Guitar Blues series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Six stories.  A Lesson In Courage –a prequel; Joe learns quite a lot from Adam about being brave in the face of danger and how to handle threats as well as violence. Adam receives a guitar from his father.  Broken Guitar Blues — There are tensions between Adam and Ben that result in Adam’s departure, but when he returns, the family has changed as much as he has. The family narrative is more mature then but the bonds are just as strong.  Sydney and Evelyn —  this is the backstory of Adam and Lyn explaining how they met and became a couple. It also introduces her brother, and their nemesis Maxwell.  Missing Scouser — Lyn gets to know Hoss as she misses her brother, but then there are surprising developments.  Nightmares From Down Under —  Maxwell gets there in his plan to exact revenge. However he’s never faced anyone like the Cartwrights. Brotherly Love — as the title implies, it’s all about the brothers, their concerns with their families and the support they receive from each other with difficulties they have. As Adam says in the story: “I have brothers, and brothers take care of each other.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  97,364


A Lesson in Courage

Chapter 1

“Pa, Adam was scared of those men. I could see it in his eyes. And he blamed me. I could tell cause he kept looking at me with that look of his that said it was all my fault. Then when they said we could go if he would just say he loved me, he wouldn’t say it. Pa, even if it was a lie, he could of said it so we could go. But he just stood there with that look of his that doesn’t show anything and didn’t say a word. After a while, he couldn’t even stand to look at me and he closed his eyes. So they left us tied up there to die. They didn’t know that I could get my feet loose or they woulda tied them up tighter. We woulda died, Pa, if I didn’t get my feet free.”

“Joseph, I’m sure there is an explanation. Adam was badly injured, wasn’t he? I know you didn’t know it until much later, but that could have been why he didn’t talk. You need to come up and see him. He needs to see you.”

“No, I ain’t never gonna go see him again ever. He ain’t my brother no more.”

Ben had to hold his hand at that point. He was so angry at those words but knew that Joe was distraught. Hoss had come to the top of the stairs with all the noise they were making. He stared at Joe with an angry look. He walked slowly down the stairs to confront his brother.

“Pa, Doc wants to see ya upstairs again.”

Ben hurried up the stairs. Getting summoned by Paul was a bad sign. He worried that the prognosis had gotten worse, and it wasn’t good to begin with.

“Joe, I cain’t believe you said those things. Now none of that you said about Adam could be true. He loves you. He would do anything to protect you.”

“You weren’t there. You didn’t see what happened.”

“I didn’t have to be. I know him and what you’re sayin just cain’t be true.”

“So now I’m a liar. Just because he’s hurt, you’re going to think he couldn’t do those things. Well he did, and I was there, so I’m the one who ought to know.”

Joe picked up his gunbelt, hat, and jacket.

“Where you going?”

“To town. I’ll find a friend who’ll let me stay the night at least. I cain’t stand to be here with him.”

“You’re gonna stay ifn I have to sit on ya to make ya stay. So put that stuff down.”

“He went to college and he ain’t the same since he got back. Now I know my brother is a coward and that he hates me. Fine. If I have to sleep here, fine, but I ain’t gonna go see him.”

Joe sat on the red leather chair and Hoss sat on the settee after adding more wood to the fire. It would probably be a very long night. He hoped and then he prayed that there would be some good news.

Doctor Martin and Ben came walking down the steps talking quietly. Finally seeing Hoss and Joe sitting there, Paul asked a question after a preamble.

“Adam was conscious or semi-conscious when I dressed his wounds. I used soapy water, carbolic acid, and some alcohol on raw flesh. I probed wounds and pulled debris out of them. I stitched up four puncture wounds. I set his broken arm and splinted it. He never made a sound. I had to give him a piece of cloth to bite on because I thought he was going to bite through his lip or his tongue if I didn’t. I have never seen anything like it. Do either of you have any idea why Adam is avoiding making a sound?”

“Maybe he’s afraid they’ll come back if they hear him cry.”

“Joseph! I know you have been through an ordeal, but denigrating your brother is not going to make you feel better.”

“I don’t know, Doc. Adam has always been pretty tough, but this is a lot for even him. How is he, Doc, really?”

“The blood loss, the injuries, the shock, the exposure, the fever, and whatever else is bedeviling his mind is a lot for one man. He’s young and strong, so we have to see what kind of determination he has to fight this.”

“You mean he could die?”

The lack of an answer from Doctor Martin was answer enough. Joe knew Adam was hurt but had not really thought of the possibility he might die. Joe reconsidered his earlier stand.

“If you want, I could go see him?”

“He’s not conscious. Hop Sing is sitting with him for now.”

What was left unsaid was that Adam needed to see Joe earlier when he looked frantically at Hoss and Ben with a silent despair that was all too clear. But Joe had refused to go, and now he realized it might be too late. Ben walked up the stairs and turned at the landing.

“If you want to see him, come up now.”

Then he turned with weary steps to finish climbing the stairs. Hoss followed and then Joe stood to follow him. When Joe got to Adam’s room, Hop Sing was sponging Adam’s face, neck, and chest to try to relieve the fever. Ben sat to one side and held his son’s hand. Even though Adam was not conscious, he was not in a restful state. He was grimacing and rolled his head from side to side, but there was no sound except for his labored breathing.

The three men stayed in the room after Hop Sing left. Ben and Hoss alternated on applying cool cloths to Adam’s brow. They sat on opposite sides of the bed. Joe finally talked when he acknowledged that if Adam did blame him, it was true.

“I was stupid. When he walked into the restaurant for breakfast, I asked him if he had the bank draft for the sale of the horses we brought in. He told me quickly not to say anything but I guess the damage was already done. Those men bushwhacked us only about five miles out of Carson. I’m fifteen years old. I shoulda known better.”

“Pa, look at Adam. Joe, keep talking.”

Adam had stopped his restless movements. There was no grimace. He couldn’t be understanding the words, but Joe talking had captured his attention.

“I was glad when Adam agreed to take me with him to help with the horses. I thought he finally was treating me like a man and trusting me. We got along great on the trip. We talked and even laughed some.”

The more Joe talked, the more restful Adam became.

“Then when those men came out with guns, Adam pulled his out of his holster and dropped it and told me to drop mine. They made us get off our horses, and asked Adam where the bank draft was. He said in his boot and they pulled both his boots off and then pulled off his jacket too. One guy said he was thinking those boots and the jacket would look good on him so he took them. They said they didn’t take mine cause my stuff wouldn’t fit anyone. Then they tied us up and started drinking. They got louder and louder. I heard one say that he learned a fun game the ‘injuns’ played some time. After a bit, they came and took Adam away to a tree and tied his arms to an overhanging branch. Then they tied my hands and my feet then ran a rope between the two. I couldn’t see what was happening. They took me over there by Adam after a couple of hours and asked Adam that question he wouldn’t answer.”

Adam was now laying in the most peaceful state they had seen since his rescue. They encouraged Joe to keep talking.

“Well after they left us there, I got my feet loose and then went to some rocks and rubbed until my wrists were free too. It was almost dark by then. They had left a campfire, so after I got Adam loose I took him there and got more wood for the fire. We didn’t have any blankets cause they took the horses so I got some pine branches and such to cover us up for the night and I made sure we had a lot of wood. That’s how you found us the next morning. That’s the first I knew that Adam was hurt that bad. I couldn’t tell in the dark.”

Adam had slipped into a restful state and was unconscious or in a deep sleep. The men continued their vigil. Hoss explained to Joe how they had found them.

