Toni and Adam stories (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Nine stories are here.  A Massage — Ben works with an old friend to help him buy a ranch in the Sierras. The old friend brings his daughter along and that leads to all sorts of turmoil among the brothers.  To Love, Honor, and Annoy — There’s a wedding to plan, but a jealous woman and man have a plan to disrupt those plans in a most final way.   Discord and Possibilities — Adam and Toni get good news but men from the past show up to cause trouble. Two Pair —  The Cartwright family is growing in several ways, but a mystery will develop too. Storms — With the twins’ birth and Hoss’ wedding, things were looking good, but trouble hits hard as Adam and Toni have to weather some major trouble. Christmas — Hoss is introduced to childcare via babysitting.  To Have and To Hold — Toni faces a medical crisis and Adam has to deal with the fear of what that could mean. In the aftermath, both have to deal with the emotional toll. Fire In the Spring — There’s trouble with the Paiute and Ben and Adam end up in the middle of it. Lad, a Ponderosa Dog — A fun story as Toni doesn’t believe Adam’s stories about their dog, but she should have.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  100,028


A Massage

chapter 1

Adam walked with a decided limp into the big ranch house on the Ponderosa. He was exhausted and was not at all happy when he saw one of their houseguests sitting in his favorite blue chair by the fireplace. He was hungry too and the last thing he wanted to do was to be forced to entertain anyone especially a guest he had hardly even met. Somehow his brothers had maneuvered him into doing a number of unpleasant and time consuming tasks for the last four days. And to top it all off, his loyal and trusted mount had decided that today was a good day to bolt and run at the sight of a rabbit – a rabbit! Of course if he had been more alert he would have secured the reins but all he had wanted to do was finish the job and get home. Instead he had spent the last two hours walking and he hated walking.

“Adam it is good to see you. We have hardly had a chance to talk with all the work you have to do. It seems that you work harder than anyone else around here.”

“Hello Antoinette. Well it would seem that way. But if you don’t mind, I’m just going to go in the kitchen and get something to eat. Then maybe I’ll take a long bath to soak some of the grime off of me.”

As Adam turned to go to the kitchen, he was startled by her next remark, “Hop Sing isn’t here but I told him I was capable of managing dinner for the family. He and I have been working together for the last four days and sharing recipes. I really did not have any desire to sit in on the business meetings with my father and your father. Instead there is some stew in the oven and some bread that is freshly baked. I’ll get it for you if you just want to have a seat at the table. And you can call me Toni.”

He would have complained or objected if he had the strength but actually he was too tired to even think of a quick rejoinder or even one of his classic sarcastic responses to that. Instead he just sat at the table and rested his head on his arms. The next thing he felt startled him but in a soft voice, she just said “Relax. I have learned over many years how to massage my father’s neck and shoulders when he is this exhausted and it will help relax you.” Within a few minutes, Adam was not aware of anything as he slipped into a much needed nap.

About an hour later, Hoss and Joe returned home from an excursion to the Devlin ranch which had supposedly been about business but had mostly been about enjoying a day with friends. Toni shushed them when they entered the house after putting their horses in the stable. She pointed to Adam asleep at the table, and gestured for them to step back on the porch.

“That man is exhausted. I have seen how you have schemed to get him to do the dirty jobs this week and it has taken a toll on him. You have been so proud of yourself in your cleverness that you haven’t seen the price he is paying. Men that tired might get sick or they have accidents and get hurt. And people who get sick or hurt, sometimes die. How would you feel then?”

Both Hoss and Joe were taken aback by her directness and with the tongue lashing she had given them. She seemed more like a school teacher or the minister’s wife than a guest in their home.

“We just gave him some of what he gives us. He’s always got some excuse about the ledgers or a meeting in town to get out of the dirty jobs. And what business is it of yours anyway?”

“Now Joe simmer down. She’s just trying to do the right thing here. But Joe’s right about him always using those ledgers as an excuse.”

“Well in the time I have been here, I see him work hard all day and then do the ledgers in the evening while the two of you are playing checkers or having a relaxing time in front of the fire. Last night he was still working when the two of you went to bed. It just doesn’t seem fair and right and I had to say something especially after I saw the state he was in when he got home today.”

“There’s only one more day to the work week and I’m sure he will be fine Miss Toni.”

“I said my mind. Now I have water heating for his bath. I am going to wake him. Dinner in an hour. Our fathers should be home by then.” With a pivot, she marched back into the house.

“Boy Hoss, that is one unattractive woman. Besides being so plain to look at, she is darn pushy and nosy. I will certainly be glad when this visit is over. She took the fun right out of the tricks we’ve been playing on Adam.”

“I know Joe, but maybe we done enough. Adam did look pretty tired this morning at breakfast and he hardly said a word.”

“Oh heck he always get ornery when he has to work.”

Dinner was delicious, but Adam had all that he could do to eat what was on his plate. After dinner, he was hoping to head to his room but his father ruined those plans when he suggested an after dinner drink in the great room. As he poured brandy for each of them, Ben was wondering how friend’s daughter had been occupying her days while he and her father were in town.

“Ben, I must tell you that Hop Sing is a most delightful companion. He and I have been talking and exchanging recipes all week. Today he trusted me to prepare dinner. I so enjoyed having something useful to do.”

“Well perhaps tomorrow Adam will have time to give you a tour of the Ponderosa. There certainly are a lot more interesting sights here than just Hop Sing’s kitchen, although Hoss might disagree with that statement.”

“That’s sounds like a great idea Pa. I moved that fence line in the lower south pasture today because you said Joe had to go to the Devlin ranch with Hoss, so tomorrow he said he would be able to fix the roof on the northwest line shack for me.”

“Uh Pa, I thought you told me just before dinner that you needed me to go into town to finish up those army contracts for the horses?” The last piece of the plan was now in place.

“That’s true Joseph. I’m sorry Adam but those contracts have to be finished by the end of the business day tomorrow.”

Adam just dropped his forehead against his fists as his elbows rested on his knees. They had done it again and he was too tired to fight them. Toni stared pointedly at Joe and Hoss and both began to squirm a little under the intense scrutiny of those brown eyes. Both Ben and Toni’s father Anthony knew something was going on but had no idea what it was.

“Uh Pa, if I get up early and head to town, I can get those contracts finished up with Hiram and be back here by lunchtime. If Hoss is available, we could head out to the line shack to fix that roof. If it gets too late, we could spend the night there and head back here on Saturday morning.”

“Joseph that is an excellent plan. Thank you. Well then it is all settled. Toni, did Hop Sing mention when he would return?”

“He thought by tonight sometime or very early in the morning. His number one cousin’s wife is having a baby.” That brought smiles to all their faces. Adam got up from his chair and bid them all good night, and slowly went up the stairs. Toni gave her best smile to Hoss and Joe. Hoss started to think she wasn’t so unattractive, but Joe was just irritated that she had made him give up the last of his plan. Oh well, he thought, there was always next week.

Toni and Adam got a late start the next day. Adam had slept longer than usual and no one thought it was a good idea to wake him. As they congratulated Hop Sing on his new cousin and packed a picnic basket, they began to talk. They found they had a lot of interests in common in the theatre, in music, and in classical literature as well as poetry. Toni said she would prefer a horse to a buggy ride, so they had taken the food out of the basket and transferred it to saddlebags. Toni was an excellent rider and looked very relaxed in her dark blue split skirt and white blouse. That outfit showed off a splendid figure. Adam began to wonder why she was still unattached at age twenty-six, an age at which a lot of western women already had not only a husband but several children. They rode out and took in a lot of the beauty of the Ponderosa’s vistas before arriving on the rim above the lake. The view was breathtaking.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m sorry, I was just a bit distracted. I do want to thank you for that massage yesterday. I don’t remember when I felt more relaxed, and I am sorry I fell asleep right in the middle of it.”

“Well actually I wanted you to fall asleep. I know you needed food, well and a bath too, but you needed to rest most of all. I could see it in every move you made.”

“You are a most observant lady. The more I think about it, the more I realize that you maneuvered Joe and Hoss rather effortlessly as well.”

“Well there was more effort than you know about.” Toni laughed and told him what had happened among the three of them the day before on the porch. “I have sisters who used to play games like that, and it irritated me to see them conspiring against you and being successful. And I have never been one to hold back my opinion. My father says that is why I am still unmarried. There doesn’t seem to be a man out there willing to be with me and my mouth.”

“Oh I don’t know, your mouth looks pretty nice to me.” With that Adam bent his head and brushed his lips over hers. Toni had never been kissed, and wasn’t sure how to react but she did know that she liked this dark haired cowboy’s kisses and didn’t want him to stop. Adam pulled back unsure if her response was positive or negative. Toni looked at him and smiled.

“I would like you to do that again if you have the time.” And he did, he had lots of time today, but he knew now that she was naïve to being with a man and that he had to take it slowly.

“Well if you would like to walk with me to the lake, I am sure there is another spot or two where we could kiss.” He wrapped his arm about her waist and turned her toward the lake. “I hope you and your father can extend your visit. There is so much more to see.” Toni smiled and wrapped her arm around his waist, and they walked along the shoreline.

*****

Chapter 2

“Edwin Booth is a friend of yours. Did he ever give you any hints about acting?”

“No. I never had an interest in being on the stage so we never discussed acting in that context.”

“Too bad!”

“Why? Toni, I know you well enough already to see you are formulating some sort of plan. Joe can be very devious and when he does those puppy dog eyes at Pa, it is next to impossible to get Pa swayed by logic, common sense, or anything else.”

“You’re not giving up, are you?”

“I don’t even know what their plan is! I had thought to spend some time with Hoss this weekend to try to get some pieces of the puzzle, but a far better option presented itself.” Adam smiled and leaned over to kiss Toni on the cheek.

“Your brothers looked quite relieved that you escorted me to town Saturday to do some shopping and then to church services this morning.”

“They do not appreciate you like I do. I enjoyed yesterday immensely with our lunch at the International. Today was even better with a little side excursion to the lake after services and then a relaxed dinner this evening.”

“Well we need to discuss tomorrow before everyone wonders what we have been doing out here on the porch so long.”

“Oh I’m sure my family thinks we are discussing literature and music because that is all we do when we are around them other than describing the beautiful sights you have seen while you have been here.” At that, Adam ran his fingers down her neck and along the neckline of her dress as he kissed her neck and then brushed his lips over hers before kissing her tenderly. “Although there are far more captivating topics we could pursue if you wish.”

“Adam, that is lovely, but if we want more time together, we need to thwart your brothers’ plans.!”

“Well that will be difficult because we don’t know what they are planning.”

“Then an opening salvo may be the only option and that brings me back to your acting.”

That got his attention and Adam leaned back to look more carefully at Toni’s face. “Toni, you are far more Machiavellian than I imagined. I appreciate your directness and now I see another facet of you that is intriguing.”

“Well I am very glad of that because you may not like everything I have to say. My plan is to appeal to your father. I thought we could go inside, and I would ask if you could please escort me to see some sights we have been discussing out here tonight. So what are some places we could visit?”

“Pyramid Lake, the Paiute village, the rock paintings, some fossils up on the high plateau, the mustangs we often see.”

“That sounds perfect. My father would believe too that I would want to see those things. If your father agrees, can I assume that it will be days and days to see all of it?”

“Oh yes. At least four days and possibly five. But why did you ask about acting and what is it that I am not going to like?”

“Being my usual direct self here, Adam if you act all smug and superior if we put this over on your brothers especially if you smirk that rather famous smirk of yours, they are going to get all riled up and seek to sabotage our plans. However if you can act surprised by my request, and perhaps even a bit hesitant about taking the whole week just to escort a guest about the ranch. Please don’t be mad. I don’t know how else to say it. I never learned female subterfuge because I never wanted to act that way. Would you please say something?”

“You are brilliant.” At first Adam had been a little offended by her description of how he could look when things went his way but had to admit it was true and perhaps a different approach is what he needed.

“All right then, this is the plan.” And Toni explained what she wanted.

“May I escort you inside sweetheart?” As they entered, “Adam, Emerson is so dry in his writing there is no comparison to a writer like Whitman with his rich imagery.” Toni only turned to face the room after they entered fully expecting their charade to have camouflaged their developing relationship. Joe just snickered and put his hand over his mouth as he played a game of checkers with Hoss. Hoss and Ben were disappointed that Adam wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with Toni as they had both discussed that the two of them seemed to have a lot in common. Ben especially had been hoping that the time the two had spent together over the last three days might have sparked a romantic feeling in Adam for Toni.

Anthony, Toni’s father, had named his youngest daughter after himself when it was apparent he was not going to have a son which made him feel especially close to her. He felt guilty that perhaps all the time he spent with his daughter may have caused her to be too much like a man to attract one. Now he was beginning to wonder. Back at their rancho in southern California, no man had ever spent more than a few hours socializing with his daughter. Her directness and sometimes her sharp tongue had driven them all away. That and of course that he felt she did nothing to enhance her looks of tying her hair back in a tight ponytail so it fit better under her hat. He had been the recipient of her sharp remarks on more than one occasion for suggesting she let her hair down, literally, when she had informed him that she was not interested in a man so shallow she needed to primp to get his attention. However this oldest son of his friend Ben was still spending considerable time with Toni after three days in her company. And today Toni had her hair down and curled with pretty hairpieces holding it back from her face. He began to hope fervently that the old adage ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ could be true.

“Mr. Cartwright, I know I have been imposing on your good graces quite a bit these last few days but I wonder if you could please grant me one more request?”

“Toni, dear, you have not imposed at all. What could I do for you?”

“Adam has been describing some of the more unique aspects of your ranch like rock paintings, fossils, Pyramid Lake, mustangs, and even the Paiute village, and I wondered if you could spare him tomorrow to escort me to see these things, just one more day, please?”

Joe and Hoss snickered,and Adam smiled too but his amusement was in appreciation of her skill. Ben laughed a little, and “Toni, that would take the whole week! Each of those is two to four hours ride from here and without pushing, each would be a day trip. I have no problem having Adam escort you, but perhaps Hoss or Joe each would like to take a day to escort you.” And with a very direct look at Hoss and Joe, he continued, “I wouldn’t want them to feel that they are being overburdened with work if Adam was otherwise occupied this week.” Ben was hoping that this would be an opportunity for his son and Toni to see something in each other besides a delightful conversationalist.

“Pa, I know you asked me to update the ledgers tomorrow, and I could do that.”

“No, Adam, the ledgers can wait.” Adam looked surprised and a little resigned at that, but looked hopefully at Joe who sensed a chance to saddle Adam with another disagreeable week without even having to do anything.

“Pa, since Adam knows best what our guest has seen and still wants to see, I don’t mind at all if he spends the entire week escorting her on her little tours.” Joe grinned in triumph at Adam who just put his fingers to the bridge of his nose, a gesture they all knew was a sign of frustration for him. At that point, Adam understood the exhilaration Edwin must feel on the stage performing before hundreds because playing this role in front of four was very enjoyable.

Toni turned a hopeful look to Hoss who just said it was fine by him. She smiled at her father who nodded and smiled back. Tony knew his daughter was up to something and was hopeful about what it was.

“Well then it will be a wonderful week. This is such a vibrant country compared to where we have our ranch. Daddy and I are very hopeful that your negotiations are successful and we can have a ranch here.”

“Darling, things are proceeding slowly but well. If we move here, the ranch will be much smaller especially at first although it will be large enough to accommodate our herds because of the better quality of pasturage.”

“With all this good news, I think I will sleep well tonight. Good night all.” Toni proceeded up the stairs, turned at the landing to smile at the men below, and climbed the last flight of stairs to the second floor and disappeared around the corner.

A short time later, Adam bid them adieu as well, climbed the stairs and looked behind when he got to the top to see if anyone else was following. Seeing no one moving, he moved quickly down the hall to Toni’s room. When she opened the door, he didn’t say a word, pulled her to him, and kissed her passionately. Toni wrapped her arms around his neck and responded with the same fervor.

Hoss, who had been complaining of a sore heel, removed his boots when Toni went upstairs. When Joe began to complain repeatedly about the smell, he grumpily decided it was time for bed anyway. As he walked around the corner at the top of the stairs, he saw his brother and Toni in a passionate embrace. Hoss quietly slipped into his room and only closed his door and lit a lamp after he heard two doors close further down the hall. Hoss just smiled and thought to himself ‘Well I think I just switched sides.’ This was too important to let their games get in the way. He would play along and curb Joe as well. In fact he thought this could be quite enjoyable, and probably more fun than torturing his older brother.

*****

Chapter 3

Saturday’s dinner was a celebration. Tony had wrapped up his negotiations with Ben’s help and with his attorney. Tony had purchased a small ranch and had options on two more that bordered it. He had instructed his attorney to return home to complete the legal papers there selling his large rancho. His land purchases, after he had left his seafaring days behind, had been of land held under a Spanish land grant. All had been taken care of legally in the Mexican courts. His wife was Mexican which had made things easier. Now however as was so often the case since 1850, the documents were ‘missing’. He thought the most prudent course of action was to sell at a reasonable if somewhat low price to his primary opponent in the land struggle. His daughter Toni was delighted, not at the way they had been forced to sell their ranch but in the decision to move to Nevada. Tony was waiting for his daughter Toni to demonstrate her feelings for Ben’s son Adam. The looks they gave each other when they thought no one was observing were clearly indicative of how strongly they felt for each other.

Ben stood at the head of the table. “I would like to propose a toast to my old and dear friend Tony and his delightful daughter and their future here on their new ranch as our neighbors.” All raised their glasses and toasted the success of the negotiations and the future.

“What are your immediate plans for the future then?”

“First I must return home to organize moving our herds here. Some cattle will be sold but the best will be driven here. We will bring all of our horses. Here, I need someone to purchase some breeding bulls and some cattle as well as arrange and supervise improvements to the rancho I have purchased. The house and barns are in need of updating and the fencing is greatly in need of repair. Perhaps you know of someone I could hire to do these things for me?”

“Papa, I told you I could do that.”

“We will speak of this later, privately!”

“Tony, I am sure we can make some recommendations to you of honest and capable men who would be able to accomplish those tasks for you.”

“On another topic, Pa, do you mind if I use the surrey tomorrow to take Toni to church and then to a picnic at the lake after?”

Joe’s eyes popped wide open at that and he openly stared at his oldest brother. Hoss who was seated to his left, slapped him on the back, “What’s the matter Joe? You’re not choking on something are you?” Hoss just smiled and slapped him one more time. That just confirmed to Toni and Adam what they had suspected: Hoss must have seen them together, knew what was going on, and chose to protect their privacy.

Looking at Hoss first with a broad smile, Adam turned to Joe. “Yes, Joe. A picnic. By the lake. Toni and I.” Then Adam smiled his full dimpled smile. “I hope you’re happy for us. It seems you are to blame. You pushed us together for a whole week and look what happened.” Hoss guffawed. Toni started to laugh too. Adam was a better actor than either had ever imagined.

“Ya, Joe. Now look what you gone and done.” Tony and Ben smiled indulgently. This was what both had hoped would happen.

“Perhaps another toast.”

“Ben if you don’t mind, I would like to do the honors. To the future, whatever it may bring, may it be full of love and happiness.” And all raised their glasses again. Joe was sitting there though just wondering what the heck had happened.

By the next morning, Joe was wondering if some elaborate charade had been perpetrated, and then thought no because no one was good enough to deceive him that well for that long. He just didn’t know Toni well yet.

Adam and Toni left in the surrey for church services after a light breakfast. Ben and Tony went in the carriage, and Hoss and Joe went on horseback.

As Adam and Toni arrived at church and it was clear now that he was escorting Toni, a number of women near the church were thinking some hostile thoughts that this interloper from southern California was pursuing one of the most eligible bachelors in the Comstock. During the walk to the church on Adam’s arm, and in church standing next to him with her father and Ben to her right, and Hoss and Joe behind, Toni couldn’t help but notice the hostile looks that some attractive young women were sending her way. Although a number of the Cartwright family friends came up to them after the service to welcome the new neighbors, these women moved to the back of the church and stood together talking.

The Cartwrights and their guests filed out of the church and then Adam excused himself saying he had to take care of something inside and would be right back. After a few moments, Toni realized she did not have her purse and must have left it inside. Toni didn’t know what was wrong with her lately as she was never this distracted and forgetful at home. As Toni entered the church in pursuit of her purse, she heard the young women talking.

“She’s so plain, maybe he mistook her for his horse.”

“No, that’s not it. She’s just like one of ‘those’ women and he’ll forget her completely after he’s had his way with her.”

“You don’t think Adam has done that kind of thing, do you, really?”

“The man is thirty-five years old. We know how many women he has escorted to dances and parties and such. He must have. You know that men have ‘urges’ and just can’t hold back.”

“He’s so handsome, he never has to buy the farm in order to milk the cows.”

“Oh Susan you are so bad.” And they all laughed.

“Well he could never seriously consider staying with her. Just look at her. The whole family would be embarrassed to be seen in public with that poor plain thing. Did you know she rides astride a horse just like a man. Talks like one too I heard.”

Toni could take no more. Purse forgotten, she fled out of the church in tears. As she ran up to Ben and her father, they were both concerned.

“Toni, my sweet, what’s wrong.”

“Nothing. Can we please just leave. Please.”

“Of course. Just get in the carriage and we will leave.” Greatly concerned for the sobbing Toni, Ben quickly informed Joe and Hoss that they were leaving. Wondering what was going on, they quickly checked their cinches, mounted up, and rode after the rapidly departing carriage. Toni hardly spoke on the return trip, and once in the ranch house excused herself to her room. The Cartwrights took care of the horses and then went into the house. Tony was fuming.

“What did that son of yours say to my daughter?”

“Tony we don’t know that it was Adam who caused your daughter to react this way.”

“Well who else could it be? We hardly know anyone here. He was in the church and she goes in and then comes out this distraught, what else am I to think?”

“When Adam gets home we can ask him what happened or perhaps Toni will be able to compose herself enough to tell us what happened.” However that wasn’t likely to happen any time soon. Toni was in her room and reliving all the vile things that had been said about her and questioning if any of what had been said was true. After all these women knew Adam, many had grown up with him, and had probably been some of the women he had escorted to dances, parties, and such. Oh and it was the such that was so demoralizing. How many women had he been with, and did he just callously discard them afterwards? Could Adam be the Casanova they described? And she hurt too because all those criticisms of her were repeats of things she had heard for many years. She cried until she had no energy left to cry.

Meanwhile, at church, Adam had come out of the church to find everyone gone including his family. He went to the surrey to see if there was a note or an explanation but there was nothing. Worried a bit, he realized all he could do was ride home to find the answers to the many questions he now had. As Adam pulled the surrey into the yard of the Ponderosa, Tony steamed out of his chair to greet him at the door.

“How dare you treat my daughter this way. You will stay away from her. So help me, if you hurt her again, you will regret the day you were born.”

Adam stood there shocked. Ben reacted first.

“Tony why don’t we just cool down a bit and talk about this?”

“There will be no discussion. I am sorry, but my daughter has been hurt and she is my first responsibility and I want him to stay away from her.”

“What is going on here?” Adam wanted to talk with Tony but Ben just pushed him back out the door.

“Tony has a huge temper and trying to talk to him now will not work. You need to wait. Now what happened in church that caused Toni to run outside in tears?”

“Toni was in tears! Why?”

“Well we thought the two of you had a disagreement, and she was very upset.”

“She was fine in church. I don’t understand what happened. I need to talk with her.”

Looking at the confusion and also the concern on Adam’s face, Ben wondered now what had happened. “Yes I do think the two of you should talk. Toni is in her room. Go up the back stairs from the kitchen. And do it quietly.”

As Adam got to Toni’s room and knocked quietly on her door, he heard nothing at first. He knocked again a little louder and still nothing. He knocked and called her name.

“Go away. I don’t want to see you.”

“Please Toni, please tell me what is wrong.”

“Just go away. Please go away.”

Adam walked away and went down the backstairs and outside to the back of the house. What had happened? He had no idea, and no one seemed to want to talk with him either. A short time later, he heard someone coming. When the bench shifted with the weight, he knew who it was.

“Well Hoss you may be the only one who is willing to talk to me.”

“Got yourself into a real pickle this time, older brother.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Wish I knew what happened. I finished my meeting over the building repairs with the reverend, came outside and everyone was gone, got back here, and Tony pretty much kicked me out of my own house after telling me what a disreputable person I am, and Toni refuses to see me or talk with me. Wish I know what I did.”

“You had a meeting with the reverend. Oh lordy! And you didn’t see Toni in church.”

“Well of course I saw her in church. She was right there on my arm.”

“No after services. Toni went back in to get her purse, after you went in.”

“There was no one there. Except Susan and her cronies. Oh no, you don’t think!”

“Yup, Adam, I do think. Those nasty ex-girlfriends of yours got mighty sharp claws. I saw them all standing in the back of church after services and looking none too happy to see you with Toni.”

“So now what do I do?”

“Older brother, without knowing what they said, it could be difficult for you.”

“I have to go to town to see someone. Could you tell Pa what we discussed and where I’m going please. Maybe if you get a chance, see if Tony can listen a little too. I don’t need to get shot the next time I try to enter the house.”

*****

Chapter 4

“Good afternoon Mrs. Taylor. Could I speak with Susan please?”

“Good afternoon Adam. I am sure that Susan would be quite happy to see you. Did you see each other at church this morning?”

“Yes, in passing.”

“Just a minute dear. Have a seat in the parlor, and I’ll tell Susan that you are here.”

Adam wanted to tell her how wrong she was, but Mrs. Taylor was a sweet person so he held his tongue. As Susan entered the parlor, she smiled sweetly at Adam but the smile faded fast as she saw Adam’s face. She had been hoping for years that they could rekindle their romance but her hopes were dashed as Adam spoke.

“I need to know what you and your friends said to Toni.”

“We did not say anything to her. I have nothing to say to her.”

“Well what did you say that she might have heard when she went back into the church for her purse? Were you talking about me or criticizing her? Susan, this is important. If you ever had feelings for me, you will help me now as my friend. Toni is hurting and I can’t help her unless you tell me the truth.”

“Did I ever have feelings for you! You ungrateful savage! You tossed me aside like some trollop and went on your merry way to snag another unsuspecting young lady. You never gave me a chance!”

“Susan, all we ever did was argue. You told me what to do and I didn’t do it which always made you furious. What possible future was there for us? And I did not toss you aside. I took you to dinner so we could talk over our relationship, and you ended up getting mad and storming out of the restaurant. You had to know then that it would never work.”

“Tell him what was said, Susan.” In the kitchen, Mrs. Taylor had overheard the heated conversation.

“Mother we were just talking and having a little fun among ourselves.”

“I know dear. I know you would not have hurt her intentionally. But she is hurt and you can help. It is the Christian thing to do.”

“Mama!”

“Now, Susan”

“Well I don’t remember who said what but she was called plain and someone compared her to your horse.” Susan’s mother gasped. But Susan was on a roll, and her enthusiasm got the best of her. “Someone said you just have your way with her and leave her just as you have done with so many others. ‘You don’t buy the farm; you just milk the cows.’ And she is more like a man than a woman.” Susan was feeling rather smug although Susan’s mother was ready to faint.

“You need a severe tanning. It is too bad that your wonderful father is in heaven because you need him more than anyone I know needs a father right now. How could you be so catty and so cruel. You demeaned her, me, and yourself with those statements. Or did you forget like some of those other ladies, that we were a couple once. If I never see you again, I will thank God for answering my prayer. Good day, Mrs. Taylor.”

Adam left because what was left of his self-control would not have held if Susan uttered another word. As Adam rode home, he contemplated and discarded numerous ideas on how to fix things. How could he let Toni know that he thought she was wonderful, and had a character and strength he admired. He loved her but didn’t know if she would believe that of him now. They had known each other less than two weeks. He was afraid that what the women had said might have her not trust him. How do you apologize for words said by another? How do you take away that kind of hurt? How do you help the lady you love recover from heartbreak? As he rode, he suddenly realized that he had already admitted to himself that he loved Toni. He loved her more than anything in his life. But what could he do if she was so hurt that she wouldn’t even talk with him?

As Adam rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, he dismounted, opened one of the barn doors, and led his horse inside. After removing the saddle and tack, he rubbed Sport down thoroughly and slowly. He had no desire to rush into the turmoil in the house when he had no plan, no idea of what to do.

Adam, I heard you ride in but you seem to be taking a long time out here.”

“Pa, I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Well I have someone here who can help, I’m sure.” With that, Ben reached over behind the closed barn door to pull Toni by the arm to stand in front of him. Ben turned then and walked to the house. Toni walked slowly into the barn.

“Hoss is rather insistent when he puts his mind to it. I have never been talked to so gently by someone so large. We talked a lot. He told me all the terrible things that he has been called so he knows how I have suffered. He said you always told him he was one of the best men you know and those others were ignorant. You said he was a rough diamond: may not be as pretty as gold, but has great value to those who have it. Then he said you treated women honorably. He said maybe you were too picky though and that is why you haven’t found someone to be with yet. Then he said I was the first one who spent so much time with you and never had a fight nor an argument. He has high hopes for me apparently.”

Adam walked up to Toni. “That brother of mine is a gem of great value.” Adam put his hands on Toni’s waist and pulled her to him, and she rested her head against his chest. They just stood that way for a few minutes. Then Adam leaned back and put his hand under Toni’s chin to tip her face up. “I love you.” He leaned down and kissed her gently. Toni wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him with passion. When she pulled away to look into his face, she smiled. “I love you, Adam.” Adam pulled her to him and kissed her deeply although soon both had to pull back to catch their breath.

“If anyone walks into this barn, promise me that you will stand in front of me.”

“I will especially if it is my father.” Adam blanched, and Toni smiled. “In some families, you would have to marry me now.”

Adam leaned down to kiss her neck and murmured “Would that be so bad?”

*****

To Love, Honor, and Annoy

chapter 1

“How about Friday?”

“Adam, that is impossible. I want my sisters here for my wedding. Our house is not ready. There is so much to do. Papa wants to leave Saturday for home and he won’t be back for a month. Oh – where am I going to live for a month?”

“You could stay here as our guest just as you have been.”

Toni just gave Adam one of those looks that said there was no way he understood. Of course he did understand, he just didn’t care what people thought about their living arrangements until they were married. To Adam, people who were your friends were going to assume you were honorable, and people who weren’t friends would assume the worst regardless. Toni’s mother had drilled into her however that appearances were important. So even though she rode horses with a regular saddle and not side saddle, she wore a split skirt and not pants. It was her concession to decorum and had been a compromise with her mother. Her mother had passed away only a year ago, and Toni still felt the need to honor her memory by following the lessons that she taught. Engaged for only a few hours, Adam and Toni were already finding that there was much they needed to learn about each other.

“What do you want to do?”

“Is there some place I could stay for a month while Papa is away but so I can be here to plan for the wedding and get the new rancho updated?”

“Well there is a boarding house in town, but we won’t be seeing much of each other that way. It’s a long ride. If we meet in town, everything we do will be ‘news’ that will spread like wildfire. I would like to keep our life a more private than that.”

“I’ll talk with Papa and see what he thinks. Perhaps one of my sisters can stay here to help me plan, and that would work out well for us I think. Of course, each has a small child who would have to come along.”

“When would you like the wedding to be then?”

“Six weeks? To be sure Papa gets back.” Toni smiled at Adam then. “We have both waited a long time and I don’t want to wait much longer but I want a wedding my Mama would be proud of. I already know she is happy for me.” It was so comfortable being with Adam. She could just say what she thought, and he would think about it, and then respond to her. She could tell that he thought six weeks was a long time by the look on his face.

“We won’t be seeing as much of each other during that time. We will both be very busy. I’m sure they are missing you in the work at the rancho here, and I will be very busy with wedding plans and getting Papa’s ranch ready.”

“I don’t want you riding into town alone. You need to have someone with you whenever you go to town.” At that, Toni got a look that Adam hadn’t seen yet.

“I have been riding by myself at home since I was twelve. I will not be treated as less than an adult now!”

“It isn’t that. Virginia City is a lot rougher town than the small settled community where you grew up. There are miners, loggers, and ranchhands moving through here by the hundreds sometimes. Many are very rough characters and a lot are dishonest too. With no family and no home here, they have no stake in the community, nothing to hold them in line and things can get pretty rough. We always ride in pairs when we have banking to do or if we are picking up valuable cargo. Don’t I have a right to be concerned about your safety?”

“Well you could have told me that first instead of issuing an order!”

“I’m sorry if it sounded like an order. I can be a little bossy sometimes but only because I care for the safety and welfare of the people who are important to me!”

“Did we just have our first fight?”

“No, that was just a little disagreement. I have a feeling that when the two of us have our first fight, the whole Comstock will be able to hear.” With that, Adam pulled Toni toward him on the bench seat, wrapped his arms around her, and murmured in her ear, “We could practice making up though.” Toni snuggled into his embrace, and kissed him tenderly.

As it was getting late, and they needed to get some rest with all the work and planning they needed to do soon, they walked arm-in-arm inside. Joe and Hoss were finishing up a checkers game, and Ben and Tony were sharing a late night brandy. It was a warm night, and with the window open, they had all heard Adam and Toni raise their voices at each other for a bit, but no one could hear what the disagreement had been as it wasn’t quite loud enough. The couple told everyone what their plans were so far, and Tony was happy to agree that one or both of his other daughters should come to ‘chaperone’ the couple. He planned on sending some telegrams first thing Monday morning anyway so they would just be a bit longer. He expected that his older daughters would be delighted that their youngest sister was finally getting married and would be thrilled to help with the planning. Then Adam and Toni said good night and headed up the stairs. Everyone expected that they would need a few minutes of privacy so they waited in the great room.

“Hoss, do you think they thought about their wedding vows yet, and what they will promise to each other?”

“Nah, they just got engaged and set the date. Ain’t been no time to work out all those details yet. Why?”

“Well with the way they both are, I thought maybe they could promise a lifetime together to ‘love, honor, and annoy’ each other.” Joe started giggling then,

“Joseph!” but Ben was fighting hard not to smile. Tony just let it go though and soon all four were laughing hysterically.

Upstairs, Adam and Toni were kissing good night when they heard the laughter.

“What do you suppose that’s about?”

“Well if I was taking a bet, it would be that the subject was us, and someone, probably Joe, had some pithy comment. And from the sounds of the laughter, they all agreed. Probably best to just go to bed now. If you go look, it will just set them off again.” Toni just stood there with that look again. “Oh oh, someone is starting to plan something again.” With a smile, Toni just turned into the guest room, “Tomorrow is soon enough.” Adam stood there and was almost worried for Joe, but then decided he deserved whatever he was going to get. So he went to his room and closed the door expecting that he would sleep very well indeed.

*****

chapter 2

Monday morning was a busy time. After breakfast, Tony and Ben were going to town to hire men for Tony’s ranch. The first order of business was the telegraph office where Tony sent three telegrams to inform his daughters and those at his rancho of the good news. Ben sent some too to friends he knew would want to know. Tony needed a foreman to oversee the work on his new ranch, and they needed some men with carpentry experience because all of the buildings needed repair so he followed Ben to several homes in town to hire some men that Ben knew to be reliable. In addition, they were going to the stores to order supplies for building and fence repair. Tony handed over lists to each shopkeeper and all said they had enough supplies on hand to fill his orders. Ben had offered Tony the use of the buckboard but Tony thought they would need it too much so they went to the livery to see if there was a wagon for sale or rent. Tony bought a wagon that had been repaired but needed to buy a draft team too, and Tony wanted to have a riding horse for Toni and her sisters as well. They were able to purchase draft horses at the livery, nothing flashy but strong and dependable. Ben suggested that Tony buy three riding horses from the Ponderosa as he knew that Joe had a number of good horses for sale. Tony put in an order at the saddlery for tack and saddles. All the items were to be ready no later than Thursday.

“I don’t think I have ever been busier. But it is a good kind of busy. There is so much hope for the future now. I am truly happy I think for the first time since Rosa left us. You know how that is Ben more than anyone. You lost three wives, but losing the woman who had been at my side for over thirty years put me in a black hole for a while. This fight over the rancho had one good outcome as I had to get on with my life or lose what I had left. Now with Toni and Adam planning a wedding, I am happier than I could have imagined a year ago.”

“Adam’s getting married!?” Ben turned to see Roy Coffee had walked up behind him. “Ben I saw you all around town this morning and just couldn’t seem to catch up to ya. I was wondering what had you so all fired busy, but I guess I know some of the reason now. Well who is the lucky gal?”

“Well you remember Tony and his daughter who I introduced to you just after they arrived here on the stage. Well it is Tony’s daughter Toni who Adam will marry.”

“Tony?”

“No I’m sorry, her name is Antoinette but everyone calls her Toni, with an ‘i’. Well it’s a little late for lunch, but I’m famished. Would you care to join us for a late lunch?”

“Sorry, I can’t do that. But I think Paul was headed over there cause he had a busy morning and ain’t had time to eat yet.” At Ben’s worried look, “Nah, nothing serious, just a bunch of scrapes and cuts, and a few ladies with female concerns.” At Ben’s look, Roy just said “It’s my job to know what’s going on hereabouts. Well good day to ya then, and give my congratulations to that boy a yours.”

Tony and Ben entered the restaurant and saw Paul seated at a table near the window. He had not ordered yet but was just enjoying a cup of coffee first and reading the latest edition of the newspaper. He was happy to have Ben and Tony join him.

“Well Ben it is good to see you without having to pull out my bag to repair whatever the latest damage has been to one of your sons. What brings you into town today?”

“Well Tony has been successful in negotiating the purchase of a ranch here and needed workers and supplies to get everything shipshape. And we had to send the good news out to that Adam is getting married.”

Paul’s voice rose “Adam’s getting married! Well there’s going to be a lot of disappointed ladies here now that the most eligible bachelor is no longer available.” Looking at Tony, “Would I be correct in assuming that the young lady is your daughter, sir?” Tony could not help but grin in response. “Perhaps we could have a little wine with lunch to toast the good news. And congratulations to you both!”

The ladies from the Church Benevolent Society were just finishing up coffee and dessert that they had treated themselves to after working at the church all morning. They all had overheard the news and just couldn’t wait to excuse themselves to get out there to share what they had learned. Mrs. Taylor was getting up to leave with them when she realized her daughter was still seated and making no move to get up. Susan just stared at the table where the three men were sharing a toast. Her mother saw her expression and worried about what she was thinking.

“Susan, you will not make any trouble for that young lady.”

“Oh no, mother, I would not dream of making trouble for her.” Instead she was thinking of what she could do to make that Adam Cartwright regret what he had done to her. She already knew some words that she knew would set him off. He was just like dynamite, and she just had to ready the blasting caps and light the fuse. She began to plan.

*****

chapter 3

Late on Monday afternoon, Adam and Toni arrived in town. Toni had been taking measurements for curtains for the house on Tony’s new ranch and wanted to get some fabric so she could begin cutting and sewing. She also wanted to go to the dressmaker’s shop and start looking at fabric for a wedding dress. Her sisters would help with the sewing but she had a good sense of color coordination and wanted to get started as soon as possible on the curtains. For her dress, she wanted to wait and get input from one or both of her sisters. Adam and Toni were also going to go to the reverend’s house to make sure that the date they chose was acceptable for a church wedding service. Then they hoped to have a dinner with just the two of them so they could talk about other plans for their future. Adam had started his day very early and worked without a lunch so he could accompany Toni to town, and now he was famished which he told Toni that of course meant he understood how Hoss felt all the time. As they made their way about town, it was clear that the word of their wedding was well circulated. They had to stop and greet everyone who had even the slightest acquaintance with Adam so that he could introduce his future wife.

“Well Pa said he was only going to tell Roy and Paul which meant the word would have slowly gotten around town this week, but it seems that more than just the two of them found out because this is the all out barrage that only some of our talkative ladies could have orchestrated.”

“I don’t mind meeting all your friends and being congratulated on my fine catch.” Toni grinned at him with mischief in her whole expression. “You’re not going to blush, are you?” That got her the double eyebrow raise and she howled with laughter. Adam just shook his head, wrapped his arm around her waist, and pointed her in the direction of the church.

“Just one more stop before dinner. Behave yourself now. This is a man of the church we are going to see.”

Toni quieted. He had looked rather stern up there at the lectern in church the past two Sundays. As they neared his house, two boys raced around the corner and nearly collided with them.

“Whoa, what’s the hurry boys?”

“Adam, please let us go. The monster is going to catch us!”

“Would that be the same monster that was chasing you the last time I visited?”

At that moment, the reverend ran around the side of the house with a tow headed little boy on his hip. The boys screamed ‘Tickle monster’ and ran off.

“Well Adam, word in town today was that you’re getting married. Thought I would see you soon. I’ll even take a break from my hard work here and talk to the two of you inside.” With that, he set the little boy down and tickled him promising him and his brothers, who were watching from a safe distance, that there would be more later and and asked them to please watch over each other for a few minutes. The three went inside and got more congratulations from his wife and then over lemonade, discussed the tentative date they had set. There were no problems so after a short but pleasant conversation, they left to go to the restaurant.

“With the reception we got in town today, I understand why you did not want me staying here before the wedding. Our every move would be front page news it seems. I had no idea it would be like this. In my home town, things move much more slowly and quietly. This is so much more boisterous than any town I have visited. Surprising too how interested everyone is in what happens with your family.”

“Pa is an important and wealthy man here, and the Ponderosa is the largest ranch in Nevada. Then there are the timber and mining businesses too which provide a lot of jobs so many people know him and look to him for leadership.”

“Many people seem very interested in what happens in your life too. In the shops today, I got a bit of history on Adam Cartwright. It seems everyone here knows who you were with, for how long, and how serious it was. You told me about a couple and Hoss told me about three, but I never knew there were so many.” Toni smiled because she could see how nervous Adam was getting especially because he didn’t know exactly what she had been told.

“Most of the women were escorts because I didn’t want to go alone to dances and picnics. Those that I had an interest in, at least initially, I have told you about. Some of the women thought that the relationship with me was a lot more serious than I thought it was or maybe they just hoped it would lead to marriage. But I’m still unmarried so you can see that none of what went before meant that much to me. I would just like to close the book on that, and look to our future.” His eyes were dark and he was very somber as he talked so Toni knew how important this was to him.

“Adam I didn’t mean to belittle your feelings or past relationships. This is the last conversation we’ll have about it. All that matters to me now is our future.”

They smiled at each other then as they arrived at the restaurant. Adam asked for a table toward the back. He hoped with less visibility from the street that they might have more privacy. There was, but not as much as he hoped as it seemed every patron of the restaurant that night had to come over to meet Toni and offer congratulations.

“Where are we going to live after we get married? I know the Ponderosa ranch house is large enough to accommodate us, but it is so far from my father and he will be alone now except for the foreman and the housekeeper who are coming with him. They each have a family though so there will be too much time I think when he will be alone.”

“Well I have been thinking that we should have our own house, but I anticipated how hard it would be for you to be away from your father especially now that your mother is gone. So, there is a pretty piece of property on the Ponderosa not too far from the lake and near the main road where we could build a house. It would be about a twenty minute ride to your father’s ranch house and just a little longer to the Ponderosa ranch house. It is also near the road so going to town would be fairly easy too.”

“Adam that sounds like a wonderful plan.”

“Late last night I sketched out a design. Later or tomorrow, you could look at the plans to see what changes you would like.”

At that point, they were interrupted by Susan Taylor. “Oh Adam, I just had to congratulate you.” Turning to Toni, “And I want to apologize to you, my dear Toni, for any hurt I may have caused. It is no excuse, but my broken heart just led me to say some awful things. I hope you can forgive me.” Toni was gracious, but Adam was fuming. He knew that nothing that she said was sincere, and he wondered what she was up to.

“Now Toni is an unusual name.”

“My father named me Antoinette. That was too hard for my sisters to pronounce and it was quickly shortened to Toni.”

“Oh you have sisters. What are their names?”

“Teresa and Maria.”

“Well they sound kind of Mexican don’t you think. Why didn’t your parents give them nice American names?”

“My mother Rosa was Mexican and my grandmother was from New Orleans. My sisters’ names honor our Mexican heritage and my name honors my grandmother’s.” By this time Toni was fuming too but holding her temper in check.

“Susan, Toni and I have some decisions to make and were hoping to do that tonight. If you could excuse us please.” Adam rose, dropped money on the table, and took Toni by the elbow guiding her to the door.

Susan smiled smugly. The information she had gathered had been correct. “Behave yourselves now. You wouldn’t want people to start talking about an unmarried woman living at the Ponderosa with four unmarried men now would you? Of course, being a Mexican, perhaps the same social rules of propriety don’t apply.” She just knew she could drive a wedge between Adam and that woman. Toni didn’t know him well yet. Wait till she saw that temper and those black moods he could get in. Susan would be there to soothe his broken heart when that woman walked away.

Toni had to forcefully hang on to Adam’s arm to stop him from going back to Susan to express his displeasure. She wasn’t sure what he would do but the look on his face made here afraid of what it might be.

*****

chapter 4

It was a busy week on the Ponderosa. Tony and Toni were getting all the supplies to Tony’s new ranch. Adam was trying to work to finish timber and lumber contracts on the Ponderosa and get over to Tony’s ranch to help out when he could. Hop Sing was readying guest rooms because both of Toni’s sisters wanted to come and help in the preparations for the upcoming wedding of Adam and their baby sister. On Wednesday Toni finally had time to meet with Joe to select three suitable riding horses for her and her sisters. Joe was recommending some very calm, small, and placid horses and Toni was starting to get irritated.

“Why can’t I buy that big sorrel over there? He stands and looks around to see what is happening which is a sign of intelligence, he has a good chest so it looks like he has a lot of wind, and the legs are thicker than most so he looks like he would be very durable in a long ride or a fast gallop as well!”

“Toni, he’s hard to handle. After he was green broke, it took us months to get him to settle down with a rider for any length of time. He always wants to go his own way and it takes a firm hand to move him the way you want him to go. We didn’t send him with the army contract because of that. With those traits, I don’t think he is ever going to be a could horse for working cattle.”

“Well that’s an even better reason that you should sell him to me for a riding horse. I like him.” Joe just shrugged. He was beginning to see what Adam liked so much about Toni They were a lot alike. This was just the type of high spirited horse Adam would want, but Joe didn’t want to sell her this horse because if she got hurt, Adam would never forgive him. He was afraid to tell her that though.

“What are you thinking? I can see your thinking pretty hard and I would like to know.”

“Ahh, I don’t think you would.”

“Try me!”

“Adam would kill me if I sold you this horse and you got hurt.” There he said it, and he waited for the biting retort. But Toni just continued to lean on the corral fence and study the horse.

“Thank you for being so concerned for me, but you need to know that I have been working horses since I was twelve. This is just the type of horse I like. He reminds me of Sport. Adam knows I can ride because we rode all over this area for a week. I’ll tell him I picked this horse, and he’ll know that it was not your decision. He should know me well enough by now to know that no one will tell me what kind of horse I am going to ride.”

“All right then. How about your sisters?”

“Both Teresa and Maria ride like I do but not as well. They should have strong mounts because they both enjoy a fast ride, but they should have horses better schooled to following their riders’ commands. Not quite so spirited as Tempest there.”

Joe smiled. That was an appropriate name for that horse. Then he recommended two smaller but fast mares that had been easily trained but were nimble and strong.

“Those are good choices too. I was thinking when I saw them that they might be good brood mares too and with Tempest as a sire, we might get some very fine horses.”

Joe was impressed. He loved working with the horses and had been thinking the exact same thing. He and Toni engaged in a spirited discussion of other breeding possibilities in the horses he had in the corral, and which ones would be more suitable to sell to the army. It was only much later that Joe realized he had been talking with a woman about breeding horses and hoped his father and hers would not be upset. Oh and he sincerely hoped Adam would not think he had stepped over the line with Toni., but he had enjoyed the conversation immensely and rather hoped they could do it again sometime. He realized he was really starting to like his new sister.

When Joe got back to the stable, Hoss was just getting back from rounding up cattle to move them from the lower ranges to an upper range. Joe told Hoss about Toni purchasing Tempest about his horse breeding conversation with Toni.

“You’re starting to like that gal. Good thing too. I kinda thought from the start that I was gonna like her and I ain’t seen nothing yet to change my mind. She sure loves Adam too, and I like the effect she has on him. He seems more at peace with himself when she’s around.”

“Well except when they got back from town on Monday. Boy he was steaming mad and that was hours after they got bit by the rattlesnake Susan. He seemed better by the next morning but I wonder what Toni said to him to get him settled down.”

“She said a jealous spinster was no concern of ours.”

“Geez Adam do you always have to sneak up on somebody like that. I swear you must be part Paiute the way you can sneak up on a man.”

“Ah maybe just part Indian. You know those Stoddards were in New England a long time and there weren’t always enough white women for wives so a lot of ‘praying Indian’ women became married to white men. Most families just kinda forgot to pass on that information to succeeding generations so who knows. I am kind of dark for having just English ancestry. Now Joe, how did the horse selling go with Toni?”

“Ahh, just fine older brother, and I’m sure Toni is just waiting to tell you all about it. Well I gotta get going to town to mail off the info on the horses to the army, so I’ll see you later.” With that, Joe led Cochise out of the barn and headed to town. When Joe finished sending his letter, he headed to the Silver Dollar for a cold beer before heading home. As he leaned on the bar talking to Sam, a lean cowboy about his height came and stood at his elbow.

“Ah mister, those fellows over there said you was the Cartwright who worked the horses on the Ponderosa, and I was wondering if you had any need for a horse wrangler? I got lots of experience working horses and I need a job.”

“Well yeah with the drive coming up, we are going to be shorthanded for a bit. If you are willing to work the string of horses on the drive, I can hire you now to work with me and get to know the traits of each of the horses that will be making the trip. What’s your name.”

“Bill Roberts. And thank you so much for the job. When do you want me to report?”

“Well if you can get your gear together, you can ride out with me now, and I’ll show you around and introduce you to the other men before dinner.”

Bill smiled what he hoped looked like gratitude, but he was really feeling rather smug about the whole thing. It had been rather easy to get a job on the Ponderosa. Now he just needed to come up with a plan to get rid of that Adam Cartwright so he could have Toni. There was no way that any man was going to have her. He had set his sights on her while working for her father. She may have rejected his advances so far, but he was going to get her no matter what it took.

*****

chapter 5

Thursday morning started as a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the sky was dotted with light clouds. The light breeze from the mountains and the moderate temperatures were a relief from the recent hot weather. For Adam, the day got even better when Toni walked into the stable as he was saddling Sport.

“What’s wrong?”

“Adam, Papa got a telegram from home. A man who worked for us quit when he heard the news that we were moving here. His name is Bill Roberts and he wanted to court me. He is the only man I turned away. The others all left on their own. But Bill made me uneasy. He tried to be too familiar with me before we really knew anything about each other. He used to stare at me all the time. It made me uneasy and I would never be alone with him anywhere on the rancho.”

“Toni, why are you worried? Do you think he will show up here to bother you?”

“I don’t know what he will do. He is a very strange man. If the people at home sent Papa a telegram though they must have some reason that they think they should warn us.”

“You should be safe here and the men your father hired are quite capable of helping you at your father’s ranch. To be safe, do you think you should not be riding alone for now?”

Toni appreciated that Adam phrased that as a suggestion instead of an order. “I was hoping to ride Tempest today. Our order for saddles and tack should be delivered today, and I wanted to put him through his paces and maybe give him a bit of a run too.”

“If you can wait until I get back from the sawmill, I will ride with you. I’ll ride one of the mares so that Sport doesn’t get Tempest riled up. It may take a while for those two to get used to each other.” Toni agreed and Adam kissed her before leading Sport outside. Then with a tip of his hat and a promise to see her soon, he mounted up and rode off to the sawmill.

Toni started to walk to the house when Joe and another man rounded the corner of the barn. Joe smiled and tipped his hat and continued into the stable. The other man gave her a predatory grin and tipped his hat before following Joe into the stable. Toni stood in shock. How could he be here? Why didn’t anyone tell her that Bill Roberts worked on the Ponderosa now? She walked swiftly to the house. She needed to talk with her father and soon, but he was at his ranch for the day. She wondered who could give her a ride there. As she entered, Hoss was just getting his hat and gun belt.

“Hoss can you give me a ride to my father’s ranch?”

“Well I am going to the south pasture anyway, so if you don’t mind riding one of the horses, I can ride with you there.” Toni agreed and went to change into her riding habit. She had planned to spend the morning sewing curtains but this was more important. As they rode, Toni decided to probe a little to see what Hoss knew.

