? You’re being selfish and lazy and everything we’ve always despised about people who don’t carry their own weight. Why did you come home anyway?”

For a long moment, Adam said nothing. Exhausted emotionally by the speech he had given, Joe was surprised by that too. He had expected an angry response because he had been unkind. Instead, when Adam did speak, it was in calm, measured tones as if he had been practicing this speech and was finally getting to deliver it.

“Laine needs a steady influence in her life. She’s smart and she can plan well, but sometimes she’s like a ship without a tiller. She needs someone to help her guide her way. Patsy needs a strong man or men to show her the kind of man she’ll want to marry one day.”

Suddenly Joe got a premonition of what Adam was going to say next. “No.” He stepped back and then raised a hand as if to ward off the words he was afraid he was going to hear.

“Yes, I came home to die.”

“Is that why you won’t do anything.”

“Can’t do anything is more like it. I can’t help Pa with the books because I can’t read the numbers well enough. I would make too many mistakes. I can read books if I go slowly enough because I can still make out most of the words although that is getting more difficult too. I can’t ride a horse. I would likely fall off. Bright sun hurts my eyes too.”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s something growing in my head. The doctor wasn’t able to give me a definitive answer on how long I have. He said a couple of months, but then said it could be up to six months or even a year. As fast as the problems have been developing, I don’t think the optimistic outlook is to be believed. I know it is terribly unfair to bring this here, but I didn’t want Laine and Patsy to have to deal with it alone.”

“When did it start?”

“About two months ago. I fell backwards off a loading dock and bumped my head. It wasn’t bad, but I started to get these headaches off and on after a day or two. It would go away, and I’d think everything was fine, and then it would be back. I saw the doctor who thought it wasn’t anything serious at first but thought it odd that I bumped the back of my head on a feed sack, but the headache was always in the front. The more he saw me, the more he thought the problem wasn’t from the fall but that there was something else wrong. When I started to have vision problems as well as other problems, other doctors took a look too and he gave me their diagnosis.”

“Adam, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. I am sorry I was mad at you. I didn’t know you were dealing with this.”

“It’s all right, Joe. I understand. I know how it must have looked, but I didn’t want to say anything until I had to. I guess I have to. Take some time and think about how you can help Laine. Don’t say anything to Laine or Pa yet though. I have to find the right words to tell them. Laine knows something is very wrong. She knows it’s serious and knows about the headaches and some of the rest, of course, but she doesn’t know how bad it is. Or maybe she does. She knows it’s a major problem because I’ve sold the business and the house. She’s been very supportive and not challenged me. Maybe she does know.”

“She’s pretty smart.”

“She is, and so is Pa. I suppose I need to tell both of them soon.”

“Hoss is due back too.”

“I’ll tell Laine tonight. Joe, do your best not to look at me like you know I’m dying. Give me time to tell the others first.”

*****

Chapter 2

Telling Laine wasn’t nearly the experience that Adam expected it to be.

“What do you mean, you’re dying? You had that kind of news and didn’t tell me? What kind of marriage do we have if you don’t trust me enough to tell me that kind of thing?”

“Laine, I thought you must have guessed. I sold the business and the house. I resigned from Wells Fargo and decided to move here with no plans. You didn’t object at all. I thought you might already know.”

“How could I know? You didn’t tell me enough for me to know. What I did know was that your vision was affected. I knew you couldn’t see numbers well enough. I had to help you with some things because you made mistakes on the calculations mixing up numbers because you couldn’t clearly see them. I knew you couldn’t ride because you were dizzy. I knew you were reading much more slowly because it was hard for you to see the words.”

“What did you think?”

“I thought you were losing your sight! I thought we were coming back here where you could have the support of your family if you were blind. I thought it would be a good thing to do too. You would be better able to cope here than in the city. Damn you, you should have told me the rest. You better tell me now: all of it!”

“When I fell at the job site a few months ago, I started having headaches. They weren’t too bad at first, and would go away for a while. But they always came back, and they would be worse when they came back, and eventually, they never really went away but it was kind of an ebb and flow thing. I saw Doctor Davis.”

“Yes, I remember that. You said he said it would be better in time.”

“He thought it would. He did think it was a bit odd that I landed on my back but the headache was always in the front. However, he didn’t think it was anything much to worry about because there weren’t any other symptoms. Those started to come later.”

“How much later?”

That’s when Adam had to be a bit embarrassed at his lack of being forthright with his wife. “I didn’t want you to worry. The doctor had said it wasn’t serious, but the dizziness and vision issues started to show up rather quickly although not bad at first. When they got worse, I went back to see him.”

“But you didn’t tell me.”

“There was nothing exactly to tell you. He kept saying he didn’t think it was serious, but then again he seemed concerned about these other symptoms. I was upright and lucid though so that apparently reassured him that it wasn’t from the fall.”

“It’s something else?”

“He had me see his colleagues, and then he gave me the diagnosis. There’s something large that grew up here.” Pointing to his forehead, Adam sighed deeply. “There’s nothing to be done apparently. Doctors don’t know how to operate on a man’s brain.”

“Oh, how can this be true? This cannot be true.” Laine touched his cheek and held her hand against his face willing his expression to change.

Reaching one hand up, Adam covered her hand with his. With his other hand he took a tendril of her hair that had come loose, as it often did, and he tucked it behind her ear and caressed her cheek softly. “I wish I could have met you when I was much younger so we could have had more time together.”

“Not too much younger or I would have been too young to be with a man.” Laine had a half-smile then at her small attempt to lighten the conversation.

“That’s true. I don’t think your parents would have looked kindly on me courting you at a much younger age.”

The tears came then because she couldn’t hold back any longer. Adam held her in his arms as she cried. He knew she cried for both of them. She cried because she was sad that he was going to lose his life, and she cried because she was going to suffer the loss of her husband and best friend. She stifled her tears rather quickly though.

“I don’t want Patricia to see that I’ve been crying. She’ll want to know what’s wrong. Adam, we’re going to have to break this to her gradually. It’s not something you can tell a young child suddenly. Adam, how long? What did the doctor say about how long?”

“That’s the thing that I’m not too sure about. The doctors said a couple of months at least and perhaps as long as six months to a year, but they don’t know. No one can look inside a head to see what is growing and what damage is being done. Unfortunately, I’m worried that because the symptoms got worse so rapidly the few months might be the more accurate assessment, but I have no way to know if I know any better than they do.”

“Do you have any symptoms you haven’t told me? Have you kept any other secrets?”

“No, you know all of that. I have headaches. I get dizzy very easily and without warning, I can start to fall and have to grab for something to steady myself. I try to keep something solid near me at all times. I don’t want to walk across the yard because I’m not sure I can make it. My vision is getting worse and you knew that because you’ve had to help me with things. You know the nausea that I got when we traveled. The only thing that helped was sleeping.”

“Have you told anyone else?”

With a wry look, Adam shook his head almost amazed at the answer he had to give. “Joe is the only one.”

“I’m surprised you confided in Joe.”

“It wasn’t so much confiding in him as he challenged me and the only thing to do was to tell him the truth. It was that or remain silent and take a chance he’d take a swing at me because he was so upset. I couldn’t risk that. I don’t know what would happen if anyone hit me. It’s bad enough now with trying to get through each day when I’m not doing much of anything.”

“My, God, he wouldn’t hit you, would he?”

“He’s under a lot of stress with Hoss gone and with Pa getting older and shifting a lot more of the responsibility to him. He was hoping that I would take up some of the burden and was upset that I was acting more like a guest than a member of the family. I could see his point, but there’s nothing I can do to help him.”

“And now, things are even worse.”

“Yes, now I’ve made things even worse by coming home.”

“No, never think that. You need to be here. We all need to be here. Adam, maybe you need to see a different doctor. Maybe the doctors you saw didn’t know everything there is to know about your condition.”

“Laine, no one operates on the brain. It simply isn’t done.”

Once more, Laine went to Adam’s embrace. They held each other for a long time, and then they went to bed and lay in each other’s arms finding that sleep did not come easily.

Downstairs that evening, Ben Cartwright found that his mind was in turmoil too. First, he had seen how serious Adam had looked when he told Laine that they should go up to their room to talk after they got Patsy to bed. They had not returned. Since Adam’s return, Ben had been very concerned about him because it was clear something was very wrong. His demeanor was off. He was quiet and reserved about everything. Ben had tried to interest him in ranch business, in helping with the ledgers and contracts, and Adam had begged off doing that. It was out of character for a man who had a gift for such things. Adam hadn’t left the house or porch either which also was out of character. Even when Ben had taken Laine and Patsy for a tour of the Ponderosa, Adam had stayed in the house content to be alone and sedentary instead of being with his family. All of it was very odd. Of course even Adam being here like this was odd. Ben had expected some sort of explanation as to why Adam had sold his business and his house as well as why he had resigned from Wells Fargo. Clearly something important had changed in his life. While Ben hoped it meant that Adam had found some kind of business enterprise he could develop close to the Ponderosa, Adam seemed not to have any plans at all. It was so out of character that Ben didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t remember ever seeing Adam like this.