“When those yahoos brought your horses into Carson, the horses were recognized. Cause you two weren’t with em, some men let the sheriff know. With one of em wearing Adam’s jacket, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what happened. They arrested them for horse theft and then found the bank draft on one of em. The sheriff in Carson wired Roy and he got us. We rode from here and the Carson sheriff rode from there. When we didn’t find ya right away, we figured there had to be a camp or something they had made in the hills so we started searching. Pa spotted the smoke coming up and that’s when we found ya. At first it looked like two piles of brush by a campfire until we saw your arm snaking outta one and adding some wood to the fire.”

Joe and his brother and father remembered then the frantic activity that had ensued. Joe was very cold but when they pulled the brush from Adam, he looked dead. It was only his ragged shallow breathing that indicated he was alive. He was cold and both pants legs and both sleeves of his shirt were soggy with blood, and more had seeped into the ground beneath him. They bandaged his wounds and wrapped him in blankets as they tried to warm him. When they could, they got him to drink sips of hot coffee. Eventually Hoss had held him in front of him on Chubb and brought him back to the house. Eerily, through all of it, Adam had remained silent. Doctor Martin had said there was no damage to stop him from speaking or even screaming as the situation warranted. Yet, for some reason, Adam was choosing silence.

*****

Chapter 2

Adam had known as soon as Joe yelled about the bank draft that they might have trouble. He had thought about taking the stage instead, but decided it would likely be just as risky. He tried to be alert and had hidden the bank draft in his boot, but having to protect his fifteen year old brother weighed heavily on his mind. When the four outlaws came out with guns drawn, Adam knew it was an impossible situation. Fighting back would likely get Joe killed as he had only recently gotten the privilege of wearing a sidearm when traveling but wasn’t practiced with it yet. Giving up was likely not much better but gave him more time to think of something to do. So they took the bank draft and his jacket and boots. He and Joe were tied. He had expected them to take off then with their bounty, but instead, two of them pulled bottles out of their saddlebags and prepared to have lunch. They didn’t give their captives food nor water. It was clear that they had no concern if they lived or died. It was likely they were going to be left to die. They kept him far enough away from Joe so they could not converse without being overheard. What that made clear was that these men had done this kind of thing before.

Sitting closer to the campfire and the four outlaws, Adam was able to overhear most of their conversation. It was chilling especially when they discussed the ‘game’ one of them had supposedly learned about. Adam thought it sounded just as likely it was from someone’s imagination. When they stood, he knew that they were going to play their ‘game’ and he insulted them quietly but forcefully.

“When are you going to let us go, you hump backed whoreson?”

Adam wanted them to focus on him and not look at Joe. It worked. He was untied and kicked and pummeled, and then just as quickly, his arms were tied to a branch up above. They pulled the ropes so taut that only his toes were on the ground. The pressure on his wrists and hands was intense. Without his coat and his boots, he was cold, and his muscles were tight.

“You make a sound before that sun goes down, and the little pretty one gets his throat slit. We’ll let him lie here in front of you and bleed out. It’s up to you. What do you say to that?”

Adam had remained silent, and the men had laughed uproariously. They were already enjoying their ‘game’ immensely. One walked up behind Adam and jabbed a knife into his thigh. He nearly bit through his lip with that but made not a sound. There were three more jabs before they tired of that and went back for a little more liquid refreshment. One of them walked over about an hour later. He had stared into Adam’s face and Adam had done his best not to show anything. He was already weakening from blood loss though and wasn’t sure if he could maintain his resolve until he looked over at his baby brother hog-tied. Then he knew he had to.

“You ain’t so tough.”

The man walked over to the tree and looked about for a while until he selected a stout piece of wood. He came back and held it in front of Adam’s face. Then laughing, he stepped back and swung at Adam’s arm. Luckily he was nearly drunk and the blow lacked the force it might have had if he had been sober, but even so the sound of a bone breaking was clear. Adam nearly fainted with that one but held on. He knew that if he did lose consciousness, his body might betray him and he might moan or scream.

It had seemed the outlaws tired of the game until Adam saw them walk over and untie Joe’s feet. They marched Joe over to stand in front of him.

“Now, mister tough guy. All we gotta hear is you say you love this pretty little one ya got here, and we’ll let you go. Heck we’ll even give your stuff back to ya. Say it nice enough and you get it all.”

The men snickered as Adam stood silently. Joe had looked imploringly at Adam, but he couldn’t say a word. If he did, Joe would die. A man was standing directly behind Joe with a knife in his hand and smiling. Adam wanted to scream at them. He wanted to reassure his brother that he loved him and would do anything for him. The anguished look in Joe’s eyes was tearing him apart inside. All he could do was adopt that iron control he had been learning since he was a child. One of the men walked over and leaned in to Adam as he grasped his broken left forearm.

“C’mon now, just three little words and we let ya both go. Say it! I love you. That’s all. Guess he don’t matter much to ya if ya can’t even say those words to save your life. Ya stubborn fool!”

The pain was overwhelming and Adam almost screamed. Instead he closed his eyes and tried to think of anything except the agony in his arm and the throbbing pain from both thighs and upper arms where he had been stabbed. He knew his wounds were not fatal. He thought if he could just bore them enough with their game, they might leave. His memory of what followed was hazy at best. He remembered unbelievable pain, but kept his resolve to remain silent. He would do nothing to endanger his little brother’s life.

Adam’s silence had been the only chance the two of them had, and it worked. The outlaws had retied Joe’s feet, and left the two of them there to die. Joe had looked up at his brother suspended from the branch and saw that his eyes were still closed. Whether it was voluntary or if he had passed out, he couldn’t tell. Once he freed himself, he managed to get Adam down and dragged him to the campfire. That night, he thought angrily that he would save his brother’s life even if his brother had refused a chance to save his.

*****

Chapter 3

As Joe took his turns sitting by Adam’s side for the next day, he kept coming back to that scene with Adam closing his eyes instead of declaring his love for his brother. Late the day after their rescue, Joe thought he saw some signs that Adam was waking or getting closer to waking. He didn’t want to be there when that happened.

“Adam, I just want you to know I forgive you for what you did. You’re my brother and I’m sorry you don’t love me. I guess I’m just that pesky little brother you have to put up with. I don’t understand why you did what you did. Don’t worry though. You won’t have to talk to me or nothing. I’ll stay as far away from you as I can so you won’t have to be bothered with me. In a year or two, maybe I’ll be leaving here, and then you won’t have to look at me at all.”

Joe got up and left the room leaving the door ajar. He knocked on Hoss’ door because it was his turn next. Hoss opened the door almost immediately and asked if anything was wrong, but Joe just said it was Hoss’ turn, and he needed some sleep. As Hoss entered Adam’s room, he could see that Adam was stirring. As he got closer, he saw the tracks of a few tears on his face.

“Adam, ya gonna wake up for me? Adam, c’mon now, ya scared us all enough. Just open them pretty eyes of yours, would ya?”

Adam’s eyelids fluttered and then slowly opened. With a voice weak from his ordeal and strained with his dry throat, Adam managed to whisper ‘Hoss’ which got the big man to sport one of those room brightening smiles he had.

“Just don’t do anything now, ya hear. Just keep those eyes open. I gotta get Pa and Joe. I’ll be right back.”

Hoss went to the hall and yelled for his father and brother and then quickly re-entered the room. Ben came rushing into the room wearing just his nightshirt. When he saw Adam’s eyes open, he grinned as widely as Hoss had.

“Can we do anything for you, Adam?”

“Water.”

“Of course.”