“Hoss I saw a man with Joe today that I never saw on the Ponderosa before and I thought I had met all of the men who live in the bunkhouse?”

“Ahh that musta been the man that Joe hired yesterday to help with the horses. They got back just before dinner so Joe said he brought him right to the bunkhouse. Joe said he seems to know his way around horses pretty well. I didn’t meet him yet cause I got back just in time for dinner yesterday.”

Toni was somewhat relieved at that. She and Adam had been busy looking over plans for their house in the late afternoon yesterday so Adam was unaware too of Joe’s new hire. She smiled when she remembered that Ben had reminded them to leave the bedroom door open when they were in his room. Although Ben had a slight smile on his face when he said it, Adam had been a little irritated to have him say that. Sometimes he didn’t take teasing very well. It was as if he suspected it wasn’t really teasing. He took his integrity very seriously and she knew she needed to keep that in mind. Hoss looked over to see her smiling and asked why so she had to tell him the story. He guffawed like only Hoss could, and that made Toni laugh. She was really getting to like Adam’s brothers. Never having had brothers, it was a revelation to see what it was like.

“Hoss that man is Bill Roberts and he used to work for my father. He has followed me here and it has me very worried. I don’t know what he is up to and that scares me.”

“Aw sis, did you talk to Adam?”

“No, not about Bill being here. I told him about Bill and that Bill scares me, but that was before I knew he was working on the ranch. I saw him just after Adam left. The look he gave me makes me believe that he is looking to create some trouble. I just don’t know what it is.”

“Well I think you ought to tell your father as well as Adam and Pa. I’m sure they will take care of things.”

After talking with her father after arriving at his ranch, they agreed that Hoss’ suggestion was the best course of action. Toni stayed at the ranch and helped clean the house and prepared lunch for the men who had started working there. The house and the bunkhouse were the first order of business so that kept them busy the rest of the day. When they arrived back at the Ponderosa, Ben and Adam were there, so they were informed of this new development. Adam was furious and wanted to confront the man immediately.

“Adam, you are too angry right now to do that. I don’t want you doing anything foolish because of your temper. Joe is going to be upset by this too and I don’t want the two of you to get into a fight as well. Tony and I will go see this Bill Roberts.” Tony nodded and the two of them strode purposefully out of the house, got on Tony’s buckboard, and headed to the horse corrals where Joe, Bill, and a few others were working today.

When they arrived at the horse corrals, Bill was riding one of the mustangs they had recently captured. He was giving the horse a good ride too and Ben was impressed. He rode the horse to a standstill and it was clear that the horse had submitted. He waited just a bit and pressed his knees into the horse’s sides and moved his forward. When they got next to the corral fence, he dismounted and handed the reins to one of the other wranglers. Joe congratulated him and his good ride, and congratulated himself on making this hire.

Ben and Tony walked over to the corral. Bill grinned and walked toward them.

“Well Mr. Martin, I sure am glad to see you.”

“Bill, I must say I am surprised to see you here.”

“Well I am a little embarrassed, sir, to say I was upset that you were moving here. When I found out, I just up and quit. Then I realized I needed a job so I headed here. I knew there were some fine horse ranches in Nevada and I must admit I wanted to make sure Miss Toni was okay too. I am real fond of your daughter and wanted to be sure she was happy. When I heard she was getting married, I knew I didn’t have to worry cause she was gonna have a good man to take care of her.”

Both Ben and Tony were relieved at the young man’s explanation and told him so. Both congratulated him on the success of his last ride, and then left. Bill was feeling even more smug now. He would be here to see what was going on, and he had an ally in Joe who was impressed by his work so it would be hard for Adam to get rid of him. He needed to start making a plan so that Adam Cartwright would not be here on his wedding day. According to what had been said in town where everyone seemed to be talking about it, he had six weeks. He planned on doing something a lot sooner than that!

*****

chapter 6

“Joe, I want him fired!”

“Adam, I’m not going to fire a man just because you don’t like him! The horses are my responsibility. Bill Roberts can do his job and he hasn’t done anything here to bother you nor Toni. I don’t know what the big deal is. He explained everything to Tony and Pa and they’re fine with it.”

“Toni is not fine with it so neither am I. Her father does not know everything about the situation or he would not be fine with it either.”

“Well why don’t you enlighten me, oldest brother, about how you’re so jealous you can’t even give the man a chance.”

“What is the matter with you two? I could hear this ruckus from the house. This is no way for brothers to be acting. Now what is this about?”

Both Adam and Joe were furious, and neither wanted to talk to their Pa at that point, but knew they had to explain. Finally Adam spit out his objection to Bill Roberts working on the Ponderosa and Joe gave an equally emotional defense of the man and reminded Ben that he had accepted the man’s word that afternoon.

“Adam if you’re worried about what Bill’s intentions are regarding Toni, wouldn’t it be better to have him here where you can see what’s going on than to have him on his own?”

Grudgingly, Adam had to admit there was some truth to that.

“But he better not go anywhere near Toni or he will have to deal with me, and I don’t care how anyone feels about that.” With that, Adam stalked out of the stable, grabbed Sport’s reins, mounted up, and rode out.

“Well that went well.” Joe snickered at his father’s comment.

“Pa, it’s not fair to fire Bill just because Adam wants me to. Innocent until proven guilty is supposed to be important to older brother, isn’t it? Maybe his principles don’t matter when he’s jealous.”

“Joe, you have to remember that Adam loves Toni and the thought of any harm coming to her is frightening to him. You know that he would do anything to protect those he loves. Now, keep an eye on Bill. I don’t want him going anywhere by himself. That explanation he gave was very reasonable, but it could easily have been a well prepared response if he is here to do harm.” Joe gave a questioning look at his father. “I have no reason to suspect him of anything at this time, but it pays to be careful.” With that, Ben walked to the house to finish some paperwork. He wished Adam had stayed to help, but in the mood he was in, he wouldn’t have been much help anyway.

Bill had overheard the conversations. The loud confrontation between Adam and Joe had drawn him to the stable first and he stood near the back door and listened in as Ben and Joe conversed after Adam left. Now he realized he needed to finish formulating a plan and carry it out soon before Adam was able to get him fired. For the next couple of days, he was going to be the model employee and do everything he was told and do it well. He would steer clear of Adam and Toni. Within a few days, they would all start to let their guard down and by then he hoped to be able to strike at the man he hated for getting between him and Toni. With his hatred growing daily, he didn’t just want to get rid of him, he wanted him to suffer too.

Miles away, Adam pulled Sport to a halt. He had pushed the animal pretty hard and even though Sport loved to run, they both needed to catch their breath. Adam didn’t trust Bill at all. The way the man looked at him with malevolent glares when no one was watching was unsettling. He knew Toni was correct that the man was strange and that he intended harm, but to who and when were questions without answers at this point. On Saturday, Tony was returning to his California ranch to make preparations for the move to Nevada. Then Adam would be the only one to protect Toni from whatever Bill was planning. They would need to talk about how they would arrange that. Well Toni would be with her father all day Friday, and Adam and Toni would be spending Saturday and Sunday together so they had until Monday to make a plan. By now he could see the ranch buildings that Tony, Toni, and their hired men were working on so he began to smile and kicked Sport into a gallop again.

Adam pulled up next to the house where Toni was apparently preparing to put in a garden. Toni was so intent on her work, she didn’t realize he was behind her until he slid his arms around her waist. Toni yelped and started to struggle until she realized who held her. She just squirmed around in his grasp. When she faced him, he realized she was a little perturbed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. You just looked so cute standing there with your shovel and I just wanted to hold you.”

“It’s okay. It’s just with Bill around I guess I’m a little on edge and you startled me. Now that you’re here though, everything is all right.” She stepped up on her toes and planted a gentle kiss on Adam’s lips. “You’re forgiven.”

“Are you ready to go. I thought I could escort you back to the Ponderosa, and we could stop at the site I told you would be a good spot for our house to see if you agree.”

“That sounds wonderful. Let me put my tools away and I’ll get Tempest saddled up.”

“Are you sure that you want to ride him now? I’ve got Sport and I don’t know how the two stallions are going to be.”

“It’s all right. I rode Tempest around the buildings here and he handled a lot better than I thought he would based on Joe’s description. I tried to be very calm when I was on him and he settled down right away. I think those who rode him before were a little intimidated by him and he took advantage of that.”

Adam helped Toni store her tools, and then they rode to the prospective building site. The lake was in the distance and the mountains and trees framed the view very well. There was a flat section of land suitable for building and then the land sloped gently down to the lake which was miles away. It wasn’t the site that Adam originally hoped to use to build a home, but it was a great choice considering Toni’s need to be close to her father. Toni looked at Adam and he could see her eyes glistening.

“What’s wrong? If you don’t like this spot, we can find another.”

“No it’s perfect. I love it here. I can’t imagine how it will be to live here with you and see this view every day of my life.”

“Well perhaps not everyday. We do need to think about a honeymoon. How about a trip to San Francisco? I can start making arrangements now if you think you would like that. It will take some months to build the house too. The men working for your father seem to be an efficient crew. I was thinking we could hire them to build the house when they are done at your father’s ranch.”

“Yes. And perfect!”

Adam smiled and drew Toni into his arms. Their worries about Bill were gone as they held each other and kissed.

“We better get going now so Hop Sing doesn’t quit and go back to China. He hates it when anyone makes dinner late.”

“Well I can cook.”

“Oh I know that. I loved that stew you made the first night I really started to know you. But Hoss will never forgive me if Hop Sing quits so we really do need to get going.”

Toni laughed, and turned to mount up on Tempest. He and Sport already seemed comfortable with each other. As they rode back to the ranch, Adam told Toni everything he knew about what had happened concerning Bill. She was uneasy and Tempest starting acting up until she realized she was communicating her unease to the horse and relaxed once again in the saddle. She and Adam agreed that they would talk later about what they were going to do, but for the time being, they just enjoyed the ride with each other.

*****

chapter 7

On Saturday morning, everyone was up early. Tony was leaving for his ranch in California and Adam and Toni were going to escort him into town and wait with him until the stage left. Ben wanted to talk with his old friend before he left so the four of them were having an early breakfast when Hoss came down the stairs hoping they had left some bacon for him. Right behind him to everyone’s surprise was Joe.

“Well I am surprised to see you boys up so early on a Saturday.”

“Well Pa we got a lot to get done today with the roundup for the drive starting on Monday, and I could smell that bacon cooking too.”

“And the dance tonight had nothing to do with you getting up so early.”

“Well now that you mention it Pa, I think that did make it a might easier to convince Joe we oughta get up and at our work early today so we had a good chance to clean up and then pick up our ladies on time.”

“Ya and we probably have to do Adam’s chores too since he’s taking Tony and Toni to town today.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. I was up hours ago and my chores are all done.”

“Well if ya would like, you could help us with ours then.”

Adam just grinned at Hoss. Nothing could spoil his mood at this moment not with Toni sitting at his side. Hoss looked at Toni and winked.

“So is this how it’s gonna be with you Adam when you’re married. Do your work, no complaining, and smiling all the time. Heck it’s like you’re a new man.” Hoss guffawed, Joe giggled, and everyone at the table was all smiles. Ben was particularly happy. He had not seen this carefree side of Adam in a long time. All the heartaches and sorrows in his life had made him build up some walls, but Toni seemed to be helping him knock them down.

After breakfast, Adam went to get the carriage ready. He and Toni were each taking a bag into town and would change before the dance. Dr. Paul had graciously offered to let them keep the bags at his home, and they could change there after completing the various errands they had in town. They planned to treat Paul to dinner at the International House restaurant, and then they would go to the dance. It was the first dance they would attend together, and Toni was nervous and excited too. She had taken dance lessons at her mother’s insistence but had no idea if Adam knew how to dance. She thought he probably did, but she had never danced with a man other than her father so she wasn’t feeling too sure of herself in this new situation.

They left the ranch earlier than they had expected so on the way to Virginia City, Adam stopped briefly at the site where he hoped to build a home for Toni and himself. He hoped that Tony would like where it would be situated.

“This is a beautiful spot. And it’s not too far from my ranch either. Far enough and not too far. You two are going to be very happy here. And my grandchildren will be able to visit me often too.”

“You’re starting to sound a lot like my Pa now. That was the exact thing he said after congratulating us on our engagement and our decision to live here on the Ponderosa.”

“I remember. I was thinking that he said what I was thinking.”

All three laughed, and climbed back into the carriage. Later, after waiting an hour with Tony at the stage depot, Toni tearfully waved goodbye as the stage drove off down the street.

“What’s wrong? You’re crying. He will be back in just over a month, and your sisters are scheduled to arrive in two weeks. I’ll be here for you.”

“Oh I guess it is just silly but this is the first time in my life that I am staying anywhere without at least one of my parents with me. I will miss Papa, but I am missing Mama now too.”

Adam, who had spent a lot of his life without a parent present didn’t know what to say. He was astounded by her statement, and had never imagined that at age twenty-six, Toni had always been with at least one parent. It made him remember all the sadness and loneliness of his childhood and how difficult it had been to be away from home when he attended college. He had learned to live with it but it still hurt. Toni looked at his sad expression and knew he was troubled by something.

“Does this remind you of something?”

Adam did a brief account of his life then and how often he had been alone without a parent’s support and guidance.

“It made you independent and strong. Now you have me, you still have your father and brothers, and soon you will have two sisters and a father-in-law. You won’t be alone again. And then of course there are the children to consider. To make our fathers happy, there will need to be a bunch of them!” Adam smiled at her.

“And how many do you think we should have?”

“Four is a good number. Two boys and two girls. I have found that I like having brothers.”

“In six weeks we can start working on that, but now we have some errands to run, and then dinner and the dance. I have my to-do list. Should we meet for lunch about noon, and then we can finish whatever is left of our errands in the afternoon?”

The day went well. Adam spent the most time at the jewelry store. Then when he saw Toni leave the dressmaker’s shop, he headed there. Mrs. Taylor was working and smiled when she got Adam’s order. She believed Toni was going to be delighted when Adam gave her the gifts he was planning. So that Toni would not know where he was, Mrs. Taylor had him slip out the back door. He made his way through the alley and headed to the restaurant where they had agreed to have lunch. Then it was more errands, a trip to Dr. Paul’s house to change, dinner, and finally about eight, they arrived at the dance. Just before entering, Adam asked Toni to wait a moment and handed her a long thin box wrapped in a green ribbon.

“What is it?”

“Just open it.”

Toni opened the box to find a gold necklace with an emerald pendant. It was a classic cut emerald set within a square of small diamonds. She gasped and looked at Adam.

“That’s why I asked if you had a green dress to wear. I saw this in the jewelry shop last week and had it set aside. May I help you put it on?” Toni handed it to him and turned around. Adam slid the necklace around her neck and fastened the clasp. Toni turned back to him then and he ran his finger along the chain on her neck down to the pendant.

“If you do more than that, we are never going to get to the dance!” Toni’s face was flushed, but Adam just smiled, took her arm in his elbow, and walked her into the dance. Inside neither was happy to see that both Bill Roberts and Susan Taylor were in attendance.

“Maybe we should introduce them to each other.”

“You have a wicked mean streak in you woman. But right now there’s a waltz, and I would sincerely appreciate if you would give me the honor of this dance.”

Adam led Toni to the dance floor and she prepared to dance with him as she had learned in class, but Adam pulled her to him, and moved along the floor gracefully with her in his arms. Toni relaxed into his lead and the two glided around the dance floor as one. Neither of them saw any of the looks thrown their way by jealous former girlfriends nor by Bill Roberts. Susan however did note the looks that Bill gave the couple and wondered what was up with him, but she was focused too on Adam and her jealousy continued to grow.

After the dance, Susan approached Adam as he went to get punch for Toni who was happily chatting with Hoss, Joe, and their ladies. Susan slid her arm over Adam’s shoulder and suggested he ought to dance with her for old time’s sake.

“Remove your arm from my shoulder or I will remove it from yours.” The animosity of the statement shocked Susan.

Hurriedly removing her arm from his shoulder, “I can’t believe you said that to me.”

“You have hurt the woman I love and will marry. I have told you before that I never want to see you again. Now if you will excuse me, I have to bring this to Toni.” Adam stalked away and Joe and Hoss were well aware of the source of his anger. Toni had been talking with her back to the scene they had witnessed so was unaware of what had transpired. Bill was passing the group and smoothly said hello to all about the time Adam arrived back in the group.

“Bill there’s an unescorted lady by the table there. I think she had her eye on you earlier so perhaps you would like to go ask her to dance.”

“Adam, that is darn cruel of you.” Adam just smirked at Hoss, but Toni was having a hard time not laughing our loud. Joe was busy with his date and didn’t realize what had happened. Toni and Adam just walked outside, and the group could hear the couple laughing hysterically once they cleared the doorway and they wondered what was so funny.

Bill did approach Susan and asked her to dance. She was intrigued with him and looked forward to the opportunity to chat with him. She noticed that as they danced, his eyes kept going to the door.

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“I’m sorry Susan. I am neglecting you after you so graciously accepted my invitation to dance. No, I love someone but now she is with another and it just breaks my heart.”

“You love Toni! Ohhh, I love Adam! This could be the start of a wonderful partnership!”

Bill smiled. He could get more information now with a willing accomplice to boot. He spent the night dancing with Susan, and invited her to have a picnic with him on Sunday afternoon. He was a handsome man, and Susan reveled in his attention.

*****

chapter 8

The following week, Toni and Adam settled into a routine. If she wanted to work at her father’s ranch, Adam rode over with her in the morning. If she planned on sewing, she stayed at the Ponderosa ranch house usually with Ben there and always with Hop Sing. Bill spent some time with Susan and everyone seemed to be hoping that they would become more involved with each other and forget about interfering in any of Adam’s and Toni’s plans for the future. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Bill was hoping for. He worked hard, followed orders without complaint, and went to see Susan whenever he had time. He learned a lot about Adam’s habits and personality from Susan as she couldn’t seem to stop talking about him when they were together. Bill kept some shackles and extra rope in his saddlebags waiting for an opportunity to put his plan into action. He hadn’t worked out all the final details yet but he envisioned a rather gruesome and painful demise for his nemesis. He wanted him to suffer for alienating Toni from him because in his mind that is the conclusion that he had drawn: that she would be his except Adam had turned her against him.

On Saturday, Adam and Toni went to town and returned with stacks of boxes which were the result of the previous Saturday’s excursion into town. Toni was intrigued by the boxes Adam had carried out of the dressmaker’s shop because she could not imagine what he had gotten there. She had ordered a number of riding outfits and dresses more suited to the temperatures of the High Sierras and the hills of the Ponderosa. Her clothing from home was fine on the hot days but on cooler days, she found herself chilled. She also had gotten rolls of fabric to begin making bedding for her father’s ranch and hoped to start a quilt that she and Adam could use when they were married. Both had been very busy all week: she had been sewing, putting in a vegetable and flower garden at her father’s ranch, and sharing recipes in the kitchen with Hop Sing. She wanted to learn how to make Adam’s favorite dishes and was sharing some of her mother’s favorite recipes with Hop Sing.

“When are you going to tell me what is in those boxes that you and Mrs. Taylor were whispering about?”

“Your birthday is next week. You’ll just have to wait until then.” With a smile, Adam carried the boxes up the stairs. “I have some work to do on the house plans and I can’t get anything done if you’re standing next to me.” Toni grinned at him then. “So do you have enough to do for the afternoon while I draw?”

“Why yes in fact, Hoss and I are going fishing.”

Adam stopped on the landing, raised his eyebrows at that, shrugged his shoulders, and went up the stairs. At least she would have a guardian who he would trust with his own life.

Toni went in search of Hoss and found him in back of the house digging for worms. He had a small bean can with dirt in it and was searching for worms without luck. Toni suggested it was too dry where he was digging and they ought to look where the soil was damp. Hoss walked behind the smokehouse then and dug in the area that was perpetually shaded there. Soon they had enough juicy worms that he was sure they would catch some fish, so they grabbed some poles and headed to the river. A few hours later they returned after a successful sojourn. They had caught a nice stringer of fish, and Hoss had gotten a good nap too. They cleaned the fish, buried the skin and such, and then brought the fish into the kitchen. Toni and Hop Sing started chatting about dinner so Hoss headed into the great room. Soon some delicious aromas started wafting into the main house. Hoss started to look forward to dinner which of course he always did but this was special because he and Toni had caught the fish.

Later they all gathered at the table and found large soup bowls on their plates. Then Toni came in carrying a large bowl of rice and Hop Sing followed with a large soup kettle and ladle. Toni handed the bowl of rice to Ben and said he should put a scoop in his bowl. Then he passed the bowl of rice around the table. Hop Sing dished up a large ladle of food from the kettle over the rice. After they each were served, the four Cartwrights just looked at the concoction in front of them.

Joe was the first to say anything. “What is this?”

“Joe, this is a New Orleans recipe my grandmother taught to my mother. We had to make some adjustments to use the ingredients we have here but I think you will like it. Let’s call it ‘fish creole’. Hop Sing has sampled it and likes it. I hope all of you do too.”

Joe, hearing it was a New Orleans recipe, dug in assuming that he would love it for that reason. Adam, Ben, and Hoss were a little slower to sample it. But Hoss started eating with enthusiasm. After Ben and Adam tasted it, they smiled at Toni too. It was delicious.

“Hoss, do you even taste what you eat?”

“Adam my stomach is demanding satisfaction. With my second helping, I’ll let my mouth in on the enjoyment. Adam, you are one lucky man. Toni sure can cook!”

“Yes, Toni is very good at a lot of things.” Adam smiled at her and she had to blush. She knew that he was referring to a lot more than cooking, sewing, and riding. Their intimate relationship was growing more and more. She wanted more and she knew Adam did too. He was sometimes frustrated when he had to pull away from her, but both wanted to wait until marriage. It was just getting more and more difficult to wait. Five more weeks was starting to seem like a very long time indeed.

The next day after church services, Adam and Toni went to the lake for a picnic. After eating, they were lying side by side on the blanket kissing until Adam pulled away and laid on his back staring up through the trees.

“Sweetheart, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Perhaps we can elope. We can go to town right now and the reverend can marry us.”

“Adam, I know it’s hard.” Adam just gave Toni one of those grins then and she knew exactly what he was thinking, and she couldn’t help it, she just started laughing and laid on her back next to him. It was quiet and they heard a horse approaching so Adam rolled over on his stomach. He looked and saw that it was Hoss which was a relief.

“Just wanted to let you know I saw Bill riding out this way. Wasn’t sure what he was up to and I don’t know where he is now. I’ll just be up on the ridge there and wanted to let you know so you didn’t think I was spying on ya or nothing.”

“Hoss you don’t have to do that. What are you going to do, just sit up there?”

“Nah, I got those stories that Sam sent to ya that ya let me borrow, and they’re real good stories too so I’m going to do some more reading. It’s nice and pretty up there so I’ll be fine.”

“Thanks. We won’t be staying much longer.”

“Anytime brother, anytime.”

Adam and Toni got up and strolled to the shoreline. They spent some time skipping stones to see who could get the most skips. Adam felt uneasy but didn’t know why. Up in the treeline, there were two pairs of eyes watching their every move. Bill and Susan had watched them for quite a while now. Jealousy and anger infused both. When Adam and Toni packed up the picnic blanket and basket, and left in the buggy, Susan and Bill began to talk. They agreed that something had to happen soon or their beloved would be lost to each of them forever.

“I need to get Cartwright out of the picture, so I can take Toni away from here. Once he’s no longer around, she’ll be able to express her feelings for me.”

“And once she leaves him, I can console him in his loss, and he will remember how he felt about me.”

They talked more and more, but the same basic theme prevailed. It was only later when Susan was at home, that she began to wonder at some of the phrases Bill had used. He wouldn’t hurt Adam, would he? Well not seriously of course. He had shown himself to be a true gentleman with her, so she decided she needed to trust him on this, but she remained a bit uneasy whenever she thought of how he looked and sounded on that Sunday afternoon by the lake.

*****

chapter 9

On Monday, they all settled back into their routine. The only difference was that Adam had to go to the timber camps with maps for marking trees and to the sawmill to get an order started. He also wanted to do some preliminary work on choosing wood for their home construction, so he left early but not before making sure that Hoss or Joe would be available to escort Toni to her father’s ranch if she needed to go. When he arrived home just before dinner, he was tired and a bit saddlesore. Toni came rushing into the stable as he was rubbing Sport down. She explained that she had gotten a telegram that her sister Teresa would be there within two days. Teresa’s husband David was going to Salt Lake City on business and would travel directly to the Ponderosa from there. Therefore her sister was free to travel sooner, and she and her young son were already on their way.

“You’ll like Teresa. She’s fun loving but is a great fan of poetry, classical literature, and music. She and I have had wonderful discussions. Her son Davy is a charmer, and I think he will love Hoss and Joe.” Adam was amused by her excitement.

“So she will be here for your birthday. I guess it will be a family dinner instead of a romantic dinner in town then.”

“Oh you are not too disappointed are you? I haven’t seen my sister in a long time now and Davy must have grown a lot since I saw him last.”

“No I’m just teasing you a little. I am happy that you are so happy.” Adam embraced her then and kissed her. They walked arm-in-arm to the house so that Hop Sing wouldn’t have to yell at them for being late. Adam went to the washroom and cleaned up a bit and joined his family for dinner. The rest of the family and Hop Sing already knew of Teresa impending arrival and were just as amused as Adam with Toni’s obvious excitement.

By Tuesday evening, Toni could hardly go to sleep with the excitement that was building, and woke up very early on Wednesday morning. She dressed and went very quietly down stairs thinking she must be the only one awake so early, but the fireplace was stoked and there was a merry blaze there taking the early morning chill out of the room. As she entered the great room, Hop Sing came out carrying a tray with a cup of tea with sugar, and a fresh baked cookie for her. She was amazed, but she shouldn’t have been because Adam had told her they were constantly amazed that Hop Sing seemed to know what would happen before it did. Then Hop Sing returned to the room with a cup of coffee and another cookie on a plate just before Adam walked in from outside.

“Couldn’t sleep?” they both said almost simultaneously, and then laughed. “You first.”

“I wanted to get my chores done so I could clean up before we went to town to greet your sister and nephew.”

“I was just too excited to sleep any more. I can’t wait for the two of you to meet, and to have them stay here. Teresa and I can start working on my dress, and planning the wedding. I want to take her riding too to see Papa’s ranch and to see some of the Ponderosa.”

“As long as there is someone with you? Please.”

“Do you think we need to? Everything seems to be fine and everyone says that Bill is spending all of his free time with Susan. Who would have thought that your mean little stunt could turn out so well.”

“Well if you recall I was only acting on your suggestion. I’m still not comfortable with the situation. I don’t trust him and most definitely don’t trust Susan.”

“Joe won’t fire him then?”

“No he’s been a good worker, hasn’t caused any trouble, and Joe says he needs him for the drive. At least when the drive starts, he’ll be gone for a few weeks. That reminds me that Hoss has cut out some young bulls and a few cows that he thinks your father may like. We should ride out to the south pasture where he has them to see if you agree. If you do, we’ll hold them there until your father can give us a definite answer.”

“Perhaps tomorrow then, and Teresa can ride with us.”

“A chaperone?”

“It might help.” Toni just laughed at his expression.

They got to town early, and greeted some of the people that Toni had already met. They received a lot of good wishes and hopes that the weather would be fine on their wedding day. By about 11:30 with the stage almost an hour late, Toni was fidgeting and worried that something had happened. Adam tried to let her know this was not an unusual occurrence for a stage run that came through the mountains but she would not be comforted. Finally they heard the stage coming in and Toni rushed outside the depot. When they stage pulled to a stop, she immediately questioned the driver as to why they were late. He said they had to change out some harness at one of the way stations and that they had a full load so they couldn’t go as fast as usual. The door to the stage opened and a beautiful young lady emerged laughing with delight. She turned to reach back for a toddler who was wide-eyed with wonder at this new town and its sights.

“Some things never change little sister. How did I know you would grill the poor man as soon as he stopped the stage.” Toni rushed forward and hugged her sister. Both soon had tears streaming down their cheeks. “Davy do you remember your Aunt Toni?”

“Yes, she’s the horsey lady. She gives me rides on her horsey.” He reached up his arms for Toni to pick him up.

“Teresa, this is Adam.” Teresa looked up into the tall dark cowboy’s sparkling eyes and turned to Toni and leaned over to whisper in Toni’s ear. “You never said he was gorgeous.” Adam took Teresa’s hand and kissed the back of it.

“Welcome to Virginia City. I have heard so much about you. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here.”

“Oh I’m sure I will. The scenery is gorgeous here.”

Adam walked to the stage. Both Toni and Teresa watched him as he bent to pick up their bags and trunks and then carried them to the buggy. They turned to each other and giggled. After stowing everything in the back of the buggy, he asked if they would like lunch in town or if they would prefer to go directly to the ranch. Teresa said it would be fine to wait until they got to the ranch, but Toni let her know that would be about two hours from then. Teresa changed her mind then and said they would like a light lunch before leaving. Toni put Davy down as he was getting rather big to hold for very long and he leaned back to look up at Adam.

“You real tall.”

“Would you like to see what it looks like from up here?” Davy shook his head yes and Adam picked him up and put him on his shoulder. Davy had a huge grin and started to look around at all there was to see.

“My son has no fear. That scares me to death every time he is out of my sight. I never know what he’s going to be doing next. And he runs instead of walking whenever he can.”

Adam looked at Toni and smiled. “Remind you of anyone? This is exactly what Joe was like when he was young, and he’s not that much different now. Let’s be sure to give your sister the downstairs guest room so we don’t have anyone crawling out on the roof.”

After a quick lunch, Adam helped the ladies and Davy into the buggy and they headed to the Ponderosa. After more than an hour, Teresa asked how much further they would go before seeing the ranch, and Toni replied that they had been on the Ponderosa for almost half an hour already and that in about forty minutes they would be at the ranch house. Tony had talked about his friend Ben’s large ranch but Teresa had no idea it was that large. When they got to the ranch house, Ben, Hoss, and Joe all came out to greet them. Davy had thought that Adam was big but when he saw Hoss, he just stood with his mouth open and stared up at him. Hoss made the same offer that Adam had and soon Davy was seated on Hoss’ broad shoulders. He wanted to see the horses so Hoss took him over to the corral. Joe took care of the carriage while Ben and Adam carried the bags and trunks into the downstairs bedroom. Toni spent the next hour helping Teresa unpack and get settled in.

Hop Sing had prepared a special dinner that night. There was roast pork, baked apples, sweet potatoes, and corn bread. It was to celebrate Teresa’s arrival as well as Toni’s birthday. Hop Sing brought out a chocolate layer cake with candles, and Ben opened a bottle of champagne that he had been chilling all day. After dinner, everyone settled into a seat in the great room. Toni sat on the settee with Adam on one side and Teresa on the other.

“You told me I would know what was in those boxes when it was my birthday. So there are only a few more hours of my birthday left.” Adam smiled, stood, and reached behind Ben’s desk to pick up three boxes for Toni to open. He set them on the coffee table, and said she could open whichever one she wanted first. Toni opened the biggest box to find a light blue corduroy jacket with matching leather gloves. She turned to Adam and thanked him for being so thoughtful because she would need those with the cold winters here. She opened the middle sized box next and found a a navy blue split skirt and a blouse the same color as the jacket. Now she had tears in her eyes because she knew he had ordered this all made especially for her. She opened the smallest box last. It looked like a hat box and that is what was in it: a navy blue hat with a band that matched the one on Adam’s hat. There were two holes on one side of the hat and a small leather strap. She looked in the bottom of the box and there was a large white feather.

“Mrs. Taylor insisted that on more formal occasions you might like to put a feather in your hat.” Toni started to laugh and cry at the same time. Teresa wrapped her arms around her and whispered in her ear. “You got a winner with this one. He was worth the wait!”

*****

chapter 10

On Thursday, Adam rode with Toni and Teresa to Tony’s ranch. Davy took turns riding with each of them. After a fixing lunch there, they rode to the lake and up to the rim above the lake to see the views. By then, Davy was sleeping and Adam had his arm wrapped around him as Davy snuggled back into him. He stayed on his horse at the last stop so Davy would not awaken.

“He’s good with children too. He can’t be this perfect.”

“Well he can be a bit moody and touchy about some things, but yes, overall he is perfect!” They both giggled.

“When we get back to the house, let’s get this show on the road. We got a wedding to plan! Race you back to the house?”

Both ladies raced to their horses and took off at a gallop. Adam just shook his head, turned Sport toward home, and rode slowly back. When he got to the yard, Toni was all smiles because Tempest had won by more than one hundred yards, but Teresa said it was only because she knew where she was going so she could be more confident. The sibling rivalry discussion continued for the rest of the afternoon until Adam declared that Toni won because she gave herself a better horse. That seemed to satisfy the two of them. They then began working on wedding plans the rest of the day so Adam excused himself to his room to work on the drawings and specifications for their house. He was nearly done and wanted to order the lumber and other supplies soon so that they could begin construction within a month.

On Friday, Hoss asked for help with the roundup in the northwestern high pastures. A lot of the cows had gotten themselves into various small canyons up there and it was going to be tough job to round them up, head them out, and then keep them together for the drive. He asked Joe and some of the wranglers to be ready to hold them as they came down through the meadow below the canyon so they wouldn’t scatter again. He wanted Adam to position himself at the top of the meadow and steer the cattle that came his way into the meadow where Joe and the wranglers could round them up. Hoss’ regular crew would do the searching of the canyons pushing the cattle down toward where Adam would turn them.

That morning, Susan decided that she needed to speak with Bill. The more she thought about the things he had said, the more she worried that he was going to do something to Adam. She arrived at the Ponderosa to find almost everyone gone. She knocked on the door and Toni and Teresa answered. When Toni saw Susan, she wanted to shut the door but instead asked if she could help her. Susan said she needed to see Bill so Toni said he was helping with the roundup and would be about five miles to the northwest if Susan wanted to try to find him. Susan excused herself, and got back on her horse and rode off. Toni shook her head in wonder that the woman who was so critical of how she rode, rode the same way. Teresa asked who the woman was and what was going on so Toni filled her in on the whole Susan and Bill saga.

At noon, the men on roundup had agreed, they would all take a lunch break wherever they were. Adam dismounted and led Sport to a small stream for a drink and then let him graze a little as he unwrapped the sandwich that Hop Sing had sent along. He sat on a log and watched Sport lazily meander. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks and debris hid the sound of someone coming up behind him and suddenly he felt a sharp stab in his left side. He gasped in pain as someone pushed him to the ground. Working to get his breathing under control, Adam rolled onto his right side and looked up as Bill stood over him holding a bloody knife.

“Time’s up for you, Cartwright. I’m in control now.” Bill kicked Adam in the abdomen and as he gasped in pain, Bill pushed him onto his back and pulled his gun out of the holster and tossed it aside. Then he pushed a manacle on his left wrist and tied a piece of rope through. “Get up and move.” Adam struggled to rise but with Bill pulling on the rope and the pain in his back, he fell. Bill kicked him again and again screaming to him to get up and move. Finally he started to drag Adam to the trail where the cattle would come pounding through in a short time. He secured the rope to a small sapling and then tied a rope to his left ankle and went to tie that to a sapling on the other side of the trail as Susan rode up.

“No, no, stop. You hurt him. You weren’t supposed to hurt him like this.”

Susan dismounted and ran to Bill and tried to get the rope from him. In the struggle, Bill dropped the rope and began to push Susan away but she was not to be stopped. The bellowing of cows could be heard getting closer and closer. Bill could not subdue Susan and they continued to struggle. Even in the great pain he was in, Adam realized the danger he was in and tried to roll away from the trail. He could only get so far though because of the rope securing his left arm to the sapling. When he heard the cattle were nearly on them, he pushed himself up against a large boulder and did his best to protect his upper body and his head. Bill realized the danger too and with a burst of strength shoved Susan to the ground just as the first cows came pounding through. Susan never had a chance and was trampled to death with her screams lasting only seconds. Bill took a glancing blow and then fled through the brush. Adam got kicked a few times and his left leg was trampled and he screamed in pain. Hoss was pushing the cattle through and was horrified when he got to the scene.

He ran first to the black clad figure hunched up by a large boulder.

“Adam, what happened?” Adam was in no shape to answer. Hoss saw the manacle on his wrist and the rope tied to the sapling. He cut the rope away and carefully rolled Adam away from the boulder to survey his injuries. Hoss fired the Cartwright signal for distress: three pistol shots. He hoped help would arrive soon and it did. Joe and the wranglers were the first to arrive. They were as shocked as Hoss had been to find an unidentifiable body that looked female lying in the trail, and Adam wounded, beaten, and trampled with a manacle on his wrist and a rope tied to his left ankle.

“Joe, have some men get the wagon up here as soon as you can. Send Hop Sing and medical supplies and bandages with it. Send your fastest rider to get Dr. Paul, and tell him to send Roy. You better get to the house too and let them know we’re bringing Adam in and he’s hurt real bad.”

Hoss found the wound on his back and ran to his saddlebags to get the large napkins that Hop Sing had used to wrap his lunch. He folded them into a thick pad and pressed it up against the wound. Adam groaned and tried to pull away but Hoss just kept talking to him and telling him not to move so they could get the bleeding stopped.

*****

At the house, after sending out the wagon with Hop Sing, Joe went inside to tell his father and Toni what had happened. Toni wanted to go to Adam but Joe and Ben insisted that Hoss and Hop Sing would do what was needed and they were preparations they should make for Adam’s arrival at the house. Adam’s bed was stripped of the quilt and blankets and several sheets were draped over the bottom sheet. After he was cleaned up, it would be easier to remove the soiled bed linens and he would lie on a clean sheet. Ben had Toni and Teresa tear up some bedsheets for more bandages because at this point they didn’t know how many they would need. Pots of water were set to boil on the stove so they would have plenty to clean Adam up once he arrived at the ranch.

As they heard the wagon pull up outside, Toni ran to the door and outside. Hoss was climbing in to the back of the wagon to pick up Adam. Ben moved to the side of the wagon to take him when Hoss lifted him down. Joe had to wrap his arms around Toni who was distraught and wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. Hoss jumped down from the wagon and took Adam from Ben’s arms and carried him into the house and up to his room. Adam was unconscious which was fortuitous at this time because the pain would have been excruciating.

Toni, and Ben undressed Adam cutting away most of his clothing so they would not have to jostle him much. With bowls of warm soapy water that Teresa brought to the room, they bathed the blood and dirt from his body. Tears ran down Toni’s face as she worked but she stayed composed and efficiently worked to help Adam in any way she could. As they worked, Hop Sing kept a steady pressure on the wound on his back. When he was clean, they carefully tipped his body to the right and pulled the sheets away from that side of the bed and folded them toward him, and then with Ben supporting his left side, they rolled him that way over the folded sheets and removed the soiled ones. Ben rolled those up and Teresa gathered them and the bowls and took them away. Carefully Ben and Toni pulled a sheet up to Adam’s waist and then laid a blanket over that. Ben folded another blanket and laid it over his upper body to his chin. Hoss had brought tools from the barn and removed the manacle. Other than that, all they could do was wait for Paul’s arrival.

Downstairs, Hoss, Joe, and Teresa were discussing what had happened. Both of the men thought the body was that of a woman but after being trampled it was difficult to tell and their concern had been more for Adam. Teresa said that Susan had been at the house earlier and that Toni had given directions for her to find Bill. After Teresa described what Susan had been wearing, they were sure that it was Susan who had been trampled to death. Joe wondered where Bill was. He had not seen him since just before the lunch break. Both Hoss and Joe began to wonder if Bill was responsible for what had happened, but until Adam was able to tell them something, they was nothing they could do. Davy slept undisturbed in the downstairs bedroom, and he was the only one who would get any rest in the house this day and night.

*****

chapter 11

Dr. Paul Martin arrived at the Ponderosa as the same time as Sheriff Roy Coffee Even though they had raced to get there, it had been hours since Adam was injured. Paul came through the door and before anyone could say a word he moved to the stairs.

“Unfortunately, I know the way.” He rushed up the stairs. So many times he had to patch up one of Ben’s sons. Each time, he just hoped it would not be too serious. He was wondering again if retirement wouldn’t be a welcome relief. But at this point he had to wall his emotions up inside because he had a patient who needed him. As he walked into Adam’s room, he saw him lying on his right side with a very pale pallor and breathing very shallowly. Hop Sing was at his left side pressing a large wad of cloth to his back. Ben and Toni sat on the right side of the bed and Toni was holding his hand.

“Paul I’m afraid he has some broken ribs again. He struggles with every breath he takes.”

“Ben and Toni, I want the two of you to leave please. Hop Sing can help me with Adam.”

“I want to stay.” was an instant response.

“Ben you know you would just be in the way and I can’t be answering your questions while I try to care for your son. It is just too distracting. Toni have you ever nursed someone with serious injuries like these?”

“No but I just want to be here for him.”

“From the looks of him, he has no idea anyone is here at the moment. You can do more by getting some food and some rest because he will need to have someone with him later and probably for the next twenty-four hours.”

Reluctantly, Toni let Ben escort her from the room. Once in the hallway with the door closed behind them, she almost collapsed in grief. Ben was ready though because he had seen how distraught she was and caught her before she could fall to the floor. He wrapped his arms around her and just held her for a few minutes as she cried her heart out.

“Adam has been hurt before and worse than this. He’s very strong, and Paul is a very good doctor. With Hop Sing’s help, he will have Adam patched up very soon.”

Ben’s words were too optimistic though. After escorting Toni to the great room where the others were gathered with Roy, it was over two hours before they saw Paul appear at the top of the stairs to tell them that they could see him. Roy had gotten the information he could from Hoss, Joe, Teresa, and Toni so he took his leave. Roy did not want to intrude on the family any more than he needed. He had a soft spot for Adam though and had to wipe away a few tears before he mounted up and rode away. He had some time now to think about what he had learned and to say some prayers for Adam’s recovery. It just didn’t seem fair that he would get hurt so badly when he had finally gotten the lady in his life that he had been looking for these many years. He also had the unpleasant task ahead of him to tell Mrs. Taylor of her daughter’s death. The hands had brought in Sport and Susan’s horse while Paul was caring for Adam and Roy was questioning the others who had been at the scene. It had pretty much confirmed that the body was Susan.

When Paul appeared, Toni raced everyone to the top of the stairs and paused to ask Paul how Adam was. Ben, Hoss, Joe, and Teresa followed up the stairs and heard the answer to the question they all wanted to ask as well.

“It looks a lot worse than it is. The most serious is that stab wound in his back, but the blow was struck at a downward angle so even though it penetrated about six inches, there was no critical damage. It took some time to stop the bleeding, clean the wound, and stitch that up but it looks good at this time. The blood loss will make him weak but if there are no complications, the only result will be a small scar. He’s not conscious now but that’s the result of the shock and the pain as well as the blood loss. He has several broken ribs but none are displaced so he’s wrapped up tightly to hold them in place as they heal. He has numerous severe contusions or bruises on his back, left side, and his left leg. Some are the result of the cattle trampling him but others look more like he was kicked especially those on his back and left side. He is going to be stiff and in quite a bit of pain for the next week as those heal. There was a severe laceration on his left wrist that looks like it was from him being chained.” With that, he raised a quizzical eyebrow at them.

“Doc when I got to him, there was a manacle on his wrist and a rope tying him to a tree and another rope around his left ankle. Somebody meant to tie him across the trail so he would be trampled to death.” Toni went white with shock at that because even though she already knew it from hearing Hoss discuss it with Roy, the thought that someone could do that to Adam was abhorrent. Looking at her, Ben took her arm again, and Paul suggested they ought to get her sitting down. Toni insisted the only place she wanted to sit was next to Adam so Ben and Teresa walked her to his room. Hop Sing was leaving with the debris from Paul’s work, but stopped to tell Toni that she was the medicine Mr. Adam needed now.

Toni moved to sit on Adam’s right side. Ben pulled another chair from Adam’s desk over to the left side of the bed. Teresa said she would ask for coffee or tea for them and would be right back. By the time she got downstairs, Davy was awake and needing attention so she asked if someone could bring tea and coffee upstairs. Joe volunteered. He and Adam frequently had their differences but he loved his brother dearly. He was feeling guilty too because he suspected as did Hoss and Roy that it was Bill who had done this. If that was true, then Joe believed he was at fault for putting Adam in danger. He had dismissed Adam’s concerns about Bill because it seemed Adam was always suspicious of strangers and made them prove themselves before he accepted them. Joe liked to have more faith in people and knew once again that he may have caused harm by doing that. After delivering tea to Toni and coffee to his Pa, he came downstairs to talk with Hoss.

“Hoss, we gotta find Bill. I have to do this.”

“Joe, we don’t know that he did this. Adam ain’t been able to tell us anything yet. Although it does make Bill look more guilty by him disappearing like this.”

“I just think we should find him and get him back here. We need to know what the heck is going on and there’s nothing we can do here. Paul says that Adam is going to be all right. What we can do is find Bill. If you don’t want to go, I’ll get some hands and we’ll go, but you’re the best tracker here other than Adam so I could really use your help.”

“Get a couple of the hands. Just don’t tell everybody what we’re doing. We don’t need to stir up a lynch mob. Of course if he did do this, I may just strangle him with my bare hands.”

*****

chapter 12

Adam cried out in his torment. “Toni, Toni, why did you do this to me? Why did you hurt me so much? Please make it stop. The pain is so awful, the pain.” And then he collapsed into his father’s arms. Ben began to cry when he realized his son was no longer breathing. His sightless eyes just stared at the ceiling. Ben glared at Toni. “You’ve killed my son. Get out of here, Get out!” She turned to run and there were Hoss and Joe with hostile glares to match Ben’s. “Wish older brother had never laid eyes on you. We were a happy family till you got here.” “You can run but you will never be able to hide from me. After my family buries my brother, I’ll find you and make you pay!”

Toni yelped as she awoke to Ben’s hand on her arm. She looked up into his eyes not to see condemnation but only concern. She turned suddenly and looked at the bed. Adam was still unconscious it appeared and his breathing still sounded raspy, but he was alive!

“A bad dream?”

“Yes. A horrible dream! How does anyone cope with this? I see him hurt and suffering and everyone knows it’s my fault. If I hadn’t brought Bill Roberts into his life, none of this would have happened. He wouldn’t be lying there in agony because of what I did. How can he love me and marry me after this?” Tears were running down her cheeks.

“Now you listen here. None of this is your fault. If Bill did this, then it is his fault and his alone. You and Adam are so much alike in some ways that it is frightening. He always wants to shoulder the responsibility too when things go wrong, but everyone is responsible only for what they do, not what others choose to do. You and Adam have acted with the highest level of decency and morality here. I know that some things have been difficult for the two of you. But I can tell that you and my son know what is right and despite any difficulties, you will only do what your principles allow you to do. So there will be no more talk of blame. We will concentrate on getting Adam healthy and on his feet again because I don’t think either of you would be willing to postpone the wedding!” Ben smiled at her with the last comment, and Toni blushed because he had to know the struggles they had to maintain their decision to wait for marriage.

“Can’t a man get some peace and quiet when he’s dying?” The voice was weak but clear.

“Oh Adam, you’re not dying. Dr. Paul said you’re going to be fine.” Toni knelt by the side of the bed and grasped Adam’s hand.

“Well I do trust him but about ninety per cent of me feels like it’s dying.”

“Son if you’re gonna let yourself get run over by a herd of cattle, that’s how you’re gonna feel.”

“It wasn’t my idea. Bill tried to kill me. Susan saved my life. If she hadn’t fought with Bill, I would have had that whole herd trampling over me. What happened to her? Is she hurt? I heard her scream but then the cows were there and I don’t remember anything else.”

Ben glanced at Toni and wondered how much they ought to tell him. The pause was enough though.

“She’s dead isn’t she?”

“Yes. From what Hoss and Joe said, it looked like she never had a chance. It was probably over in seconds. Roy went to tell her mother.”

Adam closed his eyes. Toni wondered what he was thinking, but realized that he had fallen asleep. Ben looked at her and nodded, and then went to tell the others that Adam had been awake and had confirmed what they had suspected about Bill. The news about Susan was unexpected but could perhaps give some consolation to Mrs. Taylor. When he got to the great room, he found Teresa reading a story to Davy, and no one else was there. Teresa looked up as he came down the stairs.

“Adam is going to be fine. He was awake and confirmed that Bill did this. Do you know where Hoss and Joe are?”

“They took some of the hands and went to track down Bill. They thought he ought to come back here and answer some questions.”

Now Ben was doubly worried, for his son who was seriously injured, and for his other two sons who were tracking the man who had harmed him.

Toni sat next to Adam and held his right hand and caressed the back of it. She accepted most of what Ben had said and was glad he wasn’t blaming her. She was still wondering though if she could have done something differently with Bill so that this would not have happened. Ben had said she was not to blame. Toni just hoped and prayed that Adam would feel the same way. She had never loved anyone like she loved him. Even with such a short time together, she couldn’t imagine being with anyone else for the rest of her life. She sighed and rested her forehead against Adam’s hand, and waited for him to awaken again. She wondered where Bill Roberts was and she worried about what he might do next.

The man in question, Bill Roberts had about five hours head start on the men who were following him and took full advantage of it. He made good progress and managed to set a number of false trails into shale and other debris so that they would lose time before they realized he had not gone any of those ways. Then about four hours into the ride going west, he turned from the well used trail he was on and went due north riding up a shallow stream for about one half mile. He thought they would expect him to go east or west, and it was not likely that anyone thought he would head north into the much rougher country. With the other tracks on the trail, he hoped they would never find where he had turned off. He planned to push another two hours through this terrain and head to higher ground. There he would make a cold camp and watch to see if anyone was following. He wondered if Adam Cartwright was dead. He probably should be but that darn Susan had interfered and now he wasn’t sure if his plan had worked. Well he thought she at least got what was a deserved demise. He was tired of her endless prattling on about Adam Cartwright. Well he wouldn’t have to put up with that anymore. If Adam was dead, he wondered how he would get Toni. He had not thought his plan through to this point as he had been focused solely on eliminating his rival. He had more thinking to do now.

At the stream where Bill had turned north, Hoss, Joe, Charlie, and Hank were stopping to get water. Hoss couldn’t track him on the trail because there were too many tracks already so they had just been watching to see if he veered off the trail at any point. The had already lost time following false trails so they knew he was worried about being followed. It was all they needed to be sure he had been the one to attack Adam. Now they just needed to catch him.

“Hey Hoss. We’ve used this stream for fresh water before and I never remember this much debris floating downstream. Usually there’s just a nice steady flow of cool, clean water over these rocks. I need a cloth to cover the canteens or we aren’t going to be able to use this water.”

Hoss walked over to where Joe was and noticed the leaves and other material washing over the rocks. He looked north and there were no clouds over the mountains to indicate that a rainfall could have washed debris into the creek. He looked at the others, pointed north, mounted up on Chubb and began following the creek looking for signs of a horse leaving the stream. In twenty minutes they found where a horse had exited, and began to follow a clear trail for the first time that day. Joe looked ahead at the terrain.

“Hoss I think he’s likely headed to the ridge about half way up that mountain there. He could see us coming from a couple of miles away. He could pick us off one by one if he is any good with a rifle cause he would have the high ground and there’s no cover below that hill since that avalanche last year took out all the trees. When we were up here hunting a couple of months ago, Adam showed me some trails the Paiutes use. I think I could use those and come up behind anyone who tries to camp near that rim.”

“Why don’t you and Charlie head that way then. We’ll wait here for a bit and then go slow like we’re having a hard time finding the trail he left.”

Joe and Charlie turned and rode directly to the west then and disappeared quickly as they rode further into the trees. Even if Bill was already watching from that vantage point, he would likely not be able to see them that clearly yet because of the tree cover. Hoss and Hank got down and watered and rested the horses. After about an hour, they mounted up and went very slowly along the trail that they believed Bill had left. Just as twilight was descending, a rifle shot plowed into the dirt at Chubb’s feet startling both horses and riders. Hoss and Hank quickly got down and stood behind their horses. They had gotten far enough that they were in the open. After just a few minutes, they heard three pistol shots. As they looked up to the ridge, they saw a man standing and waving his arm at them. They couldn’t tell who it was in the light that was left, but it was clear that there was no longer a threat. They rode carefully up the steep incline until reaching the area where they had seen the man waving.

“About time you got here. Next time we need to get you a stronger horse.”

“Chubb is just fine. That’s just a purty steep climb. Ya got him then?”

“Yup. Tied up over behind those boulders. Charlie’s keeping an eye on him.”

“What’d he have to say.”