Now this evening, Joe was acting oddly as well. He was as subdued as Ben had ever seen him. There was no teasing of any kind nor any jibes for his oldest brother although those had been numerous until this evening. When Adam and Laine had gone up the stairs, Joe’s eyes had followed them. Several times after that, Joe had moved his stare from the fire in the fireplace to the upstairs as if he wondered what was happening up there. Then at nine, he excused himself to go to his room supposedly to sleep when it was obvious that he was not sleepy at all. When Ben finally retired to his room, he found himself rehashing all the same thoughts and theories as to his sons’ unusual behaviors and still formulating no ideas as to what it could mean. It took hours before he fell into a fitful sleep.

*****

Chapter 3

At breakfast the next morning, it was clear that only Patsy had slept well. She was her usual self smiling at everyone and munching on her breakfast with enthusiasm making Hop Sing quite happy. Ben refrained from asking any probing questions with her present, but the looks he gave to Adam and Joe made it clear that he wanted to know what was going on. When Patsy finished her meal, Adam asked her to thank Hop Sing for her breakfast. She did and then smiled at her father who praised her for having such good manners.

“Patsy, did you know that I rode a big chestnut horse here. His name is Sport.”

“What’s a chess nut?”

“It’s chestnut, and it means a reddish brown horse. He has three white socks too.”

Patsy chuckled. “Oh, Papa, horses don’t wear socks.”

“It means that he has white above his hooves on three legs.”

“Does he only have three legs?”

“No, he has four, but the fourth leg has no white on it.”

“Can I see him?”

“Well, I have to talk with your grandfather, but if your Uncle Joe would be willing to show you, you could go see him when Uncle Joe is finished with his breakfast.”

Quickly understanding what Adam wanted and why, Joe said he was done with breakfast and would be happy to show Sport to Patsy. He had spent most of the time with his head down staring at this plate and moving the food around without eating much of anything anyway. He had been angry about the news Adam had given him and then the pain had hit. He wanted to do something and felt helpless. Adam was giving him the chance to help and he jumped at that opportunity, and he added that there were some other animals she had not yet seen that he would be happy to show her. He warned her that it might take an hour or more.

“Is that a long time?”

Adam answered for Joe. “No, Patsy. That is a perfect amount of time. Joe, thank you.”

Ben watched his only grandchild leave and had a premonition that her carefree and happy days were about to end. He could see that Laine had been crying and Joe too looked like tears had been shed. For that to be true, there had to be some terrible news Adam was going to deliver, but when his son explained, it still hit him like a hammer blow. He found it hard to breathe and Adam and Laine were both clearly more concerned with him than with what they had worried about telling him.

“I’ll be all right. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“That can wait. You’re having the problem right now.”

“Maybe if you could help me to my chair.”

Adam had some difficulties but his strength wasn’t diminished. He offered his strong shoulders to his father and helped him walk to the red leather chair. Adam realized that his father though was steadier on his feet than he was so he let his father take the lead and he provided the strength they needed. When Ben was settled in the chair, Adam gratefully sat on the settee next to him.

“Do you need a brandy?”

“It’s early.”

“It’s an unusual circumstance.”

“Yes, I think a small brandy would be good.”

When Adam made a move to get the brandy though, Ben was surprised when Laine was there at the table first and poured two small brandies and gave one to Adam too. She sat beside him after delivering the two small glasses. Ben cocked an eyebrow at his son as if to ask a question.

“Yes, even that now. I don’t get to do anything like that any more. I guess she thinks the odds of me dropping or spilling are too great.” It was clear that Adam wasn’t happy with being treated as if he couldn’t take care of simple tasks like that. He knew his own limitations and didn’t like that others would now probably start trying to decide for him what he could and couldn’t do. He bottled the feelings up though because he had put Laine through enough already and didn’t want to add any more to that.

“Laine, you kept the secret well. I would never have guessed that you knew.”

There was a change in her demeanor then though. “I didn’t know. I knew something was wrong, and assumed Adam was losing his vision. I thought the headaches were from the fall he took and would go away eventually. It was only last night that he admitted the whole truth to me too.”

“I’m sorry, Pa. I told Laine I was sorry too. When I first heard, I didn’t want to believe them. I was angry about it and thought they couldn’t be right. Then as the symptoms got worse, I realized they were right and I felt hopeless. I felt I had failed my family. I know how illogical that must sound, but when you’re facing your own mortality, logic isn’t as reliable, I guess.”

“When did you decide that you had to tell us?”

“That’s when I decided to sell the business and the house, resign my position with Wells Fargo, and move back here. I wanted to tell everyone here. I think I needed the safety of these walls.”

“But it won’t change anything. Did you see any other doctors?”

“Yes, I asked a number of doctors if there was anything else that could be done, and they all said the same thing. There is no treatment. There’s nothing they can do.”

“No, I mean did you see other doctors to see if they agreed with the others on that diagnosis?”

“Pa, when four doctors concur, what is the point of asking more?”

“I never thought my son would give up so easily.”

“You’re where I was when I first found out. You’re angry. You want the diagnosis to be wrong. Pa, what else could it be?”

“That’s why you should see other doctors.”

Laine wrapped an arm around Adam. “Perhaps you should. It couldn’t hurt, could it?”

Although Adam wanted to offer them some hope and offer them some comfort in that they were doing something to help him, he knew too that giving false hope wasn’t going to do much in the long run, and it was going to be very difficult for him emotionally and physically. He couldn’t say no though as he looked from one to the other so he agreed and got small smiles from both. When Joe came in later with his daughter who was bubbling over with news of what she had seen, he saw his father tell Joe the news and get a huge grin from his youngest brother. He listened to his daughter chatter on to Laine about Sport and all the other animals she had seen. He knew he would get the same point-by-point description of her time with Joe as soon as she was done telling her mother. He took some joy in these small moments and the memories he could still create for his daughter. When Patsy finished talked with Laine though, Laine told her she could go to her room to straighten up her things and do some reading. She loved to read and had gotten some new books for the trip. Again Adam was a bit perturbed but bit back anything he was going to say. As Patsy skipped happily up the stairs and Adam watched her go, Laine smiled softly at him as if to say she understood, but in fact, she didn’t understand at all.

The rest of the day was more of the same with his father bringing things to him and Joe hovering about when he was in the house waiting it seemed for the opportunity to do something for his oldest brother. It was at dinner that Adam almost lost his temper but held it in check.

“Adam, tomorrow, we should go to town so you can see Doctor Martin.”

The first thought that Adam had was that a general practitioner and surgeon in Virginia City was unlikely to know more than four doctors in San Francisco. The second thought he had was worse: travel made him dizzy and frequently made him suffer from bouts of nausea. It would be a most unpleasant day if he had to make that trip to town and then back again in a carriage. He did what he usually did in such circumstances though.

“Sure, Pa, we can do that.”

*****

Chapter 4

That night, Laine questioned Adam as to why he had not objected to the carriage ride to and from town. “You know how sick it is likely to make you. The only way you made it here was to take a half-dose of your sleeping powder. Your father thought you were exhausted from travel and bored by seeing what you had seen so often before so never questioned you falling asleep, but if you do that tomorrow, he will.”

“I can’t anyway. If I’m to see Paul for his evaluation, I can’t be there and affected by a drug. He needs to see me in as normal a state as possible so he’s evaluating me and not the effects of a sleeping powder.”

“But you’ll get sick.”

“I won’t eat breakfast. I had very little to eat at dinner, and I won’t have much of anything to drink either. Hopefully that will help.”

“Maybe Hop Sing can brew something up that might help.”

“No, anything he gives me will be the same as taking a sleeping powder. It will affect me. and Paul won’t see what I’m like without the help of his potions or some other medication. I’m not hiding anything any more either. If I get sick, Pa gets to see what happens.”

“If we’re going to town, Patsy will want to go along. We’ve shielded her from most of your symptoms, but she will hardly miss that. You on your hands and knees retching into the grass at the side of the road would be terrifying for her. She sees you as very strong and to see you like that would frighten her very much.”

That was a sobering thought for Adam. “Perhaps we can get Joe to take her to the lake or something so she isn’t here when we leave.”

“It’s postponing the inevitable, isn’t it. Maybe she needs to see some of the problems you’re having so that as, well, oh, damn, Adam, I can’t even say things like that.” Laine wrapped her arms around Adam who held her. She wanted more and kissed him, but his response was as tepid as it had been for weeks now. He hugged her, and the embraces were as warm and strong as always, but any attempt she made to be more intimate than that seemed to be met with resistance. She put her hand on his cheek and looked at his eyes seeing them shining in the light from the lamp. “Is there something more happening because of this? Can’t you love me like you did?”

“I do love you as much as ever.”

“No, I mean show me your love. You haven’t even hardly kissed me in weeks. We hug and hold each other, but that’s about it. When will we do more?”

“I’m not sure we should.”

“Why not?” But Laine knew in an instant then what worried him. “You don’t want to leave me with child when you think you won’t be here to help. Adam, please don’t let that stop you. The greatest gift you could give me now would be another child. You could give yourself to me too. I need that, and I think you need it too. As for a baby, it may not happen. We haven’t had a child since I lost the last one early, but there is no reason to fear bringing a child into this world. Please?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Adam hugged Laine even closer. He wanted so much to indulge her and yet feared exactly what she wanted. He whispered to her. “How can it be fair to bring a child into this world with only one parent?”

“Because you would have given the greatest gift of all. Please, give me your love and give life if you can. Let God decide what will happen. We have a wonderful family. They will make sure that our child will never want for anything including love. You don’t have the pressures of work any more. We only have each other. Let’s make the most of this time. You said the doctor said a year. It could be more. You’re a strong man.”

