Ellie and the Lost Years (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Two stories.  Lost Years is a WHI for the last seasons of Bonanza: Hoss is missing, Adam is found and coming home. This is what happened to them, and what will happen  with Ben, Joe, Candy, and Jamie.  Heart of Ice is a continuation of the Adam and Ellie story with more of an emphasis on Adam’s darker memories and what happens when he remembers those.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  58,183


Lost Years

Chapter 1

Eight years! It had been eight years since Adam had walked through this house and out of their lives. They hadn’t heard from him in years, and Pa worried that he had died. Hoss always said he hadn’t because he would have known he said if anything like that had happened. He always said there was something wrong but didn’t know what it was. Now Hoss was missing too and presumed dead. Alice and the baby were gone too. So many losses haunted Joe. He could even remember the day his Mama had died even though her image had faded in his mind, he could see his devastated father and his brothers yet in his mind’s eye as they all cried and grieved for that loss so many years ago. He wished that Candy had stayed for he had been like a brother, but he had found other places that drew him away too. Joe couldn’t be like this though. His father needed him to be strong. He would just splash some cold water in his face and eyes and hopefully it would be enough so no one could see that he had spent most of the night crying. He had a lot of nights like that.

Eight hours ago, Joe had fallen asleep but awakened several times, and each time, for a moment, he thought all of the losses must have been a terribly bad dream for no one should have to suffer all those losses in a lifetime. Then he remembered that his father had lost even more for his first two wives, Elizabeth and Inger, had died as well. He looked up and asked God how much more could they be expected to endure. Then he steeled himself to walk downstairs and have breakfast with his father and Jamie. Maybe, somehow, they would find a way to find joy on this day so they could give thanks.

As Joe made his way to the dining table, he saw that his father was staring at his plate instead of eating. Jamie was stealing a few furtive glances at his adoptive father trying to see if there was something that he could say or do that would help. Elaine sat with her son and both ate quietly. They were used to these somber times. Jamie looked at Joe hoping that he could do something to help their father, but Joe shrugged. He had nothing.

As Joe sat down, there was a knock on the door, and Hop Sing went to answer it grumbling about people who came visiting too early in the morning. Their old friend, retired sheriff Roy Coffee, came rushing in with a telegram in his hand.

“Ben, Ben, Adam’s alive. He got one of your messages about Hoss and he answered it. Here, Ben, look, it’s from Adam. He’s in Boston, but Ben, he’s coming home.”

Almost reverently, Ben took the telegram from Roy’s outstretched hand. He read it, and the first genuine smile he had had for months creased his craggy face. He nodded at Joe, and suddenly the tears were there again, only this time they were tears of joy. Wiping his eyes one more time, Joe took the telegram and read it. In his typical Adam fashion, his oldest brother said Hoss missing was unacceptable. He was coming home to find him, one way or another. Joe grinned and wiped his eyes again. Ben was thinking back to the last time he thought his son would be coming home. He looked at Elaine and the worried look she had now that she knew Adam was alive and coming home. Ben remembered their conversation from all those years ago.

“Mr. Cartwright. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“That’s quite all right, my dear. You can stay here as long as you need. I will be getting a message to my son as soon as I can. He’s in Europe, so it may be some time before a message can get to him, and then it would be quite a while before he can get back here. But this is important enough that he needs to come home.”

“Thank you so much. I didn’t know what we were going to do. I lost my job because of my son’s birth, and without that job, I could not afford the boardinghouse so they tossed me out. I think they did not like having a child there either.”

“Your child is very welcome here. It will be a joy to have a child in the house again.”

Actually, Ben was enthusiastic about having a reason to summon his oldest son home even if he knew that Adam would be upset about the reason. As a father, he was upset too about that reason and felt that Adam should have been more responsible. In some ways he thought that Adam had been irresponsible to leave the Ponderosa to let his brothers assume his duties there. But to father a child and leave that child and its mother without financial support was inexcusable in Ben’s mind. Ben even had to wonder if Adam had left to escape his duties there as well. Recently, Adam had written from Paris saying it was cold, and he was headed to Venice next. Ben planned to do his best to contact him there by using the diplomatic service.

In the stable later the next day, Adam’s brothers, Hoss and Joe, had been discussing the new development. Elaine Nardi and her son were staying in the downstairs guest room.

“Joe, what Elaine said, does that seem like something that Adam would do?”

“Hoss, I never thought he would really leave us either. How could he leave his home and his family just to travel? It wasn’t like there was anything important he had to do.”

“Well he talked about it enough. Reckon he thought he had to or go crazy here. But you know how much he wanted a family. Do you really think he would walk away from a child especially a son?”

“He left before he knew it was a son, but you’re right about questioning her. I never thought Adam was that fond of her. He danced with her, but he never walked outside in the moonlight with her if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know. Pa accepted her at her word. I think he wanted to think he had a grandson so bad, he never questioned her.”

“He wanted a reason to tell Adam to come home too.”

“Yeah, and now she’s here, and her son is part of the family. Sure wish Adam would get here and answer the questions we got.”

The messages to Adam in Venice never found him. Elaine and her son stayed on the Ponderosa participating in family celebrations. Elaine needed a way to support herself and her son. Claiming that the absent Adam was the father seemed to be the best solution in the short term. She had hoped to stay for months or even up to a year until she heard that Adam was heading home. Then she planned to leave before her scam could be exposed.

As the young boy grew, it was apparent to everyone, except Ben it seemed, that he didn’t resemble Adam in the slightest. He was broad with wide hands and feet. He was also strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, short, and with the whitest skin a white person could have. He was neither freckled nor tanned and had to wear long sleeves even in summer to prevent sunburns. Hoss and Joe wanted their father to challenge Elaine about the boy’s paternity, but Ben would not hear of it. He said the boy took after his mother instead of his father. Hoss and Joe could see that was not true either except for the hair color and the eyes. His light skin, and his short, wide stature were clearly traits from his father who could not be Adam.

It was a year before they heard from Adam again, and then there were no more messages. There was no response to Elaine’s claims. It was as if he never heard about what she said. He wrote that he was coming to America, but had never contacted them again. Inquiries in New York yielded information that he had arrived and no more. It was as if he had disappeared again.

*****

Chapter 2

In France, Adam had never been able to leave for Venice. He had contracted typhoid fever as a small epidemic swept through Paris. He had no memory of those months he had suffered and nearly died. He had fallen ill at his hotel. The personnel there had sent him to a hospital. In the hospital, his fever raged unabated for a week, and then it slowly diminished, but he was plagued with terrible nightmares and headaches which made him incoherent when he was not sleeping. With all the confusion, he was listed as unknown. They planned to wait until he awakened and was rational to ask him his name.

When Adam had awakened one day, he found that everyone around him spoke some kind of gibberish he could not understand. Completely disoriented and unable to communicate, he was labeled as feeble minded although some feared that the disease had made him insane. It was months later in a sanitarium tended to by monks that he finally realized they were speaking French. He had no idea why he had not known that sooner because he had not yet become aware that most of his memory had been damaged by his fever. Slowly he remembered enough French to speak to the monks convincing them that he was not insane or feeble minded. Once they accepted that, he told them he could remember his name. He told them that he was Adam Cartwright and that he was an American. He had only hazy indistinct memories of anything else. At that point though, he was destitute and had no idea what had become of his belongings and his money. He had no access to funds for he could not remember if and where he might have an account. The monks took pity on him and gathered the funds to send him to New York. Probably about a year after he had first fallen ill, Adam was headed back to America.

During the voyage to New York, Adam fell ill again. With his system so weak and with the poor diet on board ship, he spent much of the voyage retching. He had been thin before the voyage and was gaunt by the time he had to disembark in New York. He had no resources and looked like he was going to die. Luckily the political machine needed voters and enlisted him as a bartender at a Democratic social club. He worked there only a short time where he was allowed to sleep in a storeroom and eat sandwiches that were there for patrons. As he gained some weight, he looked very good in his uniform and had a cultured way of talking that one of the patrons liked. He had Adam hired at his gentlemen’s club where Adam took over the bartending duties, and after about a year, management of the bar. Somehow he knew what to buy what would appeal to wealthy men. The manager of the club was as surprised by Adam’s instincts as was Adam himself. Soon after Adam took over management of the bar, the club manager asked him to come to his office.

“Where did you learn all this stuff?”

“I don’t know. My memories of my life are hazy at best.”

“What happened to you?”

“I woke up in a sanitarium outside of Paris. I couldn’t understand anyone at first. Eventually I realized they were speaking French and asked them where I was. When they told me, I didn’t know why I was there. I had nothing. No clothing. No luggage. No money. They said I had been ill and nearly died.”

“You must have had money at some point to have afforded to be in France. You obviously have had some education. You speak French?”

“Yes, apparently I do. I don’t know when or how I learned it. When I was leaving the monastery, I thought I knew where my family was. I think I wrote them a letter saying I was coming back to America. Then I got sick again aboard ship, and my memory is worse than it was then. I guess I have forgotten some things that I had remembered because I don’t remember to whom I sent that letter or where they are. I think it’s west of here but I can’t remember just one place. I see things and I remember trees, mountains, plains, deserts, cities, and small towns. I just don’t know which of those places is home.”

“Well you got yourself a job here as long as you want it. I want you to write down all the stuff you order and where you get it. We’re gonna make a great team. The members here have been very happy with the cigars and alcohol lately. Perhaps you could give me some ideas of meals to offer that might get the same response? We’ve added members here since we hired you just twelve months ago. If you leave, I want to be able to provide them with the same products.”

“I’m not planning on leaving. This is a good job.”

“Adam, you never know when more of your memory might come back. You know your name and a few other things. Wait and see. Maybe you’ll see things or some people that will jog that memory of yours back so you can go home.”

“It’s been a long time. I don’t know if my memories will ever come back.”

“Don’t lose hope. Sometimes it’s the only wealth we have, and we have to guard it so we don’t lose it.”

“Jake, you should have been a philosopher.”

The two men chuckled and went back to work. A few days later, Jake had another question. “If you know your name, know you were in France, know you’ve had some education, and such, why don’t you hire the Pinkerton Detective Agency to find out the rest of your story? Some of the people who run that company are members here.”

“I would except what I’m earning pays for a place to live, clothes, and food. I don’t have much extra and certainly not enough to pay the fees for an investigation. No, I think I’m on my own with that. I’ll remember some day or I won’t.”

Adam’s fatalism was a little depressing to Jake but he couldn’t argue with the logic. That was something else he noticed about Adam. He was very smart, and his intellectual abilities seemed not to have been harmed by his illnesses. He still looked too pale and was much too thin, but his eyes were bright and his color had improved. Jake decided to ask his wife if they could have a boarder. It would be cheaper for Adam and let him save some money to find out his past. Jake’s wife was agreeable once she met Adam and saw how well their children liked him. He had a fine voice and led the family singing on Saturday nights. He began accompanying them to church where his rich baritone voice lent some spectacular strength to the small choir the church had.

A number of times, Jake’s wife, Susan, would arrange for Adam to accompany a lady to a social event. Inevitably his lack of memory was seen as a sinister attempt to escape some nefarious past or as a sign of mental disease or defect. He was a handsome, well-spoken, hard working man who was very lonely and there seemed to be little he could do about that.

Soon Adam was like part of Jake’s family, and yet there was a sadness about him that all of them noticed. Like Jake, Susan understood how hard it must be to live with a family and wonder about your own. He didn’t remember if he was married or if he had children. He told them he remembered two small boys but couldn’t remember his relationship to them. One was a strong, blond boy with sky blue eyes and the other was a slight mischievous boy with curly hair. They sounded delightful when Adam described them, but he didn’t know who they were. He remembered a man whom he saw alternately as ferocious and angry and at other times gentle and soothing. He thought perhaps the man was his father but again there was nothing concrete in his memories. He remembered a big man with a warm smile, and a younger man with longer hair who seemed alternately smiling at him or scowling. He saw other people in his dreams and sometimes in memories that would flood his mind when he was quiet and not busy. Fortunately or unfortunately, he was usually busy, and in time, he stopped trying to put names to faces when not one ever had an identity he could name. The other problem was that when memories returned, they often came in a torrent and made him feel like his head was exploding. It had happened only a few times, but it had felt like he was dying. He wasn’t sure if the memories he gained were worth the pain he experienced.

*****

Chapter 3

Years later, changes in Adam’s life began when some Harvard graduates who worked in New York chose to have a reunion of sorts at the gentlemen’s club where Adam worked. Somehow he seemed to know what they would enjoy for party beverages and food. Jake took his advice and the party was immediately a success as the men attending were pleased from the minute they entered with what had been provided for them. As Adam served drinks, one of the men came up to him.

“You couldn’t be Adam Cartwright, could you?”

“I am.”

“What are you doing bartending? I thought you would be building great buildings or at least helping with building that empire your father started out west.”

Staring at the man for a moment, Adam suddenly had one of those terrible headaches he had not had in some time. He grabbed his head as it seemed lightning was flashing from one eye to the other with thunder booming within his skull. He passed out falling to the floor in blessed relief from the torment. About three hours later, Adam awoke in the office of the gentlemen’s club. He had a cool cloth on his forehead, and Jake was working at a desk nearby.

“What happened?”

“Ah, sleeping beauty awakes. One of the guests knew you, and talked to you until you grabbed your head, groaned a bit, and then passed out. We had a doctor look at you, and he said you would wake up and be fine. Said you had a shock.”

“I remember Boston. I lived in Boston.”

“Well the man who talked to you said you went to Harvard so that might explain Boston. He said your father had some kind of empire out west. He didn’t know you well enough to know the details, but jocko, if your father could afford to send you to Harvard, then you must have come from a wealthy family. You could be a rich man.”

“Maybe I’m the black sheep.”

“Prodigal son would seem more likely with all the traveling it seems you’ve done. So what’s next?”

“I guess I should go to Boston as soon as I can afford the ticket.”

“Not a problem there. I explained your past as much as I knew of it to the man who talked with you, and he left you the fare and a sight more. Said you had been a help to him in college so he was repaying the favor.”

“Can I have some time off to go?”

“Course you can. Now I would like you to stay until we finish the holiday season and the parties we already have scheduled. It’s always slow in the first months of the year anyway so that would be a good time for you to go.”

For Adam, the next weeks were exhausting. His days and evenings were filled with work, and his nights were filled with dreams and nightmares, and the terrible headaches returned. He lost weight again despite Jake’s wife doing her best to keep him well nourished. He finally moved out and took a small apartment because he was frightening Jake’s children screaming out during his nightmares, and costing the whole family sleep as he awakened them almost every night as he cried out with headaches and nightmares. He began to remember more though and began writing his thoughts in a journal.

As Adam sought to find his past, on the Ponderosa, they were grieving again. Hoss had been trying to help the passengers in a stage caught in some flooding from spring runoff. He had fallen into the torrent and never seen again. Day after day, Joe and Ben had searched along the banks of that river for any sign of Hoss. They never found any. The traveled downstream for miles and miles and never found a trace of the missing Cartwright. Finally after weeks of searching, Joe put a hand on his father’s shoulder.

“Pa, there’s nowhere else to look. He’s gone.”

“I wanted to give up when we were searching for Adam once when there was no hope. I almost rode home leaving my son to perish in that desert. I can’t stop looking for him. We have to find him one way or another. He’s out here somewhere.”

“All right, Pa, we’ll keep looking.”

Weeks of exhausting searches led to the same result until they had no place left to look. Hoss had disappeared into the wilderness it seemed. They stopped in every small town, homestead, and ranch along that river and no one had seen him, alive or dead. That was the answer they got from everyone they asked. They left word with every sheriff in every town big enough to have one. The only conclusion left to draw was that he must have been caught in some debris under the water where they could not see. Ben nearly collapsed in his grief, and Joe was in as bad a shape as his father. Arriving back on the Ponderosa after giving up the search, they met Hop Sing who came from the house with the saddest expression they could imagine. While they were gone on this latest excursion, thugs had come to the Ponderosa to collect debts from John Harper because he said his sister Alice would help him. The men ended up killing not only John but Alice too who was pregnant with Joe’s child. Then they burned Joe’s home with Alice and John inside. There was nothing left to bury.

Feeling like he had been slugged repeatedly in the chest, Joe collapsed to the ground. It was too much, much too much. Ben reached down to the only son left to him except for his adopted son Jamie. He rubbed his back and tried to think of something soothing to say, but had nothing left. He was emotionally exhausted. The next day, Joe packed up for a quest. He was going to find the men who did it and get justice for his wife and their unborn child. It didn’t take long. Joe tracked down those men who knew they faced hanging if Joe brought them back to Virginia City. Each of them chose to fight instead which Joe preferred.

When Joe finished his quest for justice and vengeance, he came home. When he entered the house, Ben was sitting in front of the fireplace staring into the flames. Ben had thought he had lost two sons and now worried that he had lost the third. Jamie sat on the blue chair across from him completely at a loss as to what he could do to help. Joe had thought vengeance would help. He found that it didn’t help at all. Adam had told him that many years before when he had wanted to kill Red Twilight. He had not. He had followed Adam’s advice. He wished he had followed the same advice this time because now he felt less than human. He felt he had given into the beast that is in us all. Worst of all with that memory, he now grieved Adam’s loss again as much as losing Hoss and losing Alice and the baby. He would find sleep elusive for a long time. He walked across the room and touched his father on the shoulder to get his attention.

“Pa, I’m back. I found those men. They decided to fight instead of letting me take them in. They’re all dead.”

Slowly Ben’s gaze turned to his third son. He was home and safe, but what had been the cost? “Did it help, Joe? Do you think that Alice and the baby rest easier now?”

“No, I’m not resting any easier either.” Joe did not want to bring up what he had been thinking about because he didn’t want to remind his father about Adam when his grief over Hoss was still so new and raw. Each day they went through the motions and did their work and ate their meals. At night, they stared into the fire or up at the sky wondering how a dream could go so horribly wrong. Then they would go to bed and try to sleep but found slumber elusive. Then the morning arrived when Roy rode as fast as he could to the Ponderosa with that message for Ben and Joe telling them that Adam was coming home.

*****

Chapter 4

In Boston, Adam was packing the few belongings he had accumulated over the past six years. He had remembered his family. He didn’t know how memory functioned that he could have no memory of his family and one telegram could trigger a flood of memories. It had also triggered some horrific headaches and required him to spend two days in bed until he had the strength to face what he knew. Ellie had been by his side both days. Elizabeth Warren Hastings had earned her medical degree but had been unable to find anyone who would hire her for any medical position. She and Adam had met at the cemetery. He had been drawn there by forces he did not understand and found a tombstone with the name Elizabeth Cartwright on it. He had suffered one of those debilitating headaches when he read the tombstone. Ellie had been in the cemetery paying respects to her deceased parents and gone to his aid when she saw him fall.

“What happened? Are you wounded? Sick?”

Groaning in pain and clutching his head, Adam had not been able to answer for nearly half an hour. As the pain diminished and he could understand Ellie’s voice, he told her it happened often. He gave her a brief rundown of his history then when she explained she was a doctor.

“Well, that’s about the sum of it. I have a family but I don’t know who they are or where they live. I have an education including French. I went to the college to ask for my records but couldn’t get them. I guess I don’t look like someone who graduated from there. I worked at a gentlemen’s club in New York, and I’ve found a similar job here. I feel myself pulled to various parts of the city but have yet to understand why although this woman shares my name.”

“By the dates, it’s possible she’s your mother. How old are you?”

“Apparently I graduated from college twenty-one years ago. Assuming I was twenty-two then, I must be forty-three or close to that.”

“The date of her death would agree with that. I think this is your mother.”

“But who is my father and where is he?”

“Good questions. I don’t mean to be too bold, but would you like to have lunch with me. You may find this hard to believe, but I actually have a medical degree, and your situation intrigues me.”

Agreeing to accompany Ellie to lunch, Adam discovered that finally he had met someone who did not see his lack of memory in such a negative light. She saw it as a problem to be solved. They spent a lot of their leisure time together after that day. They went to the theatre, had picnics, and attended musical performances. Ellie would be surprised but no more than Adam when he would remember the name of a musical piece or a play. He had trouble reading the programs or the librettos which was a crucial part of Ellie formulating a diagnosis.

“Adam, do you read?”

“Yes and no. I can read the items on an order form or in the ledgers without much trouble. One, two, or three words at a time are not a problem. Reading anything else is extremely difficult. I thought that perhaps I liked books because I was often drawn to libraries and bookstores, but by the time I work out the meanings of all the words in a sentence, I’ve forgotten what the subject was. It’s very frustrating.”

“Adam, you’ve been to college, learned French and perhaps other languages, so you must know how to read. I think that your lack of memory is tied to your language and reading difficulties. If we can get you to read, it may trigger your memories.”

“When do we start?”

“First, we need to go to the library and have you pick out some books. Let’s see where your interests are if you’re free to choose with no encouragement from me. I’ll work on helping you read any books you choose.” Ellie would laugh later when she recalled that she had said that. Adam chose books on engineering, mining, architecture, and Shakespeare. At least they could mutually enjoy the Shakespeare. She would sit by his side and read the sentences as Adam followed along with his finger word by word. They started slowly but gradually Adam could move his finger along faster so that Ellie’s reading proceeded in a more normal cadence. After months of doing that, Adam still could not remember his family, but one day as Ellie arrived at his flat, Adam rushed out and grabbed her in a hug.

“Nevada! I remember. I’m from Nevada!”

“How did you remember that?”

“Last night, there were men at the club discussing silver prices. They talked about mining, the expenses of it, and the silver bullion market. And I remembered. I knew about all of that, and suddenly I remembered that I’m from Nevada.”

“Adam, that’s wonderful. Did you remember anything else?”

“No, but that might be all right for now because I remembered that part without the headache. No falling down and waking up hours later. It was just so natural and like something that I always knew.”

“Adam, we know you’re a Cartwright and from Nevada. Let’s see if we can find anything out about any Cartwrights who live in Nevada.”

“I was thinking that too. Let’s go to the newspaper offices and see if they have any papers from out there. We can, or you can, read through them to see if there’s anything about any Cartwrights. I want to go to the college too to see if they can tell me what my address was when I went to school here. Maybe someone there would know something about me.”

“Why haven’t you been to the college before?”

“If you recall, I told you when we first met that I was there. Apparently I looked like more a derelict than a graduate especially when I finally convinced them to show me my records and then couldn’t read them. They tossed me out on my behind.”

“I’ll go with you. We’ll get your information.”

By late that day, Adam stopped at his grandfather’s home only to find that he had died many years before. Another family lived there and had no knowledge of any of his family. They had better luck at Stoddard’s old chandlery. Some older employees there remembered the Captain and agreed to keep an eye out for anyone who might know anything about Adam. The newspaper offices had papers from San Francisco, but one reporter mentioned that the writer Mark Twain had worked in Nevada for a time and would perhaps know something. Twain lived in Elmira, New York but had reportedly bought property in Hartford, Connecticut. Adam thought to write to him there to see if he knew anything that could be helpful.

The day after all these hopeful developments, Ellie helped Adam pen a letter to Twain explaining his situation and asking for his help. On Sunday, the two of them poured through the San Francisco newspapers and found nothing helpful but still had over half the papers to read. On Monday, Adam was contacted by one of the men who had worked for Captain Stoddard. A telegram had arrived for Adam Cartwright. He handed it to Adam who slowly read it, thought briefly, and then collapsed to the ground in agony clutching his head trying to get relief from the erupting headache and blinding flashes of light in his eyes.

Unable to get out of bed for two days with debilitating headaches, Adam couldn’t go to work nor could he pursue the information that was in the newspapers they had but Ellie read while he rested. She found an article about the Ponderosa ranch in Nevada but hesitated telling Adam for she feared a repetition of the headaches. Once Adam sat up in bed and asked for something to eat, she knew he was recovering well. She brought him a sandwich and a cup of tea.

“I think we should go to Nevada.”

“Well, I think I should, but why would you go?”

“Don’t you want me to go?”

“I would very much love to travel with you, but what of your job here, and your belongings?”

“I lost my job already because I stayed here to care for you instead of going to work. Oh don’t look so upset. I already planned to quit so we could travel. You got fired from your job too. They don’t accept illness for missing three nights of work at the club. I’m you doctor and your friend. You need me.”

Sighing and blowing some air out forcefully, Adam looked at Ellie. “Are you sure you want to do this? We don’t know what we’ll find when we get there.”

“Actually we do. I got a letter from Sam Clemens, or rather, you did, but I read it already. He knows you and told me a lot about you and your family. He also sent some money for tickets for us to take the train as far as Salt Lake City. He says we’ll probably have to take the stage routes from there.”

“I remember a lot. I remember my father and two brothers. I remember leaving and it wasn’t a happy parting. I’m not sure yet why I left and ended up in France, but I think I’ll probably remember that too eventually. I know the telegram said my brother Hoss is missing. I want to go help find him.”

“I’ll send a message. What do you want me to say?”

*****

Chapter 5

More good news arrived at the Ponderosa. Candy had contacted them from Denver where he had heard that Hoss was missing. He asked if there was anything he could do. Joe wired him and said his brother Adam was coming home and would be traveling through Denver with a companion. Joe asked Candy to meet him and travel with him to the Ponderosa. The second telegram they had received from Adam said he was traveling with his doctor. Ben and Joe had no idea what to make of that but assumed it wasn’t anything good. They hoped that Candy would be able to help him if needed especially once they reached Salt Lake City and switched to the stage line to Reno. From there, they could take the train again or continue on with the stage line. Joe sent Adam another telegram.

“We’re supposed to meet a friend of the family with the unlikely name of Candy. He’ll meet us in Denver.”

“Well, your brother certainly is doing everything he can for you. That’s a good sign.”

“Yes, but why do we have to travel with this Candy person, and how does he know my family?”

“We’ll find out when we get there. I have my bags ready. As soon as you finish with yours, we can go. The hackney is outside waiting for us.”

Other than the many switches required in cities to move from one railroad line to another, the trip went smoothly to Denver. Adam always loved traveling and spent most of his time looking out the windows of the railroad car to see the sights. Ellie had never left Massachusetts so the trip was exciting for her too as she saw so many things she had only heard about before.

As Adam and Ellie traveled, he sometimes watched her as she watched the scenery speed by. He loved the angle of her neck as she leaned toward the window to see better. He wished he could wrap his arms around her and kiss her. He wanted to do so much more than that too, and yet the only physical contact they ever had was when he took her arm in his as they walked. She never appeared to be romantically interested in him even though he had found her tremendously attractive from the first day they met. She never leaned in close to him and moved so that she her body was touching his so he had no cues to let him know she was interested in him as anything but a friend. He consoled himself with the unpleasant fact that he was eighteen years older than she was and that she likely thought of him as an old man.

Often, Ellie felt Adam watching her. She wondered what he was thinking. She worried that he was thinking she was too bold and not lady-like enough. That’s what her parents had told her for many years even as they indulged her desire to attend medical school. They saw it as a harmless whim and had no idea how seriously she took medicine and becoming a doctor. She had yet to meet a man who accepted her medical degree like Adam had as if it was the most normal thing in the world for a woman to be a doctor. She wished he would kiss her sometime and let her know that he found her attractive. Instead he treated her almost as a curiosity observing and watching but never taking action. She supposed she was too young for him, and that he was interested in a more mature woman with more life experience. But he was a good friend treating her with respect at all times and sharing in many activities they both loved. She supposed it was all she could expect.

Once they reached Denver, they disembarked to head to a hotel. The reservations they had made were mixed up and there was only one room available for them. Adam offered to sleep in a chair in the lobby, but Ellie insisted they could share a room and maintain their relationship. They were polite as always, and Ellie took the bed at Adam’s insistence as he planned to sleep on a chair with ottoman. Ellie slept well knowing that Adam was there to protect her if needed, but Adam hardly slept at all. The sound of Ellie’s soft and gentle breathing in a bed only a few feet from where he sat made vivid images swirl through his mind of memories he would like to make. In the morning, when Ellie asked him how he slept, he lied and said just fine, but she noted how tired he looked and that he had trouble meeting her eyes when she had asked him. Ellie wondered again what he was thinking. She did that a lot with Adam who could guard his thoughts so well.

After breakfast, Ellie and Adam were to meet this Candy Canaday at the train station and then continue their journey with him. Neither of them knew why Joe had sent the message requesting that they do that. So they checked out of the hotel and made their way back to the train station where they asked if anyone by that name was there. He must have heard them and been watching for them as well because they were addressed almost immediately by a tall cowboy in a red shirt and black vest. Introductions were made and the three made their way to the train and their seats. Candy’s comments made it clear he wasn’t pleased having to travel with Adam. Finally Adam had to ask.

“Have we met before?”

“No, don’t reckon we have. Why?”

“Well you act as if I have done something wrong to you, and I don’t recall you at all.”

“If you want to know, it’s because of what you did to your family. I lived there for a bunch of years and they treated me like family and talked a lot about the missing son who left.”

“It would seem you left too.”

“They weren’t my family, and I had someone I wanted to find. I’m going back now because they need me.”

“I could say the same. I’m going home.”

“I reckon that ain’t your home any more cause you left and didn’t care at all what happened to the rest of them. You hurt your Pa really bad. He moped around there every holiday and every time your birthday rolled around. If you’re not staying, you need to leave soon so he doesn’t get his heart broken by you again.”

“I thought he understood. I thought they all understood why I had to go.”

“They thought so too until they realized how little they meant to you. You up and left and didn’t even bother to let them know where you were after the first year or so. They thought you were dead. Hoss was really hurt by that. He talked a lot about you at first but eventually just the mention of your name hurt, I think. Mostly Joe’s been running the ranch, and he’s not going to want you to come back and try to take that away from him.”

“You think I am still dead to them then?”

“You may as well be. They’re in a lot of trouble there, and you can’t help them. You’re a distraction to Mr. Cartwright and you’ll make it hard for him to concentrate on what we need to do. Why did you come back, anyway?”

“I remembered all the people who were important to me.”

“You should never have forgotten.”

“Sometimes we’re not in as much control of our lives as we would like to be.” Adam was being enigmatic on purpose. He didn’t feel he owed this stranger an explanation, but he did want to get as much information from him as he could.

Ellie inserted herself into the conversation at that point thinking that she might get more information from Mister Canaday than Adam could with the animosity that Candy showed toward Adam. “Candy; may I call you Candy?” At Candy’s nod, Ellie continued. “I’m not as familiar with the Ponderosa as you. Could you tell me about it especially what happened in the years you were there?”