“Nothing yet. We were sneaking up on him, but I ran and had to club him when I realized he was shooting at you. He hasn’t woken up yet. We’ve been setting up camp waiting for you. Charlie trussed him up like a calf for branding. We can take him back tomorrow morning.”

Hoss and Hank walked over to look at their quarry. He had a large lump on the back of his head but wasn’t bleeding any more. Charlie had tied his wrists and his ankles together and then tied a rope between the two bindings. He wasn’t going anywhere.

“He could die before we get back.”

“Don’t matter too much now Hank. He’s gonna hang for killing Susan anyway. It would just save a trial.”

“Seems a shame he don’t get punished for what he done to your brother.”

“Charlie, I think that lump on his head that Joe gave him is a pretty good payment for now. He’s gonna have a pounding headache when he wakes up and that ride back is gonna be torture for him with every step that horse takes. About five or six hours of hard riding ought to be a good payback.” Charlie grinned in satisfaction at that. The long time foreman of the Ponderosa thought of Ben’s sons as family.

Joe had taken a seat by the fire and was unusually quiet. Hoss and Charlie walked over and started getting coffee and some food ready.

“What’s bothering you Joe?”

“It’s my fault too. If I hadn’t insisted on keeping Bill working for us, he wouldn’t have been able to hurt Adam like that. I wish I could get punished too so I wouldn’t have to feel this awful guilt. How can I look Adam in the eye when I get back when it’s my fault he’s hurt? Damn, and Toni must hate me. Don’t tell me it isn’t my fault. I don’t want to hear it.”

Joe got up and stalked off to the ridge and stared down the valley. Hoss knew it wouldn’t do any good to try talking to him now. His anger always flared white hot and you couldn’t reason with him when he was like that. He was just going to have to stew on it a bit. They could talk tomorrow when he cooled down. Hank and Charlie looked at Hoss and shrugged. They had drawn the same conclusion apparently. It was a quiet meal when the food and coffee were ready, and they were all ready to sack out on their bedrolls when they finished cleaning up. They were awakened about two hours later by Bill moaning. They told him to shut up or they’d have Joe hit him again. He laid silently when he realized that these were Adam’s brothers: he didn’t want to give them an excuse to kill him.

The next day after delivering Bill to Sheriff Coffee, they were anxious to get to the ranch to see how Adam was doing. When they went through the door, they saw Toni coming from the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a bowl of broth on a tray. She smiled to see them which relieved them immediately of their worst fears. She wouldn’t be smiling unless Adam was truly all right.

“He had coffee and broth for breakfast and he wants more now. You can go up and see him. Quietly though; your father is sleeping in the rocking chair.”

Hoss hurried to the stairs to go see his brother. Joe hung back not sure what his reception would be. Toni set the tray down on the second step of the stairs and turned to Joe.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry Toni. This is all my fault. If I had let Bill go like Adam wanted, none of this would have happened.”

“I’ll tell you something a very wise man said to me yesterday when I was blaming myself for Adam being hurt because I brought Bill into his life. ‘None of this is your fault. If Bill did this, then it is his fault and his alone. Everyone is responsible only for what they do, not what others choose to do.’ It made me feel better.”

“Pa?”

“Of course, Papa Ben is a very wise man. Adam doesn’t blame us either. He wasn’t hit on the head so he has been coherent ever since he first woke up. He is worried that Bill could hurt us again but I assume you and Hoss took care of that threat.”

“He’s in jail. He has a very sore head too. ‘Papa Ben’ huh?”

“Why don’t you take the broth and coffee up to Adam. Then maybe you and Hoss can get your father to go lie down in his own bed. I’ll go help Hop Sing get lunch for everyone.”

Joe grabbed the tray and with a lighter heart, went to see his brother.

*****

chapter 13

Toni stormed out of Adam’s room and nearly ran in to Ben in the hallway. Ben just grabbed her arms and smiled.

“Want to tell me what’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry. I know he’s hurting, but he can be amazingly annoying. Nothing is right. I gave him every book in there and none were what he wanted. I am just so frustrated. He’s acting like a child but trying to make me feel guilty about it.”

“Adam has never been a good patient. He gets angry when he’s ill or hurt. Hoss would enjoy relaxing and being entertained, but Adam as well as Joe get kind of crazy lying in bed. Luckily Paul said a week so we only have three more days of this.”

“I may do something I’m sorry for before those three days are up!”

“We need to break the routine for him, get his mind working on something. Is there something for the wedding or for the house you are planning that he could do while in bed?”

Toni started thinking about that. It would have to be something to make him think not any repetitive task. She had an idea!

“Just a moment. I need some paper and a pencil. Do you think Paul would object if we could get him from the bed to his drafting desk?”

“I think Paul would be surprised that Adam hasn’t tried to get downstairs already. Yes with Hoss and Joe, I am sure we can get him to his desk with no trouble. What do you have in mind?”

“Well the house plans are nearly finished, but we will need furniture and other basic items in the rooms. He could start making a plan for that and then listing what we need to purchase.”

Within an hour, they had Adam sitting at his desk with the house plans in front of him, paper, and a pencil with instructions to start making a plan for furnishing his house. He worked for over two hours and when Toni came to check on him, he had made a lot of progress. He smiled as she came in the room.

“There’s one more thing I can do when I’m sitting here.”

“What’s that?”

As Toni stepped next to Adams, he pulled her to him with his right arm. His left arm was still limited in mobility due to the injuries to his back, side, and ribs. Toni wrapped her arms gently around him, and they kissed.

“I’m sorry I have been acting so badly. I just go kind of crazy lying in bed all day, every day. I’ll try to mind my manners better. Thank you for putting up with me. I am rather tired now though so could you please ask Hoss or Joe to help me back to the bed?”

“Hoss should be up here in a moment. Papa Ben suggested that it was probably time for you to rest.” Adam smiled. Some things never changed.

“Perhaps at dinner time, I could sit up at the table next to my bed and eat like a normal person? Would you dine with me, my lady?” Toni nodded yes and kissed him. Hoss arrived and helped Adam back to bed. Within minutes, he was asleep. Toni kissed him on the cheek and left him to his slumber.

Adam awoke about two hours later and sensed someone in the room. He turned his head to his right and came eye-to-eye with a little blond tyke who asked him if he was going to be okay. Adam assured him he was feeling better. Davy asked if he could climb up on the bed, and Adam slid over a little to his left to accommodate him.

“Unca Addum, I’m kinda cold too.” So Adam lifted the covers and Davy snuggled in next to him. Adam wrapped his arm around him so he couldn’t roll out of bed.

“Would you like me to tell you a story?” Davy shook his head affirmatively and looked at Adam. “Well, I am going to tell you about the time my brother Hoss brought home some baby raccoons. They were all soft and snuggly and each one was only about the size of your hand.” Davy picked up his hand and pictured how small the raccoons were. “Hoss hid them in the barn and fed them scraps of food. They grew bigger and started to make some trouble in the barn. . . . ”

Teresa went in to the guest room to wake Davy from his nap because he had been sleeping much longer than usual. She panicked when she found the bed was empty. She ran into the great room and then everyone began to search for the little boy. No one thought he could have opened the front door by himself so the search was room by room in the house. When checking the bedrooms upstairs, Toni decided to push the door further open to Adam’s room to see if he was still asleep, and she had to smile. She went back to the top of the stairs and signaled everyone to come up stairs. They all walked quietly down the hall to peek in Adam’s door to see Davy snuggled up to Adam who had his arm wrapped around the little boy

For the next three days, Adam’s mood improved dramatically as Teresa allowed Davy to spend time with him. Adam told him stories about his brothers’ escapades when they were younger, they drew pictures, and Adam sang songs with Davy teaching him words to the chorus on several tunes. They took their naps together in the afternoon. Teresa said it was the most relaxed she had been since Davy learned to walk.

With Davy occupied a few hours each day, Toni and Teresa were able to start work on a wedding dress for Toni, and began to prepare decorations as well. One afternoon as Adam and Davy were napping, and the other men were busy outside, Toni asked Teresa a question that had been on her mind for weeks. Toni’s mother never had a talk with her about what was expected between a man and a woman in marriage because Toni had never been engaged and that was when Rosa had thought it was the appropriate time to discuss such things. So Toni turned to her sister instead.

“Teresa, growing up on a ranch, I have a basic understanding of what happens between a man and a woman when they are married. But I try to picture it in my head, and it just seems so silly and not very enjoyable. Teresa, I really don’t know what happens. What am I expected to do?”

“Well sis, for one thing, it may be a lot different than what you may be imagining. It brings a man and a woman closer together than anything else can. There is a closeness there that is matched by nothing else. As for picturing it, don’t. It is really something to be experienced not pictured because it is love, sharing, and tenderness that make it wonderful.”

So Teresa gave Toni the talk that their mother had given her. Toni was nervous and a little excited then, thinking about her wedding night.

Toni was preparing to play hostess to a houseful at the Ponderosa and at Tony’s ranch. Maria, her two children, and her husband were scheduled to arrive within the next week and planned to stay at Tony’s ranch. Teresa’s husband would arrive just before the wedding. The Cartwright men except for Adam were leaving on a drive that would last about ten days. With the return trip, they would be gone about two weeks so they would be arriving home about the time that Tony would be arriving back at his ranch. Then two weeks later, she and Adam would be married. There was a lot to do, but she thought of how almost all was lost less than a week before, and thanked God that Adam was still with her.

The only disturbing element of an otherwise joyful experience was news that Hoss brought home. Bill Roberts had asked for a bench decision at the advice of his lawyer. Both were afraid of facing a jury considering what Bill was accused of doing. The judge found insufficient evidence that Bill intended to kill Susan. Bill then offered a guity plea to the attempted murder of Adam Cartwright and was sentenced to ten years in prison. It just didn’t seem to be enough considering the harm that he had done.

*****

chapter 14

The day of the wedding began with a light rain shower. As the light shower moved away, a beautiful rainbow appeared over the trees. At the Ponderosa, Adam and his brothers were standing in the porch finishing their coffee and admiring the beautiful fresh start to the day. The rain was welcome and the sunshine that followed promised an auspicious day for a wedding. Ben walked outside to be with his sons. Just a short time before, Toni and her sister had left for the R & D ranch owned by her father. He had named the ranch in honor of his wife and their three offspring: Rosa and daughters. It made for a distinctive brand and a reminder to Tony each day of the treasures with which he had been blessed in his life.

“Adam you getting nervous yet? It ain’t too late to back out older brother. I would be more than willing to sacrifice myself and take your place. That Toni is something.”

“Hoss you just forget about that. I have been waiting for this day for many years and nothing is going to stop me from marrying Toni.”

“Well Joe and I are gonna be right there to catch ya in case ya faint dead away when the preacher asks you to pledge to your wife for the rest of your life. Your days of being a carefree bachelor are gonna be dead and buried. Think you can handle that?”

Adam just raised an eyebrow at Hoss, and then Hoss and Joe started laughing. Ben had to join in. It was so good to see Adam back to himself. The recuperation from the injuries caused by Bill Roberts had been long and painful. If he tried to hurry when he was walking, he had a pronounced limp yet because his left leg still wasn’t completely healed. But the bandages around his ribs and the one on his back from the knife wound were gone as those injuries had healed well. There was pink scarring around his left wrist that was still noticeable but Adam said that he didn’t notice any difficulty using his left hand so it was just a cosmetic issue.

There were still a few hours before they had to dress for the wedding. All the decorations and preparations had been made the day before. Hop Sing and some of his cousins were busy in the kitchen preparing food for the dinner later. After the church service, there was to be a reception at Tony’s ranch, and then all would go to the Ponderosa for dinner and dancing. The R&D wasn’t quite ready yet to host such a large gathering for dinner even though it was traditional for the bride’s family to do so. Tony had been grateful when Ben offered his home for the dinner.

The Cartwrights decided to spend the next few hours with a ride out to Adam’s building site. Work had been going on for nearly a month. Adam had not been happy when Toni had insisted that the crew from her father’s ranch could begin construction when Adam was still confined to his home because of his injuries. That had been a ‘doozy’ of a disagreement according to Hoss who was home when it happened. But the two of them had finally agreed that only the most basic work would be done until Adam could be there to supervise. He had already let the sawmill know what kind of lumber he wanted delivered. He made a supply list based on his house plans, and Toni had it delivered to the shops in town so that appropriate deliveries could be made to the building site.

“This is a beautiful view son. Every time I come here, I just stand in awe of what God hath wrought here. The two of you are going to be very happy here when the house is finished.”

The four men then walked into the frame of the house. They could already picture what it would look like. Adam had designed large windows facing down the hill and the kitchen, dining room, study, and great room had beautiful views. There was an overhang to the south of the bedrooms up above so that the sun would not heat the lower rooms too much in the summer. In addition, there was a balcony outside the master bedroom. On the north side of the great room and of the study, there were large fire places planned that would be reminiscent of the large one in the center of the Ponderosa ranch. The walls of the fireplace chimneys were to be exposed in the bedrooms upstairs to provide radiant heat. There was an additional fireplace in the master bedroom. Adam had placed a large washroom next to the kitchen and a large tub was already in place as well as a small stove for heating water. There was a drain to the outside for ease in emptying the tub. The pump from the well was already in place in the kitchen. The stove and cabinets were to be delivered the following week. With the roof to be finished soon, the exterior walls would be next and then the interior work could begin. Adam was confident they would be in the house shortly after Thanksgiving.

“Adam when I get married, I want you to design a house for me. Would you do that?”

“Joe whenever you decide which of those young ladies you want to marry, I would be happy to design your house, with lots and lots of bedrooms for all the children.”

“Adam, I think you made younger brother start blushing there.”

They all laughed. Ben put his hand on Hoss’ left shoulder and on Joe’s right shoulder.

“And when are the two of you going to ask a lady to marry you? I don’t want you to follow your older brother’s example and wait until you’re thirty-five. I want lots and lots of grandchildren so you better start working on finding the right woman now.”

By then it was time to return to the Ponderosa and dress for the wedding. The men took both the carriage and the surrey into town because Adam would use the surrey to drive Toni to the reception as the others used the carriage. In the back of the carriage, Hoss and Joe had secreted away some decorations they would put on the surrey as soon as Adam headed into the church. At the church, the reverend met them as they arrived and he and Adam walked into the church. Hoss and Joe pulled out blue and white ribbons and began tying them to the surrey and to the harness on the horses. With Ben’s help, they attached a blue silk cover over the seat.

Proud of themselves, Hoss and Joe then went into the church to stand with Adam. He had asked both of them to be best men. Toni had not been able to choose one sister over the other to stand with her so she had asked Adam if she could ask both. When she had asked, he had been very pleased because then he could ask both of his brothers to stand with him. He had previously told Hoss that he needed to ask Joe to be his best man, and Hoss had understood and supported him on that decision. Adam had been very happy to tell Hoss later that he wanted him to stand too and he could see that same happiness in Hoss’ face when he asked him.

Now the three brothers stood together and Ben smiled at them as he sat in the first row. As the piano began to play a march, all stood and turned to the rear of the church. First to appear were Toni’s sisters in beautiful blue gowns. A very proud Tony marched in after them with Toni on his arm. Toni was wearing a long flowing satin gown with pearls decorating the neckline. It was traditional and elegant. As Tony reached the front of the church, he turned to his daughter, kissed her on the cheek, and took her hand and placed it on Adam’s arm. Then he stepped back to stand with Ben. Ben leaned over and whispered in his ear.

“If only their mothers could be here now. They would be so proud.”

“I’m sure they are, Ben, I’m sure they are.”

The ceremony was traditional. As Adam gave his vows to Toni and she to him, they looked into each other’s eyes and were aware of no one else. As Adam slipped the ring on Toni’s finger, tears rolled down her cheeks. Adam had shown her the ring the day before. He had wanted her to see the inscription engraved on the inside: Today and forever, I love you. He wanted her to know that so when he slid it onto her finger she would know he pledged himself to her without reservation. After they were declared as husband and wife, Adam kissed his bride. The kiss lasted longer than propriety dictated but both had waited so long to find the right person, there was a lot of emotion in that kiss. There were a lot of tears in the audience. Then there was applause as the kiss ended and the couple turned as husband and wife to face their friends and family.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of activity. First the receiving line outside of the church, the rice thrown as they got in the surrey to ride to Tony’s ranch, the reception, the dinner later at the Ponderosa, the first dance, and an almost endless supply of congratulations and best wishes. By eight, Toni and Adam were feeling exhausted emotionally. When no one seemed to be noticing, Adam took Toni by the arm and pulled her into the barn. He wrapped his arms around her and just held her.

“Do you think we can leave yet? I am so ready to go.” Adam smiled at her.

“I was ready to leave hours ago. I think we can get our fathers to let us go, but first I believe they want to make some toasts. Then they can announce we are leaving.”

Within the hour, Adam and Toni were on their way to the cottage that Joe had built when he thought he would marry Laura. After Laura had died, Joe maintained the cottage hoping to someday make it his home. He had graciously offered it to Adam and Toni to use for their wedding night. The brothers had freshened up the cottage and Adam had been over earlier in the day with a few deliveries including some food that Hop Sing had prepared for them. When they arrived, Adam asked Toni to remain seated in the surrey while he unhitched the horses and got them in the corral. Then he got their bags from the back and brought them inside depositing them in the bedroom. He lit a few lamps and then went outside.

Toni was sitting in the surrey with a bemused expression. As she stood to get out of the surrey, Adam took her by the waist and lifted her down. He held her close to him and kissed her brushing his lips over hers very gently and then becoming more insistent as their passion built. He picked her up and carried her over the threshold and kissed her again before carrying her to the bedroom. Toni asked for a little privacy and Adam indicated where a screen was set up for her use. He went and closed the front door and returned to the bedroom, removed his formal wear, and slipped into the bed. After several minutes, Toni came out from behind the screen. She was wearing a beautiful silk gown that had been a present from her sisters. There were three ties in the front to hold it together. She came around to the opposite side of the bed from where Adam was and went to turn down the lamp.

“Please don’t. I want to see you.” Toni blushed. She was very nervous. She slipped under the covers next to Adam. He slipped an arm around her and pulled her close to him.

“Adam, you’re not wearing anything!”

“I never wear anything to bed if it is my choice. I find nightshirts uncomfortable for sleeping.” He kissed her then and pulled open the first tie of her gown.

“Adam, I don’t know what to do. Teresa talked to me but I’ve never done anything like this and I have to tell you that I am scared.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes, with my life.”

“Then you know I would never hurt you. I’ll be patient.”

About an hour later, Toni’s head rested against Adam’s shoulder and his arm was wrapped around her. He asked her if she was okay.

“How do married people ever get out of bed. I feel wonderful. Can we just stay here forever?”

“Well as long as forever is over by about six tomorrow when we are due back at the Ponderosa for dinner with our families.”

And Adam and Toni finished the first of many days and then years that they would spend as husband and wife.

*****

Discord and Possibilities

Chapter 1

“You are enjoying this way too much, Pa!”

“I’m sorry, Adam, but this doesn’t surprise me. The two of you married because you liked and loved each other, but you really didn’t know each other very well so there are bound to be some disagreements as you learn how to live with each other.”

“We have had our disagreements over the past three months, but these last three days have been intolerable. Everything I say seems to be taken differently than I intended. And when we disagree now, we can’t seem to have anything approaching a rational discussion or even a rational argument. I’ve been described in less than glowing terms before but not so often or as much from a member of my family.”

Hoss, Joe, Candy, and Charlie rode into the yard. They had been checking the winter pastures to be sure the cattle were getting enough to eat. The weather had been very mild for the beginning of the winter season so they wanted to do the herd survey while it was still easy to get around. They all walked over to where Adam and Ben were talking leaning on the corral fence.

“Your brother needed a little break from some marital discord.”

“Dadgummit, you couldn’t wait another week?”

Candy and Joe started laughing, and then all three of them reached for their wallets, each pulled out a five dollar bill, and handed them to Ben. Charlie just stood back with a bemused expression on his face.

“Would someone mind telling me what this is about, and you better not be telling me that you bet on my relationship with Toni!”

“OK, we won’t tell you that but I was certain you’d be here talking to Pa in the first month complaining about something between the two of you and Candy had the second month. Pa had the third month, and Hoss was sure it would be in the fourth month so that’s why he’s a bit upset with you right now.”

Joe started giggling, and the others couldn’t help but join in except Adam who stalked to his horse, mounted up, and rode in the direction of his house. As Adam rode slowly home, he wondered what kind of reception he would get. All he had done was tell Toni that he wanted to hire Charlie to work for them. He remembered well the first reaction she had. ‘I don’t need somebody here to watch over me. I can take care of myself. I have been for a long time. I am so tired of your arrogant attitude that you think you can just make decisions without discussing them with me first.’ Well he had broached the subject with her because he wanted her input but knew that once again, it wasn’t going to be a peaceful, rational discussion of the merits of the idea. Before he said something he would regret, he had stormed out of the house and ridden Sport over to the Ponderosa hoping for a compassionate response there but that wasn’t to be had today either.

When he got home, he unsaddled Sport and brushed him down. It was a cold in the barn, so after he mucked out the stalls, distributed feed and buckets of water to the four horses and one milk cow, he went in the tack room and got blankets to throw over their backs. There were two chickens in a small cage which he moved to the empty stall between the horses and the cow. He made sure the doors were all securely latched and then walked to the washroom only to find the door locked. So he went up to the front door but that was locked as well. There was smoke coming from the chimneys and the stove pipe from the kitchen so he knew Toni had to be home. He knocked and then called out but there was no answer. With a deep sigh, he walked to the small bunkhouse he had built. At least it was small so it would be easy to heat.

Adam grabbed an armload of firewood on the way to the bunkhouse. Inside it was sparsely furnished with a table, two chairs, a small cabinet, and four bunk beds. There was a stove in the center. There was a bucket and a coffeepot in the cabinet but no food because they didn’t have anyone hired to work for them yet. Adam lit a lantern, stoked the stove and lit a fire. Then he went to fill the bucket with water from the pump by the horse trough so at least he could have warm water to wash. He had not slept well for the last several nights so he sat in a chair and rested his head on his arms on the table as he waited for the water to heat. The next thing he felt was a cool hand on his neck.

“Adam, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize the doors were still locked. I locked them after you left this morning. I was lying on the bed taking a nap because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t hear you come home. When I came downstairs I stepped outside to see if you were home yet and I saw the light in here.”

“Are you ill? Do you still feel sick?”

“A little. I haven’t been feeling well for the last few days. I am so sorry to have taken it out on you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Adam stood and pulled her to him. He put his hand on her forehead but she didn’t seem feverish. If anything, she seemed a little cool or even clammy to the touch. He turned the lantern down, took Toni by the elbow, and they walked to the house.

“You can just sit at the table if you want, and I’ll get dinner for us.”

“I’m not really very hungry. I did make a stew this afternoon, and it should be warm in the oven yet. There’s some bread from yesterday.”

As Adam brought plates and food to the table, Toni suddenly stood and ran into the kitchen. Adam followed and found her outside on her knees dry retching. He held her hair back and caressed her back. When it seemed she was done, he helped her up and walked her into the kitchen and had her sit on a chair. He gave her a glass of water to rinse her mouth and a wet towel.

“Tomorrow, I think you ought to see Doc Martin. Please?”

“Yes, I think you’re right.”

That night, Adam held Toni in his arms as she slept. He had trouble sleeping with worry that something was seriously wrong. His mother had died in childbirth, and he knew that the loss of a spouse could happen in any marriage. After all, his father had lost three wives. But Adam knew that his life would never be okay again if something happened to Toni: he had waited too long to find someone with whom he could share the rest of his life. So he laid there and worried about what the doctor would tell them tomorrow. Toni had said she had her flow that month, so it was only other dire possibilities that weighed on his mind.

*****

chapter 2

Breakfast the next morning was the same as dinner the night before. As soon as the smell of food reached Toni, she ran outside and dry retched. Adam got her to drink some tea but that was all she could tolerate. He had her dress warmly and then hitched up their carriage. Adam went to escort Toni outside and grabbed a warm blanket before leaving the house. In the carriage, he wrapped it around Toni’s legs and tucked it behind her. Seeing her still shiver a little though she tried to hide it from him, he went to get another blanket and wrapped that one around her shoulders. She smiled at him then and admitted that it did help quite a bit. Adam drove slowly into town grateful that the weather at least was cooperating. December here could be very unpredictable.

Once arriving in town, Adam drove directly to Doc Martin’s office and helped Toni to go inside. Paul was happy to see them, but his countenance became much more serious as he saw how worried Adam looked and how pale Toni appeared that morning. Paul escorted Toni to an examination room and asked Adam to sit outside until he was called.

“Now tell me what has been going on, and for how long?”

“For the last four or five days, I have been feeling slightly nauseous especially when there is an odor of food. I have had headaches and a general overall tiredness that doesn’t get any better if I rest. I get sleepy in the middle of the day and have to take a nap. I have been pretty snappish and Adam has taken the brunt of that. I thought perhaps I was pregnant but I have had my flow and even though the last two times it was light, that has happened before.”

“Well let me examine you and we’ll see what we can determine about why you are feeling so badly.”

After about thirty minutes, Paul asked Adam to come into the exam room. Toni was finishing dressing and Paul wanted to discuss his diagnosis with both of them so there would be no misunderstanding.

“First of all, I noticed how pale Toni is compared to the last time I saw her which was about two months ago. I think she is anemic and needs to improve her diet. She told me that she has been skipping a lot of meals when she is home alone because she gets so caught up in unpacking, organizing, sewing, and decorating the new home you two moved into after Thanksgiving. With the move and the lack of proper nutrition, Toni has exhausted herself. She needs to take it easy for the next six months and be sure to eat three good meals a day or more if she’s hungry. After all, that baby needs the nutrition too!”

Adam and Toni reacted with shock to the last statement.

“Doctor how could I be pregnant? I have had my flow each month!”

“Toni, it happens in a lot of pregnancies that there is still bleeding in the first three months. Most of the time, there is nothing to worry about. If there is still a flow in the fourth month, we will have to be more concerned. But you told me the flow was light especially the last time when it was only a day. That would be consistent in what can happen in a normal pregnancy. Based on my exam, I think you are at least two months pregnant and probably three.”

Adam wrapped his arm around Toni.

“Is there anything we should do to make sure Toni stays healthy and the baby too?”

“Well it would be prudent as I said earlier for Toni to start taking it easier. Most importantly, she needs to start eating regularly. It may take some time for you to find the foods most palatable for her right now. With more rest and some time, I think the nausea will go away. Is there someone you could hire to start doing some of the work so that Toni won’t be tempted to do too much.”

Toni looked a little sheepishly at Adam. “Yes there is. I’m sure we can take care of that soon.”

After leaving Doc Martin’s office, Adam felt he was walking on air. Toni looked up to him and smiled at the contented look on his face. She knew he was relieved even more than she was to realize that she wasn’t ill. With rest, sleep, and good nutrition, she would be able to look forward to preparing a nursery in their home. She got so preoccupied thinking about how she would decorate it that she didn’t hear Adam’s question to her. He stopped and tipped her chin up.

“What are you thinking about now?”

“I was just thinking about how we could decorate the bedroom next to ours as a nursery.”

“Oh no you don’t! You are not going to be doing anything like that until you’re rested and feeling a lot better. I’ll talk to Pa to see if it is all right with him if I offer Charlie a job. And we should think about getting someone to help in the house too for the next six months.”

“Adam, hiring Charlie is a good idea, but I don’t need any help in the house.”

“Weren’t you in that office when Paul said you needed to take it easier for the next six months! You need to start thinking about how to have a healthy baby and keep yourself healthy too. And one way to do that is to have someone help in the house. You would still be in charge but someone to do some of the heavier work is still a good idea I think! When I’m gone and Charlie’s working outside, it would be reassuring to me especially to know someone was with you if you needed someone.” The worry, concern, and love was so evident in his comments that Toni did not have the heart to deny him.

“Who would we hire?” Adam heard the concession in that remark and hugged her closer. They spent the next few minutes as they walked to the general store discussing possibilities. They agreed after some discussion that the best course of action was to ask Hop Sing if there was someone he knew who would be willing to work for them for at least the next six months.

Once at the store, Toni asked if she could just wait outside on the bench while Adam made some purchases. Adam stood in the store looking over teas and other items with no idea what he should buy for Toni to try. Finally he just gathered a variety of teas, some crackers, cans of peaches, and as he walked to the counter, a small bag with lemon drops and peppermint sticks. He asked for a bag of flour, one of sugar, a couple packages of coffee, and a large bag of beans to increase the kitchen stocks. Then realizing he would need to stock the bunkhouse too, he doubled the order and added more peaches. He added a frying pan, a kettle, lamp oil, and a lamp to his order. When asked if that was all, he took a moment and picked up a few hair pins and several spools of green, red, and white ribbons. Smiling, he nodded that he had everything, and paid his bill. He had to go get the carriage so he told them he would be back soon and only took the small bag of candy. When he got outside, he offered the candy to Toni and she took a lemon drop, popped it in her mouth, and smiled because there was no negative reaction from her stomach.

Adam went to retrieve the carriage and when he arrived back at the store, Toni was talking with Ben. Not sure of what she had told him, Adam walked up and tried to keep a neutral expression on his face. Ben just looked at him and smiled.

“He guessed already.”

“It’s what I thought when you were at the house. Your mother was just like that when she was with child. For a month, I couldn’t do anything right. You’re lucky that it was less than a week with Toni. However I understand there may be some difficulty in this pregnancy. You know you can trust me with your secret, but I do think you ought to tell Tony.”

“I agree. We can stop in and tell Papa on the way home. Adam and I were wondering too if it would be all right to ask Charlie to come work for us. He has been a foreman for a long time and Adam says he has been handing off much of the work to Candy so perhaps he would be interested in a lighter work load?” Adam was happy that she had made the request of Ben.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea. Joe and Hoss want to offer the foreman’s job to Candy so if Charlie had another opportunity, it could work out well for everyone. He’s been getting testy with all the commotion and noise in the bunkhouse so he might be happy to have your small bunkhouse all to himself for the winter. It’s close enough that he can ride over or the men could go visit him too. Do you have enough for him to do?”

“Yes I think so. He would have all the responsibility to see to the stock. We need some of the trees cleared out for corrals, and that wood would have to be trimmed and then stacked so it can dry. In the spring, we need to start putting in some fencing. After the open house, I got some offers to design a few homes and buildings, and I want to use some of the winter months drawing up plans so I was hoping with Charlie handling a lot of the outside work it would give me more time.”

Suddenly Toni had a better idea of why Adam had wanted to talk to her about hiring Charlie. She felt a bit guilty about how she had reacted to his idea. She should have known he had thought about it a lot before making the suggestion. She resolved at that moment that she would try harder to trust him in the future and know that he was only going to do what he thought was best for the two of them.

As Adam and Toni drove the carriage out of town, Toni snuggled up next to Adam and leaned her head against his shoulder. He smiled down at her, and within a mile slowed the team as he realized she had fallen asleep. He felt more relaxed than he had in some time. Things were working out so well with Toni that he couldn’t imagine any problem that they could not overcome. What would have worried him if he saw it was the malevolent look pointed his way by the new hand at the livery stable.

*****

chapter 3

Over the next few days, Adam and Toni adjusted as more changes happened at their home. Charlie readily agreed to Adam’s proposal and moved into the bunkhouse. Toni insisted on selecting a rug and some curtains for the bunkhouse and had Adam go into town to buy a deck of cards, a checkers set, and a few light novels. Adam picked up a carving knife as well. He knew that Charlie liked to read but that he also had an artist’s hand when it came to carving. In the solitude of the bunkhouse with no one to hassle him for his hobby, Adam was sure he would craft some nice pieces. Perhaps he would be willing to carve some blocks for child’s play when they thought it would be appropriate to tell him their news. Charlie was happy with the small bunkhouse and said it felt more like a home than anything he had lived in for decades which made Toni cry.

Of course, Toni cried at almost anything these days. She cried when she told her Papa their news. She cried when Adam gave her the pretty hair pins and colored ribbons he had picked out at the general store. She cried when he showed her the design of the cradle and crib he wanted to make. At first, Adam thought he should learn how to better relate these things to Toni but gradually came to realize that her pregnancy made her much more emotional. He smiled and joked one morning at breakfast that she needed to drink more to keep up with all the tears she was shedding and she cried at that. She started to feel badly about all the crying but he held her in his arms and assured her that he understood. So she cried at that and then started laughing when he sighed. They made a running gag out of her crying and that actually helped. She would cry and he would give an exaggerated sigh, and then they could both laugh which made their fathers and his brothers look at them as if they had gone crazy.

Hop Sing had recommended a woman who had recently moved to town after losing her family to influenza on their small farm. She sold the farm for a small amount and needed work to support herself. Hop Sing had learned of her plight when he had been in town recently and learned that she had even gone in to the Chinese section of Virginia City to see if anyone would hire her there. Once Adam and Toni met with the young woman, they found that it was her older brother and sister who had died as her parents had died many years earlier on the journey west from Wisconsin. They had hoped to strike it rich in the gold fields but had quickly come to realize that there was no pot of gold for them to find. Although the siblings had done all right with their farm, it was isolated and much different from the farm they had worked in Wisconsin where rain was more plentiful and green grass and leafy trees were all around. When Minnie first visited with Adam and Toni and saw the setting of their home, she could not have been more pleased. There were trees all around and the view of the lake and the mountains was spectacular. The three of them found an easy camaraderie so Minnie accepted the job.

There was a small room off the kitchen that they were using for storage but now Toni understood why Adam had insisted on nice sized windows in there. It gave them the option of using it as they would for a room for their new cook. As with the bunkhouse, Toni found a nice rug and sewed up some pretty curtains for the window. Adam had to make another trip to town to get a washbowl, chamber pot, and some towels as well as some scented milled soap. Toni rode along on the trip to get some bolts of cloth to use to make bedding for Minnie and also to start sewing items for the nursery. Minnie had some requests for items from the store to use in cooking the Dutch and German recipes she had learned from her mother and sister. Toni was looking forward to collaborating in the kitchen with Minnie who also wanted to learn the Mexican and New Orleans recipes that Toni had learned from her mother and grandmother. Adam relaxed when he realized how well Toni had adapted to the idea of having someone in the house to help.

Over the next few weeks, as winter settled in, Adam, Toni, Charlie, and Minnie gradually established a routine. Minnie had insisted that she would eat in the kitchen and Charlie sometimes joined her there for the evening meal. He enjoyed the young lady’s company. Hoss visited often. At first to play checkers and chat with Charlie but increasingly he spent time in the kitchen visiting with Minnie as she cooked. Sampling the results of her efforts could not be the only reason so Adam and Toni would smile and say ‘Of course’ whenever he asked to be excused to go see what Minnie was cooking up in the kitchen. Charlie figured it out right away too and gave the same response when Hoss would ask him. Minnie was the only one who didn’t see what was going on but she was an intelligent young lady, and she would know soon enough. Hoss would take that long to get over his shyness with her anyway.

Ben insisted that everyone should be at his home for Christmas. Adam said he thought that Toni should stay home on Christmas Eve, but that the four of them could be at the Ponderosa bright and early Christmas morning. Charlie and Minnie thought they should not be intruding but Toni insisted they were family now, and that her father would be bringing his foreman and his housekeeper and their spouses who had all moved to be here. Therefore, Minnie insisted that she should prepare some food to bring along.

On Christmas Eve, Adam and Toni sat on the settee in front of the fireplace admiring their first Christmas tree in their new home. Using scraps of cloth and the ribbons Adam had given her, Toni had made an angel for the tree top, and had fashioned some matching decorations for the tree. Charlie had carved some snowflakes out of pine and they were hung on the tree as well. Wonderful aromas had wafted out of the kitchen all day as Minnie had been baking items to take to the Ponderosa Christmas celebration. Adam reached under the tree and picked up two boxes and set them in front of Toni.

“Do you think we could have a tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve? There will be a lot of commotion tomorrow with everyone and I would like a little quiet time with my lady.”

“I do like the way you think. But for the children, it will still need to be Christmas morning.”

“We don’t even have the one yet and you’re making plans for more?”

Toni smiled and Adam pulled her into an embrace. He ran his fingers down her neck and caressed her shoulder after sliding her gown down a little. The kisses became more passionate. After a few moments, Toni pulled away.

“I thought you wanted to open presents?”

“Well I thought that’s what I was doing but if you want to open these boxes first, then let’s do that.”

“You are insatiable!”

Adam grinned and picked up the smaller of the two boxes and handed it to Toni. She opened it to find a golden locket with a green emerald and diamonds on the cover. When she opened it and folded out one panel, there was a picture of her and one of Adam but the center panel was empty.

“For the baby’s first picture or a lock of the baby’s hair. It’s up to you.”

Adam knew she was about to cry so he handed her the larger box. Toni opened that to find a beautiful blue satin gown and robe inside.

“Try on the robe to see if you like it.”

“Adam, it’s beautiful but it seems a bit large.” Suddenly she smiled in embarrassment as she realized why he had purchased it so much larger than what she was now.

“I wanted you to have something beautiful to wear when you grow with our child.” Then she did cry. Adam stood and wrapped his arms around her and held her to him. He placed his hand on her slightly bulging tummy.

“Do you think we ought to make the announcement to the rest of the family tomorrow?”

“Yes, because I think they may be suspecting it anyway.”

Toni picked up a small box wrapped with a white ribbon and handed it to Adam. He opened it and looked up at her with a huge grin. She had purchased a new set of drafting tools for Adam – the best that her father had been able to find that could be shipped to Virginia City in time for Christmas. They were in a case that had a handle so they could be portable as well if he needed them to be. Adam stood and walked over to the lamp and turned it down. He stepped next to Toni, bent to fold his arm under her knees, and picked her up. As he walked to the stairs with his love in his arms, he kissed her.

“We should conclude the rest of the celebration upstairs I think.”

“Oh Adam, I thought we could sing some carols and have hot chocolate in front of the fire.”

“Later, if you still have the energy.”

*****

Chapter 4

Christmas morning was rather dark with a light snow falling. There was no wind and the temperature was mild, but as a precaution, Adam suggested that they each pack a bag in case they had to spend the next day or two at the Ponderosa ranch house. Minnie packed two baskets in the back of the carriage with the desserts she had baked the day before. There were gifts to pack as well. Adam added some blankets in case they were needed for the return trip. Last to be loaded was Adam’s guitar because it was a tradition for him to play and everyone to sing carols on Christmas day. All four climbed into the carriage for the ride to the Ponderosa. Charlie insisted he should drive so Adam and Toni snuggled into the back seat and Minnie sat up front with Charlie.

As they pulled into the yard at the Ponderosa, Hoss was the first to come outside to meet them. He helped Minnie down from the front seat and walked to the back to help her carry the baskets into the house. Adam helped Toni down and then looked as his brother and Minnie were walking to the kitchen.

“Good morning and Merry Christmas to you too, Hoss.”

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry Adam. Toni.” Hoss set the baskets down and came back to shake his brother’s hand and slap him on the back. The he hugged Toni.

“Good morning. Welcome to the Ponderosa. Merry Christmas.” Then Hoss turned and hurried back to where Minnie stood waiting and showed her the door to the kitchen and carried in the baskets.

Ben and Joe came out next. Both wished them a Merry Christmas but looked around for Hoss.

“Say brother, I thought you were bringing your cook along too, and did you see Hoss anywhere?”

“Hoss and Minnie took some baskets of food into the kitchen.”

“Well it figures Hoss would follow food anywhere especially to where there’s more food cooking.”

“Oh there may be more than food cooking in there.”

Toni smiled but Ben and Joe had quizzical looks on their faces. Charlie said he would put up the team and then go visit in the bunkhouse. Adam grabbed the bags and his guitar from the back and Joe helped him carry them into the house.

When they got in the house, Hoss was setting the two baskets down in the dining area.

“Hop Sing said to just start putting these here desserts that Minnie made on the table. She made some kind of cookies, biscuits, pudding, and such. It sure smells wonderful. Hey Minnie what didja call these here desserts?”

Minnie came out of the kitchen then. Joe got his first look at the pretty young woman and started to move in her direction.

“There’s koekje, poffertjes, cracknel, quark strudel, and apple pudding.” She smiled at their expressions. “Tea cakes, crisp cookies, sweet biscuits, pudding, and pastry with almonds and raisons.”

By this time, Joe had reached her side. He took her hand and raised it to his lips.

“I’m Joe, the youngest and handsomest of the Cartwright sons.”

Minnie was uncomfortable. She preferred the more reserved nature of the oldest brother Adam and especially the shyness of the second brother Hoss. She didn’t know how to get her hand free without being offensive and had no idea of what to say to the brash young man who had her hand. Hoss rescued her. He pulled her hand from Joe’s.

“Now Joe, she just got here and you’re making her uneasy. She just wanted to get these desserts out. Ya gotta give her some time to get to know everyone here.”

Adam helped too. “Hey Joe can you give me a hand with these bags. I want to get them upstairs and out of the way for now. Then could you help me carry in some presents from the carriage?”

Later they all sat around the tree. Joe was anxious to open presents so he suggested they ought to do that next. Adam got books from his father and from his brothers. Adam and Toni had purchased a set of carving tools for Hoss, a new silver belt buckle engraved with a rearing stallion for Joe, and a pen in a stand decorated with a working sextant for his father. Joe and Hoss presented their father with a new set of reins decorated with turquoise for Buck. Everyone laughed when Joe and Hoss opened gifts to each other and found shirts. Then everyone laughed more when they opened gifts from Ben and each found a shirt again. Finally Ben pulled a large wooden box out from under the tree and set it on the coffee table in front of Toni and told her it was a gift from him and the boys. When she opened it she found a dozen crystal wine goblets. Nestled in among the glassware wrapped in cloth, she found six bottles of very good quality wine to start their wine cellar. Of course she started to cry and Adam wrapped his arms around her and pulled her head to his chest.

“Now?”

“Yes, please.”

“Well I have an announcement to make to my brothers who are probably wondering why Toni is crying so much lately.”

“If I had to live with you and only you, I’d be crying a lot too.” Adam just gave Joe an annoyed look and he stopped talking.

“In about five months or so, you two are going to be uncles.” Hoss jumped up to congratulate his brother and Toni. Joe sat there on the chair a bit longer. Adam wondered what was up with him until he turned to Adam and said.

“Really? I’m finally going to be Uncle Joe?”

They decided to celebrate the announcement with a bit of Ben’s famous apple cider punch. After getting Hop Sing and Minnie into the great room and informing them of the news which didn’t seem to surprise either one of them, Ben proposed a toast. Adam asked for a glass of cider without the alcohol for Toni as she was looking a bit pale with all of the excitement. Then Ben had them all raise their glasses and celebrate the best Christmas gift of all.

Later when Tony and his staff arrived and Roy and Paul arrived too, the news was shared again and more toasts were made. After they had sampled all the delights from Hop Sing’s kitchen and Minnie’s desserts, Adam noticed Hoss take a box from under the tree and head to the kitchen. He smirked a little and wondered what Hoss had in there for Minnie. As shy as that girl could be, it might be a while before they knew what the present had been. The dress she was wearing today had been a gift from them to her this morning, and she had stammered her thanks not knowing what to say. Adam knew that Toni was happy though when Minnie appeared ready to travel and wearing her new dress. Adam had given both Charlie and Minnie a twenty dollar gold piece so each could buy something they truly desired. He also had contributed money to Hop Sing’s gift of finely tailored clothing from the Chinese community that had been ordered months earlier by Ben.

It seemed that nothing could ruin this Christmas until Roy and Paul pulled Adam and Ben aside for a short conversation.

“We hate to spoil any a this fine celebration but there’s some goings on in Virginia City you ought to know about afore you come into town and get surprised.”

Paul pulled out a copy of the latest Territorial Enterprise. On the cover was a sketch of Adam and it wasn’t flattering. In the sketch, he looked mean and dangerous. The story underneath recounted his supposed exploits when he had been gone from the Ponderosa for several years. Adam had left because he wasn’t happy with his life in Nevada. He spent a few months as a sailor thinking he would love the sea and found he really didn’t. He traveled in Europe and saw great architecture and museums but didn’t find that a satisfying life either. He returned to New York and then went to visit a friend from college who had a horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky and stayed and worked there for a time but still hadn’t found what he thought he was looking for. He moved on and worked for the US Marshals office for a short time and as he got as far west as Nevada, got pressed into a brief stint as an Army scout. Once that contract was completed, he headed home to the Ponderosa finally accepting that was the one place he belonged. His life had been rather mundane while he was gone. However in the article, he had crossed the line into illegal activity and had numerous gunfights. Both Adam and Ben were furious by the time they had scanned the article.

“Who’s writing this libel about me?”

“Well it’s a man who says he’s got eyewitness accounts to back this stuff up. Says he’s known you for a long time and that this story is just the tip of the mountain of stories he has about you. It’s a man by the name of Tobias Finch.” Roy just shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know what to say nor what he could do about the situation.

“Finch!” Both Paul and Roy were surprised at the vehemence with which Ben said that name. He then explained how he and Adam had first come to know Finch, and about the lack of morality and conscience in the man. “He would do anything for money. But why is he doing this to Adam now?”

“Well now I went to question him about all this and he says he just sells these feature articles to make his living. Says if they’re good enough, they get picked up by one of the big city newspapers and then he gets more money.”

With Finch, it always had been about the money. Now Adam worried of the effect this would have on Toni. He would have to tell her and he would have to tell her father too. He knew he was in for some unpleasant time. At least with the winter, there would be some time but what could he do?

Before Adam got any further with those thoughts, Roy cleared his throat. He looked at Adam who knew there was more bad news on the way.

“Bill Roberts escaped from prison about a month ago.”

“A month ago and I’m just finding out now. How could you hold that news from me?”

“Well now I only found out two days ago. Seems that ole Bill was assigned to a month of solitary but somehow got himself switched with another inmate. When there was an escape, it was that inmate missing from roll call so that was the word they sent out. A couple a days ago when they went to take Bill out of solitary confinement, they realized it wasn’t him but the man they thought had escaped. So they sent out the news that Bill had been out for a month.”

Adam, Ben, Roy, and Paul returned to the party, but for all of them, a lot of the joy was gone. Adam was very troubled. He wondered how he could share what he needed to share with Toni without risking her health and the health of their baby. Trust was essential to their marriage but protection of her and the baby was equally important.

*****

Chapter 5

Christmas at the Bucket of Blood saloon was rather dismal. The only men there were those without family and friends. Several tables were made up of men who sat together only because there weren’t any other options. A number of cowhands had lost their jobs for the winter months. Some men who were traveling found themselves stranded in Virginia City for the holiday as most people were spending their day with family and friends. Even the bartender was unfamiliar because Sam had taken the day to be with his family and hired a replacement for the day not expecting that there would be much demand for his services anyway.

At one table in the back of the room, Tobias Finch was plying his source with plenty of whisky to get him to talk. What he didn’t realize was that his ‘source’ wanted to give him plenty of ammunition to take shots at Adam Cartwright. He was working too many hours at the livery stable to have time to track down his foe and finish him off but had found a very willing if ignorant accomplice in Finch.

Bill Roberts looked very different than he had months earlier. A fight in prison had given him an injury to his leg that appeared would never heal well so he walked with a pronounced limp. He had put on weight with his less demanding workload. His hair was long, fell over his forehead and hung below his eyes and several inches over his collar. He had grown a full beard. His own parents would not have recognized him. His name now was Dan Fox.

Each time that Bill had sat with Finch, he tried to remember stories from the deeds of the men he had known when he had used robberies to support his transient lifestyle. When he hired on with Tony’s ranch in California, he had decided that life was no longer for him. As he lived there for several months, he became infatuated with Toni. The more she avoided him, the more he decided he had to have her. He thought he was making progress too until that darn Cartwright moved in on him. Now he was using the stories of his past and the past deeds of his cronies to feed stories to Finch. He knew that at the least he would destroy Cartwright’s reputation, but what he hoped more than anything was that some young stud gunfighters would decide they could make their reputation by taking out Adam Cartwright. The more juicy stories he fed to Finch and the greater the reputation of Cartwright, the more likely that scenario could happen. He would stand by and be ready to comfort the grieving widow when it happened. That was his plan and as usual, he didn’t see the flaws in it.

Finch had already gotten an advance for a novel based on the first story he had submitted about Adam. He paid a small portion of it to ‘Dan Fox’ never realizing that he was being manipulated. He thought he was the master manipulator dragging details from his reluctant source. He had found people in town generally unwilling to say anything negative about Cartwright other than he was too serious, too rigid when it came to rules, the law and his principles, and had waited too long to marry. None of that made a good story, but one evening he had heard the young man who worked at the livery making more pointed criticisms of his quarry so he plied him with whisky and had gotten enough from him to write that first article. Now he was pushing for more to write another article and get started on his book. He was hoping for more tales of Adam as outlaw but his source seemed much more willing to talk about Adam the gunfighter. He could make that work too. Instead of the daring outlaw, he could portray him as a cold-hearted contract killer traveling the west gunning men down for money.

So Finch started sketching pictures of Adam as a gunfighter. The all black clothing Adam favored and the way he wore his gun low and tied down helped the image that Finch was getting ready to use to make some money. Several men in the saloon watched as Finch drew and casually walked by the table to see what he was drawing.

“Say, that’s Adam Cartwright you’re drawing there. You better be careful. Once he sees that first story you wrote, you’ll be lucky to have any fingers to keep writing and drawing with.”

“Oh so Adam is so violent that you men are afraid of him?”

“Nah, I’m not afraid of him. I’d never do something to cross the man. I just respect him enough to know that if I did, he would be standing right up to me and making me back down or fight him. I don’t want to do that.”

“So you are afraid of him!”

“Nah, you just don’t get it. Respecting a man for being a man isn’t the same as being afraid of him.”

“Ya, if you knew him, you’d know he’s just fierce in protecting his own, especially his family. Why he’s helped out a lot of us when we needed it and asked him.”

“What about all the men he’s gunned down?”

“He never gunned nobody down. Not the way like you say it. He’s defended himself and his friends and his family, but never shot nobody with no reason.”

“Well it appears gentlemen that you don’t know him as well as you think you do. My sources have given me information that squarely opposes your statements about him. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to do.”

Finch left. The men left in the saloon watched Dan Fox finish his drink and then leave. There was something not quite right about that man, and this was the second time or maybe the third time that several of them had seen him talking and drinking with Finch. Seemed like it might be a good idea to let Adam know the next time they saw him. He was good at figuring things out. Maybe he would know what was going on between Finch and Dan.

*****

Chapter  6

“You will not go into town and act like a hooligan. There is no better way for you to support Finch’s stories about you than to go there and get violent with him. You will stay here and use that magnificent brain of yours!” Toni grabbed his hat and his coat even as Adam stood there holding them in his hands.

It was the morning of the day after Christmas and Adam had recounted to Toni the story of Finch and had shown her the story that was in the Territorial Enterprise alleging him to be a gunfighter and a criminal. The more he had talked, the angrier he had gotten until he finally stood and started strapping on his gun and was going to put on his hat and coat when Toni accosted him.

“A man has to stand up for himself or he isn’t a man!”

“There are better ways to do this and you know it. You complain about Joe being impulsive and not thinking before acting, but what are you doing right now?”

Adam stood and glared at Toni for several minutes. He was furious. First Finch and now Toni was pushing him. She could see the transformation begin on his face as he thought about what she had said. Slowly he relaxed his hold on his hat and coat, and Toni hung them back up next to the front door. She wrapped her arms around him and they held each other for a time. He took his gunbelt off, rolled it up, and set it on the credenza by the door.

“What would you have me do?”

“I have no idea. But we need to think and talk about the best way to handle this. Let’s have breakfast. I’m hungry.”

Adam had to smile at that. Now that the nausea had diminished and they had found which foods to avoid, Toni had regained a very healthy appetite. Fried foods were off the menu for the time being, but most other things were fine with her. She was eating quite a bit of fruit and drinking a lot of tea made according to the recipe that Hop Sing had given her. Her color was better and she had more stamina although Adam insisted that she rest each early afternoon even if she wasn’t sleepy.

Minnie was a great help. Not only was she doing almost all of the cooking and baking but was doing most of the laundry too. She had found that if she heated up the washroom with the stove that was in there, she could dry quite a bit of clothing during the day when the men did not need the washroom. She did some laundry every day after breakfast so there never was much in the basket. When warmer weather arrived, she would be able to hang the laundry outside and it would dry quickly in the breezes that blew up from the lake but for now the indoor option was much easier.