“But it could be much less.”

“Let’s not think about that now. Right now we have this time. Let it be our time, and not anyone can ever take it away.”

Taking his hands, she placed them on her and held her hands over his. He was close to her and they kissed. It wasn’t the soft kisses she had been getting but the more passionate kisses that said he wanted her as much as she wanted him. Their lovemaking though was as slow as the first time they had been together as they kissed and touched as if to remember each moment. When it was over, she rested her head on his chest to listen to his heart. It beat so strong and he seemed to be so healthy, it was difficult for her to imagine that the doctor’s diagnosis could be correct. She prayed silently that Doctor Martin would have a different opinion. It was her fervent hope, and she wondered if Adam was nursing that same small hope even as he was skeptical that a doctor here would know any more than the doctors in the city.

In the morning, Adam ate and drank very little prompting his father to ask if he was feeling ill. Adam had to admit to him then why he was holding back. He had already asked Joe if he could take Patsy for the day and found out that he couldn’t. Their backup plan was that Laine would get her busy so that Ben and Adam could leave. Patsy though had already picked up on the undercurrents of emotion in the house as well as a few words that worried her. She didn’t want to leave her father’s side finding reason after reason to stay with him begging for a hug, a story, for him to listen to something she had to tell him, and so on until he sat down on a chair and pulled her next to him. Wrapping his arm around her, he looked down at her and tilted her head up to look at him.

“What’s this all about, sweetie?”

“Nothing, I just need you.”

“You seem to need me a lot this morning.”

“I need you a lot always.”

“There are others here who can help you too.”

“But I want you to help me.”

“I did help you.”

“Yes, but I want you to stay and help me.”

“Did you hear that your grandfather and I were going to town? Is that what this is all about?”

“You and Grandpa are going to town? May I go along?”

A bit confused at that point, Adam looked to Laine and then back to Patsy. “If you didn’t know I was going to town, why did you say you wanted me to stay?”

Patsy looked down and when Adam tilted her head up again, there were tears in her eyes. Laine put her hand over her mouth because she was going to cry too seeing her daughter in such obvious distress. Adam had an idea of what might have happened.

“Have you heard something about me that upset you?” Patsy nodded and the tears slipped down her cheeks. “What did you hear?”

“I wasn’t supposed to hear.”

“Tell me what happened, Patsy. I need to know.”

“I thought you and Mama were still downstairs. I wanted to talk with you. I came to the stairs but it was Grandpa and Uncle Joe.”

“What did you hear?”

“They said you were sick. They said you had to see the doctor. They said so maybe you wouldn’t die. You’re not going to die, are you, Papa?”

Taking a deep breath, Adam tried to calm himself. He had so many emotions at that point but the only one he could let out was concern for his daughter. “I am sick, Patsy.”

“I know. I know your tummy gets sick sometimes.”

“Yes, and other things too.”

“Yes, your head hurts too.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Is that why you’re going to see the doctor?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Will he make you better?”

“I’m going to ask him if he can.”

“Good. He’ll make you better. I know he will.”

“Will you stay here with your mama while I go to see him?”

“Will that help you?”

“Yes, that would help me.”

“Then I will. But, Papa, can I ask one thing?”

“May I ask one thing?”

“Yes, please. Will you bring me some chocolate from town and some for Mama too. We really like chocolate.”

“I think that could be arranged.”

Patsy kissed him on the cheek then almost causing the tears he had been holding back to slip out. Laine did cry a little.

“Mama, why are you crying? Papa is going to see the doctor. The doctor will make him better. You’ll see. Papa is going to bring some chocolates for us.”

“Yes, dear, Papa is very good to us. I’m sure he will. Now let’s go upstairs. I want to do some sewing, and you’re going to help pick out the colors and the threads.”

Once Laine and Patsy were gone, Joe and Ben apologized. “It’s all right. There was no way you could have known Patsy could hear you. From what she said, she knew something was going on and she would have asked some questions soon anyway. I didn’t know how we were going to tell her. I guess we’ve made the first steps now in getting her ready.”

“Maybe she’s right, Adam. Maybe Doc will have a better answer for you.”

“Joe, I wouldn’t count on that.”

Joe held back what he wanted to say knowing it was the wrong time to say it, but sooner or later, he was going to say what he thought. Adam had said to think about what he had heard. Well, he had thought about it, and he was ready to respond. He didn’t think his oldest brother was going to like what he was going to say though.

*****

Chapter 5

The ride to town was about as unpleasant as Adam expected it to be. His stomach rebelled at the lurching of the carriage, and it didn’t take long before he had to ask his father to stop. He retched what little there was in his stomach and that allowed him to stay seated in the carriage for the rest of the trip, but the towel he brought along was used several times. His father had not realized that the trip was going to be so difficult and apologized profusely for putting his son through such misery. Even in that state, Adam tried to be positive.

“At least Paul will get the full picture. I’ll be as miserable as I ever am by the time I see him. The symptoms will all be there for him.”

“You’ve got the headache too?”

“I always have one, but this kind of thing makes it a lot worse.”

“The dizziness?”

“By the time we get to his office, I’ll need to lean on your shoulder. I hope we can do it without being too obvious. The gossips will have more fodder.”

“More?”

“They probably thought I was half drunk the day we arrived. I stumbled a bit and then climbed in the back of the carriage and promptly fell asleep if you recall.”

“Yes, I did wonder about that a bit. I thought you were exhausted.”

“But it was later in the day, and did you wonder if I had been drinking?”

Chagrined, Ben had to admit the thought had crossed his mind. So of course, he knew then that anyone who saw Adam would have probably thought the same. If they didn’t know him as well as he did, they might have put greater weight to the theory that he had been drinking. To see him helped into the doctor’s office unable to walk without assistance would certainly fuel more gossip.

“We could pull the carriage around to the back. It wouldn’t be that unusual for a carriage to go to the back of the office.”

“Thank you. Yes, that would be preferable if we could do that. I don’t think I can walk even a short distance by myself.”

After pulling the carriage around to the back of Doctor Paul Martin’s home which had his office on the first floor, Ben assisted Adam from the carriage. Shielding his eyes from the bright sun, Adam leaned on his father who helped him to the back entrance and then up the stairs to the door. Opening it, he let Adam walk for himself although he stayed close as his son used the doorjamb and then the wall to support himself as he walked in. Paul heard them and came into the hallway. Frowning to see Adam in such a state, he told him to go into the first door. He was there immediately and assisted Adam to the table that was there and had him rest on it. The room was dark and Adam sighed in relief. Paul was going to light a lamp, but Adam asked him to wait while he explained what was wrong first.

“You can do what you have to do later. First, I would appreciate the respite while I tell you why I’m in this state.”

So Adam told him everything he had told his wife and family. Paul asked a few questions along the way but mostly listened to everything Adam had to say and took notes. Adam finished with the details of the difficulties of the trip into town and how he was before and then during that trip. Then it was Paul’s turn, and of course, he wanted to do a physical exam. At the end of that, Paul looked about as forlorn as they had ever seen him look.

“I wish I had something more hopeful to say, but I can’t see any reason to dispute the diagnosis that you have. I do think that when you have to travel, you should sleep. You can’t become nauseated while sleeping. The main reason for that is that your eyes are not able to see the world as a clear and balanced place. It’s the same thing as children spinning about in their games and then falling down. Some of them become ill when they do that. In effect, when you travel, it is like that. You are confusing your eyes and your brain too much. I can give you sleeping powders to help you when you travel. I wish I could do more. I’m sure that Hop Sing can give you teas to help you with the nausea too and to help you sleep.”

Having nursed only the tiniest hope that Paul might give him good news, Adam stoically accepted what the doctor had to say. Ben had been hoping and praying for a much better outcome, and his disappointment was palpable.

“Ben, I will start to do some research. I do subscribe to medical journals. I will begin to scour them looking for anything that I think might help.”

It was a small comfort, but at least it was something. Before they left, Paul thanked Adam again for the Zeiss microscope Adam had been able to get for him from Germany. Although Paul had gotten a Plossl compound microscope only a few years earlier, the quality of the glass in the new one was considerably better.

“Yes, I’m getting older but the microscope is even better so I can see things I never could see before. It’s wonderful and I cannot thank you enough for your help in procuring it. I only wish I could do something for you.”

There was nothing, of course, so Adam left with his father after taking a sleeping powder as Paul suggested. Once they were on their way, Paul opened up a medical journal to do some reading until his next patient arrived. He was going to do research like he hadn’t done in years. He owed that much to his friend.

There was only one seat in the carriage and Adam stayed upright fighting the feeling of vertigo while they were in town. He did have one request.

“Could you stop at the pastry shop and get some chocolates though? I think I’ll be fine for that. It’s not far.”

The stop there was quick and Ben brought out a box of chocolates and light pastries careful to only buy the types of things that Hop Sing did not make. As soon as they reached the edge of town though, Ben halted the carriage and pulled to the side of the road. He reached under the seat for the small blanket stored there and handed it to Adam.

“I’m not cold.”

“No, but I think you could use it for a pillow and prop yourself in the corner there to sleep. I’ll drive slowly and you should be able to sleep comfortably there until we get home.”

“Thank you, Pa. I think that’s a grand idea.”