At the mention of Ponderosa, Adam winced. Ellie was afraid that another headache was starting for him. Candy started talking and referred to what Hoss and Joe had done, and how Ben had expanded the operations with their help. Then he mentioned that Adam’s horse, Sport, had to be put down after suffering a debilitating leg injury. Adam grabbed his head and leaned forward shaking and rigid at the same time.

“Please, Candy, no more. He needs some quiet now, please.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s been sick. He’s been sick and in need of care for the last seven years.”

Flabbergasted, Candy was silent and watched as Ellie stroked Adam’s back and tried to soothe and calm him. It didn’t work, and Adam passed out and would have fallen forward if not for Candy reaching for him and helped Ellie get him settled back in his seat.

“He’ll probably sleep for a while now. Every time memories come back rapidly, he gets like this. His brain can’t handle the stimulation and the severe headache causes him to lose consciousness. I think that when he had typhoid and that high fever or in the illness on the ship when he returned, he had a stroke. He may have even had more than one. He is recovering now but slowly.”

“So that’s why he never came back and didn’t write.”

“Yes, he only remembered his family this past month. He learned he had spent time in Boston and got there only about six months ago. We met when he had an episode like this. I helped him, and the rest is history.”

“Are you two married or betrothed or anything?”

Pausing a bit before answering, Ellie carefully worded her response. “We are the best of friends. I’m a doctor, and I’m hoping to find a place to set up a practice out here.”

When dinner was announced, Candy made his way to the dining car deep in thought. Ellie stayed with Adam until he awoke, and then both of them joined Candy who was noticeably friendlier to Adam than he had been earlier. After dinner when Adam went to take care of necessary business, Candy asked Ellie if he should tell Adam about Elaine and her son. Ellie was shocked and told Candy to wait until the next morning. When Adam found out the next morning, he was as shocked as Ellie but there was no returning memory.

“Ellie, why didn’t the memory return? It seems like that is something important that I would remember.”

After thinking for some time, Ellie only had two hypotheses. “Adam, it could be a memory that is completely lost or it never happened.”

“Well, of course it happened. Candy says she has a son.”

“No, I mean it could be that you’re not the father, just a convenient person to blame and get support for herself and her son.”

Suddenly Candy remembered a conversation just like that which he had had with Hoss. “That boy looks a lot more like me than anyone else except for being so short. He don’t look like Adam but Pa isn’t interested in hearing any talk like that.” Seeing Adam now for the first time, Candy had to agree. He explained what he knew to Adam and Ellie. Adam was in conflict on the one hand, thinking how nice it would be to have a son, and on the other, highly irritated that this Elaine might have scammed his family for all these years and misled her son at the same time. Ellie was relieved to find that Adam wasn’t married, never had been, and more than likely had never been with this Elaine. The rest of the trip proceeded with light banter and discussion among the three.

*****

Chapter 6

“Roast pork, and those little red potatoes with that seasoning that Hop Sing puts on em. Oh and warm flaky biscuits fresh from the oven with lots of sweet berry jelly. Then cake, there has to be cake. Maybe a big chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Yeah, that would do.” Hoss lay staring up through the canopy of the tree where he was resting and smelling the stench of the meal they would soon be served. Most often it was a conglomeration of old vegetables, some fatty meat that could not be identified with chunks of stale bread that had to be dipped in the foul mess if you wanted to keep your teeth when biting into it. He had to dream of those meals from home just to be able to choke down what was fed to him daily.

Over six months he had been here. When they had fished him out of the river where his mighty strength was about gone, he was grateful. He had been hanging on to a log floating down the stream with a current that was too powerful to fight. After hours of being buffeted by storm detritus and chilled to the bone by the frigid water, Hoss had almost lost his hold. He knew to do so would have meant his immediate death so he had hung on even when his fingers were numb and he could no longer move his legs. Then a rope had landed around his neck and he had put his arm through it before it was tightened. They dragged him to shore and brought him to this camp. He laid on a warm bunk and was given hot broth to thaw him out. Then before he knew what was happening, he was in a jail cell charged with vagrancy. The sentence was seven days at hard labor. But every single thing that he did that they did not like added seven more days to his sentence. His sentence was never going to be finished until he died. He knew that now after talking with other inmates in this hellhole.

Day after interminable day, Hoss and a dozen other men, chained at the ankles like he was, dug and sluiced and found gold flakes and nuggets. There wasn’t that much but because their labor was paid for with meager shelter and awful rations, the gold taken from here was nearly all profit. Three men with guns guarded twelve men who worked. The sheriff came out on occasion to see how things were going and if they needed another worker. None had died since Hoss had arrived so everyone here was a veteran of this abuse. Four men apparently shared in the profits generated by the labor of twelve men. The chains around the ankles of the men were never removed, and at night, a heavy logging chain was run through their legs and then around a tree before being secured with a large lock. They couldn’t run. The guards left them at night taking the gold that had been produced that day. They wouldn’t see them again until the dawn’s first light the next day. Men had to dig holes with their hands to take care of necessary business and sleep with thin blankets often laying back to back with another to stay warm.

Shivering in the night air after dinner, Hoss surveyed his clothing which had not been in good shape when he was pulled from the river and was worse now. Luckily his boots had not been lost in the flood. Some men here had no footwear and suffered with insect bites and infected cuts on their feet. Hoss knew that one of these men would likely be the first among them to die. He remembered when he had said something about it.

“Ifn you would give us some decent clothing and give these men some boots, you could get more work out of us.”

“Don’t matter. You all do plenty now if you want to eat.”

“But these men are going to die from infections and sickness if you don’t do something.”

“What I’m going to do, boy, is I’m going to give you this one warning. Argue with me or any one of the other guards, and you’re going to get a whipping. Now you’re a very strong man and we can use your labor, but you’re not exempt from punishment even if it would slow you down some. It’s only that fact that has stopped you from being beaten right now. Do you understand me?”

“Yes. But…”

“Stop now! There are no buts. If any of these men die, there are plenty more where they came from. You replaced the last one who died.”

So each day the men labored on, and at night, they talked among themselves trying to come up with a plan to escape but none could think of one. Rest and water were the two things they were given in abundance compared to food, shelter, and clothing. The men who guarded them left every day about six and returned about twelve hours later every day except Sunday. Sunday, there was no work, but there was also no food. By Monday morning, the men would ravenously fall on the putrid rations that were delivered. It seemed that they must be getting the garbage and old food from a restaurant from the looks of it. Hoss wondered if the men went home to families and wives who didn’t know what they did each day. It would explain their absence on Sundays. If only there was some way that they could let the community know what four of their own were doing.

“Hey, Hoss, what if we worked on these chain links until we got them part way worn through. Could you pull em apart then?”

“I don’t know. But if we did that, we have to have everyone doing it or leave em behind and go for help.”

There was a chorus of negative responses to that.

“Well I don’t see how we could get all twelve chains ready to break at the same time. Maybe we need to work on this here big chain instead. All we need to do then is break one link and we’re all free.”

“Yeah, but we’ll all still be chained.”

“The chains are long enough that we could pick em up and move. If we left as soon as those guards are gone, we could be a long way away from here by the next morning. If we left in four groups or so, they could never get us all even if they were able to catch up to us. Whoever got loose could go to the authorities and tell em what they’re doing here.”

“Yeah, like they’re gonna listen to a bunch of men in chains.”

“They’ll listen ifn we go to the newspaper offices first.”

“Well, boy, you might have a plan there after all. All right, lets look around for something we can use to start working on a weak link.”

Sometimes for hours at night, Hoss would think of his family. He thought about how Joe would be scheming to find a way to sneak out of here somehow. He would get very sad when he thought about Adam and how he always had a plan. Hoss assumed Joe must have given up looking for him just as they had all given up looking for Adam all those years ago. Sometimes there just wasn’t a clue to give you a direction for a search. Hoss knew he had traveled many miles down that river before he was fished out. Considering what they planned for him, they wouldn’t have given any information to his brother and father if they had come looking. He worried too about his father. He saw how it had sapped his energy and weakened his spirit to have lost contact with his oldest son whom he feared had died. What this must be doing to his father was painful for Hoss to contemplate. He knew he still had Joe and Jamie but knew that his father would feel the loss much more because of Adam also being gone. One way or another he had to get himself out of this fix so he could get home for his father’s sake especially. He was getting desperate for a way out. If this plan didn’t work, then he would have to come up with something else.

On the Ponderosa, Elaine was trying to come up with something else too before Adam arrived home and let everyone know the truth about her. She had never meant for it to get so out of hand, but the family had been so warm and welcoming, and her son had such a nice home here. How could she admit that the father was a man passing through Virginia City and she didn’t even know his last name. That would have been bad enough, but soon everyone would know that she was a liar as well. She knew she deserved such a reputation, but her son didn’t although she knew that the would take the brunt of the abuse once the parents of his friends and schoolmates knew the truth. She could hardly sleep at night worried about what would happen next. She had no resources and when she had suggested that perhaps she and her son could take a trip, Ben had insisted it was only reasonable for her to be there to welcome the father of her son home.

Sitting at his desk each day handling the paper work of the ranch that Jamie would finish in the evenings, Ben observed and thought. He had to admit to himself that the arguments that Hoss and Joe had made about the paternity of Elaine’s son were valid. He was seven years old now and had no resemblance to Adam. When Hop Sing asked the boy to help him outside, Ben asked Elaine to join him at his desk. He had been making a lot of inquiries and had some options to discuss with her if she was willing to be honest with him.

“Elaine, Adam should be home within a week. Do you want to remind me of how he and you managed to have a son because if I recall, he was not courting you nor even seeing you regularly.” Elaine’s heart rate soared. “In fact, if my son Joseph is to be believed, the only contact you had with Adam that we know about is dancing with him.” Ben left his statements hanging in the air and watched Elaine. She was nervous or even scared by the pale look and the trembling. “Why don’t you just tell me the truth?”

Looking up and expecting to see a ferocious Ben, Elaine started to cry when she saw that he was concerned instead. “I lied. I was so scared and had no one to whom I could turn. Adam had left months earlier and no one seemed to think he would come back. I only meant to get some help for a few months and then try to make my way on my own. But all of you were so nice, and I was so scared, it just got out of hand.”

“Yes, I guess it did. Now you know you cannot stay here.”

“Mr. Cartwright, I can’t begin to pay you back for what you have given us. Are you going to turn me over to Sheriff Coffee?”

Looking more stern, Ben still wanted to help. “I could do that except your son did nothing wrong and would be badly hurt by this. Now you have some options. You could contact the real father.” As Elaine shook her head and began to cry, Ben suspected the worst with that. “We could get you a place in town and help you out until you could support yourself by finding a job. Or we have friends who live near Carson City. He just had a stroke and can’t take care of a lot of things. They need a housekeeper and would happily accept your son into their household for they have never been blessed with children.”

“That last one. I could do that. I could be a housekeeper. I know how to do everything in a house that would need doing, and my son would have a home where no one would have to know about his mother’s lies.”

“Fine. I expect you to handle telling your son. I’ll contact Swede and Annie letting them know you have accepted the position. We’ll have someone drive you there tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? That means I have to tell him today.”

“Elaine, you created this situation. I will not have my son come home to face this when it was none of his doing. It was partially my fault too, and that’s why I’m helping you instead of throwing you out of here as I possibly should. And then there’s your son. I am fond of him, but he is not my grandson.”

Nodding in acceptance and knowing that everything Ben had said was true, Elaine headed outside to tell her son some painful truths. But at least they had a decent future because of Ben. She would have to make him understand that too, and that this whole mess was her fault.

*****

Chapter 7

Reno was bustling with people when Adam and Annie arrived there with Candy. The stage ride had been hot, dusty, and smelly with two passengers apparently unfamiliar with the fine art of bathing. Sleeping in way stations was usually tolerable at best, and with the heat and the bugs, it had been worse than that. Annie voted to take the train to Virginia City, and the two men had no argument with that. It would delay them only a day and be a much more comfortable ride. So instead of catching the next stage, they took rooms after buying tickets for the train that would depart the next day. Adam was getting low on funds and was concerned with paying for rooms for it would leave him with no more cash.

“Just put it on the Ponderosa account. We stay here often enough that they won’t mind extending credit. That way we can charge some baths and dinner and breakfast too. Tell them you’re Adam Cartwright, and there won’t be a problem.”

At the desk, the clerk questioned whether he was Adam Cartwright. Adam was dressed like an Easterner and hadn’t been at this establishment ever.

“Well, black shirts and gunbelts are not exactly acceptable wear in Boston. I was just there. Now you could wire my father and ask if it’s all right. Of course that would likely irritate him quite a lot, and he might not like staying here any more. Say, Candy, is there another place in town that would like the Ponderosa business do you think?”

“There is that new hotel they built last year. Probably has cleaner sheets and rooms than this one anyway. Let’s head over there.”

“No, no, that’s all right. You can stay here. We are always happy to accomodate the Cartwrights when they’re in town. Please, I’ll have rooms readied for you as soon as I can. Perhaps you would like to dine in the restaurant while we prepare your rooms?”

“Is anyone going to argue that we can’t put the cost of the meals on our bill?”

“No, no, not at all, Mr. Cartwright. Please, just tell them it’s all right with Jeremy, and they’ll simply send the bill to me at the desk.”

“Thank you so much, Jeremy. I’ll be sure to add an appropriate tip for you when we settle up on the bill.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll get someone to ready your rooms now. Enjoy your dinner.”

Looking at Adam who had a smug look, Ellie shook her head. It was another side of Adam she had not seen before. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

Chuckling, Adam shrugged. Candy looked at him and grinned. “Joe and Hoss both said you could talk a rattler out of its rattles. I’m beginning to see that’s true.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask what else they told you about me.”

“Well, I’d tell ya but I think we need to have dinner before you go passing out again.”

“Hey, I don’t pass out every time I remember something.”

“From what I’ve seen, you do.”

“You haven’t known me very long.”

“Well, that’s true, but you know something, I’m liking you.”

“Well, I’m honored, I guess. Is it that big of a surprise?”

“You have to know after hearing how you left and didn’t write and such, I formed a pretty bad opinion of you. And I’m sorry I lit into you on the train like I did. I had no call to do that.”

“It’s all right, Candy. I could have explained more to you right away.”

“But you’re the suspicious type.”

Looking at Candy with a frown, Adam realized why he said that. “Ah, more tales told by the brothers. It’s all right though because it told me how much you care about my family. They have a very good friend in you.”

“Sure wish Hoss was going to be there when I come riding into the yard with you two. He would have been darned happy.”

“We’ll find him, Candy. We’ll find him.”

By then the waitress was there to take their orders, and the rest of the meal was spent in light conversation especially giving Ellie the chance to talk about her past and her experience in trying to get a job where she could use her medical degree.

“Dang, Ellie, just treating those Cartwrights could be a full time profession.”

The rest of the trip passed very pleasantly. Candy was learning to tell Adam just one thing about the Ponderosa at a time. Letting him absorb information more slowly allowed him to do it without the awful headaches. Adam had wired Joe and asked not to be met in town. He asked if they could leave a carriage at the train station for them to use. Joe didn’t understand why Adam had such an odd request but eight years had passed and he knew Adam was traveling with a doctor. All sorts of possibilities sprang to mind when he got that message, but he complied even though he was worried about why. Once they reached Virginia City, Candy recognized the Ponderosa carriage immediately. He helped Adam and Annie carry their bags there, and then Adam asked if they could leave quickly before someone recognized him. Luckily for him, Candy was able to comply quickly because Roy had spotted Adam on the platform and was walking there to greet him when Adam and Candy rushed off with a lady between them. Roy had no idea why that happened but those Cartwrights were always good for a few surprises.

Several times as Candy drove them to the Ponderosa, both Ellie and Candy saw Adam wince. He was restless too and frequently looked down and closed his eyes for a time. Ellie assumed that memories were flooding in and Adam was doing his best to assimilate them. He had been getting better at it, but today there was a torrent of memories instead of a stream, and it was getting to be too much.

“Think maybe I should go into the house ahead of you two and explain the situation as well as I can?”

“That’s a good idea. Seeing his family after everything else today is going to be very difficult. We need to impress upon them the need to hold back as much as they can. I know it will be emotional, but if we could do it as slowly as possible, things would likely go better.”

“I’m right here. You could ask me.”

“Well, we’re asking ya.”

“I like your idea. When you get near the house, could you tell me?” At Candy’s agreement to that, Adam dropped his head into his hands and closed his eyes for a time. Ellie rubbed his back with one hand as she held his wrist with the other. It had been a long time since Adam had felt the reassurance of another human being when he was in a difficult situation. It felt very good to him. As he relaxed, he sat up and leaned back into the seat. Ellie leaned with him never letting go of his wrist.

Candy watched the two of them. He was thinking that they were a lot more than friends even if neither of them seemed to realize how the other one felt. This was going to be fun to watch. He was planning on telling Joe his theory as soon as he could. For now though, he was most concerned with his new friend’s health. Candy smiled a little to himself. A week ago he had nothing but anger and derision for this man, and now he already was a friend. It was amazing the curves that life could throw at you. When they were getting close to the house, Candy pulled off the road and headed up a hill where he stopped the carriage. Ellie understood then why he had done it. Down below was the ranch house that Adam had described to her, the lake and the mountains were further out. Corrals, outbuildings, and fence lines completed the view. Adam looked out at everything and blew out a deep breath.

“How are you doing with all of this?” Surreptitiously she thought, Ellie kept her hand on Adam’s wrist.

“You don’t have to monitor my heart beat. It’s my head not my heart that’s the problem. I’m doing all right. Thank you, Candy, for this. It gives me a chance to take some of it in ahead of time. Can we sit here for a while longer?”

Quietly the three of them sat for nearly twenty minutes. Then Adam took a deep breath and blew it out. “All right, let’s go say hello, shall we?”

Their plan to have Candy go inside and explain what was happening didn’t work. As soon as the sounds of the carriage were heard in the house, Ben rushed outside and yelled “Adam, Adam” about as loud as he could. Joe came rushing out behind him saying his brother’s name as well. ‘As long as it doesn’t interfere with your thinking’, ‘Do you have feelings for this girl?’, ‘Take care of them’, ‘Adam, I’m scared’, ‘My brand new guitar that I sent all the way to New York for?’, ‘You want to fight me, use your fists!’ and more and more memories flooded in. Adam grabbed his head and leaned forward in the carriage rocking back and forth with the intense pain in his head. Candy jumped down from the carriage and grabbed Ben and Joe by the arm to push them back toward the house.

“Candy, that’s my son. What’s wrong? I’m not going back in the house until I know what’s wrong!”

“The only thing you can do for him now is to go back in the house, please? And please be quiet. It’s the only thing that will help right now.” Ushering an extremely worried Ben and Joe into the house, Candy explained as much as he knew about Adam’s condition and why he was that way.

“So he didn’t remember us until he got that telegram?”

“Nope. Ellie said he was in bed for two days after it arrived because so many memories were triggered by it. He does pretty well getting his memories back bit by bit, but we all suspected that coming here was going to be too much. I saw it first when we were on the train. He woke up after about a half hour and he was all right then.”

“Woke up?”

“Yeah. Sometimes the pain is so bad in his head that he passes out for a bit. Ellie thinks he might have had a mild stroke when he was so sick. She says he could hardly read at all without her help, but he’s getting better with that too.”

“All right, who’s Ellie?”

So Candy had to explain everything he knew about that too. By the time he finished talking to Ben and Joe and answering as many questions as he could, there was a light rap on the door, and Ellie stepped in.

“Candy, is everything all right in here?”

“Yes, Ellie. I told them everything I knew. You’ll probably have to explain it all over again, but I think they got the gist of it. We’ll be quiet if Adam wants to come in now.”

“He does, but get ready to catch him. He’s still a bit shaky and I don’t know what coming in here is going to do except he may have gotten most of the memories back that the house could trigger.”

When Adam walked in, Ben didn’t know what to do. Adam looked a little sheepish and walked to his father putting an arm around his shoulders and putting his head down on his father’s shoulder. Ellie signed to Ben that he should rub Adam’s back so he did that. Joe walked over and wrapped an arm around Adam’s shoulders which Adam reciprocated. The three stood that way for several minutes before Adam picked up his head.

“By now you know the outline of my story, I guess. We can talk but try not to remind me of too much at once.”

“How will we know?” Joe asked the direct question that both Ben and Jamie off to the side were wondering.

Using her best doctor voice, Ellie stepped in. “Mr. Cartwright and Joe, you’ll be able to tell if he’s getting the headache by his reactions. The pain is too much for him to hide. If that happens, he needs it to be quiet and he needs to be still. It’s getting better but he’s not fully recovered yet.”

Carrying a tray with cookies, tea, and coffee, Hop Sing came out to where the group was sitting after a few minutes. He had obviously been listening for he said nothing and waited for Adam to speak first. After a minute, Adam smiled and said hello in Chinese. Hop Sing bowed and smiled in return. Ben was surprised. Once Hop Sing returned to the kitchen, Ben expressed his opinion.

“I swear I never knew that man could be that quiet.” Banging of a few pots and some imprecations in Chinese let them know that Hop Sing had heard that comment. Everyone laughed and it soothed some of the tension in the room. Adam introduced Ellie and they talked about how they had met and their trip out to Nevada including meeting Candy and the hotel experience in Reno.

“Adam, I didn’t realize you didn’t have enough money. You transferred some large sums of money from your accounts here when you left. What happened to it?”

“Pa, I have no idea. I have almost no memory of what happened in France except for waking up in the sanitarium and then trying to convince them I wasn’t insane nor feeble minded. I had nothing with me and no memory of where any of my money, papers, or clothing could be. I was lucky that the monks there decided to help me.”

Looking pale, and still tired from all the traveling, Adam yawned. Ellie did the same.
“Perhaps the two of you would like to go to your rooms and get some rest before dinner. Adam, we have your old room ready, and Ellie has the guest room at the end of the hall.”

“Did you put all of Adam’s things in his room?” At Ben’s nod, Ellie continued. “Then perhaps a rest in a different room would be better. We could use each other’s rooms for now?”

Understanding almost immediately why Ellie made that request, Ben agreed. Candy and Joe grabbed their bags and brought them to the appropriate rooms. Ellie and Adam followed them up the stairs. Later the four men sat by the fireplace and talked softly. Jamie had said nothing earlier other then hello when being introduced to Adam, but he had an opinion now that he shared.

“I never knew Adam before today or Miss Ellie either, but it sure looked like they are more than just friends.”

Candy was surprised that Jamie picked up on that so fast, but then he wasn’t shocked by Adam’s appearance and reactions as Ben and Joe had been so he could be a more neutral observer. “Jamie, I thought the same thing, but I don’t think the two of them are ready to admit it.”

Surprised at first, Ben and Joe thought about it and recalled how close Ellie sat to Adam when they were talking, and then how naturally her arm slipped into his when they walked upstairs. That and the way they looked at each other had them all thinking too that the two were in love.

*****

Chapter 8

At dinner, the table was full but everyone felt like someone was missing. Even Ellie who had never met Hoss could feel the longing in Adam and the others for Hoss to be there. The table talk was about anything except Hoss until Adam inserted him in the conversation.

“Isn’t it time for you to tell me what happened with Hoss, and why he’s still missing?”

“Are you sure you’re ready for all of that, son?”

“I don’t think telling me a story about something that happened while I was gone is likely to create a problem. I already remember Hoss so that won’t be a problem.”

So Joe and Ben related everything they had done including the miles of searching along the river and the stops at ranches and homesteads. Finally they mentioned stopping in towns along the way and speaking to the sheriff in each one.

“Well, searching this long after his disappearance won’t do any good, but perhaps talking with people along the way may help. Another talk with the sheriffs could yield some information if there’s anything out there.”

“Adam, if Hoss was there with any of those people, then he’d be able to contact us or they would have sent word to us.” Joe was frustrated and had hoped Adam would have an idea to do something they hadn’t already done.

“Joe, Hoss could be hurt or the people could be lying.”

“Son, why would they lie about Hoss being rescued or injured if he was? I’m sorry but I just don’t see any way to find my son at this point.”

“People lie about all sorts of things. He isn’t dead. I know it. I would know if he’s dead, and all I feel is that he’s in trouble, but I don’t know what kind of trouble.”

Shaking his head and thinking Adam’s statement was ridiculous, Ben was startled by Joe’s statement. “Hoss said almost the same exact thing to me about Adam. He said Adam wasn’t dead, but he was in some kind of trouble and was hurting. Hoss said he would know if Adam had died. That turned out to be completely true. Maybe Adam’s right, and Hoss is in some kind of trouble or hurting and needs us to come find him.”

“What we need to do now is to make sure Adam is all right. You’re much too thin, son. You need to build up your strength before you head out on a quest like this.”

“And Adam, you don’t have a horse or clothes to wear. It’s going to take some time to get you outfitted. What about going to town: is that going to cause more problems for you?”

“Hmm, ‘problems’, a nice euphemism for ‘grabs his head and falls down senseless into the street’. Actually I don’t know how much of a problem going to town will be. I don’t know how much I’ve forgotten, so I don’t know how many memories will come back. Perhaps if a few family friends could visit in the next few days, that would help so I wouldn’t have to see them all at the same time.”

“The more that Adam’s memory returns, the easier it seems to be for him to assimilate new information. I’m hoping that these painful reactions will end soon.”

“I hope so too. Now are any of my old clothes still here?”

“Yes, Joe put them in the closet in your old room. Would you like to take a look in there now?”

“Yes and no, but it has to be done.”

“I’ll come with you son.”

“No, it might be better if Ellie did. She knows the signs better than anyone and will know if I’ve taken on too much.” So Adam escorted Ellie to his old room where she had napped earlier. Her bags stood next to the bed. Adam wanted to wrap his arms around her then and fall with her onto the bed. He shook his head to clear those thoughts making Ellie concerned. She took his arm and pulled him to look at her.

“I’m fine. I’m not getting many memories here at all. I guess seeing Pa and Joe in the house here brought them back earlier or I’m just not remembering any more. You did tell me that I may have lost some memories permanently?”

“Yes, but we’ll likely never know what you don’t remember unless something comes up in conversation with your family.”

“I do remember that I never brought a woman up to my room before.” That caused Ellie to blush. “I’m sorry. That was crude to say. I’ll behave from now on.”

Ellie was actually thinking it would be nice if that train of thought developed a bit more even if she had no experience in that area. Adam was developing those kinds of thoughts as he again pictured Ellie in his bed. Needing to get his mind off that image, Adam asked Ellie what her plans were now.

Ellie was terribly disappointed with that. She had been hoping that Adam was going to say something about her being in his room and sleeping in his bed. She had seen him stare at the rumpled covers where she had rested. Instead he wanted to know what she was going to do.

“Well, I suppose I should get a room in town and see if the doctor here is interested in an associate. Otherwise, I guess I’ll try to set up a practice on my own. I brought the basic things with me. With some supplies I could get started.”

Panicking a little at thinking Ellie might leave, Adam said the wrong things for that moment. “Ellie, I didn’t mean you had to leave here. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want. I owe you, and I want to repay that debt.”

Getting cool and distant, Ellie was very matter-of-fact in her answer. “There is no debt to repay. You already brought me out here. We did each other a favor and now it’s over I guess.”

“Ellie, I want to stay friends with you. I would like to keep doing things with you. There’s a theatre in town, or at least there was one the last time I was here. We could go see plays and performances. And I would like to keep on with the reading. Please.”

With less than enthusiasm, Ellie replied. “I guess so.”

At that point, Adam knew he had said something wrong but couldn’t determine how he had offended Ellie. “I’m sorry. I know I must have offended you somehow. I didn’t mean to do that.”

“Everything’s fine, Adam. I’m tired. I think I’ll go to my room. Good night.”

In the guest room, Ellie started crying. She had hoped that coming out west with Adam to his family’s home would draw them closer, but now that they were here, she felt him turning away from her instead. Tears ran down her cheeks as she pulled out a gown to wear. Hours later Ellie was still awake. The way she had left things with Adam wouldn’t let her sleep. She pulled on a robe and went to his room knocking softly on his door thinking that if he was sleeping, he wouldn’t hear. He was sleeping but he heard her knock and responded. She pushed his bedroom door open and the lamp she was carrying illuminated him well when he sat up. Ellie gulped because he was bare chested.

In a groggy voice, Adam addressed her. “Ellie, what’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry. I came to talk with you, but it’s very difficult with you sitting there half naked. Can’t you put on a shirt or something?” Ellie had never seen his chest before. She had seen chest hair in the vee of his shirt when he hadn’t buttoned it up to his neck, but this was so much more. She saw all that curly hair and wanted to run her fingers through it.

“I am not half naked, and if I got up to get a shirt, you would see that. So I’m guessing that would make things worse not better. Now what did you want to talk about?”

Oh boy, now Ellie was thinking about the part of him she couldn’t see. She took a deep breath and plunged into what she wanted to say. “I just wanted to tell you that I would be happy to take you up on your offer for me to stay here for now. I don’t have much money, and that would be a big help to me.” At Adam’s smile and nod, she continued. “I was also wondering if you would help me to talk to the doctor in town, and if he isn’t agreeable to me working with him, perhaps you could help me find some place for an office.”

“I would love to help you with all of that. Is there anything else?”

“No, no, nothing else except I’m sorry if I was abrupt with you earlier. I’m just a bit worried about getting a practice started out here. I was so sure of myself when we left Boston, but I guess I never really considered how difficult it might be to do this alone.”

“You’re not alone, Ellie. I’ll be there with you to do anything you want any time.”

“Be careful what you promise, Adam. You never know what I’ll ask.”

“I trust you.”

Those three simple words were spoken with confidence. Adam had no idea how much those words meant to Ellie. She went back to her room with a smile, and was able to fall asleep and didn’t awaken until midmorning. Gunfire awakened her, and she dressed hurriedly and rushed downstairs. Ben was sitting calmly at his desk.

“Well, good morning. You must have been very tired from your trip. Hop Sing has some breakfast for you. Just go to the kitchen door to let him know.”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“Worried about what, dear?”

“All that gunfire. It sounds like a war out there.”

“Oh that’s Adam practicing. He went out there with Joe, Candy, and Jamie to try out some pistols. He doesn’t know where his is. He lost it like he lost everything else he took with him.”

“Is there any way he can find those things?”