Toni went into the kitchen to let Minnie know that they were ready now for the breakfast that they had asked her to hold earlier. Minnie wasn’t in the kitchen but Toni saw a beautiful wood carving of a stallion standing in front of a large pine decorating the kitchen work table. Minnie came in from the washroom then and immediately went to the warming oven to get the two plates she assumed Toni wanted.

“That is gorgeous, Minnie. Wherever did you get it?”

“Oh oh, ah, Mr. Hoss gave that to me yesterday.”

“Ahh, Hoss does like you a lot. He is very talented. I didn’t know he could carve this well.”

“Well I guess he and Charlie have been working together for the last couple of weeks on carving and Charlie has been teaching him some things. And those new carving tools they got from Mr. Adam make it a lot easier according to Charlie.”

“I am so glad that they like them.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Hoss says that he never knew carving could be that easy compared to using his folding knife to do it.”

“I don’t think you have to call him Mr. Hoss. I think he would like it if you called him Hoss.”

“I didn’t know if that would be all right. He is the brother of my boss.”

“Adam would be just as happy if you could call him Adam instead of Mr. Adam. You call me Toni without any trouble.”

“Well we worked together from the start and you told me to call you Toni right off. But Mr. Adam seems a little more, I guess you could say, intimidating. I wasn’t sure if I could be so forward as to call him by just his first name.”

“He just looks that way cause his mind is often somewhere else as he’s thinking, and he’s always thinking. Too much sometimes. But when he really looks at you and talks with you, I’m sure he has a more pleasant expression?”

“Yes he does but I just wasn’t too sure about him. He has been gracious and very generous with me though.”

“It takes him a while to get to know someone and be completely comfortable with them. In a way, he’s just as shy as Hoss but it looks different on him. He can be kinda grouchy sometimes too but it never lasts long.”

“You may see that very soon if I don’t get my breakfast.”

Adam walked into the kitchen smiling and grabbed his plate out of Toni’s hand as she playfully tried to keep it away from him. He turned quickly and went to the dining table where the flatware was so he could eat. Toni smiled that ‘I told you so’ smile at Minnie and went to join her husband for breakfast.

“Adam, you told me how Finch used Reed Laramore and manipulated him into even doing some illegal things like beating his prisoner Pickard just to get more material for his book. According to what Laramore told you, Finch even pushed him to kill you and Pickard so that he could take all the glory for hunting down two supposed ‘fugitives from justice’. Dan at the Territorial Enterprise is always trying to get you to give him stories. Why don’t you tell him that story?”

“I don’t want to be featured in any more stories in the Enterprise!”

“But don’t you see, you won’t be featured, Finch will. It would let everyone know what kind of man he is. Dan is a good writer and if he does well enough, perhaps his story would be picked up by one of the major newspapers. It would go a long way toward offsetting the stories that Finch has written about you.”

Adam had finished his breakfast. Now he sat with a scowl on his face and thought about what Toni had said. He still didn’t like the idea at all, but he could see the strategy of using it.

“Perhaps you could even write a short journal piece about the time you spent away from the Ponderosa.”

“No! I will not put my life out there for everyone. It is none of their business.”

“Unfortunately, Finch has made it their business. If you could reasonably explain what happened during those years that no one knows about, people would put it together with what they already know about you, and the only conclusion they could draw would be that Finch is a fraud and lied about you.”

Adam put his head down and pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand. Toni knew he was troubled when he did that. Apparently everyone in the family knew that he needed time alone when he did that. She suggested that perhaps he could get started on that cradle design he had showed her. Adam showed just a hint of a smile, nodded, and went to get his hat and coat. Buttoning the coat, he smiled at her, turned, and left the house headed to the barn. Toni sighed with relief. He had not strapped on his gun. He wasn’t going anywhere for now.

About two hours later, Toni heard the buckboard pulling out and went to the window to see what was happening. Charlie was driving the buckboard, and Minnie was seated next to him. She sighed with relief, grabbed her coat and a scarf, and walked outside to speak with Adam who was standing in the yard watching Charlie drive away. Adam saw her, walked over to her, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“I needed some better wood and a few more tools for the wood shop I set up in the tack room. Charlie wanted to buy some things and mentioned that he thought Minnie wanted to shop too so I sent them into town. It’s a nice day so they should not have any trouble. I told Charlie to ask Dan if he wanted to come to lunch tomorrow and talk about a story.”

Toni looked at Adam and he smiled down at her and then kissed her.

“I married a beautiful and also brilliant wife. I probably don’t tell you that enough. Thank you.”

“Thank you for listening to me.”

“We have at least four hours to ourselves. How about if I take you inside and you can get ready to have a little rest?”

“But I’m not tired. I don’t need to rest now.”

“Leave it up to me. In about an hour, you are going to be happy to be resting in bed.”

Toni laughed.

“You are incorrigible, insatiable, oh I don’t know what you are.”

“Well, what’s your answer?”

“The usual of course. Yes.”

About an hour later, Toni was lying in bed wrapped in Adam’s embrace when they heard a wagon approach.

“They can’t be back yet!”

Toni peaked out the window to see her father getting out of his buckboard. She told Adam who hurriedly started throwing on his clothing. He told her to take her time as he would tell Tony she was busy upstairs at the moment. He rushed down the stairs to greet Tony at the door. He was a little flushed and a bit out of breath but told Tony he had rushed down the stairs when he saw him ride in. Tony wasn’t fooled. He had a loving relationship with his wife for over thirty years, and he was happy that his daughter and son-in-law loved each other so deeply. However, he missed Toni and had not been able to visit much with her because of the crowd at the Cartwrights the day before so he wanted some time with her.

Toni and Adam filled Tony in on Finch and what they planned as a countermeasure. Tony approved. Tony was happy to see that his daughter was looking much healthier, and when she offered coffee and cookies and had some herself, he could see that she was doing much better.

“I was concerned yesterday with how pale you became at Ben’s house.”

“There was the ride over and then so much excitement that my stomach got a little upset. There really wasn’t time nor a place for me to relax, so it persisted most of the day. By the time we got back here last night, I was exhausted. I slept well though, had a good breakfast this morning, and feel fine now. I guess yesterday let me know what my limits are for the time being.”

“I think that perhaps Toni should rest now though. It has been a busy morning and I don’t want her to overdo. In about an hour, we can all have lunch. Meanwhile, I have some plans for a cradle and a crib to show you.”

“That’s another reason I made the trip today. I have the bed that Toni used as a toddler. I kept it for the grandchildren to use when they visited but even Davy is getting a little tall for it now. I thought you would like to have it. It needs a little work after all the use it has had, but Toni says you are very good at woodworking so it won’t be a problem for you I’m sure.”

Toni wrapped her arms around her father and leaned into his shoulder.

“Thank you. That’s wonderful. Now I think I will follow my husband’s advice. I’ll see you for lunch in an hour.”

Toni walked up the stairs. Adam and Tony looked at each other, nodded, and smiled. They were both so happy she was their girl. But Adam decided to discuss with Tony what he had not yet confided in his wife. Bill Roberts was out there somewhere. He hated Adam and wanted Toni. They talked while they were in the barn looking at the plans for the cradle and the crib and what Adam had accomplished so far. Tony was going to make an effort to get into town more frequently and he would ride the property between their two homes as well. His foreman knew Bill Roberts well so he planned to alert him do the same. Adam agreed that he ought to ask his brothers and his father to do similar observation. Adam would alert Charlie so that he would stay within view of the house and yard whenever Adam was not home. Charlie would confide in Minnie so that she could be alert to any stranger approaching the house.

Bill was a wanted man; if they spotted him, the sheriff could resolve the problem quickly. He would serve out the ten years he was already sentenced to serve and then an additional number of years for the escape. But for now Adam did not want to upset Toni more than necessary because she needed to stay healthy for herself and the baby. The stress of watching for Bill could undo all the progress she had made in the past couple of weeks. They both knew she would be furious when she found out that they had been protecting her from this news but for the moment, they couldn’t think of a better solution.

*****

Chapter 7

For nearly two months, Tony, Adam, Ben, Hoss, Joe, Roy, and a few others who knew Bill Roberts were vigilant. No one ever saw him and Roy’s telegrams to neighboring towns and cities brought in no clues either. It was as if the man had disappeared. Some began to wonder if he had left to make a life for himself elsewhere, but Adam who had nearly been killed by him believed he was close by and biding his time. Meanwhile Bill’s disguise as the lowly worker at the livery who walked with a limp and never shaved was working well. His extra money from Finch dried up after the story that Dan the reporter wrote about him in the Enterprise which got picked up by the San Francisco newspapers and then in New York. Finch couldn’t sell a story now. He was still in town hoping as ‘Fox’ told him that there was bound to be a gunfighter who would call Adam out.

“But he can just say no so how does that help me?”

“He can’t just say no because out here that marks you as a coward no matter what you done in the past. He’s gotta face him in the street even if all he wants to say is that he doesn’t want to fight. These young guys who want a rep aren’t going to accept his answer. They’ll find a way to make him fight.”

“Well so far all that has happened is that Sheriff Coffee has run a couple of those young guns out of town as soon as they started talking about what they wanted to do.”

“They weren’t smart enough. Maybe the next one will be.”

“It better be soon. My funds are starting to run low. There won’t be any more money to buy you whisky. There’ll be no advances for a book and no money for you unless something new happens with lots of witnesses. It’s the only way they’ll accept a story from me now.”

Several days later, a young man strode into the livery and asked to stable his horse for one night and maybe more. Bill looked him over and knew what he was.

“You a gunfighting man?”

“The fastest there is!”

“You here to take out Adam Cartwright?”

“Just as soon as I can call him out.”

“Well if’n you talk about it or walk around with your rig hanging low and tied down, all you’re gonna git is run out of town by the sheriff. He already done it to a coupla men who had the same idea as you.”

“That right?”

“Yup and Cartwright don’t come to town that often, so there’s a lot better chance that you’re gonna see the sheriff before you ever get near Cartwright. He and the sheriff are buddies so the sheriff watches out for him.”

The young man thought a while.

“I get the feeling you don’t like this Cartwright. You been thinking on any ideas that might help me get to him?”

“Well, pull that rig up and wear it like a cowhand. Let it hang loose. Hang out at the saloon and ask around a bit to see if anyone is hiring. No one is yet so don’t worry, but it will make you blend right in with the other cowpokes waiting for the hiring season to begin. It’s getting close now so there’s quite a few strangers in town and no one will take a second look at you.”

“So you won’t mind if I kill this Cartwright?”

“It will be a perfect day when he dies!”

The young man did as Bill suggested and spent his days in the saloons of Virginia City. He was starting to wonder if Cartwright would ever show when he walked into the Silver Dollar with two other men, one very large and the other smaller but wearing his left hand rig like he knew how to use it. Now that he saw Adam Cartwright he could see why he was described as intimidating. The dark hair, the black clothes, and the penetrating gaze that surveyed the whole room as he stood at the bar was more than enough to create the aura of a dangerous man. He wore his rig low and tied down which was a sign to anyone that he was a fast draw. Then he laughed at something the smaller man said and much of the aura faded. The young man headed outside to await the opportunity that would present itself as soon as Cartwright walked out of that saloon. He waited less than an hour. All three men exited the saloon and began to walk across the street. He pulled his rig low, tied it down, and followed them into the street.

“Adam Cartwright, I’m Sam Prescott and I’m calling you out!”

All three men stopped and turned. Adam was in the center.

“I’m not going to fight you.”

“One way or the other, you will.”

Adam turned to leave and the young man drew and shot him in the left arm. Adam spun around holding his right hand to his upper left arm. As he turned, the young man holstered his gun and prepared to draw. There was no way out. When he drew, Adam drew faster and shot him in the abdomen. Prescott doubled over and fell to his knees. He was gut shot which was fatal but not immediately. He raised his gun to fire and Adam had to shoot again and hit him in the chest with the second shot. He fell back in the street and moaned. He laid there with his knees in the air and his right hand still clutching his gun. Adam walked over and looked at him carefully. His eyes stared sightlessly into the sky.

“He’s just a kid; just a kid!”

Adam looked up to see Finch standing no more than twenty feet away and sketching the scene. Adam walked over to him and grabbed his sketch book and threw it in the dirt. He grabbed Finch by his shirt front and pulled him over to the boy lying in the street. When he got him there, he pushed Finch down to his knees and then shoved his face into the blood which had soaked the boy’s shirt and pooled on his stomach.

“This is what you have done. You’ve gotten this boy killed so you could make some money. You’re a disgusting bloodsucking leech so you ought to look the part.”

With that he released Finch who jumped back and stepped away. Roy Coffee arrived at that time. He saw Finch with blood all over his face and dripping on to his shirt. Adam stood there with his right hand holding his left arm and blood was seeping between his fingers. He had his head bowed to his chest. Between them laid a boy of no more than seventeen or eighteen years old with two bullet holes and obviously dead.

“What’s happened here?”

Hoss came up to Roy. “We’ll tell you everything that happened as soon as we get Adam over to Doc Martin’s. Can some of you men carry this boy over to the undertakers? Tell him we’ll pay the expenses.” He and Joe went to Adam then and gently turned him to go in the direction of Doctor Martin’s office.

“Sheriff, I want that man arrested. He assaulted me and destroyed my property.”

“Did anyone here witness what this man says Adam done?”

No one in the crowd said a word. Sam stepped forward. “Adam didn’t do nothing to this man.” Several voices from the crowd agreed. Finch went in the direction of his sketch book but a number of people suddenly felt the need to walk over it and kick it until it was destroyed. Someone plucked his notebook from his pocket and passed it around the crowd and they took turns tearing pages from it and throwing them on the ground.

“Finch, you’re under arrest.”

“You can’t arrest me. I haven’t done anything illegal.”

“Well my eyes tell me that you have incited a civil disturbance here and you are going to spend some time in my jail. Now move this way or I’ll have my deputies take you in by force.”

“You have to at least give me a chance to clean up. I have clean clothing at the hotel and I need to get that.”

Suddenly a piece of luggage and articles of clothing were thrown from the hotel steps into the street. “Consider yourself evicted!”

“You can’t do this to me. I’m Tobias Finch. I’m a famous writer and you can’t do this to me.”

Roy’s deputies each took one of Finch’s arms and propelled him to the jail. Roy told them to lock him up and make sure no one shot him. He would be back after he got statements from the Cartwrights. Standing off to one side, the star reporter for the Territorial Enterprise was furiously writing notes. Roy looked at him as he walked to Doc Martin’s.

“You’re not gonna write about how Adam won this gunfight are you? It would just bring more misery down on him and this town.”

“Oh I’m going to write about this gunfight all right but the only name that will be mentioned will be Finch. This will be a great follow up story to the last one and I don’t think Mr. Finch will be giving anyone here any trouble ever again.”

Bill Roberts still in his Dan Fox persona watched from a distance. Well Cartwright was hurt but not dead. He had kind of enjoyed what happened to Finch but not enough to erase his disappointment that Prescott was fast but Cartwright was faster. He would have to come up with a new plan. Cartwright was hurt now and more vulnerable so Bill needed to see if he could come up with a plan to take advantage of that.

*****

Chapter 8

Doctor Martin cleaned and bandaged Adam’s arm. The wound was a through and through so he expected Adam to make a complete recovery with no lasting physical effects. But he had lost blood and was still very upset by what he had been forced to do. Adam remained completely quiet as Paul took care of his wound. There were no complaints nor any cries of pain even though Paul knew he had to be hurting. Paul went out to talk to Hoss and Joe who were waiting in the front of the office after giving statements to Sheriff Coffee.

“Can you boys get him home and into bed? He needs to rest. I’ll be out to see him later. I should check in on Toni too. He’s emotionally exhausted, and this news is going to be hard on Toni too.”

“We’ll take care of him, Doc. Thank you.”

Hoss and Joe went into the exam room to help Adam dress and to get him ready to return to his home. Toni would likely be getting worried by now. They were only supposed to have been gone a short time.

“Doc, I don’t reckon you would let me get a statement from him?”

“Roy, you already know the answer to that. He is in no shape to be talking to you about this now. He refused the pain powders, but he is in shock and needs to get some sleep. You can talk to him later today or tomorrow if you need to.”

“Well I got enough from Joe and Hoss to back up what others said at the scene. I just need a statement from Adam to wrap up this whole sorry situation.”

Roy was quiet though as Hoss and Joe escorted Adam through the front office and out to the street. Adam’s left arm was supported by a sling. Someone had thoughtfully moved their horses to the rail by the doctor’s office. Hoss made sure that Adam was well seated on Sport before he mounted up and then he and Joe rode to each side of Adam as they slowly rode out of town. Adam had his head down and didn’t look at anyone as he rode out. There were many sympathetic looks sent their way as people commiserated over the tragic event of just a little over an hour earlier.

There was no conversation as they rode. Joe and Hoss knew their brother would not welcome any now. As they turned down the short road to Adam’s house, he picked up his head and set his shoulders. He was not looking forward to telling Toni what had happened. As they neared the house, Hoss was the first to dismount and he handed his reins to Joe before moving to help Adam down. Hoss then handed those reins to Joe as well and escorted Adam to the house. Adam was a little unsteady but otherwise okay so Hoss just walked at his right side to be sure he made it inside without falling.

Toni rushed out without a coat or shawl when she saw Adam walking with a sling supporting his left arm.

“Oh no, what happened?”

Adam looked at her and she could see the pain in his eyes that projected the torture he was feeling in his soul. He found he couldn’t talk. Toni wrapped her arm around him from the right side and all three walked into the house.

“Doc said he should go to bed. The blood loss and the shock have made him too tired to keep going right now.”

Toni wanted to help him up the stairs but Hoss stepped in front of her.

“Toni in your condition, it might be better if I steadied him up the stairs. If he falls, you won’t be able to catch him and then we’ll have both of you hurt.”

Toni was over six months pregnant now and anyone could tell by the substantial bulge at her waist. She stepped back and let Hoss walk behind Adam as he went up the stairs. Adam stumbled twice but Hoss was right there to grab his right arm to steady him. Once in the bedroom, Toni turned down the bedding, Hoss helped him lie down and pulled off his boots, and then Toni pulled the quilt over him. Adam just stared at the ceiling. Toni sat on the side of the bed and caressed his chest. Slowly his eyes closed and he fell asleep. Toni rose and signaled Hoss with her eyes that they should leave. Toni left the door open and walked downstairs with Hoss.

“What happened?”

“A kid, no more than seventeen or eighteen, called Adam out when we was just walking down the street. Adam said no, he wouldn’t fight him and turned to walk away and that’s when the kid shot him. He turned around and before anyone could stop the kid, he drew down on Adam. Adam didn’t have a choice. He drew and shot the boy, but the kid didn’t quit and when he tried to shoot, Adam had to fire again. He’s dead. Adam’s all broke up about it.”

Tears ran down Toni’s face. She saw how devastated Adam was when he walked in. Hoss recounted what had happened with Finch. Joe came in then. By the looks on their faces, he knew that Hoss had told Toni about the shootout.

“Yeh f just when we thought all we had to worry about was Bill Roberts and where he’s hiding out, and this has to happen.”

Hoss couldn’t stop him soon enough, and Joe could tell from the shocked look on Toni’s face that he had just stuck his boot in his mouth.

“What about Bill Roberts?”

“Toni try not to get too upset. We didn’t tell you because of your, um, condition. Adam said that Doc didn’t want you to get stressed or nothing. So Adam didn’t tell you when we found out that Bill Roberts escaped.”

“When?”

“Ah well he escaped in November but we didn’t know until Christmas.”

“It’s March and no one told me. How could Adam keep this from me?”

“He wanted to tell you but was afraid of the effect it might have on you. He done told me a bunch of times that he thought he should tell you because not doing it could make you not trust him. So I asked him why he didn’t and he said he couldn’t do anything to hurt you or the baby. It was tearing him up to keep this from you.”

“Besides no one has seen Bill, and Tony, Pa, and a bunch of us have been watching for him.”

“Papa knew too!”

Toni sat in Adam’s favorite chair and thought about all she had learned in such a short time. Her heart was beating rapidly and she was feeling faint. Hoss noticed how pale she was and went to the kitchen to have Minnie brew up some of the tea she had favored lately. He found Minnie was already preparing a tray to bring in to them.

“I heard enough. She’s going to need this now. I have some broth simmering and will bring that to her soon and to Mr. Adam when he’s ready.”

“Thank you. I think I’ll just hang around for a bit to see if there’s anything more that I can do.”

Hoss returned to the great room and set the tray on the table in front of Toni. He poured a cup of tea and and handed it to her. Toni wrapped her fingers around the cup and sipped a little.

“Joe, I’m staying her to help. You can put Chubb in the barn. I think that Pa and Tony need to know what happened.”

Joe looked at Toni who was staring straight ahead, and nodded at Hoss. “I’ll have Pa bring a few things for you so you can stay tonight. I’ll ride and tell Pa first and then I’ll go to tell Tony. They’re probably both going to want to come here so could you let Minnie know?”

Hoss nodded. He moved over to sit closer to Toni and put his hand on her arm. She looked at him and tears started to roll down her cheeks. Hoss took the cup, set it on the table next to her chair, and gathered her into his arms. He didn’t say anything but rubbed her back like he would with a child who was hurting. Minnie came out with a cup of broth.

“I think I’m all right now.” Toni stepped back from Hoss. “I should go upstairs to see how Adam is.”

“You stay here right now and drink your tea and your broth. Mr. Adam needs to rest a bit. If you’re worried, Hoss can go up there to make sure he is still sleeping.”

Toni nodded her head and sat in the chair again. Minnie handed her the broth and she sipped some. She thanked Minnie and when Hoss came back downstairs to say that Adam was still asleep, she thanked him too. Hoss and Minnie each had a cup of coffee.

“I understand why Adam didn’t tell me. Hearing it now was very upsetting and I can still feel my heart racing. I know that all of you were protecting me and the baby.”

Hoss smiled at her. He had a lot of admiration for how strong Adam’s wife was. He looked over at Minnie and smiled at her. She was another strong woman whom he admired, but he had other feelings for her as well and decided at that moment that soon he should tell her how he felt. She smiled back at him and he hoped that meant she had feelings for him too.

*****

Chapter 9

Toni entered her bedroom and pulled a chair next to the bed where Adam was sleeping. Before she could sit, he opened his eyes and looked at her.

“Will you sit by me please?” and he slid over a little to his left. Toni snuggled up to his right side placing her hand on his chest.

“How are you doing, really?”

Adam looked at Toni for a time and then wrapped his arm around her and pulled her to him. With his head next to hers, he began to cry. Toni had never seen him express such raw emotion and pain as his sobs communicated to her. She just held him close until he regained his composure. As she sat up again, he placed his right hand on her stomach.

“He was just a boy. Seventeen years ago, some mother and father rested their hands on the mother’s stomach just like this and felt their baby move. They probably expressed their hopes and dreams for their child. Now it’s all over almost before it began. He will never be a man, never reach those goals they hoped for him.”

Toni realized that his impending fatherhood was one of the reasons for his sadness at the boy’s death. He understood now like never before what a parent thinks about, and also what a parent fears more than anything: the loss of the child. She placed her hand over his as they felt their baby kick, and both could not help but smile.

“I have started to have thoughts like that too. I worry each day if our baby will be healthy. I worry what will happen in the first months, the first years. I was the youngest in my family so I really have no idea what it is like to be a parent. You’re going to have to help me. You helped raise your brothers so you have some idea what to do.”

“We’ll do it together. I love you.”

Toni leaned down and kissed Adam.

“Minnie made some broth and it is delicious. Would you like some?”

“Yes, but I want to eat at the dining table. I don’t want to lay here alone any longer.”

“Just a moment so I can get Hoss up here to help.”

“He’s here?”

“He stayed to help us out. He’ll be here until tomorrow morning at least. I do believe he and Minnie can find plenty to occupy his time until then. I think he is in the kitchen with her now.”

Toni went downstairs to the kitchen to ask Minnie to prepare a bowl of broth and to ask Hoss to help his brother down the stairs. However as she entered the kitchen, she interrupted a passionate embrace of Hoss and Minnie.

“Oh I am sorry. I would say I would come back in a bit but I need some help.” Even though both ladies and Hoss were blushing, Toni made her requests and then left the kitchen but with a huge grin once her back was to the couple. Well she thought to herself, there’s some good news to share with Adam!

Hoss went upstairs and helped Adam walk down the stairs. As he reached the bottom step, Toni was there and the two of them walked toward the dining room as Hoss followed behind alert to any unsteadiness of his brother. Suddenly the front door banged open and a long haired, bearded man pushed his way in holding a pistol pointed right at them. Toni screamed and Adam pushed her behind him.

“Just stop right there and nobody move!”

“Who are you and what do you want here?”

“Don’t you recognize me mister high and mighty Cartwright? I didn’t think you could ever forget my face.”

The voice was recognized by all three but none of them had realized when they had seen the new hand at the livery that he bore any resemblance to Bill Roberts. Bill had always mumbled and roughened his voice and was very careful not to let his slight southern accent affect his speech. He had lived long enough in the west to adopt a western accent with no difficulty. With the hair, the beard, the weight gain, and the limp, no one had any idea who he was. However Bill, when he had planned this afternoon, had not expected another person to be in the house. He had not seen another horse nor vehicle of any kind outside so he had thought Toni was alone with Adam. Now he was getting nervous because his planning had not included a third person.

Several men had mentioned to Adam that ‘Dan Fox’ spent a lot of time at night drinking with Tobias Finch. Adam had observed the man and seen nothing to arouse his suspicion, but now he was berating himself for missing the obvious. Of course, one way for Bill to hide was to wear a disguise, and Adam had never considered that possibility which now had placed his wife and his brother in jeopardy.

“You, Hoss, move away from your brother.”

Hoss moved but instead of away, he stepped directly in front of Adam. He knew that Bill’s focus was on killing Adam, and he wanted to make that difficult for him.

“Bill you don’t want to hurt anyone. The worst that happens now is you go back to prison, but ifn you kill someone, you’re gonna hang. The other thing you can do is to leave. You could get clear away from here. We got some money here we could give you, supplies, and an extra horse.”

“What I want is standing behind you two. Toni, you come out from behind those two or I’m gonna shoot both of them right now.”

Toni pulled away from Adam’s grasp and stepped up beside Hoss. Again, Bill was shocked. He had seen Toni ride into town in the carriage beside Adam with a lap blanket wrapped around her. He had not seen her walking nor out of the carriage in several months and now he knew why. Her obvious pregnancy inflamed his anger immensely.

“How could you? You’re carrying than damn Yankee’s bastard!”

Adam and Hoss were both furious, but there was nothing they could do at the moment without endangering Toni even more. All three stood silently trying to think of a way out of this dangerous situation.

“Bill, I told you I loved Adam. I’m sorry that you can’t accept that.”

“You don’t love him. You can’t. He’s forced you into this and he’s gonna pay!”

Just when it looked like Bill was going to do something, Minnie called from the kitchen that she was bringing food to the table. Bill was startled and turned in that direction, and Hoss used the time to pull both Toni and Adam toward the study to get them out of the line of fire. What he had seen and they had not was Charlie coming up behind Bill. Bill suddenly heard those footsteps and began to turn but a shot from Charlie’s rifle propelled him onto his back on the foyer rug. Minnie stepped from around the corner of the dining room with a shotgun pointed at the wounded man. Bill attempted to raise his pistol to fire at Charlie, but the blast from Minnie’s shotgun ended his life.

Ben and Tony had been nearing Adam’s home when they heard gunfire and raced their horses into the yard. They ran to the front door with pistols drawn. What they found was a dead man without a face lying just inside the door, Hoss with a shotgun in one hand and his other arm around Minnie holding her as she sobbed into his chest, and Adam sitting on the floor near the study using his good arm to hold Toni as she cried against his right shoulder.

Behind them, Roy and Paul, who had been headed there, and Joe who had just left Tony’s to return home, raced into the yard alerted by the same sound of gunfire. It was quiet now and they saw Ben and Tony just inside the front door. When Roy entered, he and the other men rolled the dead man in the rug and took him outside. Then when they came back in, Roy asked who wanted to tell him who the dead man was and what in tarnation happened here. It took some time to tell the story and the last part had to be told by Minnie.

Minnie had heard what Bill said as he entered the house. Realizing the danger to the three he was threatening, she had gone to Charlie and they had devised the plan to distract him so that Charlie could get close enough to shoot him. Charlie had explained to Minnie that his eyesight wasn’t so good and his hands would be shaking so he wanted to get as close as possible. Minnie told him she had learned to fire a shotgun hunting rabbits and deer back home, so he had gotten the one he used on varmints around the place and sent her through the kitchen to distract Bill and use the shotgun if necessary. Bill had not done any scouting of the place because he was so obsessed with taking Toni away with him that he had not known any others were on the premises.

Paul noticed that Toni was very pale and Adam didn’t look much better. He asked Hoss and Minnie to get them upstairs as he went outside to retrieve his bag. Paul asked Adam to sit in the chair in the bedroom as he examined Toni first. Once she was lying in bed away from all the commotion and with a little time to regain her composure, she relaxed and that was big step in reviving her energy. Paul ran his hands lightly over her stomach and smiled. He took her hand and placed it on the right side of her stomach. Then he called Adam over and placed his hand next to Toni’s.

“Do you feel that? That’s your child’s head.”

Paul then took Toni’s other hand and placed it on the left side of her stomach. He took Adam’s right hand and moved it over beside Toni’s.

“What does that feel like to you?”

“It feels just like what my right hand is feeling.”

“That’s right!”

Toni and Adam just looked at him for a moment before suddenly breaking into huge grins. It had suddenly dawned on both that they were having twins.

“I suspected it for a while now especially as large as Toni was getting so soon but there was nothing concrete until now. Congratulations. Now sometimes things can be more difficult with twins so Toni has to be especially careful. We don’t want anything to encourage an early labor. These two are likely to come a little early anyway but that is all right. We just don’t want them to come too early. So I’m going to make a list of expectations that must be followed. Am I clear on that?”

Adam and Toni never looked at him but both nodded yes. Paul spent a few moments checking Adam’s wound but the bandage was dry so that was okay. He had been worried when he arrived on the scene that Adam being shot and the severe trauma of what had just happened might have harmed Toni’s pregnancy but his exam had shown that all was normal. He could relax now and go downstairs and have some of the food Minnie had promised. If the smells were any indication, dinner was going to be very good.

“Hey Paul, we was just gonna sit down and have some dinner. Are Adam and Toni okay?”

“Yes they’re fine. They need a little quiet time with each other. Perhaps Minnie could set a plate for each aside until later?”

Minnie nodded yes. Paul, Tony, Ben, Joe, and Hoss sat down at the table. Hoss had insisted that Charlie and Minnie join them tonight and they said they would as soon as all the food was served. Roy had left with statements and the dead man’s body so he was the only one working this night. Everyone else got to relax finally that the threat was gone.

*****

Chapter 10

After the events of the day, Toni and Adam were exhausted. He had been forced into a gunfight after being wounded in his left arm and ended up killing a young man. It was all a direct result of Tobias Finch setting him up with all those lies he wrote so he had confronted Finch after the fight and wasn’t happy about his actions regardless of the provocation. Then in his home, he, Toni, and Hoss had been threatened by Bill Roberts who in turn had been shot and killed by Charlie and Minnie. When they were numbed almost beyond endurance by the emotional overload, Dr. Paul Martin had let them know they were going to have twins.

After Paul left the bedroom, Adam laid down on the bed at Toni’s left side after removing his boots. He held her hand as they laid silently side by side. Neither had the energy to go downstairs to eat and participate in conversation. Adam reached down to the foot of the bed and pulled the quilt up over them. Toni turned her head toward him, smiled, and closed her eyes. Within minutes Adam was asleep as well.

Downstairs, Ben had served all the men and Minnie glasses of brandy from Adam’s study. Minnie and Charlie were especially pale. After Charlie drained his glass, Ben stood and went to refill it. When he returned and handed it to Charlie, Charlie nodded his gratitude.

“Thanks. I never shot nobody before. It ain’t an easy thing to do.”

Standing suddenly, Minnie said she needed to take care of the food left from dinner and hurriedly walked to the kitchen. Hoss rose and followed. When he entered the kitchen, he found Minnie on her knees with her head bent forward and sobbing into her hands. Hoss reached down and took her by the upper arms and pulled her up next to him. He sat in a chair and pulled her onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her as she buried her head in his shoulder and continued to cry. Gradually the sobbing diminished to sniffles but she kept her head on his shoulder as she talked.

“I’ve hunted rabbits and deer. I never enjoyed killing them, but it served a purpose and I was comfortable with it. It helped feed us and keep us alive. But shooting a man, even a despicable one like that, broke my heart. There was no reason. It was all so stupid. How could he think like that? Toni didn’t love him; she never did.”

“He’d made himself crazy. He was greedy for her like some men are for gold or for power. When a man is like that all he sees is what he wants. It’s a kind of crazy. He’ll say anything and do anything to get what he is after. People like that don’t care no more about anybody who gets in their way. You stopped his craziness and saved all our lives today.”

“So you’re saying there was a purpose to it?”

“He didn’t leave you no choice. It was him or us. He had to die so we could live. Don’t go feeling too bad about that. I know you will never forget what happened here but you need to accept that you did the right thing.”

They sat silently as Minnie took comfort from Hoss’ embrace. Ben looked in to tell them that they were leaving after Paul checked on Adam and Toni one more time. Paul went upstairs followed by Ben. It had been nearly two hours since he had given them the good news and he had expected them to come downstairs at least to get something to eat. Paul knocked softly on the bedroom door and pushed it open slowly when there was no response. Toni and Adam were asleep. Paul turned down the lamp. Ben added a log to the fire and then made sure the screen was up tight against the fireplace. They walked out of the room and down the stairs. It was time to go home and get some sleep.

The next morning, Hoss and Minnie were in the kitchen when Toni and Adam came downstairs. Adam walked slowly and carefully down the stairs. His arm hurt a lot and he felt a little dizzy. He knew that skipping dinner the night before had not been a good idea. The last he had to eat was a beer in the saloon the day before. Toni as well needed to be eating to keep her strength up so they headed directly to the kitchen.

“Hoss, I’m sorry we didn’t ready a room for you. Toni told me you were staying but I forgot all about that after everything happened.”

“Quite all right older brother. Minnie got me some bedding and told me what room to use. Shur is pretty looking out that window when the sun comes up. I’ve had breakfast already so unless you need me for anything, I’m heading home.”

They didn’t so Hoss got Chubb from the stable and headed home. Ben wanted Joe and Hoss to finish the cattle survey so they headed out to the southwest pastures.

“Hoss, I’m faster than Adam don’t you think?”

“In a contest, I’d bet on you, Joe.”

Joe smiled, but then he grew very serious again.

“That Prescott kid yesterday was very fast. He might have even been as fast as me.”

“Faster.”

Joe grimaced.

“Hoss, I’m trying to be serious here. That kid was real fast, but he never got a shot off before Adam shot him. How’d that happen?”

“Joe, Adam seems to know what someone is thinking. He saw the kid’s thought and anticipated his draw. He’s also a lot faster when he’s concentrating. The more important it is, the faster he is. He seems to be able to bottle up all his emotions even his fear and he gets cold as ice. I can’t explain it, but I’ve seen him do it a couple times now.”

“But you said you’d bet on me in a contest.”

“Yep, Adam can’t anticipate what cans on a fence or what a target will do. Plus he won’t concentrate that hard no matter what the prize cause he don’t care that much about winning a contest. Not like you do. You would give it all ya got and you’re real fast, so I’d bet on you. Not that the two of you would ever draw down on each other, but in a gunfight, my money’d be on Adam.”

Joe’s mind got working and scheming on how he could show Hoss he was wrong but gave up for the time being when he couldn’t think of a scenario that would work. So he decided to change the topic.

“Hey Hoss, what about that pretty girl that works for Adam. Do you think I stand a chance with her?”

“Nope.”

“Well you sure are encouraging today. Why not?”

“She’s taken. She’s got a man and he’s got her.”

“Dang and she hasn’t been here that long and most of it was winter. Who got her?”

“Enough talk, Joe. Let’s get this job done. I’d like to get home before sundown for a change.”

*****

Chapter 11

“Adam, we need to talk.”

“Toni, what good will it do to talk about all of this. It happened. It’s over.”

“I’m worried about you. I’m worried about us. You’re hurt but I don’t think it is just your arm that is bothering you. Ever since your birthday, you seem to be more distant. Now with all of this, I’m worried how it will affect us because you seem even more distant today.”

Adam sat in his leather chair and stared at Toni for a time. How could he tell her his worries? His mother died when he was born. He carried fear with him now all the time. As Toni’s belly grew, his fear grew because he knew the day when she would go into labor was getting close. But how could he tell her this? He didn’t want to do anything to cause her any stress. He couldn’t contribute to her difficulties by adding his fear. So he had done what he had learned to do when he was quite young and bottled it all up inside. Those walls protected him, but he was learning slowly that it hurt Toni to have to deal with him when he was like that. He rose to get his coat and leave the house because that was the other thing he did when the pressure to acknowledge his fears became too much to resist.

“Oh no you don’t! You are not running away from me. You said for better or worse. Now I have had plenty of the worse. You need to trust me. Share your thoughts and feelings with me. It is the only way we can be married. Without that, we will soon have nothing.”

Adam still could not bring himself to tell her his greatest fear. Toni had already guessed. Hoss especially had been forthright in telling her why Adam was more moody than usual and short-tempered as his birthday neared. She guessed that he was worried he would lose her like Papa Ben had lost Adam’s mother Elizabeth. However, she wanted Adam to tell her.

“Yesterday I cried in your arms. Is that what you want? A weak man who can’t even stand strong when he knows he’s done the right thing?”

“Yes that’s what I want. But it’s not the way you think it is. When you cried in my arms, I felt the greatest love for you that I could because you gave me the gift of trusting me to show your heart and soul to me. You told me the truth of how you felt and why. I trust you with everything I have, always and forever. What I want most is that you would trust me that much. It is for no one else. It is for us.”

Adam stood in stony silence. He couldn’t do this. He was thirty-six years old and had kept much of his feelings hidden for most of those years. He didn’t show his true feelings unless he wanted to. The walls protected him and made him safe. The longer he was silent, the more that Toni’s mood shifted from worry to anger. Finally she couldn’t hold back.

“You pride yourself on being strong and courageous. But in this you are cowardly!”

That did it. Adam was furious. How dare she talk to him like that.

“I am not a coward. I do this to protect you. You don’t need to carry my fears around with you. You have enough to worry about. If anything happened to you, I don’t think I could go on. You have to live.”

“I’m strong. I’m healthy. You don’t have to worry about me. After all, since I’ve known you, you’ve been beaten, stabbed, trampled, and shot. If anything, I ought to be worried about losing you, and I do. But I won’t let that fear harm the very thing that I treasure and that is my relationship with you.”

Toni had walked up to Adam and stood inches away from him. He reached for her and pulled her into an embrace. He dropped his head to her shoulder. His left arm ached but he needed to hold her.

“Talk to me.”

“All I can think about is losing you. Yesterday my heart was pounding when I thought Bill might harm you. Every day as we get closer to delivery, I think about how my mother died so I could be born. Now Paul says that you are carrying twins and that means the risk is even greater.”

“Papa Ben says that your mother was never strong and was not in good health. I’m a strong woman. There’s nothing wrong with my health. I have you to take care of me. I know there’s a risk but it is very small. We should embrace the joy and that you are going to be the proud papa of two little Cartwrights who are undoubtedly going to be spoiled by two very happy grandfathers.”

Adam smiled and raised his head to gaze into Toni’s eyes. She was right and he knew it. Someone had told him once that a good marriage was two souls joined. He was beginning to understand that and he was also beginning to accept that.

“They will do that won’t they, or at least they’ll try. We are going to have to discuss some basic rules for the children. On the other thing, I’ll try. I am a bit stubborn sometimes though so you may have to push a little now and then.”

Toni was happy to see that Adam had shown her a little more of himself. But that last statement was so funny she couldn’t help herself and burst into gales of laughter. Adam couldn’t help it either and dropped into his chair he was laughing so hard. It was the release of emotion they both needed. Toni sat on his lap and he made a loud and theatrical grunt. That made Toni laugh even more. Minnie peeked from the kitchen to see what the hilarity was and just smiled to see them sitting in one chair. She thought ‘Now that’s how a marriage is supposed to look’ and returned to her baking.

*****

Two Pair

ch. 1

Late April weather was gorgeous and fresh. Trees were greened, valleys were lush with new grass, temps were mild, and warm breezes carried the scent of spring flowers. On ranches all over the west, this was a time of work and repair. On the Ponderosa, there was the spring roundup, and the timber camps and the sawmill were back in operation. Ore from the mines the Cartwrights owned in the area had to be shipped. At night, men slept soundly after putting in long days of hard work.

At Adam Cartwright’s home one night in late April, the house was dark except for the glow of embers in fireplaces and lamplight shining from Adam’s study. Toni walked down the stairs with a lamp and across to the study to see Adam sitting at his drafting table with a pencil in one hand and a ruler in the other staring at a set of plans.

“It’s after midnight!”

Adam was startled. He had been so wrapped up in making the changes to the plans that Mr. Rush wanted that he had not heard her approach. He smiled when he turned to see Toni wearing the blue satin robe and gown he had given her at Christmas. Her substantial tummy pushed out the front and she no longer bothered with the sash. Adam stood and wrapped his arms around her from the side after she set her lamp on a table near the study door.

“It is getting more difficult to pull you into an embrace. I don’t want to cause you or the babies any discomfort.”

“We’re pretty tough, and we like hugs. But we don’t like you staying up so late working every night lately. Then the days are filled with treks to town, work on the ranch, and building corrals here. I miss you.”

“Did the babies wake you again?”

“Yes. They are so quiet all day but after I lay down at night, within a few hours, they start playing and kicking in there.”

“Perhaps you should discuss this with Paul. You seem very comfortable talking with him.”

“Well it’s not a good idea to keep secrets from your doctor so I tell him everything. In fact, I asked him about us.”

Adam raised his eyebrows at that. He wasn’t so sure he liked Toni discussing their private life with Paul. Paul knew enough already.

“I almost hate to ask, but what exactly did you discuss about us with Paul?”

“With the double pregnancy, twins, I wanted to know if us, if we, oh, you know, if there was any chance it could hurt the babies or anything.”

Adam had to smile at her shyness in talking about their intimate life with him but she still had the courage to discuss it with Paul. He wondered if she had stammered when she asked him. As he smiled, Toni was embarrassed. She knew he thought it was funny that she could never verbalize what she so enthusiastically participated in when they were alone in bed.

“It’s not that funny!”

“Yes but you are so cute. By the way, are you going to tell me what Paul said?”

“After he examined me, he said that we shouldn’t at all in the final month but that for now if we’re gentle, there should be no problem. However I am not supposed to ignore any discomfort or if there’s anything unusual, then we have to stop and then let him know the next day.”

“We can do gentle. Would you like to go practice now?”

Adam turned down the lamp in the study and made sure the screen was tight to the study fireplace before taking Toni by the arm and walking with her up the stairs.

“Did you think to ask him about after the babies are born?”

“Yes, and he said six weeks of abstinence.”

Now it was Toni’s turn to smile at Adam’s reaction. Various responses moved across his countenance: surprise, concern, and finally a look of frustration and disappointment.

“We have two weeks until the final month begins, and then it will be ten weeks of abstinence.”

“We’ll be so busy the time will fly by I’m sure. Let’s make the most of our two weeks.”

The next morning, Adam awoke to the sun brightening the room. Toni was still asleep on his right arm which was completely numb. He slowly pulled his arm from under his wife, sat up, and started to massage his arm with his left hand.

“Let me do that. I have two hands that are working.”

Toni got up on her knees with some difficulty but then massaged his shoulders and had him stretch his arm to the side and she massaged that with long strokes down to his wrist and back.

“That’s wonderful but we need to get up and dressed. Once we have breakfast, we’ll go to town. I have plans for a house, stable, bunkhouse, barn, and riding corrals to deliver to Mr. Rush today, and then we can stop by to see if Paul can answer a question.”

Adam drove slowly and used the carriage which had good springs to minimize the bumps from the ruts in the road. Once in town, they stopped at the general store to drop off their order, and then went to Mr. Rush’s home where Adam dropped off the plans. Mr. Rush wanted to look them over right away and Toni said she would be fine relaxing in the carriage for a few minutes. Mr. Rush was delighted by what he saw. He wanted his new place to be a showcase and had asked Adam to be creative in his designs. Adam was happy because once the place was built, there would likely be others who wanted custom building plans from him. Mr. Rush asked when he could have a list of materials necessary for the project and Adam said it was nearly done and he would bring it to him on Saturday. Mr. Rush asked for some recommendations of crew leaders for the building projects and Adam recommended some men.

After shaking Mr. Rush’s hand, he strode out to the carriage and drove Toni to Doc Martin’s office. Paul wasn’t busy with a patient so was happy to sit and talk with Adam and Toni about the babies keeping her awake at night.

“This happens a lot. I am happy to hear that the babies are so active because that means they are healthy. During the day, you are essentially rocking them to sleep as you move about and do things. Then at night, you lay still and they wake up and become active. I think you should be taking more and longer naps during the day. If they are still active and wake you at night, sit in that rocker you have in the bedroom and rock them until they quiet. You’ll be resting at least and when they quiet down, you can get back into bed and sleep. You need to get a lot of rest and sleep now in these last six to seven weeks so take as many rest breaks and naps as you can each day.”

That seemed like a plan that would work. After thanking Paul, Adam and Toni walked to the new restaurant in town. Toni especially was anxious to see what dishes they were offering. Walking in the door, they saw Hoss already seated and reading a menu with a quizzical expression on his face. He smiled as he looked up to see Toni and she asked if they could join him for lunch. There weren’t many people in the restaurant.

“It smells wonderful in here but I can’t decipher this menu. Toni do you know what these things are?”

Adam kidded Hoss about his use of ‘decipher’ as Toni looked at the menu to see quiche, jambalaya, and a host of French, Creole, and Cajun cuisine items. She told Hoss to try the jambalaya but warned him it was spicy so he ought to order some sweet corn bread to go with it. The three of them enjoyed their meals and as they were finishing their desserts, the owner and his sister who were also the chefs came to visit them. Both had coloring similar to Toni’s with the dark brown hair and brown eyes but their skin tones were much darker. They appeared to be middle age but with their vibrant smiles and energy, they could be younger.

“You remind me so much of my grandmother who was born and raised in New Orleans. She taught me many recipes but this menu has a number of items I would love to know how to prepare. Lunch was fabulous.”

The owners were happy. They were even more happy later to learn that the three were part of the Cartwright clan they had heard so much about since arriving in town. Having the Cartwrights dine there might help business pick up. They knew there was talk in town because of their skin color and some of the more prominent people would not dine there nor would their friends and employees.

After lunch, Adam and Toni walked slowly with Hoss to the general store where he too had an order to pick up.

“Say Hoss, we haven’t seen much of you lately, and there’s someone at the house who hasn’t been in such a good mood because of that. Perhaps a visit could rectify that.”

“Rectify?”

“Make Minnie happy again.”

“Pa’s been giving me a lot of trips to the timber camps and the sawmill to be sure they’re staying on schedule for the contracts. He sent me up to the high pastures too to see if they’re ready for us to move the herds there. He didn’t send you at first because you were hurt. Now that you’re okay, he doesn’t want to send you because he thinks you should be home at night with Toni and I agree. But I sure do miss having dinner with Minnie and talking with her and such.”

“What about Joe?”

“He’s made trips to Sacramento, Carson City, and Reno to finish up contracts cause …”

“… Pa doesn’t want to send me! He’s being overprotective. I can do some of those. I’ll let him know. I appreciate what all of you have done and are doing for us, but I can do some of those trips especially if I’m only gone overnight. When it gets closer to Toni’s time, I’ll stay close to home.”

Hoss was relieved, and hoped Pa would let Adam take over the lumber camps and the sawmill at least. Adam was the one who knew that operation the best. He was also looking forward to sleeping in his own bed and getting over to Adam’s to visit Minnie.

“Hoss, if you’re free, perhaps you could join us for dinner this evening?”

“Toni, thank you! I’ll be there.”

Adam and Toni smiled as Hoss almost hopped into the wagon and took off at a faster pace than was usual for him in town. All the signs were there: Hoss was in love. They loved Minnie too and knew how well matched she and Hoss were. Their only concern was that they might lose her just as they were going to need her more so they discussed their options as they drove home.

*****

Two Pair ch. 2

After dinner that evening, Toni complained of a backache and Adam insisted she should go upstairs so he could massage her back and she could rest. In front of a warm blaze in the fireplace, Minnie sat on the settee next to Hoss.

“Well we won’t see them any more tonight.”

“Maybe Adam will be down after Toni goes to sleep.”

“I’ve been here months and he never comes back downstairs after he gives her a backrub.”

Minnie grinned at Hoss then and he blushed a little.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be talking like this about them.”

“Oh Hoss, they know perfectly well that we are aware of what’s going on. We should just be happy they love each other so much. I don’t think I have ever seen a man and a woman so devoted to each other. Even when they argue, they show respect for each other and you can tell how much they love one another.”

“What would you like to do now?”

“Would you like to go outside and watch the sundown? It’s very pretty over the trees and the mountains and sometimes it reflects in the lake.”

Minnie and Hoss got their coats and Hoss helped her with hers. Then he took her hand and they walked outside. The stopped at the west end of the house and Hoss put his arm around her to pull her to him. He bent his head and kissed her. Minnie wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back putting in all the caring bottled up inside of her since she had seen him last.

“I’ve missed you so darn much. Pa’s been sending me all over tarnation and I’ve hardly never been in my own bed at all the last few weeks. First Adam was hurt, and now he’s well but Pa wants him to stay close for Toni.”

“It won’t be too much longer. The way Toni looks, I think those babies will be here soon. My sister had a baby. She looked a lot like that just before the baby was born.”

“I didn’t know your sister was married.”

“She wasn’t. She was betrothed but he got killed when we were digging a new well for them and it collapsed on him. She was pregnant and had the baby about eight months later. Poor little thing was never okay. She was so weak. She died about a month later. It was very sad but when my sister died I could console myself that they were all together for the first time and in heaven.”

“It’s a little cool outside with the breeze. Would you like to go back inside and play checkers or something?”

Minnie nodded and they walked arm in arm back inside. Hoss enjoyed playing checkers with someone who didn’t cheat. He could never catch Joe at it but he knew he cheated. Adam walked by once and plucked a checker out of Joe’s shirt pocket, tossed it to Hoss, and smirked at both of them.

“There’s a new restaurant in town. I was wondering if you’d like to go there with me on Saturday.”

“Are you asking me or just wondering?”

“Ah, oh, asking.”

“Yes, I’d love to. I just have to be sure it’s all right with the boss and I can’t go ask him now.”

“Well it better be okay with him or I’ll wrestle him for it, and we know who’d win that.”

Minnie smiled. It was so nice to be with Hoss. She loved him. She hoped he loved her too but he was so shy she couldn’t be sure. His kisses were gentle and loving most of the time, but sometimes the passion broke through his natural reticence and made her feel like she had never felt before but she liked the feeling very much.

That Saturday morning Hoss hardly touched his breakfast. He stopped after only six hot cakes, a plate of bacon, and three eggs. Ben and Joe as well as Hop Sing were worried and wondered what was wrong. Ben went to find him after breakfast and found him sitting on the porch staring at nothing.

“Hoss, is there something you would like to talk about? Something I can help you with?”

“Pa, you got married three times. How’d you know when it was the right time?”

“Son I don’t know that there is a right time to get married.”

“Nah, how’d you know it was the right time to ask ’em to marry you?”

“Well Hoss, your mother kinda asked me.” After a scowl from his son, Ben continued more seriously. “I guess when you dream of spending your life with a particular woman, and the thought of not spending it with her is too painful to accept, you ask her.”

“Thanks Pa. You helped a lot.”

Hoss walked to the barn to do his chores. Ben sat and wondered what that was about, and smiled when he figured it out. ‘Hmm’, he thought, ‘two sons married in a year isn’t bad at all, not bad at all’ and he went inside to get another cup of coffee. Once inside, he decided to go discuss it with Hop Sing although he had probably figured it out already. His Chinese friend was a mighty gifted observer and thinker.

After chores, Hoss took a bath and dressed in his best duds, and headed to town. After a trip to the bank, he had some errands to do around town before he picked up Minnie for dinner. When he saw Adam and Toni drive into town, he hurried over to their carriage. He wanted to talk with one or both of them. Toni wasn’t getting out of the carriage as she was only along for the ride and to get out of the house. Adam had a few errands to run so Hoss leaned on the carriage and conversed with Toni asking lots of questions and making plans based on her answers. When Adam returned and climbed into the carriage, Hoss tipped his hat and left.