Arranging the blanket to make a soft resting place, Adam leaned into it until he was comfortable closing his eyes and relaxing. Ben waited a few minutes before pulling out. He drove slowly making the trip take nearly twice as long as usual so it was late afternoon before they arrived home. When they got there, Laine told them that Hoss was back and was with Patsy in the garden behind the house. Ben and Adam walked back there with Laine. Hoss had a big smile when he saw Adam walking toward him and looking reasonably healthy. He had heard from Patsy that his older brother was ill and had been to town to see the doctor, but seeing him there, he thought she must have been mistaken about illness. He moved to slap Adam on the back and welcome him back to the Ponderosa. Ben stepped forward quickly and the blow landed on his shoulder instead of Adam’s and with more force because he intercepted it halfway there. It stunned him a bit.

“Aw, Pa, I’m plumb sorry ’bout that. I only meant to welcome Adam home. I never meant to do that to ya.”

“It’s all right, Hoss. I knew that, but I didn’t want you to do that to Adam.”

“Huh? What Patsy said is true then?”

Quickly Adam changed the subject. “How was your trip? You must have a lot of stories to tell. And what kind of stories have you been telling Patsy while I was gone? I hope you didn’t tell her any scary stories that will make it difficult for her to sleep tonight.”

Getting the hint, Hoss quickly changed his demeanor and smiled. “Nah, I only told her about stampedes and such. She’s a right good listener too. Ain’t ya, my punkin girl?”

“I sure am. Are you going to tell more stories? Oh, I forgot. Papa, did you bring anything for me and Mama?”

“I certainly did. In fact, I believe there’s enough for the whole family. It’s on the seat in the carriage. Why don’t you bring it in to Hop Sing and he can arrange them on a plate to serve. There’s enough that you and Mama can have two each, I believe.”

Once Patsy ran to the front of the house, Laine said she would follow to supervise and make sure there were no accidents. The three men sat on the bench then. Hoss looked at Adam and put a hand on his brother’s knee.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on?”

“What Patsy told you was true. I did go see the doctor because I have a problem. She doesn’t know how serious it is yet, although she does have a better idea than we had thought because she overheard Pa and Joe talking.”

“It’s bad?”

“About as bad as it could be.” Then Adam told Hoss the rest of the story. His stunned reaction was about the same as Joe’s and Ben’s. Adam said they could talk more later after he had a chance to think about it. He knew though that thinking about it wasn’t going to do much good, but it was a way to end a conversation that had nowhere to go. He had done the same with Joe. Everyone wanted to help and to find a way to fight this thing, but there was no hope.

*****

Chapter 6

Sitting on the porch that evening, Hoss watched Joe pace back and forth. He had been able to tell that Joe was upset and holding in anger so instead of a game of checkers, he had suggested that they might want to take a walk outside to talk. Instead of talking though, Joe had paced steadily back and forth unwilling it seemed to say what was on his mind. Hoss had tried probing but had gotten nothing much in response. He tried one more time with a more direct question that he thought might hit closer to what might be the issue.

“You mad at Adam for some reason and you don’t want to say anything to him ’cause he’s sick?”

Hoss knew he was there because although Joe said nothing, there was a hitch in his walk. He almost stopped and said something, but somehow he managed to stay quiet.

“He can’t help what’s happening to him.”

Pausing then and facing Hoss, Joe got that stance that resembled a boxer about to take on an opponent. “He could try to fight. He could do something instead of sitting around waiting to die.”

“What would you have me do?”

Standing at the corner of the porch, Adam looked over at his brothers. He had an inkling similar to Hoss’ that Joe was holding in his feelings and that those thoughts were about him. He came outside when they had been gone for about fifteen minutes.

“Something! Sitting around is giving up. You do nothing.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t do much more than what I am.”

“You could at least try. You won’t even try. You won’t even walk across the yard because you’re afraid you might fall down. When did you get so afraid of everything? I didn’t know my oldest brother was such a coward!”

Hanging back, Hoss waited to see what would happen next. He knew Adam’s temper and how it boiled before exploding. He wouldn’t let the two of them fight, but he too wondered at Adam’s attitude. He watched as Adam advanced on Joe who stood his ground even as his taller and more muscular, heavier brother advanced.

“I am no coward. If I was, I would have put a bullet in my brain and ended this torment. Do you think this is easy? Every day I feel that I lose more of what I was. It would be a lot easier to die quickly. I’m doing it piece by piece.”

“You don’t have to give up the pieces so easily.”

Hoss saw Adam’s hands balled into fists at his sides and knew how angry he was. All the frustration and everything else from the last two months was probably welling up inside of him. He had worked so hard to control all those feelings, but they were still there roiling below the surface. Joe saw the fists too.

“C’mon, hit me. I won’t hit you back. I know better. I would never do that, but I’d like to see some fight in you. C’mon. What’s holding you back? You want to. Why don’t you hit me?”

Adam’s jaw worked furiously for a bit and then he shook his head slightly. He would have done more but knew from experience that wasn’t a good idea. Instead he grinned broadly and started to laugh softly causing his brothers to frown completely surprised by his response.

“What’s so funny?”

Backing up, Adam sat in the chair beside Hoss and looked up at Joe. “You’re right. I wanted to hit you. There was one big problem. There are two of you, and I didn’t know which one to hit. It would have been embarrassing to miss after all of that.”

Hoss started to laugh first and that big belly laugh of his got Joe laughing too, and that cackle of his got both older brothers laughing even more. Ben walked outside then to see what had happened because the laughter had been loud enough to hear inside.

“Nothing much, Pa. We’re laughing about what a fool I’ve been. I think I can help you with your work. You’ll have to tell me the numbers and I’ll do the math in my head and give them back to you. You’ll still have to do all the writing. Will that help?”

“That would be a great help. Thank you. Maybe I could read the contracts to you, and you could give me some advice on those too.”

Agreeing to that, Adam mentioned that perhaps they could let the hands know that he had a problem so that if they saw him fall, they could help him get up and to a safe place to sit until he got his equilibrium back.

“Yer what?”

“My balance.”

“Oh, all right, why didn’t you jist say that then. We kin tell the men that. They kin watch out for ya then.”

“I guess I’ll go in and talk with Laine and Patsy then. There are going to be a few changes around here that they’ll have to get used to.”

For Laine, it was bittersweet to have Adam more active on the ranch knowing that it was only for the time he had left. It was made worse when he brought up the subject of where she wanted to live.

“Would you like to continue living in the house here, or would you like a separate house? I could design a small home that could be build close so that you could have some privacy but still be close to the house for safety and for family.”

Unable to answer such a question when it was posed, all she had was tears. Although it was a struggle, Adam began designing a house he thought she and Patsy would like similar to the one where she had grown up in Wyoming with a broad porch all around and fireplaces in every room. He put in a water closet and washroom next to the kitchen thinking they would greatly prefer that to an outdoor necessary especially in cold weather. With the slope of the property, it wouldn’t be difficult to create a drain for both too. It took quite a bit longer for him to draw plans as he had to concentrate so hard and squint so much to try to keep squiggly lines in place and to write the numbers where they needed to go. Often he needed Laine’s help too. There were tears on the plans by the time they were done.

Although bothersome, Adam’s symptoms didn’t seem to be worsening at a pace that alarmed them. A glimmer of hope was there until he started to have more falls. He had to start using a cane to walk outside because to try to take a walk meant the odds of falling were too great. Inside he moved from one solid piece of furniture to another and always had a firm grip on the railing when he used the stairs. Ben wanted to suggest he and Laine might want to move to the downstairs bedroom but couldn’t bring himself to even voice that option because it would make the reality of what was happening hit that much harder for all of them. Patsy made all of them face reality though with the innocence of childhood questions so similar to how Adam had been at that age with his questions about all that he saw around him.

“Papa, are you getting sicker?”

After leaving the dining table, Adam had fallen against the credenza and had been unable to catch himself taking a hard landing on the floor. Hoss helped him up and to the settee where he held his head with a headache that was suddenly much worse. He was resting there when his daughter answered the question. He didn’t have a chance to answer before there was a knock on the door. Joe answered the door to admit Doctor Martin. He saw Adam and the look of pain he had and immediately moved to his side.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“I wish there was.”

“Adam, maybe there is. I was reading in my journals and newsletters, and I came across a notice that a doctor from France gave a symposium in St. Louis last month on brain diseases and disorders.”

“Uh, Paul, how does that help?”

“Oh, that part doesn’t help, but it said that before he was going to return to France, he was going to take a tour of the west. I’ve been searching for him, and I found him. I corresponded briefly with him. At first, he wouldn’t consent to come to a ‘cow town’ as he called it. But I told him I had his uncle’s book and that you translated it for me. Well, it turns out that it’s his cousin not his uncle, but close enough.”

“That book Mental Maladies?”

“Yes, that’s the one. Doctor Esquirol will come here to see you. He asked what other works I had, and I mentioned that I had treatises by Fritsch, Hitzig, and Hering as well as Winslow’s book. He said those ‘barbarians’ in the audience in St. Louis did not know these men.”

“He certainly sounds haughty enough to be a French doctor.” Adam was smiling though forgetting for the moment the pain in his head. “Do you think he might help?”

“They’re doing far more work in Europe on brain diseases and disorders than what is happening here. I hope so, but only he will be able to tell us.”

“When will he be here?”