“We’ll notify the bank here, and I’m sure the money will be returned. However, his other possessions are probably lost forever unless he can tell us where he stayed in Paris, and even then it would be unlikely they kept those items for over seven years. Luckily he left his irreplaceable possessions here.”

Ellie nodded for she had seen the music box and miniature picture of his mother on the table next to his bed. Hop Sing brought out some breakfast for her, and then she headed outside and walked in the direction of the shooting. When she rounded the corner of the barn, she didn’t see Adam at first because she wasn’t looking for someone in a black shirt, pants, boots, hat, and gunbelt. When she finally realized it was him, she thought that if she wasn’t in love with him already, she would have fallen in love on the spot. He was standing with his left side toward her and drawing and firing at cans on the fence rail. He cut a very dashing figure she thought, and wondered if he could be as romantic as those heroes in the dime novels she read when no one was paying attention. Candy saw her watching.

“Hey, Ellie come on over and give this a try. Out here, it’s good for everyone to be able to shoot.”

With Adam smiling at her, she couldn’t say no. She walked up to him and he handed her the pistol. “How do I shoot it?”

“Well the first thing you have to do is load it.” Adam handed her a cartridge and showed her how to load it. He spun the cylinder until the next shot would be the one with the live cartridge. He handed her the pistol and showed her how to cock it. “This is a single action. You have to cock the hammer before you can pull the trigger. It’s Joe’s pistol and he has it set to a very light pull so don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire. So we’re going to have you raise the pistol into firing position and then pull the trigger back with your left hand. Then aim, and pull the trigger with your right index finger. When you pull on the trigger, don’t move or breathe. The only thing moving should be your finger on the trigger as you pull back.”

“Will you show me?”

“I’ll help you.” Adam stepped behind Ellie and put his arm along her right arm closing his hand over her hand. “Now, slowly raise the pistol without bending your elbow and aim at that big coffee can on the fence.” Once Adam had helped guide her arm into position, he told her to pull the hammer back with her left hand. After she did that, she was ready to fire. “Now I’m going to help you steady your arm. You slide your finger in along the trigger and pull when you’re ready.” Adam felt her take a deep breath and hold it so he knew when she was going to fire. He also felt her buttocks pressing into him and felt the heat of her body against his. It was highly distracting. Ellie might have been just as distracted except she was concentrating so hard on the pistol in her hand. She pulled the trigger and there was an explosion in her hand or it felt like it.

“She hit it, she hit it. Ellie, you hit it!” Joe was jumping all around in his excitement. There hadn’t been much fun on the Ponderosa lately so this was a great release. Ellie looked up at Adam who was smiling at her.

“You closed your eyes, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but I didn’t move anything else.”

Adam laughed and it was the first time that Ellie had heard his deep laugh. She had heard him chuckle and seen him smile but this was an all out good laugh. She couldn’t help it and joined in. Adam whirled her around and kissed her lightly and that stopped him in his tracks. “I’m so sorry. I got carried away.”

If she wasn’t completely red in the face after having his body pressed against hers and his arm along her arm with his hand over her hand, the kiss did the rest. “It was fine. I didn’t mind at all. We had something to celebrate.”

“Yes we did. You’re a natural. You just have to keep your eyes open next time.” He smiled at her again then and with those dimples showing, she knew everything was good between them. “I’m going to pick out a horse next. Do you want to help?” So the two of them walked off to the corral to pick out a horse after Adam handed the pistol back to Joe. Adam leaned on the corral fence and watched the horses milling around. Ellie pointed out a pretty horse with unusual coloring. In the sun, she looked more like a strawberry blonde than anything.

“Nope, she’s slow. She would make a good riding horse for someone who needs a dependable horse, but she has no spirit, no power. That one is slow and steady.”

“Well, what kind of horse to do you want?”

“Ah, a spirited one with power and speed.”

Ellie laughed at the obvious answer she had not guessed. Adam loved her laugh. It sounded like music. As the other men walked to the house and heard the laughter, they all shook their heads. Adam and Ellie were doing this dance around each other when all they really wanted to do was to be with each other.

“Joe, I thought you said your oldest brother was pretty smart.”

“Candy, I did, but he’s different now. He doesn’t seem so sure of himself, and it’s like he’s afraid to let her know how he feels.”

“Well then why doesn’t she say something?”

Candy and Joe laughed, and Candy answered. “How confident would you be, Jamie, telling a woman who was eighteen years older than you that you loved her?”

“Well, I guess it would make a difference knowing who it was.”

Joe had a suggestion. “Do you think Miss Scott is pretty?”

“Barbara, yeah, she’s pretty, but Joe, she’s a lot older than me.”

“Yeah, Jamie, she’s about eighteen years older than you. Could you imagine walking up to her and asking her to dance or go on a picnic?”

“Oh, I see what you mean. So this is really up to Adam to tell Ellie?”

“Yup, older brother needs to take a chance and see what happens. But he doesn’t seem to be ready to take any chances right now. I’m not sure when he’ll be ready.”

*****

Chapter 9

The next morning, Adam hitched up the carriage and asked Ellie if she would like to go to town with him. Ben wanted to go along to do some business at the bank so he saddled up Buck and rode along. Adam knew that his father wanted to be there in case he had some trouble in town, and found he liked the fact that he would have back-up if he needed it. Ellie was there too which reassured him as well. In town, Ben began the inquiries that would hopefully lead to regaining Adam’s lost bank accounts. Adam took Ellie to the mercantile where they bought some basic supplies and Adam bought a pistol, then to the saddlery where Adam picked out two saddles, and finally he walked Ellie to a dress shop.

“What are we doing here?”

“Pa said there’s a dance in a few weeks. I want you to get a dress for the dance.”

“I can’t afford it.”

“I’m buying. It’s a present from me to you to thank you for all you did for me. I got you a saddle too so you can go riding with me or anyone else. Please let me do this?”

After they loaded all their purchases into the carriage, Adam walked Ellie over to Doctor Martin’s office to introduce her. Paul was very busy, and a young boy was waiting in the office for some stitches as Paul dealt with two other patients with more serious injuries including a compound fracture. As soon as he found out that Ellie was a doctor, he asked her to stitch up the boy. When she said she didn’t have her bag with her, he told her where everything she needed was located and then told her a bit of advice. “Out here, a doctor carries a bag everywhere even to church or to a friend’s house for dinner. You never know when you’ll need it.” Then he hurried back to his other patients leaving the boy in Ellie’s hands. The boy’s mother wasn’t so sure about allowing a young woman to stitch up her son’s cut, but Ellie’s manner soon won both of them over. All had gone well except now Ellie had bloodstains on the skirt of her dress.

“We need to get you some aprons too if you’re going to keep doing this. Let’s go back to the mercantile to see what they have.”

Once that errand was completed, Ben found them and asked if they would like to have lunch. Ellie was positive but Adam suggested he might like to leave town soon. Ellie and Ben knew what that meant so they agreed to go but first Ben picked up some sandwiches from a restaurant and then they headed back to the Ponderosa. Ben had stopped in to see Roy and had explained the situation, and Roy understood and did not approach Adam in town. Ben had asked him to come to the Ponderosa for dinner and to bring Doctor Martin too if he could. When they reached the Ponderosa, Adam took two of the sandwiches and said he was taking a side trip to the lake. Ben smiled and said of course. He rather hoped the romantic location had an impact on his son.

At the lake, Adam and Ellie skipped stones and took off their footwear and walked in the cool water. Adam began talking about Hoss and how they had fished and spent lazy afternoons swimming in the lake. Soon he had tears in his eyes, and Ellie wrapped her arms around him to soothe him.

“You’re very good for me. I’m going to be very sad if you ever decide to leave here.”

It was the closest that Adam had come to saying how important Ellie was to him. It wasn’t much, but Ellie was encouraged by his words. They might have been able to make more progress in their relationship, but dark clouds let them know they better hurry back to the ranch house. They didn’t make it. The rain started pelting them soon and the ride back was uncomfortable and a bit scary with the wind and lightning. When they reached the Ponderosa, Adam drove directly to the stable and hurried Ellie inside as he grabbed all the goods in the carriage and brought them into the stable. Grabbing a slicker that hung in the stable, he unhitched the horse and brought it into a stall. Then he grabbed some rags and asked Ellie if she wanted to learn how to oil harness and saddles because they were all wet and needed care. Soon they were busy and talking as they worked. They were wet but working kept them warm enough until the rain stopped and they walked to the house.

At dinner, when Adam announced that he thought he ought to start searching for Hoss, Ben disagreed. “Where would you look that we haven’t already looked?”

“I wouldn’t search along the river. I would concentrate on talking to people to see if anyone has noticed anything or seen someone they didn’t know. It can’t hurt to try.”

“You’re just recovering now. Why don’t you take some time to regain your strength before you set out to do this?”

Adam agreed, but for the next two weeks, Ben came up with more reasons Adam shouldn’t go. Each day, Hop Sing plied Adam with food until everyone could see he was gaining a bit and his face no longer had that sunken cheek look. Chopping wood and helping with chores had Adam rebuilding his musculature as well. And almost every day, he was out behind the stable practicing with his new pistol. He had gone with the double action and as his hand and arm became stronger the more difficult pull had less and less of an impact on his accuracy. The most fun Adam had was taking rides with Ellie as he taught her how to ride. He had picked a spirited horse and Ellie had gone with the first one she had admired which she called Berry. Adam called his new horse Sport for although it only had one white sock, in other ways it resembled his old horse a great deal.

The favorite place for Adam and Ellie to ride was to the lake. It was there that they could relax and talk. Much of the time, they talked about their pasts even though Adam couldn’t remember all of his. As the days passed, Adam was frustrated that his father and Joe did not want to go looking for Hoss. Ben especially seemed unable to accept that Hoss was alive after all this time.

“Adam, if he was alive, he would have come home or sent word.”

“Pa, isn’t that what you thought about me?”

“No, it isn’t. We have more information about Hoss. We know he was swept away in a raging torrent. Only a man like Hoss would even have had a chance, but after miles and miles in that frigid water, how could anyone survive?”

Conversations like that were extremely frustrating to Adam who felt he couldn’t do it on his own. Then he came up with a plan. Adam told Ellie that he would just go without telling his father or anyone else because he didn’t think his father ever wanted him to leave. “He’s got me back and is afraid to let go. I understand, but I can’t just sit here and not look for my brother no matter how hopeless the quest is. There’s always a chance, and I have to find out where Hoss is.”

“I know you do. I worry about you going alone.”

“I won’t be alone. I’ll leave alone, but you know my father well enough by now.”

It didn’t take Ellie long to understand. “He’ll send someone after you.”

“Oh yeah, and I’m guessing it will be Joe. So I won’t be alone; at least not after the first day or so until Joe catches up and announces himself.”

So the next morning, Adam was up early but he often was so no one would have been surprised by that. He went to Hop Sing and got a sack of provisions along with a lecture. He assured Hop Sing that he was sure that Joe would soon be with him which somewhat placated the feisty cook. As Adam was saddling his horse, Ellie came into the stable.

“I had to say goodbye and wish you luck.”

With a smile and then a hug, Adam let Ellie know how much he appreciated that. He had walked with her into the yard leading his horse. After another hug, he kissed her on the cheek before mounting up.

“Now, remember, you can tell Pa but try to hold off as long as you can. I don’t want him thinking he can catch up to me and get me to come back home by making me feel guilty about leaving.”

“You do feel guilty about leaving though, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do, but I don’t see another way to do it, and I have to search.”

“I know you do, and I’ll pray for you and for Hoss every day.”

Smiling, Adam mounted up and rode out. Upstairs Joe watched from his window with a self –satisfied smirk as good as any his oldest brother could manage. Adam was finally taking a chance. It was one more step back toward being the Adam of old even if he never was exactly like that, this was one part of him that needed to return. His boldness and courage had always been some of the more admirable qualities he had, and he needed them as much as his family needed him to be that way. Ellie would also probably benefit, and that hug he had seen and the kiss on the cheek were at least some steps in that direction too.

Part two of the plan was in place by breakfast when Ben asked where Adam was.

“He what? What a fool thing to do. He’s not ready to go traipsing around the country alone like that.” Ben’s reaction to Ellie’s news was explosive.

“Hey, Pa, maybe I ought to go with him?”

“No, maybe you ought to go find him and bring him back here where he belongs.” Than after thinking a moment, Ben amended the statement. “I know how stubborn Adam can be though. If he won’t come back, Joe, don’t let him go on alone.”

“Mr. Cartwright, maybe I should go with Joe. Adam and I got to be friends on the trip here, and I might be able to talk some sense to him.”

“Candy, that’s a great idea. He won’t be able to resist the two of you.”

At that point, Ellie had to suppress a grin so she sighed deeply instead. Ben put his hand over hers. “It’s all right, my dear. The boys will bring him back.” Ellie smiled at Joe and Candy and they knew that it had been the plan all along. Jamie nodded. This older brother was turning out to be quite smart. He had to admire how this was all working out probably just as he wanted.

Within an hour, Joe and Candy were packed and ready to go. They knew they would never catch up to Adam in one day and Ben knew it too. “Hopefully we’ll see you back here tomorrow. If not, send a wire as soon as you can.”

“We’ll do that, Pa.”

As Ellie walked up to Joe, he noticed her eyes brimming with tears. “Don’t you worry, Ellie. We’ll take good care of him. We’ll be back as soon as we find out about Hoss.” Ellie kissed Joe on the cheek and then Candy before moving to stand next to Ben as the two rode out. It was time for part three of Adam’s plan. “Mr. Cartwright, I would like to go to town and speak with Doctor Martin. I also need to buy a few things for personal use. Would you mind going with me to town? I’m not sure I could find my way there and back without getting lost. Adam has showed me to the lake and to the crossroads but after that, I have no idea where to go. I’d like to keep practicing my riding too every day if that’s all right with you?”

“Well of course, I can do that. Jamie can handle the paperwork for a few days until Joe and Adam get back. I’ll go to town with you, and I can take time to ride with you each day too. I would like to find out if the bank has been able to track down those accounts of Adam’s. You just let me talk to Jamie, and then I’ll saddle up Buck, and we can go.”

In town, at Doctor Martin’ office, Ellie got good news. Paul had not been inclined to hire on an associate, but Billy came back to get his stitches out and had wanted Ellie to do it. When Paul saw how neatly she had stitched the wound so that there was hardly a scar, he was impressed. Then he had several pregnant women come into the office saying they had heard he had a female doctor working with him and could she please call on them. So as soon as Ellie walked through Paul’s office door, he was smiling and asked her to have a seat so they could work out an arrangement. Ellie would handle calls for ladies who were having babies during the day because she didn’t know the country well enough to consider going to any calls during the night. She would also be welcome to be in the office as often as she wished during the day for the express purpose of treating any children or women who came in to the office unless they requested Doctor Martin. Paul, who had recently been married, found that his wife was especially happy with the new arrangement. She came in to clean up while the two were talking. She liked having a woman doctor available, and it also meant she would have more time with Paul. It seemed everyone was pleased with the arrangement.

However Ben was not so pleased. He had hoped that Adam and Ellie would get together and then live on the Ponderosa. Her having work in town would interfere with that, and he had to wonder too if Adam would tolerate having a wife who worked. His displeasure was clear to Ellie even though he said nothing critical. Ben did have some good news though. Adam’s accounts had been quickly located. Although they had been declared abandoned, he could get his assets back if two doctors would certify that he had been unable to access the accounts because of health reasons. Ellie and Paul smiled for that would be easy to do. Paul pulled out some paper, and he and Ellie began writing. Within an hour, Ben had notarized letters certifying Adam’s medical disability which he took to the bank for them to forward to the banks holding Adam’s funds.

Ben was thinking that things were working out very well until three days passed with no sign of Joe and Adam, and then he got a wire from Joe saying they were traveling with Adam who refused to come home. Ellie smiled enigmatically when he told her and went back to her reading. Ben began to suspect that she was part of the plan, and if she was, Joe probably was too even if he had no knowledge of it in advance because Adam would know exactly how to work it out to get Joe to help. Then Ben had to smile too for it was another sign that his oldest son was regaining some confidence.

*****

Chapter 10

Miles away, Adam was traveling with Joe and Candy. They had stopped at innumerable homesteads and ranches as well as a few towns, and always the answer to their inquiries was the same. There was no word about a big man being found anywhere in the last six months. Joe and Candy had ridden up to Adam’s camp on that first night to find he was roasting two rabbits over a small campfire.

“You real hungry there, pardner?”

“No, Candy, just normal hungry. I was about to dig into these thinking maybe you wouldn’t catch up to me today. Lucky for you I heard Joe coming.”

“How’d you hear him coming?”

“Joe has a high pitched laugh that I swear travels for miles. Expecting him and hearing that, I knew he was getting close. Didn’t expect you, but you’re more than welcome. Should be plenty of food here.”

Squatting next to the fire, Joe accepted a thick chunk of roasted rabbit. Candy took a piece and sat down and leaned back against a tree. There wasn’t much talking at first as the three hungry men ate, but eventually Joe had to know.

“Is this all how you planned it?”

“Yeah, except for Candy, and he is a welcome addition to the plan.”

“So what’s next?”

“Well, pretty much what I wanted to do all along. We need to talk to people who live along the river. Someone knows something. We need to watch to see who’s being evasive.”

“You think someone has done something to Hoss?”

“Joe, do you think that Hoss wouldn’t do everything in his power to contact us if he could?”

“But what if he’s, you know?”

“No one would have any reason to hide finding the body of a drowned man in the river. He’s alive, and we have to find him.”

The way that Adam explained it, everything made so much sense. Both Joe and Candy went to sleep that night trying to find holes in his argument and couldn’t find any. In a strange way, they felt comforted because it meant that Hoss was alive even though it also meant that Hoss was caught up in something that had trapped him for over six months.

Then every day for a week, Adam led them on a journey to talk with innumerable people. Finally near a little town named after the founder who was also the sheriff, the man at the livery stable gave them their first clue when they stopped to get grain for their horses.

“Seems like people are stopping in here rather often looking for a man who is missing. Seems like it could be too many to be coincidences.”

“You got any ideas on what might be going on? We talked to the sheriff and he didn’t have any information for us.”

“Well reckon I do maybe. There’s three men in town own a mine. They ride out there every day cept Sunday. They ride back in just before sunset. They deposit gold flakes and nuggets every day.”

“What’s odd about that?” Adam felt the hairs on his neck stand up and knew the answer was going to be something that would lead them to Hoss. It wasn’t logical, but he knew it and listened carefully.

“Well to bring in that gold, they would need some miners cause these men ain’t the type to dirty their hands, if you know what I mean. Cept there’s never any miners coming into town for a drink on Saturday night, or supplies, or nothing like that. Now don’t that strike you as kinda odd?”

“Yes, it does. Thank you very much for the information.” Adam handed the man a twenty dollar gold piece. “Keep the change, and there’s no need to mention that you told us anything, but in what direction would we want to go if we wanted to see this mine?”

“Head outta town toward the river and follow the road north. Only way to go cause the road don’t go south, only north. Then watch for tracks heading west from the road. That would be where that mine likely is. No one here ever seen it. There’s signs warning folks off, and the sheriff’s done told us he’ll enforce that. Those are some wealthy powerful folks and I guess he wants to have that kind of people in his town.”

With their horses watered and fed with grain, the trio mounted up and headed out of town as directed. It didn’t take long to find the signs and then the track leading away from the road. The three men headed across country in that general direction until after about an hour, they spotted what looked like an open pit mine up ahead. It was a typical California style mine. They tied their horses to some scrub trees and slipped up as close to the mine as they could get without being seen. Joe almost yelled out when he saw Hoss working. Candy was ready for it and dragged him to the ground before he could make a sound. Adam shook his head and watched the mine.

“Three guards with rifles, and it looks like all the men are chained at the ankles.”

“Well three of us, and three of them are pretty good odds. I say we go right in there and rescue Hoss.” Joe was ready to go.

Candy waited a second and then spoke. “Only if you want to risk your brother and some of those other men being wounded or killed. All those three have to do is drop back and they have cover from those piles of rocks. The men working are out in the middle of it all with nowhere to hide.” Adam nodded at Candy’s assessment.

“How about if I keep watch, and the two of you head back to town to tell the sheriff and then ride with his posse back here?”

“Why should we ride back and not one of us stay here?”

“Joe, I’m out of practice and I know you’ve had to slow down more than once for me. You two can get help a lot faster than I can.”

Not having a better alternative, Candy and Joe agreed. They headed for town and went directly to the sheriff’s office. They told him what they had found, and he asked if anyone else knew. They didn’t mention the livery stable owner but did mention that they had one man watching over the mine from a distance. With that, the sheriff drew down on them catching them by surprise. He ordered both Joe and Candy to drop their gunbelts and then forced them into the single cell in his office. He locked the door and left without saying another word.

“Candy, something tells me that there’s a fourth owner of that mine, and that Adam’s in a lot of trouble too.”

“Joe, I think you’re right. Only one thing to do.”

“What’s that?”

“As soon as we can tell the sheriff is headed out of town, we yell and try to get that livery owner over here. He seemed a decent sort of man, and all we need is someone to open this cell.”

After about fifteen minutes, they heard a horse gallop off. They assumed it was the sheriff. They began yelling out the small window of the jail cell and attracting a lot of attention. Eventually a couple of curious men came into the office, but none believed their story until the livery owner came in. He talked quietly with the other men and then picked up the keys from the sheriff’s desk and unlocked the cell.

“The sheriff headed out toward the mine. I saw your horses in the stable when I came back from lunch. I truly am sorry. My boy said the sheriff brung em over. I guess I never suspected the sheriff was part of whatever they’re doing, but it all makes a lot more sense now. You can get your horses over in the stable.”

“Thanks. We need to get going. My brother Adam is out there with no idea about the sheriff.”

Candy and Joe grabbed their gunbelts and headed outside to get their horses saddled up. The livery owner asked if anyone would ride with them and soon two men joined them. They headed to the mine but were already hours behind the sheriff and it would be dark soon.

Earlier at the mine, thinking the sun and heat were getting to him, Hoss looked down at the ground and wiped his face on his ragged sleeve. Then he looked up again thinking the apparition would be gone except it wasn’t. His brother Adam was walking into the camp under the watchful eye of the sheriff who had a pistol aimed at Adam’s back. They neared where Hoss was working.

“All right, you men, head for the chain. You’re done for the day.”

The men dropped their equipment and trudged over to a large tree with a logging chain wrapped around it. Dropping to the ground, the men handed the end of the chain to the next until it was wound through everyone’s chains except Hoss and Adam. A shove from one of the guards and they were seated next to each other. Hoss reached out and put a hand on Adam’s shoulder to reassure himself that this was real and not some dream.

“My God, it really is you.”

“Hoss, I . . .” and the memories flooded in ‘Are you asking me or telling me’, ‘Well at least he died a friend’, ‘You bet against me?’, and more and more until the pain in his head was excruciating. Adam fell back as his eyes rolled back in his head.

“What the hell is the matter with him?”

“He’s just exhausted. He’ll be fine.” But Hoss worried that he wouldn’t be fine. He was much thinner than Hoss remembered, and although his eyes looked the same, they had also looked haunted. Hoss sat and waited and worried until Adam began to stir about an hour later.

Waking up just a short time later and finding his legs chained together, Adam wasn’t very surprised. It was what he had expected once the sheriff walked up behind him aiming a pistol at him. With that action Adam found out who was in charge of this operation. Darkness was rapidly descending but with a full moon, they would still be able to see. As Adam leaned back against a tree surveying the scene before him of the men chained in a large circle and fiddling with the lock on his chain, Hoss had a few questions. “What happened to you before? You were fine and then your legs just buckled and you passed out.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Well then, where the hell have you been anyway?”

“Is that any way to talk to your older brother?”

“You know what I mean. You’ve been gone eight years, and then you show up in a hard labor camp and act like you were never gone.”

“Well I was gone, but I didn’t know it.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain more later. It’s another part of that long story. For now, we have to get out of here. I have a feeling those men are about to try to cover up what they’ve been doing. Without realizing how stupid it was, Joe and Candy went to let the sheriff know that we knew what was going on out here. We watched this afternoon, but there was no way to free all of you without risking some of you being shot. I especially didn’t want you to get shot.”

“Well that’s right brotherly of you.”

“Thank you. Candy and Joe came with me to search for you. Well actually they followed behind me, but we all got together in a day. Today I was supposed to keep watch, and they went to town to let the sheriff know. We had no idea that the sheriff was part of it. When I saw him ride up, I walked right up to him. That made it all rather easy for them. As soon as I turned my back, he pulled his pistol on me. Now I hope Joe and Candy can handle themselves in town, but I’m worried about what the sheriff did.”

“Dadburnit, I was hoping you were going to tell me that they had gone for help. Instead they’re probably in trouble.”

“That about sums it up.”

“What’s your plan?”

“My plan?”

“Dadburnit, Adam, you always have a plan.”

“All right, I’m working on opening my chains right now. I’ll get yours next, and then we can do our best to free everyone else before anybody gets back here to eliminate the witnesses.”

“How are you getting those chains off?”

“I always carry a pen knife in my pocket and a small knife in my boot sheath. Just a habit I remembered. Once they found the boot knife, they didn’t look for another one.” In the quiet of the evening, Hoss suddenly heard a couple of clicks, and then Adam was removing the chain from his right ankle. In a few more minutes, he had the other one off as well. Then he went to work on Hoss’ before moving on to the other men who tried to hurry him until he yelled at them to be quiet. “I can’t hear the lock pins with all this noise. You need to be quieter so I can work.”

*****

Chapter 11

Under cover of darkness, the sheriff and his three partners planned to go get Candy and Joe. They would bring them to the mine and then kill them and the others. They could easily bury them in the tailings from the mining operation. The mining operation would have to be shut down until they could be sure it was safe to reopen it. As they rode toward town, in the distance, they saw three men riding toward them. The sheriff recognized the pinto and knew who it was. The four took cover and waited to ambush Joe, Candy, and the townsman who had agreed to come along and help them.

“Joe, Joe, hold up!”

Pulling Cochise to a stop, Joe was angry at Candy for making them stop. “What’s wrong? My brothers are up that way and they need help.”

“Joe there was dust up ahead on the road and now there’s nothing.”

Grunting and then looking ahead, Joe could see the dust cloud that had been there dissipating in the wind. There was not an explanation for that that wasn’t bad news for them. “Good call, Candy. You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yes, I think the sheriff has a reception committee for us.” Candy signaled for the two townsmen to head west and he and Joe took the narrow strip of land between the road and the river. The men walked and led their horses so they could move with cover. They advanced slowly watching for any movement in those rocks up ahead where they suspected their quarry were setting up an ambush for them. Candy spotted a flash of light and correctly guessed it was the setting sun reflecting from a rifle barrel. He pointed out the spot to Joe and they sighted in. “On three. One. Two. Three.” Both men fired and suddenly they saw movement among the rocks.

“Looks like they’re running now.”

“All right, that means we’re likely looking at three instead of four. The odds just got better.”

“Yeah, except they’re heading back toward the mine. Let’s go.”

Except the wounded man kept firing at them and kept them pinned down. They were unable to advance for nearly an hour until they heard themselves being hailed by the two townsmen who had come to help. It had taken them a long time but they had managed to get behind the wounded man and take him by surprise. Joe jumped up then, swing mounted Cochise, and raced toward the mine even though riding in the dusk with darkness descending rapidly was not particularly safe. Candy yelled at him to slow down but had little effect.

It was a long ride and their mounts were lathered by the time they reached the mine. When they did, they pulled up looking at the scene in amazement. Hoss and Adam were reclining by a fire. Several ragged men had rifles trained on the sheriff and two other men who were chained at their ankles and wrists. The three captives were also stark naked and it was clear that their clothing had been distributed among the men in the camp.

“Adam, what the heck happened here?”

“Joe, never underestimate the value of twelve angry men and the element of surprise.”

“Doesn’t hurt none to have an older brother who knows that chess is about war. Took some doing but he got all the men organized to ambush those jaspers when they come riding in here. You shoulda seen their faces when that logging chain got pulled up in front of their horses. But the time they got them horses under control, the other men was all over them swinging those chains they had us in every day. It was all over in a minute and not a shot fired.”

By then Joe had leaped from his horse and raced to Hoss nearly knocking the big man over when he jumped into his arms. “Hoss, oh my God, it’s so good to see you.”

“I reckon I’m purty happy about that myself. You wouldn’t happen to have some food with ya, would ya? We got Adam’s horse but that bag of food he had on there didn’t go far with all these hungry men.”

Quickly, Joe and Candy pulled their saddlebags and emptied them out for the men. There wasn’t a lot there, but the extra clothing was just as welcome. Then they pulled their bedrolls from the horses and handed those over as well.

“All right, Adam, what’s next?”

“Well I was thinking that Candy could take some of these men to town on the horses, and then come back with the horses and a wagon so we can get the rest of the men to town, and get these three locked up.” Adam was focused on the rescue yet.

Hoss had a different concern. “And bring as much food back as ya can. I’ve got a powerful hunger.”

“You could go with the men and get the stuff Adam wants brought back here.”

“No, Candy, I want to stay here with my brothers. One of em has a long story he promised to tell me. I’m thinking he’s got about two hours to tell it all, and it better be good, or he might just get a good thumping.”

“Hoss, it’s a good story. I think there’s a chapter left to be written back on the ranch though.” With a smirk, Candy picked some men to ride back with him.

Soon they were gone, and the three brothers relaxed around the campfire. “We’ll send Pa a telegram as soon as we can. I hope it’s not too much of a shock for him, although I tried my best to convince him before we left that you were alive.”

“How did you know, Adam?”

“Just a gut feeling.”

“You? I thought you always had to see it or hear it or smell it to believe it?”

“I guess I’ve changed some.”

“All right, now tell me the story.”

For most of the next hour, Adam was talking. Some of the other men in the camp sat down to listen to the story for it was clear to them that this man had a knack for story telling. Hoss was amazed to hear of everything that had happened to Adam. Joe filled in the story of the past six months on the Ponderosa and his surprise when he learned of Adam’s illness and memory loss.

“Yes, Ellie thinks that the memory loss could have been much shorter in duration except that I had nothing and no one familiar there with me. For a while, everything that was familiar triggered a flood of memories. It also gave me these horrible headaches. Just like when I walked up to you and you said my name. All of a sudden more memories started coming back than I could handle. My brain just seems to shut down when that happens. I needed those cues though to get the memories back even though Ellie says there could be some I will never remember.”