“What was that all about?”

“Soon perhaps we are going to have to hire someone to replace Minnie.”

“Really! He’s moving a lot faster than I thought he would. Let’s chill some champagne tomorrow just in case there’s a big announcement at dinner tomorrow evening. Pa, Joe, Hoss, and Tony are all supposed to be there and if he’s got something to announce, that will be the time.”

Adam and Toni returned home and made themselves scarce as the time neared for Hoss to pick up Minnie. Adam had told Toni that he thought Hoss would be early so he had a broad smile when they heard a carriage pull up a half hour before Hoss was expected to arrive. Minnie was just as anxious and they knew she was ready to go a half hour before that. They heard them leave shortly thereafter and went to the kitchen to see what Minnie had left for them for dinner.

Hoss drove slowly into town. He was looking over at Minnie so much he was afraid he might drive off the road if he went any faster. Finally he stopped the carriage.

“Dadburnit, I had all these romantic plans for tonight but I just have to do this now.”

Hoss pulled a velvet covered box out of his pocket and opened it to show Minnie. It was a beautiful gold ring with an emerald surrounded by diamonds. Adam had said that he told Toni that the emerald represented the Ponderosa and diamonds represented the indestructible love he had for Toni when he had given her gifts with the same stones. It sounded good to Hoss and that’s what he told Minnie.

“Will you marry me?”

“Yes!”

Hoss pulled the ring from the box and slipped it on Minnie’s finger. He grinned larger than he ever had in his life he thought. He grinned so much his face started to hurt. Minnie leaned into him and they kissed.

“Hoss I can’t wear this in public yet, not until our betrothal is announced.”

“Well how do we announce it?”

“How about tomorrow at dinner?”

“Honey, I don’t know if I can keep it a secret that long. Well anyway, even if I don’t say nothing, Pa and Joe are gonna know just by looking at me. I can’t stop smiling.”

“Keep smiling. Let them guess. Just don’t say anything until dinner tomorrow.”

“I can do that.”

For the rest of the night, they only saw and heard each other, Everyone who watched them ride into town, stroll to the restaurant, and eat dinner knew this was a couple deeply in love.

*****

Two Pair ch. 3

Hoss picked up Minnie for church services on Sunday morning. He knew by the smug look Adam had and Toni’s big hug for each of them that they guessed. He just did as Minnie had suggested and ignored that, smiled, and helped Minnie into the buggy. Adam and Toni were leaving at the same time so their carriage followed Hoss’ to the church.

By the time they pulled into the church yard, Ben, Joe, and Tony were talking and waiting for them. Tony helped his daughter down from the carriage and beamed as only an expectant grandparent can. All seven then walked to the church and made quite an entrance. Toni no longer got hostile looks from the young women although there were still some envious ones. Most of the young women had given up on the Cartwright sons. Adam was married and about to be a father. Hoss was squiring around Adam’s cook, and most were becoming convinced that Joe would never marry. At parties and dances, Adam stayed true to his wife and turned down propositions made by slightly inebriated women whose dates undoubtedly wished they had kept them away from the spiked punch. Hoss spent all of his time by Minnie’s side and never even noticed any other women. Joe just danced with his lady of the month unless he got distracted by an even prettier one. Ben although still attractive didn’t seem inclined to marry again or even have a long term relationship. Some speculative glances were thrown Tony’s way but he didn’t seem interested either. There were deep sighs by ladies who could only dream of what might have been.

After the service, Hoss and Minnie talked briefly with the minister and quietly asked if they could meet with him later in the week to set a date for a church service. It was too cool for a picnic so Hoss settled for a slow ride back to Adam’s house with a few stops in between to let his fiancée know just how much he loved her. Toni needed Minnie’s help to prepare for dinner, and Minnie wanted to do that because she intended to make it a very special dinner.

On the drive back, Minnie did ask Hoss for his advice and consent on a few things. She had some cousins in Wisconsin and even more distant relatives in the Netherlands and Germany. Here in Nevada, she had no one left. Toni and Adam were the closest she had to family. She asked Hoss if he thought it would be all right to ask Adam to walk her down the aisle at their wedding. She was concerned because he was only six years older than Hoss and ten years older than she was. If that was okay, she wanted to ask Toni to stand with her. Hoss thought it was a great idea. If they agreed, he would ask Joe to stand with him.

Next, Hoss suggested they could live on the Ponderosa with his father and Joe until Adam could design a house for them and it could be built. Even though Hoss had originally wanted to build a house up near the reserve land, as he thought about Minnie being home alone and then about children, he thought they ought to build closer to town as Adam had done. Those decisions were easy compared to picking a date for the wedding though.

“I waited a long time to get married and I don’t want to wait much longer. I thought we could get married in June.”

“June would be wonderful except Toni and Adam are going to need me. I can’t walk out on them now when they are going to need me so much. We have to wait until the babies are a little older and Adam and Toni can find someone else to work for them.”

“Well darling how long do you think we have to wait cause I don’t want to wait more than three months or mebbe a bit longer. But in September we have the big fall roundup and then the biggest drive of the year. By the time we get back it will almost be winter. That’s why Adam wanted to have his wedding when he did last year. If he waited much longer it would have been months before he could have been married.”

“I don’t know then. I just don’t know what to say.”

So a number of decisions were made and they found that as a couple compromise just came naturally to them. But the date was still an issue when they kissed goodbye.

Dinner was delicious as Minnie had prepared all of Hoss’ favorites. There was roast pork, biscuits, gravy, mashed herbed potatoes, baked apples, and no cheese. Minnie was hoping to someday convince Hoss that cheese could be part of delicious recipes but for now she acquiesced to his desire that there would be no cheese on the dining table. Minnie and Toni had prepared a variety of desserts. There would have been more, but Toni was still bothered by a backache and had to go lay down during the afternoon. For dinner, Toni insisted that Minnie sit at the dining table with all of the guests.

When all were stuffed and feeling very contented, Hoss stood and stammered that he had an announcement to make. He took Minnie’s elbow in his hand and had her stand beside him which of course told everyone what the announcement was before he said a word.

“We’re getting married!”

There were hearty congratulations all around. Adam and Toni slipped in to the kitchen and returned with a tray of crystal glasses and a chilled bottle of champagne. Ben smiled. He had assumed that Adam would be prepared and he wasn’t disappointed.

Minnie walked up to Adam after the toasts and asked to speak with him privately. She asked him to walk her down the aisle, and he agreed with a smile. He took Minnie’s hand, raised it and kissed the back of it, and called Toni over to tell her. Minnie asked if Toni would stand with her. Toni who was much more demonstrative than Adam in such situations grabbed Minnie in a big hug and tears ran down the cheeks of both. Soon Hoss walked over to the group and thanked them for agreeing to Minnie’s requests. Hoss slapped Adam on the back so hard he almost fell forward and then Toni grabbed Hoss in a big hug. Tears were still flowing down her cheeks and she couldn’t seem to stop. Minnie suggested that she and Toni be seated on the settee and begin talking about planning the wedding. For a time, Toni was able to ignore her persistent backache. Adam and Hoss stood together admiring their ladies.

“Have you made a decision yet on when you will get married and where you will live?”

“Well Minnie’s all right with living on the Ponderosa with Pa and Joe until we can build our own house. You are still going to design one for me aren’t ya?”

“Of course. Where will you build?”

“Well if Pa is agreeable, I would like it to be between your house and his.”

“I always thought you would want to live up on the reserve land.”

“Well if it was just me, that’s where I would go but my thinking changed when I added in Minnie and then hopefully there’ll be a bunch of kids.”

“It does make a big difference doesn’t it! But you still didn’t say when.”

“Well that’s a problem. I would like to marry her as soon as I can but she ain’t gonna leave Toni when she’s needed so much. Then there’ll be the roundup and the drive in the fall and then it’s winter. I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”

“Toni and I were discussing things and we have a proposition for you. How about if you live here until the house can be built? Minnie would be here to help Toni, and you could see her every day or nearly every day. We have extra bedrooms and you could use the one on the other end of the house from us. There’s room in the stable for your horse, we have the carriage you could use when needed, and as I work on your house plans, the two of you could let me know what you think and I could make changes. Your house could be started by late summer and if all went well, you could be in before winter like we were last year. By then, the twins would be almost six months old. Hopefully that would be enough time for us to find someone to hire. You look like you’re in shock. Does any of this work for you?”

Hoss was in shock a little. He had never considered such a possibility. He looked at Adam then and wrapped his arms around his brother and lifted him off the floor.

“Would that mean you like the idea?” Adam said with a huge grin on his face when Hoss set him down.

“Brother, I didn’t think I could be any happier today, but you have proved me wrong. Once again, I am real happy you got such a big brain. I gotta talk to Minnie but I can’t see where’d she see anything wrong with this idea.”

After watching Hoss give Adam a big bear hug, Ben and Joe wondered what Adam had said to Hoss to cause such a reaction. They walked to the settee as Hoss sat in a chair next to Minnie to tell her the idea that Adam and Toni had. Minnie listened and smiled more and more as he talked. When he finished, she hugged Toni, then she hugged Hoss, and then she grabbed Adam in a big hug too.

Toni had seen the big hug Adam got from Hoss and now he got an equally impressive hug from Minnie who kissed him on the cheek as she released him from the hug. Toni could swear it looked like he was blushing. She was going to remember that to tease him about it later when all the guests had left, however the twins had other plans. Suddenly Toni gasped in pain as her backache worsened dramatically. Adam was at her side in a moment.

“What’s wrong? Is it your back?”

Toni gasped, and then after about a minute the pain lessened significantly. She relaxed back into the settee and got her breathing back under control.

“I have been having these back spasms since yesterday, but this afternoon and tonight, they have been happening rather often and each one seems to be a little worse than the last. This last one was a doozy.”

Ben smiled and asked Toni if they seemed to come about the same time apart. She said she wasn’t sure but it seemed like maybe they did.

“Joe, ride into town and see if Paul can come out here now. Adam, you should help your wife upstairs. I think it’s possible the twins are about to make their appearance.”

“Papa Ben, they can’t. It’s too early.”

“It’s just over eight months, and Paul did tell you they might come a little early. Paul will be able to let us know what is going on when he gets here. If you aren’t ready to deliver, it will be good practice.”

Adam helped Toni to her feet and walked her slowly up the stairs and to their bedroom. He helped her change from her dress to a gown, and then she lay down on the bed and he pulled the quilt over her. Adam sat on the side of the bed and held Toni’s hand. He had not said a word yet.

“Are you scared?”

“You know I am. How about you?”

“Me too. Stay with me?”

“Forever, you know I will.”

*****

Two Pair ch. 4

Joe returned to Adam’s house in less than an hour but without the doctor.

“That man that owns the new restaurant in town got beaten up pretty badly. Doc’s with him and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna make it. Doc said to just do what Hop Sing says and he’ll be here as soon as he can. I stopped at Mrs. Haney’s place cause Doc said she’s been midwifing some, and she said she could be here as soon as her husband gets back from his shift at the mine: no more than an hour or two from now.”

Hoss immediately left for the Ponderosa to get Hop Sing. A little reluctantly, Ben went upstairs to give the news to Adam and Toni. He knew they would be upset because they were both afraid. He wasn’t disappointed.

“Why can’t things seem to turn our way once in a while?”

“Son, we just have to pray and God will answer our prayers.”

“Yes, I believe that, but sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” Adam dropped his head as he stood by the door talking with his father. He knew he had to be strong for Toni’s sake but it was just so hard. With a deep sigh, he raised his head and gave a small smile to his father. Then he walked back to Toni to tell her the news that Hop Sing would help them for now. He held her hand as she moaned in pain. He didn’t want to add to her trouble but felt she had to know the truth.

For Toni, the pain was intensifying as each one was now like a major cramp in her lower abdomen. The pain was in her back, her hips, and her belly and it was starting to feel as if she would burst. She had no doubt now that the babies were making their entrance. She held Adam’s hand as tightly as she could to try to stop from crying out in pain but finally couldn’t stop the scream that she had been holding back. As the pain diminished from the last contraction, she looked to Adam and he had tears running down his face. He smiled and said it was from the pain in his hand but Toni knew that was only a tiny part of the truth.

Hop sing arrived and gave some quick instructions downstairs before hurrying upstairs. The moans and the scream directed him to the bedroom at the end of the hall. He told Adam to go get more pillows. He had Adam gently lift Toni up and he placed a number of the pillows behind her back. Minnie arrived with a bowl of ice water and cloths, and Hop Sing directed her to bathe Toni’s face and neck. He looked at Adam who was staring back with an almost hopeless look on his face.

“You just sit and hold hand. That all you good for right now. Don’t get in way. You talk nice to Missus Toni. Tell her good stories.”

So Adam talked about Hoss and Joe as little boys and the mischief they could get into. He paused in his story telling each time that a contraction hit and then continued on even though his voice cracked on occasion as he worked to regain his composure. It had seemed like days but it was less than three hours since he had helped Toni up the stairs. Suddenly Mrs. Haney walked in and quickly moved to assist. She asked Minnie to get more clean sheets and asked if they had receiving blankets for the infants when they arrived. She instructed Minnie to get some warm water, gentle soap, and towels. She wasn’t used to the father being present but without anyone else there to help, she had Adam move closer to the head of the bed and to take over Minnie’s task there. She told Hop Sing that he should continue to see to Toni and that she and Minnie would care for each infant as the child was delivered. From what she could tell the first birth was imminent, and then suddenly the baby was there. The first head crowned and Hop Sing and Mrs. Haney both encouraged her to push. Adam was looking very pale.

“Don’t you dare faint now. Your son is going to need you in a moment.”

Adam looked to Mrs. Haney and nodded. He was amazed by the miracle of his son’s birth but was still deeply concerned for Toni because it wasn’t over yet. Mrs. Haney folded the little guy into the receiving blanket and waited just a few minutes until Minnie returned. They quickly cleaned up the little boy, and then wrapped him tightly in warm flannel blankets. Minnie held the child to her and wrapped her arms around him to keep him warm. He was tiny but he had good color and his wailing let them know his lungs were working just fine. Hop Sing and Mrs. Haney relaxed just a bit because weak lungs was a fear with any early arrival. Now they both prayed that the next one would be as healthy.

Within a few minutes, the second baby crowned and just as quickly moved out of the birth canal and into Hop Sing’s waiting hands. He tied off the umbilical cord as he had done with the first and snipped it between the two ties. Then he handed the second little boy to Mrs. Haney who told Minnie to hand the first one to Toni who was looking anxiously to them. When Minnie set her first born son in her arms, tears flowed down Toni’s cheeks but her smile was as wide as Adam’s. Suddenly there was wailing from the second son and everyone began to smile. They were okay. Mrs. Haney had to dig some mucus out of the second one’s mouth and he had announced his displeasure immediately. With a quick cleanup, he too was swaddled and Minnie carried him over and placed him in Adam’s arms.

“What will you name your sons? You need to decide soon because I am going to let the grandfathers up here as soon as we can clean up the mess.”

With that, Mrs. Haney helped Hop Sing begin pulling the extra sheets from the bed and picking up towels and receiving blankets which Hop Sing bundled and carried out of the room. Minnie placed a clean sheet over Toni and then a blanket over that. Dr. Martin walked in at that moment. He asked Mrs. Haney to delay her invitation so he could examine all three of his patients first.

“Although everything looks fine here. The three of you made a wonderful team. Well, now what are the boy’s names? Who was born first? I’ll examine him and then the other before I check on Toni.”

Adam looked at Toni and shook his head yes.

“The first born is Anthony Joseph and we plan to call him AC because calling him Tony would just be too confusing and Anthony is quite a handle for a little boy. The second one is Benjamin Eric and we plan to call him Benjy.”

At the door, Mrs. Haney and Minnie smiled. “Can we tell them downstairs?”

“Just that we have two healthy small sons. We want to tell them the names when they come up here.”

The examination showed that all three were in good health. Dr. Paul was a little concerned at how small the boys were and warned them to be vigilant at keeping the boys warm at all times.

“Being so small, if they get cold, they probably won’t suckle. Nursing could be difficult for them anyway because their mouths are small too. Now don’t look so worried. Adam was a small baby too from what Ben has shared with me and look at him now. Five pounds is small but they should gain weight fast. Toni, the delivery though painful was relatively short.” Paul smiled at the looks they gave him. “Less than four hours of labor is something a number of my patients would have dreamed of having. Ten or twelve hours or more is the norm in my practice. Take it easy and don’t try to do too much especially in this first week. Nurse your babies and hold them, but let someone else do anything else that needs to be done.” With that he gave a pointed look at Adam, and when he got a nod of compliance from him, he left. It had been a very long night and he needed some food and some rest.

Once Paul got to the top of the stairs, he saw a number of eyes watching and waiting for permission to go up the stairs. Paul nodded and then stepped back to get out of the way as four men raced to see the new arrivals. When the names were announced, there were tears in those eyes. Tony had other grandchildren but these were his baby’s babies and one was named in his honor. Ben finally had grandchildren he had dreamed of and the feeling was even better than he had imagined. Hoss was overcome with emotion to see the little boy whose name included his. Joseph was honored that his brother would use his name as his first born’s middle name. Mrs. Haney returned to shush them all out of the room saying the mother needed to introduce the boys to nursing and didn’t need an audience. Joe was going to say something to that but wisely kept his mouth shut when his father and brothers glared at him.

After the door closed, Toni opened her gown and placed AC at her breast to nurse. It took just a moment and he latched on and started suckling. Toni looked at Adam with a wicked gleam in her eyes.

“Don’t you dare say it, woman. My son is just hungry.” But he couldn’t help himself and started to chuckle. “Well let’s see if Benjy is just as hungry. He placed the little boy at her other breast and he began nursing immediately. Both were relieved because Mrs. Haney had said they might be a little reluctant to nurse and to call for her help if that happened. Adam shifted two pillows to support Toni’s arms. Within minutes both stopped suckling and closed their eyes. Adam took AC and placed him against his chest and moved to the rocking chair where he sat and rocked the swaddled infant. Toni smiled at him and pulled Benjy to her chest in the same manner and then all four slept. It had been a very busy day.

*****

Two Pair ch. 5

Wedding plans were well underway. Each day after the twins were born, Minnie would spend quite a few hours in Toni’s company so that Adam could work. As Minnie helped to bathe, diaper, dress, and rock the babies, they had lots of time to converse. They talked of how the church and house could be decorated. They discussed how the bedroom at the top of the stairs could be arranged and decorated so that Hoss and Minnie could have a private space. Toni drew up a list of a few things she thought Adam should purchase to add to the room. The extra table and chairs as well as a lounge chair or settee would be nice for the newlywed couple but would also make the room an inviting and practical guest room after Hoss and Minnie moved to their new home.

Before the wedding, in fact, they might have guests because Teresa was coming with Davy and Maria and her children were coming too. They had not been able to be there for the birth because the babies arrived about a month early but they were coming as scheduled because the sisters had not been together since Toni’s wedding. Toni was hoping and planning that Teresa and Davy would stay with her and Adam and that Maria and her two children would stay with Tony. If that happened, then all would have separate bedrooms and everyone would be more comfortable. Of course, Toni felt especially close to her sister Teresa and hoped they could spend even more time together with those arrangements. Adam liked her sisters and he especially liked Davy. They were looking forward to the visit if they could only get enough sleep.

“Is it that time already? It seems you just nursed them?”

“Doctor Paul said that until they get bigger, they are going to want to eat every two to three hours like this.”

“I’ll check to see if either one is dry, and hand that one to you. I’ll diaper and change the other and rock him until you are ready for him.”

And so it went every night for weeks: Adam and Toni were awakened at least twice by their sons who often needed diapering and always needed to be fed. They didn’t get to sleep in either because the boys were awake by five almost every morning as well. Toni got to nap during the day because the doctor ordered it and Minnie and Adam insisted, but the routine was exhausting Adam, and his father and brothers noticed his stiffness in the saddle and his drawn face and the dark circles under his eyes. Ben had suffered through the nighttime routines of an infant but had never dealt with twins and Adam’s babies were especially small and needed more care.

Ben and Hoss began to be concerned about Adam and what could happen as a result of his exhausted state. Joe just complained that his oldest brother had gotten back to being ornery, moody, and bossy. The work on the ranch was always intense at this time of year so Ben didn’t see a solution. He needed Adam to make rides to the saw mill and the timber camps to keep them on schedule. There were contracts to work on, and the ledgers had to be checked almost daily. Once finished on the Ponderosa, Adam went home to help with the twins and work on house plans for Hoss. Toni and Minnie also handed over their lists of things needed for the house. If he had any time, he would help Charlie with the corrals that were not finished yet. He had rushed the finishing of the cradles when the twins were born, but each Saturday Adam worked in his wood shop because he still had to finish the cribs. The toddler bed needed to be repaired too and he was making an identical one as well. In a week, there would be guests in his home and he had no idea how he was going to get everything done.

On the Saturday almost three weeks after the twins’ birth, the day started normally. Toni’s worry about Adam’s condition though led to a confrontation.

“Now that the boys are fed and back in their cradles, I think you should go back to bed. You look exhausted.”

“I am exhausted but there’s too much to do for me to take time off now.”

“If you don’t, you’re going to get sick or get hurt. Then you won’t be able to do anything. Just sleep a few hours. It can’t hurt.”

“I have taken care of myself for thirty-six years; I think I can handle it now.”

“Adam stop being so mule-headed!”

“So now I’m a mule! Maybe you would like to tell me a little more about myself.”

“There are people who will help you. You just have to ask but you won’t, and I don’t like what you are doing to yourself because of your pride.”

Their loud voices awakened the babies who started crying loudly demanding to be soothed. Adam sat down and dropped his head into his hands. He was feeling overwhelmed and he hated the feeling. Toni walked over, picked up Benjy, and handed him over into Adam’s arms and walked back to pick up AC. There was a tense silence between them as they walked downstairs for breakfast. Toni tucked AC into the wrap that wound across her dress. It kept the baby secure and warm while freeing his mother’s hands to do things like eat breakfast. Mrs. Haney had suggested that as a solution to keeping the babies warm. Adam opened the buttons of his shirt and slipped Benjy’s little bundle inside when he quieted. Using one arm to support his son, he was able to eat breakfast with the other. That idea had also been from Mrs. Haney who knew that Toni could not carry both babies at the same time. Adam felt that this was the only time he had any peace in his life: when he was holding one of his sons asleep on his chest.

Toni was feeling unhappy with herself for adding to the pressure on Adam. She looked at him and could see how tired he was.

“I’m sorry. I am so concerned about you, and the worry made me say some stupid things.”

“They weren’t stupid. There was some truth in there. But I don’t see a solution. I am the only one to do some of these jobs so I can’t see a way out of this until the boys get bigger and sleep more.”

“Which jobs could someone else do?”

There was a knock on the door interrupting their conversation. Adam went to answer the door and found his father and brothers as well as Tony standing on his porch.

“Well older brother, I am surprised to see you wearing an undershirt. Next you’re going to tell me you’ve started wearing nightshirts too.”

“Hoss, good to see you too. Ah, the boys didn’t like the hair. Must have been ticklish or something and when they did grab a handful, it hurt like the dickens. You wouldn’t think a tiny hand like that could be so strong.”

“Why you got him in your shirt? And which one is that anyway?”

“Benjy. Mrs. Haney suggested it as way to keep the babies warm. Once I get the cribs finished, we’ll use those upstairs and use the cradles downstairs, but for now this is the best solution. Now I am pleased to see you, but what are you all doing here so early on a Saturday morning?”

“We came to see what work we could do for you, son. We knew you wouldn’t ask, so we’re telling you we’re here to work. What can we do?”

They all came in, greeted Toni, and all except Hoss sat at the dining table with coffee and discussed a plan for the day. Hoss went in the kitchen to see Minnie and told them he was good with whatever job they wanted him to do. The plan they devised was that Charlie would help Adam in the wood shop and those cribs would be ready to use by that night. Hoss and Joe would work with a crew from the Ponderosa and the R&D to finish the corrals. Hop Sing, Minnie, and the R&D cook and her husband would prepare a small garden for vegetables and another for roses as well as cook lunch and dinner. Candy and another man would work on splitting wood for kindling and firewood. Ben and Tony would hitch up the team to the wagon and go to town to pick up or order all the items on the substantial list Toni and Minnie had prepared. Toni would care for the twins and Doctor Paul would help when he arrived later that morning. When all had agreed, Adam grinned like he hadn’t since the twins were born.

“Thank you!”

“You can thank us after we finish. I just hope there’s a lunch included in that plan or we’re gonna have a mighty angry Hoss by dinnertime!”

“I heard that Joe! You better skedaddle right now or I’m gonna thump you.”

Joe finished his coffee and went outside in a hurry just before Hoss came out of the kitchen with a big grin on his face. Adam smirked and Ben smiled. Some things never change!

The work proceeded very well and by the end of the day, everything that could be done was done. Hoss and Adam brought the cradles downstairs after carrying the cribs up to the nursery. With the cradles placed before the fireplace, the boys would have a warm place to nap during the day where they could be closely supervised. At night, they would sleep in their cribs in the room next to their parents. The corrals were finished and soon Adam and Toni could begin their horse breeding program. After dinner, Ben asked to see Adam in his study.

“Son, it’s busy on the ranch now but I think that we can lighten your work load.” As Adam began to interrupt, Ben raised his hand. “Just wait until I’m finished. Yes there are some jobs that you do better than anyone. I want you to continue to supervise the sawmill and timber operations. That will take two or possibly three days a week. On the other days, you can come over in the afternoon to check the ledgers to make sure they are correct and read over any new contracts and discuss them with me. There is no need for you to ride and repair fence lines, move cattle, or break horses. Hoss and Joe are in charge of those things and we can hire another man if we need to. This way you will have time to work on building plans and spend time with your sons.”

“Well you have certainly thought this through. Why didn’t you ask me about it though?”

“Amazingly, Joe started this conversation late yesterday afternoon. He was complaining about you and then said we ought to do something so you would be less ornery and quit bossing him around. I was going to tell him to mind his words when Hoss suggested that maybe Joe actually had a good idea. So we talked quite a bit and we were in the southeast pastures at the time so it was a short ride to see Tony. He liked our ideas. Said Toni is a lot like you and he hadn’t been able to do much for her because of her independent streak. At that point, we agreed to make it a surprise. You seem happy.”

“I am Pa. I was drowning in work and I was so tired I couldn’t think of a way out. Thank you!”

“Do you think that perhaps you need to hire more help here? You need to replace Minnie at some point but another man to help might be good too.”

“Probably a good idea. Got any recommendations?”

“Actually I do. Paul asked me if there was a job on the Ponderosa for a man and a woman. There really isn’t but they need to get out of Virginia City and they have very little money and no where else to go at this time.”

“Who are they?”

“Marcus and Lilija Trainor. He owned that new restaurant in town, but he got beaten badly three weeks ago and still needs more time to recover. Without his help, his sister had to close the restaurant and the bank is going to take it over because they can’t make the payments and they are already way behind. They didn’t have enough customers so the income was too low to live on, run the business, and pay the loan. He won’t be able to do any hard work for some time as he recovers, but Lily can work.”

“Yes I remember the night the twins were born that it was mentioned that Paul was delayed because he was caring for him. I suppose some of the ‘good’ citizens of Virginia City thought that boycotting the restaurant wasn’t enough, they had to try to drive him out of town?”

“It certainly appears that way, but he can’t identify his assailants. They wore enough of a disguise and he doesn’t know that many people in town yet. But from what they said to him, it was racial.”

“He’s white but he does look like he had an ancestor who was dark.”

“He told Paul that their maternal grandmother was quadroon. There is also French and Spanish ancestry. They are one-sixteenth black but apparently that’s enough for some to hate them.”

“Perhaps Paul can arrange for them to come out here to meet us, and we can see if we can work out an arrangement for them to work here.”

Ben smiled and so did Paul when he was informed of the development. He agreed to bring them out to the house. Toni was thrilled to learn that she might have the opportunity to learn more recipes and have more help while the twins were so young yet. She also pulled Paul aside and asked him if the six weeks was an absolute, and he told her that she was doing well and he thought four weeks of abstinence would suffice. She was happy and disappointed at the news but thought Adam would be a little relieved to know it would only be one more week.

That night, after everyone had left and the babies were asleep in their cribs, as Adam was unbuttoning his shirt, Toni came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Adam just stopped and closed his eyes enjoying the embrace. They had had so little contact with each other for three weeks that this hug felt great. Toni rotated around him and he raised his arm as she moved to the front of him where she buried her face in his chest and inhaled his scent. Toni’s hands began to roam over his abdomen and chest and Adam groaned.

“I’m not hurting you am I? You used to like this.”

“I absolutely love this but it is torture right now. I react every time I am near you, hear your voice, inhale your scent.”

“How did you ever survive before we were married.”

“It is easier to ignore what you never had than to possess a treasure and have it taken from you. No matter how difficult it has been to care for our sons with all of the demands, it is a picnic compared to being away from you.”

“One more week. Paul said ‘one more week’.”

“So only one more week of torture.”

“Perhaps your creative brilliant mind can come up with something that we can do to relieve the pain?”

Adam grinned the deep dimple grin, and wrapped his arms around Toni.

“What ever you say, my lady, what ever you say.”

*****

Two Pair ch. 6

One week later, Teresa and Davy arrived on the stage as did Maria and her two children. They were met by Tony, Adam, Toni, and the twins. Both sisters oohed and ahhed over the babies who looked substantially larger and healthier than they had the month before when they had been born. They were still small but growing and filling out. Toni was delighted to see that Teresa was sporting her own baby bump and was informed that there would be another baby in five months. Davy was happy to be back in Virginia City.

“Where’s Horse?”

“Which horse?”

“No, your brother Horse.”

“His name is Hoss and he’s at the Ponderosa now.”

“Are we gonna stay there again?”

“No this time, you’re going to stay at my house.”

“Do I get to sleep in your bed with you again?”

Now that took a bit of explaining to Teresa, Maria, and Tony as they explained that in Adam’s convalescence from the injuries suffered at the hands of Bill Roberts, he and Davy had shared nap time as well as story telling and music. All enjoyed the story especially as it was embellished by Adam and Toni who had each discovered that the other was a gifted story teller. They explained to Davy that he would have his own bedroom to use because Adam slept with Toni now. That of course led to the inevitable ‘Why?’ which they left to Teresa to answer.

Later that evening, as most of the group toured the R&D ranch, Teresa got some quiet time with Tony. She had puzzled over something for months and finally decided to ask her father.

“Papa, at her wedding and now, Toni seems prettier than she used to be. I mean much prettier. Is it my imagination or do you see it too.”

Tony smiled. “I see it too.”

“I don’t understand how that happened. I always loved Toni. She is my sister and my best friend, but she always seemed kind of plain to me and she even seemed to work at not being noticed with her hair pulled back and wearing dark colors. Now she is pretty and is wearing her hair down, wears beautiful pins in her hair, and dresses in colorful dresses.”

” I heard a story from an itinerant preacher once. I don’t know where he heard it or even what religion he was. There was a tribe of Indians and every man who wanted a wife had to pay ponies to the father to get his consent for his daughter to marry. One man had many daughters. All were exceptionally beautiful except one who seemed rather plain by comparison. Young men gave him three, five, and ten ponies to wed his daughters. Then he was left with only the one. He worried that no one would give even one pony for her. To his great surprise, the son of a chief from a neighboring tribe arrived at his home and offered him twenty ponies for his daughter in marriage. He immediately called his daughter out of the home and told her that this young man had offered twenty ponies for her. She smiled and the young man smiled as he asked if the wedding could please be the next day as he could wait no longer. On the following morning, the young lady left her home and the people of her tribe were amazed: she was pretty with a regal bearing and a radiant smile, shiny hair that hung over her shoulders, and a white buckskin dress that hugged all the gorgeous curves of her body. The young men of the tribe wondered how they could have ignored this treasure in their midst so they challenged the father as to why he had hidden her away. He said ‘I did not hide her. It was your cruel taunts that caused her to hide. This man who saw her beauty let her come out of hiding and now he will have a beautiful confident wife.’ You and your sister were naturally so beautiful and many people said things that Toni heard as she grew up. She ‘hid’ because she didn’t know what else to do.”

“Until Adam saw her as a beautiful woman!”

“Yes and now she is more confident in herself as a woman and knows that he believes her to be beautiful. So she is.”

“Adam and Toni aren’t the only gifted story tellers in this family!”

*****

Two Pair ch. 7

The Cartwrights met up with all of Toni’s family at church on Sunday. This was the first time that Adam and Toni were going to bring the boys to a public event. As they arrived, many people saw them carrying the infants and walked over to get a look at the first of the Cartwright grandchildren. Both were sleeping. Toni carried AC and his dark curly hair was about anyone could see as he snuggled into his mama’s chest as she was helped from the carriage by her father. Adam stepped down next with Benjy cradled in his arms and the little guy was wide awake. Brown haired Benjy was always hungry it seemed and was already larger than his brother. Adam asked Toni if she wanted to switch because Benjy might be demanding to nurse before the conclusion of the service. They switched bundles and walked into church with the proud grandfathers, aunts, uncles, Minnie, and three cousins. Adam had gotten a bit more sleep that night because Teresa helped her sister with the babies during one of the feedings. If he could get someone to do that every night, he knew he could survive these next few months in a much better frame of mind.

The Trainors were scheduled to visit with Adam and Toni that afternoon. They were going to have lunch, talk, and see if all four would be comfortable living in close quarters. Because of that, Adam and Toni were planning to return home immediately after the service. The rest of the entourage was going to stay for the first big church picnic of the year. Minnie and Tony’s cook had prepared baskets of food which were packed into the backs of carriages and wagons along with blankets and plates and such. Hoss was a little nervous because the minister announced their engagement and wedding date in church. Both he and Minnie blushed as many people in church murmured at hearing the news. After the service, they expected to have to endure the congratulations and well wishes of everyone there. Both were naturally shy and unassuming, but Adam and Toni had coached them on what to say and how to act so they had some confidence it wouldn’t be too bad.

As expected, Benjy began to wail because he was hungry and that woke his brother. Adam and Toni were a little embarrassed as they had to gather their belongings and head out early. The parents in church however were understanding as they had all been there and done that. Adam helped Toni into the back seat of the carriage and offered her a lap blanket so she would have some privacy as she nursed Benjy. Then he walked around for a few minutes soothing AC who quieted and then fell asleep. Carefully Adam tucked him into the back seat next to Toni.

“I’ll drive slowly. If you need anything, just let me know and I can stop to help. We have plenty of time before the Trainors arrive so don’t worry.”

“I wish AC would eat like this. Benjy is growing so much faster.”

“Only in width. When I had the boys laying on the bed this morning I realized that AC is longer. He’s slender whereas Benjy has a stockier build. Even though they look a lot alike, I’m glad they’re not identical.”

“So you can tell them apart?”

Adam smirked. “Well that was helpful the first few days. No I think it will be fun to see them grow and develop into unique young men. They will always have the other to rely on but they can more easily pursue their own dreams because people won’t have preconceived notions that they will be the same.”

Arriving back at home, Adam helped get the boys inside and put Benjy in a cradle next to the fireplace as Toni settled into her favorite chair to nurse AC. After stabling the horses, Adam returned and prepared a light lunch for them: ham sandwiches, fruit, and some coffee. After lunch, Adam and Toni sat next to the boys as they slept in their cradles and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Both of them drifted off to sleep and were awakened about an hour later by a knock on the door.

Adam answered the knock and invited the Trainors inside. Marcus was walking slowly and with a cane. Lilija walked at his side. Once they were all seated and coffee and tea were served, they began to talk quietly. Marcus wanted out of town very much but felt that he would not be able to earn his keep for quite a while.

“At first, it would be fine with us if you helped with the cooking as much as you can. Perhaps being there to watch over things if Minnie or Lilija need to attend to the boys or do some other work. Once you are back on your feet, we can discuss what other options we have, but right now the pressing need is to get some help for Toni and some help at night when the boys awaken.”

“You can call me Lily. All my family does. Where would we stay if we came to work here?”

“Well Minnie and I have discussed this already. I would like to have Minnie move upstairs into the room she will share with Hoss once they are married. Lily then you could have the room off the kitchen. Marcus could bunk in with Charlie. It would just be the two of you and there’s room enough in the bunkhouse to accommodate two quite easily. Adam said it would be simple to add a partition if either you or Charlie wanted some privacy. Sometimes Charlie eats in the bunkhouse and sometimes in the kitchen. Either option is good for you too.”

“I’m hoping that with Minnie helping out with at least one of the nighttime feedings, I can get more sleep so I can handle my workload better. Minnie would then be able to sleep in if you could prepare breakfast. The rest of the tasks, the four of you would divide according to interests and abilities I guess.”

Marcus looked at Lily and nodded. They would accept the position and said they had brought their things with them and had left them on the porch. Everyone smiled at that.

“Doctor Martin was so sure this would work, he told us to bring our things with us when he gave us a ride out here. He will give notice at the boardinghouse if we don’t come back into town tonight.”

Toni couldn’t help it then. She gave Lily an exuberant hug and then a more gentle one to Marcus. Adam shook Marcus’ hand and offered to show him to the bunkhouse and introduce him to Charlie. Lily and Toni decided to tag along because they wouldn’t invade Minnie’s privacy and would wait until her return to move her things to the upstairs bedroom.

Toni was really beginning to enjoy working with Adam to resolve problems. They both tended to think along logical, efficient, and practical lines but could be as creative as they needed to be. She started to look forward to the horse breeding business they had talked about creating. Adam was tired of cows and now Ben had relieved him of most of the ranch duties relating to the herds. He would still be expected to help on some or all of the cattle drives but that was only three to six weeks of the year and Toni was sure that would not be a problem for them. That was too optimistic but everything seemed to be going so well she couldn’t imagine any problems intruding in their lives now. Sliding her arm through his, she walked with him back to the house to see how the boys were doing.

*****

Two Pair ch. 8

Friday, June 20 was the day before Hoss’ wedding. Joe felt obliged as best man that he should get Hoss to celebrate his last day as a bachelor. Hoss didn’t want to though because he was worried about things like this that Joe planned. It always seemed that things did not go as Joe said they would and Hoss would always get in trouble. Hoss did not want anything like that to happen to threaten his wedding day with Minnie and he asked Adam to intervene. Adam got Joe to agree to a dinner in town and then drinks at the Silver Dollar with the brothers and a few close friends. Hoss relaxed when he heard the plan because it sounded pretty darn good to him.

Hoss, Joe, Adam, Candy, Charlie, and a few other hands from the Ponderosa rode into Virginia City and had a large and long dinner at the International House which had been ordered and paid for by Adam. Toasts were made and then the men, who were unmarried except for Adam, jibed and harassed Hoss about getting ‘hitched’ and giving up his freedom. Hoss looked at Adam and winked.

“Well boys, there’s a lot of benefits to being married that you’re forgetting. Nice home cooked meals all the time, someone to rub my feet when they’re sore, and a course there’s someone warm to snuggle up with every night when I lay my weary bones down in my big bed.”

“Aw big brother if snuggling is all you got in mind, then Pa’s gotta have that talk with you again.”

Hoss turned as red as he could, and the men all laughed uproariously.

“Joe, you better not say nothing more or I’m gonna have to thunk you!”

Adam suggested perhaps it was time to have those drinks over at the saloon.

“I paid for dinner as the ‘father’ of the bride, so it’s only fair that the drinks are on the best man. Order whatever you want, Joe’s paying.”

Joe shot Adam a look. He had meant to buy a round but this could get to be real expensive. Adam smirked as he walked by and Joe gave him a shove forward and then used his ‘I’m innocent’ face when Adam turned to face him. Nothing could ruin Adam’s mood at that time though so he threw an arm around Joe’s shoulders and assured him he had enough cash to help if Joe ran out. That wasn’t a complete resolution to Joe’s worries but it did alleviate one concern.

At the saloon, the men pulled two tables together and ordered drinks. They talked about ranching, carving, horses, and women among other topics for several hours. Sam bought a round of drinks for everyone in honor of Hoss’ wedding. It was nearing nine when Adam said he would probably need to head home soon. All heads swiveled to hear though when they were addressed from across the saloon. One of the miners had stood and was facing them across the room.

“Hey Cartwright.”

The three brothers looked at each other because they had no idea which one he meant.

“Aren’t you worried about leaving your woman with that darkie?”

At that point they all knew who he had addressed and Hoss put his hand on Adam’s arm.

“Don’t let him rile you. Let’s just leave.”

All the men stood to leave but the miner didn’t stop.

“Once she has that darkie, you won’t be able to satisfy her. What ya gonna do when she bears ya a little pickaninny?”

That was it. There was no one who could stop Adam now. He bull rushed the miner and pushed him against the wall. The man tried to fight back but Adam was furious and rained blows on the man’s face and head until all he could do was try to protect himself from further blows. The miner’s friends were going to help him but they turned when they heard several revolvers click as hammers were pulled back. Hoss, Joe, and Candy had their pistols aimed at the miners.

“This is his fight. He started this mess so let the two of them alone.”

The miners sat back down. Hoss finally grabbed Adam’s arms and pulled him back as the miner sank to the floor.

“That’s enough. He’s done.”

Adam struggled against Hoss’ pull for a bit until he got control of himself.

“You can let me go. I’m done.”

Turning to the miners, Adam stared them down.

“Anyone else care to voice an opinion?”

No one said a word. They walked slowly to their friend and lifted him from the floor and carried him out of the saloon just as Roy Coffee made his way in.

“What in tarnation happened here?”

Sam was the first to answer by telling Roy what had happened. Candy and Charlie added a few details. Roy told Hoss and Joe to get their brother home. He suspected that the miner and his friends had been the ones to beat up Marcus a few weeks earlier but he couldn’t prove it. Just seemed that everyone in town had heard them make nasty remarks about the man and his sister. He got what he probably deserved tonight but because he was a nasty sort, Roy worried as to what he might do next.

At Adam’s house, Hoss walked inside with him. Charlie went in the bunkhouse and the others returned to the Ponderosa.

“Joe, I never saw your brother like that before. He looked like he mighta killed that man if Hoss hadn’t stopped him.”

“Candy, nobody should ever mess with Adam’s family. When people say he is fierce in protecting his family and friends that’s what they mean. I just hope Toni understands. She can be pretty fierce herself.”

“They’re well matched then.”

Joe and the men nodded at that and continued home where Joe was not looking forward to explaining this to Pa.

At Adam’s house, it was equally difficult to explain it all to Toni. She wasn’t happy that Adam would be ‘brawling’ as she called it the night before Hoss’ wedding. She tenderly tended to his bruised and bloody hands even as she continued her barrage. Adam sat in a chair and said nothing to her remarks because he felt he deserved them. Hoss came into the kitchen after he explained to Minnie what happened.

“Toni don’t blame Adam, please. I woulda done the same thing if someone was talking that way about Minnie. I don’t blame him at all. If I thought he was out of line, I woulda stopped him before he threw a punch and you know I could.”

Lily came in from her room after having overheard the conversation. She was so sorry it had happened and felt it was their fault. Toni reassured her that no one thought it was her or her brother’s fault.

“Adam can make his own decisions. I may not be entirely happy about it right now but I trust him. He did what he thought he had to do. Perhaps that famous temper played a bit of a role too.” She smiled at Adam and he returned her smile.

“I wonder what my dear wife would have done if someone said those things about me?”

“They wouldn’t dare. I would …”

Suddenly Toni realized what she was about to say and sheepishly offered an ‘I’m sorry’ to Adam. He held out his arms and she sat on his lap as he hugged her. Lily went back to bed and Hoss went out to the great room where Minnie was minding the babies. He kissed her good night and left. Adam and Toni came out to get their babies and take them upstairs, and all trooped up the stairs. Tomorrow would be a glorious day and they needed to get some sleep.

*****

Two Pair ch. 9

Saturday, June 21 was a beautiful day with a sunny sky, a slight breeze, and a mild temperature. Adam and Toni walked down the stairs in their home with their sons and were amazed again at how beautifully decorated their great room was with ribbons, vases of flowers, and dozens of candles. The furniture except for the cradles had been pushed back against the walls or removed to other rooms to create a spacious area for the wedding. The large dining table was festive and only awaited the food for the buffet. Hoss and Minnie would be married there in the afternoon and the ladies had been cleaning and decorating for days. Neither Hoss nor Minnie was comfortable with a large crowd so the wedding was going to be small with guests who were close to one or both of them. Everyone else in the house was sleeping in but AC and Benjy had not yet learned to appreciate that and had awakened as usual at just after five.

The family proceeded to the kitchen where Lily had breakfast started.

“Oh I am so sorry but nothing is quite ready yet. I didn’t think anyone would be in this early.”

“Don’t be concerned. Our sons wanted to eat early as usual so Toni and I had to get up. I am looking forward to the day when we can sleep in to seven or so on a Saturday morning.”

“If you have some coffee ready though that would be nice. You should be tired too with all the help you have given us with the decorating as well as all the baking and cooking yesterday.”

“Cooking, baking, and decorating are fun to me, not something to make me tired. And I did get to bed at a reasonable time last night and of course no one woke me three times.” Lily smiled as Adam and Toni sat on kitchen chairs, rocked their sons, looked at each other and nodded at that last statement.

“Yes we didn’t ask Minnie to help last night and now that Teresa and Davy are over at Tony’s, we had all three feedings to do. We’ll have to do that for a week anyway until Hoss and Minnie return from their honeymoon.”

Marcus and Charlie came in to have breakfast soon after that, and the five adults ate a hearty breakfast. The next meal would be the buffet after the wedding. Toni asked Lily to make up a breakfast tray and bring it to Minnie’s room. When she returned, she was smiling.

“That girl is more nervous than a crawdad in a basket in the kitchen. You’d think she was facing a firing squad instead of a wedding. She looks like she didn’t sleep a wink last night.”

“Hoss is probably the same way over at the main house. Pa, Joe, and Hop Sing are probably worried cause he wasn’t hungry this morning. If he doesn’t eat, he’s either worried sick or he actually is sick.”

After Adam and Toni got the boys settled in their cradles, Adam stayed to watch over them and Toni went upstairs to help Minnie prepare for her day. Lily and Charlie brought buckets of hot water to the bath set up in her room and Toni added sweet smelling bath salts. Once she got Minnie settled in the bath, the nervous bride began to relax. Toni started sharing some of Adam’s stories about Hoss as a youngster and soon the two were laughing and talking. After her bath, she dressed in a robe and the two of them went downstairs to see if there was any last minute changes they wanted to make in the decorations. Then they spent time in the kitchen with final preparations for the dinner buffet. Finally Lily shushed them out and said she and Marcus could handle the rest and wanted to finish the cake. Teresa and Maria arrived and the four ladies went to Minnie’s room to talk, and prepare for the wedding. Toni was grateful her sisters had stayed and were willing to help because with the four of them, time passed quickly.

At the main house, Ben finally suggested to Joe that he and Hoss go for a ride because he couldn’t stand all the pacing and the deep sighs constantly emitting from a very nervous bridegroom. The first stop on the ride was the building site for the new home that was being constructed for Hoss and Minnie. All that was there so far was the stone foundation of the outside walls, but they could walk through the house to see the lines Adam had made with string to indicate where each room would be on the first floor. The following week, those foundations joists would be put in followed by the main floor and the outside walls. Then the workers would put on a roof and frame in the first floor and the bedrooms for the second floor. Adam had told Hoss that the skeleton of the house should be ready by the time he returned from his honeymoon. The work was progressing at a fast pace because Hoss and Minnie had approved of Adam’s first plans and drawings of the house. With no changes to make, the crews could begin work as soon as the lumber and materials began to arrive which they expected would be Monday.

“Hoss this is gonna be great. This house will be nice and spacious and with the trees all around, you are gonna love it.”

At that moment, squirrels were chattering and birds were singing. If Joe would have been a quieter person, there might have been deer or other critters walking through. Hoss relaxed as he realized how peaceful the setting was and how nice it would be to come here every day to be greeted by his wife. Adam’s house had a grand vista and the house was designed to fit in that setting. Adam had wisely designed a house for Hoss and Minnie that would be cozy and comfortable to fit in the natural forest setting. Hoss planned to continue working the Ponderosa with the cattle as his main responsibility so there was no need for a bunkhouse, big corrals, and such to diminish the natural setting. There would be a small stable for a few horses and a small corral. Hoss got tears in his eyes when he looked at the trees to pick out a suitable limb to hang a swing because he hoped that like Adam, he could have a child within the first year he was married. Joe had realized after about twenty minutes that Hoss wasn’t listening to anything he said so he just leaned back against Cooch and smiled as he saw his brother dreaming of his future.

“Time to ride back now brother and get you all gussied up for your wedding. We wouldn’t want you to be late. Hop Sing was heating water for your bath when we left so we better get back before he gets mad.”

“Maybe he kept some of those hot cakes warm cause I’m hungry now!”

Joe smiled as did Ben and Hop Sing later when Hoss barreled in to the kitchen hungry and asking if there was any food left from breakfast. Now they knew he would be okay. Some of his confidence failed him as he walked into Adam’s house later, but all the hopes and dreams he had for the future bolstered him. He stood by the fireplace next to Joe and watched the top of the stairs anxiously. Teresa and Maria came down and took their places next to Tony and their children. Next Toni appeared at the top of the stairs in a green satin dress and carrying a small bouquet of wildflowers. A minute later, Minnie appeared on Adam’s arm at the top of the stairs. Adam was resplendent in a new black formal coat and black striped trousers, white shirt, and black string tie. Minnie was in a white satin gown overlaid with lace and a lace veil over her head. She carried a large bouquet of wildflowers. Hoss saw nothing except his bride to be. At the bottom of the stairs, Adam turned Minnie toward Hoss, walked her to his brother, and then placed Minnie’s hand on Hoss’ arm.

“Take care of her Hoss. She is a treasure beyond measure, and the two of you will have happiness always.”

Minnie handed her bouquet to Toni who had stepped up beside her, and then she grasped Hoss’ hand for reassurance. The minister administered the wedding vows to Wilhelmina and Eric. In the small crowd, there was no surprise. In a larger wedding, there would have been some who wondered who those two people were. After Hoss placed the ring on Minnie’s finger, he lifted her veil and kissed her lightly on the lips. He could never do what Adam had done at his wedding with his robust kiss of his new bride. Hoss would save those kisses for their private time. Even the chaste kiss they exchanged caused both of them to blush as they turned to the cheers of the wedding crowd. Toni handed the large bouquet back to Minnie and the newlyweds proceeded to the porch of the home to receive all of their guests.

There was music and dancing in the yard, punch and snack food on tables. Later, guests trooped through to the dining room to fill their plates with delicious hot dishes made by Lily and Marcus. After dinner, Adam played guitar and he and Toni sang some romantic songs and then a few rousing tunes which got the crowd to join in. Toni did not have a strong singing voice like Adam but she sang perfect harmony so the songs were wonderful and much appreciated by Hoss and Minnie who realized that Adam and Toni had somehow found the time to rehearse special songs for their wedding. After that, the musicians played more dance tunes. A gorgeous five layer wedding cake was carried out to the revelers about eight. There were flowers and vines made from colored frosting trailing from the top layer to the bottom. Hoss and Minnie cut the cake and fed each other a piece. Then all the guests lined up to get pieces of the delicious chocolate cake.

Finally about nine as twilight began, Adam told Hoss it was okay now for him to go with Minnie to the cabin which had been prepared for the wedding night by Joe. As Minnie and Hoss climbed into the carriage, fireworks started exploding and several of the Ponderosa hands joined in the barrage by firing their pistols in the air. Then Hoss understood why Adam had told him earlier that it was too soon for them to leave. He smiled broadly at Adam who was standing at his father’s right side as he drove the carriage out of the yard.

“Well son, you sure know how to throw a wedding. This was a small wedding but very memorable. Hoss and Minnie are very happy.”

Adam turned to smile at his father and then suddenly leaned forward and grasped his father’s shoulder.

“Did you have a little too much of my punch? I made it strong just like you asked.”

Ben reached out to wrap his arms around Adam as his knees buckled and he fell toward the ground. He felt his left hand getting wet and knew before he looked that it would be blood. Adam was looking at his father and there was agony etched on his face.

“Don’t tell Hoss. It will be all right. Don’t tell Hoss.”

Then he could say no more as the spears of pain in his back overwhelmed his ability to speak. Doctor Paul Martin had seen Adam fall and rushed to his side. He knew this was not good. Adam drank very little since being married so he could not be drunk. Joe rushed over as well and Ben told him to go get Toni.