“As soon as he can make the connections from Sacramento. I did promise him that you had a superior cook so he will expect something special from Hop Sing. I knew that we could count on him not to disappoint.”

There was some noise from the kitchen then but none of the kind that showed displeasure. Certainly the doctor’s words had sent the right message.

“He’ll expect special treatment as a guest too, but I know you have had difficult guests before so I trust your family can handle it.”

As expected, Doctor Jean Esquirol arrived with a load of luggage and attitude. He was disdainful of almost everything including the fine pastry shop in town. However he did like the scenery on the ride to the Ponderosa, and on arrival, he was charmed by Patsy who said he looked like Jesus.

“I think you probably can do miracles too. Papa says you probably can. He said French doctors are the best. I think that’s what he said.”

It wasn’t exactly the way that Adam had said it, but it was good that Patsy didn’t understand nor appreciate sarcasm because what she said endeared the doctor to her and to her father. It was a good opening for them.

*****

Chapter 7

Knowing better than to try to outdo French chefs and cooks at French cooking, Hop Sing instead made the best Chinese and American dishes that he knew how to make. The result was a feast that even the doctor with his refined European tastes appreciated. His room was quite nice with amenities he had not expected so far from town where he had thought he would be ‘roughing it’ as Americans called it, and he appreciated too the efforts that had been made to make him as comfortable as possible. The meal topped the list though and made him appreciate even more the graciousness of his hosts. He thanked Ben but had been staring at Adam for most of the meal. He stood after dessert and touched Adam on the right side of his forehead near the hairline.

“What is this scar, monsieur?”

Adam looked down a bit embarrassed to have the exam begin at the dining room table in front of the whole family it seemed. At least Patsy was with Hop Sing in the kitchen having asked to be excused to go there to watch him work, which she liked to do so she could chatter away with him.

“A bullet creased my head once.”

“A bullet!”

“It knocked me out briefly, but all I had afterwards was a terrible headache. Oh, and I was sick to my stomach for a few days and dizzy, but that passed with no ill effects.”

“Hm, and this scar here below that? It is less distinct but still visible.”

“Some deserters from the Army attacked me, and one hit me in the head with his chain or a manacle. I’m not sure which. It stunned me.”

Feeling then around Adam’s head, the doctor found another noticeable scar. “Yes, every scar tells a story. And this one?”

“Oh that one was from when a temporary sheriff hit me with the butt of his pistol. Knocked me out cold. I ended up on the doctor’s couch with that one. Tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about those couple of days except what I’ve been told about them.”

“Out cold must mean unconscious, no? Have you been hit in the head any other times when you were, as you say, stunned or out cold?”

Looking a bit embarrassed to have to say it, Adam looked at Hoss and then stated it as succinctly as he could. “I’ve been punched pretty hard a couple of times.”

Hoss hung his head knowing how his blows had probably affected his brother. Once he had hit him because of Helen Layton and then more furiously because of Regan Miller. Both times he had sent Adam flying across the room with the blows to his head. Ben intervened with another account before the doctor could query Adam more about those blows making Hoss feel any worse.

“He was knocked out in the Paiute War too and taken hostage.”

Joe added in more. “Yeah, and once when the two of us were on a posse, he got hit on the head and knocked silly for a while. Oh, and that time he tried to teach history and they didn’t want him to and sent those men to beat him up at the schoolhouse.”

“Knocked silly is also to be stunned?”

“Dadburnit, I think he done got hurt in the head up there on that Mountain of the Dead that time. And didn’t them fellers knock him on the head that time he helped the Kaufmanns too?”

“Thank you. I think I know enough. I am sure now that I may know what the problem may be. Monsieur Cartwright, I do not think that you have a tumor in your brain. I have learned your story from Doctor Paul and from you. Your symptoms came on so suddenly and with the coincidence of the accident, it is not probable. Your history of head injuries to me suggests another answer. You have been hit in the head so much, your brain is moving in there with each subsequent blow. When you fell, your brain moved forward violently and then back, and then perhaps again and maybe again. I believe that you have a large blood clot at the front of your skull pressing on your brain and another probably smaller one at the base of your skull pressing there too. The bleeding in your brain probably continued for days after the accident. You have compression of your brain as a result.”

Doctor Martin frowned. “Wouldn’t a blood clot dissolve?”

“In the brain, many do not. Many times, we have found, in autopsies, many blood clots in the brain especially the very large ones.”

Everyone was quiet until Adam asked the one question all probably wanted to know. “Can anything be done?”

“I should like to talk with you first and then with you, your wife, and Doctor Martin privately, I think, rather than having a group discussion about that. There is much to consider.”

As Adam walked to the downstairs guest room with the doctor, Joe sighed. “I guess he never was a Yankee granite head.”

It was a sobering thought to realize that a history of head injuries may have been what had led to this. In the bedroom, the doctor pushed the door closed and motioned for Adam to sit.

“I think that I can relieve the pressure and remove most if not all of the clot at the front of your brain. It is a process called trepanning. With the release of the blood that has collected there, all or most of your symptoms could be gone and you could live a very long life.”

“You called me in here to speak privately for a reason. I assume there are some major risks involved with this process.”

“Yes, even though the procedure usually is quite successful and there is no complication, if there is a complication, it is always serious. It could be brain fever, apoplexy, asthenia or debility, catalepsy or palsy, falling sickness, paraplegia, lethargy, or dementia, or any combination of those. I suppose I should explain what each of those entails.”

“You don’t need to explain them. I translated that book for Doctor Martin and learned quite a lot when I did. What you’re saying is that I could lose my mind and be crazy as a loon or have fits and palsies that make people think I am. Or I could keep my mind and end up in bed or in a wheelchair unable to do anything for myself. Those are the worst things that could happen?”

“No, monsieur, the worst that could happen is that you would die.”

“No, compared to those things, dying is not the worst thing. I’m already facing that. To me, those things are worse. What is more probable?”

“Ah, that I cannot say. Such procedures are uncommon so there is no evidence to support any conclusion I could say. What I can say is that I think you will die without some intervention. The pressure at the back of your brain is too much.”

“But you’re not planning to do anything there?”

“Not at this time. I think if we relieve the pressure at the front, it will help what is at the back and perhaps in time, that will help dissolve that clot at least partially. It is more risky to try this procedure there.”

“And what if you’re wrong?”

“We will know as soon as we try. If I drill the hole and get old blood, then I know that I am right and I continue until no more old blood comes out with the procedure. If I am wrong, there will only be new blood and there will be no relief of the pressure.”

“How do you do the procedure?”

“I will lift a small flap of skin. Then I will drill a small hole through your skull. Using special tools, I will then begin to suction out the old blood. Doctor Martin will assist me. I would like to have a team of surgeons to help, but there is no one here that I trust to be on such a team. Him, I trust.”

“All right, let’s get my wife and Doctor Martin in here and convince them. Then we’ll convince my family.”

“You agree so easily?”

“I’m facing my own grave. I don’t have a lot of time to debate things. This is the best hope, and in fact, the only hope I have.”

It took most of the rest of the evening to explain what was going to happen and what could happen as a result. When everyone was done asking questions, it was dark and Ben suggested that Paul spend the night. He agreed. Doctor Esquirol wasn’t quite done with them yet though. He made a plan once all were on board with the decision.

“We will do the surgery here. He will get sick going so far to the town, and then who knows what other illness is in the air there. It is clean here. We will bring what we need here and do the procedure here. Doctor Martin, we will need a microscope. Do you have a microscope?”

“I have a Plossl compound microscope, and recently Adam helped me get a Zeiss microscope but I haven’t figured out quite how to use it yet.”

“Ah, I love you. You are a hidden treasure in this wilderness.” Jean kissed Paul on both cheeks then embracing the doctor and embarrassing him. “You will bring those and anything else we will need. I know that I can trust you. This big man, a brother, no? He can go with you and help.”

Both Laine and Adam had the same worry at that point though and nearly said it at the same time. They didn’t want Patsy at the house or anywhere near it when the surgery occurred.

“Son, perhaps someone could take her to Joe’s cottage to stay. It would be like camping out, an adventure.”

“That’s a good idea, Pa, but who will go with her?” Adam looked to his wife. “Laine, it should be you. She’ll need you there to reassure her.”

“No, I should be with you.”

“I’m going to be sedated during and after the procedure. I won’t know whether you’re here or not. Patsy will be well aware though that she’s alone if both of us are absent. The cottage isn’t far.”

“I’ll want to see you before you’re sedated.”

“I’m sure that can be worked out.”

With that, it was settled. Hoss and Joe would take turns bringing news to the cottage and making sure that Laine and Patsy were fine and had what they needed. It would take the next day to get everything from town and bring it to the house and to set up the downstairs guest room for Adam and set up an area to be used as a surgery. The actual procedure was to be done the day after that. There was about thirty-six hours for everyone to say what they had to say to Adam before the procedure. That night, every member of his family except Patsy was thinking about that instead of sleeping soundly.

( The procedure the doctor discussed with Adam was used during the American Civil War. Sometimes it was successful and sometimes not.  When it was not, the patient usually died of infection of the brain or of sepsis.)