“Now when you gonna tell me more about you and Ellie? You keep bringing up her name, but you ain’t said how you feel about her.”

At Adam’s silence, Joe stepped in. “Older brother, here, doesn’t seem to want to admit what everyone else thinks.”

“Oh, and what does ‘everyone’ else think, Joe?” Adam was irritated by the direction of the conversation and both of his brothers could tell.

Dropping that line of discussion, Joe had to ask Hoss to tell about his experience and how he felt about seeing them show up at the mine.

“Joe, it was better than Christmas. First I saw Adam and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was seeing things. Then he said that you and Candy were coming too and I just about cried I was so happy. I can’t wait to get home and see Pa, and Jamie, and Elaine and little Matthew, and everybody else. And I guess I owe it all to older brother here. Guess it took one who was lost to find another one who was lost.”

Suddenly Joe had become much more somber and Adam had an idea as to why. He had heard the story of Elaine and how she had claimed that Matthew was his son. It wasn’t true and their father had finally admitted why he wanted to believe her story. However she was gone now and Joe knew that Hoss was likely to be upset about that. Adam didn’t remember Elaine, had never met Matthew, and didn’t have to deal with it at all because Ben had resolved the situation before he returned home. Hoss however had been fond of Matthew and the two had often done things together. Adam looked over at Joe wondering if he would explain. Because he seemed reluctant to do so, Adam began telling Hoss what he knew. When Adam finished, Joe filled in the parts of the story Adam didn’t know. Hoss sat silently for a time.

“I knew he wasn’t yours, Adam. But Pa wanted him to be, and he is a very nice boy. We did a lot of stuff together. I taught him how to fish, and all about animals and birds. He really liked that stuff. That poor kid didn’t do nothing and now he’s the one got hurt. It just ain’t right.”

“Well, Pa didn’t want to have Adam to have to confront her and deal with all the talk. You know there was a lot of talk back then, and there’s probably more now even with her in Carson.”

“I know, but it just don’t seem right. I reckon that she was scared to death having a baby with no man and no place to live. She was desperate. I guess in her situation, I might have tried something like that too. I just feel so bad about it.”

“She could have told us, Hoss. She didn’t have to lie and then live that lie for almost eight years.”

“Reckon she’s paying for that now.”

With a sudden insight, Adam stared at Hoss hardly believing it could be true. “Hoss, were you in love with Elaine?”

Now Hoss didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking. “Well it don’t matter no never mind now, does it? Pa sent her away and Matthew too.” Adam said nothing more and Joe never ventured a comment.

Hearing noises then, the men all turned toward the road leading into the mine. Soon they saw two riders carrying lanterns followed by a wagon. Behind them it looked like they had five horses on a long lead rope. Candy was back with help, food, blankets, and hot coffee. Once they got to town, the three naked men were hauled from the wagon and thrown in the jail. Once they were sure they wouldn’t be killed by the angry men they had forced to mine for them, they started complaining vociferously about how they had been treated until Hoss faced them down.

“Ifn you want, we’ll treat you just like you treated us. We’ll give you rags to wear and slop to eat, make you work at hard labor all day in chains, and sleep chained to a tree at night. How about that? That would be real justice.”

Joe slapped Hoss on the shoulder and with Adam and Candy, the two headed for the small hotel in the town. There wasn’t room for everyone so Candy and Joe offered to let Adam and Hoss share a room. The other rooms were shared by the eleven men who had been with Hoss. Several needed medical attention and the doctor saw them even before they had a chance to bathe. The kitchen at the hotel was heating water as fast as they could and cooking meals for the men. Hoss got a platter of steak and potatoes. He looked over at what was on Adam’s plate, and dumped a bit more on his plate.

“Brother, you’re practically skinny. Ya need to eat more and build up your strength.”

Unused to such large portions, neither man could finish their meal. Hoss suggested they take their plates to their room because in an hour after a bath, they might be able to eat more. They each grabbed utensils and their plates and headed to their room. In the morning, Hoss looked a lot better but Adam still looked exhausted.

“The way he snores, I should slept outside with you two.”

“Now, Adam, you know I don’t snore. I just breathe heavy.”

“Well it was really heavy last night. I had forgotten just how loud you are.”

Hoss laughed and they headed over to the jail to see what the town was going to do about the situation. A judge was expected from the county seat before the end of the day. They decided to wait. They were not disappointed when they heard how the judge intended to settle the case. First he wanted to handle the civil matters so most of the men would be free to go. Most of them couldn’t believe what they heard. After the judge heard the details, he was ready to rule immediately on the civil suits.

“I will not leave the families of these men destitute because of their actions. However, each of these men is wealthy, and the sheriff is a widower and his adult son no longer lives here. The sheriff’s property is to be sold. The other three will have their estates divided in half by a court appointed conservator. One half of their wealth will be paid in compensation. The mine will be sold unless the men who worked it would like to take it over as their property. Is there anyone here who would like that to happen?” Several men raised their hands. “Those three men will receive the mine as one half of their compensation. The bank has provided a list of assets and values. Based on this, each of the twelve men will receive no less than three thousand dollars. Their hotel bills and restaurant bills from last night are paid in full, and medical care that is required is also paid in full. Each man may claim a set of clothing from the mercantile, a horse and saddle from the stable, and a pistol from the gunsmith here. All are paid in full. Anyone who does not want to wait for the conservator to finish the sale of the properties can take the guaranteed amount of money and other items and sign off that they are satisfied. I would like a written statement from each man who was held, signed, and notarized. I have a clerk here who can help you with that. Are there any questions?”

Several men vied to talk until the judge recognized one. “Your Honor, what’s gonna happen to the men who did this to us?”

“There will be a criminal trial unless they agree to plead guilty in order to receive a lesser sentence.”

“Your Honor, what’s a lesser sentence?”

“With everything they are accused of doing, the charges and penalties would amount to a life sentence. However, I am prepared to sentence them to a minimum of ten years at hard labor if they agree to plead guilty saving us all the time and effort of a trial.”

“Your Honor, some men died working out in that mine of theirs.”

“Sir, I know that, and some men die working at hard labor for the state of California too. They would have to take their chances.”

Looking around at the other men, the spokesman got their nods of agreement. “Thank you, Your Honor. We’d be satisfied with that.”

By the end of the day, it was done. Hoss made his statement, collected his money, and signed off on the agreement. Dressed in clean clothing and full of good food, Hoss was ready to leave. Candy and Joe had a different idea though.

“Hoss, we won’t get far leaving so late in the day. There’s one more thing we’d like to do, and you haven’t done it for six months. There’s a nice saloon here.” Grinning, Joe and Candy waited for Hoss’ response and Adam’s. Hoss was agreeable, but Adam set a condition.

“Somebody else has to share a room with Hoss. I want the couch in the lobby tonight.”

Laughing, the four men headed to the saloon. The next morning after a large breakfast and buying food for the trail, they began the journey back to the Ponderosa.

*****

Chapter 12

Knowing how anxious Ben would be to see Hoss, the four men pushed hard to get home. After several days of hard travel, they were within four hours ride of the ranch house when darkness descended. Adam wanted to keep going saying that if they rode slowly, it would be safe.

“Hoss, I think older brother there has another reason for wanting to get home. You’re safe, Pa’s safe, so who do you think he might be worried about?”

“Joe, he keeps bringing up this Ellie’s name but he don’t rightly want to talk about her when I ask. Now what do you suppose he’s trying to hide?”

“Oh, Hoss, I can see her now sitting at that bedroom window looking out at the night and saying, ‘Oh sweet Adam, when will you come home to me?’ or something just as mushy I bet.”

“So, is she pretty, Joe?”

“Real pretty, Hoss, and fresh as flowers in the spring. Course she’s real young so she’s like flowers in the spring to older brother’s wilted fall flowers.”

“How young is she?”

“I’m not completely sure, but she’s younger than I am. Guess older brother had to go after somebody younger cause all the other ladies already know about him.” Hoss started laughing then and Joe started giggling.

“You two are so funny. Why did I want one to help me rescue the other? Just so I could be subjected to this abuse?”

“Well if you three are done jawing, if we keep going but slowly, we won’t be back until midnight or later. Do you really want Hoss to arrive home and surprise your Pa that way? If we rest now and leave by first light, we can be back in time for breakfast.”

Grumbling a little, Adam had to agree that Candy’s plan made more sense. The four made camp eating a cold dinner from their provisions and then sacking out for the night. As expected Adam awoke when the first hint of dawn was in the sky. He made enough noise to awaken the others. After some coffee they made in a hurry, they took care of business and saddled up ready to ride as soon as there was enough light. Less than four hours later, Ben heard horses coming into the yard. He jumped up from the table and rushed outside with Ellie and Jamie right behind him.

Almost not recognizing Hoss with all the weight he had lost and dressed in a blue shirt and blue pants with an ordinary hat, Ben still saw that big grin and rushed to greet his son. When he hugged Hoss he had to hang on to the big man because Ben was suddenly weak in the knees. With Adam, the homecoming had been so subdued due to his needs, but Hoss was just as anxious to hug as to be hugged. He hugged Jamie and Hop Sing and then stepped up to Ellie.

“You must be Ellie. Adam talks about you all the time. I’m very pleased to meet you ma’am.” Hoss put out his hand but Ellie wrapped her arms around him making him bend down and then she gave him a big kiss on the cheek. “Well, Adam better snatch you up or I’m liable to just up and start courting you myself.”

Joe and Candy came to get a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Ellie too. Adam walked up last and she hugged him and hoped for a real kiss, but he kissed her on the cheek too although he held that kiss much longer than the usual kiss on the cheek. Adam knew when he saw her that he couldn’t deny his feelings any more at least to himself. He held her in a hug and kissed her cheek reveling in the softness of her cheek and the sweet smell of her hair, but then he released her. When everyone turned to go in the house, Adam offered Ellie his arm but she turned and walked in with the others. Adam wasn’t sure what he had done wrong, but he did know that she was upset with him. He would have to think about this for a long time so as everyone else inside sat and told the story of Hoss’ rescue or asked questions, Adam sat in his chair quietly watching the proceedings. Hop Sing announced that he was ready to serve, and Hoss let out a whoop.

“Other than missing my family, I was going plumb loco without any of Hop Sing’s cooking. Hop Sing, I hope you got plenty cause I’m powerful hungry. Course anybody would be after eating Adam’s cooking for three days.”

Adam threw up his hands in mock surrender. “All right, I’m sorry I rescued you and made you eat the food I bought.”

“Well, thank ya, brother. I like a man who can admit his faults.” That had everyone laughing and conversation during breakfast proceeded along those lines. Ellie was very much enjoying the atmosphere in the house with all the brothers reunited, and she could see that Ben was joyous too. He looked a lot younger than he had when she had first met him. Having his sons there had rejuvenated him. Then Hoss mentioned that he would like to take Chubb out for a ride.

“Well, Ellie is learning to ride. Adam was riding with her before he left to find you, and I’ve been going out riding with her while all of your were gone. Perhaps for a few days or even for the next week, you would be willing to take rides with Ellie and show her more of the Ponderosa or ride into town with her. There must be people you would like to say hello to, and then they can meet Ellie too.”

Joe and Jamie looked at each other in surprise. Their father was playing matchmaker trying to get Adam to make a move. They looked at Ben and smiled and he grinned back. Adam knew exactly what he was doing but wasn’t ready to argue that he should be the one escorting Ellie. She was disappointed that he didn’t, but she was happy that she would get to know Hoss better.

Always ready to have a party, Joe had a suggestion. “Pa, now that Hoss is home too maybe we should have a big party here to celebrate?”

“Now Joe, I think that is a wonderful idea. If we work together, we could have a party by Saturday. I know it’s only five days away, but we can do it.”

So Joe started to help with the party planning, Jamie was working on the books, and Hoss was taking Ellie riding. Adam and Candy had a very good idea of what that meant for them. They looked at each other and nodded before they got up from the table and headed outside. Ben asked where they were going.

“Joe’s planning a party with you, Ellie and Hoss are going for a ride, and Jamie’s working on the ledgers. Looks like Candy and I will be the only ones working today.” With that, Adam shut the door.

“Well wonder what’s got him all riled up?” Except Hoss laughed when he said it and the other men smiled. Only Ellie wasn’t in on the merriment. She had waited for a couple of weeks for Adam to get home, and would not have any time to spend with him. Ben saw her look.

“Sometimes Adam takes a long time to think things through. Being away from you for a couple of weeks and now here but you’re going to be with Hoss ought to get him to make up his mind.”

“So you know how I feel?”

“My dear, we all know how you feel. Adam would too if he would just stop fighting it.”

“But why would he fight it if he feels the same way I do?”

“He needs to admit it to himself and then to you. I think he made some progress here today. Just give him a bit more time. He’s pretty smart even if he is stubborn.”

Before Ellie and Hoss went for a ride, Hoss had a question for his father. “Pa, I would like to invite Elaine and Matthew to the party if that’s all right with you?”

“Hoss, after everything she’s done, why would you want to do that?” Pausing for just a second, Ben understood he thought. “You miss Matthew a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes, Pa, and I missed not seeing Elaine here this morning too. Pa, ifn I had known that Adam had never been with her like that and that he doesn’t even remember her, Pa, I woulda been asking her if I could court her. I guess I just assumed she would always be here, and I’d have time, but after what happened, I know I shouldn’t wait at all. You never know what’s gonna happen next.”

“Hoss, what if I asked you not to do this?”

“Pa, it’s gonna happen. I’m gonna see Elaine one way or another. Now I would like your blessing, but it won’t stop me if you refuse.”

“All right, Hoss, you do what you think you need to do, but just know that it’s going to create some problems for all of us. Are you ready for that?”

“Pa, none of that matters. I ain’t gonna risk losing her because I got some doubts. No sirree, I ain’t gonna do what Adam is doing by trying to find reasons not to tell Ellie he loves her.”

“You know that already?”

“Pa, the way he talks about her like he done on the trail coming back, and then the way he looks at her, I’d have to be deaf and blind not to know that.”

“I wish your brother would notice.”

“He’ll get there, Pa. I think he’s pretty close now.”

“Well, he better hurry up or she’s going to be moving on.”

“Well, Pa, I got some time over the next few days. I’ll make sure she knows and waits for him to make up his mind. It’s funny, though. I never knew him to be so slow off the mark with a woman before.”

“He’s not the same Adam we knew. Some things have changed about him and one of those seems to be his confidence. He’s more vulnerable than I think he ever was including when he was a boy. The longer he’s back, the more he seems to be regaining himself, but he may never be the same as we remember him.”

Nodding in agreement, Hoss left to go riding with Ellie. He admired her horse and then she told him Adam’s assessment of her horse. Hoss had to agree and then told her Adam and Joe were two of the best judges of horses he had ever known. The longer they rode, the more they ended up talking about Adam.

“In some ways it don’t seem fair what we’re doing.”

“Hoss, why do you say that?”

“Ellie, I’m telling you things about Adam’s life, and he might not remember them. Seems odd that you would know things about him that he doesn’t remember.”

By Saturday, Ellie knew a lot more about Adam, and had come to like Hoss very much. She advised Hoss to make sure that Elaine knew that Ellie understood why she had done what she had done and would be happy to be her friend. Hoss was happy and kissed on the cheek before he climbed into the carriage to go get Elaine and Matthew who would be staying on the Ponderosa until the next day.

At the party, Ellie wore her new dress. She looked for Adam when she walked down the stairs and saw him dancing with a lady. When the music stopped, it was clear he had noticed her entrance because he was by her side almost immediately. He asked her to dance by putting out his hand for hers and tipping his head toward the dance area. Ellie took his hand and the two danced. Adam loved her sweet scent and her gentle touch. He didn’t dare pull her too close for he feared he would embarrass her or later himself. When the dance ended, Ellie was whisked away by another guest before Adam could ask for the next dance. A lady grabbed his arm and he was soon dancing too.

A few dances later, Adam thought he would manage to get a dance with Ellie but she grabbed Joe so she could avoid dancing with all these strangers who seemed to want to dance with her. Adam stepped back to the fireplace and watched her dance and talk with Joe. When the dance ended, Joe escorted Ellie outside. Adam stood up from where he had been leaning on the fireplace as his anger grew, but Joe walked back in and looked over to him. Joe walked toward him with a look that Adam could not interpret so he waited to hear what his brother had to say. It wasn’t much.

“Go see her. She needs to talk with you.”

Walking outside, Adam didn’t see Ellie anywhere. He walked to the garden and interrupted a couple there but no Ellie. He walked around the house and then to the stable. He didn’t see her in the yard or by the corrals. As he neared the stable, Hoss was standing with Elaine and the two of them were deep in conversation. He jerked his head toward the stable. Adam walked inside but saw no one. Then he heard her. Nearing the back of the stable as his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, he saw her leaning against a saddle on a saddle stand and crying. He wanted to hold her and tell her it would be all right but didn’t know what was wrong. He reached out to touch her shoulder and she flinched away from him.

“I’m sorry. Joe said I should come and talk with you.”

“Talk, talk, all we ever do is talk.”

Confused by Ellie’s reaction, Adam wasn’t sure what she was saying. He thought and said nothing. Looking up with tear streaked cheeks and eyes wet with tears making her vision a bit blurry, Ellie couldn’t see his reaction in the dark recesses of the stable. She worried that he was disgusted with her and would walk away. Instead he stood silently there giving her no clue to what he was feeling.

“I hate this. I never know what you’re thinking. You hide your thoughts and feelings so well, I don’t know what to do. Dark or light, it doesn’t matter. I don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling.”

Reaching out a hand to touch Ellie’s cheek, Adam leaned forward and kissed her gently.

“Was that a friend kiss or a man kiss?”

With that, Adam wrapped an arm around Ellie’s waist and pulled her to him. He bent his head and brushed her lips with his before kissing her more forcefully than he had earlier. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held on as he kissed her deeply. Ellie had never been kissed like that before and was overwhelmed by the intensity of it. Adam felt her tremble in his arms and stopped his kisses.

“That was a man kissing a woman he finds very desirable, but you’re shaking like a leaf. Do you want me to stop? I shouldn’t have kissed you anyway. It’s just wrong.”

“Why is it wrong?”

“I’m eighteen years older than you. You’re six years younger than Joe.”

“When did age ever have anything to do with love? I love you, Adam Cartwright, and I don’t care how old you are. You could be thirty years older than me, and I would still love you.”

That grabbed his attention and he wrapped his arms around Ellie again. “Truly, you love me?” Adam kissed her again and this time she responded with enthusiasm as Adam coaxed her to open her mouth to him and he opened his to her. She pressed herself against him as his hand caressed her back pressing her into his embrace and his kisses. Then after a bit, he stopped kissing her again.

“Why did you stop? Am I doing it wrong?”

“No, you’re doing just fine, so fine in fact, that it’s going to be difficult for me to walk.”

“Why? Oh!” A little embarrassed then, Ellie began laughing and rested her head against his chest.

Adam shook his head and waited for her to stop. “You want honesty from me? Well here it is. I do love you, Ellie, and I want you with me forever. I never thought you could love me. I thought you would want someone younger.”

“And I thought you didn’t love me because I’m too young, and because I’m a doctor.”

“What does being a doctor have to do with it?”

“I became a doctor to practice medicine. I still want to do that.”

“Well of course you do. Did you think I would stand in your way?”

“No, I thought you wouldn’t want a wife who took care of sick and injured people. I thought men wanted a woman to keep house and cook meals.”

“Oh, sweetheart, those were not the first things on my mind. Hop Sing can take care of most of that. There are some things that only you can do for me though. So, it sounds like we’re getting married. I don’t remember asking exactly but that’s the conclusion I’ve drawn.”

In the dark, Ellie still couldn’t see Adam’s expression, but she knew that if she could, he would have that devilish and mischievous grin and his dimples would be showing. “Well a lady does like to be asked.”

“You wouldn’t be trying to set me up so you can back out on me now, would you?”

“Adam, do you think I’m that kind of person?”

“No, but it doesn’t hurt to get a little reassurance before asking such an important question. Ellie, will you marry me?”

“Yes, yes, I will. Now will you seal that with a kiss?”

“Yes, yes, I will.” Adam chuckled a little and then pulled Ellie to him again. Now that the fire had been lit, he couldn’t seem to stop kissing her, and she was enthusiastically returning his affection.

Later, Ben was looking for Adam and Ellie. The guests had all left and no one had seen either of them for hours. Hoss said the last he had seen of them, they were headed into the stable. Ben walked that way with a lantern and at the door called out Adam’s name.

“We’re in here, Pa.”

Walking in with the lantern, Ben found Adam sitting on a bale of hay with his arms around Ellie who was seated beside him and leaning back into him. “Adam, it isn’t really proper for you to be sitting in the dark with a lady like this.”

“Does it count if we’re betrothed?”

“Well of course that would make a . . . What, what did you say?”

“We’re getting married, Pa, as soon as Ellie can be ready for a wedding.”

Beaming with happiness, Ben reached for his son’s hand and for one of Ellie’s. “I am so happy for the two of you. Perhaps tomorrow you would like to announce that in church?”

Ellie looked up at Adam who was looking down at her. “Fine with me as long as Ellie doesn’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all. The sooner he tells people, the sooner I’ll know he won’t be backing out on me.”

“Have I ever?”

“No, and I’m not giving you a chance now either, but it is late, and if we’re going to church, we should go to bed.” Realizing the implications of what she had said, Ellie quickly amended her statement but not before Adam agreed he would like that. Ben shook his head at his son’s statement, and Ellie was blushing so furiously it could be seen in the lantern light. “No, I mean, in our own beds, and not with each other. Oh, Adam Cartwright, you can be awful sometimes.”

*****

Chapter 13

The sermon in church on Sunday was forgiveness and breaking down walls between neighbors. It hit pretty close to home for Ben Cartwright. He had been cool to Elaine although a polite gentleman as always. Elaine had been surprised and in a way pleased that Adam did not remember her. It meant that there was no explanation needed and he forgave her for anything she had said about him.

“There’s been a lot worse said about me that wasn’t true. A claim that I was with a beautiful woman and the father of a wonderful son isn’t so bad by comparison.” Adam had smiled and Elaine knew that he had forgiven her that easily.

Because Hoss was interested in pursuing a relationship with her, Elaine got Little Joe’s forgiveness as well. Both brothers had also been affected by Hoss explanation of why she might have done what she did, and that part of the deception was because their father had wanted it to be true. Elaine told Hoss that she wanted to come clean about what she had done, but every time she talked of leaving, Ben would insist she had to stay, and she didn’t know how to tell him then. Elaine was a quiet woman as well as shy. Seeing them together, Adam and Ellie were of the opinion that they seemed a good match.

As the church service ended, Ben was thinking a lot. He had seen how Hoss and Elaine were when they were when they were together. He had also seen Matthew sitting on Adam’s lap listening to Hoss’ brother spin a wild tale of adventures at sea. He knew looking at the two of them how ridiculous it had been to even consider that Matthew was Adam’s son. Hoss spent the day with Elaine and Matthew returning to Carson City after church services.

On Monday morning, sitting at his desk, Ben was supposed to be working on the ledgers, but instead he was staring into space thinking when Adam returned home for lunch. Adam wondered what was worrying his father so much so he asked him. He wasn’t surprised at the answer.

“Yesterday in church, I did listen carefully. It seemed that the message truly was sent from God to get me to open my heart. Adam, I can forgive Elaine. I do feel for her and the difficult situation she was in. But now Hoss is interested in seeing her, and I find I cannot forget what she did. I don’t understand how Hoss can.”

“Pa, I don’t think Hoss is ignoring what happened. He’s trying to see if he can get past it. Pa, he knew all those years that she wasn’t telling the truth, but he liked her a lot, and he loves Matthew like a son. He liked having them here. You have to remember too that he was sitting in that forced labor mine and thinking about getting back home and all the people he expected to find here.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right on that. He wasn’t here to learn of her duplicity.”

“More importantly, he wasn’t here as the decisions were made and didn’t get to say goodbye either. Give him time, Pa. He’ll work it out.”

“I hope so, Adam, I hope so. He’s been through so much, and I would hate for him to suffer any heartbreak now.”

“Trust him, Pa. He’s not a boy. He’s a man and he can handle it. Now, I finished the count in the southern pasture. I would like to take Ellie on a picnic. We have a lot to talk about. Do you know where she is?”

“She was helping Hop Sing.”

Surprised that there was no yelling coming from the kitchen, Adam walked there and found Ellie and Hop Sing sitting at the table preparing vegetables for dinner. Hop Sing was teaching Ellie some Chinese. Adam was amazed but Ellie explained that it would help if she had any Chinese patients because not all of them knew English. Adam just warned her to be sure of what she was saying because changing some minor points could lead to a very different word being said. When asked if she would like to go on a picnic, Ellie jumped up immediately. Soon Hop Sing and Ellie had packed up a lunch. Ellie bowed and said goodbye to Hop Sing in Chinese causing the cook to smile broadly. As soon as Adam got Ellie away from the ranch yard, he pulled up and waited for Ellie to ride up next to him. He leaned toward her to invite a kiss which he got. Smiling then, they rode to the lake. Talking and lunch were delayed at the lake because as soon as the two of them pulled out the picnic blanket, the two of them sank down on the blanket and began kissing. As usual, Adam had to call a halt to the intimacy. He truly wanted her but also wanted her to be able to be ready to make love and expected she would want that to happen on her wedding night. Her first statement though brought him back to more practical concerns.

“Paul is ready for me to start working. After church yesterday, he gave me a short list of women he wants me to visit in the next week, and he even included a map to show me how to get to each one. It’s not very complicated.”

“You’re going to be gone a lot then.”

“It’s only three women so far, Adam. How long could it take?” Still unused to the distances involved when traveling out in the west, Ellie thought that she could see all three women on the same day. Adam had to say that based on the names she disclosed, it would be at least two days and could be three if she ran into any difficulties that took a lot of time even though two of the women lived relatively close to each other separated by two miles of open ground where trees had been clearcut. However it wouldn’t be safe traveling that way for an inexperienced horsewoman, so she would have to take the road which made the trip about four miles instead of two.

“It seems the only real solution would be for us to build a house closer to town. That way you could have shorter trips to go see patients.”

“That sounds like a good idea. How long would that take?”

“I have some basic house designs already, but I would like to know what you want in a house before I finish a design for our house. I would think that we could have a house ready by spring.”

“A spring wedding would be nice too.”

“Do you want to wait that long to get married?”

“Adam, I know you want to get married as quickly as we can, but it seems rushed to me. I want to be ready to marry, and right now I’m feeling very nervous about it all.”

“Spring is a long way off.”

A mark of a strong relationship is the ability to understand the other’s feelings and being able and willing to accomodate their needs. Both Adam and Ellie began to talk, then laughed, and then Adam told Ellie to go first.

“Perhaps we could have an early winter wedding. That would give us time together because you’ve told me how snow bound the area can get after the new year begins.” Smiling, Adam nodded. “Now, your turn.”

“I was going to say the same thing. I guess that means we’ve made a decision.”

With that, Ellie nodded. “I like it that we’re not rushing in to it. Now, about that house. Why don’t you do more architectural work? I’ve seen some of your drawings, and they’re wonderful.”

“I don’t remember why I didn’t before. I mentioned it once to Pa, and he acted like he didn’t want to talk about it like it wasn’t important enough to talk about.”

“What did your father say about why you left all those years ago?”

“He said I just wanted to travel.”

“You don’t seem like that kind of person. There has to be more to it. I know you don’t remember why you left, but could it be because it was a dispute between you and your father, and perhaps you don’t want to remember it. Laying back on the blanket and staring at the sky, Adam thought about his leaving. He couldn’t remember, and his father didn’t want to talk about it. What Ellie said made sense. He needed to make his own place in the world. He knew that about himself. Marriage was one step, but a new house and possibly working on something other than the requirements of the Ponderosa would be important too. He worried though about how these ideas would affect his relationship with his father. He had already broached the subject of a new house, and Ben had been completely against it. Adam remembered the arguments his father had to support his opinion. Adam designed the main house of the Ponderosa, he had already been gone so long and his family missed him, they could add on to the house, they would all be safer by living together, and finally Ben’s conclusion that Ellie did not need to work. Adam knew that if he told Ellie what his father had said, it would change her relationship with her future father-in-law. However there is no love without trust, and he needed to tell Ellie the truth, so he did.

As expected, Ellie was upset with the things that Ben had said, and it reinforced her opinion that Adam leaving eight years earlier had a lot to do with Ben and his attitudes and behavior. “What are we going to do? He’ll never agree to us building a house and me working.”

“I’ve been thinking of a plan.” And Adam laid out a plan with the purpose of having Ben suggest to them that they ought to build a new house. They planned to begin implementing the plan slowly and increasing it incrementally over the next few weeks. Ellie liked how it would seem so natural that it was unlikely anyone would suspect they were up to anything.

After dinner that evening, Ellie mentioned to Adam that she was riding to see a patient the next day. He appeared not to like that because he said he had thought they ought to have lunch together and now they wouldn’t be able to do that. The next night, they had another similar conversation but Adam acted more perturbed. Each mention of Ellie working for Doctor Martin and calling on pregnant women got Adam to react negatively. By the fourth evening of that bickering, Adam stormed outside to chop wood. Over the next few days, he did that more and more. On Saturday morning when he did that, Ellie went out to talk with him. He had his shirt off by then, and Ellie thought again about how much she loved him and loved looking at him. Never having been part of one of Adam’s plans before, Ellie needed a little reassurance that all was well between them.

“Our mock fighting is just that, isn’t it?”

“Sweetheart, of course. You’re not thinking I mean any of what I’ve said?”

“Well, it seems like you’re so angry sometimes.”

“C’mere.” Adam pulled Ellie into his arms and kissed her with all the passion he had been holding in for the last several days. “This is the only bad thing about our fake arguments. To be convincing, I can’t be showing you how much I love you all the time.”

Unwilling to let go of Adam now that he was finally holding her again, Ellie pointed at the scars on his left shoulder and left arm. “Where did you get those?”

“I don’t remember. I don’t know why I don’t remember those. Maybe it’s like why I left. Maybe I don’t want to remember. I do remember how I got this one.” Adam pushed Ellie away just enough to point out the scar on his abdomen. “An Apache shot me. That was bad too. I’m lucky to be alive after being shot there.”

“Why were you shot by an Apache?”