*****

Two Pair ch 10

Toni felt like someone had socked her in the gut. She handed AC to her sister and ran to the front of the yard where Joe said Adam was and that he was hurt. When she got there, the doctor and Ben were trying to get Adam’s coat off of him and he was groaning in agony with every movement and tug on the sleeve of his coat.

“Just cut if off of him. Don’t hurt him.”

Paul opened his bag quickly and retrieved a scalpel and sliced carefully through the length of the sleeve. With that removed, the coat was slid away from Adam’s back. There was a lot of blood but Dr. Martin began probing to see what the damage was. He was offered a stack of napkins from the table and he used those to press against the wound when he found it.

“Now we need to get him in the house but I think we need to carry him using a firm support. Every little movement causes him great pain so we have to minimize that. Charlie do we have something here we can use?”

Charlie rushed toward one of the tables and got some of the women and men to clear the food from it. It was a tabletop just sitting on supports so he carried that back to where Adam was lying. Paul nodded yes when he saw it. They very carefully slid it underneath Adam moving him as little as possible with Paul keeping pressure on the wound at all times. Then five of the men lifted the makeshift stretcher leaving room for Paul to walk alongside and keep pressure on the wound. They couldn’t carry him inside that way so Paul had them bring the supports to the porch and place the table top back on them. Charlie got some canvas from the barn and draped the front of the porch. Marcus and Lily found lanterns and lamps and placed the lamps on the table on the porch and hung the lanterns from the hooks that were there for that purpose. Doctor Paul now had a makeshift surgery.

Toni and Teresa brought sheets and a stack of bandages from the house. Hop Sing placed pans of water on the stove in the kitchen to boil. He brought the first warm water to the doctor so he could wash his hands and wash some of the blood from Adam’s back to see what the damage was. Paul asked Hop Sing to stay, and asked if Lily or Marcus could bring the rest of the water once it was boiling. Roy, Ben, Joe, and Toni’s family were sent into the house and other guests went home so they would not be in the way.

After about an hour, Hop Sing came to the door and asked Ben and Joe to come as the doctor needed them. Toni got up and walked to the door with them.

“I’m going!”

Ben shook his head and walked behind her to the porch. Paul wanted Ben and Joe to help lift and hold Adam as he and Hop Sing wound bandages tightly around his chest and over his shoulder. There was an extremely thick and wide wad of bandage on Adam’s back and his upper left arm was bandaged as well. Ben wanted to ask questions but Paul just said ‘later’ as he concentrated on getting the bandages tight enough to do their job but not so tight as to constrict breathing. Adam grimaced and groaned through the whole procedure. After they bandages were around his chest, Paul used more to secure his left arm to his side.

“I gave him something for the pain but the pain is so intense that the medication hasn’t given him complete relief yet. There, done. Thank you Hop Sing once again for your invaluable assistance.”

Toni had been standing to the side with tears trailing down her face. She looked like she was about to faint. Joe took her arm and wanted her to sit but she asked to be next to Adam. She took hold of Adam’s right hand and looked at the doctor dreading what he was going to say but he didn’t say what she feared.

“It’s not nearly as bad as it looks. Your husband’s luck has held. It was a bullet wound to his shoulder blade. The bullet entered from the side and tore through his arm and a lot of flesh on his back to get where it was going and that is why there was so much blood. The wounds themselves are shallow. The pain is mostly due to a broken shoulder blade. The bullet imbedded in it and there are fractures radiating out from the impact point. I have cleaned out the wound, removed some small bone fragments, and stitched the wounds on his back and on his arm. There is no separation so it should heal without any long term damage. His recovery will be painful especially in the first week. As the bone starts to heal, the pain will diminish significantly.”

Toni was relieved and stroked Adam’s cheek and spoke softly to him to reassure him that she was there and he would be all right. Ben however was incensed.

“Those damn cowboys shooting off those pistols. Someone could have been killed!”

“Ben, I removed a rifle slug from Adam. It wasn’t anyone at the wedding. He was shot intentionally. Would you tell me exactly what you remember just before Adam fell to the ground.”

Ben was shocked by Paul’s assertion. Why would anyone purposely shoot Adam? But he closed his eyes and tried to remember what had happened.

“I said to Adam that he sure knew how to throw a wedding and that Hoss and Minnie were going to remember it forever. He turned toward me, smiled, and then fell toward me and grabbed my shoulder. The next thing I knew he was falling.”

Sheriff Coffee stepped out of the house at that time. He needed to know how Adam was and needed to start questioning witnesses to try to determine what had happened. What he heard meant that much of the questioning would no longer be necessary. He heard Ben’s short summation but what the doctor said next meant that he was going to be looking for someone who wanted Adam Cartwright dead.

“I think that whoever shot Adam was trying to kill him. I wondered as I worked on Adam as to why someone would shoot someone from the side. The odds of hitting that person are a lot smaller that way. But Ben you said he turned toward you at your remark. Whoever fired must have pulled the trigger at that moment. If he had not turned, the bullet would have hit him in the left side of his chest and would probably have instantly killed him.”

Joe got some men to help carry Adam and they carefully brought him into the house and up the stairs to his bedroom. They laid him on the bed facedown and removed the pillows. He would have to rest this way for several days at least and perhaps up to a week, but the doctor assured Toni he would be fine once the broken bone healed.

“Pa are we going to tell Hoss?”

“No Adam is going to be all right. Hoss can’t do anything for him anyway so there’s no need to intrude on his honeymoon. The first thing Adam said after being shot was not to tell Hoss. We can respect his wishes.”

“I think I should stay to help. Teresa is going to stay too.”

“Good. Hop Sing will ride back with me. I’ll get Cooch in the stable for you before I go. You stay here in the house and keep everyone safe.”

Charlie helped Ben get Cooch in the stable and then cleaned up the porch area. He smashed up the tabletop which was stained with Adam’s blood. Tony hugged his daughter and said he would be back early the next day to help with whatever was needed. Teresa told him to take Davy home but to reassure him that Adam would recover. Maria hugged Toni and then gathered her children to ride back with Toni. Once outside, they asked Charlie to put the horse for Teresa’s carriage in the stable or the corral because she was staying. They all climbed in the buckboard then and went home to the R&D.

Ben left last with Hop Sing. He knew that tomorrow morning he would need to put on a good act so that Hoss could leave on his honeymoon without any worries.

*****

Two Pair ch 11

Hoss and Minnie had ridden away from Adam’s house earlier with fireworks and shots punctuating their exit.

“I am so happy that we decided to have the wedding ceremony and the celebration at home with Adam and Toni. It was just so perfect. I never expected those songs they sang for us and the fireworks at the end was something I had never seen.”

“Sweetheart, you never saw fireworks? We have them every year for the Independence Day picnic and contests. Although I never did see them at a wedding before. You can always trust Adam to come up with a surprise or two that you never see coming.”

“Did you ever see a cake as pretty as the one Lily and Marcus made for us. I want them to show me how they decorate a cake like that. It was so good too. I love chocolate.”

Hoss smiled. He knew that and had a surprise for her at the cabin. Joe offered the use of his cabin for their wedding night as he had offered it to Adam. He had some idea of how Joe had probably readied it for them because he had helped Joe when they had decorated the cabin for Adam and Toni. He was getting nervous as he approached the cabin though. He did not have much experience with women. He had visited a few brothels and found he didn’t feel good about it afterwards and stopped going. At one point he and Adam had talked about it and he discovered that Adam felt the same way and was no longer going to any although it had taken a some years for Adam to make that decision. He also suspected that Adam had ‘known’ a few of the women whom he had loved but Hoss had not done that with any woman he ever was with. Tonight was going to be an experience he would never forget if he could just get the courage to make sure it happened.

As it turned out, it was easier than he expected. When they arrived at the cabin, Minnie leaned into him and they began kissing. He had to pull away and ask her to stay there while he unhitched the team and got them into the little corral. Then he walked back and lifted Minnie from the wagon. They walked to the door stopping to kiss every few feet. At the door Minnie stopped and looked at him.

“Isn’t it a tradition to carry the bride across the threshold?”

Hoss nodded, opened the door, and picked up his bride and carried her inside where he promptly set her down. It was dark in there. He went back on the porch and got a lantern and took matches from his jacket pocket and lit it. Lighting the interior let them see where they were going as well as light a few lamps and start a small fire in the fireplace. Then Minnie saw the small replica of their wedding cake sitting in the center of the dining table. She looked at Hoss.

“Ooooh, can we eat it now?”

“After.”

“After what?”

Hoss smiled, took her hand, picked up a lamp, and walked to the bedroom. Minnie smiled at his nonverbal answer. In the bedroom, their bags were already there because of advice he had received from Adam. Minnie got her gown and stepped behind a screen to remove her wedding dress but discovered she couldn’t open the tiny pearl buttons at the lower back portion of the dress. She had to come out from behind the screen to ask Hoss to help and found him standing in just his shortalls by the bed. She had never seen him half naked before and her eyes had to scan over him to see all that she could see including his growing reaction to her. He agreed to help with the buttons and then the corset and she found she didn’t need the gown that night.

Later as Minnie rested in Hoss’ arms, he understood then that when you loved someone deeply, it did just come naturally to know what to do. They would have many years to learn how to please each other but tonight was a superb start. Minnie turned her head up toward Hoss and asked if she could ask a question and he said sure but it turned out not to be the question he expected. He was all set to have her ask if they could have the cake now, but instead she surprised him.

“Can we do that again?”

*****

Two Pair ch 12

On Sunday morning, Hoss and Minnie drove the carriage back to the Ponderosa after eating the cake and some food that was in a basket prepared by Hop Sing. It was their honeymoon so they had eaten the cake first. Because they were still hungry after their busy night and the wedding the day before, Minnie made a pot of coffee and they ate the sandwiches in the basket and some of the fruit. They packed their small bags then and were ready to go. When they arrived at the main house, Ben came out to greet them.

“Where’s Joe? In bed? I wouldn’t think he went to church.”

“He’s at Adam’s place to help out.” It wasn’t a lie just an omission so Ben hoped it wasn’t too much of a lapse in his morals.

“Never would have suspected little brother would offer to help clean up like that. Maybe he’s really growing up now.”

“Hoss I have your pack horse ready, and Chubb and Molly are saddled up and ready to go. Tighten the cinches and you can head out for your honeymoon. I’ll take care of the carriage.”

Hoss and Minnie were going to spend the next six days at the line shack nearest the reserve lands. Adam and Hoss had done a few repairs and made sure it was ready for them to take up residence. The plan was to enjoy the solitude, nature, and of course each other. With a big grin, Hoss thanked his father and went to lead the horses out of the corral. As they rode away, Ben let out a big sigh. His middle son deserved this time and he was glad he was able to send him on his way without letting him know about Adam. Hoss would be upset when he returned and found out but they would deal with that when it happened. The fact that Adam wanted it this way would go a long way toward soothing any hurt that Hoss felt.

Six days later they packed up to head home. Hoss felt relaxed and complete. He was hoping that there was a baby on the way and was disappointed when Minnie said it would be weeks before they would have a clue to that. They rode to the Ponderosa main house dropped off the packs and the pack horse. No one seemed to be home so they decided to swing by their building site before going to Adam’s house. They were surprised and a bit disappointed to find that no work had been done in their absence. Materials were stacked all around so that wasn’t the issue. They decided speculation wasn’t worth the effort. They would have to wait and let Adam explain.

Adam however was busy at that moment. Doctor Martin was at his home and had decided that Adam could finally get out of bed. First he was directed to sit on the side of the bed and his arm was loosened from his side and then strapped to his chest. Doc Martin helped him use the chamber pot which he found humiliating no matter how many times in the past he had been unable to do it himself and required assistance. At least Paul was all business about it not like Joe who covered his embarrassment at the situation by cracking jokes which only made Adam feel more self-conscious. Toni spread a blanket over the rocker and Paul helped Adam stand and walk to the rocker and sit. Toni pulled the corners of the blanket over his shoulders and over his legs, and also used a second blanket to cover him from the waist down preventing any chance that he would be embarrassed if the first blanket shifted.

“I miss my sons. Is there a chance I could hold them now.”

“As long as someone is with you to help if you need it, I see no reason why not.”

Adam had his first big smile in a week with that assurance. Toni went to the nursery and returned with Benjy first. On Adam’s chest he cooed and slapped his hands repeatedly on Adam’s chest. He was happy. He had missed his father and was relieved to be back on that familiar chest again. He was so rambunctious though that Paul asked Toni to hand Benjy to him and to get AC. When she laid AC on his father’s chest, he placed his hands on Adam’s chest and pushed his head up to look at his father’s face. Adam talked soothingly to him and he lowered his head to Adam’s chest and promptly fell asleep.

“AC is a lot like you. He even looks a lot like you already with the dimples, curly black hair, long lashes, and darker skin tone. Benjy’s got the dimples. But he acts more like Joe and is going to be big like Hoss I think.”

“Toni, that last one is a scary thought. It might be best if you never say it again.”

Paul laughed and said he would be on his way as everything seemed to be fine. He told them he knew the way out so that Toni could stay in the room with Adam. She sat in the smaller rocker and Benjy fell asleep in her arms. A short time later they heard footsteps in the hallway. Adam mouthed ‘Hoss’ to Toni so she wasn’t surprised when the newlyweds appeared in the doorway.

Hoss was relieved to see Adam sitting up. From what Joe and Teresa had told them downstairs they were afraid that he would still be flat in bed and told him that. Adam told them that Paul said he was recovering fine and could walk a short distance and sit up now.

“I feel more like a human this way.”

“Adam I am so upset that no one told Hoss or me what happened.”

“I didn’t want them to. There was nothing you could do and it would only have detracted from your honeymoon. I couldn’t let my ‘daughter’ have less than a perfect honeymoon now could I?”

Minnie walked over and kissed Adam on the cheek and told him he was the best. Adam could tell that Hoss was still upset and asked him to tell him what was bothering him. Hoss said he could have been there helping Adam.

“I had Joe filling in for you, but I have to admit that I am happy you are back and we can send the youngest brother home.”

They all laughed at that, and with the laughter, they knew that everything was going to be okay. But of course the worry they still had was who had shot Adam and why.

*****

Storms

ch 1

Thunder rattled the panes of glass in the south facing windows and Toni was startled as she walked down the stairs with Benjy nearly causing her to tumble face forward. Minnie was walking behind her carrying AC and could only gasp when she saw Toni falter. Luckily Toni had regained most of the strength she had before the birth of the twins and was able to grab a railing and prevent a fall. Benjy started wailing and AC buried his head against Minnie.

“Whew, these storms lately have really been loud! No worries about a drought this year but I would really appreciate a gentle rainfall. My gardens are mud and I can’t get anything done outside.”

“I hope that Hoss and Adam are inside now. With the roof and outside walls on our house now, they would at least be dry.”

After two weeks of bed rest and then restricted activity, Doctor Martin had given his approval for Adam to go to the building site each day to oversee the building of a new home for Hoss and Minnie. He suggested a few hours per day and said no to riding a horse so each morning Hoss hitched up the carriage and he and Adam went to the building site. Adam would inspect the progress made since his previous visit and then plan the construction for the rest of the day based on materials available and weather conditions. By noon if not earlier, Hoss or one of the workers would drive Adam back to his home. After lunch, Adam would entertain his sons until it was nap time.

After Minnie and Toni fed the boys and put them in their cradles for naps in front of the fireplace, Adam would go to his study to work on house plans. Toni was enormously grateful that he had been commissioned to design three homes that would sit above Virginia City on Mt. Davidson because it kept Adam well occupied. The views from these homes would be spectacular and the owners each wanted a home that would stand out among all others. So as to avoid a conflict of interest and to satisfy each customer’s demands, Adam had interviewed each of the men’s wives to find something special they wanted in their homes.

One home design had a three story entry with a grand staircase curving up one side and the candle chandelier hanging over the foyer which would be seen in the three story windows of the entranceway. Another house would have a glassed in conservatory for a piano and an elaborate plaster mold rose design on the wall with a fireplace centered in it and a floor that would be a mosaic design much like one would find in a villa in France or Italy with crown molding and panels in the ceilings of each room similar to the rose wall. The third home was the one that Adam had the most fun with. The man who ordered the plans was an inventor and entrepreneur and his wife loved to entertain but also seemed to like quiet times at home. Adam created a home plan with folding walls and extensive use of pocket doors so that the rooms could be cozy and comfortable when only the family was home, but for entertaining rooms could be expanded significantly with the doors slid away and the walls folded. Adam hoped that each house would please the owners but also let the many people prospering from the gold and silver mining see him as an architect who could design homes as well as any architect they could find in San Francisco.

Adam’s work on the house plans kept him busy so that the restrictions he had to accept from Dr. Martin and from Toni were accepted more easily. He was still a little grumpy because he was restricted to the house unless someone was with him and he couldn’t go anywhere unless someone drove him there. The other problem was that even though his injuries were healing with no complications, he had difficulty using his left arm and a great deal of pain if he tried. On his last visit, Paul had said that the two times Adam had been shot in that shoulder, the dislocation he had suffered, and now the gunshot to his upper arm and the damage to his shoulder blade were reasons for his immobility as well as the fact that for two weeks his arm had been strapped down and he couldn’t use it at all. He had said he would do some reading and research to see if there was something that would help.

Additionally, Adam continued to have trouble sleeping because of the pain, and sometimes grew very frustrated as he was forced to draw house plans with mostly one arm. At those times, there were sometimes storms in the house as well as outside. Toni weathered his outbursts well because she understood the source but when they frightened the children, she was not shy about telling him what to do. Having Hoss there in the evenings was a godsend too as he was the one best able to settle Adam down and get him to remember his blessings instead of concentrating on his troubles.

In mid July, Dr. Martin arrived at their home with a guest. He introduced her as Millicent Thatcher, a nurse. Then he went on to explain that she was from England and one of a small group of nurses promoting the use of physical therapy to recover from injury. The field was just being developed and there were no standard practices yet but some innovative work was being done. Nurse Thatcher had just been in San Francisco to speak at a symposium for hospital personnel who trained nurses. Dr. Martin had invited her to Virginia City and told her he had a challenging case she might be interested in. Toni was enthusiastic about her helping, but one look at Adam and the skepticism he had was all too clear. Toni asked for a few minutes to talk privately with Adam in his study.

“Is it that she’s a woman or just your general attitude that you can do it yourself?”

“You heard them say it’s unproven. You seem very anxious to let her make decisions about my shoulder. What if she makes it worse? I can tolerate it now, but if it gets worse, it could stop me from working altogether.”

“Can we please just hear her out? Let her examine you.” Adam raised an eyebrow. “She’s only looking at your shoulder. I would think your modesty could handle that.”

“It’s not my modesty that is the issue. You would like to let her experiment on me with some inventive therapy that no one has studied adequately. I don’t want to be an experiment!”

“All right. Just let her look at you and give her medical opinion. Then it’s up to you.”

Adam reluctantly nodded and Toni emerged from the study and told Nurse Thatcher and Doctor Martin that Adam had consented to an exam. Nurse Thatcher had heard Adam’s complaints about her methodology.

“This is not an invention. We are trying to learn what the Greeks, Romans, and even the Egyptians seemed to have known two thousand years ago. This therapy hopes to build on their expertise and develop a modern version of it. Perhaps if you had studied some history, you would know that these ancient empires had knowledge far beyond ours in some areas.”

Ooh, Toni could almost imagine the steam in Adam over that statement so she intervened before he could blow.

“Perhaps my husband spent so much time studying architecture, engineering, and business at the university in Boston, that he may have missed a few things about those cultures.”

Adam shot Toni a black look, but Nurse Thatcher looked at him with renewed interest. Perhaps, she would be able to explain things in a clinical manner and he would understand better what she was attempting. After the exam of his arm and shoulder, and then muscles of his chest and back which was more than Adam expected, Nurse Thatcher stood with a pensive look on her face.

“This case is complicated. There are so many injuries to consider. The musculature in general has adequate tone but there would need to be numerous methods used to improve strength and mobility, and I don’t know if any solution exists for the pain.”

Adam mainly reacted to the word ‘adequate’ in describing his musculature, but in his mind the pain issue held sway. Directing her comments to Adam, Nurse Thatcher was blunt.

“Most of my work has centered on increasing mobility, strength, and range of motion. I do not know how the pain centered in the shoulder would react to any program of massage and exercise I could recommend, and I do not know of anyone in this area with the expertise to do all this work with you. You need an extensive rehabilitation if you are to regain full use of your arm. I suspect that you have not had full use of that arm in some time and that because you are right-handed, you were able to compensate. Now however, there is too much that is lost and the weakness and limited mobility are obvious.”

“Toni did quite a bit of massage with Adam when he was injured a year ago. His arms, legs, and back needed to be massaged several times daily to keep flexibility and prevent cramping as he recovered from a wound, broken bones, and numerous contusions. Could she be trained to do a specific set of exercises with him?”

“It is possible. Though I only have a couple of days and then I must be on my way to St. Louis for another symposium. If we start today, we have three days to train her. It will have to be enough. Dr. Martin, I would like you to send me regular reports on his progress and especially on the pain issue. It could be invaluable in my work and in my research. We hope to one day have a nurses’ organization to train and certify people in physical therapy but we are not there yet.”

“Do I get a say in this?”

Toni and Dr. Paul looked at Adam and immediately said “No!”

Toni appended her statement.

“I want to be trained to do this. It’s only three days. Then you can decide how much of this you are willing to do, or if it scares you too much to try.”

She had thrown down a gauntlet and she knew it. There was going to be some storming in the house over the next few weeks she surmised.

For the next hour, Nurse Thatcher trained Toni on techniques to work the muscles in Adam’s arms and upper chest but Adam was excused, and Toni practiced on Dr. Paul who was fascinated by what he was learning as well. Then Adam was brought in and they had him sit on his study desk. Under Nurse Thatcher’s supervision, very gently, Toni manipulated Adam’s upper arm and massaged and stretched his back and chest muscles. Adam was reassured when he felt little discomfort from her therapy. The instructions were to do that therapy every few hours until Adam was able to do the exercise himself without Toni’s help.

Nurse Thatcher made Adam a bit nervous though when she informed them that in the next two days she would teach them more extensive techniques for mobility and strengthening the muscles that would involve some pain. However, after two days of training and enduring two one hour sessions of the more extensive work, Adam found it was tolerable especially if it led to him being able to use him arm even if it was still painful. Toni was optimistic that the pain would be gone too but that was her nature. In many ways the two of them were so alike but in this they were not. Toni’s optimism and zest were counterbalanced by Adam’s pessimism and skepticism to create a good working relationship in their marriage and in any task they set out to do including physical therapy.

Within a week of Nurse Thatcher’s departure, Doc Martin visited Adam to evaluate his progress so he could write a report to send to the nurse. Adam was smiling and Toni was ecstatic to show Paul how much more mobility Adam already had and how much stronger his arm already was. Paul asked Adam about the pain and he had to admit he didn’t think there was any improvement. Paul said that it had only been about a month since the injury so that the healing wasn’t done and perhaps he should hold out some hope yet.

Roy also stopped by on a regular basis. He updated Adam and Toni on his investigation into Adam’s shooting and advised them to continue to be very careful. The miner that Adam had beaten for insulting Toni was called Zeke Walton but Roy didn’t believe that was his real name. Zeke had said things in town that led people to suspect he was involved in injuries to Marcus and to Adam but had not said anything incriminating yet. Roy had asked Sam and a few others he trusted to listen whenever Zeke was talking to see if they could pick up anything to be used against him. So far he had nothing. Adam would continue to be watchful especially on weekends when Zeke wasn’t working in the mine for twelve hours a day.

Ben and Joe did not visit much because they were trying to manage the ranch and the timber and lumber operations without any help from Adam. Finally by the end of July, they stopped by to visit and discuss ranch business. After pleasantries and asking how the therapy was progressing, ranch business was the next topic because the twins were asleep.

“Adam, the maps you drew of the logging roads that need to be built have confused the men in charge of building them. They seem to have spurs that go nowhere for no reason. I’ve tried to make sense of it and so have Joe and Hoss and we have no idea what you wanted.”

“There are so many runaway teams where we lose wagons and have drivers and horses injured or even killed. I read some articles about how in some areas they create these breakaway roads on the steepest grades so that if a driver can get to one of them and the horses have to start pulling up hill, the wagon slows and stops instead of crashing. So I surveyed that region where we want the new logging roads in the spring and picked out a number of places where that might work.”

“The problem oldest brother is that we have no idea what you really mean by that. You may be clear on it but we aren’t.”

“Son, we have thought of a way for you to supervise the timber and lumber operations. If you could spend two days a week there, you could get them working on these projects and you could explain the things they don’t understand.”

“Pa, I still can’t ride and I can’t drive a wagon yet either.”

“If Charlie could drive you there, then you could stay overnight and come back the next afternoon. It would give you time to recover from the trip, and time to get the crews working on your projects.”

“What is it you aren’t telling me?”

Joe and Ben shifted slightly and looked at each other. With a deep sigh, Ben turned to Adam.

“Without you there to supervise and plan, we have fallen well behind schedule to meet the contracts. We were hoping that if you could get up there and evaluate the situation, you could come up with some ideas on how to speed up the operation. Neither of us wanted to tell you that because we didn’t want to push you to help if you thought it would be too difficult.”

“Adam, I think it may be too soon. We have really just begun on your therapy and we were told not to take a break from it because you could lose much of what you have gained.”

“Is there more?” Adam looked at his father and Joe who seemed to be nervous even though they had already described a major problem to him.

“The mill isn’t getting enough water to push the wheel. I told Pa we need to find a way to divert more water but the spring floods moved the main channel of the stream so far away that we don’t know if it can be done.”

“So you would like me to look at that too.”

“Adam, it sounds like too much. You still have the house for Hoss and Minnie to finish and to finish drawing those three house plans.”

“I’ll try a trip to the timber camp. We’ll see how it goes.”

One look at Toni’s face and Ben and Joe decided it was a good time to say their goodbyes and get back to work. As they rode away, Joe snickered.

“Looks like another big storm brewing in the high country, Pa. Nothing like the one that’s pounding through Adam’s house about now though I bet.”

“You may be right about that, you may be right. We should have talked to Adam when he was at the building site. Then he could have brought up each point with Toni when he thought it was best. What’s done is done though. We’ll have to wait and see if the storm produces nurturing rain or just a lot of thunder and lightning.”

*****

Storms ch 2

“Sometimes I don’t know how you can think like that if it is even thinking! You can worry about me but I can’t worry about you. Why is that? Because you’re a man and I’m a woman?”

“No. It is because I think I can do this and I don’t need to be treated like a child. You can’t protect me from everything. I have a life. I want to live. Trapped in here and only allowed to leave with a guardian is suffocating.”

Toni began to cry. She couldn’t help it. She knew Adam was hurt by her attitude and her behavior but she couldn’t bear the thought of him dying. As her tears fell and she couldn’t speak, Adam’s temper diminished too. They had left the house to argue. They knew they would and didn’t want to upset their children.

“I don’t think you’re ready to do all of this. It wasn’t that long ago that you could barely walk and you still have pain, trouble sleeping, and weakness in your arm. How is any of that going to be better with you spending hours in a wagon driving back and forth to the timber camp, walking through the trees, and sleeping there?”

“It isn’t going to kill me to try is it? If it’s too much for me, Charlie will be there, and he’ll have me back here and in your care in no time. Then you can tell me ‘I told you so’ and lord it over me for months if not years.”

“That would be fun, but I wouldn’t enjoy it so much if you were suffering.”

The volume had diminished and they had started conversing. The argument was over and Toni knew she had to concede this one.

“You will pack a mattress in the wagon and a tent and canvas. We can roll a mattress up from the bunkhouse. If you need to rest in the wagon, it is the only way you will be comfortable at all. There have been lots of storms this summer so a tent and canvas may be needed.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Toni and hugged her to him. After a few minutes, he used a couple of fingers to tip her chin up and he kissed her very gently.

“I know you will worry but try not to do too much. Nothing terrible is going to happen.”

“Can you guarantee that?”

“You know that I can’t but you also know that the odds are with me. The trips to and from the timber camps are some of the safest I can make.”

Adam told Charlie they would be going to the lumber camp the next day and sent Charlie to the Ponderosa to let Ben know the plan. As Adam and Toni walked to the house, Tony and two hands from the R&D rode into the yard leading ten horses. Tony directed his men to put them in the corrals.

“Well darling daughter, there are the mares you ordered. I got some horses as well. They came in on the train earlier yesterday to Reno and the boys went and picked them up. Four Morgans, two Kentucky mountain saddle horses, and four Andalusians as you ordered. The Andalusians are not purebred and neither are the Morgans but they are fine specimens and because you plan to crossbreed anyway, our buyer thought you would be more impressed by the traits than by the lineage.”

Adam was impressed by the Andalusians. He had never seen the breed and asked about their history which Tony was happy to provide. With Sport and Tempest, he and Toni would be able to provide some reliable but also showy horses to sell as personal mounts and as carriage horses. The new wealth of the Comstock and San Francisco and all the area in between provided a good market for them. They hoped to develop a line of horses that would have as good a reputation as the Ponderosa horses did. They had never discussed it with Joe however which was going to turn out to be a bigger problem than they had anticipated. However at that moment, Adam was happy that Toni would have something to distract her for the next couple of days. Secretly he wondered too if he was ready to work as much as his father hoped but felt he had to try.

The next morning, Adam kissed his sons and his wife goodbye. He could barely stay composed himself as tears slid down her cheeks as she bravely tried to smile and wish him a safe trip. He assured her he would be back in two days, climbed up on the wagon seat, and Charlie got the team started. Hoss was away on the upper range for a few days, so it was Toni, Minnie, the Trainors, and the twins for two days.

Joe rode over in the late afternoon to check on things and make sure all was okay. He immediately saw the horses in the corrals. Toni was holding AC and Minnie had Benjy and they were standing by the corrals admiring the new horses which also seemed to fascinate the two boys who watched wide-eyed as the horses pranced around their new home. Joe had to ask why they had these new horses and Toni explained their plan to develop their own horses for sale. He didn’t say much and asked if everything was okay.

When Toni assured Joe that all was fine, he mounted up and headed for home. He had been civil but inside he was seething. ‘How could Adam undercut him like this. The horses were his responsibility. Adam had plenty to do. Why did he have to try to cut in on Joe’s part of the ranch?’ These thoughts just kept replaying in his head and his inner fury grew. He couldn’t wait for the two days to be up so he could confront his conniving, underhanded, sneaky brother for his betrayal. At least that was how he saw it. He had heard but not really heard Toni’s explanation of what they were doing and that it was to be mainly her enterprise as it was something she had dreamed of doing for a long time. There was no attempt to interfere with Joe’s horses because they had no intention of selling to the army nor developing saddle horses and cutting horses for the ranches in the area.

Up at the timber camp, Adam was having success. He met with the crew that was building the new logging roads which already were cut in and just needed to be finished. After taking them to one of the spots on the road where they were unsure of what he wanted, he used diagrams, drawings, and then showed them the slope of the land and they understood what he wanted. The road would be finished soon which would speed up the process by removing many miles of road that the logs were being hauled on. Then he sat down with crew leaders and worked out a schedule for cutting and hauling to improve efficiency. On the second day, he planned to walk through a few sections of trees and see if there were some stands that would be more convenient to cut than those already marked for cutting. The final job would be to determine if any additional tools or materials would help speed up the process. Once back on the Ponderosa, those materials could be gathered and sent to the camp. The second day turned out to be more of a task than he anticipated so he was very tired by the time he climbed on the wagon with Charlie and they headed home.

“Boss we could spend the night and go home tomorrow.”

“I would love to but Toni is probably worried sick already and every hour we take, she’ll worry more. By tomorrow morning, I don’t know what state she’ll be in. If it gets to be too much for me, I’ll roll out that mattress in the back and rest.”

That was in fact exactly what happened. Adam was enjoying the scenery and the fresh air but finally had to admit he was so tired he might fall out of the wagon if he wasn’t careful. He asked Charlie to stop the wagon, got out to unroll the mattress in the back, and then climbed in the back to lay down. Charlie tossed him one blanket to use as a pillow and then tossed him the other as he lay down.

“It’s a little warm to wrap up in a blanket in the afternoon.”

“I always sleep better with a blanket unless it is blazing hot. Just wrap it around your shoulders.”

He did and as Charlie started the team moving again, he looked back and Adam was already asleep. He slept until they reached the Ponderosa main house. Adam wanted to give Ben a quick update before heading home. After he got out of the back of the wagon though the first person he saw was Joe heading toward him from the barn.

“Hey Joe, I got it done although I am really tired.”

Joe walked up and shoved Adam back into the corral fence where the post unfortunately met up with his injured shoulder blade. Although mostly healed, it was still painful when any pressure was applied. Joe shouted at Adam about the horses and such but Adam was in too much pain and in shock so he didn’t understand what Joe was talking about in the small snatches of his tirade that he actually heard. When Adam didn’t answer or do anything, Joe stomped off to the house. He was so tired of Adam not listening to him especially because of what was happening now with the horses.

“Charlie, can I have a little help here. Just help me get back in the wagon. I think the report to Pa can wait until tomorrow.”

Charlie had been standing by. If Joe intended to lay a hand on his brother again, he meant to stop him even though normally he wouldn’t interfere in family business. This was too much like bullying when one of the participants wasn’t up to a fight though so he wasn’t going to let it go any further. The point was moot when Joe stalked off though so instead he helped Adam get back in the wagon again.

Ben looked up when Joe entered the house.

“I thought I heard a wagon.”

“Adam.”

“Did he say anything about how things are at the timber camp? Oh never mind, I’ll go outside and ask him so he doesn’t have to trudge all the way in here.”

“He’s gone.”

“Why? What did he say?”

“Nothing. Then he left.”

This was sounding ominous.

“What happened?”

And it all came spilling out in angry jibes at Adam and what he was supposedly doing to Joe by setting up a competing horse business. Ben tried to keep control of his temper and assured him that could not be true.

“Oh sure, take his side. You always do. Perfect older brother never does anything wrong. Well what about the temper, the fights, and the gunfights, the gambling, and the brothels? He’s arrogant and he can keep his sarcastic comments to himself from now on! He’s not what you think he is, he just puts on a good show for you.”

Joe stormed out of the house, got Cooch, and took off out of the yard. Ben tried to stop him but Joe was done talking. Ben wanted to go talk with Adam but it was already getting late and Adam probably had some fence mending of his own to do at home. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough.

Adam wasn’t even home yet. Charlie drove slowly because he saw that Adam was in pain. Although Adam was tired, the pain wouldn’t let him sleep so he felt every bump in the road although the mattress softened the impact. Charlie silently thanked Toni for being so insightful to know they would need it. Charlie drove as close to the house as he could. Toni came outside immediately and he knew she had been waiting for them. She was scared when she saw Adam laying in the back of the wagon but he smiled at her and asked for a little help. When Charlie told Toni what had happened, she sent him to get Dr. Martin. Adam glowered at him for both actions but this was one time that Charlie thought he had to go over the boss’ head for his own sake.

Doctor Martin wasn’t available because he was with a patient but told Charlie he would come as soon as he could when Charlie described what had happened. At the house, Adam was trying to tell Toni what happened but had no answers to her questions as to why it happened as he was confused about it himself. When Toni heard Charlie return, she headed out to ask him if he could explain. He repeated what Joe had said and Toni got angrier and angrier as she listened. She thanked Charlie for the information and headed back to discuss it with Adam where she reported to him what Joe had said.

“Your little brother is infuriating. He didn’t listen to what I said at all. Then for him to punch you when he knew you were hurt is unforgivable.”

“He didn’t punch me, he just pushed. He was mad so he wasn’t thinking. Joe will come around. He has a quick trigger temper and always has. He was probably already mad when you started talking so he didn’t hear you.”

“That’s something else that he needs to change! If he just jumps to conclusions without all the facts then he isn’t using the brain God gave him.”

Benjy started to cry and AC laid his head down on the rug and rolled into a ball. Toni saw them and realized how her outburst was hurting her children. She went to Benjy and picked him up to cuddle him. Adam sat next to AC and caressed his back.

“I’ll talk to Pa tomorrow and he’ll talk to Joe. Hopefully he can straighten him out. Frankly, I don’t have the energy for it right now. Pa should be here by early tomorrow anyway because I didn’t get a chance to report on the progress at the timber camp.”

Toni realized how tired Adam looked. She asked Minnie to help her get the boys ready for bed and told Adam to rest on the settee. When she returned to the great room, he was sound asleep and she let him sleep there until Dr. Martin arrived. Paul was not at all happy to learn that Adam had made an overnight trip to the timber camp but admitted it was within the parameters of care that he had set. He was very surprised to learn what Joe had done.

“Your back is bruised and there may be some inflammation but no serious damage has been done. Rest and ice packs will help. Stay close to home for a few days and no lifting. You can let Toni do the massage and stretching but the more extensive workout should wait until you see the bruising changing colors. You’ve been through this before: when it looks like an ugly rainbow, you’re healing.”

Toni was relieved at Paul’s diagnosis and offered coffee and dinner which he gratefully accepted. Lily was soon out with dinner for Paul and Adam. After dinner, Paul departed and Adam went to bed. Toni and Minnie stayed up talking as Toni filled her in on what had been happening. Hoss was due back the next day and Minnie was hoping that this new problem wouldn’t interfere with them having some time together and Toni assured her that would not be an issue. Toni expected Ben to be there the next morning and hoped he could intervene to resolve the problem.

Shortly after the ladies finished breakfast the next morning, there was a knock on the door and as expected Ben was there. Toni told him that Adam was still in bed but it was time for him to get up and have some breakfast so Ben could go upstairs and wake him. As usual, Adam was not wearing a night shirt and as he got out of bed, Ben was shocked at the bruising on his back.

“My God, what happened to you now? Did you have an accident or fall at the timber camp?”

“No, just a little collision with a corral post.”

“Joe?” Adam nodded.

“When I find him, he has a lot to answer for.”

“Find him? What do you mean ‘find him’? Where is he?”

“He left after he saw you yesterday and hasn’t returned yet. What happened between the two of you?”

Adam filled his father in on the source of Joe’s anger and how mistaken he was in his assumptions.

“Toni has wanted to do this for a long time. There was never any plan to compete with Joe’s horses. It’s my fault that I never explained our plans to him but I guess I never expected this reaction from him. Hoss should be back later and I hope the two of you can talk some sense into him. You know what a short fuse he has always had with me.”

“You will not take the blame for this. Joe needs to think before he acts. You should have breakfast and update me on the timber operations as you eat. I’ll handle Joe.”

With the progress Adam had made, Ben was hopeful the timber contracts could be met on time but was very concerned with his youngest son. What was bothering him so much that his horse thing could set him off so quickly? He was impulsive and quick to anger but this outburst seemed extreme even for him.

*****

Storms ch 3

Ben was troubled. He had thought that the tension between Adam and Joe was gone but had found that in Joe at least it lurked beneath the surface and exploded with the slightest spark. He went to Hoss’ building site with some basic instructions from Adam for the building crew. He was impressed with the progress already made and suspected the home would be ready by September. At least one son seemed to have achieved some peace in his life.

Joe rode into the yard about the time Ben arrived home. Joe looked terrible which reflected the drinking, lack of sleep, and stress he felt. At least he had avoided Roy’s jail. Well fueled by alcohol, he had vented his feelings about Adam but had found no relief from it. Now he looked at his father whose demeanor portended more unpleasantness.

“Men on the Ponderosa are expected to give a full day’s labor every day from Monday through Friday.”

“I bet Adam isn’t working today!”

“And whose fault is that?”

“I didn’t shoot him.”

“No but you slammed him into the corral fence so hard he needed a visit from the doctor and all because of your temper.”

“I told you what he did.”

“And you’re wrong. You didn’t listen to Toni but you’re going to listen to me.”

Forcefully, Ben grabbed Joe’s arm as he tried to stomp off to the house. Ben told him to listen and not interrupt. He explained what Toni’s plans were and why Adam was supporting her. He described Adam’s injury. Joe’s head sank to his chest as he began to understand his fault in the situation. When Ben finished, Joe was quiet for just a moment.

“He should have told me before they did it.”

“You will not place the blame on Adam. He said the same thing and I wouldn’t accept from him either. Serious problems have faced him and Toni for some months now and they had no reason to suspect that you would react so badly.”

“I’ll apologize to Adam. I’ll probably have to think of something more to get Toni to accept my apology.”

“Give it a little time. Adam will not be hurting so much in a few days, and Toni will have a chance to cool down. More importantly now, why are you so stressed about this? I feel there is something more going on here. What is really bothering you?”

Joe hung his head. He didn’t want to talk about this but knew his father wouldn’t let it rest. Might as well get it over with.

“Adam has everything. He has a wife, and two wonderful little boys. People are always talking about the great stuff he does and now with him designing homes for rich folks in town there’s even more talk. He’s the smart Cartwright, the talented one. He’s got it all and now he has to breed horses too! I want people to talk about me the way they talk about him.”

“How much of this did Adam have when he was twenty-four?”

Joe looked at him and knew the point he was trying to make but didn’t want to acknowledge it.

“Hoss has a wife, his own home soon, and people respect him too. But you never acted this way with him. I think it is because you and Adam are alike in many ways and when you were young, you wanted to be just like him. You can’t be. Joseph, he is twelve years older than you and has spent a lot of time getting the respect he has now. You need to decide what kind of man you want to be and stop comparing yourself to Adam. In fact, I sincerely hope you don’t wait until you are thirty-five to marry and have children.”

Ben smiled and Joe gave a half-hearted smile in response.

“That is one thing I could best him at isn’t it?”

“Well then you better start looking. Time’s a wastin!”

Ben and Joe laughed then. Later when Hoss arrived at the house, he found them talking and discussing how Joe could try to make things right. They filled Hoss in on the developments so he would understand the situation when he got to Adam’s house. Hoss hoped it wouldn’t interfere with his reunion with Minnie. He didn’t have to fear. Toni and Lily had prepared some special foods for a picnic dinner. They had packed the basket of food, two blankets, candles, and some wine into the carriage, which was waiting for Hoss to return. Their new home was ready to be a setting for a romantic candlelight picnic dinner.

By late afternoon, there was water heating for a bath and clean clothes for Hoss in the washroom. Toni wanted Hoss and Minnie to have some special time. She appreciated the help that Minnie had given her with the twins although it was less demanding now. AC was sleeping through each night and Benjy only awoke for one feeding. Lily had been making some hot rice cereal, which both boys liked, and they had a small amount several times a day. Toni could not keep up with their appetites just with nursing. Both were growing rapidly although Benjy was much heavier than AC who was taller. Both boys had pleasant demeanors though AC was more reserved and likely to observe behavior and was fascinated by anything new. Benjy responded with smiles and laughter to attention and physical play.

Because of the pain in Adam’s shoulder, he was unable to hold the more active Benjy. After their afternoon naps, he lay on the rug in front of the fireplace and entertained Benjy by making faces and tickling him. Benjy couldn’t stop laughing and giggling. AC was leaning against Adam’s left side and holding on to his shirt tightly as he smiled at his brother’s laughter and his father’s funny faces. Adam put his left hand on AC’s back and was rewarded with a full dimpled grin. Toni walked out of the kitchen after finishing preparations for dinner and had to smile at her family. Less than two years ago, she could never have imagined this for herself.

Adam and Toni never saw Hoss that day. They heard him ride into the yard and about fifteen minutes later, they heard the carriage leave. By the time twilight arrived, the boys were sleeping and Adam and Toni headed to bed. As they snuggled in bed, they heard the carriage arrive home.

“I’m going to miss Hoss and Minnie living here. They’ve been so helpful but it’s time for them to move to their own home. If the weather holds, we can have the house ready to move into in less than two weeks. There would have to be some finishing work to do o the extra bedrooms later but I don’t think they will mind.”

“How was it done so fast?”

“They didn’t make changes in the design as we built, and it is a rustic design so simpler to build. The crew was used to working with me after the work on our house and we communicated with ease. I think I might like to build the houses I design or at least a few of them if this crew would agree to stay with me.”

“Don’t you think you have enough to do now? Timber and lumber manager, horse breeder, architect, boss, father, husband.”

“Well that’s true and I think I may have been neglecting that last one so I better get to work right now.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Toni and began kissing her lips and then her neck as he worked his way down.

“I don’t know why I even bother wearing a gown to bed when you are home.”

Adam laughed as he helped pull her gown over her head.

“That’s another reason for me not to wear a night shirt. Wasted effort when there are so many more desirable things to do.”

The next few days were peaceful as they settled into their routines. On Saturday, Adam delivered house plans to his clients. Charlie drove him into town next so they could get supplies and pick up any mail with Charlie available to do the lifting at Toni’s orders. There were several large heavy boxes and Adam knew they had the last special materials he needed to finish the house for Hoss and Minnie. In one long box, there was a green stained glass window that would go in the transom above the dining room windows. The other box held delft tiles that would go on the wall behind and above the serving table there. Neither one appeared in the plans because they were a surprise gift to Hoss and Minnie for the help they had given to Adam and Toni for several months.

The following Saturday, the move of Hoss’ and Minnie’s belongings, furniture, and supplies to the new house took most of the day. As Minnie entered the dining room, she stopped so suddenly that Hoss almost ran into her. She gasped in surprise at the stained glass window and set the box she was carrying on the floor to walk to the window and admire it. As she turned, she saw the delft tile on the interior wall where the serving table would be and tears flowed down her face. Hoss had to smile: Adam and his surprises!

When Hoss saw Adam and Toni, the smile on his face let them know he liked the surprises. Minnie came rushing out and Toni stepped in front of Adam. He was finally feeling better and the pain was diminishing but Toni worried that an exuberant Minnie might aggravate his injury again. Minnie immediately understood the move and walked up to Adam and embraced him gently.

Joe was helping with the move and Adam did his best to keep Toni away from him because each time she saw him, her eyes narrowed and her cheeks reddened. Adam had accepted Joe’s apology as he had so many times in his life. He was afraid that someday he might say ‘Sorry’ wasn’t enough but that day had not arrived yet. Toni on the other hand was already at that point. Adam insisted she remain civil which she managed to do but all three were relieved when it was time for her to return home to nurse the boys who had been left in Lily’s care. Hoss and Minnie were a bit disappointed though because they had hoped to make an announcement of their news but would have to wait until Sunday.

Once everything was in the house and the furniture was in the appropriate rooms, Ben, Joe, and the hands who had been helping left. Hoss and Minnie did the unpacking of the items that would need that night and the next morning.

“It is so quiet here.”

“In less than seven months, it won’t be.”

Hoss and Minnie discussed whether they thought they would rather have a boy or a girl first. Then they discussed possible names. They continued the conversation in the kitchen as Minnie prepared dinner on her new stove. The kitchen and washroom were nearly identical to the ones in Adam’s house because both had been impressed with how efficient that design was. After seeing the design work that Adam had done, Hoss realized how much Adam’s creativity had been hindered by being so busy with ordinary ranch chores.

Adam was creative but not when it came to behavior and business. He valued his integrity and honesty and would not do anything that would be unethical or dishonest. This was something that the other investors in the local mines and Truckee Railroad had discovered and now were plotting to destroy. There were plans that he would disrupt if he knew about them and significant wealth for these men was at risk. They had already tried to kill him and blame it on that troublesome agitator Walton. That had not worked so they discussed other ways to accomplish their goal. Once they discovered that Zeke Walton was in fact Paddy Fitzgerald, a notorious Molly Maguire, with a history of violent crimes attributed to him, one option stood out among all the others. Their greed was the one thing uniting them as well as the desire to get rid of Adam Cartwright.

*****

Storms ch 4

After the church service on Sunday, the Cartwright clan met outside the church near where they had left their buggies and horses. Hoss put his arm around Minnie’s waist and coughed a few times to get everyone’s attention.

“We’re having a baby.”

There were hearty congratulations all around. Ben was very pleased and asked if everyone could come to dinner that evening to celebrate. Adam and Toni had to decline because they had already accepted an invitation to Tony’s ranch and it would be the first time the twins had been there. Ben asked if they at least could come for the afternoon and they said the boys needed to nap. When he offered lunch, they were out of excuses. Their reasons had been legitimate but there also was not going to an effort on their part to get to the Ponderosa main house because Toni was still steamed at Joe. However now they would be there and Adam hoped for the best but was still worried.

Joe was nervous too but hoped the gesture he was going to make would begin to heal the division in the family. When he got to the ranch, he readied his surprise and waited in the barn for Adam and Toni to arrive. If this worked, he hoped the tension at lunch would be diminished. Otherwise lunch was going to be a very uncomfortable time for him.

When Joe saw Adam and Toni arrive, he got ready to go meet them. He waited until both were out of the carriage and each had a boy in their arms. Then he walked out with his surprise. Adam and Toni turned to the noise behind them. Benjy squealed with delight. AC stared wide-eyed at the tallest horse he had ever met. He put his hand on Adam’s cheek and pushed him to look at the horse as he pointed as if to say ‘Look! Look!’. Joe was holding the lead rope on a magnificent stallion. Taller than most, his coloring was also unusual with a dark cinnamon coat and light colored mane and tail. He had strong lines and a broad chest. Any horse breeder would have been proud if his stable had produced this horse.

“My goodness, that horse is gorgeous.

“Toni, I’m glad you like him.”

Joe walked over to Toni and handed her the lead. She stepped closer to the animal and he lowered his head. Benjy tried to reach out to touch him.

“I wanted to do something to show you that I am really sorry for what happened. I was a fool. This guy should be useful to you in your horse breeding business. He wouldn’t make much of a cutting pony I’m afraid.”

“Oh Joe, this is too much.”

“No Toni, it’s not enough. But it’s all I can do right now. Will you please accept?”

Adam walked next to Toni and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Thank you brother, for everything. Does he have a name?”

“Not yet.”

“Is his demeanor always like this? He seems so calm for a stallion, so regal.”

“He gets pretty rambunctious when he’s with a group of mares. But usually he’s like this.”

“Then I would like to name him Zeus.”

Toni walked him around the yard and he was very well behaved. Then she let Benjy touch his side, and although Benjy squealed with delight, Zeus stood quietly. Adam brought AC to his head and placed AC’s hand on his cheek, and still the horse remained quiet. AC grinned up at his father and then back at the horse.

Ben, Hoss, and Minnie came out of the house and walked over to them. All admired the horse. Joe brought some feed and water and tied the lead rope to the fence for now. Adam walked with Joe to the house as the others went ahead.

“Joe, the army would have paid a small fortune to have him as an officer’s mount. He has all the characteristics needed in a war horse and the beauty and size that any officer would do anything to get. He probably would have ended up as the favored mount of a high-ranking officer. For you to give him to us is a grand gesture. Thank you.”

“Maybe we could work together on some of the horse breeding. You and Toni could help me with breeding records, and we could share horses for breeding purposes. Those Andalusians she has could produce a great set of carriage horses for the Ponderosa.”

“I think we can arrange for you to get two of the first offspring although not any stallion. We’ll have to keep the males because they are very hard to get here. Of course, if we get a stallion, he could cover any mare you wanted him to.”

It seemed the trouble in the family was over. Over the next month, the timber contracts were completed on time. Adam continued with his therapy but got more and more grumpy about it. Toni was relentless though, and he had to admit his strength and mobility were increasing and the pain was decreasing. Hoss and Minnie finished the bedrooms and had one decorated and furnished as a nursery. Adam crafted a cradle for them and then Hoss carved in an intricate design of Ponderosa pines with many small animals bustling through them. Joe finished his horse contracts. Fall roundup began. The second drive of the year would reduce the herd so that there would be enough grass in the lower pastures and hay in the barns to get them through the winter. Zeus was spending his days in the corral with the Andalusians. Sport covered the Morgans, and Tempest covered the Kentucky mountain saddle horses. Toni hoped to someday acquire an Andalusian stallion but for now, this was the best she could do. Adam drew plans to expand the stable. They would need more space soon.

Although Adam was doing much better, he was not going on the fall drive. Joe and Hoss would handle it. Ben would manage the ranch, and Adam would supervise the timber and lumber operations and begin inspections of the mines in which they had invested. Adam also had to draw a plan for a new mill because Joe had been correct in assuming the main channel of the stream had shifted too far to divert the water to the mill pond. Adam’s plan was to use existing material from the mill including the water wheel so that the expense and construction time would be minimal.