*****

Chapter 8

For nearly two months, Adam Cartwright had been facing his own mortality. He had been thinking of what to do and how to do it to prepare for the inevitable end of his life. There were things he thought he needed to do for Laine and Patsy to better prepare them for their life after he was gone. There were things to say to his father and brothers. There were things to write especially messages that he wanted others to have if the surgery was not successful. Now he had one day and couldn’t do nearly the things he wanted to do. He began to think about what he could do in that time because he might not be around after that procedure or he might be around and unable to do any of those things he wanted so much to do. He lay awake staring at the shifting shadows on the ceiling cast by the moonlight filtering through the branches of the tree outside the window.

“Are you awake?”

The question from Laine wasn’t unexpected. She had been shifting around so much that her sleep had to have been the most restless ever or she was awake and unable to find a comfortable position in which to fall asleep because she too had so many things on her mind. Saying nothing at first, Adam rolled on his side to face her.

“I think we should tell Patsy that I am going to have an operation.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s going to know that there’s something happening, and we would have to lie to her otherwise. She would likely know it. We’re going to be tense, and she’ll notice that too. She will worry, and I don’t mean to be too sure of myself here, but you will be likely upset while the procedure is being done, and she will notice that too.”

“But then she will be so worried and upset while we wait for word.”

“And you can be honest with her and say you are doing things to take your minds from it and pass the time. She is resilient. She’ll adapt to that better than she will to knowing you are worried but won’t tell her what’s wrong. She has quite an imagination. She may think of things worse than what is actually happening.”

“I suppose you’re right. She’s seen you fall or nearly fall, and have trouble walking as well as with your eyes. We can tell her the doctor is going to try to fix that, but that it’s dangerous and something could go wrong and make things worse instead of better.”

“That’s it. That’s it exactly. Tell her but not in detail but enough so she understands the tension and why there are changes taking place here as well as why you’re going to the cottage.”

“I’m scared.”

Wrapping his arms around his wife, Adam didn’t know how much to admit and finally decided the whole truth was best. “So am I. I love you so much, and you and Patsy are in my heart. I can’t bear the thought of leaving you, and yet, I have that fear. Things simply haven’t worked out well for me sometimes, and they’ve been so good now for so many years, I guess I was waiting for something bad to happen. It seemed like it was hanging there and then it came crashing down.”

“Maybe we’re good luck to you, and it will hold for this.”

“I hope that’s true. There’s so much I want for us yet.”

“The doctor seems very sure about all of this.”

“He is.” But Adam knew the doctor could be confident in his diagnosis and about the procedure because all the risks belonged to Adam.

With some things resolved, they were able to finally fall asleep. In the morning, they had that talk with Patsy who had some questions, but they kept the answers simple. She didn’t need to know the details, and after a short time, she seemed satisfied.

“I know the doctor will fix you up right proper, Papa.”

“Fix me up right proper? Patsy, you have been spending a lot of time with Hoss, haven’t you?”

Patsy nodded her head enthusiastically, and when Adam looked at Laine, he had to smile. “She’s right. The doctor has to fix me up right proper or our daughter will soon be talking like a cowhand.”

In her best Hoss imitation, Laine replied. “Dadburnit, Adam, ah think yur plumb right ’bout that.”

Patsy laughed too. “Mama sounds just like Uncle Hoss.”

“Can you talk like your Uncle Hoss too?”

“Sure Papa. Listen. Dagnabit, let’s go get us some of that there breakfast. How was that?”

At the breakfast table, that continued with the three of them saying dadburnit and dagnabit several times and then breaking into laughter. It was infectious causing Joe and Ben to join in too. Hoss was smiling but had a question.

“Why is talkin’ like me funny, anyways?”

Adam looked at Hoss and realized he might be hurt by what was going on so he had to explain. “Our daughter has started talking like you. It sounded funny to hear your words coming from such a little one and a girl too. We all started talking like you and it sort of just caught on and made us start being silly. We meant no harm by it.”

Pausing for a moment to absorb what Adam had said, Hoss grinned. “Don’t that cap all. Dadburnit, ya coulda jist said that first. Now I feel like I’m the biggest toad in the puddle. I kin do what yur doin’ but I kin do it a whole lot better. Buck up ’cause I’m the boss of this here way of speakin’ and by hook or by crook, I kin teach ya a whole caboodle of new words ifn you was a mind ta learnin’ some.”

Adam threw back his head and laughed as Hoss had intended. The whole table erupted in laughter for the first time in weeks. Their guest had not yet shown or he would likely have been completely amazed at the conversation.

Later that morning, Doctor Martin and Hoss went to town with the large buckboard and returned in the afternoon with a surgical table, boxes of other items including the valuable microscopes, and reflecting screens for lamps to provide better light for the doctors to work. The center of the great room had been cleared and the table was placed there. The rest would be put in place the next morning. There was nothing left to do then except to wait. Joe took Laine and Patsy to the cottage in the late afternoon after a tearful goodbye with Adam. After that, he soaked in a bath the doctor had ordered him to take telling him to shave and to wash his hair thoroughly. Adam had been allowed only very light food and for dinner was going to get only broth and noodles. Doctor Esquirol told Adam he was going to have to use a sleeping powder that night because the doctor wanted to be sure he was well rested and doubted he would sleep much otherwise. Adam wanted to argue but couldn’t.

During the day, Adam thanked his father and brothers for what they had done for him, and they knew it was for more than they had done on that day. They offered their own quiet words of encouragement to him. There were no lengthy exchanges or philosophical musings. A kind word, a touch on the arm, or a hand on the shoulder were the preferred methods of communication and there were a lot of those. Ben did ask Adam how he was feeling about everything that was happening and so suddenly.

“At this point, I guess I’m kind of numb. For the last few months, I’ve tried not to be angry about things because there was no point to it and it would only upset my family. I tried to make do as best I could. I tried to accept what I thought was inevitable. Now, maybe it isn’t, but I’m afraid to hope. I’m afraid I’ll wake up and see the doctor looking at me like all the other doctors have with that same sad look that says they can’t do anything for me and they feel like a failure because of it. I know it’s wrong to feel that way. I know I should be hoping for the best, and I should be praying for a good outcome, but it’s hard to put faith in the unknown.”

“I understand. Know that we will all be praying for you though. He’s got to hear them because there’s a lot of praying going on.”

They were interrupted by Hoss walking by with Adam’s robe, nightshirts, shaving kit and anything else Adam might need for the next couple of weeks. Adam was going to be using the downstairs guest bedroom after the surgery because the doctor had suggested that so his things were being moved there. That at least was a hopeful sign because the doctors anticipated he would be recuperating there where he could rest because it was quiet and convenient for his care.

“Well, we ain’t getting’ this room ready for nothin. You’re gonna be in here gettin’ better after the doc gets done cleaning out yer head, ya hear.”

Agreeing with his father and Hoss that he would try to hope for the best, Adam observed all the preparations and went to the guest bedroom to sleep after his light dinner and after ingesting the sleeping powder. The others sat quietly by the fireplace and talked for only a short time before all of them went to bed as well knowing the next day was going to be taxing. In the morning, Ben, Hoss, and Joe set up the items for the surgery as Doctor Martin directed. After a light breakfast, the dining table was cleared and the microscopes were set up there. Adam was sitting in his blue chair dressed in a nightshirt and robe. When Doctor Esquirol said it was time, Hoss helped him to the table where Adam shed the robe and laid on the table. The two doctors then told the family they had to leave. Adam was anesthetized and Doctor Esquirol cut a small flap of skin in Adam’s scalp and took out the trepanning drill. This part was actually the trickiest stage of the procedure. He had to remove the button sized section of skull but could go no deeper without risk of damage that could be debilitating or deadly. Paul Martin realized he had been holding his breath when that part was done and Doctor Esquirol removed the small piece of bone from the drill and set it aside. Then he began the process of removing what he believed to be a large hematoma. He took a sample and handed some to Doctor Martin and asked him to look at it under the microscope. Doctor Martin did so as Doctor Esquirol waited for the report.

“It’s blood, old blood and nothing else.”

“Very good. Now we continue. I will give you samples, and you will give me good news. I hope that is how this will go.”

It did continue that way for nearly twenty minutes until Doctor Esquirol thought that he had most of the hematoma and didn’t want to risk any contact with brain tissue or to have the brain open to infection any longer. He told Doctor Martin he was done and would seal the wound. He replaced the button of bone and stitched the small flap of skin back in place. Then he put a thick pad over the area and wrapped a bandage around Adam’s head to hold it in place.

“Now we wait. This is the hard part. The surgery only seems like the hard part, but this is it. We wait to see what happens next. Sometimes, I think I have done things successfully and the patient dies. Other times they live. I have never been able to determine why one is different than the other.”

“When do we tell the family?”

“When he wakes.” And then more ominously, he added more. “If he does. After that, rest and quiet will be the prescription, and then we wait once more. In a few days, we will know. Any patient who is well after two to three days, usually walks away cured.”

It didn’t take much longer for Adam to begin stirring. He had a doctor on each side of him when he awoke and opened his eyes. Still a bit groggy, he looked from one to the other. Doctor Esquirol asked him how he felt.

“My head is sore here.” Adam raised his hand to where the bandage covered the spot where the hole had been drilled. He smiled however. “But I can see you clearly and there’s only one of each of you. And the headache is gone.”

Doctor Esquirol looked over to Doctor Martin. “You can tell the family now, but remind them that quiet is important for the next two days at least.”

Soon Adam was surrounded by five smiling men. He had a request. “Would someone please go get my wife and my girl?”