Hoss slipped his arm carefully behind Adam’s right side and pulled him upright. Ben tipped a glass of water to his lips and let him sip slowly from it. When the glass was empty, Hoss lowered Adam back into the pillows. From that point, Adam’s recovery proceeded well. Doctor Martin was pleased by his progress and glad to hear him speaking. It was an enigma to him why Adam had made no sound at first, but the young man was reserved as usual with no comment to explain the situation. Now that he was talking again, no one seemed that interested in why he had not at first just assuming it had to do with his traumatic injuries. Joe refused to visit Adam, and would only enter his room to bring him meals when ordered to do so.

Adam did his usual thing in reaction to Joe’s behavior: he blamed himself. If he hadn’t asked Joe to come with him or if he had handled things differently, Joe would not have suffered through the ordeal. It took many days before Adam could walk down the stairs without help. At the dining table, someone had to cut his meat so that he could eat. After about two weeks, the wounds had healed sufficiently that he lost the stiff walk and was able to do more and more. Gradually he began assisting with chores and helping with other tasks as he could. Riding was too painful so he stayed near the ranch house.

Joe volunteered for any task on the ranch that meant he didn’t have to work with Adam. Joe was struggling with a mixture of guilt, regret, and hurt. What he knew of his brother and what he had witnessed just didn’t seem to fit now that he was no longer angry and upset. But Adam’s refusal to say he loved him had hurt immensely and he had struck back trying to give the same as he got. He didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it. He knew his father was disappointed in him, and he knew he was probably hurting his brother with his behavior, but he couldn’t face either one of them. His solution was avoiding Adam. Ben tried to interfere with that, but Adam told him not to try to change things as Joe had a right to feel the way he did. Not wanting to add more to what Adam had already suffered, Ben let it ride. But he planned to do something soon if Joe didn’t come around.

Things remained tense, and then word arrived that the circuit court judge was due in Carson and the trial of the four outlaws would commence in two days. The trial had been postponed because the prosecutor wanted Adam’s testimony, and he had been too ill to travel before when the judge had been available. Now the four of them would go to Carson City for the trial. The trip there was as tense as anything had been at home. Adam spoke to Ben and Hoss. Joe spoke to Ben and Hoss. But Joe never spoke to Adam.

*****

Chapter 4

In Carson City, the four Cartwrights were joined by Roy Coffee. He was to take the stand and testify about how Adam and Joe had been found, and what injuries they had sustained. The Carson City sheriff would testify to the stolen items found in possession of the four outlaws.

After the opening statements at the trial, Adam was called to the stand. He was asked about the chronology of events. The questions began with how they had been accosted by four armed men and then robbed, and Adam was asked to identify the men and he pointed to the four at the defense table. The questions proceeded with how they were tied, and then with how Adam had been wounded and injured. There were gasps from the gallery as the cold blooded nature of his torture was explained. Adam’s dispassionate tone made the testimony less effective though, and the prosecutor looked at his family and Roy Coffee more than once in frustration. On cross examination, Adam was asked why he didn’t fight back, and he explained it was to protect his brother. But the defense lawyer responded and asked if it wasn’t just because he was afraid. It was clear he did what he could to discredit Adam as a witness. It didn’t work, but Joe cringed because he believed it might have been true at least that one time.

Joe had to testify next, and most of his testimony was similar to Adam’s, but he could not testify to the wounds and injury to Adam. Joe was passionate in his testimony and had some in the gallery wiping tears from their eyes as he testified to what the outlaws had done. When he explained that they had no blankets and he had to get brush to cover them so they wouldn’t freeze, many turned their eyes toward the four defendants and wished them the worst. The prosecutor smiled at Joe’s family as he finished his examination because Joe had done very well. The defense lawyer asked Joe only a few questions and they were primarily about Adam’s demeanor. Joe was excused and when he sat by his father, Ben had to wrap an arm around his shoulders and whisper to him how well he had done. This had been a hard task for a teenager, and one that many adult men would have found difficult. Joe’s anger at the four outlaws had sustained him, but as he sat after testifying he clenched his fists to control the shaking of his hands.

Then Roy explained the condition of Adam and Joe when they were found. Finally the Carson City sheriff testified to finding first the horses of the two men and Adam’s jacket in the possession of the four defendants and then finding the bank draft on them. The prosecutor wrapped up his case in late afternoon. He had a strong case but worried about what the defense would do the next day. From the questions asked so far it seemed they might be targeting Adam somehow. Court was adjourned and would reconvene at nine the next morning. The prosecutor asked Ben and Roy to keep Adam out of the courtroom the next morning if they could. If they began to attack his character and he reacted violently, it could hurt his standing with the jury and weaken the case.

Adam reacted angrily to the suggestion but finally acquiesced. The next morning, Adam did not join his family and Roy for breakfast. The three Cartwrights and Roy headed to the courthouse just before nine. When they entered the courtroom, they were surprised to see a soldier with sergeant’s stripes sitting with the prosecutor. Also conversing with the prosecutor was the youngest of the defendants and a lawyer they did not recognize. When they entered, the prosecutor called them over to explain a new development. They agreed to it although Joe didn’t like it.

The first order of business for the day was the prosecutor asking to reopen his case which the judge agreed he could do as the defense had not started yet. He called the youngest defendant, Josh, to the stand and explained he was testifying to plead for mercy from the court. Josh began by telling how they had overheard Joe in the restaurant talking about a bank draft. Seeing how the two men were dressed, his brother had assured them that this would be a lucrative job. He went with his brother because he had to. His parents had died and his brother had custody of him. He testified to the robbery and tying up Adam and Joe. Then he explained about the drinking his brother and the other two had done and the ‘game’ they decided to play. He said how Adam had insulted his brother which had drawn attention away from Joe who had been the one they originally had planned to torture. As Adam had resisted them, he explained what they had done to try to break him until they tired of trying.

“But, your honor, I didn’t do none of those things. I did hold a gun on those men and I helped tie them up, but I never hurt no man who was tied up. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t stop them. They would have soon as killed me as anybody. All I ever wanted to do was join the army, but as I’m just sixteen, my brother would have to sign for me, and he wouldn’t.”

With the damning testimony of one of their own added to the testimony of the day before, the defense had nothing to say. The jury never left the room. The men leaned in to the middle, and once they broke the huddle, they announced ‘guilty’ on all counts for all four when the judge asked. At that point, the attorney for Josh stood and asked for mercy from the court and to please sentence Josh to twenty years in the Army instead of prison. The judge asked the sergeant to stand and asked if he would accept Josh under these circumstances.

“We’ll take him, your honor, and we’ll make a good man out of him.”

“So ruled!”

The other three defendants were sentenced to twenty years each in Nevada State Prison. It was finally over. Joe sat in shock. At fifteen, he had never experienced anything like this. The turmoil of his emotions had him frozen. There was self-recrimination and self-loathing for how he had underestimated his brother and then how he had treated him. What he had seen for cowardice and indifference was instead he had learned an amazing display of courage. He needed to see Adam and talk to him, but was ashamed and also afraid Adam might not want to talk with him after how he had acted. He talked to his Pa and Hoss as tears rolled down his face.

“Now, Joe, don’t go underestimating our brother again. He’s got a big heart. He’s been hurt, but he’s been hurt before, and he can handle it.”

“Son, we’ll be there with you. We’ll help you, both of you. Adam knows you’re fifteen and that explains a lot of your behavior even if you don’t want to hear that.”