Although Charlie continued to ride along to do the heavy lifting, Adam was able to drive the wagon in to town for supplies, to pick up and send mail, and meet with potential clients who wanted house or other building plans. On one trip, Roy told him that Zeke Walton seemed to have left town. He hadn’t shown up for work and no one had seen him for two days. Adam wasn’t surprised because miners frequently moved from town to town in the boom and bust cycle of mining towns and mines. He was relieved however that he didn’t need to worry about him any more and looked forward to giving the news to Toni.

Within days however, the whole situation became ominous. A group of miners trespassing on the Ponderosa looking for gold found a shallow grave not far from Adam’s house. After Roy and his deputies retrieved the body and it was identified as Zeke Walton, four other miners came forward to testify that they had seen Adam Cartwright arguing with him in town and Adam had threatened to kill him. The majority owner of the mine where Zeke had been working demanded that Adam be arrested and charged. Roy had little choice so he rode out to talk with Adam and take him into custody.

“Roy, I haven’t been to town without Charlie or Toni in months.”

“Well you see the problem is that your alibi is your wife and a longtime employee who is very loyal to you.”

“Roy, I didn’t kill Zeke Walton!”

“I know that, but these four witnesses say they saw you with him and that you threatened him. Now he turns up dead and buried not more than a mile from your house. I don’t have a choice in this.”

Adam told Toni to get Marcus to ride to the Ponderosa and tell his father. He asked Charlie to give him a ride to town. He kissed Toni, hugged her and the boys, and told Toni not to worry. When Roy brought out shackles, Toni was going to object but Adam said he understood. He asked Toni and Lily to take the boys inside.

Hours later, sitting in a cell in the Virginia City Jail, Adam wasn’t surprised to hear Ben, Toni, and their lawyer enter the jail. He could hear their voices and soon saw them as Roy escorted them back to his cell. Roy said he could not unlock the cell so Toni held Adam’s hands through the bars.

With only a short time to work, Hiram described the case so far. Four miners from different mines claimed to hear Adam threaten to kill Zeke during an argument. Adam had beaten Zeke months earlier for insulting his wife Toni. Zeke’s body was found in a grave about a mile from Adam’s house on the Ponderosa where it was unlikely it would have been found except for the trespassing miners.

“It’s not a strong case, but I’ve seen men convicted on less. The trial starts in two days. That’s just one of the reasons this case stinks to high heaven. Having this happen when ‘Hanging Judge’ Reynolds is in town seems to be just one too many coincidences.”

“What other coincidences?”

“Adam, all the witnesses work in mines in which you and your father have invested. The ‘trespassing’ miners do too. These are mines you are scheduled to inspect for safety.”

“Anything else?”

“Adam, Zeke Walton is actually Paddy Fitzgerald, a Molly Maguire, who was here to organize a miners union and action against the owners. He provoked you because he was new here at the time and only identified you as an owner.”

“Well I still am so why does that matter?”

“Other miners informed him that you were committed to mine safety, pushed for higher wages for miners, and had secretly helped them in the early attempts to organize a union. He wasn’t the type to apologize but that’s why you never heard from him again. He was not the one who shot you.”

“How do you know this?”

“There was no reason for him to by the time you were shot. Miners who were his friends don’t think you killed him. When they heard you were arrested, they knew I was the family attorney and came to me with information. The miners believe there was a conspiracy to murder Paddy for his union organizing activity and blame you to get you out of the way so the other owners can increase profits by lowering wages and ignoring safety issues. Considering that most of the men they believe are involved are also investors in the Truckee Railroad, there will probably be some scheme to sell watered stock in the mines and the railroad.”

“Why Adam and not me?”

“Ben, could you inspect a mine? Is there anyone you know and trust, other than Adam, with an engineering degree who could do these inspections?”

“What about the witnesses?”

“Probably goons who have been working as spies for the owners all along.”

“Hiram, can you prove any of this?”

“That unfortunately is ‘no’. With the trial in two days, we have about thirty-six hours to gather evidence.”

They all realized at that point that things were looking very bleak for Adam.

“We need help.”

“I agree, Ben. Can you wire the governor to apprise him of the situation and get him involved? I need you and Adam to authorize funds so I can hire men to do some investigating. Roy will help but he can’t do it alone with so little time.”

Ben headed out to wire the governor. It was an expensive telegram but necessary. Then he went to the bank and withdrew several thousand dollars to put at Hiram’s disposal so he could hire men to investigate. Hiram stayed with Roy to discuss men who could investigate the case.

By the next morning, the governor had sent two men with a surprising proposal. The governor and attorney general had been pursuing an investigation of the same mine owners who Hiram suspected of masterminding the case against Adam. The governor would provide investigators and build a case against them but they needed Adam to play along including the possibility that he would be convicted and possibly sentenced to hang. If that happened, the governor would reduce his sentence to prison time and order that he be held in solitary confinement so he would not be harmed.

Ben and Toni were shocked by the proposal and that Adam did not immediately reject the idea. He seemed to be considering it.

Adam asked how his conviction and imprisonment would help. The agents said that they had men in place to observe what these men did next. If they proceeded as expected, there would be enough evidence of corruption within a few weeks to arrest all of them and their ‘witnesses’ as well as Judge Reynolds who was suspected of accepting bribes to do their bidding. At that point, Adam would be released and exonerated which would happen as well if they were unable to build the case.

“Adam, you can’t do this. Your sons need you. I need you. This is too great a risk.”

Ben sympathized with Toni completely but he knew his son and so did the governor. This appeal to Adam’s sense of duty and justice was well orchestrated. Hiram asked if all of this would be in writing and signed off by the governor and the attorney general. The governor had expected that, and the agents answered yes and offered Hiram documents for him to peruse.

Adam asked if Dan from the Territorial Enterprise could be read in to the case and offered the chance to write the story once it was over. Hiram approved of that wholeheartedly as it was one more guarantee that promises would be kept. One of the agents went to wire the request to the governor and would stand by for the response. They did not entirely trust the telegraph operator in town so he would send the message himself after removing the man from his office for a time. He came back with an affirmative answer which included a stipulation that no one else was to know of this deal.

Toni was not at all convinced that Adam should be doing this.

“Sweetheart, some people have set me up to be convicted. Hiram will tell you there is a good chance that will happen. By agreeing to this proposal, if I’m convicted, I will have someone protecting me. Without it, I could be hanged or go to prison with no protection.”

“Adam, it seems we have to weather one storm after another. When will it end?”

*****

Storms ch. 5

Thirty-six hours wasn’t enough. Adam and his lawyer did not have a defense. They could try to poke holes in the prosecution case but that was a big gamble. Hiram moved for more time to prepare a defense and it was denied. The people seated on the jury were almost all newcomers to Virginia City who had arrived in the last great population increase. Now there was a lot of unemployment and there was bound to be some resentment against a wealthy man especially one accused of killing a working man. A motion for a change of venue was also denied. Joe and Hoss had hurried home from the cattle drive and sat directly behind the defense table with Ben and Toni. Many people were working behind the scenes to try to build a case against those conspiring against Adam but they needed time. His best bet to avoid the gallows at this time was to agree to the governor’s plan. Toni and Ben had agreed for no one could find a better solution.

As expected, the prosecution had their witnesses to the altercation between ‘Zeke’ and Adam out first. Hiram did not want to let the other side know that they knew Paddy Fitzgerald was the name of the dead man. They had to play along as if the conspiracy was actually working. Dan sat in the courtroom and took volumes of notes. When he wrote this story later, he wanted everything to be factual. Hiram did question these witnesses who admitted that Adam had been provoked. Next up the prosecution trotted out the men who had supposedly heard Adam’s threat to the deceased. Finally there were the ‘trespassers’ who had found the body conveniently located near Adam’s home on the Ponderosa. Hiram was not able to shake any of the testimony of these men who were obviously well rehearsed and without conscience.

Then the prosecution shocked the defense by calling Joe Cartwright to the stand. Hiram objected because he had no advance warning of this witness and was therefore unprepared. The objection like every motion and objection he made was refused. It was becoming apparent that the judge wanted a conviction in this case. In an ordinary case, Hiram already would have had ample grounds for appeal. The prosecution and judge weren’t worried though because they expected the hanging to occur before an appeal could be granted. Without the offer by the governor, Adam would already be a dead man walking. Joe nervously rose and walked to the witness chair to be sworn in. Joe had no idea why he had been called but Hiram and Roy had a pretty good idea what was going to happen. Hiram asked for a short recess and was denied.

After Joe was sworn in, the prosecutor asked to treat Joe as a hostile witness because he was the brother of the defendant. That motion was of course granted. Dan was suddenly becoming aware that the corruption he had been told about concerning the mine owners probably also included the judge and the prosecutor. He began to make separate notes about their behavior.

“Does your brother Adam have a temper?”

“Well every…”

“Just answer the question please.”

“I can’t just answer the question.”

Judge Reynolds admonished Joe that he could only answer what was asked and briefly with a yes or no if possible or he would face contempt of court charges and go to jail. Next to Adam, Hiram sighed because there was no way this would turn out well.

“Now again, does your brother have a temper?”

“Yes.”

“Did you witness that temper when he assaulted Zeke Walton?”

“Yes.”

“Did you think it was possible that he would have killed Zeke Walton that night if your brother Hoss had not stopped him?”

Joe paused and looked at Adam and at his father.

“Answer the question please.”

At this point, Joe realized he already had by delaying so he softly said ‘Yes’.

“Were you recently in town and complaining loudly to anyone who would listen that your brother Adam Cartwright was a conniving, dishonest, lying ‘bastard’?”

Again very softly, Joe said ‘Yes’. He knew he was guaranteeing a conviction with his answers but had no idea what to do. He looked at Adam who was watching him with an unreadable expression. Adam was suffering inside knowing how painful this must be for his brother who knew nothing of what had been agreed to with the governor’s office. Hiram had no questions at this point because he didn’t know the circumstances of Joe’s condemnation of Adam. He asked to be able to recall the witness later and that was denied.

Sheriff Roy Coffee stood in the back of the courtroom and began to make plans to investigate the prosecutor. It was clear that Adam was being railroaded. Roy had always thought that Thad Davis was honest but it appeared now that he was working with the judge to manipulate this case. During a small break between witnesses, Clem leaned over and asked Roy if he should go start digging around for the investments that Davis had. He had the same thought as Roy. Roy nodded yes and Clem left.

The prosecution rested and the judge asked Hiram to present his case. He called Toni and Charlie to testify that Adam never went to town without one of them after being shot. He called Dr. Paul Martin who testified that Adam could not have lifted a man of Zeke’s size into a wagon, dug a grave, placed him in it, and buried him because of the damage to his shoulder. He called a few character witnesses but it was to no avail. The jury went out and returned in less than an hour with a guilty verdict. The judge immediately sentenced Adam to hang the next day at sunset and told him to get his affairs in order.

Hoss and Joe were shocked more than anyone because they knew nothing of the conspiracy theory that included the judge and now the prosecutor as well nor did they know of the deal made with the governor. The family gathered to follow Adam who was taken in shackles to the jail by Roy. There was a large crowd of miners outside the courthouse, but they remained silent as Adam walked through their midst. The same people who made their lives difficult were about to take this man’s life and they felt as helpless as Adam’s brothers. As the mine and railroad owners, both public and secret, watched the procession to the jail they wondered at the silence. They had expected taunting and perhaps even an attempt to lynch the man who had killed one of their own. They didn’t know what to make of the silence in the street, but finally dismissed it as unimportant because they had some business to discuss now that Adam was out of the picture permanently. Unknown to them, two of the men they were meeting with were agents of the government of Nevada.

At the jail, Toni was inconsolable. Roy let her sit in the cell with Adam and they talked quietly while all the others waited in Roy’s office area. Within an hour, the hammering and pounding of building a gallows could be heard.

“They had them all set to go before anyone knew we would have a verdict today.” Roy almost said more but realized he should not with Hoss and Joe in the room. Their grief over the verdict and the agony in Joe’s face helped sell the deal that the conspiracy was working. The telegraph office was closed for the night so the telegraph to the governor and his response had to wait until morning. It would be a nerve wracking fourteen hours. A lot of prayers were said in that jail that night especially by those who knew that telegram and its answer were essential.

Finally the sun rose and at eight, Hiram and Ben hurried to the telegraph office. The governor’s agent ‘just happened’ to arrive there at the same time they did. They wanted to ensure that the message was sent accurately and that the response was recorded accurately as well. Adam’s life depended on it. By nine, they could relax a little as the answer was there and could be delivered to Roy who was happy to head over to the judge’s office to deliver the official governor’s order to reduce Adam’s sentence from death by hanging to twenty years in prison. The judge was incensed but had no choice. He signed an order for Adam to ride the next prison wagon to Nevada State Prison.

The other good news for Adam was that the prison wagon had recently been in Virginia City and wasn’t scheduled to return for seven to ten days. He would spend less time in prison this way. Hoss and Joe said they would accompany the prison wagon to be sure that nothing happened to Adam on the way. The governor’s agents got confirmation from the governor that Hoss and Joe could have temporary status as prison guards so that they had a legal right to be with the wagon. They didn’t feel too good about escorting their brother to prison but it was better than leaving him in the hands of strangers.

Joe’s guilt over his testimony and the role it played in Adam’s conviction was causing him immense grief. He couldn’t sleep and even in a few days, the weight loss, and fatigue lines in his face were evident. Adam asked if he could talk with him.

“Joe, you have to stop beating yourself up over your testimony. It was a set-up. Hiram will appeal. You should never have had to go up there without warning and without Hiram knowing the circumstances in which you made that statement.”

“It doesn’t really matter now does it. I lost my temper and said terrible things. I was wrong but my words were dragged out there for the jury and everyone so they think I hate you. I love you.” Joe couldn’t talk any more and began to sob. Once he got control, he confessed his sorrow. “I remember you telling me that one day my temper was going to get somebody killed. And here I’ve taken your life from you.”

“I’ll be out, Joe. I trust the system. Hiram will make it work, and I’ve got the governor on my side and he’s a very powerful man. When the facts come out, this will all just be a bad dream. Please trust me on this.”

Adam reached through the bars to grab Joe’s hand. Joe couldn’t talk and began to cry again softly.

“Geez, you’re the one in that cell and I’m the one crying. Now that doesn’t make any sense at all does it?” Joe gave a crooked little smile to Adam and got a similar one in return. Adam wasn’t going to admit that at night when they were all gone, the tears flowed in this cell too.

Toni came in and asked for time to say goodbye to Adam. She needed to get home to the boys.

“I’ll be back early tomorrow.”

They kissed through the bars and Toni walked out. Each day she had to fight to keep from collapsing as she walked away from that cell. Adam was under too much stress already so she had to be strong and not add to his worries. Her father waited outside for her and drove her home each day, and drove her into town each morning. At night, alone in bed, she cried herself to sleep.

*****

Storms ch. 6

Ten days after Adam’s conviction for murder, the prison wagon arrived in Virginia City. The prison guards came in and shackled his wrists and his ankles and then connected a chain between the two sets of shackles. He was not allowed any contact with Toni nor any member of his family who were forced to stand by and watch as he was manhandled into the wagon and the shackles on his ankles were attached to a chain in the floor. Toni couldn’t help it and started weeping. Adam heard her but knew if he turned to look at her his stoic resolve would collapse and he wouldn’t give his enemies that satisfaction. He stared at his feet in a picture of absolute dejection and misery. He wasn’t acting for he couldn’t imagine a worse day at this point.

For two days, they traveled through Nevada to the prison. Adam was allowed out of the wagon to relieve himself and for no other reason. He was forced to sleep on the bench inside the wagon with his ankles shackled to the floor. He was given food in a bowl and forced to eat with his fingers. Then water was poured in the bowl and that was what he had to drink. His chains and shackles were never removed and by the time the wagon arrived at the prison, his wrists were bleeding. Hoss and Joe had objected but they were told by the regular wagon guards that it was standard practice and little cuts on his wrists would soon be the least of his problems and they laughed. Once at the prison, there was nothing more for Joe and Hoss to do but bid their brother goodbye as he was forced to walk in shackles into the prison itself. They talked very little on their two day journey back home.

Adam was greeted by the warden who informed him he was not happy to have a murderer in his prison and that any special treatment ordered by the governor would be followed but only at minimal standards.

“He wants you in solitary so that’s where you’re going. Put him in the hole and don’t be gentle about it.”

A guard grabbed Adam and shoved him toward the warden’s office door. He stumbled and fell which caused the guard to kick him several times as he screamed at Adam to get up. Once on his feet he was shoved outside into the hallway and then outside. The guard repeatedly slammed his baton in his back. Once they got outside though Adam realized it didn’t hurt when he did it. He turned to look back and the guard hit him in the face with the baton and his nose started to bleed. The guard started whispering to him.

“Good. Now play along. Spread that blood around as much as you can. When I hit you in the stomach now, fall down and start retching. When I kick you, fall over and try to cover your privates so I can’t kick them again. The better you can act, the better the chance I have of keeping you alive.”

For the next several minutes, Adam endured what appeared from a distance to be a severe beating. Mostly the punches and kicks were pulled and rarely connected although a few did get through.

“Rub some dirt around under your shirt. From a distance it will look like bruising.”

By this time, they were nearly to the ‘hole’. The guard ordered Adam to strip. Everything had to go until he was naked.

“You don’t get anything in the ‘hole’. It is supposed to be punishment. I’ll do what I can for you but you need to be strong for the next week or so until we can get you out of here.”

Once completely stripped, the guard shoved Adam into the hole and he fell face down on the dirt floor. It wasn’t acting. He had been surprised by the shove. Then he heard the warden’s voice and realized why it had happened. He curled into a ball on the floor and moaned softly. The warden pulled back the small metal peep hole in the door and shook his head in approval. This one wouldn’t last a month.

It was hot in the ‘hole’ but Adam realized that the residual heat was probably all that he had to help him survive the night which was likely to be quite cold. He wondered if he could live weeks like this. As darkness fell, a blanket was shoved through the slot in the middle of the door.

“Hide it up against the door in the morning. If anyone sees it, we both might have a hard time surviving your incarceration.”

Adam gratefully wrapped the blanket around himself and leaned against the wall to sleep. He was exhausted and fell asleep more quickly than he thought he could. The next morning as soon as he saw light through cracks in the roof of the ‘hole’, he folded the blanket and pushed it up against the base of the door. He realized that anyone looking in at the round cell could see everything except the back of the door. He did not get anything to eat or drink that day. By that night, he was even more exhausted from the grueling heat of the day and dehydration. He began to worry that he would not survive this.

The next morning, the door to the cell was opened shortly after dawn. He had not yet placed the blanket by the door. His guard yelled something and threw a bucket of water in the middle of the cell, set the pail down, and left locking the door behind him. Adam was mystified until he realized there was about two inches of water left in the bottom of the bucket. He drank it quickly before the bucket could be retrieved with its precious water. From outside the cell he heard voices.

“He was moaning and moaning about needing water so I hit him with a bucket of water. Now he’s all chilled and sitting in a mudhole. That should shut him up.” The warden nodded his approval and continued to his office.

Meanwhile the investigation into corruption was proceeding. Evidence was being gathered by agents of the governor as well as by paid informants they had been able to recruit with monetary rewards and promises of amnesty for their crimes. One week after Adam had first entered the ‘hole’, the two agents of the governor whom Ben had met arrived at the Ponderosa main house in late afternoon. When Ben answered the door, they quickly began to brief him on the case.

“This case is about to blow wide open. You need to have some men at those prison gates in two days at eight in the morning with these papers giving you custody of Adam Cartwright. We have all the papers you need here to give you the authority to do this. But you need to know that our investigation has uncovered that the warden is a secret shareholder in the Truckee Railroad and is likely part of the conspiracy. We didn’t suspect that when we made the deal to send your son to that prison.”

“Then how can you be sure that Adam is still alive?”

“We have a man on the inside who was working another case and he has been doing his best to keep your son alive. He is at great risk too and will identify himself to you when you get there. Take him with you and arrest the warden. An arrest warrant is included in these papers.”

“How many men will I need?”

“I would suggest that eight would be minimal. More if you can get them. You can’t tell them anything until you are at least a day away from here. Then you can tell them the whole story if you want. In two days, there will be a mass coordinated arrest of all the people whom we have identified as participants in the conspiracy and the corruption. The arrests will begin at eight in the morning at each site so no one of them can warn another. They are being watched for the next forty-eight hours so that we will know their exact locations at that time.”

After he left, Ben rode to ask Hoss and Tony to accompany him. He stopped by to let Toni know it was almost over but couldn’t tell her much more. He asked Marcus and Charlie to accompany him without asking questions and they readily agreed. Once back home that evening, he talked to Joe who wanted answers but Ben told him he had to wait. In the bunkhouse, when he asked, every man there agreed to go with no questions asked. He told them to pack their gear and they would leave at dawn. Hop Sing was asked to prepare food in packs to feed twenty men for four days. Hop Sing informed Ben he was going too because Adam might need his care. Everyone tried to sleep that night but few got more than a couple of hours of sleep.

At the prison, Adam was sleeping most of the time. He had grown very weak. His official ration of a bowl of beans and a piece of bread with a cup of water would have had him nearly dead by now. He got extra water with the bucket trick most days, and at night, bread, a potato, and occasionally an apple would be dropped through the slot in the door. Despite his best efforts, the ‘hole’ was really beginning to stink. He had to relieve himself on the dirt floor. He used the mud from the water that was thrown in to bury as much as he could but it was not working as well as he hoped, and it was also drawing insects into his cell so he had that to deal with as well.

Ben led his small army toward the prison. They rode hard the first day and were well over halfway there by nightfall. Ben told everyone the whole story or as much of it as he knew while they ate their dinner. Joe and Hoss were a little upset that they had not been informed earlier but Ben explained they were ordered by the governor not to tell anyone else. Most of the others were angry to hear the details about what had happened, but none of them had ever thought that Adam was capable of murder so they were not that surprised that he had been railroaded by the guilty parties.

By the end of the next day, Ben and his ‘army’ camped less than two miles from the prison. They discussed the plan for the next morning as they ate dinner. There could be no mistakes because Adam’s life hung in the balance. Everyone agreed to do their part and slept well knowing they would be doing good the next day. With the dawn, everyone was up, had breakfast, and waited for the signal to ride. At about twenty minutes to eight, Ben mounted up and the others followed. It was a sight to behold for the two guards at the gate who had never seen anything like it. Ben presented his authorization, the papers indicating that all of these men worked for the governor, and the paper ordering the release of Adam Cartwright into their custody. The men opened the gates and admitted the whole group. Several of them went to the towers to supervise the men there and make sure that nothing was done to stop them. Two guarded the main gate where they had entered and made sure the two men there didn’t go anywhere. Ben and the rest of the group proceeded into the prison yard and were signaled by one of the guards who turned and unlocked the door behind him.

“He’s in here. He needs help.”

Ben, his sons, Marcus, Charlie, and Tony dismounted and hurried to the cell. Ben gasped as he first saw his son. Adam was lying on his side with a dirty blanket over him. His face was crusted with dirt and dried blood. The stench from the cell was nearly overwhelming. Ben rushed in and knelt by Adam’s side but Hoss pulled him aside so he could pick up his brother and carry him from the cell. He was going to remove the filthy blanket until he realized Adam was naked underneath it. Once outside, they examined Adam and found he had no major injuries but was dehydrated and weak from lack of food and water, and fighting the heat and cold of the cell.

“Hi Pa. I could really use a bath right after I get a big breakfast.”

The guard who had saved Adam’s life headed toward the warden’s office after getting some of Ben’s ‘army’ to accompany him. They arrested the warden, and with a sense of justice, they placed the shackles that Adam had worn on the warden.

Once the infirmary was pointed out to Ben, he had Hoss carry Adam there. Joe took charge of cleaning up his brother. First he used cloths to wipe as much of the filth from him as he could, and when the bath was ready, he gently scrubbed every part of him and washed his hair. Then Hoss helped Adam stand, and Joe got a bucket of clean warm water and poured it over him to rinse him thoroughly. Once Hoss helped him step out of the tub, Joe was there to wrap him in a clean sheet first and then wrapped a clean blanket around that. Hop Sing took over then and found all the small wounds and abrasions he had and put ointment on all of them. Ben wanted Adam to sleep there for a while but he insisted he needed to leave the prison and get home to his wife and sons.

“Just put a mattress or two in a wagon, and I can sleep as well or better than I would here worrying about my family.”

They found a wagon, spread two mattresses from cots in the back side by side, and then took sheets, blankets, and a pillow. Adam’s clothes were found but were too dirty to use so they borrowed an extra shirt from Tony. There were no extra drawers or pants, but Adam pointed out that he seldom slept in anything anyway so the sheets and blankets were fine with him. Joe climbed in the back of the wagon to keep Adam company, and Ben and Hoss got on the seat. Candy led their horses with a lead rope. So just a few hours after arriving at the prison, they started the trek back to Virginia City.

*****

Storms ch. 7

The wagons from the prison rolled into Virginia City late on the day after mass arrests had shocked the citizenry. Both wagons pulled up in front of the jail. Roy came out to see what the commotion was and was quite happy to see that Ben and his group had returned safely.

“We have a prisoner for you.”

“Well Ben my jail is full up after yesterday. You can just take Adam there and keep him in your custody.”

“No Adam is already in my custody authorized by the governor. No I have the prison warden here and the paperwork relating to his arrest, and one of the governor’s agents who has some of the evidence against him. The warden’s in shackles in the other wagon. He did his best to try to kill Adam but he failed.”

Adam raised up on his elbow and gave a wave in Roy’s direction before laying down again. Food, water, and rest were helping but he still felt weak.

“Well I’ll see if I can find a space to squeeze in the varmint. Good seeing you and especially you Adam, but I’m guessing there’s some other people who’d like to see him soon enough.”

With that, they pulled out and headed toward the Ponderosa. They bid Tony goodbye at the road that led to his ranch. Adam rolled up on his elbow again because he was anxious to get home and knew he was very close now. They turned the wagon down the road to Adam’s house and Hoss, Hop Sing, Candy, and the other hands kept going. When Ben stopped the wagon in front of the house, Toni came running out the door. She was terrified when she realized Adam was laying in the back of the wagon but relaxed as he raised up on his elbow again and smiled at her. Joe hopped out of the back of the wagon and helped Toni to climb in. She knelt at Adam’s side and kissed him. Then she threw back the blanket to help him out of the wagon but quickly threw it back over him when she saw that all he was wearing was a shirt.

“Adam, you’re naked.”

“I know that sweetheart. I always sleep this way.”

“But how are you going to walk into the house?”

“Well I thought I could just wrap this blanket around me, and with some help, stagger into the house.”

Toni thought he was joking with that last part but realized he was serious when he slid out of the wagon and could barely stand by leaning on the back of the wagon. Ben and Joe got on either side of him and helped him into the house almost carrying him by the time they entered. Lily was sitting on the rug with the boys. Benjy squealed with delight to see his father but AC just stared at him. Ben and Joe helped get Adam to the settee. Toni ran up the stairs to get him some pants. She returned and laid them over the back of the settee. Ben and Joe offered to stay to help, but Toni said that Charlie and Marcus were there if they needed them. They left and Toni asked Adam if he was hungry.

“Yes but even more thirsty. I will drink anything.”

Lily went to the kitchen to get some food and drinks for Adam. Toni sat in a chair near his head occasionally reaching out to touch his hair or his face almost to prove to herself that he was here and the worst storm of their life had passed. Adam was laying on his right side and suddenly was eye to eye with a set a hazel eyes. AC had pulled himself into a standing position beside the settee. He was just tall enough to see over it.

“Well it looks like my eldest son has learned a new trick. Good job!”

As Adam smiled and talked to AC, his son grinned, and said ‘mama’. Toni explained that she had been trying to get the boys to say mama to her but AC used it for everyone and everything now. Food he liked, the horses, her, Lily, and now Adam were all mama. Adam laughed at that and AC grinned at him but fell backwards onto his butt when he lost his hold on the settee. Adam and Toni laughed more then and were rewarded with a scowl that looked hilarious on a six month old boy which caused even more uproarious laughter. Benjy started laughing too because this was the most fun he had had in a long time. Then AC scowled at him too and his parents couldn’t stop laughing. In the kitchen, Lily couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as she heard this wonderful family enjoying time together again.

Toni suggested that she help Adam get his pants on before Lily returned with his food and drink. She slipped them over his feet and pulled them up as far as his knees. Then Adam was able to lift his hips enough to pull them up and button them. Toni was shocked at his weight loss and how loosely the pants fit. Tony’s large shirt had disguised his upper body so she had not realized how much he had lost. She took the blanket and sheet to the washroom, shed a few tears there, and then composed herself again. As she re-entered the kitchen, Lily was just finishing up the tray of food for Adam and Toni asked her to set it on the table by the settee because she didn’t think the two of them could get him to the dining table. Once all was served, Adam ate ravenously at first but found his appetite was quickly satisfied. But the water and coffee didn’t quench his thirst so Toni went to the kitchen with the tray and returned with a glass of lemonade that he quickly drained.

“At some point are you going to tell me what happened to you in there?”

“At some point, yes, but I don’t want to relive it right now. I will tell you that it was worse than I expected and not nearly as bad as it could have been. I was very lucky to have one of the governor’s men helping me.”

Toni sat next to him, and he hugged her and dropped his head to her shoulder. She was sure he was crying but wouldn’t do or say anything to embarrass him. They sat that way for quite a while until Adam felt two small hands on his knee. He sat up slowly to see AC standing there and looking up at him with a serious and questioning look on his face. Adam leaned down and picked up his son and hugged him tightly and caressed his back. AC snuggled into Adam’s shoulder and relaxed. He had missed his father immensely and felt that the world was good again.

Benjy crawled over to them on his elbows with his knees pushing, and Toni picked him up. He sat on her lap and smiled at his father and AC. Lily came back to collect the glass and Toni asked if she could get Marcus and Charlie to help Adam up to their bed. After the men got him up there, Toni and Lily got the boys ready for bed but carried them into the master bedroom to say good night to their father. Once the boys were settled in their cribs, Toni came back to help Adam get ready for bed. He had already removed Tony’s shirt and had unbuttoned his pants but needed help to get them off. Toni drew back the covers and he slid his legs underneath. Then Toni undressed and slid under the covers too.

“No gown tonight?”

“I just want to be next to you, to feel you next to me.”

Toni laid her head on his chest and he wrapped his right arm around her. He was too tired to do anything else at that point but was already wondering if tomorrow morning he would have the energy to be more active. With that thought, he fell asleep without realizing that Toni was thinking the exact same thought about him.

*****

Storms ch. 8

The next morning at six, AC and Benjy made known their desire to get out of their cribs. Crying children effectively eliminated any thoughts of a romantic early morning interlude for Adam and Toni. Adam felt immensely better and had hoped to spend some time in bed but instead they got out of bed, dressed in their robes, and went to the nursery. Adam took charge of AC because he would quiet with attention and a clean diaper. Benjy rarely settled down until he was fed so Toni always took him first. At a pronounced ‘Ouch’ from Toni, Adam looked up from AC who was sitting in his lap as they rocked in the other rocking chair.

“Lately my breasts have gotten so very tender it’s to the point that it can be uncomfortable to nurse especially with Benjy in the morning. I may have to wean them soon.”

“They seem to be eating a lot anyway, and bottles would be more convenient.”

Toni was a little disappointed. She had wanted to nurse them until they were a year old but had already supplemented nursing with bottles because she did not have enough milk to satisfy both boys. But she surprised herself and Adam when she snapped back at him.

“Your convenience isn’t the issue here.”

She was immediately contrite especially as Adam looked at her with worry.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you like that.”

“I understand. This has been a very difficult month for you. We’ll both probably have to be tolerant until we can let go of all the stress.”

“Well you don’t have to always be so understanding. You make me feel worse sometimes when you do that. Can’t you just yell at me and get it out of your system?”

Adam looked at her speculatively.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that? Oh, I’m sorry. Here I go again.”

“Toni, did you have your flow this month?”

“Well I did but with all the stress it was a little …”

“…light? Maybe a day?”

“Oh no. You don’t think I could be? Oh it’s too soon. The boys are only six months old!”

“Time for another visit with Paul?”

With a deep sigh, Toni shook her head yes. This could take some getting used to. Of course if they did have a girl, it could be so much fun, and Papa Ben would finally have a girl in the family. She would have to have all new clothes because she couldn’t wear hand-me-downs from two boys. Toni looked up to see Adam grinning at her.

“Starting to like the idea already?”

“Yes, but this had better be a girl. We have enough Cartwright boys already.”

Once the boys were satisfied, they took them in their room so they could dress. One played on the floor with them as the other dressed. Then they headed downstairs for breakfast. Adam stopped on the landing and when Toni looked back, he asked her to come back and get AC when she got Benjy in his chair. She was concerned but he said he just felt a little dizzy which would be better once he had something to eat and drink. Both boys sat in their chairs on either side of Toni and she fed them warm rice cereal made with rich cream. When they were finished with the cereal, Toni put them on the rug in front of the fireplace to play with wooden blocks, rings, and carved animals. As Adam and Toni ate breakfast, Benjy started giggling and Toni shot up out of her chair looking for AC who had climbed the first three steps of the stairs already and looked back with a triumphant grin at Toni as she crossed the room. She retrieved him and got a scowl for her effort. She asked Adam to help her push a trunk in front of the stairs.

“In the last two weeks, every time that Benjy is giggling, I know that AC has done something. He has no fear and he wants to climb. He is amazingly coordinated for such a little boy. Benjy can’t do most of what AC is doing but he enjoys the heck out of watching him do it and then me chasing after him. Don’t leave anything where AC can pull himself up or he’ll grab it.”

“I wondered why the first three shelves of the bookcase in the study were empty.”

“Your son is very smart about some things but he thinks books are to chew on and has no idea what ‘no’ means.”

There was a knock on the door then, and when Adam answered, he found his father there.

“Well because you are officially in my custody, I thought I better check to make sure you hadn’t snuck off in the night.”

All three smiled at that because they knew Ben was worried about Adam and probably hadn’t slept well last night because of it. He had to see him to be sure his boy was doing all right. They invited him to have breakfast but of course Hop Sing had already fed him although he thought a good hot cup of coffee sounded pretty good. Adam noticed how Ben watched every move that Lily made as she brought out coffee and placed a plate of scones on the dining table. Adam looked over at Toni and she had seen it too and flicked her eyebrows up at him. Well, well, well maybe there was something going on here.

“Actually you are looking much better than I expected after the last two days. You could hardly walk last night.”

“Two days riding in a wagon and eating trail chow wasn’t exactly what I needed, but now I’m home with everything I need.”

Benjy started giggling again and Toni shot out of her seat again to find AC trying to scale the trunk by the stairs. After watching for a minute, she realized he wouldn’t be able to do it so she returned and sat at the table again and filled Ben in on his rambunctious grandson.

“He sounds just like Adam at that age. He was curious about everything and feared nothing. It seemed I was constantly chasing after him. When he was seven, he went off to live with the Paiutes for a while. I got him back after a day and tanned his hide. He was so mad. He gets the stubborn streak from both sides of the family and wants to do whatever he has decided to do regardless of the consequences. Eventually he settled down.”

“When was that?”

“Oh, let me see, when he was about thirty-six and a half.”

Toni and Ben laughed uproariously, but Adam just pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation.

“Daughter, are you worried that Benjy can’t do what AC does?”

“Not at all. Let me show you something.”

Adam and Ben followed her over to where Benjy was sitting. He had stacked all of the blocks and made a tower. It was a little lopsided but otherwise worked. AC crawled over and knocked it down. Benjy and AC laughed, and then Benjy got busy building again.

“They do that over and over. I think Benjy can even count in a very basic fashion or has a remarkable memory already. We were watching a few days ago when Charlie let the horses out into their corrals; one of the mares didn’t come out right away. Benjy stared at the door until she appeared and then clapped his hands in delight. We were amazed. It was like he knew there was one more.”

“You have two talented little boys but they’re very different for twins.”

Toni looked at Adam and he smiled at that. It was exactly what he hoped for in his sons that they could develop without being expected to be just like their twin. As they watched the boys play, there was another knock on the door and Adam found Roy was there for a visit too.

“Thought I oughta let you know that you are officially no longer in custody because the trial and the verdict have been set aside, the charges have been dropped, and I brung ya a copy of the paper so you can see that most of the story is out there already. Dan says he will have the rest in the next edition and then will follow the trials and write those up as well.”

Adam breathed a sigh of relief and Toni came up to him and wrapped her arms around him. The storm was finally gone and they were still standing. They asked Roy if he wanted coffee and a scone and he said it was mighty neighborly of them and came inside. Roy listed all the people who had been arrested and it of course included Judge Reynolds and Prosecutor Davis as well as a number of wealthy men who owned interests in local mines and in the Truckee Railroad. All were charged with various counts of corruption and some with murder and attempted murder. To get a lighter sentence, Reynolds, Davis, and the warden had agreed to provide information, name names, and testify at the trials of the others. Some of the ‘witnesses’ against Adam had been charged because they did it for a large cash incentive but it was found that some did it because their families had been threatened. Those who had faced threats would not be charged as long as they testified truthfully at the trials of the others. With the secret records, informants, snitches, and now some of the parties involved testifying as well there was little doubt that the men would be convicted.

Roy said they should expect to see the governor’s agents because they needed a statement from Adam about his treatment at the prison. They didn’t have to wait long because there was another knock on the door and three men were there.

Adam greeted the men who had made the deal with him graciously but met the third man with a hearty handshake and a slap on the shoulder. He turned to Toni and his father and introduced the man as his ‘guard’ian angel who had saved his life in state prison. He asked the man his name and he said Dan Jamieson, but also introduced the others as Mike Jamieson and Nate Jamieson. They were brothers who began working for the governor when their father’s ranch had been stolen away by railroad crooks.

“Our father never recovered from what they did and died from a stroke less than a year later. Mike’s a lawyer and was already working for the attorney general. We talked it over and decided to join forces and help in investigating corruption to try to save other innocent folks from ending up like our pa.”

“Thank you for saving my life. Toni, without Dan’s water trick I never would have had enough to drink. He threw water in the cell but always made sure that a few inches of water were in the bucket when he left it. The first night he slipped me a blanket. Every night, there was a piece of bread, a potato, or even an apple dropped through the slot into my cell. Pa, if you think I was in bad shape when you saw me, consider what it would have been if not for those gifts.”

“Adam, I never gave you extra food at night. I worked days only. I had to sneak around to get that blanket to you. I wouldn’t have risked it for a bit of food. One or more of the other guards must have felt badly for you and gave you the food.”

They all digested that bit of information. There were some decent men working in indecent conditions and doing their best.

“We’re going to be around here until the trials are over. We won’t be testifying because we need to stay in the background but we’ll make sure everything runs smoothly. If you need anything, let us know. The governor is grateful and wants to do whatever he needs to do to make sure that you are all right now.”

They then retired to the study to get Adam’s statement. Toni insisted on being included so that Adam would need to tell this story only once. Roy asked to sit in as well. Ben and Lily watched over the children. Lily didn’t have grandchildren but if she had she wished they would be as sweet as these two. She also didn’t mind spending time conversing with Adam’s silver haired father. He was always such a gentleman with her.

After about an hour, the study door opened and the men took their leave. Adam and Toni looked drained. Ben suggested that he and Lily would be happy to take the boys over to the Ponderosa main house so that the two of them could have some quiet time together. Lily and Toni packed up all that they would need and dressed the boys warmly. They always loved riding in the carriage and watching the team pull. Marcus and Charlie hitched the team to the carriage and brought it around and Ben, Lily, and the boys headed out. Ben yelled out that they would be back about dinnertime.

Adam caught Marcus’ eye and he smiled and nodded at the departing carriage. Adam winked because he knew Marcus saw it too and was apparently okay with it. Adam and Toni stepped back into the house to decompress from the ordeal that Adam’s testimony had been. He hoped he would not have to repeat it at a trial. Toni didn’t want to let go of him knowing what he had been through.

“How about a nap and then we can find something to keep us busy until the boys get home?”

“Toni, how about we get reacquainted in the tub with lots of warm water and suds, and then a nap followed by finding something to keep us busy until the boys get home?”

“I do like how you think, cowboy. Let’s go heat some water.”

*****

Christmas

AC and Benjy were almost eight months old on their first Christmas. They were too young to understand anything about it but old enough to be the center of their family’s festivities. Adam had crafted three small rocking horses and Hoss carved in manes on the head section. Toni crafted tails from heavy yarn. Two would be gifts for the twins on Christmas and the other would be stored until Hoss could present it to his child.

Minnie and Toni were due about the same time as it turned out so both families were looking forward to a new addition but Hoss’ excitement far exceeded that of all of them combined it seemed. Joe would catch him daydreaming several times a day as they worked together making sure everything was ready for winter on the Ponderosa. Hoss was able to retaliate though as soon as Joe started seeing Faith Dawson on a regular basis because he would get that kind of ‘angel eye dreamy face’ as Minnie called it whenever he thought about her. At breakfast about a week before Christmas, Hoss and Minnie were discussing the couple and she had described Joe as looking at Faith that way so that you knew he was thinking about her when he looked that way.

“Did I ever look at you that way?”

“No Hoss you always looked anywhere but at me. You were so shy. It was adorable. Now you look at me in all sorts of ways. Some say you wonder what’s for dinner, some say you’re tired, and some looks say you want ‘you know what’.”

“What about Adam? Does he look at Toni that way?”

“No he always looks at her like she’s a goddess. Of course he also looks like he wants to take her to the bedroom.”

“Yeah I think you’re right about that. I’d like ta see the look he gets when the boys interfere with his plans. Sounds like he and Toni are always chasing around after those boys who are getting into everything with AC leading the way usually.”

“Hoss, we didn’t know what to get them for Christmas. How about if we offer to take the boys for a day so that they can have a little quiet time for just the two of them?”

“I don’t know, Minnie, those boys sound like they can be quite a job, and you’re already five months pregnant.”

“So is Toni and she runs around after them every day. It would be good practice too for when we have our own little one running around. I never took care of a baby before. Have you?”

“No. But these aren’t babies. These are toddlers who are nearly walking and ain’t got no more good sense than a rock.”

“Just one day, please. We can pick them up in the morning after Christmas and bring them back the next morning. How much trouble can they be for just one day?”

Hoss agreed and Minnie made up a fancy certificate for one day’s care and they put it in an envelope with a pretty blue bow glued to the top. On Christmas Day, they packed up all their gifts including that one and headed to the Ponderosa main house for family celebration of Christmas. There was quite a crowd at the house this day. Ben was sitting on the settee with Lily sharing some stories of his time at sea. Hoss looked at Adam who winked. All three sons expected the two of them to be a couple as soon as both of them admitted their attraction to the other. Joe was entertaining the twins with all sorts of stunts and silliness and had their rapt attention. Hoss went in search of Minnie because he had not seen her since gifts had been opened. As he neared the kitchen he heard Minnie giggling with Toni.

“He put the ribbon where?”

Oh lordy, he didn’t want to be part of that conversation. He didn’t wait for Toni’s reply. He could come back later. When he did, he heard Toni warning Minnie of all the things the boys could get into. He was nervous about watching his nephews for a day but if Joe could entertain them and keep them out of trouble then it couldn’t be too hard.

The next morning, Hoss and Minnie arrived at Adam’s house to pick up the boys. They packed away all the things that Toni thought they would need to care for the boys for a full day. Now that they were weaned, it was much easier to let someone care for them for a while. The boys were excited to be riding in a carriage for the second day in a row so they were all smiles.

As the carriage headed out of the yard, Adam wrapped his arms around Toni and smiled at her with that look Minnie had described to Hoss. They had a very enjoyable time with each other and a very relaxing night of sleep as well after a satisfying day. As they were savoring their coffee after breakfast the next morning, they heard a carriage arrive, they grabbed their coats and rushed out to greet their sons. Adam took AC from Hoss and looked at him with a puzzled look. AC’s hands and forearms appeared to be stained red. When Toni got Benjy from Minnie, he had what suspiciously looked like two tiny red handprints on his cheeks. Hoss finally turned to face Adam and Hoss was sporting a doozy of a shiner. Minnie climbed out of the carriage and limped to the back to unpack the twins’ belongings.

“Don’t ask, Adam, please don’t ask. But I hafta say, Minnie and I are gonna start praying real hard that we have a little girl in April.”

*****

To Have and To Hold

ch 1

Adam was nuzzling Toni. It was New Year’s morning and with the party the night before, the boys had been up late and were sleeping in for the first time ever. As Adam kissed his way down to the tops of Toni’s breasts that showed above the top of the new satin gown she was wearing, his hands caressed her. But as often happened lately, she squirmed in discomfort with his caresses. Adam didn’t know anymore how to touch his wife intimately without her recoiling because of pain. However this time as he touched, he felt something unusual.

“Toni, can you feel that?”

“Yes and I’m sorry but they are still too tender, I don’t know what to tell you to do. Especially on the right side. The left seems to be the usual tenderness from pregnancy like the last time but the right side is much more painful.”

“No, sweetheart, have you felt this?”

Adam took Toni’s left hand and placed it on the side of her right breast. Even through the chemise, she could feel what Adam meant. It was hard there like there was something solid.

“Toni, I think you need to tell Doctor Martin about this.”

“We could wait to see if it gets better.”

“Sweetheart, it doesn’t have to be like your mother. Paul will do something I’m sure.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Toni and held her as she cried. Fear and the memory of her mother’s death overwhelmed her. Toni had told Adam how her mother had found some hard lumps on the side of her chest almost under her arm and had died months later with an oozing, open sore there. She had suffered greatly in the last month as the cancer had grown in her lungs until she couldn’t lie down nor bend over because she couldn’t breathe. Her mama, Rosa, had leaned back into the pillows on her bed, refused to eat, and faded away from them growing thinner and weaker until she could no longer draw more than shallow breaths. Then one morning, she did not open her eyes and the faint heartbeat suddenly stilled.

Adam had asked her why the doctors did nothing to help. After her mother saw the doctor, he had called Tony and his daughters in to the exam room to tell them that he believed there were other cancers throughout Rosa’s body and that the cancer must have been growing a long time. He found hard lumps when he pressed on her liver and her abdomen. He had listened to her breathing and to him it sounded as if the cancer had invaded her lungs too. He sadly informed them that there was nothing that could be done except to give them pain powders to be administered to Rosa as needed. The family had cried together and then gone home to face the inevitable. Now Toni was terrified that the same awful journey awaited her.

For the rest of the day, Adam and Toni could not bring themselves to talk about it any more. They hugged, touched, and kissed gently but the ominous threat that hung over them made the day seem to take an interminable length of time. Their tension was transmitted unintentionally to their boys who were whiny and clingy which was much out of character for them.

Ben stopped by to pick up some things he had forgotten to take with him the day before. He noticed how somber they were. However, he also knew that his son and daughter-in-law were strong people and would share their concerns with him when they were ready and not before so he didn’t ask any prying questions. Before he left, he told them he was going in to talk with Lily a bit and get some coffee. Even that did not elicit the raised eyebrows and smiles he expected because he had been noticing them for over a week now and not just from Adam and Toni. His whole family and Marcus too seemed to think there was something going on between him and Lily. Well there wasn’t, but he was beginning to think that perhaps there ought to be.

“Good morning, Lily. And how are you on this fine first day of the new year?”

“Ben, good morning. Well my day just got a little better. Didn’t start off so good.”

“What happened?”

“Well you musta seen them. Toni came down this morning all pale and her eyes all red so I know she’d been crying. Adam’s been by her side all the time. He’s not saying much and neither is she but I know something’s wrong.”

“Did anything happen to the baby?”

“No it can’t be that. She’s five months along so if something happened, she wouldn’t be walking around and playing with the boys. So happy last night and so sad this morning. I just have no idea what could have happened.”

“Well you know how those two are. They’ll tell us when they’re ready.”

Suddenly, Adam came into the kitchen to ask if they could watch the boys for a time. Toni wanted to speak with her father and Adam wanted to take her over there.

“Son, of course. Is there anything we can do for you, anything at all?”

“Say a few prayers, just say a few prayers.”

And Adam turned and left the kitchen with the most devastated look on his face that his father had seen for many years. Ben and Lily walked out to collect the boys and make sure they didn’t try to crawl out the front door as their parents left. They watched as Adam helped Toni put on her coat and then he wrapped a wool shawl around her shoulders. Toni was almost wooden in her posture and expression but leaned into Adam’s shoulder as he guided her out the door. Adam leaned down to kiss her on the cheek and then wrapped his arm firmly around her shoulders. After the couple left, Ben and Lily just looked at each other for a minute. Something was obviously wrong with Toni and it wasn’t the baby and it wasn’t her relationship with Adam, so what could it be?

Ben and Lily shrugged and turned to the boys who were watching them with very serious looks as if they too knew something was wrong. Benjy started to cry and Lily picked him up and sat with him in her arms as she soothed him. AC pulled himself up to stand at her knee and watch. As Benjy quieted, they were able to get the boys to do some quiet play, have lunch, and then take their naps but the usual energy exhibited by the twins wasn’t there.

Just before dinner, Adam and Toni returned. It was clear that Toni had been crying more and Ben suspected Adam had too. But both acted more normally and smiled and talked with the twins. Adam asked Ben if he had time tomorrow to come over to help Lily watch the twins while Adam took Toni to see the doctor.

“We found a lump and want Paul to look at it. We hope it is not serious but it may be. Please don’t ask any questions now because we have no answers.”

*****

To Have and To Hold ch 2

Early the next morning, January 2, Adam and Toni were in Doctor Martin’s office. One look at them and he had thought she had lost the baby but Adam’s first words nullified that thought.

“It’s not the baby. We found a lump in Toni’s breast.”

At that point, Adam couldn’t continue. He had held in his emotions for a day to support Toni and he just couldn’t do it any more. His voice broke and he paused. Paul immediately took the initiative and asked Toni to come with him into an exam room. She asked if Adam could be there too and although an unusual request, under these circumstances, Paul agreed it might be best. Paul had Toni disrobe behind a screen and put on a gown. Then he had her lay on the exam table. Adam stood at her left side and held her hand as Paul began his examination.

“Will you show me what you found?”

Toni put her hand to the lower outside quadrant of her right breast. Paul slipped his fingers under hers and applied a small amount of pressure. Toni grimaced. Paul then used his index finger to examine her whole breast by putting pressure on each part and then moving quickly to the next spot. Then he examined her left breast. Toni grimaced a little with each pressure point but not nearly as much as she had with his first examination of the lump itself.

“Just that one spot then in your breast. I am going to examine your neck, abdomen, under your arms, and your pelvic region. I will use the same method but I will be using my whole hand to put pressure on each spot I examine.”

With her pregnancy, there was a limit to what he would find in the abdomen and pelvic region, however he found nothing suspicious. Paul had Toni sit up then and he used his stethoscope to listen to her lungs. He wanted Toni to take deep breaths. He listened to the lower, middle, and upper parts of each lung. When he finished, he asked Toni to dress.

“You will be more comfortable talking with me if you are dressed. This is a stressful thing, and I want you to be as relaxed as you can be under the circumstances for the well being of your baby.”

That sounded ominous to both Toni and Adam, but they knew they should do as he said. Once Toni was dressed, Paul had them sit in chairs and then explained what he thought he had found and what they should do.

“I believe that it is a tumor. Now sometimes women get benign growths like this which are not cancer. In any case, it needs to be removed so that we can determine what it is. Nurse Millicent Thatcher has recently sent me Powell & Lealand microscope which is one of the best there is. I am still getting used to using it. But what it means is that I can remove the growth and look at it under the microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous or a benign growth. Even if it is cancer, there had been quite a lot of success with removing this type of cancer completely. The microscope will let me check to see if the surrounding tissue is healthy so I would know if I got it all. I can find no evidence that there is any spread of the cancer if that is what it is. Your lungs are healthy. My advice is that you have the surgery as soon as possible. I will have my new assistant work with me.”

“How much of my breast would you remove?”

“Probably most of it. Many women have lived full and complete lives after this surgery which is called a mastectomy. It is the best solution we have right now.”

“What about the baby? Is there a risk to my baby from the surgery?”

“Yes but I think at this point is it a small risk. I think the surgery will be quick. However you will need anesthesia which could cause problems, and there is always some risk of infection although in this type of surgery that would be minimal as well.”

“Adam, I can’t harm my baby.”

“Toni, if you wait and the growth is a cancer, you could not have the surgery until at least a month after the birth of the baby. Five months to wait is much too long. Your sons need their mother. Your new baby will need her mother too.”

“But what kind of mother would I be if I hurt my baby to save myself?”

“Paul, could you leave so that Toni and I could talk?”