Joe was heading out the door before Adam finished asking. He already had the carriage hitched up and ready to go.

*****

Chapter 9

At the cottage, Laine was almost ready to start hiking back to the main house. It was only a few miles. When she heard a carriage approaching, she told Patsy to pack up her things, and she almost ran outside to hear what the news was before Patsy could hear. Joe’s smile though was all she needed to see. She burst into tears and Joe had to get out of the carriage and comfort her while giving her the news.

“He’s awake and smiling. The headache is gone and he can see just fine.”

“Oh, my God, Joe, I was so worried when no one came for so long.”

“I drove over here within a couple of minutes of them saying he was good. I had the carriage ready to go. Now, the docs say he can have visitors, and he asked for the two of you.”

“Patsy’s getting her things and we’ll go.”

“She should leave her things. Doctor Esquirol said Adam needs rest and quiet for a few days. We talked it over and thought Patsy could stay here. I’ll stay with her and Hoss will help out. We’ll take her over to visit with Adam, but she can be here to have fun and make noise like a little girl should.”

Laine kissed Joe on the cheek and called Patsy to come and not worry about her things. That was fine with the little girl who ran to the carriage and was hoisted up to the seat by Joe. It didn’t take long to get them to the house where Laine had a short talk with Patsy telling her that her father needed her to be very quiet.

“He’s had something called surgery on his head. The doctors don’t want noise or anything to upset him until he has a chance to get better. He’ll be laying down. You need to speak softly and ask before you hug or do anything else. All right?”

“Papa’s not going to die, is he?”

“No, but sometimes doctors have to do things to help you get better. Now let’s go see your papa.”

Inside, Adam was asleep on the surgical table with Doctor Martin at his side. As long as he was on that table, someone would be with him. When Paul saw Laine and Patsy, he gently moved Adam’s shoulder and called his name to wake him. Blinking his eyes, Adam looked up at the doctor wondering why he had been awakened, and Paul inclined his head toward Laine and Patsy. When they got close to the table, Adam smiled at Laine who leaned down to kiss him softly.

“Hi, there, cowboy. I am so overjoyed to see you smiling. Our daughter would like to greet you as well.”

Hoss came over then to lift Patsy up so she could see her father better and he could see her. She looked a bit worried at the bandage that was around her father’s head. Adam reached up to touch it.

“It’s where the doctor took the bad stuff out of my head. I can see you clearly now. I’ll be able to read to you again, sweetie.”

Patsy whispered to him so softly, he almost couldn’t hear her. “Doesn’t your head hurt?”

“You can talk to me. Talk softly like this though, and no, my head doesn’t hardly hurt at all. The headaches are gone. The little hole hurts a little bit, but that will go away.”

“You have a hole in your head?”

“I did. They needed to do that to get the bad stuff out. Now it will heal, and the doctor said there will be a little bump there, and that’s all.”

“Can I touch the bump?”

“When it heals, you can. Right now, it is a little bit sore.”

“All right. And Papa, I’m glad the doctor got the bad stuff out.”

Hoss took Patsy to the kitchen then for a treat from Hop Sing and so he and Joe could tell her the special plans they had for the few days her father was going to be recuperating. At least Hoss prayed that was what it was going to be. Hoss guessed that Adam and the doctors would be giving the rest of the news to Laine about that time, and there was no need for Patsy to hear it. Joe didn’t know either, but Hoss could tell him later.

“What do you mean, we’re about two-thirds of the way there?”

“The surgery was successful and the patient woke with no ill effects and the symptoms of the compression are gone.”

“So, what is it that you aren’t telling me?”

Ben thought perhaps it would be best if he said the rest. He put his arm around Laine and reminded her to remain as calm and quiet as she could for Adam’s benefit. “With any surgery as with any wound, there is always the risk of infection. There is no way to know if that will happen. Both doctors saw no evidence that there was any sign of infection anywhere. There was no pus nor any tissue showing such signs, but there is no guarantee. The next day or two are the test. If Adam continues to improve and there is no fever or recurrence of symptoms, then there is no infection.”

“Yes, he needs rest and quiet now to give his body the best chance to heal itself. It is all up to him now.”

Ben had an addendum. “And the Lord. We can pray for his benevolence.”

“In an hour or so, when Adam feels he is ready, we will move him to the bed to rest.”

“I think I’m ready now.”

“Then as soon as your large brother is here to help, he and your father can help you walk there. You may not need the assistance, but I want them there if you do.” Looking at Laine, Doctor Esquirol had another request. “Perhaps you could get the bed ready. For now, only one pillow for his head. As he feels better, we can add more. Have a bucket or basin ready too. After the anesthesia and this procedure, that is sometimes necessary when a patient is first upright.”

Things went well, and Adam managed a small dinner that evening. He fell asleep and slept the night through but was probably the only one who did. Laine was in his room in a chair all night. The doctors checked in periodically as did Ben who stayed downstairs in his red leather chair not wanting to be too far from his son at this point. At dawn, Doctor Esquirol was downstairs and dressed for the day, which was in itself a small miracle. He waited anxiously with the others for Adam to awake. They had coffee but each declined Hop Sing’s offer of breakfast postponing it not wanting anything in stomachs beset with butterflies. It must have been the smell of that food though that slowly dragged Adam from his peaceful slumber. He began to stir and then his eyelids fluttered a bit before he opened his eyes slowly only to see five pairs of eyes watching him wake. It was rather a shock and not something he had expected.

“Is something wrong?”

The irony of that was not lost on them and caused a few smiles. Doctor Esquirol spoke for them.

“No, we are all so anxious to know how you are feeling.”

“I can tell you that little spot is certainly quite sore. It feels just like someone took a drill to my head. Now though when someone tells me I must have a hole in my head, I can tell them that yes, in fact, I do, and it was put there by a fine French doctor.”

Doctor Esquirol grinned and looked at the others. Only Doctor Martin smiled back. The others did not know why they were smiling so Doctor Martin explained. “If there was infection, there would be fluid such as pus which would likely already be causing pain. For Adam to talk like Adam like that, he isn’t distracted by any pain. His symptoms have not returned nor does he have any new symptoms. It appears that there is no infection at all.”

Seeing that his family members weren’t completely convinced yet, Adam couldn’t resist. “Dadburnit, ain’t I jist the biggest toad in the puddle? Dadblamed docs punched a hole in ma head, an’ don’t it jist beat all, it’s fixin’ to make me feel as good as a bear what’s found five honey jars.”

Despite the doctor’s admonition that Adam needed quiet, they all broke into laughter except Doctor Esquirol who was mystified at his patient’s sudden loss of ability to speak coherently. Doctor Martin told him it was play-acting. He smiled then but still had a frown, although everyone else knew then that Adam was going to be fine. Hoss planned to take that news to Joe as soon as he could. Doctor Esquirol got an explanation of Adam’s strange behavior from Ben while they sat at breakfast.

With apparently no worries about Adam, Doctor Esquirol departed to continue his trip home with some fond memories of America. He did say that there was still a concern that there could be bleeding or that pus could accumulate because of an infection, but that he didn’t think either was likely. Doctor Martin went home with a wagonload of his equipment and newfound knowledge of how to treat patients with head injuries. Adam had a good day without headaches and without the vision problems that had plagued him. However by the next day, Adam had no appetite for food and didn’t want to talk or even have anyone visit with him. He was lethargic and groggy. Laine and Ben were especially worried and had Joe ride to town to summon Doctor Martin. When he arrived, he was worried too. The next week was terribly difficult for all of them.

*****

Chapter 10  — eighteen years later

The man rode tall in the saddle on his chestnut horse with an ease that Ben Cartwright envied as he watched him. He wished he could ride like that. Laine came up beside him with Patsy walking beside her. Hoss and Joe were leaning on the pasture fence next to their father. When the man drew near, his hazel eyes sparkled with the joy of life. He grinned and that dimple showed prominently.

“Thank you for the horse. He is perfect. I can’t imagine a better birthday present than getting a horse sired by Sport.”

“Well, it was Sport II actually. And we was wondrin’ ifn ya wanted to name this one Sport too.”

“Oh, I do. I want to call him that. I want to ride over to Mary Lynn’s if you don’t mind and show her my new horse.”

“Go on, now, Adam, but be back by dinner.”

“All right, Mama, and thank you.” He wheeled the horse expertly and rode off to the southeast.

“He’s going by Adam now and not AC?”

“Yes, Joe, he said he was proud to have his father’s name and wanted to use it if it wouldn’t bother anyone too much. I said I thought that by now, everyone would be fine with that. He’s eighteen years old. It’s time he had a man’s name and not a nickname if that’s what he wants.”

“He looks so much like his father. Laine, I am so happy that my son left that gift for us before he died.” Ben paused because even so many years later, it was hard to say that. He had never gotten over having to bury a son. He wrapped an arm around Patsy’s shoulders then too. She was wide with child. “And he gave us this treasure too. I am so blessed.”

“I need to get back to the house though if someone would help me back up into the carriage. I seem to be able to get down so much better than I can get up into it.”

Soon Patsy was headed back to the house Adam had designed for Laine. Laine had lived there with her children until Patsy had married. Then Laine and Adam had moved back to the main house giving her house to Patsy and her husband. Adam was going to college in California in the fall so Laine didn’t need a big house all to herself. Ben could use someone there to help him too so it worked out for all of them.