Both Ben and Hoss had been shocked to hear the details of Adam’s ordeal. Ben was furious that men could do that to another man as a ‘game’ and wished that their sentences had been much more harsh. Hoss was aghast as well but he was hurting more inside for what his older brother had endured during the torture and then after. The three of them returned to the hotel to see Adam but he wasn’t there. They checked in the restaurant and nearby saloons but couldn’t find him. Finally Hoss took a look at the livery stable where their horses were, and returned quickly to say that Sport wasn’t there. Adam had ridden out at about nine that morning according to the stable man. It was already afternoon, but Ben and his sons rode for home. They didn’t want to delay talking with Adam. When they reached the Ponderosa, they found he wasn’t there and no one had seen him. All wondered where he could be and worried about him. Darkness had fallen and there was nothing they could think of doing until the next day.

*****

Chapter 5

Early the next morning before first light, each thinking he would be the first one up, Hoss, Joe, and Ben met downstairs. No one had slept well.

“Pa, I think I know where he would be. That line shack up in the northwest pastures is where he went to hunt alone or to meet Numaga when they would hunt and fish. Remember, he calls it Waha’yoo Nana. It is still something important to him. I bet he went there. I can be there by noon if I was to leave now.”

“Well, Hoss, that’s one place to check. But he could be in Virginia City too.”

“Pa, Adam don’t go where there’s a lot of people when he’s troubled. He usually goes someplace alone.”

“Except what if he’s trying to forget? Then a saloon might be the place he seeks.”

“I cain’t see Adam drinking as a way out of this. He’s gonna ponder it some and get it all straight in his head. But it wouldn’t hurt to have someone there who cares and makes sure he’s all right.”

Joe had remained silent as he listened to their reasoning. He thought Hoss had it pegged.

“Pa, I can’t look in saloons or nothing, but I could ride to the line shack to see if Adam is there. You and Hoss could check the saloons and anywhere else you think he might have gone.”

Both Ben and Hoss weren’t sure that Joe was the right one to go. How would Adam receive him after all that had happened or rather had not happened over the past few weeks. Adam had to be suffering yet and neither man thought it prudent to create a situation in which he could be hurt more.

“Look, I think I know what you’re thinking. But I’m the one who made this worse for my brother. Let me go and see if I can make it better. The way I’ve been acting, you don’t really think I could make it worse, do you?”

At their nods, Joe continued.

“I have a lot to say to Adam, and I’ll take whatever he has to say to me. No matter how bad it is, I deserve it. Heck, if I was him, I’d want to tan me good for the way I acted. Not that I want him to do that but I would understand.”

Ben was proud of his sensitive, impulsive young son at that point.

“Joe, you are really starting to grow up. Yes, I think you can go. If it is too much though, you have to leave and come back here to get Hoss or me, is that understood?”

“Yes, sir. Ahh, Pa, how do I know if it’s too much?”

“You know your brother well enough to know if you’re getting through to him or making it worse.”

“Yes, yes, I think I do. All right, Pa. I can do that.”

Hop Sing prepared a large sack of food and some basic items they might need, Ben added a couple of books he thought Adam might want, and Hoss handed Joe a harmonica. Joe took a feed bag with grain and added it to the load. Then Joe mounted up on Cochise who didn’t seem happy with all the extra weight. With a wave to his family, he headed out to find his brother.

Ben and Hoss mounted their horses for a ride to town that was likely to be fruitless but had to be done to be sure. It didn’t take long to find that Adam had not been in Virginia City at all. Once they realized that they began hoping that Joe was up to the task he had chosen.

Joe found success at least in finding Adam. As soon as he neared the line shack, he smelled wood smoke and just knew he would be there. As he rode closer, he saw Sport in the small corral. There was fresh grass there for him and a bucket of water. When Joe knocked on the door of the line shack though there was no answer. Now he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if entering without being asked was going to make things worse or if leaving without even talking with Adam would be worse than that. As he stood there thinking about what he should do next, he was frightened into dropping what he was carrying by the voice behind him.

“Going to just stand there?”

“Damn, Adam, Hoss always says you’re part Paiute the way you can sneak up on a man, and I think he’s right.”

“Why don’t you open the door and go in.”

Adam followed Joe into the shack. It was in good condition and nice and warm with a fire going in the fireplace. Adam had a stringer of two large fish that already been gutted. He hung them on metal hooks in front of the fire after adding some wood to the blaze there. Joe set the bag of food, some seasonings, the books, and the harmonica on the table. Adam looked over the items there and nodded.

“Thanks. Those items will come in handy.”

“How did you catch those fish? You don’t have a pole.”

“I’ll show you tomorrow. There’s enough for two for today unless Hoss is on his way too.”

“Nah, just me. Hey, how come you’re not surprised I’m talking with you?”

“You wouldn’t have come if you weren’t ready to talk. After you get yourself settled and you get Cochise in the corral, we can have lunch and talk if you want.”

Joe got his saddlebag and rifle and put them on the second bunk. He put his saddle next to Adam’s behind the door. Then he went outside and settled Cochise in the corral with Sport. He walked to the meadow and gathered up some grass for him to eat. He filled the bucket with water from the nearby stream and set it between the two. Then he walked back inside. Adam had some potatoes, onions, and bacon simmering on the stove and the fish were baking by the fire. The aroma was enticing.

“Hey, I didn’t know you could cook.”

“As far as anyone knows, I can’t. Remember that. I don’t want to get stuck cooking every time Hop Sing is gone.”

“So that’s why when you cook at home it’s always eggs, bacon, and beans.”

Adam smiled that crooked smile of his. Joe got two plates and forks and put them on the table. Soon he would have to start talking, and it was making him nervous.

“You’re jumpier than the bacon in that pan. Just sit. I won’t bite no matter what you have to say. Here, you can serve the potatoes. It’s hard to do that with one arm in a splint. I’ll get the fish. Pour some water too if you would.”

Soon they were eating fish and potatoes. Adam looked over at Joe and nodded.

“You can start anytime you want. You might want to tell me what changed.”

So Joe told him about Josh and his testimony, and how he went into the Army instead of to prison. He told him that the jury took no time at all in making its decision and that the other three got the maximum sentence.

“So everyone knows now?”

“Well, ya, of course they do. Is there something wrong with that?”

“I just wish I had done things differently. If we had taken the stage, maybe nothing would have happened.”

“And maybe more people would have been hurt or even killed. You can’t do a what-if here. You did your best. We’re both still alive, and I wanted to thank you for what you did. I need to tell you too how sorry I am for what I said and how I treated you. I was being a real jackass and I’ve got no excuse.”

“Sure you do. You’re fifteen.”

“That’s no excuse and you know it.”

“It is and it isn’t. Thank you for your apology. But you need to remember that you have a lot to learn yet. I do too and I’m twelve years older than you. We can’t help who we are, but we can alter the way we act toward others. You’re learning that.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part.”

“Shakespeare?”

Adam nodded as he cleared the table of the plates and forks. The he refilled their cups with cool water he had carried in from the mountain stream.

“Yes, I think I understood that one though. We grow up in stages and each time we have to learn how to act to fit in and be that person, but then we have to learn again for the next stage. So you’re saying that what happened to us was a learning thing especially for me.”

Adam nodded impressed that Joe had understood.

“C’mon, let’s go outside and enjoy the sun while it lasts. It gets cold here by late afternoon as soon as the sun dips behind those mountains.”

Adam picked up one of the books as he was leaving and asked Joe if he wanted the other. Joe said no and then opened his saddlebag to get the dime novel he had brought along. Adam shook his head and headed outside.

*****

Chapter 6

The next morning, Adam tried to teach Joe how to catch fish by hand. The lesson didn’t go well. Adam laid on the bank with his sleeve rolled up to his bicep and his arm submerged in the stream. He was absolutely still and said nothing even as Joe asked him some questions. He laid there for perhaps twenty minutes and suddenly grabbed for a fish, rolled back, and tossed the fish toward Joe.