Paul nodded, stood, and walked from the room pulling the door closed behind him. Adam took Toni’s right hand and held it between his own. Toni sat as if in shock.

“You have to have the surgery.”

“Adam I can’t. You can’t make me.”

“No but I can beg you to think of our sons, of our baby who will arrive in April, of us.”

“Will you even be able to look at me after this surgery. I will be mutilated.”

“You will be the woman I love. I haven’t just given you hugs and kisses. I gave you my heart. Before I knew you, I didn’t want to love anyone again because it always ended in loss and pain. You broke those walls down like they were papier-mâché. I will love you no matter what. I have many scars. You have kissed them and asked me how I got them. You have comforted me for the hurt I suffered. You have stood by me through my trial and imprisonment. I can do no less for you. Please?”

“But I can’t stop thinking about my baby.”

“If it is cancer and it keeps growing, that will harm the baby too. You need to do this to save yourself and our baby.”

Toni turned to Adam and collapsed in his arms. He held her as she sobbed. Paul slowly opened the door and stepped back into the room.

“Have you decided or do you need more time?”

*****

To Have and To Hold ch 3

On the way home, Toni asked Adam to stop by to see her father first. Adam nodded and turned in to the road that led to Tony’s ranch. After the conversation of the day before, Tony was ready for bad news and they didn’t need to tell him it was bad because he could see it on their faces. Adam helped Toni down from the carriage and Tony rushed to hug his daughter.

“Come inside. It’s too cold to talk out here.”

Once inside, Tony asked his housekeeper to bring them coffee and tea. He assumed food would not be consumed anyway. He remembered the devastation he felt when he had heard the news about his beloved Rosa. He hadn’t eaten much of anything for at least a week and even after that for months, food had no flavor, no attraction for him but he ate because he had to stay strong for his daughters especially Toni who was still living at the rancho. Now he saw that Adam and Toni were the same. They had that same pale blank look because the cancer word took all hope away. He needed to know what the doctor said.

Adam sat next to Toni and she held his hand without even thinking about it. Toni looked at her father. How she hated to have to tell him what the doctor said. This had to be his worst nightmare to have to confront this dreaded disease again. But she needed to tell him and she knew he needed to know the truth. So she shared all that Paul had told her. Tony did not interrupt. He knew how emotionally draining telling this story had to be because he had done it himself.

“Papa, I know what the doctor wants me to do. I know what Adam wants me to do. What do you think?”

“Darling, you must have this surgery.”

“Why? Why does everyone say I must?”

“Because you have a chance. You can nurture and guide your children. You can live to see your children grown and married. You will get to see your grandchildren. Your mama missed a lot of that. She would have done anything to have lived to see you married and see the rest of her grandchildren born but she did not have the opportunity. Her greatest sadness was that.”

“Papa, it could hurt my baby.”

“Yes, I understand that. But how hurt will your baby be to be born to a mother who may be dying. To live her life without her mother. Remember how you felt when your mother was torn from you. Imagine if that had happened twenty-five years sooner.”

Tony went to his daughter and hugged her. She cried in his arms too. But she pulled away from him, and she turned to Adam. He nodded. She had made her decision. Tomorrow they would see Paul and make the arrangements.

Adam told Tony that he was going to stay at the International and asked if Tony would like a room there too. He did. Then they asked if he could let Teresa and Maria know that Toni was having surgery. Again he agreed to do that. Adam and Toni drove home and had to tell Ben and Lily the story too. Ben would stay in the hotel as well. Adam asked him to tell Hoss and Joe. He didn’t feel that he had the energy or the strength left to do it. Once Ben left, Toni and Adam asked if Lily would care for the children for a few days. Adam would visit when he could. Lily agreed and said that she would tell Charlie and Marcus and they could help her as needed. Adam said if she needed more help, to let Ben know and he would get someone to come out to the house.

Adam had a restless sleep that night. The first time he awakened, Toni was not in bed and he found her sitting in a rocking chair in the twins’ room. The second time she was sitting in the great room under a blanket on the settee and staring at the coals of the fire. He added logs to the fire and sat beside her. She raised the side of the blanket so that he could slide in next to her. They didn’t talk but just held each other’s hand. Finally Toni dropped her head on Adam’s shoulder and fell asleep. He watched the flames until the windows began to show dawn.

It was a somber morning but they acted purposefully. There were things they needed to get done. Then they packed the carriage, kissed the boys goodbye, and headed to town.

Paul was glad they had made the decision for the surgery. He had already made arrangements because he had been hoping they would and wanted to be able to proceed quickly if they did. Ben and Tony arrived soon after. Ben said he had told Hoss to stay with Minnie and that Joe had volunteered to go to the house to play with the twins.

Adam walked with Toni into the surgery and waited while she undressed and put on a gown. She walked to the surgery table and lay down. Dr. Martin said Adam could stay until they started the anesthesia and then he would have to leave. The room was very bright with all the candle lanterns set about with their reflecting screens. Everything seemed to be draped in clean white linen sheets. On one table was the microscope with everything needed to examine the tissue they removed. As they began to anesthetize Toni, Adam had to leave.

The next hour passed slowly. It seemed as if the clock was moving slower and slower. There was little talk because there was little to say that wouldn’t seem trivial or inappropriate. Finally the door to the surgery opened and Dr. Martin came out and closed the door behind him. All three men stood.

“It was a cancer but a small round nodule less than one-half inch in size. It seemed larger because it was in a milk duct with calcification of the duct, and had caused some edema that exaggerated its size. We removed the breast but all slides show that there is no cancer left. We believe we got it all.”

Adam dropped into a chair and held his head with both hands as he breathed in short gasping breaths. Ben walked to him and began rubbing his back to help him calm himself.

“We’ll keep her here today. If all looks good tomorrow, you can take her to the hotel to stay a few more days. If there are no problems, she can go home in three days.”

“When can I see her?”

“Adam give us some time to clean up and be sure the bandages are snug and doing their job. You are going to see a lot of bandage but that is because we are trying to put a lot of pressure over a fairly large incision. The incision isn’t that deep but there are a lot of stitches. So the bandage is very thick and very long. Toni is still half asleep. When she is a little more aware, I am going to give her a very mild dose of pain medication so she will rest without moving about. I do not want to give her much because of the baby. She withstood childbirth well so in the next few days I would like her to try to do this without pain medication. She is highly motivated to protect her baby so that won’t likely be a problem, but I wanted you to understand why we are doing it this way.”

Adam nodded his agreement and waited quietly until the door opened again and Paul signaled him to enter. He stood by Toni’s side and thanked God that she was all right and still with him and the boys. Tony was soon at his side and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder, and he thanked God that Toni had found this man to be her husband. Ben walked in as well and asked Paul if they could stay. Paul nodded toward the three chairs he had lined up against the wall. He had expected all three to stay at least until Toni woke up. They didn’t have to wait long.

“Adam, Adam, Adam?”

“I’m right her sweetheart. It’s good news. You’re going to be okay. Just rest now and don’t move around. That’s it, just relax. Doc is going to give just a little something to help you sleep. I’ll be here by your side.”

Toni looked at Adam. He was a little fuzzy but she could still see the care and the love he had. She smiled and Doc Martin began to give her small sips of the medication. Within minutes, she closed her eyes and fell into a peaceful sleep. Toni had a slight fever by that night but Paul had expected that as a result of the surgery. Adam told Tony and Ben he wasn’t leaving so they both headed to the hotel to get some sleep. They would sit with Toni tomorrow so that Adam could sleep.

By the next morning, Toni was able to keep food down and was able to drink with no difficulty. Paul allowed Adam to move her to the hotel. Once she was in a bed there, Adam looked like he was about to collapse. Ben sent him to his room to sleep saying he would sit with Toni or her father would in their room. She would not be alone, and they would get him when Paul came later to check on her.

Everything had seemed so dire just two days ago. Now there was hope again. Adam finally relaxed and fell into a deep sleep. Ben had trouble waking him later but as soon as Adam started to come around, he mentioned that the doctor was there and Adam jumped out or bed and almost went to their room in his underdrawers. Ben grabbed his arm and thrust his clothing into his hands. He looked at it quizzically at first and then looking down at himself, smiled, and got dressed. When Toni saw him, she was shocked.

“My God, what happened to you? I know I don’t look that bad.”

Adam smiled sheepishly and said he would bathe and shave after he heard what Paul had to say. After only a short check of the bandages and Toni’s temperature, Paul smiled and said all continued to go well. One more day in town and Toni could go home to recuperate. Paul asked Tony to open the curtains. There was a gentle snowfall and everything outside looked pristine. Adam sat on the side of the bed.

“Dinner?”

“Not until you clean that jungle off your face. I want to see those dimples when you grin at me.”

Adam touched her cheek gently.

“It’s good to have you back, love.”

There would be weeks of recuperation. There would be the great unveiling when Toni finally let Adam see and touch her scar. She was relieved that he still found her appealing because regardless of his assurances, it was a fear she carried until he made love to her. Now all they had to do was get through the last months of her pregnancy and welcome a new life into the world and another child into the family where she or he could grow under the loving care and guidance of a mother who faced her greatest fear and overcame it. Every year, they celebrated January 3 and the future.

*****

Fire in the Spring

ch 1

May 1 was a beautiful day in the high Sierras as it could be nowhere else. A sunny mild day where you could see for what seemed to be a hundred miles. There were snow-capped peaks, the tall pines, and Lake Tahoe shimmering like a blue mirror. It was the perfect setting for a family picnic on the Ponderosa. Both Toni and Minnie were anxious to get out of the house. It had been a long and arduous winter especially for Toni. Toni had recovered mentally, emotionally, and physically from her surgery but wanted more normal events to truly feel that the cancer was behind her. The births of daughters to the two women in April had been another trying but joyous experience for Toni and Adam, and Hoss and Minnie.

By late morning, carriages converged near the shore of the lake. Adam, Toni, the twins, and baby Rose Elizabeth were the first to arrive. Adam got the boys out of the carriage first and sternly set their limits. Both boys walked to where they had been told to go. AC had been trying for weeks to mimic his father’s walk and although ungraceful, he did manage a reasonable cowboy swagger. Benjy however still walked like a drunken sailor which the entire family found entertaining so he was not motivated to change. Next, Adam grabbed Toni about the waist and lifted her from the carriage as she hugged her baby to her chest.

Once Adam spread the blanket under a tree, Toni unbuttoned the top of her dress and laid a small blanket over Rose as she nursed. Toni kept an eye on the boys as Adam unloaded all the other items in the carriage. It seemed as if they were moving to another home every time they took all three children with them. Each time that Toni nursed her daughter, she was reminded of the mastectomy she had less than five months earlier to remove her cancer. The love from her family and the love for her baby made her feel whole and wanted so she had little time for self pity except for a few occasions when she was alone and the tears still flowed. That was why times like these were so important. Reinforced with the love of her family all around her and enjoying life strengthened her resolve to concentrate on the future and forget the pain of the recent past.

Next to arrive were Hoss, Minnie, and baby Ingrid Anne who according to her parents at least, the blonde blue-eyed baby was the most beautiful baby ever. The first time Adam had seen the baby he had said she was a cherub and the angels in heaven must almost be jealous. Hoss had slapped Adam on the back at that comment to show his appreciation. Of course one of Hoss’ good natured slaps could topple a man right over a settee if he happened to be standing right behind it. Adam had looked up from the floor to say he would only compliment members of Hoss’ family from a safe distance in the future. The family had marveled at the change in Adam since he had met and married Toni. He responded with grace and humor to situations like this that in the past might have caused him to lash out in anger or frustration. Everyone had laughed but Hoss had jokingly threatened to do it again as Adam put his hand on Ingrid’s head and said he didn’t know how Hoss could have fathered such a beautiful baby. That day, Joe had taken to calling her Angel and now some of the rest of the family referred to her that way too.

As Hoss’ carriage approached, Adam had a hand on a shoulder of each of his boys to hold them in place until the horses stopped moving. Then the boys ran to greet the new arrivals. At the carriage, Hoss and Adam began handing small items to the boys to carry over to where Toni was sitting. AC and Benjy walked proudly with each item and once it was deposited on the blanket, they raced back to help more until they were disappointed that there was nothing left for them to carry. That didn’t last long though as two more carriages appeared with Ben and Lily in one and Joe and Faith in the other. The routine was repeated until everything was unloaded.

Adam and Joe took the boys down to the lake as Ben and Hoss took care of the horses. At the lake, Adam and Joe began skipping stones to see who could get the most skips. The twins wanted to do it too but of course were too young so the men switched to throwing rocks in the lake to make splashes. That the boys could do so soon all that could be heard was the giggling of the twins and Joe and splashes. Then when Hoss came down to be with them, the twins were amazed at the splashes he could cause.

Adam walked back and sat down next to Toni, leaned toward her, and kissed her on the cheek. Everyone was being entertained by the antics of the boys, young and older, by the lake. As Adam caressed Toni’s back, he imagined what they would be doing if it was only the two of them here on a blanket under a tree by the lake. Toni noticed his dreamy look, saw his reaction, and smiled at him.

“Hmmm, I do believe I know what you’re thinking, cowboy, and you better get those thoughts out of your head before you embarrass yourself.”

“If only it was that easy.”

Adam slid back and leaned against the trunk of the tree. Now it was Toni who started dreaming and Adam smiled at the deep sigh she made.

“Now whose imagination is at work?”

Nearby, Minnie couldn’t help but be amused by their conversation. She knew exactly how they felt. The arrival of baby Ingrid was an impediment to her romantic life with Hoss as well. They, like Adam and Toni, maintained a respectful distance from each other mindful of Dr. Martin’s prescription of six weeks of abstinence. However she had laughed when Toni had confided to her that the first time she had gotten the doctor to agree to shorten the six weeks to four.

Ben and Joe had to maintain a respectful distance from their ladies too because neither was betrothed. Any kiss or other show of affection in public would damage a lady’s reputation and accelerate the rate of gossip. Just escorting the ladies to church each Sunday had started rumors of impending nuptials. Ben was in fact considering a proposal but had not as yet acted on the idea although every day made the idea seem more attractive to him. Meanwhile he was enjoying the comfort of having those most close to him relaxing and playing.

The scene at the lake was so peaceful and delightful to watch, Candy was reluctant to interrupt but duty meant that he had to do it. As the foreman of the Ponderosa approached the picnickers, all of the adults knew there was trouble and the men began walking toward him as the ladies gathered together near the tree with the children on the blanket.

*****

Fire in the Spring ch 2

“The army is marching against the Paiute.”

“What happened?” came from four voices simultaneously.

“Some young Bannocks got liquor from Morrison’s trading post. He was up to his old tricks again. They went on a spree to prove their manhood and did some damage. No one was hurt and no one got killed, but it got the farmers east of here all riled up. They got a bunch together and went after those boys but came across a small Paiute camp instead. They took their revenge there and it was ugly. The men were out hunting. Twenty women and children were killed.”

“Oh my God. That’s why the army is here but shouldn’t they be tracking the farmers who did this and not the Paiute?”

“Mr. Cartwright, when the hunting party got back and found their families dead, mutilated, and some scalped, they tracked those farmers down, found them at Morrison’s celebrating their victory and massacred them. The vigilantes had been drinking to celebrate what they had done and were in no shape to fight. They were butchered by all accounts.”

“When?”

“It all happened in the last three days. Those vigilantes set out the day after the nighttime raid. They were back at Morrison’s by the next night, and the Paiute arrived by yesterday morning. Morrison is dead too. His wife and daughter are the only witnesses. They hid.”

“Well I can’t say I’m sorry about Morrison. He caused a lot of grief here.”

“Mr. Cartwright, there’s more. Winnemucca is ill and his youngest brother is in charge.”

That did change the situation. Ever since Young Wolf had been killed, Winnemucca has lost some of his spirit but had managed to calm any tensions in the young men who were angry at their treatment by whites. Ben sent Adam with cattle each fall to help the tribe survive the winter. When possible, other essential supplies were given to them by the Ponderosa as well. The Paiute and Ben’s sons cooperated on a roundup of mustangs every spring and split the herd between them. A tense peace had been maintained.

But Winnemucca’s youngest brother, Dark Wolf, was married to the daughter of a Shoshoni chief and spent much of his time living and hunting with the Shoshoni. He was ambitious and arrogant, and hated whites. He had threatened to kill Adam for the death of Young Wolf but had been forbidden to do so by Winnemucca. If the volatile young man was in charge and brought the Shoshoni into the dispute, there could be a major war in the Sierras.

“Mr. Cartwright, there’s an Army Captain at the main house and he wants to talk with you and Adam.”

The picnic was cut short as Adam and Hoss left with their families. Minnie and her daughter would stay with Toni and her children because Charlie, Marcus, and Lily would be there too. The R&D ranch was close as well if they needed help. Joe planned to alert Tony as he went to Virginia City to get Faith home to her family. When Joe returned to Adam’s house, the three brothers rode to join their father at the main house.

Once they were at the main house, Ben, his sons, and Candy sat down to find out what the captain wanted. Introductions were made, and Captain Rawls began the explanation for his request.

“Sirs, good to meet you, and thank you. Frankly, I would like to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. We have trouble with the Sioux near Fort Laramie and even if we get a treaty there, it will be a temporary fix. The Kiowa and Comanche along the Red River are skirmishing regularly with settlers and soldiers there. We do not have the resources for a major campaign here.”

Adam was the first to ask what was wanted of them.

“If we could get custody of the young men who were on the raid on Morrison’s or at least some of them, we could withdraw. We would tell the citizenry who are in an uproar that we got the guilty parties. We do understand that the Paiute were provoked.”

“Provoked? Women and children were butchered. It’s another Sand Creek!”

Adam was incensed with what he saw as Rawls’ cavalier attitude. Once again the victims were being blamed for defending their own and acting out their grief and sorrow. Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and as they looked at each other, Ben saw Adam regain control of himself.

“Gentlemen, I understand your concerns. But realistically, under the orders I have received, this is all I can do. Will you ride with me to the Paiute camp to talk with them? My information is that they trust you, Ben, and that Adam is a frequent visitor and has been for a very long time. If you go with me, there is a chance that this can be done without any more fighting. If I go, the fighting will begin before there is a chance to talk. My men would stay here if you don’t mind.”

Ben and his sons understood that the young captain was taking a great chance here. If his plan failed, his career was over and he might face a court martial. Even if he succeeded, his superior officers might not appreciate how he had interpreted his orders. Ben and Adam agreed to ride with him, but added that Hoss, Joe, and Candy would ride with them to the borders of the Paiute lands. They would collect some cattle along the way and hold them just outside those boundaries until they could hopefully be used to seal the deal. It would be tense for these men to wait to see when and if Ben, Adam, and Rawls returned. If the plan failed, all of their lives would be in jeopardy.

Time was a critical factor. If they left soon, they could be in the Paiute camp by nightfall. There was no time for Adam and Hoss to take time to go speak with their wives. Adam asked Curly to ride to his home with a message he had carefully crafted for Toni and Minnie to explain what they were doing. The message had to be honest but he tried to word it so that the ladies would not worry too much. Despite his efforts, Adam expected Toni to worry and also expected that she would be furious with him for taking this risk especially because he had not discussed it with her. When he mentioned that thought to Hoss, Hoss agreed and expected Minnie would feel the same.

“Could feel like winter when we get back.”

“Ya got that right older brother. Just so the spring thaw comes around.”

Adam smiled at that and nodded as he mounted up on Sport. The small group headed out with Ben and Rawls in the lead. Hoss held the lead rope of the packhorse carrying a tent and food prepared by Hop Sing for their group. Once in the high pasture, they cut out a dozen head of cattle and drove them ahead of them. At the border of Paiute lands, it was very late in the day, but the three who were to proceed decided to continue because it would look too suspicious if they camped there.

“Mr. Cartwright, the Paiute know you and your sons so well, wouldn’t they trust you to stay here.”

“Normally yes, but with the trouble now, Dark Wolf, and with an army officer with us, they might decide to act first and worry about it later. We are all safer if we proceed in a peaceful manner to the camp.”

Adam and Ben removed their gun belts and took the rifles out of the scabbards. Rawls did the same and left his sword behind as well. Hoss, Joe, and Candy wished them well, and the three rode toward the Paiute camp.

*****

Fire in the Spring ch 3

Less than an hour later, Captain Rawls grunted in pain, and Adam and Ben turned to him to find a Paiute arrow sticking out of his thigh. Within seconds, they were surrounded and pulled from their horses. Their hands were bound and then ropes were tied around each one to secure their arms to their sides. They were punched and prodded as they were force walked to the Paiute camp. Winnemucca’s brother met them in the center of the camp.

“You dare show your faces here! You have murdered women and children!”

“We did not …” but Adam’s retort was ended as he was bludgeoned and driven to the ground.

“Whites are all the same just as you see all of us as the same. You cannot tell a Bannock from a Paiute? Paiute were murdered because of what Bannock did. And Bannocks did not murder but whites did.”

“We came to talk …” but Captain Rawls’ words were ended in the same manner as Adam’s had been. Both men were now on the ground stunned and bleeding. The wound in Rawls’ leg wasn’t bleeding much but had to be painful especially when he fell without being able to use his arms to break his fall.

“Are you so afraid of words?” Ben was going to receive the same treatment but Dark Wolf’s raised hand stopped the blows suddenly.

“I am not afraid but you should be. You will die for your arrogance and for bringing that spy to our camp.”

Dark Wolf pointed at Captain Rawls who was then dragged away. Then he pointed at Adam who was pulled to his feet and forced to walk in the same direction. Ben’s heart rate rose and his stomach clenched. He feared for his son’s life.

“We brought that one, Captain Rawls, so we might talk of peace. He was ordered to attack but wants to find another way. We brought no weapons. Women and children have died and that is a terrible tragedy that cannot be changed. To stop more deaths is a worthy goal not arrogance.”

Dark Wolf roared and raised his hand to strike Ben but was stopped by Winnemucca’s ‘No’ as he emerged leaning on the arm of his wife. He was pale and very thin. Although stooped with physical weakness, the man was still a powerful presence. Dark Wolf regarded him with anger but said nothing.

“We will talk, Ben Cartwright.”

“What of my son and Captain Rawls?”

Looking at the young men arrayed around Dark Wolf, Winnemucca addressed them directly.

“Bring them here.”

Within a few minutes, Adam and Captain Rawls were unceremoniously dumped at Winnemucca’s feet. Adam was bruised and bleeding from cuts on his face, neck, and head but looked up defiantly. Ben saw him grimace despite himself and suspected that there were other more serious injuries as well. Captain Rawls was bleeding profusely now from his thigh where the arrow had been pulled out. Neither man could stand because their bindings and injuries made it too difficult. Ben was still tied and could not help them.

Winnemucca pulled a knife from a sheath to cut Ben’s bindings. Then looking directly into Dark Wolf’s eyes, he handed the knife to Ben and pointed to the other two. Ben quickly cut through the ropes on Adam and Captain Rawls. Adam pulled out a handkerchief and folded it into a pad, which he pressed against the wound in Rawls’ thigh. With his other hand, he took the yellow kerchief from Rawls and tied it around the thigh to hold the pad in place to apply pressure to the wound. The flesh wound quickly responded and the bleeding diminished significantly.

“It doesn’t look to bad, Pa. He’ll live. For now.”

Winnemucca signaled to Ben to be seated next to Adam and Rawls. Next he indicated with a forceful gesture that Dark Wolf join them. Negotiations began although Dark Wolf was a very reluctant participant.

“White words are like leaves in the wind. They blow about and never stay where they are put. When I say something, it is a rock and never changes. I can be trusted. We have treaties and the white man forgets them and wants to make new ones. White men cannot remember their own words. They choose to forget. How can we trust any words you say?”

“Dark Wolf, I cannot speak for other men nor can I fix the wrongs of the past. All we want to do is to resolve this one issue. Have I ever lied to the Paiute?”

With that, Ben paused. He wanted to let Dark Wolf think. He understood the young man and sympathized with his sentiments as much as Adam did. What they heard next was a small concession, but he and Adam began to hope that there could be a resolution to the problem.

“That may be true. But I will not allow you or anyone to take any of our people with you. Even if I can trust you, I do not trust any other white man to keep your word.”

Ben offered the cattle regardless of how the negotiations proceeded. As dawn neared, Adam and some of the young men left to go get the cattle. Hoss, Joe, and Candy were shocked when Adam strode into their camp. His face and neck were bruised and had numerous cuts and abrasions.

“It’s not as bad as it looks. And now they’re talking. I’m taking the cattle back to the camp with the help of some of the young men. Say a few prayers and perhaps we can join you later today or tomorrow.”

Within minutes, Adam and the Paiute men were gone with the cattle. Hoss, Joe, and Candy had had a cold camp that night because they thought it offered some protection. Two had slept as the third kept watch. Now they realized their camp could be overrun at will by the Paiute. They started a small campfire after Adam left.

“Damn, that brother of yours can sneak up as well as any Indian I’ve ever seen. Don’t you find that at all spooky?”

“Nah, older brother spent as much time playing with the Paiute when he was younger as he did with white friends. They taught him a lot. Comes in handy sometimes.”

“Yeah right Hoss, except for when you want to play a trick on him. Never include sneaking up on him as part of the prank cause he always seems to know you’re there.”

Joe started giggling at the memory of a recent day when Hoss ended up laying in the mud puddle he had intended to push Adam into but Adam sidestepped at just the right moment and Hoss fell face first into the mud. Hoss remembered too and thought he ought to take his own advice more often. To Hoss’ embarrassment, Joe had to relate the whole story to Candy then. Hoss continued to cook breakfast but started eating the bacon as he cooked.

“Older brother didn’t look too good. I know what he said but the tight look on his face tells me otherwise. He’s hurting.”

“Hoss, it can’t be too bad. He’s riding. We’ll get him back to the ranch soon and he can rest.”

“I sure hope so, I sure do.”

At the Paiute camp, negotiations continued but it seemed there was no way around the issue of surrendering some young men to the Army and a probable hanging. Provocation or not, they all knew it was the likely outcome. Finally Adam, who had been fairly quiet in the talks, proposed a solution that silenced everyone for a time.

“How about this? Dark Wolf already spends much time with the Shoshoni. He could return to them and take any of the young men who want to follow him. They will agree to leave Nevada, go to Wyoming, and never return here. We know we can trust their word if they give it. Captain Rawls can tell his superiors and the white citizens that the guilty parties fled to the mountains of Wyoming and he could not find them.”

Dark Wolf stared at Adam and the animosity was palpable.

“I do not flee from anyone. I would rather fight even if it leads to my death.”

“Would you rather fight even if it leads to the death of your wife and children? Of the other wives and children in this camp?”

Adam hit home with that comment and Dark Wolf became quiet as he contemplated the idea. There was more discussion but they kept returning to Adam’s plan as the core of the possible solution. It needed some rephrasing to be crafted into an agreement that both sides could accept. Dark Wolf and the young men had gotten their revenge and justice, and with this solution, they could retain their freedom. Dark Wolf grudgingly accepted Adam’s phrase that they ‘travel from Nevada to Wyoming never to return’. Winnemucca’s reminder that if they chose to stay and fight, many more women and children would die and the Paiute could not win another war was significant in swaying Dark Wolf.

Ironically, Captain Rawls explained that the army was hiring Shoshoni from Wyoming to scout and to fight against the Sioux who were traditional enemies of the Shoshoni. The young men who sought battles and war to establish their manhood would likely consider that an opportunity.

Captain Rawls, Ben, and Adam agreed to stay in the Paiute camp until the next day. By the time they would be able to return to Virginia City, it would be too late for Rawls to send a telegram to alert the army to send men to intercept the Paiute before they got to Wyoming and the mountains there. No Paiute would trust an army officer to keep his word. To prevent Rawls from getting any information that could help the army apprehend the young men, he and the Cartwrights were confined to a Paiute wickiup with the opening covered by a blanket. It was stuffy inside but all three took the opportunity to get some sleep. Captain Rawls benefited from the rest in that his leg could begin to heal too and even though he had a slight fever, he was feeling better. Ben was worried about Adam but realized there was little he could do for him there. Adam didn’t eat or drink anything that day as his nausea and fuzzy vision had gotten worse. Ben suspected that he was concussed and that it was getting worse because he had been so active for a day after it happened. He should have been resting but the negotiations were critical and Adam was an integral part of the process.

The rest of the plan would commence after Dark Wolf and the others had been given their head start. When the young men had been gone for a day, Rawls and the Cartwrights would be freed to complete the rest of the agreement. Pots, pans, blankets, axes, knives, and clothing lost in the attack on the small Paiute encampment would be replaced. Ben would send his sons to Reno to load up packhorses with those items to be brought back to Winnemucca’s camp. Virginia City residents and other white citizens were not to know of this provision of the agreement. The Ponderosa would absorb the costs. Lives could not be returned but the replenishment of these supplies would help the living survive.

The ‘guilty parties’ would remain as unnamed combatants who the army had supposedly tracked from Morrison’s to the mountains of Wyoming but never caught. Captain Rawls would have to be creative in his use of the language to avoid putting any lies in his report. Ben suggested that Adam was particularly skilled in that regard which elicited a scowl from his son.

Once Rawls backtracked to the Ponderosa and headed out with his men, Dark Wolf and his group would have a three-day lead in effect. There would be no way for Rawls to catch up to them as they bypassed Paiute lands and headed to Wyoming. So they would ‘track’ them through the desert to the mountains but never find them. A local scout, Candy, would guide them. Once it was clear that they had failed, Rawls would write and submit his report.

It was an elaborate hoax with simple parts. It would work, and none felt guilty about their part in it. Once Rawls, Ben, and Adam left the camp, they apprised Hoss, Joe, and Candy about their parts in the plan to which they wholeheartedly agreed. They were impressed by the elegance of it and the design simplicity, which made failure highly unlikely. Ben was proud to tell them it was Adam’s idea. Captain Rawls suggested that Adam had a career in government with those negotiation skills if he wanted it but Adam declined.

All Adam wanted to do was complete this subterfuge and get home, but the short ride had shown that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was too nauseous and his vision was blurred so he would stay with Ben at the camp that Hoss, Joe, and Candy had occupied. They had the tent and still had some of the supplies that Hop Sing had packed for them. Joe and Hoss would make the trip to Reno and when they returned, hopefully all four of them could ride home. Candy headed out with Captain Rawls as Hoss and Joe headed to Reno. Ben helped Adam into the tent where he laid down and closed his eyes. It was a relief to him to be out of the bright light and not moving. Even though he had not eaten in a day, he wasn’t hungry and fell into a restless sleep. As had happened so often in the past, Ben stayed by his side to comfort him and care for him.

[Note: untreated concussions can lead to the symptoms described. More serious symptoms would be a severe headache that persisted, dizziness, memory loss or short term memory issues, etc.]

*****

Fire in the Spring ch 4

Adam rested and recuperated. He and his father talked some but mostly kept their own counsel. They had been through a lot and the stress had drained their energy. Adam’s thoughts mostly drifted toward home and returning to his family. He realized some things about himself and wanted to talk to Toni about it. He hoped his self-examination and his revelations about how he had changed his thinking would soften the edge of her anger. And her anger was something that he did not doubt and he did not fault her at all for it.

Once all parts of the plan were complete, the men were returning to the Ponderosa. Joe and Hoss returned from Reno and made their deliveries to the Paiute camp. The next morning, all four men packed up their camp and headed home. Adam was feeling much better and the bruises had faded and the cuts and abrasions were well on their way to healing. Hoss, Joe, and Adam continued on after Ben left them at the main house. Hoss headed home to Minnie, and at Ben’s suggestion, Joe accompanied Adam to his house. A concussion was nothing to mess with especially by a man on horseback so the idea was to make sure he got home safely.

“All I’m gonna do is turn you over to Toni and then hightail it outta there.”

“Thanks buddy, I knew I could count on you.”

Adam smirked and Joe giggled.

“I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t mess with Toni. She may be the only one in this family more devious than you.”

“She’s just smarter than most of us. I hope we can talk this through. I don’t have a lot of energy left for a fight.”

“Ahh but I thought making up after a fight might be worth it.”

“Maybe, but this time I’d rather skip the fight and go right to the making up.”

As they reached the yard, Joe bid him adieu and Adam dismounted and led Sport into the barn. Charlie was there and volunteered to take care of him so Adam could go right to the house. Adam thanked him but with a look that said that maybe he wasn’t so sure he wanted to rush to the house. However, all doubt vanished when he walked outside to see his wife and sons running toward him. He grabbed each boy in an arm and hugged him. When he stood, they continued to stand at his legs and hang on. As Toni stepped into his embrace, he felt her love but also reticence.

“Sweetheart, I know we need to talk. Let’s enjoy this time with the children and talk when they go to bed.”

Toni nodded. The boys had missed their father and she knew that they needed time together. Adam took the boys to the front of the house and roughhoused with them in the grass there. They played a game where they chased him until he turned and roared at them. They would turn to run away and inevitably fall. When he pounced on them, they would turn on him and tickle and climb over him. Adam would tickle them and hug them, and then they would do the same thing all over again.

Toni watched from the windows in the house and knew her love could never be weakened by the anger she felt at this man sometimes. She knew they would talk and resolve her concerns, but for now she enjoyed watching him be a loving parent to their sons. Lily walked out of the kitchen to stand by her side.

“He is the sweetest man. You would never guess seeing him with other men that he could play like this. Some lucky girls are going to be so happy when they marry these sons of yours someday. Between that sweet man and you, those boys will grow into fine young men.”

“That’s what makes me so mad sometimes. That Adam will take these chances with his life. What would our children be like without him? I don’t think he considers that enough.”

“He has a sense of duty and justice like few I have met, but he comes by it honestly. His father is a lot like that too.”

“But Ben’s sons are grown. Ours are one year old. They need their father.”

“And you need your man.”

Lily wrapped her arm around Toni’s shoulders and gave her a gentle hug. They stood that way for a time until Lily had to go back to the kitchen to finish dinner preparations. The family had dinner, and Adam played guitar and sang songs with his family after dinner. Then he held Rose in his arms and rocked her as Toni read a story to the boys. After they got the boys and Rose into bed after hugs and kisses all around, Adam and Toni returned downstairs. Adam pointed to the study. Once inside, he closed the door.

“Ladies first.”

Toni paused just briefly. She had been thinking and rehearsing for days what she was going to say. She did not want to be hurtful but wanted to get her point across.

“When I had a lump, you said I had to have surgery. You said I had to be here for the baby, for the boys, and for us. I agreed and did what I had to do. But you take chances with your life. Don’t you have to be here for the baby, for the boys, for us? It makes me angry when you do those things and this time you never talked to me about it at all before you left. You sent me a note. I didn’t know if you were alive or dead until you rode in today.”

As Toni talked, she got more and more angry. All of the anger, fear, and frustration of the past week was released. Her hands curled into fists at her sides.

“You can hit me if it helps. I deserve it. You’re right and I have been unfair to you again.”

That was not what Toni had been expecting to hear. She had thought they were going to have a major argument, perhaps the worst they had had yet. Instead Adam looked introspective and actually contrite. Toni walked to Adam and laid a hand on his arm. He looked at her with a small sheepish smile.

“I don’t often admit I’m wrong.”

For the first time, Toni smiled too.

“When I agreed with the governor’s plan it was because I saw no other way. I wanted to stay with you but knew that the safest bet was to cooperate and accept the governor’s protection.”

At Toni’s raised eyebrows, he nodded.

“Yes it didn’t work as well as I hoped, but my life was not truly at risk. I was doing my best to stay alive and get back to you and the boys. In the Paiute camp, when I was bound and getting beaten, I pictured my own death. I was helpless. All I had was sorrow that I would leave you alone and never be with my family again. For the first time in my life I think, I was afraid of dying. I have faced death before but never truly thought it would happen. Whenever I even considered that possibility, I worried at leaving my father and brothers without my help. Or things happened so fast I had no time to think. I never wanted to die. I wanted to live and did what I could do to survive and protect my family as well sometimes. But there was no fear. It let me appear to be unemotional or even cold. I could scare people or intimidate them with a look. Now, I don’t know how I will react because I have felt fear, and it makes it harder to think and act.”

Adam had never spoken so long about any emotion with anyone including Toni. He wondered if it would change her feelings toward him. He hoped not. As Toni stood by him and said nothing, his apprehension grew. Then Toni wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her for a passionate kiss. After a time, she pulled back just enough to look into his eyes.

“You are the most courageous man I know. That hasn’t changed. I think you had fear before but it had no face. Now you have put a face on it and have had to deal with that. I never felt fear in my life as I did when my mama was dying. I pictured my life without her, and it made fear part of me. Then I fell in love with you and my fear had a new face as I could not bear the thought of life without you. Now the boys and Rose have added to my concern, and I know I must consider all of you in any decision I make. Do you understand how I felt when I got your message?”

“Yes but where do we go from here? How do I deal with requests for help in the future? I can’t turn my back on those in need even if I’m afraid or you’re afraid.”

“I know. But next time, please trust me enough to talk with me. Please don’t make a decision without me. If you can. If there’s time.”

Adam nodded. Now that was something that could be sealed with a kiss, so they did. Toni leaned back again to look into Adam’s eyes. Oh how she loved those eyes.

“Last time Doctor Martin said four weeks was enough because I was so healthy.”

Adam grinned at her comment.

“How healthy do you feel now?”

“Very healthy. If you have some concerns, perhaps you need to give me a complete exam.”

“My methods may be a bit unconventional.”

“I’m counting on that, cowboy, I’m counting on that.”

*****

Lad, a Ponderosa Dog

ch 1

At three years of age, AC or Ace, as Joe was fond of calling him, was truly Adam Cartwright’s son. He displayed the same raw intelligence and curiosity. He was athletic and graceful in his movements. However he had a deviousness and devilish sense of humor that his father had not managed until he was much older.

When Toni heard the crash downstairs and ran to the top of the stairs to see what had happened, her first thought was ‘What has AC done now?’. What she saw was broken china on the floor and Adam lying on the floor rubbing the back of his head. AC was sitting on the bottom step laughing hysterically and resembled Joe a lot more than his father at that moment. Benjy had a shocked look on his face and looked like he didn’t know if he should laugh or not. Their dog Lad was lying next to Benjy licking his lips or at least that’s what it looked like.

“Adam, what happened? Are you all right?”

Adam nodded slowly and stood up still holding the back of his head. Toni ran to get Rose and then went downstairs to her husband.

“You still didn’t say what happened.”

“That dog knocked me over, licked up my snack, and then laid in front of the fireplace.”

Toni looked over at Lad who just lounged there without moving as Benjy patted him, rubbed him, and placed a big kiss on his snout. The dog hardly seemed to breathe much less move.

“Lad? That dog only moves at one speed and that would rival a glacier. What really happened?”

Adam got a little irritated now. That dog had been trouble ever since he arrived the day before. Hoss and his old friend Otis stopped by with a several dogs Otis said were sired by his dog Walter. Adam couldn’t imagine Walter moving fast enough to sire anything but never knew Otis to lie although his tall tales were in a category above anyone else’s. It was apparent that Hoss still had a few things to learn about being a parent because in front of the boys, Hoss announced they needed to find a home for those pups. At that point, Adam was lucky to get away with adopting only one of the dogs into his family. He chose a male with a shiny coat. He looked healthy, seemed calm around the children, and at least there would be no litters of puppies to contend with in the future.

When Adam asked what the dog’s name was, Otis said it was Chuck. Well Benjy and his slight lisp made that name unacceptable in mixed company. Benjy and AC ran around the dogs chanting their version of the name until Adam clamped his hand over AC’s mouth, and Toni did the same to Benjy after quickly handing Rose off to Hoss. Adam and Toni knew that AC could pronounce Chuck, but he had obviously seen the looks on their faces with Benjy’s version of the name and decided to go with it.

“Adam, the dog cannot have that name.”

“I had a professor at college who had two dogs who resembled this one and he called them Lad and Lassie. So we could call him Lad?”

“Oh I like Lassie better.”

“Toni, Lassie is for a female. Lad is for a male and this is a male dog.”

“All right. We’ll call him Lad.”

Adam looked at the dog and called him Lad. The dog looked away. The boys ran up to the dog then as Adam and Toni released them. Adam said the dog’s name was Lad now. It was hard to understand what Benjy was saying when he tried to say Lad but at least it wasn’t a foul word. Toni nodded at Adam. Lad would work. Well of course, except that Lad hardly moved and walked very slowly everywhere he went. He was house trained because Toni and the boys insisted he come in the house.

Which all led to the present disaster except Toni seemed to think he was fabricating the story so Adam stomped off to his study and shut the door leaving Toni in charge of the three children and the dog. They had not hired anyone since Ben married Lily. They thought they had done enough for the matchmaking in the family although Ben hinted that he would like Joe married so could they look around for a pretty young cook. However, the real result was that these three children were a handful for one person. Now that they were out of diapers, it was better but still a lot of work. Adam pouting in his study led to one perturbed Toni caring for all three children on a Sunday afternoon.

By three, Toni had had enough and knocked on the study door and opened it. Adam was leaning back in his desk chair with his eyes closed.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, but I do have a headache. Did you want something?”

“It’s not that important but I was wondering if you could take the boys outside to play for a bit. They are getting to be a handful because it is hard for them to use up all their energy indoors and it is a very nice day outside.”

“I can do that. I’m not getting much reading done here anyway.”

Adam came to lead the boys outside and then waited patiently for Lad to make his way to the door and outside. Toni gave Adam three cookies for them to enjoy outside because she wouldn’t have to worry about any mess the boys might make. Finally Lad strolled through the doorway. Rolling his eyes, he followed the dog out. Ten minutes later, Adam came in the house covered in mud and asked Toni to help with the boys while he went around to the washroom from the outside so he wouldn’t track any mud into the house.

“What happened?”

“I opened the napkin to hand out the cookies and Lad jumped me from the back and pushed me down into the mud puddle next to the water trough.”

Toni looked at Lad and he was perfectly clean. She looked at the boys and they were smiling at their father’s predicament, but both were as clean as when they left the house. She gathered the boys and Lad to go into the house, and sent a parting salvo over her shoulder.

“I don’t know what kind of crazy game you are playing, mister, but we are keeping that dog.”

Adam was closing the washroom door and wanted to scream at that comment, so he did. It scared the boys so Toni was really mad at him. He came into the house later wrapped in only a towel. Toni had been angry enough that she never brought him clean clothes. He stomped up the stairs as well as you can stomp when you are barefoot.

Dinner was a little tense. Adam was perturbed at Toni, and she was a little angry with him. They heard a knock on the door, and Adam went to answer it. The next thing that Toni saw was Adam backing up with his arms raised high. There was a man who had a rifle pointed at Adam’s stomach. He was fairly short, dirty, bearded, and dressed in worn clothing.

“I want some money. Where you got it?”

“I have some in the safe in the study. I can get it for you.”

“Go git it and don’t do nothing funny or I can shoot one a these here kids or da missus. She’s a right purty one so I reckon you’d like ta keep her dat way.”

Adam walked to the study, opened the safe, and removed all the cash he had in there. It was only a few hundred dollars. He left the safe open and returned to the dining area.

“Put dat money on the table and then git these younguns and your missus over to the fireplace there. I’m hungry too and I’ma gonna have some a these vittles afore I go.”

Adam and Toni complied and got their crying children behind them at the fireplace. The thief grabbed a chunk of ham and was about to take a bite when a brown missile flew through the air and chomped down on his hand and the ham. He yowled in pain and dropped the rifle as he tried to get away from Lad. Adam ran to him and grabbed the rifle pointing it at the man. Lad swallowed the ham and walked ever so slowly over to the fireplace where he collapsed on the rug. The thief knelt on the floor cradling his hand and wrist. Adam looked over at Toni, nodded, and smirked.

*****

Lad ch 2

Adam asked Toni to go get Marcus and Charlie from the bunkhouse. When they arrived, Adam asked Charlie to get some rope and he and Marcus could hitch up the buckboard. Once he had the would be thief tied, he and Marcus loaded him into the back of the buckboard. Marcus and Charlie offered to bring him into the jail. It was Sunday night, and Roy wouldn’t be there anyway to take a statement. Adam agreed, and walked back inside to a very upset family.

“Adam, we have to do something. We can’t have just anyone march in here with a gun and threaten our children.”

“It was my fault. I let my guard down. I should have checked to see who was there before answering the door.”

“Don’t blame yourself. If it had been me, I would have probably done the same thing. And no buts. It happened. Now let’s figure out what to do so it never happens again.”

First of all, Adam described some building changes that would help. He would make a very small window in the door so that they could see who was outside. It would be high enough and small enough that it couldn’t be used to fire a weapon into the house. He would extend the bunkhouse to connect to the washroom so that the only entrance into the washroom would be through the bunkhouse or the kitchen. The kitchen door that opened to the garden and the front of the house would be replaced with a solid door and a wooden bar for security. Inside shutters with wooden bars would be available to secure every window. They would start having a lit lantern hang on one of the porch lantern hangers every night until either Marcus or Charlie would turn it down before they went to bed.

Toni started to laugh then.

“We may be over-reacting! This will be a fortress, a castle, if we do all of this. Perhaps tomorrow we could discuss it after having a chance to calm down and think about it.”

Adam smiled at her. His nature was to be protective and tonight had shown him that there was still danger here and had shaken him. At the same time, he was glad that Lad had been there.

“Maybe we just need to throw food at any intruders and let Lad handle it.”

Toni looked thoughtfully at the dog lying so calmly by the fireplace as her two boys patted, prodded, and otherwise did things that would have caused most dogs to react.

“I saw it but I don’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem possible that he could take down a man just for food.”

Whoops. Then she looked at Adam with contrition. He had been telling the truth. No games.

“Lad was like a tornado when that man had a ham steak. But he never bothers us at the dinner table and never comes in the kitchen looking for food. I am sorry I didn’t believe you when you said he knocked you down. Twice.”

It was time to get all three children in bed. Toni told the two boys to go upstairs, but Adam told them to wait on the landing as he disappeared into the kitchen. Toni picked up Rose and waited to see what he was up to. Adam emerged from the kitchen with a piece of ham on a plate and set it on the table. Lad just sat there but was obviously more alert than he had been although he didn’t move. Adam waited a full minute and then picked up the ham and threw it high in the air. Lad was there before the meat hit the floor, gulped it down, and then lackadaisically meandered back to the fireplace rug and dropped down. The boys were clapping and laughing. To them, this was a great trick their dad had taught the dog. They couldn’t wait for a repeat performance, but they were sent up to bed and would have to wait until tomorrow for more fun.

“Obviously the dog is trainable, possibly even fairly intelligent. He may be what we need to use for security.”

Toni looked dubious, but Adam seemed serious so she would give it some thought. The next day Sheriff Coffee was there for their statement and was very amused by it. Then he asked them to tell him the real story. Before they could, they heard horses outside and went out to find that Ben, Hoss, and Joe were there.

“Hey, Adam, did you forget you work for a living?”

“I didn’t forget, Joe, but we had a little excitement here last night. We were just telling the story to Roy.”

Ben was relieved because first Adam’s tardiness and then seeing Roy’s horse tied up outside had made him nervous. Toni then recounted the whole story including the lead up stories with Adam the victim of the dog that ran like a bullet to food. Joe and Hoss were laughing and couldn’t stop. One look at Lad lying there and hardly seeming to breathe just cracked them up. Roy was amazed. She told the same story as Adam had so it appeared to be the truth. Joe wouldn’t let it go though.

“Nah, Adam’s just getting clumsy in his old age and now he wants to blame the dog.”

That and other comments began to irritate Adam. Toni saw the look and walked into the kitchen. When she came out, she had her hands behind her back, and winked at Adam when he looked at her. Then she nodded toward the mud puddle by the trough. Adam had not yet fixed a leak in it so there was a perpetual puddle there. He began to act very angry and advanced slowly on Joe who backed up toward the puddle. As he got near it, Toni tossed a chunk of last night’s ham to him.

“Here, Joe!”

By reflex action, Joe caught it and then stood with a quizzical expression for just a second. It might have been longer, but he got hit in the chest by Lad’s front paws as his arms went up in the air and Lad latched onto the ham piece. They landed in the puddle with Lad on top of Joe. Lad sauntered away and swallowed his prize. All the mud had splashed out sideways so the dog was perfectly clean. Joe’s whole backside was covered in mud though. As he tried to stand his hands, knees, and feet got muddied as well. Toni walked over to her husband, and she and Adam theatrically shook hands. Then Toni took a bow. Everyone except Joe was laughing now. The boys liked this new trick even more. Even Rose clapped her hands.

“Well don’t that beat all. Otis told me that Lad there was the smartest of the bunch. Walter is gonna be tickled pink when I tell him.”

*****

Ch 3 Lad

Little Sierra tree frogs were a favorite of the Cartwright twins. AC and Benjy loved to watch them, catch them, chase them, and listen to their trills. Unfortunately, their dog Lad seemed to be inordinately irritated by them and would chase them at every opportunity. So if the boys wanted to enjoy playing with frogs, Lad had to be in the house or locked in the stable. Locked in the stable, he howled for every minute he was imprisoned. As for keeping him in the house away from the frogs, Toni didn’t think she should have to mind the dog if the boys were outside playing. It made for a difficult situation but AC had been thinking.

To AC’s mind, the little frogs needed water and a place indoors where Lad would not bother them. He couldn’t think of a better place than the second floor washroom their father Adam had just finished building. As soon as they were freed from the house in the morning and under the watchful eyes of Marcus and Charlie, AC and Benjy chased after and caught some frogs. They were little things so the boys decided to keep only the largest ones that were about two inches long each. They had three such frogs and hid them in their pockets when it was time to go in for lunch.

Once inside, AC and Benjy asked for permission to wash their hands in the new upstairs washroom. Volunteering to wash should have been Toni’s first clue that something was amiss. Toni’s mind was on the difficulties of potty training Rose who seemed to have no desire to avoid dirty diapers and would actually hide to get away from her mother’s insistence that she sit on the potty to go. When the boys volunteered to wash, it was one less worry for Toni or so she thought.

After lunch, Toni had AC and Benjy pick out a simple book to read. Early afternoon was a quiet time. Toni was teaching the boys to read as well as play simple games such as checkers. AC was already able to read simple text and Benjy could play Hoss or Joe almost well enough to win. Both boys were showing a high intelligence and their almost constant use of ‘why?’ reminded their grandfather of Adam as a child. This was also when Rose needed to have a nap or she was as grouchy as an old she bear guarding her cubs or that’s what Uncle Hoss said after having to take care of her one afternoon.

Before putting Rose into bed for a nap, Toni took her upstairs to the washroom to try once more to get her to use the potty chair. Rose was agreeable to lowering her undergarments and sitting on the small chair. Suddenly as she sat, she got hit on the butt by a little Sierra tree frog that found itself locked in a small cavern by her action and the little guy wanted out. Rose screamed and jumped up which released a stream of pee that went everywhere. On the floor, on the rug, and on Toni and on the wall when Rose fell back onto her butt. Two more tree frogs were climbing up the walls and with Toni’s sudden upset over Rose screaming and peeing everywhere, she saw them as giant insects and screamed herself. That made the two boys come running and as they raced into the room, they slipped on the pee and fell. Now Toni had three soiled children, a pair of shoes probably ruined by pee, and still had those giant insects crawling up the walls. And then Lad rushed in.

Lad started to jump up at the tree frogs which were climbing the walls. He was hampered in that the floor space was nearly covered by sobbing, soiled children and their hysterical mother. Downstairs Adam had come home from town hoping to grab a late lunch before heading back out to work probably until sunset on a new washroom upstairs at the Ponderosa. As he heard sobbing from the upstairs, he raced up the stairs to the washroom. What he saw there caused him to bellow so loud it would have made Ben Cartwright, the master of bellowing, proud.

“What in hell is going on here?”

The use of profanity in front of the children was enough to provoke Toni out of her hysteria over the giant insects.

“You will not speak that way in front of the children. The least you could do would be to offer to help.”

“Help how? This is a madhouse!”

Toni pointed at Lad. Adam grabbed him by his collar and led him down the stairs. He struggled to try to run back to the washroom but was no match for his angry master who locked him in the downstairs washroom. Then Toni and Adam got the soiled clothing off their children and washed them before sending each to their rooms to get clean clothing. Toni slipped off her shoes and did her best to clean them, and then turned her attention to the floor and wall which needed washing. She sent Adam to get Rose into bed and the boys settled in downstairs as she cleaned up the washroom. Once Rose was in bed, Adam came back to the washroom and collected three tree frogs.

“Now how did these get in here? They can climb but there was no opening for them to enter.”

“AC!”

They said it almost simultaneously and headed downstairs to talk to their precocious son.

***The End***

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