So Adam explained about that incident. “If you want to look at more scars, I’ll have to take off my pants.” Ellie mock slapped him for that one, but he just laughed, grabbed her, and kissed her. That’s when the plan almost fell apart as Joe rounded the corner of the house to get some wood as requested by Hop Sing.

“I thought you two were fighting? Have you made up finally?”

“No, and no. Joe can we trust you with something?”

Looking a little wary, Joe looked from Adam to Ellie and back again. “What’s up?”

“We need Pa to think we’re fighting. Please just ignore this. It’s important.”

Ellie appealed to him as well, and Joe agreed to help them but he did insist they explain why they were doing it. Joe admired the plan as well as how flawlessly they had been executing it up to the point when he caught them kissing passionately. By that weekend, Adam was summoned by Ben who wanted to talk. Adam played his part as he and Ellie had planned. “Pa, she’s a doctor. She’s dreamed of doing this. She could move on if she’s not happy here. I don’t know what I should do.”

“Son, perhaps you should think about that idea you had about building a house for the two of you. I want you to stay on the Ponderosa, but if you picked some land closer to town, perhaps you and Ellie could work out a solution to what you want and what she wants. I really would like to see the two of you married, and something like this needs to be resolved so you can go ahead with the wedding.”

“Pa, we’ll talk and see what we can work out.” Adam smiled and was enthusiastic about telling Ellie, and that part was not a ruse.

After dinner that night, Adam and Ellie went outside to talk. They were both very happy and expressed that with each other until Adam called a halt again. Then they decided that it was time to talk about a wedding date too. By the time they came inside, they announced that they were going to be building a house on the Ponderosa and would be choosing a site soon. They also announced that they planned to marry on the Saturday before Christmas if that was all right with Ben. Ben approved of all their plans. Adam and Ellie went up to his room to look at architectural drawings he had of houses to make decisions so that Adam could get started on their house plan. Ben frowned at them going to Adam’s bedroom to do that, but also knew that they both already knew what he thought and would likely not be happy if he expressed his displeasure. Later that night seeing how comfortable Adam and Ellie were together, Ben wondered if he had been manipulated and then decided it didn’t matter that much as long as Adam was staying and would be married and living on the Ponderosa. Planning a wedding and a new house kept Adam and Ellie busy for weeks. They chose a home site, worked on a guest list for the wedding, got Paul Martin to agree to give the bride away, and asked Hop Sing how much help he would need for such a celebration. The guest list would have to be limited to who could fit comfortably inside the house so that simplified some of the preparations.

For several weeks, Hoss spent Sundays over in Carson, and then suddenly he was home on a Sunday. Everyone wondered why, and Adam offered to help Hoss care for the horses after they returned from church services. Expecting that the two brothers might talk, the others agreed that was good idea and went into the house.

“I suppose everybody is wondering why I ain’t over to Carson seeing Elaine and Matthew.”

“Well it was kind of sudden so I would guess we all wonder. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Last week, Elaine was hinting at us making our relationship a bit more formal, maybe like me sayin as how I would court her.”

Adam waited letting Hoss decide how much to say and how fast.

“That’s when I realized something. We lost a lot of years cause she didn’t tell the truth. I really like her a lot, but I can’t get past that. I guess I don’t trust her yet. Once she knew that I was feeling attracted to her, she shoulda told me. She didn’t, and if you weren’t found, I’m thinking she might never have told me.”

“I understand. You can’t love someone you can’t trust.”

“You know about that I guess after Laura. You remember that?”

“Yes, for some reason, I remember that situation. I think I was more in love with the idea of being married and having a family than I was in love with Laura. I loved Peggy, but I’m not sure I ever loved Laura like I should have if we were going to get married. Of course, her being with Will when she was supposed to be my fiancee may have affected how I remember it all.”

“Adam, I really do miss Matthew though. I know I would be over there today if I could see Matthew without seeing his mother.”

“Perhaps you need to have this conversation with Elaine. Her son has no father so it would seem reasonable for her to want you to be like an uncle to her son.”

“Well she was disappointed when I said I wasn’t ready to get more serious. What do you think about that?”

“She’s had a week to think about it. Maybe go see her and see what she’s thinking now, and you could ask about seeing Matthew too.”

Nodding, Hoss began putting the saddle back on Chubb.

“No lunch?”

“This is real important, Adam. I gotta get going, but I wouldn’t mind if you was to ask Hop Sing to get a few things ready that I could eat along the way.”

In a short time as Adam watched Hoss ride away, he said a small prayer that his brother would be able to work out an arrangement with Elaine. He didn’t remember her, but she had seemed nice when she had been at the party. She may have also seemed a bit insecure and lacking in confidence. Those traits could be the reason that she had perpetrated the scam in the first place. She wanted Hoss to trust her, but she needed to trust him too. Perhaps in time they could work something out and develop a closer relationship. He was able to give a bit of good news to his family without violating Hoss’ trust and divulging anything that Hoss had said. Adam explained only his side of the conversation, and Ellie was surprised because she had not known that much about Laura. Later the two of them would talk more about that.

*****

Chapter 14

“You’re more nervous than a filly in her first time with a stallion. Just stand still so Joe can get your tie straight. I thought you would be looking forward to this day. She made ya wait long enough.”

“I am looking forward to today, it’s just all this ceremonial stuff that makes me nervous. I want everything to go well for Ellie’s sake. She’s joining this family forever, and that’s a really big step for her.”

“Don’t worry. Paul and Pa have been talking with her. Probably reassuring her that you’re not too bad a choice although of course she coulda done so much better with me or Joe. Just her bad luck to meet you first.”

“Hoss, he’s probably just nervous about tonight. Maybe we ought to give our older brother some advice on what to do on his wedding night.”

“No, thank you. I want Ellie to still want to be with me after tonight. You seem to go through ladies like water through a sluice.”

“Hey, be nice to me, now. I talked Hoss and Candy out of having a shivaree tonight.”

“Joe that ain’t true. It was the cold wind that started blowing today that did that. We didn’t want to be out there around midnight.”

“Well that was very smart of you.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I would shoot anyone who would do that to Ellie.”

“Oh, ah, well then I guess it’s a good thing it’s so cold outside today.”

Contrary to what Adam feared, the wedding occurred without a problem. Paul was there to give the bride away, Hoss stood with Adam and didn’t lose the ring, and the reception line was flawless. Dinner was served buffet style and then there was dancing. Adam danced as often as he could with his bride but because it was a wedding, there were many others who wanted dances including his father, his three brothers, and Candy. They could hardly be refused. As the hours passed, Ellie got more and more nervous and scared though. She had never been with a man, and did not have another woman here with whom she could talk about that. In her family, mothers talked to their daughters about that when their wedding neared but Ellie’s mother was deceased as was her father. Hoss noticed how tense she was when they danced and asked her if a bit of punch might help her relax. She thought that was good idea.

“Now you sit here and sip that punch because I know it’s been spiked at least twice already. It’s the man’s punch so it ain’t just the fruit juice you and the other ladies been drinking.”

A little tasted very good so as soon as Hoss walked away, Ellie drained the cup of punch. Then Joe came up and asked her to dance. She was feeling better and danced with Joe, but he still thought that she was wound up, and asked her if she would like a cup of punch to settle her nerves. She thought that was a good idea too. By the time Ben came to claim a dance, Ellie was feeling very happy, but when Ben asked how she was doing, she did mention that she was a bit scared. Ben went to get her some of the spiked punch thinking a little alcohol might help her face her fears a bit better.

Now Ellie had never had any alcohol in her life before that night. She was also a relatively small woman and the alcohol went right through her system. By the time Adam got to her side again, she was slurring her words. “Adam, honey, your family hash been sho naish to me.” It didn’t take a detective to know what had happened. Adam took Ellie by the elbow and ushered her to the kitchen. Ben saw them go and worried that something had gone wrong because it was the first marriage of a son and he had feared from the moment he was told Adam was marrying Ellie that something would go wrong. When he got to the kitchen, Adam was trying to get Ellie to drink some coffee.

“Adam, the guests are starting to leave. You and Ellie should be out there thanking them.”

“Not in the condition you and my brothers have gotten my wife. She’s not feeling well. It was the punch.”

“But I only gave her one cup.”

“And from what she remembers, Joe gave her one, and Hoss gave her one. She’s drunk, so I don’t think we’ll be going out to say goodbye to anyone. You’ll just have to tell them that Ellie isn’t feeling well.”

“Adam, if I say that, you know what kind of stories will start going around.”

“Well, they can count. In nine months, they’ll know it wasn’t that. But if I take her out there like this, they’ll all know she’s drunk.”

Ben was rather pleased to hear that there was nothing to worry about if people started watching the calendar, but he knew there would be some small problems with the announcement he would have to make. Then he assumed there would have to be an apology for Adam and Ellie once she sobered up. He would also warn Joe and Hoss to avoid the kitchen. This wasn’t going to be easily forgiven by his oldest son.

Once Hop Sing and his cousins cleaned up the kitchen, Adam asked them to heat water for a bath. He picked Ellie up in his arms and carried her to the washroom. Soon Hop Sing and his cousins were carrying hot water and a tub in there. Then the door was closed. Ben went up to Adam’s room and got two robes and brought them downstairs. He knocked on the washroom door and told Adam what he had. Adam opened the door, grabbed the robes, and then slammed the door. He was one frustrated and angry groom who then had to help Ellie undress and slide into the warm water. The warm water made her drowsy, and Adam had to make sure she didn’t slide under the water. He kept giving her more coffee to drink. After about an hour, she began to sober up and then really was sick. Adam held her hair back as she retched and wondered what he could do to his family to get even for this. Then he helped her rinse and freshen her mouth with the sweet aromatic tea Hop Sing had provided for that purpose. Finally he was able to wrap a robe around her and carry her to the downstairs guest room. He had planned that they would have a romantic wedding night there but now the candles remained unlit, but the boughs of evergreens wrapped in ribbons did give the room a nice fresh scent.

After retrieving the second robe, Adam slid into bed next to Ellie and pulled her into his arms. She was undressed but sleeping. It would have to do for his wedding night. Ellie awoke during the night to feel a warm body pressed against hers and soft breath blowing on her face. After a moment her heart stopped racing when she realized it was Adam. Then she tried to remember what had happened but could remember only bits and pieces. She wondered if they had made love but couldn’t remember anything like that. She did have to use the necessary and wondered how she would manage that with no clothing and in an unfamiliar room. As soon as she tried to slip out of bed, Adam’s arm pulled her back even though he was still half asleep.

“Adam, I have to go. I don’t know where my clothes are and I don’t know where the chamberpot is or even if I should use one with you right here.”

After pulling on his robe, Adam pulled out a chamber pot form a cabinet next to the bed. Then he left the room so that Ellie could have some privacy. He sat in a chair in the great room staring at the coals of the fire. Soon he felt two cool hands on his neck.

“I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened.”

“Sweetheart, you drank too much of the spiked punch.”

“I was drunk?”

“Yes, and I have my family to thank for it, but I guess each one thought it would help relax you.”

“Well other than having to use the necessary, I was feeling pretty relaxed before. It was so nice and warm and cozy. Could we go back there and try that again?”

Standing then, Adam picked Ellie up in his arms and she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Are you still afraid?”

“No. You undressed me, gave me a bath, and slept by me. I know you won’t hurt me and that you’ll do everything you can to make this a memorable wedding night.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever forget this night.”

“Well then, let’s make some memories that will make the rest seem like it never happened.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Once in the bedroom again, Ellie was going to remove her robe but Adam stopped her. “Allow me, please.” Then he untied the belt of the robe and kissed her deeply as he pushed the robe off her shoulders trailing kisses down her cheek and neck to her shoulder as his hands caressed her. Then he did the same to the other side kissing that cheek and side of her neck until he was kissing her shoulder. Ellie pulled the belt of his robe loose and pushed it off his shoulders when he paused in his exploration of her body. They did have a memorable wedding night even if the main event was delayed by several hours. The next morning, they heard the rest of the family quietly leaving. Smiling at each other in the early winter morning light, they kissed and found they were ready to enjoy more lovemaking.

Adam and Ellie didn’t get out of bed until eleven and only then because Adam thought his family would be back from church services soon. When Ben, Hoss, and Joe returned, Adam and Ellie were sipping tea and eating doughnuts in front of the fire. They were hesitant to approach the newlyweds until Adam offered up some doughnuts saying Hop Sing had made more than they could eat. Peace was restored, and even Ellie was eventually able to laugh about getting drunk on her wedding night. Within a few days, it would be Christmas and in the spirit of the season, and because he did in fact get to make love, twice, to his wife on his wedding night, Adam forgave his father and his brothers.

*****

 

Heart of Ice

Chapter 1

Cold, it was so damn cold. Adam chuckled a little then imagining his father there looking sternly at him for his language. He was thinking perhaps he could talk a little more like Hoss so he could get away with dadblamed and dadburnit instead of his father’s disapproval of what he considered to be his too frequent use of hell and damn. But, hell, it was damn cold and he hurt all over. Then he thought about that again and realized he hurt in about half the places he could hurt. His right arm and leg felt fine so whatever had done the damage must have come from the other side, because damn it to hell his left arm and left leg were hurting terribly. He chuckled again at his own language even though none of it was verbalized because his jaw and mouth hurt like hell too. He opened his mouth to let some snowflakes in and enjoyed the sweet moisture even if it wasn’t much. Slowly he opened his eyes and blinked rapidly. It was dark but he could see a few snowflakes so he wasn’t blinded although his headache let him know he had been hit hard enough on his head that it could have happened.

Carefully and slowly, Adam used his right arm to pull himself onto his right side to survey his situation. He was in the shelter of some large boulders that had been heated by the sun apparently and still held some warmth. He dragged himself and alternately pushed with his right leg until he had wedged himself further between the boulders. No more snow fell on him and soon it was over anyway. He pulled his legs up even though it hurt a lot to move his left leg but he needed to get himself into as compact a position as he could to conserve the body heat he had left. He hoped that dawn wasn’t too far away. It could get unbearably hot in this high desert even at this time of year, but the nights could drop to freezing and obviously had. He shivered and breathed deeply with his head bowed so the warmed air blew over his hands and thighs. It was all he could do, but he knew he needed to survive for his brothers’ lives probably depended on that. To stay awake, he replayed the scenes of the previous few days and how he had ended up in this predicament. That was too unpleasant for the time being though so he recalled more warming memories.

Christmas had been so much more exciting than it had been for the previous eight years. He had spent all those previous Christmas days alone or with near strangers. There had been no warm body lying next to him in bed warming his heart and his desire. Leaning on his elbow, he had looked down at his wife as she slept on Christmas morning. He recalled everything that had happened leading up to that moment and then after. Elizabeth Warren Hastings had agreed to be his wife. He remembered his father’s look when he realized that Ellie’s name was actually Elizabeth and she was from Boston. From that point though, the similarities to his mother ended. Ellie was strong although half a foot shorter than Adam. She was a professional who had been working part-time as a doctor until winter and a wedding had confined her to the Ponderosa. Although she had never been with a man before Adam, she became an enthusiastic participant in lovemaking so much that they had made the downstairs guest room theirs so that their noises wouldn’t disturb the rest of the family. The basic structure of a house for them was already done on Ponderosa land nearer to town, and they would finish it in spring. At least that had been the plan. He remembered her talking about the house on Christmas morning.

“Won’t it be lovely to have our own house? On mornings like this, we could go snuggle in front of the Christmas tree, sipping our tea, and eating cookies.”

“We could do that here.”

“Yes, but in my fantasy, we don’t get dressed first.”

Adam had to laugh when she talked like that. “For someone who had no idea what to do a few days ago, you certainly have become very bold. I like that. We could snuggle here, and then go out and have cookies and sip tea in front of the tree.”

“Next year can we make love by the Christmas tree? It would be so beautiful.”

“Sweetheart, when I’m with you, I wouldn’t notice the tree.”

“Oh, I meant afterwards.”

Leaning down, Adam had kissed his wife until she giggled. “Why are you giggling?”

“Your chest hair tickles me.”

“And what would you like me to do about that?”

“Ah, tickle me some more, all over.”

Tickling had nearly sent him over the edge literally a day earlier when they went to get a tree with Joe, Hoss, and Jamie. They took the sleigh and as usual Hoss and Joe could not agree on a tree. Adding to the dilemma, Ellie didn’t agree with either of them. Jamie wisely kept his opinion to himself. Standing next to Ellie who had picked out a tree that was pretty but would look like a dwarf in the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house, Adam did say what he was thinking. “Joe your tree is too tall. We’d have to cut ten feet off of it just to get it in the door. Ellie, yours is too short. Hoss, I think your tree is just right.”

Because Ellie pouted a little with that, Adam wrapped an arm around her and tickled her with the other hoping to break any bad mood she might be slipping into. She did laugh, and he stopped, but then she shoved him backwards and down the slope. Unfortunately falling backwards with his head downslope, he couldn’t stop and slid at least twelve feet down. When he put out an arm to get some leverage, he sank deeper into the soft snow. It seemed only Hoss recognized the danger.

“Adam, don’t move. I’ll get the rope and pull you up outta there.”

Using the rope they had brought along to drag the tree home, Hoss made a loop and tossed it to Adam who was able to work it down around his chest. Once it was secured, Hoss and Joe pulled and got Adam back up the slope to the level ground where the sleigh sat. He was covered in snow and a lot had gone up his pant legs and under his coat. He started shivering almost immediately. Hoss told him to get in the sleigh and under the quilt and blanket they had along.

“Now get them wet clothes off of ya first before you get the blankets wet too.”

Boots, pants, jacket, and shirt were quickly removed and then Adam dropped into the back of the sleigh and pulled the blanket and quilt over and around him but continued shivering.

“Now, there’s just one thing left to do to help him. Someone has to strip down and get under there with him to warm him up.” Three sets of eyes turned toward Ellie.

“No, this must be some sort of Cartwright joke. You don’t really think I’m undressing in front of all of you.”

One look at Hoss and Ellie thought he did in fact want her to do that. “Nah, your clothes are mostly dry. Get under them blankets and then take off your jacket and such. Adam needs some warmth and you’re the best bet for somebody he won’t mind snuggling up with. Keep your clothes with ya under there. You can spread your jacket over the two of you and that’ll help too.”

When they arrived home, Ellie quickly pulled on her clothing while still under the blanket. Adam picked up his wet clothing, and while still wrapped in the blankets, headed for the washroom.

Ben stood and waited for an explanation for the bizarre behavior and was laughing uproariously by the time Hoss and Joe finished telling the story. In the washroom, Adam was stepping into a warm bath and thought they were getting far too much entertainment from his misery. So on Christmas morning when Ellie asked him to tickle her all over, he had to ask.

“You’re not pushing me over the side if I do, are you?”

Ben was the first downstairs and was walking to get a cup of coffee when he heard the laughter. Then as he exited the kitchen, he noticed how quiet it seemed and smiled, contented that he finally had a son married and happy. Then he sat in the red chair and waited for Joe to come racing down the stairs as he did every Christmas. If anyone was made for Christmas, it was Joe who was as delighted as a boy every Christmas. He always wanted to be the one who handed out the gifts that were stacked under the tree. Like a large elf, he handled those duties with aplomb and his enthusiasm was contagious. Christmas had been exciting and enlightening. All the presents had been handed out when Joe brought the last one to Adam who presented it to his bride. He had asked Joe to hold it until all the other gifts were handed out and opened. Ellie was excited and opened the paper and then the velvet box as excitement grew. However then she started crying and buried her head in Adam’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her and held her as everyone else waited in worry over what had caused her to be so upset. Finally she turned to the others and smiled with a teary look. She held up her gift. It was a golden necklace from which dangled an angel pendant with a ruby on one wing and a sapphire on the other.

“My mother’s name was Ruby and my father’s favorite color was blue. Adam got me this to remember my parents.”

“I was going to give it to you to wear on our wedding day for something new and something blue, but then I worried that you might react just this way so I held it back for today.”

Over the next two months, the extended family Cartwright got to see how Adam and Ellie were developing their relationship as husband and wife. In the evenings, they read together as Adam’s reading continued to improve. Ben still marveled at the fact that his college educated and well-read son had to learn to read all over again. Ellie said it was evidence that his lack of memory was probably due to a small stroke as well as possible brain damage.

There were memories Adam didn’t retrieve as he continued to recover his memory as a whole, but most of those seemed to be things that no one wanted to push him to remember. He didn’t remember killing Sam Board and losing Regina as a result. He didn’t remember that his good friend Ross had killed his own wife and then Adam had killed him. Adam carried two scars from those incidents and Ellie had asked about them. He didn’t remember and told her perhaps it was best if he didn’t remember. He didn’t remember being held captive, abused, and used as a beast of burden in the desert by Kane who seemed to want to drive Adam to kill him. No one in the family wanted to remind him of that time. He seemed to have vague recollections of Sue Ellen Terry and Ruth, but no memory at all of Regan. Ellie suspected that there was an emotional component to these memory deficits, but after talking with Ben, Hoss, and Joe who filled her in on more of Adam’s story, she told them it might be best if they didn’t push him on those memories which might never come back.

Overall the winter passed pleasantly enough. There were nights spent singing or playing games like chess and checkers. There were repairs made to the buildings, and lots of work done on harness and saddles as well as other tack. Horses had to be groomed and exercised. There were all the chores that had to be done on a daily basis, and some that were a result of the weather such as clearing snow from the roofs, and shoveling open paths to the necessary and to the woodpile. Ellie worked on getting some sewing done as she replaced the curtains in their room, and made some napkins for the table. Most importantly for Adam and Ellie, they worked on what they wanted to do to finish their house and on lists of things they would need in order to live there. Travel was too difficult usually for Ellie to leave to help Doctor Martin but there was less demand in the winter as well as activities diminished all over the area. Adam did take her in the sleigh to help two women birth their babies, and he had been so impressed by her skills not only in delivering babies but in dealing with nervous fathers and scared siblings. Despite all the activity, everyone was relieved when spring arrived early. Except that’s when the bickering started.

It didn’t help of course that Will decided to bring the family for a visit about that time. Laura expected to be able to use the downstairs guestroom and was put out that Adam and Ellie were using it. When she found out that Ellie was also working a few days a week, she made her disapproval of Adam’s wife all too apparent. Peggy seemed oblivious to it all and happy to be back with Adam and his family at least for a short time. Ben talked with them quite a lot during the day while Adam and Ellie were at the new house and Joe and Hoss were out making repairs to fence lines damaged in the winter storms and early spring run-off.

“Ben, when we heard Adam was back, we were shocked. Laura wanted to come right away but I thought a bit of time for him to get settled in would make more sense. I had no idea he was getting married.”

“Will, Adam settled back in rather quickly, and the wedding was at Christmas so no out of town guests were invited because of the difficulties of travel at that time of year. Will, is everything all right between the two of you? Laura seems very unhappy about everything.”

“That’s just it, Uncle. She is unhappy about everything. It seems that I can’t do anything right as far as she is concerned. Our house isn’t big enough, our friends aren’t of a high enough rank, and so on. I’m guessing Adam is feeling pretty lucky these days. She was so looking forward to this trip. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of her unhappiness was in finding that Adam was married. Now she seems to want to find a reason why that should not be a happy conclusion for him.”

“He is happy, but that should not be a concern for Laura. He moved on with that a long time ago. There are some unpleasant things in his past he doesn’t remember, but he remembers all about Laura, and I believe he has told Ellie about what happened as well.”

“Well, that would explain the looks we’ve gotten from the good doctor. I don’t think she’ll mind at all when we leave. However, if Laura keeps making those snide remarks, I get the feeling there’s going to be a doozy of fight here either between Laura and Ellie or between Adam and Laura.”

“Can you get Laura to tone down those remarks especially about Ellie not being a lady by being a doctor and working? I know that irritates both Adam and his wife.”

“I can try, Uncle, but Laura will likely just find something else to harp on then.”

“Ellie can hold her own in a dispute. Don’t forget she’s married to Adam and it takes quite a woman to stand up to him.”

“Adam doesn’t seem the same. He looks good and he seems happy, but some of that old fierceness seems to be lacking.”

“He is different and yet the same. It could be that he has lived a different kind of life for most of the last eight years, and he doesn’t remember some of the tougher times he had or we had.”

“I guess that would explain it. Is he ever going to remember or did that typhoid take some memories away forever?”

“Ellie thinks there’s an emotional reason in addition to the physical because it’s the mostly unpleasant things, the things that he felt so bad about, that he doesn’t remember. Will, for some reason, I get the feeling that Laura is jealous of Ellie. Now that’s silly of course because she’s married to you.”

“Not so silly. I wondered why Laura pushed so hard to have us come see Adam. I’m beginning to wonder if she thought there was some hope of mending fences with him. Once she found out he was already married though, she got very upset.”

“This cannot end well.”

“No, Uncle, that’s my conclusion as well.”

The altercation didn’t take long to occur. Laura greeted Ellie and Adam on their return with one of her classic snipes, and Ellie had had enough.

“Laura, you need to learn some ladylike manners if you intend to be a guest in this house again.”

“Well, I don’t think I need to take lessons on etiquette from a woman who works as a doctor with all those filthy things a doctor has to do, and then goes riding in pants astride a horse. Those are certainly not things a real lady would do.”

“Well, let me see. I don’t go around accepting the attentions of one man after having promised to marry another. I don’t surprise him and cause him to have an injury and then keep seeing the other man anyway. I know that etiquette is treating other people with respect which you seem incapable of doing.”

“Well, I never.”

“And somehow that doesn’t surprise me either. Your nasty little comments about Adam and me being together would seem to indicate an unnatural antipathy toward normal marital relations.”

Ben encouraged both Will and Adam to intervene, but both shook their heads and refused. They were not about to step in between these two unless it came to blows which was unlikely. They did trade facial expressions at the barbs being thrown, and at the last one, Will gave a thumbs up to Adam which seemed to indicate he agreed with Ellie. Laura saw that and started in on Will. Ellie walked to Adam and looked up to see if he was angry, but he looked more amused than anything. Ben however looked furious making Ellie wince. She knew that she was going to have to work on an apology for him. Not surprisingly, Will and Laura decided to leave the next day. Even though some grudging apologies had been given, the animosity was palpable.

For Ben who thought peace would reign in the house then, there was disappointment. Joe and Hoss who had been doing the fence repairs began to prepare for the spring round-up which Adam intended to skip as he had the fence repairs. He was busy finishing his new house and needed time to work on it. Both Hoss and Joe objected and there were daily snipes about that until Ben demanded to know at dinner one night what it would take to satisfy his two middle sons.

“Well he could help with rounding up some mustangs for the contracts we have, and we have the spring drive coming up too.”

Accepting that he would have to pitch in more to keep the peace, Adam threw out an olive branch. “Which of those do you want me to do?”

In a chorus, Hoss and Joe answered. “Both!”

Seeing how disgruntled his brothers were, Adam agreed but with one condition. “I need a couple of days to finish the house while you finish the round-up. Then if you could help me move our stuff over there, Ellie can take care of most of the organizing. I do want someone to stay there with her. The stable has a room, and I was hoping to hire someone to take care of things there while I’m gone. Is there someone you could recommend for that job?”

Because catching the mustangs was only expected to take a week to ten days, Adam was convinced that he should postpone the move to the new house until he got back from that when the weather would be better too. He agreed although he had been excited to move to his own home. Ellie saw that but told him it was all right with her because she would rather move into their new home together. So it was all set, and the following Monday, the three brothers set off on a trek to catch some mustangs.

*****

Chapter 2

Not recalling being separated from Adam for more than a day since she had met him, Ellie was feeling very lonely as she watched her husband of only a few months ride away. She turned and went back into the house to get her bag. She had several women she should see for with the winter snows, she had not seen them in two months. Hop Sing packed a lunch for her, and she left within an hour with a map drawn by her father-in-law and an admonition that if at any time, if she wasn’t sure where she was, she was to backtrack and get home safely. He would be able to send Jamie with her to any destination she was unable to reach. The day went well except she couldn’t find the cutoff to her last patient and was frustrated that she had to return home and ask for help. Ben smiled.

“My dear, you did better than I expected. None of these women live near main roads, and you did well to find the three you did. Tomorrow, Jamie will go with you to call on the last one on your list. If there’s any other help you need with anything, do not hesitate to ask. My son would never forgive me if I didn’t take good care of you while he was gone.”

That nearly caused tears as Ellie took her leave and went to freshen up after all the travel. She had been so busy during the day that she had not had time to miss Adam, but now she did feel his absence and wondered how she would be able to sleep. She did smile as she remembered that only a few months earlier, she slept alone every night as she had since she was a child, but the last few months with Adam by her side and often holding her made her feel safer and more secure than she could remember.

On the trail, Adam was still getting sniped at by his brothers who made him constantly aware that they felt he had not been pulling his fair share of work. He wondered if they were angry at him because he had been gone for years or only angry that in the last few weeks, he had been spending a lot of time working on his new house. It turned out to be a little of each of these and something else too. Apparently they needed to unburden themselves of their anger so Adam decided to confront them before he lost his temper and said some things he wouldn’t be able to take back. As they made camp after riding until darkness prevented any more progress, and each did some of the necessary tasks, he decided it was time.

“Do either or both of you want to just say what’s on your mind and tell me why you’re so mad at me?”

Finding that it was easier to snipe than to confront their older brother, both Hoss and Joe were quiet for a time. Finally it was Hoss who started it and surprised Adam. “Reckon we just got you back and now you’re leaving again. Didn’t understand why you left the first time, and don’t know that you leaving this time makes that much sense to me either.”

“Hoss, I can’t answer the first part of that. I don’t remember why I left the first time. I know I traveled a lot and maybe that was it, but I have to say I probably didn’t handle that leaving very well if you’re still upset about it. I tried to talk to Pa about it, but he says it’s in the past and should stay there so that told me too that I didn’t handle it well, I guess.”

“You really don’t remember leaving?”

“Not at all. I remember some of the things that happened before I left. I’m guessing that probably the situation with Laura and Will might have been part of it. That makes sense to me, but I just don’t remember anything that made it happen when it did.”

“Well, what about now? It’s been so good for all of us especially Pa to have you at the table for dinner, and to play chess or do some singing.” Joe didn’t like the upheaval that was going to occur just when it seemed everything had been going so well.

“Joe, Pa knows why and even suggested the solution so that Ellie could continue her work.”

“Yeah, but the two of you manipulated him into that idea. He would never have told you to build that house except he was worried that Ellie might leave, and all he wants is for you to be happy.”