“Now that is how you do it. You can’t move, you can’t talk until the fish almost swims into your hand and then you grab and throw.”

“Adam, I think if I had to do that, I would starve to death. How can you not move for that long?”

“It’s true then, I suppose.”

“What’s true?”

“Numaga told me that we are like animals. I am the cougar, Hoss is the wolf, and you are the coyote. I wanted to be the wolf but he said the wolf enjoys the company of others always and is fierce as part of the group. You always know the wolves are around because they howl, and they eat a lot. The cougar likes to spend time alone and hunts alone moving quietly through his area, always watching, always learning. Did you know that the cougar’s territory can be many hundreds of miles?”

“Why am I the coyote?”

“The coyote is the trickster which ought to be explanation enough, but the coyote is always moving, never stopping and standing.”

“Yeah but you live here and you don’t go traveling all over the place.”

“But I want to, and I mean to someday.”

“Adam, what do you mean, you’ll leave?”

“Someday, I want to travel. I came back after college because Pa needed me, because I wanted to be with my brothers as they grew up. Well you are almost a man already, and soon you and Hoss will be all the help that Pa needs.”

“What about the Ponderosa? How could you ever leave it? It’s home.”

“Joe, it’s only one of the homes I’ve had. For a long time, I had no home. I lived out of a wagon for months at a time until I was nearly seven. There were many towns we lived in briefly. Then we built the first cabin here before we built the house we have now. You were born here, raised here, you have boxes of toys and childhood possessions in the attic to save for your children, your mother is buried here. None of that is true for me.”

“Hey don’t you have toys and stuff up there too?”

“No, Joe, I never had any toys. There wasn’t money for things like that and not much room in a wagon for frivolous things.”

Joe was amazed by that. He had never known.

“Don’t you want to stay here, get married, have children, and pass on the Ponderosa to them?”

“Maybe, someday, but I’m not married yet. Soon the only ones for me will be widows and spinsters unless I marry someone much younger, and she would have to be very special for me to do that.”

“But where would you go?”

“Europe maybe, but I have always been intrigued by Australia so maybe there.”

“You’ve been thinking about this for a while then?”

“Yes, and I don’t plan to leave soon, but someday, I think I will. It will be hard to leave so I can’t be certain I can make that break.”

“Adam, I’ve got one last question and if you don’t want to answer, it’s all right. How did you do it? I would have been so afraid if I was the one who had to stay silent or watch them slit your throat. How do you stop fear?”

Adam hesitated. It was hard to bare your soul to another especially one like Joe who was so impressionable. He wanted to say it right.

“I was afraid, very afraid.”

Joe was very surprised.

“I didn’t think you were ever afraid. I thought you were a brave man. Then when this happened, it seemed you were afraid and I was as upset by that as anything.

“I was afraid. I am often afraid. Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. You don’t control fear and you can’t make it go away. It’s there. You just don’t let your fear control you. You make up your mind to do what you have to do, and then you do it, and the fear is part of what pushes you to do it right. Fear can be a great motivator. You just have to keep it in its place.”

Joe sat for a time lost in thought. Adam leaned down to catch another fish now that his arm and hand had warmed some. The water was frigid. He wanted to bathe too but it was too cold. They would head home today after lunch. It was time. He and Joe had more healing to do, but much had been accomplished in a short time. They knew they loved each other and wouldn’t question that again. Joe asked him again about those lines from Shakespeare and he repeated them.

Joe and Adam had lunch, packed up, and began riding home. Joe turned in the saddle to point down the slope. Heading slowly in their direction were Pa and Hoss. Staying at home worrying had gotten to them and they were headed out to see if they were needed. The four joined up and rode home. Ben asked how things had gone, and Joe said he learned something.

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. ”

Ben and Hoss decided it must have gone very well if Adam had gotten Joe to learn a little Shakespeare. Once at home, Joe volunteered to draw a bath for Adam and he graciously accepted. Hop Sing outdid himself with dinner, and the four men had much to discuss.

*****

Chapter 7

The work at the Ponderosa had to switch into high gear during Thanksgiving week as the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Hoss and Adam were riding daily with crews of men to move cattle into lower pastures and then having to move them again sometimes as pastures flooded or became too soggy to support the size of herds there. As Christmas approached, the weather turned even colder, and the work wasn’t finished yet. Instead of cold and wet, they returned to the house just very cold.

With travel becoming hazardous with icy roads, the Christmas break from school started early. Joe was thrilled about that but not so thrilled to have to go to work each day in the unpleasant weather. He was even less thrilled when Adam reminded him to wear two pair of long underwear, two shirts under his jacket, and to remember his scarf and gloves and bring his slicker.

“Yes, sir, mister bossy pants, granite headed brother.”

“Joseph!”

“Pa, he knows I love him, but that doesn’t mean I have to like taking orders from him.”

Adam just shook his head as he and Hoss left the house. Ben looked sternly at Joe, but he too had to shake his head and grin once the boy was out of the house. That son of his had an irrepressible spirit.

Out in the pasture, the three brothers soon found a major problem. Three heifers were mired in a muddy pond of runoff. The looked at each other hoping someone would volunteer to go in and push while the others used rope to pull. Hoss finally did, but Adam objected.

“If you get hurt or too cold to ride, we’ll never get you on horse to ride back home. One of us should do it.”

“All right, pick a number from one to three.”

“Two.”

“You’re it.”

Adam groaned and started to get out of the saddle. Joe remembered that only two weeks earlier Adam had been in bed for a few days fighting a nasty cold. This could cause a relapse.

“No, Adam. I’ll do it. It’s my first day out, and you two have been doing this stuff for weeks. Guess it really should be my turn.”

“Thank you, brother, and that is an offer I will not turn down.”

Hoss and Adam pulled their lariats free and lassoed two of the heifers as Joe stripped down for the dirty work. After they finished, and Joe dressed, he was shivering almost uncontrollably. They rode back to the house with him and asked Hop Sing to draw a warm bath for him. After lunch, Adam and Hoss went back outside to head out again. Suddenly they heard the door bang shut behind them.

“Can you picture Pa’s face right now?”

Adam and Hoss had to laugh. Joe came running up.

“Hey, why are you two laughing? You weren’t going to leave without me, were ya? I’m all warmed up now.”

“No, not at all. Hoss and I were hoping you would join us in case there’s another mud hole with some of our stock in it.”

“Hey, Adam, next one is yours.”

The three brothers rode out and continued to work hard all week. By Friday, the weather was starting to break and there was a lot of thawing. Joe asked them if they planned to go to the holiday barn dance in town and was faced with incredulous looks by his two older brothers.

“What, you don’t want to go?”

“Not at all, little brother, Hoss and I were just wondering if the cold had frozen your brain. A chance to get away from all these cattle and be in a nice warm barn dancing with some pretty gals…”

“Ya, and eating some of them fine vittles and drinking some of that special punch Pa always provides.”

So that evening, the three brothers and their father dressed in their best and then wrapped themselves inside their heavy winter coats and set off for Virginia City. The dance was very well attended. There were many who wanted to celebrate a little especially because the weather had kept them home for so long already. With winter looming, they needed one last fling before the winter doldrums. As the four Cartwrights walked to the dance from the livery where they had stabled their horses because of the cold, Hoss poked Adam in the shoulder.

“Hey ain’t that pretty little Mary Ann who dumped you so she could be with Slim Harkness? They do make a fine looking couple don’t you think?”

All that got was a scowl from Adam, but laughter from the others.

“That woman has very poor taste. I’m lucky to be rid of her.”