“My Adam didn’t want to leave me with child. He was afraid to have a child who wouldn’t have a father, but I told him that this was such a loving family that it wouldn’t matter. At the time, I assumed he would be around. I never could accept that he would be gone until he was.”

“And yet, he isn’t really gone. He’s here in so many ways yet.”

*****

Snow Angels

All Laine had left were memories of Adam. They were the only comfort she had. Laine remembered that night of the snow angels quite well and how it had happened in their little rented home in Denver. They had gone there after their marriage and a short trip to San Francisco before Adam had to go to Denver to complete an assignment there. It was the first of three such assignments before they settled in San Francisco for three years until his illness had sent them back to the Ponderosa. They had learned to communicate better than they did in those days. That argument had been silly really, but then all of their arguments were silly when you looked at them afterwards especially in those first months of their marriage. It seemed they were always the result of frustration and worry, and then there would be some complaint which set off the argument. A lot alike in many ways, they would let problems, big and small, gnaw at them until they were tense and on edge. Then they would argue about something small and get all the anger out which was always followed by some sweet time of making up for all the negative remarks and behavior. That was the best part of having those fights. The release of the tension and the opportunity to talk through the issues were beneficial, but there was nothing like the feeling of being needed and wanted that making up brought about. That one night though she had taken it a step further when they argued because she had gotten so furious she told him to get out. He had stomped off to do chores as he was wont to do when words failed them, and in a fit of pique, she had locked the door behind him after he left.

There was snow blanketing everything, and he had gone to see to the animals in the stable to be sure they were all right. He knew she would have been most worried about her chickens for she needed eggs to do the baking for Christmas, and he had taken care of them first. She knew he would because he would never take his anger out on the animals in his care. But that had been an hour, and she was expecting him to be back with a basket of eggs and a willingness to talk. Unlocking the door, she found no sign of him but only swirling snow right up to the door not even seeing the tracks he must have made when he left. So she had readied herself for bed, but he still had not returned to the house even after another hour.

With the snow and the cold, he had tried the door once and finding it locked, he had been angry and gone back to the stable to stew a bit, but then came up with a different plan for his return. She didn’t know that and worried about where he had gone. It was night but not as dark as some nights because there was a full moon shining through the breaking clouds reflecting from all the new fallen snow. She looked out and the stable doors were closed. Worried and then a bit scared, she was frightened that he might have taken a horse and ridden to a neighbor’s house. It wasn’t more than a mile, but in this snow, the trip was treacherous, and she would have no way of knowing if he had gotten there safely. They would not have expected him either. As far as she knew, he could be out there in that heavy snow hurt and unable to get help, and she blamed herself. She wondered but then logically concluded that an intelligent and proud man like her husband would never do something stupid like that. Finally the snowfall had diminished to a few shimmering flakes floating down through the moonlight as the clouds broke apart.

As she stared out the window at the stable, she thought she heard her name being called. She went to the door again, but he wasn’t there. She did notice that the wind had stopped blowing too. She looked out and saw a snow angel at the foot of the porch steps. Hearing her name again, she rushed to the kitchen, and looking out the window, she saw another snow angel outside the kitchen window. Again and again, she was called to the windows of their little home and saw snow angels outside each one. He had made a ring of them around their home. She opened the front door and waited for him. He trudged up the front porch steps looking like some kind of snow monster as his coat, pants, and hat were covered in snow. He stepped through the door and closed it, but then grabbed her in a fierce hug.

“Adam, you’re getting my nightgown all wet. Let’s get you out of those wet things.”

Quickly, Adam dropped his wet coat, his pants after pulling off his boots, and his hat on a pile. Then he peeled off his shirt that was soaked with perspiration.

“I’m sorry I don’t help you more around the house, and that I don’t talk when I get home sometimes. I’ll try to be more helpful, but know too that I worry about my job and sometimes I need to think about things before I can talk about them. But right now, I think I ought to help you out of that wet nightgown before you catch cold.”

“I’ll be fine. We need to get you warmed up. You’re cold.”

“Only on the surface, sweetheart. Inside there’s a fire burning hot. I see you’ve got a nice hot fire in the fireplace too. Let’s lie down on the rug there so you can warm me up.”

“Let me get some blankets and a quilt. You can stand by the fire and warm up as much as you can until I get back.”

Soon she was back with an armload of bedding. She would have suggested they both crawl into their bed, but that quick trip to the bedroom let her know that room was far cooler than this one. She had pulled a dry nightgown on and grabbed two blankets and the big thick quilt from their bed as well as two pillows. She could barely see to carry all of that so Adam rushed to help her spreading the blankets on the rug for more cushioning and then lying down and pulling the quilt over himself as he waited for her to join him there. Because Adam’s hands were too cold to touch her, she lay beside him and wrapped her arms around him as well as she could. Even that contact made her shiver so he told her to turn on her side as he lay behind her with the fire to his back. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms to restore more circulation in both his hands and his arms. After a short time, he was feeling much better.

“I’m warm now. How about you?”

“Getting very warm, thank you. I like this. It’s very romantic.” She turned toward him then and touched his cheek with her hand caressing him softly.

“Did you like your snow angels?”

“Very much especially the one that walked in the house tonight.”

“The thoughts I’m having right now are not very angelic.”

“Oh, that’s quite all right. I’m having the same kind of thoughts.”

“Don’t lock me out again.”

“Never. I learned my lesson tonight. I think we need to find a better way to communicate other than with anger. We need to talk when things are bothering us. We’ve only been married a few months. We can’t keep going like this.”

“I agree. We should probably promise to talk when things are bothering us and we can remind each other of that promise when it’s clear that we’re holding back.”

“Agreed. Now, about those kinds of thoughts, I never hold back when I tell you that I love you. I would like to show you how much right now.”

“That would be heavenly.”

“Yes, my angel, it would be.”

And they had shared a laugh before they kissed and showed their love to each other. That had been the night she told him she was sure she was with child. It had been almost the three months mark, and she was sure that they were going to have a baby. He had been overjoyed, and with the snow making travel treacherous the next day, he had stayed home and spent time with her talking and planning their future. They had agreed that if they couldn’t agree, they would set priorities and each would give in on those things that were not priorities until they had a compromise. It had worked very well for them in the five years of their marriage.

Now, she had a new baby on the way and a future wide open with possibilities but had a father-in-law intent on dictating how things would go. Adam was gone, lost to her after the procedure to remove the blood clots in his brain, which had threatened his life only a few months earlier. He had quit his job with Wells Fargo and sold their home in San Francisco. They had been living with his father on the Ponderosa. It had been devastating to all of them when infection had taken his life after the procedure had seemed to be successful. There was nothing that anyone could do to help him. He died a week after the procedure and suffered terribly until that happened. It took months before the family started to function normally again. Ben of course thought it would be fine for Laine and Patsy to continue to live on the Ponderosa as they had been because he doted on his granddaughter who adored him as well. However, with another child on the way that Ben didn’t know about yet, Laine wasn’t sure what she should do.

Laine was in an entirely different situation, and she didn’t know how to respond. Ben wasn’t her husband even though he could be certainly as exasperating as one. They argued and they tried to be civil to one another, but Ben was used to getting his way in his house and certainly not used to letting a woman have a say in matters of importance. Patsy was going to go to school soon. Laine wanted to set up a small school on the Ponderosa and teach the children herself. All she needed was that the house that Adam had designed be built. There were enough children that she could do it too. It would be safer and more convenient for the children who would not have to spend hours traveling each day, and it would be more fulfilling for her to have something to do. She hoped to spend her time with the children, and wanted her own home even if it was close to the main house. Ben however was not in favor of the idea at all, and now she knew from whom Adam had gotten that stubbornness. The rest of the family was staying out of this one willing to accept either alternative. Adam had told Laine once that the person to ask for help in such a situation was Hoss so she sought him out. They talked and he asked how she and Adam had settled their differences because he knew his brother’s temper and stubbornness matched their father’s. Laine told him the story of the snow angels leaving out the more intimate parts of course. He laughed and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“Gal, you gotta tell Pa that one. He’ll like hearing it ’cause it’s about Adam, but it’s got a message in there that he needs to hear too. Tonight, we’re all having dinner together. When we’re all sitting quiet like after dinner feeling all full and warm and such, you tell that story. I think that could make all the difference in how things go from here on out.”

That night at dinner, Laine tried to fortify herself with thoughts of Adam. It was something she did when she was troubled which was often. It had started that first week when he was so terribly ill with the infection in his brain. Doctor Martin had removed the bandage on his head to find the small wound slightly reddish. He had opened the stitches and pulled back the flap of skin to find that Adam found the pain of what he was doing to be excruciating. Her next virtual conversation with Adam was going to be much easier if Ben agreed with her ideas after she told him the story as Adam had told her. It worked too. After they talked and Ben understood better what was going on, she dropped the hint too that she was carrying a child. The look on Ben’s face was priceless. She wanted Adam’s son to live in the house his father designed and to grow up with his father’s things there hearing stories of his father’s life. If Ben wanted to be a positive part of that, he had to know he needed to work with her and not against her. She saw the understanding develop as he looked at her.

“Let’s take a look at those plans tomorrow. With Hoss and Joe helping, I’m sure we can find a way to make this work.”

It had too. And Adam had grown up proud of his father whom he had never met but surrounded by those who had. They taught him all those things his father would have if he could.

***The End***

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