“And this is what will make me happy. I need to trust my wife and support her. She feels a great need to work. I pulled her out here to a completely new life, and the least I can do is support her as she tries to make a place for herself in this country. If the ranch house was closer to town, we wouldn’t need to move. We could have added on the house, but Ellie has to be able to get to town, and the lower elevation of the house and closer proximity to town and the main roads is what she needed.”

“But did you have to go so far away?”

“Both of you can visit any time you want. We are on the way to town so every time you pass by, you could consider dropping in.” That invitation seemed to mollify them, and the complaint that he hadn’t been working hard enough disappeared because it was only that they resented the work he had been doing because it meant he would be leaving that much sooner. Each of the brothers needed to get used to the idea that they could live within miles of each other and still be close. “Whenever either of you get married, would you want to keep living with Pa?”

Answering negatively almost before Adam finished the sentence, Joe had to smile at Adam’s ingenuity. “You knew my answer before you asked the question, didn’t you? I get it.”

Hoss had a different view. “I don’t know. I think I’d like to stay in the house. I like it there, and any woman that I would marry would likely be the type to like it too.”

“Hoss, you just can’t stomach the thought of moving away from Hop Sing’s cooking.” That earned Joe a scowl and a large pine cone thrown his way making him topple backwards over a log. Giggling, he got back up. “That about proves it. If that wasn’t true, why did you react like that?”

“All right, so I like good cooking. Is there anything wrong with that? But I think I would like to see Pa in the morning and at night for as long as I can.” That sobered up all three brothers. “Maybe we can agree that even if we move out into our own homes, we’ll meet at the house in the morning whenever we can, have some coffee together, and plan what we’re gonna do?”

Knowing it was a concession his brothers needed and something that was quite appealing to him as well, Adam agreed. From that point on, the rest of the evening went well especially because they also had Hop Sing’s cooking for their first meal. Thick ham slices heated in a skillet, biscuits, and a bottle of spiced fruit. After dinner, Adam poured the grease from the skillet into the bottle. They could use it to fry up some potatoes for breakfast. Then he cleaned up the skillet and plates as his brothers saw to the horses. Soon they were sitting around a campfire thinking that life was very good. In the trees, though, there were several sets of eyes watching them and waiting for them to sleep. In the morning of their second day on the trail, the three brothers awakened in the chill that the sun had not yet burned off. Adam set out what he would need to make breakfast and grabbed the coffee pot to go get some water to make coffee. His brothers’ yells brought him back at a run with his pistol drawn.

“Somebody done took our horses!” Hoss couldn’t believe that the three mounts were gone and none of them had heard anything. They were barely off Ponderosa property on a high plateau. Looking at the ground where the horses had been tied, he saw moccasin prints and something more. “They wrapped leather around the hooves and probably had cloth around their muzzles so they wouldn’t make any noise. They must have been watching us and waiting for the chance.”

None of them relished the long walk back to the Ponderosa and the embarrassment of losing their horses. Joe and Hoss were especially upset because they had lost the horses with whom they had long tern relationships, Cochise and Chubb. They wanted to follow the tracks, but sensibly, Adam advised against it. They began to pack up what they would need to take with them, and what they could retrieve later. Saddles and such were stacked and covered with a slicker. Saddle bags were packed with the food they had as well as ammunition. They filled their canteens and prepared for the walk home. Just when they thought the day couldn’t get any worse, it did. Four trappers walked out of the woods carrying heavy loads of furs. The three brothers greeted them and prepared to be hospitable until the four men drew weapons on them.

“We need your horses. Damn Injuns stole ours a couple days ago.” The spokesman for the trappers was a big burly man almost as big as Hoss but without his front teeth and had lots of greasy long hair as well as a thick black beard.

“Well then, mister, you’re out a luck. They took ours last night.” Hoss stood toe to toe with the man.

“Well, we need some help carrying these furs. We ain’t gonna leave any of them out here. They cost too much to get and they’re worth too much.”

“Sorry, mister but we can’t help ya.”

Both Joe and Adam got nervous watching the four men grin because they knew it didn’t mean anything good for them. The man ordered them to drop their gunbelts and back away from them. Their gunbelts and rifles were collected by two of the men as the other two held guns on them. Finally the lead man spoke again.

“We’ve had slaves before. Now a course they was Injuns but you’ll do just as well and maybe better. At least you’ll know what we’re saying when we tell ya to do something.”

Grabbing Joe by the arm before he said something rash, Adam tried to bargain. “We’re all from the Ponderosa. If you help us get back there, we’ll pay you what these furs are worth plus a bonus. We’ll make it worthwhile for you.”

Thinking for just s short time, the leader shook his head. “We ain’t got no way of being sure of that. You could just be saying that, and when we get there, you could sic the law on us. No, we’ll go with my plan.”

Two of the men began redistributing the furs into three piles. All of the food, water, and weaponry was apparently going to be carried by the four trappers with the three Cartwrights carrying the furs. The day was long and trying because even at this time of year, the sun could heat up these high plateaus quickly. They got a break in the early afternoon and then were forced to march carrying their loads until darkness stopped the group. Each of the brothers was given a plate of beans to eat and a canteen of water to share. Hoss didn’t like the way things were developing.

“Adam, I think they mean to kill us before this is done.”

Nodding, Adam watched Joe for signs that he would react loudly to that, but Joe looked at Hoss and then at Adam before responding. “What are we going to do?”

“Somehow, we need to get at least one of us away from here. If we can do that, then they won’t kill the other two because there would be a witness and they’d hang.”

“How do we get one of us away?” Joe was ready to plan.

“We need a diversion. Something to grab their attention.”

The three brothers were told to be quiet and were then separated. It was clear the leader of this group of trappers was an intelligent man. He would not let the three brothers be together to talk again because it was too dangerous. Two more days of walking and the three brothers were becoming exhausted. Walking was not something that cowboys did on a regular basis especially all the hard miles of walking they were doing out here. On the fourth morning, the leader made an error when Adam asked for spoons for them to eat their meagre meal.

“Boy, you ain’t getting how this game is played. I make the rules and you follow em. It’s what a mule does. And that’s all you people are, mules, beasts of burden. Now play the game like good little mules and eat with your paws. Play the game.”

When he said that last word again, Adam screamed and charged him. All Adam heard was a roar in his head. He grabbed the man by the throat and toppled him over. He yelled ‘No more games, no more games!’ until he was clubbed up side his head and pulled from the leader’s throat. Hoss and Joe had meant to rush in to help but a rifle pointed at them stopped them. The leader stood up shakily and then kicked Adam repeatedly in the left side. Hoss yelled at him to stop.

“Why should I stop? The bastard tried to kill me.”

“Cause ifn you kill our brother, we ain’t carrying nothing for you.”

“He’s your brother? You three don’t look nothing like brothers. Your mama a whore or something like that?”

Then it was Hoss’ turn to grab Joe to make sure he didn’t charge. Adam was laying unmoving on the ground. Hoss didn’t want to see another brother laying there hurt and maybe even killed. He could see Adam’s chest rising and falling so he knew he was alive.

“Let me help him.”

“Nope, he made his decision. You two pick up them packs of furs. We’re heading out of here. We still got three days of walking to get where we can sell these furs.” Addressing his partners, the man told them to each take a share of the furs Adam had been carrying. When Joe and Hoss objected, the leader pointed his pistol at Adam’s head. “You carry or he dies. It’s as simple as that.”

“Ifn you leave him here, he could die anyway.”

“Well, if you believe in God, you could pray, and maybe he’ll have mercy on him and let him live. It’s the only chance he’s got unless you want me to put him out of his misery right now.”

“Leave him a canteen then, at least. We don’t need em all.”

“You pick up them furs, and I’ll leave a canteen for him. Now go.”

With glances at Adam making sure nothing more happened to him, Hoss and Joe picked up their heavy loads and began to move out. They halted when the leader gave Adam one last kick in the leg but moved on again when the man laughed and then walked toward them leaving Adam laying where he was. It was late that night when Adam awakened completely and found himself alone and hurt. Each time he had awakened since the men had left, memories had been pouring back in causing him to be dazed and exhausted and making him lose consciousness repeatedly with the severe headaches that overwhelmed him. He remembered Kane and being held in the desert, forced to labor and treated as a beast of burden. He remembered killing his best friend, Ross, and killing Sam Board as well. More and more he remembered killing people until he wondered what kind of man he was. How could one man have killed so many and never gone to prison or the gallows was a recurring question in his thoughts. But the most important thoughts were about what he could do to find his brothers and rescue them for he too suspected that they would be killed when they were no longer useful. He was sure that they thought he would have died here by now, and in many ways, he was lucky to still be alive. No predators had shown up, and he had not died of the cold finding the most meagre of shelter which had luckily been enough.

In his boot, Adam still had a small knife. It wouldn’t have helped them much against four men with firearms, but now he was thinking it could work well as a weapon in an ambush if he could isolate one from the others. With any additional luck, he might be able to get the man’s firearm as well. He began looking for a stout stick he could use for a spear. He had some leather he could cut from his belt to create a spear. He began walking following the tracks that were easily seen for the men did not expect to be followed. They had a day’s lead on him but with those heavy packs, he could cover more in a day than men carrying probably one hundred and fifty pounds of furs on their backs. He found a good stick for a spear and stripped the bark from it as he walked. He used the knife to cut notches in the end where he could attach the knife exposing the blade for maximum penetration. He filled his canteen when he came across a stream and ignored the pain in his leg as much as he could. He had looked at his leg and determined that it was severe bruising probably from being kicked. He doubted if he could run very far, but forced himself to keep a good pace while walking. He had nothing to eat, but had survived worse so that didn’t bother him.

That night Adam found a sheltered location and built a small campfire by using a piece of flint he had found as he walked. He used the fire to keep warm and used it as well to harden the wood of his spear. By the next morning, he had a very serviceable weapon. By noon of the second day, he saw the group up ahead of him. He was on the top of a low ridge but was high enough to see them in the distance. It was hard to measure miles, but he thought he could easily overtake them by nightfall. Under cover of darkness, Adam was able to get very close to the men’s camp. He knew that his attack on any of the trappers would alert the others to his presence so the attack had to be successful for to rescue his brothers, he needed to get a firearm. He watched and waited. He was angry as he saw his brothers who looked exhausted and obviously had been hit probably to force them to work harder. Adam let the anger smolder giving him the strength to stay awake and wait for his opportunity.

On the Ponderosa, Winnemucca and several of his men showed up at the front door of the ranch house. They were riding horses and leading Sport, Chubb, and Cochise. Ben was shocked and afraid when he opened the door to see them there in the fading light.

“Ben Cartwright, we traded to get these horses from Bannock boys who went to prove their manhood by stealing horses from white men. They did not know that the Cartwrights are friends. We return your horses.”

“Chief Winnemucca, I thank you for the horses, but what do you know of my sons?”

“The youth said they left them afoot but unharmed. They slept as their horses were taken.”

Relieved at that, Ben thanked Winnemucca and offered him cattle as payment for his services. The chief was very happy to accept the ten cattle, and all were pleased with the outcome. Jamie and Candy were standing with Ben and he asked them to show the chief where there were cattle he could take with him. Then he went inside to tell Ellie what had happened. She had had a long day and had fallen asleep on the settee. Ben awakened her and explained what they knew which scared her.

“It’s all right, my dear. I’m sure they are quite angry, but we’ll head out with their horses tomorrow. They’ll have sore feet and nothing else.”

Reassured but still worried, Ellie went to bed hoping that Ben would consent to letting her ride along the next day. She wouldn’t ask until the morning limiting the time he had to think of a reason or reasons she shouldn’t go.

*****

Chapter 3

In the darkness of the high plateau north of the Ponderosa, Adam lay in wait for one of the trappers. One came to do his business but didn’t have his pistol with him. Because he was unarmed, he lived. As it came time to sleep, one of the other trappers walked into the woods to relieve himself. He had untied his pistol from his leg but still had it strapped on. For that he would die. Adam waited until he loosened his gunbelt and then began unbuttoning his fly. He used his spear and slammed it into the man’s midsection. He grunted and then grabbed at his abdomen as if to keep the arterial spurts from leaving before he fell back into the pine needles. Adam hurriedly removed his gunbelt and rushed to leave but as quietly as he could.

“Jace, Jace, that you out there making that noise? Jace, answer me, wouldja? Tom, you go find out what’s wrong with Jace.”

“I ain’t going out there alone. You know there’s Injuns around here, and they don’t like us none.”

“All right, all right. Mal, you go with him. Take a stick from the fire to give yourselves some light. I’ll stay here and guard the furs. Could be they’re trying to get us to go out in the woods and then they’ll steal our furs.”

It didn’t take long for the two men to return. “Jace is dead. Looks like he got knifed or speared. Tore him up something fierce. His pistol is gone too. Still got his hair but we figure you yelling out like that made those thieving Injuns run.”

“Damn! Well we need to take turns staying awake tonight. Two of us will sleep by the furs where we’ll be safe, and the other one can use those rocks as cover and keep watch.”

The three trappers were convinced that their unseen enemy was a band of local Indians. Hoss caught Joe’s eye when the trappers weren’t looking and saw the small smile he had. Hoss returned it. He too thought that was Adam out there. Now they had to wait to see what his next move would be. They had to wait a long time.

Retreating far enough that the trappers wouldn’t follow, Adam sat down and used leaves and dirt to scrub at the blood on his arms and hands. His dark clothing hid the bloodstains. Adam was breathing fast and his heart was hammering. He had killed another human being. It had been so easy, and he had wanted to do it. However now he was wracked with guilt and regret. He tried to sleep but was awakened repeatedly by nightmares featuring men he had killed. The images in his mind would give him no rest. He rose up on his knees and sat rocking back and forth for a long time holding his head and then fell forward as oblivion claimed him again.

If the trappers had looked for Adam the next morning at first light, they would have found him as helpless as a sleeping baby. However, the trappers wanted to cover as much distance as possible before night fell again thinking that they would be distancing themselves from Indians they assumed were after the furs they had. They didn’t even bother to bury Jace but left him where he had fallen. They were too burdened to carry everything so they left the saddlebag he had been carrying as well as his blanket.

When Adam awoke, the sun was high enough that he realized he had probably lost a couple of hours of travel time. He was cold and hungry as well as exhausted by his ordeal. He couldn’t rest though or hunt because he believed his brothers’ lives were in danger. He headed toward the trappers’ camp to track them. He had to smile a little even in his misery when he found a blanket and a saddlebag that had some jerky and hard tack in it. He gnawed on some of that and drank water as he followed the trail out of the camp. By midday he climbed to a ridge and again spotted the group ahead of him by only about a half mile. He planned to get ahead of them where they wouldn’t expect him and try to get rid of another trapper. He felt anguish when he realized he planned to kill again, but he knew if he confronted the trappers, they would use his brothers as a shield and all three of them were likely to die. Killing the trappers one by one was the only plan he could think of that left his brothers and himself alive. He picked up his blanket, canteen, and saddlebag and headed out on a line meant to get him ahead of the trappers without being seen.

On the Ponderosa, there had been a lively exchange between Ellie and Ben that morning. She was insisting that she should ride with them especially as they might need some medical attention. She had a feeling that there was more wrong than just the three men losing their horses and having to walk. Ben disagreed and said that she would likely slow them down. She argued that she had been practicing her riding for months and was much better. Finally Jamie suggested that if they included Ellie in the group, he would ride with her if she fell behind. Candy looked at Ben and nodded. It was a good compromise. So after an early and quick breakfast, the four of them headed out carrying provisions and leading the three horses that had been stolen from the brothers. They found the first camp easily after two days of hard riding. They still had several hours so they pushed on and found where the men walking had made the next camp. It hadn’t taken too much to figure out what had happened. Now the biggest concern was that somewhere along the way, the seven had become six and no one knew what had happened to the other man.

The next morning as early as they could see where they were going, Ben and Candy led them on the trail again. There wasn’t much talking and what there was consisted mainly of Jamie talking to Ellie about what she had to be ready to do if there was any kind of fighting or even a confrontation.

“You need to get behind some cover and stay there. You don’t have experience in this kind of thing and Pa needs you to be safe. I’ll help you, but please keep your head down and let Pa and Candy decide what we’re going to do. They’ll know best.”

That night they found the camp where Jace’s body lay. It had been mutilated by predators and scavengers, but there was certainly enough there for them to see it wasn’t one of the Cartwrights. Ellie had seen all sorts of awful things as a doctor but had never seen anything as awful as what had been done to Jace’s body. She staggered away from the sight and vomited. Ben asked Candy and Jamie to bury the body under rocks, and then he walked over to Ellie.

“You shouldn’t be out here. Adam is going to be furious to know that you saw that.”

“That was awful, but I’m still glad I’m here. Adam and his brothers may need my help. You know that too now, don’t you? Something bad could happen to any of them.”

“Ellie, if all goes well for us, we should catch up to them tomorrow. They’re walking and appear to be carrying a lot of weight. Based on how that dead man was dressed, I’m guessing that they’re mountain men, fur trappers. They can be a wild and unruly bunch. I heard what Jamie was telling you today. I need to know that you accept that and will do as directed tomorrow. If not, I’ll send you back with Jamie in the morning.”

Nodding, Ellie looked up at Ben letting him know she would follow instructions. None of them slept well, and in the morning were anxious to get going with the first light of dawn. They rode out as soon as they could and began to eat up the miles because they were traveling light and by horseback while the men up ahead were walking, burdened with hundreds of pounds of furs, and nearly exhausted at this point. Up ahead, Adam was preparing to make his move too. Even though they were many miles apart, the sound of a gunshot carried in the early morning. One might have been mistaken for something else, but then they heard volleys of shots and began a race to get to where the shooting was.

The trappers had watched behind them the day before and occasionally one of them would walk to a high point of land to watch. They never saw anyone pursuing them. They began to make an effort to obliterate their tracks thinking their pursuers had lost track of them. That night when they made camp, they did not make a fire. They tied up Hoss and Joe though which they had not done before. All three trappers were exhausted and didn’t want to have to stay up and guard the two men. However they put Hoss and Joe in a spot that made it impossible for Adam to get to them. He had hoped he could get close enough to free one or both but that plan wouldn’t work. Instead he had moved to where he thought they would go the next day and set up an ambush.

When the trappers began to move out that morning, they were single file with one in the lead, then Hoss and Joe carrying their loads, and then the other two trappers behind. Joe was staggering with the weight and it was clear he would not be able to finish the day even though his load was much smaller than that carried by his bigger brother. The trappers were carrying some of the furs as well but in very small loads. Adam sighted in on the first man and fired. He dropped almost immediately with a wound to his thigh that was bleeding profusely. Adam moved almost as soon as he shot which was a smart move because the other two trappers fired repeatedly into the spot where he had been. He fired again from the second position he had chosen and hit the smaller of the two men. Joe had dropped his pack and gotten away into the brush. Hoss had not been able to because the leader had moved behind him for cover almost immediately. Suddenly Adam had Joe beside him.

“How do we get Hoss free?”

“You take the pistol. If you get a shot, take it. I’m going down to try to distract him. There’s only four more shells in the pistol so don’t waste a shot.”

Working his way down and making just enough noise to let the leader know he was coming, Adam stepped out of cover and called to him.

“You? You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Well, I’m not, but you will be if you don’t let my brother go.”

“You don’t even have a gun. Why should I worry about you?”

“Because someone else has my pistol now, and you’re facing two of us here. Shoot either one of us and the other will be all over you, and there’s still my other brother with the pistol.”

“So we have a stand-off. You can’t do anything or I shoot this one. So how about I just leave here and you don’t follow?”

“I can live with that.”

“Tell your little brother not to shoot.”

Adam had hoped he would forget about Joe but he hadn’t. He yelled for Joe not to fire as long as the man did not threaten any of them. Backing up slowly with his weapon trained on Hoss, the leader reached cover and turned to flee. Hoss chased him as Adam yelled for him to stop. HOss grabbed the man, and they began wrestling. Adam picked up the weapon that Hoss had knocked from the leader’s hands. The big man was a good match for Hoss any day, but Hoss was weak with lack of food and having been exhausted by the heavy loads he had carried for days. As the leader got the upper hand in the wrestling, he pulled a knife but before he could use it, his head exploded and blood sprayed Hoss’ face and arms. He pushed the dead man aside and stood up to see Adam standing there with the shotgun in his hands.

“Thank ya, Adam. I wasn’t so sure I could take him once we started wrassling, and when he got that knife out, I thought I might be a goner for sure.”

Hoss couldn’t understand the look that Adam had. He looked more like he would have been expected to look if one or both of his brothers had been wounded or killed. Joe came down and slapped Adam on the shoulder with a simple thank you. Adam didn’t respond and both Hoss and Joe took a good look at him. He wasn’t hurt, and yet he stood there silent and unmoving. Hoss motioned to Joe that they should take care of the wounded men. The man with the thigh wound was in very bad shape. Hoss tied a tourniquet on the man’s leg, but knew he needed medical care soon if he was to survive. That was unlikely and they both knew it. Joe took care of the man with the chest wound. He was actually in better shape. The bullet had passed through and missed his lungs glancing off his ribs instead. It was a painful wound but wouldn’t likely be fatal except again he needed medical care and rest, and neither of those were accessible where they were because the town they had meant to reach was still many hours away.

After doing an inventory of supplies, Joe and Hoss began eating. There was enough for all of them especially because two men had died. Hoss started up a small campfire to make coffee and some breakfast because he and his brothers needed to rebuild their strength. He soon had beans and coffee heating. As Joe continued to tend to the wounded, Hoss asked Adam to come with him to bury the man Adam had killed. They carried rocks and buried him under them until no predator or scavenger would be able to get to the body. They showed the man more respect than he had shown any of his victims, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. The man with the thigh wound had lapsed into unconsciousness. Adam stood looking down at him, and Joe asked what was wrong.

“I don’t remember how many men I have killed. If he dies, I won’t know how many that makes. Can a decent man be a killer too? So is that why I was gone? Is that why I left? Because I’m a killer and needed to get away?”

“Adam, you’re not a killer. You never shot anyone except to defend yourself or others. If you hadn’t killed those two trappers, they would have killed us and you too. They were the ones who made the choice. It’s not your responsibility.”

“Of course it is. I pulled the trigger each time.”

Not knowing how to respond to his brother, Joe looked to Hoss who shrugged. Adam had always been one to feel terrible when forced to take a life. The two of them had no idea that he had remembered all the lives he had taken and the acts of many years had therefore been condensed into two days of memories sinking him into a deep depression. As much as the wounded men, he needed medical care but it would be days before anyone realized it.

When the food was ready, Hoss dished up three plates of food handing one to each brother. Joe was hungry and like Hoss nearly inhaled the food because they were so hungry. Adam ate slowly and mechanically. When Hoss offered more, Adam declined with a shake of his head. Joe and Hoss ate the rest when the wounded man said he was to nauseated to eat anything.

“All righty, now, that takes care of being hungry. How we gonna get these men out of here? Adam, you got any ideas?”

Shaking his head negatively again, Adam sat on a fallen log and continued to eat slowly. Joe looked at Hoss still wondering what was wrong. Hoss didn’t know either. Their thoughts were interrupted though by the sound of horses approaching. Hoss and Joe both yelled in joy when they saw their father riding their way. They grinned at seeing Candy and Joe and then yelled again when they saw that Ellie was with them. Hoss turned to the wounded man who was still conscious.

“Ya probably don’t deserve it, but you just got real lucky at least ifn you don’t mind being treated by a lady doctor.”

As soon as Ben got to them, he dismounted as fast as he could and grabbed Joe and the Hoss in a hug. Ellie raced to Adam who stood slowly. She threw her arms around him and was surprised by how little he reacted. He seemed very quiet and distant. Within a short time, Hoss and Joe were telling Ellie what they had done for the two wounded men and asking her what they should do to help her treat the wounded men. She started issuing instructions and slipped into her doctor mode pushing her concerns about her husband to the back of her mind because he had no wounds needing immediate attention, but just the limited exposure she had had with him led her to know he needed help whether he knew it or not. Ben was as surprised by Adam’s aspect as all the others were. Joe began to tell them about everything that had happened except asking Adam to fill them in on his part of it. He talked almost in a monotone with no difference in talking about the weather as he did talking about killing two men. Something had gone terribly wrong for the oldest Cartwright son, but no one knew what that was.

*****

Chapter 4

For the next two days, most of the efforts by Ben Cartwright, his family, and Candy were to get the two wounded men to town and get the appropriate charges filed against them. Once Adam, Joe, and Hoss gave their statements, there was little question that the men would be convicted and imprisoned although the three brothers might have to make a return trip to testify at a trial. Once all of that was accomplished, the group headed for home. All of the men had been impressed with Ellie’s skills in dealing with the wounds the two trappers had. Except for Adam, none of them had seen her in action before as a doctor. Her knowledge was extensive, and her dispassionate way of handling the requirements of the situation showed how well suited she was to her chosen profession. Ben no longer had a concern about his daughter-in-law being a practicing physician because to keep her from doing that would be a disservice to her and to all the people she could help.

While Ben and the others were impressed with Ellie, they were just as concerned about Adam. His injuries were minor and consisted mostly of soreness and some difficulty moving his left leg. After examining him, Ellie knew that all he needed was time for a complete recovery from his physical injuries. What his mental and emotional injuries were she was unable to ascertain while they were still in the wilderness. She hoped fervently that once they returned to the familiar scenes of home, Adam would relax and start communicating, but she was also very worried at his lack of affect. He seemed almost in a daze.

There was also a noticeable reluctance to accept any physical touch from anyone. His father had hugged Joe and Hoss but Adam had moved away so that he would not be hugged. It was obvious to everyone there and would have not seemed so unusual except he did the same when Ellie tried to hug him. She had wanted to share Sport with him so the two wounded men could ride her horse. Instead, he suggested she ride with Jamie saying the two of them were less of a load and wouldn’t burden a horse so much. Ellie knew there was something very wrong at that point but hoped it would not get worse. It did.

No one knew why Adam was acting that way after having rescued his brothers because Adam had not told anyone that he remembered having killed so many people that his conscience and guilt had made him feel less than human. He recalled having his hands around Kane’s neck trying to kill him. That he had not killed him was little solace when he remembered all of the other people he had successfully killed. When Ellie tried to show affection to Adam, he pulled away. Finally she got a bit perturbed with him. After two days of travel and no communication with Adam, she had followed him out of camp after he again did everything he could to distance himself from her.

“What have I done wrong? You’re treating me like I hurt you, but I have no idea what I did.”

“Nothing. You did nothing wrong except marrying me. You deserve a decent man, and I’m not one of those. You don’t know who you married. It was a mistake.” With that, Adam had walked away from her. Ellie was in tears when she walked back to the camp, and Hoss especially was concerned.

“Ellie, what’s wrong?”

“Adam said that getting married was a mistake.” With that, she burst into tears and Hoss wrapped his arms around her trying to console her, and at the same time, Hoss wanted to go see his brother and punch him for hurting his wife so much. Instead Ben went to find him and found Adam sitting against a tree with his head down. He had his hands up against his temples as if he was in pain. Ben’s anger faded as he saw how sad and dejected his son looked. It was the look of a man who had lost everything that was important to him even though he was the one who was rejecting all of their attempts to show him their affection.

“Adam, what’s wrong? You’re hurting people with the way you’re talking to them and the way you’re avoiding them. I know you are not a cruel person, so I am completely surprised at your behavior.” He waited silently for a response. He knew that Adam was not the type who could be pushed into doing something he didn’t want to do. He would talk or he wouldn’t.

“I don’t know what kind of person I am. How can you say I’m not cruel? I tried to kill Kane. I killed Ross. I killed Sam Board. I’ve killed so many people and so many others have died because of me. How can anyone look at me and not see what a wretch I am? I killed two men in the last few days and I never gave either one a chance to fight back. I stabbed one and shot the other. A third man would have died if not for all of you showing up here. I’m a killer. Ellie should never have married me. It was the biggest mistake she could have made. She needs to get out of this marriage while she can.”

Shocked and flabbergasted by Adam’s statements, Ben also had a sudden insight into what had happened. “You’ve remembered everything, haven’t you? You know about all those unpleasant things you didn’t remember before?” At Adam’s nod and seeing him drop his head to his chest again, Ben continued. “You remembered years and years of troubling events but you remembered them in just a few days. I can see how shocking that would be to you. You had time in the past to think each of those situations through and come to terms with what happened. Having it all flood in on you at once has been too much. You need to give yourself time. You need to talk with us. We can help you.”

“How can anyone help me? I did all of those things. I can’t undo any of them and neither can anyone else.”

“Your thoughts are filled with them and your dreams at night too I suspect.”

“Nightmares.”

“You stay right here. I’m sending Hoss to sit with you. Will you wait for him?” Adam nodded before dropping his head again, and Ben headed back to their camp. They were still a day away from getting home, and he sincerely wished they were already there. In camp he immediately approached Hoss who was getting his dinner. “Hoss, I need you to go be with Adam. Don’t press him to talk. Don’t say anything that would upset him. I need to speak with Ellie and let her know what’s going on.”

“What is going on, Pa? He’s just been a bear to be around.”

“I can’t tell you yet, but after I talk with Ellie, I think we may have a pretty good idea. Now go sit with him before he wanders further away from us.”

Hoss’ anger at Adam dissipated when he found him and saw how miserable he looked. He was punishing himself worse than anything anyone else could do. Hoss simply sat down across from his older brother and waited. Adam never even acknowledged that he was there. Hoss thought back to the conversation he had had with Adam only a few days earlier. “I don’t remember how many men I have killed. If he dies, I won’t know how many that makes. Can a decent man be a killer too?” He wondered about that for a time and if that had anything to do with how Adam was acting now. He knew that the violence of the west had been one of the things that bothered his brother a great deal. Had this recent incident done something to him? Then he realized what Ben had discerned. Adam had remembered everything and it was too much for him to accept.

In camp, Ben was talking with Ellie. “When I was at sea, I remember men getting so upset with the isolation of being at sea, with the punishments, with the bad food we had on occasion, and the boredom of calm seas that sometimes a man would become so sad and upset that they were a threat to themselves. If we saw it, we would confine that person as if they had done something wrong. If we didn’t see it developing before it got very bad, there was a risk that some of those men might kill themselves. They just sunk so low they didn’t see a way out. One man jumped overboard. He smiled and stepped over the side like it was the most normal thing in the world.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Ellie, Adam has remembered all those unpleasant memories that he couldn’t before. What do you think the impact of that has been?” Ben waited as Ellie considered what Ben was saying. Finally she looked up and directly at Ben. She still looked upset, but had a determined look as well.