That only brought more laughter, and the attention of the aforementioned couple. Mary Ann sent an inviting smile Adam’s way, and as Slim noticed, he grimaced. Once inside, Adam forgot all about Mary Ann as there were many lovely ladies with whom to dance. Joe managed to get quite a few dances although Ben frowned a bit as most were older than his son. Hoss started spending most of his time with a tall, full figured woman as they moved between dance floor and refreshment table with some regularity. Adam was standing next to them when he was approached by Mary Ann.

“Well, Adam, are you avoiding me?”

“Not at all, but I believe you were escorted here tonight by another, and I wouldn’t want to make trouble.”

“Well, one little dance can’t cause any trouble now, could it?”

Unfortunately for Adam and happily for Mary Ann, the next dance was a slow one. Adam tried to maintain a formal position with her, but she kept pressing closer to him. He was glad when the dance was over, but Mary Ann wanted to continue.

“Adam, I never should have turned you out. I was upset at how little time we got to spend together, and Slim lives here in town and wanted to be with me all the time. What I didn’t realize because I was such a fool, is that he just isn’t that much fun to be with. The few times we could be together were so much better.”

“I’m sorry, Mary Ann, but you made your choice. Now if you will excuse me.”

Adam took her hand to kiss her goodbye, but he got spun around by Slim who demanded he draw.

“Slim, I don’t have a gun. Why don’t we just forget about it. It was just a dance.”

“Oh yeah, I saw you too dancing all close and such. Then you were gonna kiss her hand. Well I have heard enough about you to last me a bunch of lifetimes. Oh Adam would do this or that. I’m sick of it and sick of you. Now meet me outside like a man or you gonna stay in here like a coward and hide behind her skirts?”

Well there was no way Adam could ignore that. It was an insult to suggest he had no courage. He had to answer the charge.

“I’ll meet you outside but no guns. We can settle this without guns.”

The whole crowd had become silent witnesses to the confrontation. The only one smiling was Mary Ann who just loved the thought that two men were going to fight over her. The idea that one might die if they did have a gunfight didn’t seem to matter to her. Adam noted her smile and again was grateful he was no longer seeing her. Slim stormed off outside and Adam slowly followed with Hoss right behind him. They didn’t want to be surprised by what the angry man had in mind.

Joe wanted to go too, but Ben stayed him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Pa, is Adam afraid?”

“Yes, I think he is.”

“But why? He’s so fast with a gun, he could take Slim with no problem.”

“That’s what he’s probably afraid of. He doesn’t want to kill him especially over something so trivial.”

Soon there were sounds of a fight outside. After it went on for quite a while, Ben pushed his way outside to see what was happening. Joe followed in his wake. What they saw was that Adam and Slim had bloodied and bruised each other. They were standing though just trying to catch their breath by the time Ben and Joe arrived.

“You know, Slim, the only one enjoying this fight is Mary Ann.”

“I know. I saw her grinning when you said you wanted to fight me, and now she’s standing off to the side there smiling like this is the greatest thing ever.”

“How about if the two of us go over to the Silver Dollar and get a drink?”

“Sounds good to me. You buying?”

“Why should I buy?”

“Well, you was the first with Mary Ann so I think we could say you started it.”

Adam started laughing even if it did hurt a bit. Slim followed with loud guffaws. Soon a lot of the crowd was laughing too except for Mary Ann who walked off in a huff. That made the two former antagonists laugh so hard they had to hang on to each other so they wouldn’t fall down. Ben shook his head and walked back inside. Joe tried to understand what had happened but for the life of him, it didn’t make sense. He asked Hoss, but Hoss said he’d understand someday and let it go at that. Joe was trying to understand this thing about being a man, being mature, and being brave by conquering your fear but there seemed to be so many contradictory messages, it was all very confusing. So he was left indefinitely with the question why two men would fight but instead of one winning, they started laughing and then went to have a drink together. He was learning about the stages of life but the one his oldest brother was in was sure complicated.

*****

Chapter 8

When Christmas Eve morning rolled around, Adam still had those rainbow colors on his face although the swelling had gone. Ben still looked at him with a hint of disapproval every time he sat at the dining table so Adam was hoping the rest would fade away soon. The day before, the three brothers had gotten a tree and boughs to decorate the house. On Christmas Eve day there was a flurry of activity as they decorated the tree and the house. That evening they would visit the orphanage with presents and would sing songs with the children. Once they returned home, they would share in Christmas season treats and beverages. Christmas morning was the time to share gifts from under the tree before close friends and family would be there to celebrate the day.

All went well on Christmas Eve and everyone settled in for a good night’s sleep except of course for Joe. Even at fifteen, his enthusiasm for Christmas had failed to diminish and perhaps was even more pronounced this year. He and Hoss and their father had chipped in to buy a special present for Adam, and Joe couldn’t sleep as he anticipated the look on his brother’s face when he got it. As soon as there was a hint of dawn in the sky, Joe was dressed and heading to the stable to do chores. These were probably the only days of the year when he got up this early on his own and then did his chores willingly. He got up so early, he decided to do Adam’s and Hoss’ as well so nothing could delay the morning’s proceedings: breakfast and then presents. In the house, Adam and Hoss were sipping cups of coffee in front of the warm fire.

“Do ya suppose he’s got our chores done yet?”

“If not, soon so we should probably grab our jackets and look like we’re heading in that direction.”

“Adam, do ya ever feel guilty about letting him do our chores for us every Christmas Eve and Christmas morning? Nah, forget I asked cause we done his enough on a lot of other days of the year.”

Adam shrugged into his jacket and leaned on the credenza to finish his cup of coffee. He was counting on Joe making enough noise coming that they could be ready for him, and he was so they were. Joe had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face as he entered.

“My Christmas present to you two. I finished the chores.”

“Well thank ya, brother. That was a nice gift.”

“I hope that isn’t all of it. I did see all those boxes under the tree.”

“Course not, Adam, that was just a little extra for you guys. You help me out a lot so I’m repaying the favor.”

As they turned the corner to the dining table, Ben sat with a small grin on his face and nodded at his sons as they sat. He wondered how many years it would take for Joe to know what his brothers did to him every Christmas Eve morning and every Christmas morning. Well there was no harm in it so he would let the tradition continue. After breakfast, the four headed to the tree. Adam would announce the recipient for the gifts he pulled from under the tree, and Joe would hand the gifts out. Ben got pipe tobacco and a new pipe, and Hoss was thrilled with a collection of carving tools he got. The first box Joe opened was from Hoss and was filled with ammunition for his pistol. The second was a gift from Adam and was a large packet of paper targets. Joe was having a hard time not expressing his disappointment with his gifts until he opened the last one. Inside the box was another box and a ‘surprise’ message signed by his father and his two brothers. Joe opened the box to find a new pistol with ivory grips. His father and brothers were chuckling at his surprise.

“If you’re going to be carrying one, it ought to be something you’re going to keep for a long time and not that old one of mine. You’ll get used to the weight and the feel of it and you’ll be more accurate that way.”

“Thanks, Adam. You can have your old one back now if you like. Thanks, Pa. Thanks, Hoss. This is what I was dreaming of getting but I didn’t really think it would happen.”

“Just remember to follow those lessons Adam taught you. I taught him so I know he taught you as I would have. And practice, but safely. You can wear it when you leave the house, but put it in your saddlebags when you’re at school. It is not a toy to show off to your friends.”

“I will, Pa, I will, and I won’t.”

Adam had convinced his father after the ordeal that he and Joe had faced that they might have had a chance to get out of it if Joe had been properly armed and schooled in shooting. Ben didn’t want to do it, but Adam reminded him that he had been shooting since he was twelve. At fifteen, Hoss wore one regularly and not just on trips. It was time, and Ben finally admitted it and shopped for the gift.