“He’s suffering. He’s thinking terrible thoughts about himself. He can’t understand why any of us want to be anywhere around him because he can’t tolerate being with himself.” At Ben’s nod, Ellie strode off in the direction where she knew Adam was. Joe, Jamie, and Candy had been listening and had questions for Ben. He explained what he knew about Adam remembering so much in such a short time. “He has so many terrible memories to get used to at once, and he can’t escape them. He thinks about them during the day and has nightmares at night. He’s exhausted. I can only hope that Ellie will know what to do.”

Walking to where Adam and Hoss were sitting, Ellie was trying to recall everything she had learned about depressive afflictions. She hoped to get Adam doing some of the treatment as soon as possible and intended to speak with Doctor Martin about it as soon as she could for she assumed among miners, there would be cases of that malady. When Ellie saw Adam sitting against a tree with his head down, her heart nearly broke. She didn’t know about these memories with which he had been inundated and that was her mistake. She should have asked other members of the family to explain more of Adam’s history because she had been fairly certain that he would eventually regain more memories. She had not anticipated this and yet knew she should have because it had become apparent to her that the memories he had not recovered tended to be those of a more unpleasant nature. That the memory loss was selective had led her to believe there was a strong emotional content to those memories. She had been so happy getting married, spending time with Adam, and planning their new house that she had not adequately thought through his recovery from his illness. Hoss was going to leave but Ellie asked him to stay. If Adam said something she didn’t understand, she would need Hoss to help her with the story. Sitting down next to Adam, Ellie put her arm around his arm and began rubbing his back with the other.

“Adam, you are not alone. Your whole family wants to help. I know you are feeling miserable right now, and I think I know why. You need to do several things to help yourself right now. You need to eat the meals we give you. You need to do physical activity, and the more you do, the better. You need to get some decent sleep and the only way to do that right now is probably through medication or alcohol which will be your choice.”

“I hate medicine.”

“I know you do, so a good shot of brandy or a glass of wine before bed should help. A long warm bath would help too but we can’t do that out here.”

“We probably don’t have any brandy or wine along either.”

“Your father has a small bottle of whisky though. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but I think it will help.”

“And then what? Do I numb myself with alcohol forever?”

“No, that is just a temporary solution. If you start doing more and eating better, you should be tired enough to sleep and not need a crutch after a time. You are also going to have to talk about these things. You can’t keep them bottled up inside like you have for days now. That’s not working out at all for you, is it?”

“What do you want me to say? Do you want me to confess all the terrible things I’ve done?”

“What I want you to say what you think the worst thing that you’ve done and why you think it’s so terrible, and then I’m going to ask Hoss to tell it from his point of view. Can you do that? Please. I love you and it’s the only way I know to help.”

Dropping his head into his hands again, Adam mumbled his first response. He loved Ellie so much he had to try to do this for her. “I tried to kill Kane. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to feel the life ebb out of him while my hands were around his throat. I’m a killer. I have a terrible dark side that makes me kill. I wanted to kill him just like I wanted to kill those two trappers. I felt no qualms about snuffing out their lives like a candle.”

Looking to Hoss, Ellie asked him to tell what he knew.

“From what Adam told us at the time, that Kane had denied him food, water, and shelter. He killed a mule just so’s Adam couldn’t leave. He made him work like a mule.” That brought another memory into focus for Hoss. “That’s why you exploded at those trappers. That leader of theirs said we was playing a game and that we were like mules. You just couldn’t take being treated that way again.”

“Why is that so important, Hoss?”

“Kane done told Adam they was playing a game. What he really was doing was setting up a contest to the death. Adam didn’t kill him but he pushed the two of them so far, he died when Adam was dragging him out of there on a travois. It’s only luck that Pa spotted Adam at all. Both of them coulda died.”

“But Hoss, I wanted to kill him.”

“Adam, if that had been me, I woulda killed him for sure and probably a lot sooner than you tried. I wouldna felt guilty about it neither.”

Sitting quietly, Hoss and Ellie could see that Adam was thinking. When Ellie suggested they could go back to camp and get something to eat, Adam stood. She offered her hand and he took it. Hoss breathed a sigh of relief. One down, and how many more to go though was the question both Ellie and Hoss were thinking. The camp was quite subdued. Ellie asked Ben for the bottle of whisky he had in his saddlebags, and he offered it with no more than a frown. Ellie poured a sizeable amount into Adam’s coffee cup and then added some coffee. Ben knew then what she was doing. The next morning, Adam had a headache that wasn’t all that surprising, but he looked more rested than he had in days. It was not the ideal way to get him to sleep but it was the best solution at hand.

When Hoss walked with Adam who had been encouraged to shave, Ben pulled Ellie aside.

“Can you tell me what’s going on, and what we should do?”

“As you probably already understand, all those memories rushing in as they did have created an imbalance in his mind. The lack of food and rest aggravated the problem as did the stress of knowing he was the only one who could likely rescue his brothers from certain death at the hands of those trappers. We’re all very lucky he could function as well as he did, but as soon as Hoss and Joe were safe, he had no strength left. We didn’t see the whole problem at first so we pushed on with the two wounded men, made him give a statement to the sheriff, and then headed toward home. I know now I should have insisted we take rooms and rest there for a time. He would likely be in a lot better shape if we had done that.”

“Should we take time here then?”

“No unfortunately he needs to be home now. A warm bath, some of Hop Sing’s cooking, and the reassurance of familiar things should help him relax.”

“Does he understand what you’ve told me?”

“As well as he can right now. You’ve raised a very strong man. He’s fighting as hard as he knows how right now.

“What can I do?”

“He needs to hear a different version of events than the ones that are in his mind. He’s only thinking the worst of himself for things that he has done. He needs to hear about the benefits that resulted from his actions or as Hoss explained last night how he would have done exactly the same and wouldn’t have felt guilty at all. If people he loves and respects can let him know that they admire him and like him not only in spite of his actions but also because of them, it will help him a lot.”

“What about you? Who helps you because I know this must be very difficult for you?”

“Yes, you can expect to have me cry on your shoulder a few times. As his doctor, I’m able to discuss this very dispassionately, but when I think about it as his wife, I can’t.” Ellie’s lip trembled then, and Ben wrapped his arms around her to let her cry. Adam walked back into the camp then with Hoss, and Ben could see how conflicted he was. Hoss solved the issue though when he pushed Adam right up against Ellie so that Ben simply moved her into Adam’s arms. He had little choice but to hold her then which made her cry more it seemed. That triggered something in Adam it seemed for he pulled her closer with one arm and caressed her back with the other. Ben signaled the others to go pack up the horses.

*****

Chapter 5

Once back on the Ponderosa, Adam was subdued but more like himself it seemed. The first morning back, he slept until nearly noon. For a man who had not been able to sleep well for so many days, he suddenly couldn’t wake up. Everyone including Ellie assumed it was exhaustion from all that had happened. Joe and Hoss slept later than usual as well. On the second morning though, it was clear to Ellie that this was something more and again not something she expected. Adam was groggy and didn’t want to get up. It was so out of character for a man who was used to getting up as soon as the sky began to lighten that she knew it had to be stopped before he retreated from them again. Pulling the door tightly closed behind her, she went to the breakfast table where Hoss and Joe were with their father discussing the upcoming drive as well as the need to capture some mustangs which had not been done because of their trying misadventure. Ellie looked over at Hoss, and in an intense whisper, had a request.

“You need to go outside right now and find something that Adam needs to help you do. I’m going to be telling him that you need him because I think it may be the only way to get him out of bed this morning.”

“Huh?”

Hoss’ response made Ben intercede with his own whispered comment. “Adam is sleeping to avoid facing his problems, but Ellie thinks that if you need him, he’ll be able to get past that and get up. Now all you have to do is find something that he needs to help you do.”

“Like what?”

“You have about fifteen minutes to think of something.”

Joe got up to go help Hoss find something to do. Once outside, Joe immediately had an idea. “You know how you keep saying that wobbly wheel on the carriage needs to be fixed, and that the springs under the seat ought to be replaced. Well Adam is mighty handy on that forge or at least he used to be. Let’s get that wheel off and start on the springs. You know you never like me helping with these jobs cause you always seem to get hurt when I help.”

Fifteen minutes later, Hoss was yowling with pain as he stuck his finger under the water flow from the pump by the horse trough. “Dadburnit, Joe, how many times I gotta tell ya not to move a spring until you’re sure my fingers are clear too. Adam wouldna let me get my finger caught in there like that. Dagnabit, that hurts.”

Walking outside after grabbing a quick breakfast, Adam heard Hoss and his suspicions about why he had been hurried out of bed disappeared. It did in fact appear that Hoss needed him. All through his life Adam had responded to those in need especially his family and friends. Ellie knew that much about him and used it to motivate him. She was relieved that Hoss and Joe had found something that Adam could do to help Hoss. By hurrying to make it look like they had been working longer, Hoss had a bruised finger and Joe was staying out of arm’s reach of him. Hoss saw a little smile on Adam’s face and decided that a hurt finger was a small price to pay for that although he would never let Joe know. He bellowed at him one more time so Joe retreated to the house.

“Sure am glad you came out to help. You did come out to help, didn’t ya?”

“Of course. What do you need me to do?”

Inside the house, Ben, Joe, and Ellie made a collective sigh of relief. Adam had not seen through their subterfuge, and now he was out of the house and working with Hoss who seemed to be the one best able to get him to talk. All they could do was hope the rest of the day went as well. Ben and Joe continued to plan the upcoming drive and a roundup of mustangs as Ellie sewed, and Jamie entered the past week’s accounts into the ledger.

“You still got them nightmares?”

“Not so much.”

“How much?”

“I keep seeing faces of people I’ve killed, but it doesn’t seem as bad somehow. I see them but I don’t seem to have any particular feeling about it.”

“Maybe it means you’re getting to accept that it had to happen. You know when you went up against somebody, it always scared me. Pa like to stagger and fall down when he saw ya do that. It seemed your heart was ice, but I knew it wasn’t cause you always felt bad afterwards cause you had to take a life. But those men made a choice, and you shooting em saved you or us from worse.”

“Is feeling badly about it good enough?”

“Yeah, I think it does. Those men coulda done something else. You choose to hurt people, then you gotta accept that you can get hurt or even killed. Don’t suppose they rightly always thought it out that way but they should have. It’s justice.” Hoss’ matter of fact acceptance that sometimes violence had to be met with violence was reassurance to Adam. Hoss had lived out in the west as many years as he had, and had seen enough to be able to judge a situation. If he thought Adam had done the right thing, then Adam was thinking it would be too arrogant to think that his idea was better than his brother’s. Most of the day, the two brothers worked silently seeming to know without asking most of the time what the other needed. By the end of the day, the carriage was in good condition and ready to use. Hoss suggested to Adam that he give Ellie a ride to test it out.

It didn’t take long to hitch up a horse and soon Adam and Ellie were off for a ride. She asked if they could go look at the lake as she hadn’t been there in some time. By the time they got there, there were clouds blocking the sun except for stray rays shining through. Those seemed to make acres of diamonds where they struck the lake. Ellie and Adam stood admiring the gorgeous evening sun. Although Ellie had hoped that Adam would want to hug and kiss as he usually wanted to do when the two of them were alone and saw something so beautiful, she also realized it was a long road they were on. It was too much to expect that in a week he would make that much progress especially because they had only realized what the problem was only a few days before. It was a tribute to his strength of personality and character that he had made so much progress already. She had to be thankful that he was sleeping better, working, and hopefully at dinner, eating well. As they rode back home, she slipped her arm through his and he smiled at her. Small steps she reminded herself, small steps. At dinner she couldn’t help smiling at the family when Adam clearly was hungry after a busy day and ate well. They read together for a time before bed and things were slowly returning to a more normal level

The next day, Joe, Jamie, and Candy headed out to do the mustang roundup as Hoss and Adam went to do a count in the pastures where the cattle were being held for the drive. When they got back, Hop Sing was on a rant about not having enough kindling and firewood and going back to China. That got another smile from Adam before he and Hoss got busy chopping wood. Inside, Ben thanked Hop Sing profusely for his performance and said no one could have done it better. After just a short time, Ben went outside with a list of supplies and asked if Hoss could go with him into town to pick those up leaving Adam with an afternoon of wood chopping. Normally he would have complained about that, but somehow chopping wood didn’t seem at all like a chore at that time.

Earlier, Ben and Ellie had talked about how angry Adam might be and how betrayed he might feel if he found out how they had been manipulating him. Ellie argued that in a day or two, he would be feeling better and she would talk to him about what he needed to do. She thought he was too vulnerable at that point to try to tell him. Ben had a difficult time thinking of his oldest son as vulnerable because he had always been such a strong and courageous man. Ellie reminded him of his illness and all the problems he had because of it. Ben had to agree but both thought that this should be the last of the manipulation. They would try to talk him into doing what he needed to do for his health after this. Ellie assured Ben that she thought Adam would get a good night’s sleep and then they could ask him to do some physical labor to work out some of the stress and relieve some of the anxiety he was feeling. He had slept the night before with only a small glass of brandy to help him, and Ellie couldn’t share what she was thinking when he was still so troubled. Adam had been restless when he lay in bed. She had leaned against him and massaged his chest in a circular motion until he was breathing softly and sleeping. She woke up later when he had turned and wrapped his arms around her and snuggled his face into her neck. It was the most physical contact they had had since before he left on the brothers’ ill-fated trip. That was how they had awakened that morning, and he had not pulled away from her. They didn’t talk but quietly stayed together with their bodies touching and Adam kissed her softly when it was time to get up.

As Ellie listened to the steady thunk of axe hitting wood, she thought it might be nice to share some cookies and lemonade with her husband. As she stood to go to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing if he could prepare a tray for her, he walked out of the kitchen with just such a tray except it also had biscuits and preserves. Like everyone else in the family, Ellie wondered how he did that. She decided he was clairvoyant or simply far more intelligent than any of them. Once outside, she didn’t want Adam to stop his activity so she brought the glass of lemonade right to him. A piece of wood flew up and hit her in the arm because he did not see her coming. Adam dropped the axe and immediately was at her side with his handkerchief to wipe the blood from a small cut in her arm.

“I am so sorry. I had no idea you were so close.”

“It’s all right, Adam. I was just bringing you some lemonade and cookies and such. The rest is on the table but the lemonade I’m afraid is just mud.” Laughing a little to try to let Adam know it was not a terrible concern, Ellie could see she was not having the desired impact. Adam still looked shocked at what he had done. “Adam, I’m a doctor. It’s just a scratch. I’ll clean it up and put a little bandage on it. It’ll be fine.” In a gesture that was becoming all too common, Adam raised his hands to his head which dropped to his chest. Ellie wrapped her arms around him. “It’s all right. Just a little accident. Take a break and have a little snack with me. We can share the other glass of lemonade.” That seemed to do the trick and they sat and snacked. Ellie took a sip of lemonade and then offered the rest to Adam. “I haven’t been working in the heat, and I can get more from Hop Sing when I go inside anyway. What’s wrong? You haven’t said anything.”

“I feel like a weakling, and I let every little thing get to me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel like I’m in a fog.”

“In a way you are. Adam, those memories with the stress of saving your brothers and the violence that required is what’s wrong. You need to come to terms with all that you’ve done in your life that caused regrets, and it was too much at once. You’re not weak. If anything, you are amazingly strong to have faced all this as well as you did so far. Some people retreat into a bottle, or use anger to let the negative thoughts out but hurt themselves or other people in the process. You’re doing it without any of that. You’re facing the memories and talking about them at least to Hoss. You have to give yourself some time though because you have a lot to do.”

“Does it bother you that I talk to Hoss about it instead of you?”

“To be honest, that’s a yes and a no. Yes, because I’m your wife and your doctor and I would like to help you. But I don’t know all of your history. That’s my fault because I knew there were memories you had bottled up and probably for good reason. I should have asked someone, but I didn’t. Hoss knows all about those things so he’s the best one for you to talk with right now.”

“It’s not fair to Hoss though, is it, to put all this on him?”

“Adam, Hoss has been very happy to be the one to help. He feels better about that than the rest of us who get to sit and watch praying that you will see that you are a good person who was forced into doing some unpleasant things.”

“But sometimes I was the one who put someone else in harm’s way. They were killed but I was fine. Did Hoss or anyone tell you about Sue Ellen Terry?” When Ellie shook her head, Adam explained. “She was a saloon girl. I liked her a lot, but I didn’t love her. I liked being with her, and I think she enjoyed our time together too. But I knew it made other men angry when I monopolized her time. One of them got very angry and tried to kill me, but his errant shot killed Sue Ellen instead. I ended up in jail because at first people thought I shot her. In the end, I got out and confronted him and ended up killing him. Two people are dead because I wanted to spend time with Sue Ellen. That time I was only concerned about what I wanted, and I ignored the fact that I was putting her in danger.”

“So you knew that someone was going to try to shoot you because you were seeing her?”

“No, but I should have known. I should have realized that with a woman like Sue Ellen, there would be that type of man interested in her.”

“I’m sorry but I really have trouble accepting that you feel guilty for not reading another man’s mind and knowing he would do something awful. No one can do that. You have to give up this idea that you can be perfect. You can’t. No one can.”

That got Adam angry. He stormed away from the table, grabbed the axe, and began chopping but stopped after a few minutes of furious activity. “I’m not perfect. I never said I was. I was just trying to do the right thing.”

“Adam, I apologize for being sarcastic. That was uncalled for. What I should have said is simply that you need to stop taking responsibility for what others do. They make their own choices. Then we react to that. We can only be responsible for our own actions. Do you understand what I’m trying to say even if I’m not saying it very well.”

“I’m sorry too.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“When I said you shouldn’t have married me, it wasn’t because I don’t love you. I just feel like I haven’t been much of a husband, and far less than you deserve.”

“I haven’t been disappointed at all. I love you, and I promised for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. I meant those words when I said them. We’ll get through this, and then we’ll move into our house. We’ll have a lot of years of joy together. This will seem like a short time once we’ve been married for a few decades.”

That got a smile, and Adam moved toward Ellie who reached out to him. They hugged and Adam gave her another soft kiss before telling her he had to get back to work or Hop Sing was heading back to China. She laughed and took the tray back into the house, but she cringed a little knowing she would have to tell Hop Sing that she had broken one of the glasses. She was hoping that the cut on her arm would get enough sympathy to soften the lecture she deserved.

If Ellie thought Hop Sing’s anger was something to be feared, she was even more shocked at how angry Adam got that evening. Hoss and Ben were discussing the drive. Adam asked what he was going to be expected to do. Because they didn’t want to upset him, Ben asked him what he wanted to do.

“Well, I don’t have much recent experience so I would think that Hoss and Joe would boss the drive and ramrod it. I can go along as a hand, and help them out wherever they need it.”

Nodding and looking pleased, Hoss had to agree. “Yeah, you can help us out with ideas when we need em. You’re always good for some ideas, and ifn we need somebody to go to town for supplies and such, it would be great to have you to do that so that Joe and me wouldn’t have to leave the herd at all.”

Smiling, Adam had to respond to that. “Are you sure that Joe is going to appreciate that particular fact?”

“Well, now, he might not, but I shore will.”

After listening, Ellie interjected herself into the conversation. “I’m going too, then.”

And that got Adam’s ire, Ben’s consternation, and Hoss’ shock.

Hoss was the first to speak. “Miss Ellie, you can’t rightly go on a trail drive with all men. They’re dirty and they don’t talk proper like a man should in front of a lady.”

Ben was next. “Hoss is correct. In addition, it would be an additional concern for my sons and take their attention away from the drive. That could create a safety problem for all of them. If you are that concerned about Adam, then perhaps he should sit this one out. Candy or Jamie could go instead.”

That did it for Adam. A lot of anger that had been building erupted. “I will not be treated like a child. Yes, I have had some problems, but not one of you can say it interfered with my ability to do my work. I did everything that was asked of me, and no one can say I didn’t.”

Trying to be diplomatic didn’t help. “I just thought that I would be going crazy here worrying about what might happen especially after what happened on the last trip. It was only for my peace of mind. I could ride in the chuck wagon and help with the cooking. I don’t have anything to do here, and I have no women that need me to visit in the next month.”

“Pa, would you just tell her she can’t go? We’ve never had a woman on a trail drive before.”

“Adam, I think this is something that you and your wife need to work out.”

With a loud ‘Fine!’, Adam pointed at the front door and preceded Ellie in that direction. Hoss and Ben shrugged. Ben just pointed in the direction Adam had gone encouraging Ellie to follow. Once she got outside, Ellie didn’t see Adam at first. Then she realized he was already at the stable and lighting a lantern. She followed him there and walked inside where the lantern dimly lit the interior.

“What are you trying to do to me? Do you know what it will look like if you’re along on the drive? It’s bad enough that everyone in the family is nurse-maiding me here, but how will I be able to hold my head up if you continue it on the drive?”

“It’s not so much that. I’m scared to see you go again so soon. I don’t think I could eat or sleep much in the month you’re supposed to be gone. Please, let me go? I’ll go crazy if you don’t.”

Ellie walked up to Adam whose back was to her and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Please?”

“Damn it, woman, you make things so difficult.”

“There could be some fringe benefits to having me along.” Ellie leaned around his side and gave a coquettish look at Adam who looked back at her and only shook his head.

“Oh, no, on the drive, there will be nothing like that. It’s going to be difficult enough with you there. I don’t want the men laughing and talking about anything like that.”

“So I can go?”

Turning to her, Adam shook his head again. “You just manipulated me right into that, didn’t you. Remind me never to underestimate your talents ever again. But there are some conditions. You will wear a skirt or a dress every single day. You will stay with the chuck wagon at all times unless I am with you or one or my brothers. You will not complain. You will do what the cook orders and that means getting up most mornings at about four. If there’s a problem, I will take you to the nearest town as soon as possible and put you on a stage for home. You ready for all of that?”

“When do we leave?”

With a deep sigh, Adam dropped onto a hay bale. “In a week. As soon as Joe gets back with the mustangs.”

“Doesn’t Joe usually handle the horses?”

“Yes, but these will have to be calmed down by being here on the ranch for a couple of weeks probably. We put them in corrals with some of our calmer other horses and get them used to being on a ranch. Then they’ll be greenbroke as they get them used to halters, lead ropes, saddles, and such. They’ll be ready for the breaking corrals about the time we get back.”

When the two of them got back into the house with their news, Hoss was flabbergasted for he had never expected Adam to give in on that one. He was thinking it was going to be quite an adventure seeing how the two of them acted on a trail drive together. Ben was thinking the dominant male in the wolf pack just met the dominant female. He hoped Joe and Hoss were ready for the two of them.

*****

Chapter 6

“That one in the black used to be all barbed wire and fire, but he’s gone soft. Those other two are really good with horses and cattle but they don’t have the suspicious nature that older one had.”

“So what do we do? What’s the plan?”

“Nate got himself hired on. He’ll let us know any plans ahead of time or if they suspect that anything is wrong. He’ll try to stir things up in camp too. With that woman in there, it shouldn’t be too tough to do that.”

“But what about the cattle?”

“We keep em stirred up so it will be easy to stampede em and cut out a good sized portion for us. Nate will give us the signal and then we’ll rush in and get a couple of hundred for us if it works. Now that big one is right smart about cattle so we can’t do anything too obvious. Put a little jimson weed in the grass where they’re grazing. Toss small clumps of dirt out at em at night to keep em riled up. That sort of thing. It’ll tire those drovers out too trying to keep that herd under control.”

“So they’ll be too tired to stop us once we make our move, right?”

“Exactly. Now watch out for that young one. He’s real fast on horseback and with a gun. We make our move only when he’s not around. Keep your distance during the day, and sneak in at night and keep that herd riled up but ya gotta make it look natural like.”

For Hoss bossing the drive was going reasonably well. He was concerned as the first week passed that the herd didn’t seem to be settling into a routine as he expected. Joe was ramrod and noticed the same thing. Adam went out at night to sing as he nighthawked the herd but it didn’t seem to do any good. The time right after the sun went down seemed to be the worst. Each morning, Hoss went out looking for tracks thinking that perhaps a wolf pack was dogging the herd but never saw anything but horse tracks and cow tracks. It was a mystery to him. He asked what Adam thought and reacted as if he had made a ridiculous assertion.

“Rustlers? Where wouldja have come up with an idea like that? There ain’t one bit of evidence that there’s anyone around her other than us.”

“Just a hunch.”

“Well, you ain’t much help at all. I’m going to talk to Joe and see if he’s got any ideas.”

It was breakfast on the seventh day of the trip and Ellie walked over to fill Adam’s coffee cup. They rarely had time together except when they were sleeping, and then they were both so tired, they slept. Breakfast was the only time they ever got to talk at all. Ellie was concerned that Hoss had dismissed Adam’s idea so abruptly and wondered how Adam felt about that.

“Why did you tell Hoss you thought it was possibly rustlers?”

“It’s not the weather. It’s not wolves, and there’s no bear activity here. We’ve seen no Indians and none have come to ask for payment of cattle to cross their lands. It’s not sickness, lack of water, or lack of good grass. When you eliminate everything else, what’s left is your answer.”

“Why didn’t you explain it to Hoss that way?”

“He wasn’t ready to listen. You were.”

“Will you tell Joe?”

“If he’s ready to listen.”

“And if he isn’t?” Ellie was a little disappointed that Adam was not more willing to argue these points with Hoss. It seemed he gave up too easily. She hoped he would talk with Joe for to her, the conclusion he had drawn seemed reasonable.

A few hands were having breakfast and heard what Adam had told Ellie. They accepted coffee cup refills and then thought about what he had said. “Adam, it makes sense even if there ain’t no proof. Reckon maybe we ought to be on the lookout for anything unusual?”

Nodding his head, Adam finished his breakfast and headed out to ride flank. Nate was the last to get up from the log where the men sat for breakfast that day. He wondered how he would tell his friends that the oldest Cartwright was still a very suspicious man. They would need to move up the timetable for their plan before Adam convinced his brothers that there were rustlers intent on stealing the herd or at least part of it.

That night before the drovers sat down to eat, Nate was busy starting a story about how the cattle were restless because there was a woman around. He used Adam’s argument but substituted a woman being there for the rustlers part of it. A number of men were uneasy already because Ellie was along even though she worked hard and slept right there with her husband and his brothers so that everyone knew there was nothing going on that they didn’t know. By the time dinner was being eaten, the restlessness of the men told Hoss and Joe that something was up. Adam was out trying to settle the herd down and Ellie was helping serve the dinner. Hoss finally asked what had the men riled up, and two of the more loud-mouthed men shouted out that it was having a woman on the drive that had made the cattle restless. They said it was bad luck, and she shouldn’t be there.

“Now you men listen up. That’s just a lot of hog swill, and you know it. Ellie being along has made things a lot more pleasant for a lot of you. She’s been doctoring up your blisters and taking care of some scratches ya got in the brush chasing strays down. You know you wouldn’t be near as comfortable if it hadn’t been for her cleaning those up and putting some of that salve on them. Besides, if anyone does get serious hurt, she can take care of em right here. That’s a pretty good reason to have her here besides the fact that she and Cookie together make a heck of good team.”

Just as Hoss’ strong support of Ellie had begun to quiet the men, Adam walked into camp. He could tell by the sudden silence that something was wrong and asked. One of the two men who had started the whole discussion jumped up.

“If you weren’t such a damn weakling and had to have your wife here to hold your hand, none of this trouble would be happening.”

It was unlikely that he saw the fist coming because Adam launched himself at the man so fast. They tumbled in the dirt, but the fight was over quickly because Adam was enraged and the man was a loudmouth but had no inclination to brawl. He backed off as soon as he had a chance and apologized. Adam had to be restrained until he calmed down, but shook off the arms that held him and stalked off into the dark. Ellie was afraid to follow after what had been said so Joe went after him. Hoss looked over at the two men whose words had started all the trouble.

“You better know that if you play with dynamite, you might get hurt or killed. That’s my brother and he can fight better than almost anybody I know. You want to try him again, I won’t hold him back. Is that clear enough?” When the man who had fought nodded, Hoss made a suggestion. “Ifn you was to apologize to the lady here, she might be convinced to clean up your face so it don’t look no uglier than it has to.”

Witnessing everything that had happened, Nate decided that the next morning he would give the signal to his friends to start the stampede. If he didn’t, Adam might convince his brothers that there was a threat from rustlers. Once they started looking for evidence of that, they would likely find some. Away from the camp, Adam had cooled down and was explaining to Joe why he thought they might be facing a threat from rustlers and that there might even be one or two of them in the camp among the men hired just for the drive, and unfortunately, Joe gave Adam the same response Hoss did, and again, Adam backed down. The two walked back to camp quietly and pulled out their bedrolls the same as they did every night. Adam put Ellie’s between him and Joe with Hoss on the other side of Joe. One of the brothers would likely be gone for each shift of watching the herd at night but that meant there were always two there with Ellie. The only gesture of affection that Adam allowed was to hold Ellie’s hand as the two fell asleep.

In the early morning, Ellie was up at about the same time as Joe who had the dawn shift. He would be with the herd along with three other drovers while the rest had breakfast. Each morning, one of the brothers had that duty. Joe had been thinking about what Adam had told him and was beginning to think his brother’s reasoning was sound. It hadn’t been like Adam to back down so easily in an argument, but considering what he had gone through, Joe realized it might be his way of avoiding any more trouble for the time being. As he rode slowly around the cattle, he saw Nate riding up ahead and found that odd. He knew Nate wasn’t one of the drovers assigned to this task on this day, and suddenly he realized that as a new hire, Nate could be working with a group of rustlers. He kicked Cochise into a gallop to chase after Nate when shots were fired and the herd took off. At the speed he was riding, Joe was quickly up where Nate was. When Nate drew on him, Joe drew and fired first. Nate fell into the stampeding cattle but another shot came from Joe’s left hitting him in the leg. He dropped his pistol but still managed to stay on his horse and kept riding until he reached the first of the stampeding cattle and began to turn them back to the rest of the herd. If successful, he would soon have a milling herd instead of a stampeding one. If he failed, he might die in a collision with cows who didn’t want to go in the direction he was trying to force them to go.