Then it was time for Adam’s gift but there were no more boxes under the tree. Adam knew something was up but had no idea what it was. Joe had told Ben what Adam had said about not having toys as a kid and how there wasn’t room for frivolous things in the wagon. Ben had come up with an idea then and Joe and Hoss like it a lot. Ben told Joe it was time and he almost ran over behind his father’s desk. Then he stood there as his father talked.

“The one you have is old and it was used when you got it. It has been an important part of every celebration here on the Ponderosa for over fifteen years. I know you have talked of getting yourself one from New York, but until that happens, we have a new one for you.”

And Joe carefully picked up a brand new guitar and carried it to Adam who was speechless. He had endured snide remarks about his love of music frequently and was used to them. He had never realized that his family cared about his music, and would get him such a gift. He was speechless. He took the guitar and lightly strummed and tuned it. His perfect pitch worked well. Then he looked at his family and his smile was all the thanks they could ever hope for. It was seldom that anyone got to see Adam smile that way without holding anything back.

Everything would probably have been so much better except for Joe’s next innocent comment.

“Ya, when you leave and go to Australia, you can take one with you and leave one here for when you come back.”

Joe had no idea how much it would upset Hoss and their Pa to have this subject broached. Both of them hoped that Adam would just forget all about it, find someone to marry, and stay on the Ponderosa forever. When questioned, Adam was honest and said he still dreamed of travel and hoped to leave one day to see the world. Hoss eventually got so upset he retreated to his room. He was up there for so long, Joe decided to go talk with him.

“Joe, I don’t wanta talk about him leaving.”

“Hoss, I got a story for you that helped me understand better when Adam talked to me about it. Adam told me the animals that Numaga compared us to. He said you were the wolf. A wolf lives in its pack and defends its territory. He said I was a coyote. Now a coyote will have its territory in the same area as the wolf. The coyote is the trickster but still takes care of its family. But he said Adam was a cougar. They’re real smart but they travel alone and a lot. Their territory is wherever they are. Don’t that just sound like us?”

“I just cain’t think on him leaving. I just don’t know how he could think of leaving all this.”

“Hoss, I was born here and you were so little when you got here, this is the only home you remember too. But Adam’s lived a lot of places and then he went to college and saw more. He’s got a curiosity about all those places out there that we don’t have. My ma is buried here and she’s the only ma you remember so she’s yours too. He knows his ma is buried in Boston and he’s visited her grave but not lately. If you knew where Inger, your ma, was buried exactly, wouldn’t you want to go there too?”

“Ya, but he’s talking about those other places like Australia too.”

“If he goes, maybe he’ll be happier. And if he’s happier, maybe he’ll come back.”

They heard the sound of the new guitar then from downstairs and Adam’s voice raised in singing. They went to join him. Who knew how many Christmases like this they would have together. Each year, they would remember this Christmas, and Adam continued to live with them on the Ponderosa. Then, there was that terrible time with Laura and Will, and then when Adam was healed physically at least, there was that fateful confrontation with his father that severed the last tie, and Adam would be gone.

*****

 

Broken Guitar Blues

Chapter 1

Ben was morose. He had spent some time with his neighbor Chet, and the two had talked of their sons after finishing their business. Ben had not had a happy week. There seemed to be another problem around the corner every time he thought they were finally clear of trouble. There had been problems with rustlers, with heavy rains that has caused a mudslide washing out a long section of fence by undermining the center which had anchored that whole line for many years, and finally they had caught two of the men drinking on the job after another had been injured trying to do work alone when he should have had help. His sons had been jibing each other all week and the tension in the house was nearly unbearable. Then when he had ridden in after a failed meeting with several of the mineowners, he found Adam sitting on the porch plucking his guitar in midafternoon.

“The rest of us are working and you sit here playing. You were on your high horse this morning complaining about your younger brother not doing enough, but here you are lazing around while he’s working. I just rode by the branding corral, and Joe is there working. You apparently are too good to do that so you’re just going to take it easy and let us do the work!”

Adam had set the guitar on the table and tried to interrupt several times but as he well knew, his pa’s hearing seemed to fail when his anger was hot. Lately he was angry a lot. Finally, when his father stopped yelling, he managed to finally say something but never got to finish.

“Pa, if you would let me explain,…”

“I am so tired of you using your mouth to get out of doing your fair share. Now I have some contracts from Chet that need to be handed over to Hiram. If it isn’t too much to expect of your royal highness, perhaps you could saddle a horse and do that?”

Adam reluctantly turned to go in the house to get his hat and gunbelt. He didn’t want to deal with any more of his father’s wrath. Lately, it seemed as if that was the only way that his father spoke with him. Daily he faced snide remarks and sarcastic even caustic comments. He knew his father was upset because he was again talking of leaving. He had expected his father to understand his need to travel and to follow a dream even if it wasn’t as concrete as the one his father had followed.

As he was leaving, Ben picked up the guitar to throw it to him. He yelled for Adam to take the ‘damn worthless piece of wood’ and tossed it to him. Adam turned awkwardly and missed the catch as the guitar landed at a bad angle and the neck cracked. Ben had a momentary pang of regret but his anger wasn’t going to let him concede anything at this point.

“If you had been doing your work like you should have been, this wouldn’t have happened!”

The tension between them was palpable, but Adam managed not to fly into a rage. It was close though. He had seldom felt so strongly that he wanted to strike out at his father. He decided that he would take the papers to town and stay there for at least this evening. He probably should let Paul take a look at his damaged leg anyway. Without saying another word and letting his broken guitar lay, he came back out of the house, walked slowly to his father to snatch the papers out of his hand, and then walked stiff legged to the stable.

“And don’t stay in town sulking. We have work to get at bright and early tomorrow.”

Adam did not acknowledge the demand. He rode away without a comment or gesture. Ben stormed into the house stooping to retrieve the damaged guitar. By the time he got to the fireplace, he carefully set the damaged instrument on the hearth. He thought perhaps it could be repaired. The damage did not look too severe. As he thought about it, he wondered why Adam had not caught it. He was no more than ten feet away, and it should have been easy. Well, he thought he would apologize to him when he returned. With that, he went to his desk to make a plan to provide the lumber that Chet had contracted to get. He was still working when Hoss and Joe returned.

“Hey, Pa, Sport ain’t in the stable. Didn’t Adam get back here?”

“He was here. I sent him to town to deliver some papers.”

“You what?” Joe was astonished. Hoss had a nearly identical look on his face.

“How could he ride?” Hoss asked the only logical question he could think of at that moment?

“Your brother has been riding since he was a small boy so I don’t know why you would question me sending him to town on an errand when all he was doing was sitting around with that worthless guitar.”

“Pa, Adam got kicked real hard. One of the cows went kinda loco and charged one of the men. Adam grabbed a lasso and got it and then ran the rope around a tree stopping the darn thing from charging anyone else. But he got kicked real hard in the leg. It was so bad, there was a dent in his thigh. I helped him get on his horse to head back here and told him to stay off that leg. I woulda got the doc, but he said he’d be all right.”

“Ya, Pa, Hoss practically lifted him on his horse. It hurt him to stand.”

Hoss walked over to the fireplace because Adam’s guitar looked kind of funny the way it was sitting.

“Pa, what happened to Adam’s guitar?”

“I, ah, tossed it to him and he didn’t catch it. I’m sure it can be repaired.”