As soon as the shots were fired to start the stampede, all of the men rushed to their horses to chase down the running cattle. Unfortunately the shots fired at Joe had turned part of the herd around and they were running back toward the chuck wagon. As the men rode away, there was a lot of crashing and mooing and suddenly cattle were rushing around the chuck wagon. Ellie waved a blanket to try to turn them away and got bumped back into the wagon and then had to roll under it to avoid being trampled. The wagon was bumped and jostled a lot and rolled back probably twenty feet. Ellie had to hang on to the undercarriage of the wagon and was dragged as the wagon rolled. Finally the cattle were gone, and Cookie jumped down from the wagon seat and screamed her name. She crawled out from under the wagon. As soon as Cookie could see that she was bruised and battered but not seriously injured, he began yelling at her for her foolishness and reminded her that her orders had been to get in the wagon at the first sign of any kind of trouble. Hoss rode back into the camp to survey the damage and make sure that Ellie and Cookie were all right. He heard the lecture Cookie was forcefully delivering so said nothing. His look said everything though and Ellie hung her head knowing she had messed up very badly and was lucky to be alive.

Heading out to see what had become of his brothers and the rest of the herd, Hoss saw drovers heading back his way to round up the other portion of the herd. They told him his brothers were up ahead and Hoss breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were both alive. There was a mangled corpse laying where the cattle had run, and Hoss thought they would need to do a check of the men to find out whom it was.

Up ahead, Adam and Joe were laying back in the grass laughing hysterically. It was a release of a lot of tension and stress. Adam had caught up to Joe earlier.

“Damn it, Joe, what the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed doing a damn fool stunt like that.”

“Hey, if Pa were here, you wouldn’t talk like that.”

Dismounting, Adam had gone to Joe to help him from his horse. Then he used his knife to cut away the pants from around the wound. Seeing the bullet had not passed through, he took his handkerchief to bind the wound. They would need to get Joe back to camp, and Ellie would have to do some surgery. The bleeding wasn’t bad though so he was somewhat relieved. “Would you rather I said, Dagnabit, Joe, what in tarnation were ya thinking? A dadburned stunt like that coulda kilt ya.”

Joe started to giggle, and Adam couldn’t help himself and joined in. That’s how Hoss found them. “Dadburnit, here I was worried about you two yahoos, and you’re just sitting there having a good ole time. Dagnabit, don’t the two of you take anything serious?” Joe couldn’t control his laughter even if rolling on the ground hurt his leg. Adam couldn’t speak either because he was laughing so hard. He stopped almost immediately though with Hoss’ next statement. “Just wanted to tell ya that Ellie got bumped around a little trying to wave off the cattle stampeding around the chuck wagon. She’s all right though.” Adam heard little of the end of that sentence as he was already mounted up and headed back to their demolished camp. Hoss dismounted to help Joe.

“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Adam’s anger was surpassed only by his fear of what might have happened if things had gone just s little differently for his wife. He had grabbed her and hugged her as soon as he got to the camp and found her and Cookie inventorying the supplies and making a list of things that could not be saved.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Now is there anyone hurt that I need to help?” Deflecting her husband’s anger for the time being was the only strategy Ellie had, and it worked. His concern over Joe overrode his concern for Ellie because it was clear that she had not suffered any serious injuries. Adam started to help her and Cookie get the camp in order and prepare a place where she could operate on Joe’s leg to remove the bullet and suture the wound. Unfortunately for Joe, the bullet had lodged right up against the bone requiring Ellie to enlarge the wound in order to remove the bullet. He wouldn’t be able to ride for weeks probably although with Joe perhaps only a week. Adam would have to take over the ramrod job on the drive.

Hoss and Adam sat down to await the results of Joe’s surgery and to discuss how to handle the rest of the drive. Joe would never consent to going home, and a stage ride with a wound like that was going to be extremely uncomfortable anyway. On the other hand, Ellie could go home. Once she finished with Joe and pulled a blanket over him to let him sleep, she walked over to Adam to face his ire for she knew she had to get it over with as soon as she could.

“You’re going home.”

“All right.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes, you’re the boss and that’s in accordance with the agreement we made.” Ellie was hoping that Adam would concede then that she could stay because she was so contrite and agreeable. He saw right through her strategy even though Hoss was ready to have her stay with them. He started to say something to that effect when Adam stopped him.

“No, Hoss, she’s correct. That was our deal. I’m going to town tonight to order supplies. They should be able to get together most of what we need by morning. I’ll put Ellie on a stage tomorrow morning and be back here by tomorrow evening.”

Joe had told Hoss about Nate, and both brothers had wished that Adam had been more forceful in trying to convince them of the threat of rustlers. This old Adam with the temper and the bossiness was a welcome development. Ellie could tell from Hoss’ reaction that he liked the way that Adam had started taking charge. She knew that there might be aspects of this personality she wouldn’t necessarily like that much, but this new more dominating personality made her fall in love with him even more than she already had.

*****

Chapter 7

After talking with Hoss and deciding to keep the herd in that area for an extra day, Adam saddled up two horses and took a third to carry more supplies back to camp. He and Ellie rode out as soon as she was sure Joe no longer needed her care. He was resting comfortably and Cookie knew what to do to care for the wound properly. Once they were at the hotel in town, Adam ordered a meal to be sent to their room at eight, ordered baths for the two of them, and asked if the hotel had robes and towels for their use.

“Why two hours? I’m hungry now.”

“In addition to the bath, sweetheart, we have other things to do first. I’ll do my best to keep you mind on something other than your stomach.”

Once in the room, he undressed and put on the robe and told Ellie to do the same for the bath was just across the hall from their room in the small hotel. Grabbing his shaving kit and soiled clothing, he opened the door and escorted Ellie to the washroom where their warm bath awaited. Handing the attendant the soiled clothing and requesting he get them laundered and that his services would not be required, Adam gave the man three dollars. He smiled and agreed to do as Adam asked. The Adam locked the wash room door and dropped the robe to the floor. He indicated with a sweep of his hand that Ellie should do the same, and then he offered her his hand to help her step into the tub.

“Slide all the way to the end.” Adam prepared to step into the tub with Ellie.

“You’re getting in with me?”

“You need a bath. I need a bath. There’s only one bathtub. I’ll help you wash and then you can help me wash.” Adam stepped into the tub then and settled into the other end of the tub with his legs on either side of Ellie. “Turn around, and I’ll wash your hair for you.”

“Why do I get the feeling that you’ve done this before?”

“Close your eyes so I can pour this water over your head.”

Closing her eyes but not her mouth because she was going to make a comment, Ellie was soon sputtering and ready to make an angry comment when Adam began working the suds in her hair massaging her scalp as he did so. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation. When he told her again to close her eyes, she did and he rinsed her hair. He soaped his hands next and began washing her back and shoulders with gentle circular motions being careful as he massaged her not to press on her bruises. Announcing it was his turn, Adam reversed positions with Ellie so she could wash his hair and then his back except her hands roamed much further than his had. She wondered how he would react and was thrilled when he stood and said ‘Later’ before stepping out of the tub to shave. Ellie reclined in the tub watching him. When he finished, he offered her his hand and helped her from the tub handing her a towel. He pulled on his robe and grabbed his shaving kit and waited impatiently for Ellie to tie the sash on her robe. He escorted her across the hall to their room then, and almost tackled her as soon as the door was locked.

After no intimacy for so long, Adam and Ellie were almost too enthusiastic in their desire for one another. Soon they were resting and catching their breath as they lay in each other’s arms. All too soon it seemed there was a knock on the door with their dinner. Ellie slid completely under the covers as Adam got his robe and opened the door for their meal tray. Ellie remembered how ravenous she was once the aroma of the food filled the room. She grabbed her robe and quickly joined Adam at the small table for dinner. After they ate, Adam dropped his robe and got into bed wondering why Ellie didn’t follow him.

“Adam, I didn’t bring a gown with me on this trip. I didn’t think I would need one.”

“You still don’t. Just sleep like I do. You may find you like it.”

“It just seems so improper and not ladylike at all.”

“You can be a lady whenever you want except when we’re in bed together. Then you’re a woman and I’m a man, and I like to be as close as I can be to the woman I love.”

“Well, when you say it like that, it does sound a lot better.”

About midnight, Ellie was awakened by Adam kissing her lips, shoulders, arms, and anything else he could reach without letting go of her. As frenetic as the earlier lovemaking had been, this bout was all about being gentle and giving pleasure. Slowly and sensuously, they make love before falling asleep in each other’s embrace again. In the morning Ellie awakened in the warm comfort of her husband’s body pressed against hers. She could tell by his breathing that he was not sleeping. As she stirred, he caressed her back without saying anything.

“What would you like?”

“I’m going to miss you terribly. I would like some memories to hold me through the next few weeks.”

So they made more wonderful memories before they dressed and went to the restaurant for breakfast. Then Adam escorted Ellie to the stage depot and waited with her until it was time for the stage to leave. Hugging and kissing, they said goodbye to each other. After waving and watching the stage pull out, Adam went to collect his laundered clothing and pick up the supplies for the drive. He sent a telegram to his father letting him know Ellie was on her way home, and then he headed out with the needed supplies.

*****

Chapter 7

“So Joseph will be all right?”

“Yes, it was a clean wound, luckily, and I was able to treat it right away. Cookie had plenty of bandages and knows how to take care of a wound after all those years on drives.”

“And what did you do to make Adam so angry that he sent you home?”

“Well, I tried to wave off cattle from ramming into the chuck wagon.” At Ben’s incredulous look, Ellie had to explain. “I can’t defend my action other than to say that my lack of experience out here showed rather plainly. At first it was just a few cows and I thought it would be easy to get them to go another way. I had no idea how many would follow those first ones. I promise I will never do anything so foolish again. I didn’t understand why they had the rule that I had to run for the wagon at the first sign of trouble.”

“My dear, you can’t question our rules like that either. There’s a reason for the things that we tell you to do.”

“I do understand that very well now. I am sorry I did what I did. But I think Adam could have let me continue on the drive with them. I learned and would never have been so stupid again, and I could have helped care for Joe too.”

“Well, I would guess there was more to it. For one, with Joe hurt, Adam would have a lot more responsibility. When he was working as a hand, he could allow himself to be a bit distracted by you, but as ramrod or boss, there isn’t a spare moment in a day. Was there any reason for him to think that you would be a distraction?”

“Not at all. I behaved just as we agreed except for that one time.”

“There must have been something. Adam doesn’t make arbitrary decisions like that without a reason.”

“Well, I suppose it could have been the fight.”

A raised eyebrow was all that Ben needed to do. Ellie needed to explain that one.

“Some of the men were thinking that the cattle being all riled up was because of me. Adam told Hoss and then he told Joe that he thought it might be rustlers in the area because none of the usual problems were there.”

“That still doesn’t explain the fight.”

“One of the men challenged Adam and called him weak because he had me with him on the drive. They had a fight. Adam won.”

“So it seems there may have been several reasons why Adam sent you home?”

With a deep sigh, Ellie nodded. She knew it had been the correct decision, but she already missed him. She did smile thinking about their last night and morning together.

“I take it you parted on good terms though?”

A little embarrassed to be caught out so easily on her thoughts, Ellie blushed and nodded. “Something about the fight and the stampede changed Adam somehow. He got more bossy and took charge. He just told people what had to be done and assumed it would get done. I never saw that side of him before.”

“That sounds more like the Adam who left here. When he first got back, I liked the softer, gentler Adam, but I realize now that a lot of his strength was in his darker side. He can be stubborn, opinionated, demanding, and so very confident in himself. He used to push himself and everyone else so hard that sometimes it was resented, but he helped me build the Ponderosa by being that way.”

“Yes, Hoss said he had wished that Adam had argued more when he thought there might be rustlers after the herd. He was suspicious but didn’t try too hard to convince his brothers.”

“He’s come a long way back from everything that happened to him. He needs both sides of his personality to be himself. I think you’re going to like him quite well even if he will be more intimidating to others. He may argue more with you about things than he has in the past, but I think you’re strong enough to deal with that.”

“Thank you. Yes, I do like him a lot the way he was that last night we were together. He took charge, but he was very considerate too.”

“I raised my boys to know how to treat a woman.”

“Now we just have to find some women for your other sons. They would make such wonderful husbands and fathers. They really should be trying harder to find someone.”

“My dear, we are going to make a great team. I’ve been pushing them to do that for years.”

By the time they reached the end of their conversation, they were nearly home. Once more, Ellie was enchanted by the view of the ranch when they neared the house. It was so impressive with all the trees and the mountains in the background.

Over the next few weeks, Jamie rode with her to her new house several times and to town so she could measure the windows and then get fabrics to sew curtains. Jamie was also her escort when she went to visit with pregnant women. When one of the women suffered a miscarriage, Jamie was pressed into service to help care for her. Instead of being disgusted with the blood and other issues that Ellie had to handle, he was intrigued. His previous experience was in seeing gunshot wounds and broken bones. Seeing the more positive side of Ellie’s work and then helping with the woman helped him make a life changing decision. He told his father that night that he wanted to go to medical school to become a doctor who specialized in treating women and children. Ben was amazed at first, and then proud that his son would choose such a career. He suspected that Ellie and Adam would be quite pleased as well. He asked Jamie to hold his announcement until the whole family was together again.

“So you’re happy?”

“Jamie, I am so proud of you. I will do whatever I can to help you achieve your goal, but I think the whole family would like to hear this and celebrate the news. We’ll have a big dinner to celebrate the boys returning home, and then you can tell them your news too.”

Unable to keep the news from Ellie though, Jamie started asking her all sorts of questions, and she unpacked some of her medical school books and began telling him what sections to read to begin. Soon they were studying Latin and German words so that Jamie would be more familiar with some of the terminology in the books. He had never studied either language and found them very difficult at first.

“Adam went to college. Does he know Latin and German?”

“No, Adam studied Latin and Greek, learned French so he could read the literature, and has a working knowledge of Spanish and some Chinese from Hop Sing, but I don’t think he knows any German. We could work out some things to say in German when he’s around though, and it will drive him crazy not knowing.”

“He’ll probably start studying German just because we know something he doesn’t.”

Smiling, Ellie had to agree. She began instructing Jamie in German. With the new house to decorate, visits with patients, and with teaching Jamie, Ellie hardly had any time to miss Adam until she went to bed at night. Then the room and the house seemed so empty. More than one night she found herself shedding a few tears before she was able to fall into a restless sleep. She had never thought she could miss someone so much.

On the day that Ben and Ellie were in the house and heard horses in the yard, Ellie ran to the door and was going to throw it open when she remembered Ben’s admonition to her to be careful of anyone at the door. Despite her eagerness to see if it was Adam and his brothers, she waited until Ben came to the door and picked up his pistol before opening the door. He grinned then and quickly dropped the pistol on the credenza before offering Ellie the chance to run outside first. Hoss and Adam were dismounting and Cookie drove in with the wagon with Joe on the seat. Ellie rushed into Adam’s arms, and the two kissed. Joe climbed down carefully from the wagon and Hoss handed him a five dollar bill. At Ben’s cocked eyebrow, Hoss explained.

“I told him Ellie had better sense than to want to kiss a man who smelled like three weeks on the trail and with a growth of whiskers that could scare most women and children. I lost the bet.” Ellie and Adam walked to the house parting at the washroom. By the time the others got inside, Ellie was bringing clean clothes to Adam. “Tell him to hurry up cause I got four weeks of grime on me needs washing.”

“I will, Hoss. I’ll even help him clean up.”

Ellie disappeared around the corner with that comment but Hoss was left speechless at first. “That gal gets more and more like older brother all the time.”

“Hoss, is that a problem for you?”

“Only if she starts trying to boss me around. Darn that Adam got bossy on the drive. He did get us to market without losing a single head though. Got a darn good price cause of the great condition they was in too. He made us stop a couple of times to let the herd graze. Said we could go faster by stopping. Now that was the darndest idea I ever heard but it worked. Not rightly sure how it worked, but it did.”

“Hoss, it made sense. Cows with a bellyful and rested were easier to push along faster for the next week until he made us take another break. Worked for the men too. Pa, Adam was more like his old self on this drive after I got hurt. It was kinda nice and kinda irritating too. Seemed like old times.” Joe ended with a smile letting his father know that he knew too that Adam was recovering from all the things that had happened to him.

“Joe, why were you riding in the wagon? Isn’t your leg healed?”

“Oh yeah, but big brother here decided we could go faster if I rode in the wagon and older brother agreed with him. If I didn’t get in the wagon, they said they’d throw me in there and tie me down. I decided to cooperate, but I’ll get them for this.”

Laughing, the brothers sat with their father telling him all about the drive and their version of events that Ellie had already described.

In the washroom, Adam was in the tub and Ellie helped him wash his hair and then held the mirror so he could shave. Once that was done, she held a towel as he stepped out, and dried his back for him before he grabbed the towel and dried the rest of him. Once he dropped the towel on the floor, she had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen next. Adam pulled her into an embrace and began what she knew would inevitably lead to lovemaking. She wanted him to go to their bedroom though and he didn’t want to because the others were right outside. They compromised. Adam got dressed and went out to hitch up the carriage. They would take a ride to their new house to see the curtains Ellie had made and put up in the rooms there. It just might take them a long time to get back home.

As they were leaving, Ben reminded them that Hop Sing was preparing a big dinner to celebrate and they shouldn’t be late. He smiled as Adam waved and snapped the reins anxious to get his wife to where they could have some privacy. Ben smiled and wished his other sons could find such happiness.

Up on a hill overlooking the ranch house, four men sat and watched. They were the men who had planned to rustle the herd. They never expected anyone to get killed. Two of them were Nate’s brothers and the other two were cousins. They had fired low at Joe trying to knock him out of the chase but not intending to kill him. When he shot Nate causing him to fall among the stampeding cows, the other four had given up all plans for rustling, but the longer they traveled and talked, the more they decided that there needed to be some retribution. They had followed the brothers home hoping for a chance, but they had stuck together, and Adam had made them follow strict security. He said he had a hunch they were being watched, and after the earlier problem when they had not believed him, they decided to follow his advice. The drovers who came back with them were all in town celebrating with the first rounds paid for by the brothers before they headed for home. They would slowly find their way home and be ready for work the next day. The ranch had the least amount of men on it that it would have for months. The four rustlers had enough experience on a ranch to know that. They decided they would make their play that night.

Within an hour, Candy and Jamie were up at the ranch house too. The four rustlers waited for Adam to return for they assumed he would. They didn’t want any surprises, and his return home could be the cover for them approaching the house without being seen especially if he took his time getting back with his wife. Once they saw Adam’s carriage in the distance, they worked their way down through the trees intending to get into the yard behind the carriage and into the house right behind Adam and Ellie.

Once inside the house, Adam and Ellie quickly went to the table because it was clear everyone had been waiting for them and their patience was being taxed. At the table, Jamie couldn’t hold back and announced his plans. Hoss slapped him on the back, and Joe reached across to shake his hand. Adam placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I haven’t known you long, brother, but I am thrilled to know there will be another doctor in the family.”

“Adam, don’t you know some people in Stockton who have a son studying medicine?”

“Yes, Pa, and I’m sure they would help out. Maybe their son, Eugene, and Jamie could get to be friends. Jamie’s going to be isolated in California during the winter unless he plans to go further away for school in which case we won’t see him for a very long time.”

Ben had not considered that Jamie might want to go to school somewhere other than California so he turned to him. “Jamie, have you thought about what school you would like to attend?”

“First I would like to go to school in California as you all have assumed. But then Doctor Martin says he knows of a school in St. Louis that might be where I want to go for more advanced training.”

After bringing out dinner, Hop Sing brought out wine, and all except Ellie toasted Jamie’s news. Adam asked her if she was feeling all right because he thought she liked a glass of wine with dinner occasionally.

“I do, but lately it’s been giving me indigestion. Even a little brandy causes a problem ever since I got home from the drive. I think all that bacon and beans I ate made a mess of my stomach.”

As they were about to dig in and eat, the front door crashed open and there was also a lot of noise from the kitchen. None of them had guns because they were all on the credenza. Four men with pistols were soon standing around the table. They took them one by one to tie them up until Ellie was the only one not tied.

“Now, first we want some money. Then we’ll see what else we’ll do about you killing Nate.” With that, the leader laughed and then viciously backhanded Joe with his pistol leaving a gash in the side of his head. Joe’s head dropped to his chest and then he fell stunned to the floor. “Where do you keep the money?” When no one answered, the man grabbed Ellie and put a gun to her head.

Ben answered. “All the cash we have here is in the safe.”

The leader pointed at Adam. “Untie him so he can get the money. He’s the one most likely to be worried about whether I put a bullet in her head.”

Hoss and Ben tensed up as Adam walked to the safe once he was untied. They weren’t sure what he was going to do but knew there was a gun in the safe and another in the top desk drawer. They wondered if he thought he could take on all four of these men. Hoss decided he could manage one even tied up. He looked at his father who nodded and looked toward a man standing just to his right. They would try to even the odds a bit if Adam made a play on the other two who were closer to him. One was right behind him with a pistol in his back. The other had moved into the center of the room still holding a pistol to Ellie’s temple. Adam spun the dial on the safe to the right, then left, and then right. He pulled the door open and the man behind him turned to his friends with a smile. It didn’t last long when the next thing he felt was a pistol in his back.

“Drop it!”

The man didn’t but tried to turn back and knock Adam’s arm away. It didn’t work and it was the last thought and action he would ever have. Hoss and Ben used that moment to push up out of their chairs and knock the other two to the floor. Candy and Jamie quickly moved to help them. Even with their hands tied they were able to keep the pistols out of the reach of the two men.

“Stop!” The leader of the group screamed. He was pressing the pistol into Ellie’s head then. “You try anything more and I’ll kill her! I will!” The emotional desperation in his voice was palpable.

Ellie had tears running down her face. Adam looked into her eyes and his heart was breaking, but these men were not going to leave them here alive. If they got the upper hand again, he suspected they would all die. Adam raised his pistol and pointed it at the leader’s head. He didn’t say anything.

“You better drop that pistol or I’m gonna shoot her, honest I am.” His statement got no response from Adam. He stared at a spot on the man’s forehead as if he could guide the bullet there. “I’m telling ya, I’m gonna shoot her ifn you don’t drop that pistol.” Everyone in the room was frozen in place. The only movement was by the leader who did his best to keep most of his body behind Ellie. Hoss spoke up from the side where he and Jamie had their weight pressing one of the men to the floor.

“Mister, my brother Adam has a heart of ice when he wants to. He don’t feel nothing right now except he wants to kill you. You kill her, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

The man’s hand was beginning to shake with the tension. He stared at that pistol in Adam’s hand and it didn’t seem to waver in the least. He could almost imagine the bullet coming out of there and penetrating his skull. He had nowhere to hide. He began to think he needed to kill Adam before Adam killed him, and then he thought he would still have a hostage so that could work out for him. Adam saw the slight flinch in his hand and knew his plan was working. If it didn’t work, he knew he would never be able to live with himself. As soon as the man moved the pistol to point it at Adam, he had to move Ellie slightly to the side so he could aim. Adam used that split second to kill him. There was still danger so he had to aim his pistol at the two other men and order them to untie his family and Candy. Once they were allowed to get up, they did that. Once the pistols were in the hands of his family and the two men were tied up, he went to his sobbing wife who was on her knees near the dead man. She had blood and brain matter splattered on her.

“Ellie, I am so sorry. Ellie, I didn’t know what else to do. Ellie, please, I thought they might kill all of us, and I couldn’t let them do that. Ellie, please, forgive me. Please?”

As Ellie reached for him, Adam gathered her up in his arms and lifted her taking her to their bedroom. He helped her remove her soiled dress. Then he poured water from the pitcher into the basin and soaped up a cloth to wipe her face before he carefully wiped any traces from her hair too. He rinsed the cloth in clean water and wiped away the soap residue. Grabbing a blanket from the bed, he wrapped it around her and pulled her to him as he sat in the leather chair so that she ended up on his lap. Ellie snuggled into his embrace but continued to cry softly. After about a half hour, there was a soft knock on the door, and Ben was there to see if everything was all right. Adam nodded. Ellie had fallen asleep in his arms exhausted from the ordeal.

“How’s Joe?”

“He’ll have a headache and when Ellie is able, he needs a few stitches in his scalp.”

*****

Chapter 8

“I had to weigh the odds. If I gave them that money, they would probably have killed Joe and maybe me and Hoss too. If I put down that gun, he certainly would have killed me and probably other members of the family. I had to gamble. I didn’t think he would kill you. He didn’t hurt you at all and didn’t even tie you up so I thought he probably wouldn’t.”

“And if he had?”

“Then I would have killed him and he might have killed me. It wouldn’t have mattered then because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.” Adam leaned against the fireplace and watched the activity in the room.

“Adam’s right, my dear. The two who lived said that he planned to kill my three sons for causing the death of his brother. The man that Adam killed by the desk was his other brother. He would not have let Adam live. Sometimes there are no good choices, and we do the best we can.”

“This is why Adam struggles so with those memories that returned to him. They always sound so clear cut when someone explains, but when you’re actually in it, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. There is no right way to do it. I understand better now what Adam has been suffering. He’s been questioning whether the choices he made were the best ones under the circumstances, but there’s no way to change things and no way to know.”

“Yes it is the moral and ethical ambiguity of violent situations that leave people emotionally numb afterwards. Adam killed two more men, and yet they would have likely killed some or all of us. What would have been a better solution? Was there even a better solution? No one knows.”

Adam stood quietly as his wife and father discussed what had happened. He was still in shock a bit himself. He didn’t know what he would have done if it had not turned out well for them. He remembered so well when his father had been held hostage for Farmer Perkins. He had gambled and won that time too, and he knew too that if he had lost that gamble, he would not have been able to live with that either and his brothers would never have forgiven him. He struggled again with the nature of good and evil, right and wrong, and the choices we all make that affect others’ lives.

As Ellie finished the sutures in Joe’s scalp, she cleaned the area again, applied salve, and then asked Jamie to put a clean bandage over the area. Exhausted by everything that had happened, she slumped down on a chair next to where Adam was standing. Hop Sing was finishing cleaning up the mess in the great room. The soiled rugs had been removed and would probably be burned. There was little other evidence of the violence that had occurred in the room only hours earlier. Joe leaned back on the settee once Jamie finished with the bandage. Hoss and Candy came back inside after getting rid of the rugs and sending some of the returning hands who were sober into town with the two prisoners and two bodies. They expected Roy to be out in the morning for the full story.

Hop Sing came from the kitchen with a tray of sandwiches and coffee. No one had much of an appetite but knew they should eat something. Once the food started to be devoured, everyone began to relax a little. Hop Sing watched from the kitchen doorway. He knew that sometimes the way to start getting back to normal was to make that first step. The sandwiches and coffee would likely help them relax. Then they would talk a bit more, and then they would sleep. By tomorrow, they would have gained some perspective on the situation. He had been tied up in the kitchen while all the commotion happened with his family, and he had been frantic with worry. Once he had seen that Adam had taken charge and ended the crisis, he felt much better. Not only was one crisis resolved without anyone he loved being hurt, but number one son had acted as he would have acted all those years ago before he had suffered through so much. He was back now, and even with the moodiness and bad temper he would inevitably display on occasion, Hop Sing knew the family needed his strength, courage, and intelligence. They would have it now. He would sleep better knowing that.

For Ellie, there was more to accept. She had seen an intimidating, dangerous side to Adam that she did not know existed. Now all the stories she had heard of him facing down men with guns and winning shootouts made so much more sense. The more vulnerable Adam that she had first met would not likely have been able to do those things. She wondered how their relationship might change now. She did feel safer with him standing by her side. She closed her eyes and sighed for even with that nap earlier, she was exhausted. When she opened her eyes and looked around the room, she realized that everyone there looked exhausted.

“As a doctor, I’m prescribing bed rest for the next eight hours at least for everyone in this room. As a wife, I would like my husband to please take me to our room.” Smiling that little crooked smile of his, Adam reached for her hand and pulled her up beside him. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he guided her to their bedroom. Quietly they readied themselves for bed, and then Ellie snuggled up to Adam in the bed. He pushed her to turn away from him and she wondered what was wrong until he slid in behind her and wrapped an arm around her middle as he kissed the top of her head. They fell asleep spooning like that, and it became their favorite way to sleep.

The next morning, Adam got out of bed very carefully so as not to wake Ellie. He shaved and cleaned up a little and then purposefully made a little noise. Ellie stirred and opened her eyes just a bit. Adam leaned down and kissed her apologizing for waking her. She suspected that he had done it on purpose especially as his hands began roaming over her. She found him to be as gentle with her as always but there was a passion there that seemed stronger than ever and he was quite inventive that morning in things he wanted to do with her. Later as they rested, Adam suggested it was time to get up and dressed to join the family at the breakfast table.

“There’s something I want to talk about with you first.”

Thinking it would be about the previous evening, Adam closed his eyes and waited. Ellie said nothing so he opened his eyes to find her smiling.

“It’s something good I think. When I got home from the drive, nothing happened. It should have happened, and it didn’t happen in the three weeks since then either, and now it’s been well over a month with nothing happening, and I thought I should tell you.”

Frowning, Adam thought through the sequence of phrases and suddenly realized what she had told him. “Really? When will we definitely know?”

“Well I suppose in a few more weeks it will be absolutely positive, but I’ve noticed changes and I’m sure it already is definite. Are you happy?”

“I am ecstatic. A few years ago playing with Jake’s children, I thought to myself that I would never have that experience as a father. Now I will. How far along are you, do you think?”

“Well based on everything that happened, if it’s a girl, we might want to call her Aurora.”

Puzzled for only a few seconds, Adam smiled. It must have happened in the little town of Aurora where they spent one night. He pulled Ellie into an embrace and kissed her. “Let’s not tell the family right away. I would like it to be our secret for a while.”

“Well, we can try, but your father keeps giving me these looks when I say my stomach is upset with certain foods and such. It’s like he knows something is up.”

“He probably does. He’s been wishing and hoping for a grandchild for so long, he’s probably been watching for signs. Now we’re going to have to work on a nursery for the new house. Oh, this means the baby will arrive sometime near Christmas. What a great time of the year to have a baby here. We’ll have lots of time together as a family.”

The move to the new house, letting everyone in on their good news, and preparing to welcome a new addition kept Adam and Ellie busy for the next eight months. Christmas was a very special time as they celebrated their one year anniversary and welcomed a son into their family.

***The End***

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