Ben was feeling a load of guilt. Lately he seemed to have no patience with his oldest son. He snapped at him and pushed him. Adam had talked again of leaving and traveling, and Ben had let him know that was not acceptable. He needed him here. He feared losing his son and that made him feel weak and vulnerable. He had lost three wives and the last one had almost been the end for him. His heart nearly broke every time he thought about Adam being gone. It would be like losing Elizabeth all over again and the sense of loss was painful. He didn’t like all of those feelings and vented his frustration at his son. Hoss and Joe walked out. He heard their horses as they left. Well he was thinking that perhaps the three of them could vent a little too, and it would be more peaceful around here.

Later that night, as Ben was enjoying a fourth glass of brandy that he was using to assuage his guilt over his behavior earlier, he heard horses in the yard and expected that he would soon see his sons. Instead almost immediately, the front door opened and Adam came in nearly carrying a half conscious Joe. He took him to the settee and laid him there. Ben rushed to his side and caressed the face of his baby boy.

“What happened?”

“He got shot.”

“Who shot him?”

“Well, I guess you could say I did.”

“You shot your brother! Who hit him so hard that half his face is bruised?”

“Well, I did that too.”

“Get out! Get out! You want to travel so badly, well now is a good time to go. You shot your brother and beat him. How can you even stand there? Get out of my house.”

Adam knew Joe was going to be all right, but if he had to face any more of this, his temper was going to cause something a lot worse to happen with his father. He stalked up the stairs and grabbed some belongings stuffing them in a saddlebag. He grabbed his coat and bedroll before he marched down the stairs and outside. Sport was standing ground tied so he mounted up and left. He wasn’t sure where he was going to go, but it really didn’t matter that much at the moment. He tried to control himself so that he didn’t push Sport into a dangerous gallop in the dark. All he wanted to do was get away.

*****

Chapter 2

In the house, Hop Sing had awakened and came out to see what the commotion was. Ben told him the little he had learned of what happened to his youngest son.

“But why?”

“The why doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Adam shot and beat his brother. That is intolerable so I told him to get out. If he wants to leave so badly, then we’re better off without him.”

Hop Sing looked at Ben almost with disdain. He could smell the alcohol but there was more to what was bothering his employer. He knew there had to be a lot more to this story too, but his Ben Cartwright had been acting unreasonably for weeks.

Why always matter just like oldest son always tolerable and most valuable son. You very afraid he go away and now you make him go. You anger mask you heart.”

Hop Sing walked into the kitchen to get things to help tend to Joe but he muttered various imprecations in Chinese the entire time. Ben ignored his cook as he thought about what had happened. Adam had been riding Joe hard for the last few days, but Ben just never had thought it could go this far. He also wondered where Hoss was, but there was no one to answer that question.

Gradually Joe was able to stand with some help, and Ben helped him to his room and settled him in his bed. Joe seemed unable or unwilling to talk so Ben let him fall asleep. There would be time for talking later. He pulled a chair next to the bed, and prepared to wait as long as needed until his son was fully conscious so that he could be sure he would be all right. About two hours later, he heard the heavy tread on the stairs that indicated his middle son was home.

“Hey, Pa, how’s he doing?”

“He’s resting comfortably. Where have you been, and why weren’t you able to stop this from happening?”

“Well, Pa, after Joe got shot, I went to get his money off the table and them jaspers wasn’t gonna let me take it. So they started to trying to stop me and a big ole brawl broke out. I’d seen Adam hauling Joe outta there so I knew he was going to be taken care of. I hung onto his cash until Roy got there and broke up the whole mess. Then I had to go over to the jail and explain everything. When I got out of there, I headed over to the doc’s, but he said he had told Adam it was all right to take Joe home, so I headed back here. Where is Adam anyway?”

“After what he did, I told him to leave.”

“What?”

“He said he shot his brother and beat him. I will not tolerate that so I told him to get out. I can’t take any more of him doing this kind of thing.”

Hoss stood in shock. Of all the things he thought he might hear tonight, this was never even in the realm of possibility.

“Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know. And right now, it doesn’t matter.”

“Damn it, Pa, it matters. Joe was in a poker game tonight. He was winning. Them jaspers accused him of cheating, and he was gonna go up against all three of them. It was a set up. Adam put his hand over Joe’s gun so he couldn’t draw. Joe fought him, and the gun went off. That’s how he got shot. He wouldn’t stop though. He’d been drinking and with the pain and all, he was out of his head. He hit Adam a few times, once real low, and Adam finally smacked him one so he could get him out of there.”

Ben sat in shock. He couldn’t believe what he had done. He had betrayed all the trust, all the love, and the loyalty his oldest son had ever given him.

“Hoss, I had no idea. Adam didn’t explain any of that.”

“Like this afternoon when you wouldn’t let him tell you he was hurt! Ya, he told us all about it. He was hurting pretty bad about that, and what you did to his guitar. He talked some more about leaving, and now he’s gone. After what you done, I don’t know if he’s gonna come back.”

Joe started to thrash about on his bed. He was still in shock from the pain but he had heard enough to be upset.

“Adam’s gone. Nooo. He saved my life, Pa, you have to get him back here, please. I was so ashamed I didn’t want to tell you what happened. I didn’t know you blamed Adam. It wasn’t his fault.”

Joe was inconsolable and finally Hoss got him some laudanum so he could sleep. Hoss thought about trying to find Adam, but unless he was in town, he had no idea where to look. In a couple of hours, it would be light enough to ride to town.

“Wake me in two hours. I’m going to try to find Adam.”

With that, Hoss stalked to his room where he rested but found sleep elusive. Finally without being told the two hours were up, he left to ride to town. When he got there, he checked every hotel, restaurant, saloon, and whorehouse but no one had seen Adam after that fight. Hoss walked up and down the streets, but there was no Sport and he wasn’t at any of the livery stables either. He then rode past Paul Martin’s office and house and past Roy Coffee’s place. He even rode past the homes of some of the ladies Adam had dated. He had to accept it at last. Adam was not in Virginia City. There was no way of knowing then where he was. Wearily, Hoss mounted up and headed home. It would be six years before he saw his brother again. There was one letter many months after he left letting them know he was alive and boarding a ship in San Francisco bound for Panama and Australia among other places.

*****

Chapter 3

Joe was sobered by his experience that night that Adam left. Feeling that it was his fault as much as his father’s, he determined to become more responsible. Although he didn’t lose his fondness for poker, ladies, and alcohol, he became more temperate in pursuit of them. He still enjoyed a good time and had a bit of a temper, but the reckless, impulsive youth was gone. On the ranch, Joe became Ben’s right hand man handling all of the responsibilities that had been Adam’s. Although younger than Hoss by almost six years, he had the temperament and the skills to do those jobs, and Hoss didn’t.

Hoss enjoyed his role on the ranch and was happy to continue doing what he had always done. He ended up bossing cattle drives because Joe worked as he always had as ramrod and their father begged off because of his age. When those drives ended though, Hoss was always happy to give up the added responsibilities that came with being the boss.

The Cartwrights rarely talked of Adam although it irritated the sons immensely when Ben introduced them as his two sons as if there wasn’t another one. Without a letter or any means of learning where the oldest brother was, Hoss and Joe seldom had anything to say about him. On his birthday, they would quietly celebrate. Their father mourned twice now on Adam’s birthday: the loss of his first wife and now the loss of his first-born son too.

Ben had long since admitted to himself that he was the cause of Adam leaving. If he had allowed him to spread his wings a little on the Ponderosa, his proud son would not have been forced to leave. If he had faced his fear that his son would leave, he could have found ways to accommodate his son’s needs and maintained the family. Determined to do better with his two younger sons, he forcibly curbed his displays of temper and granted them more authority and autonomy. He discussed and often accepted their ideas and did his best to accommodate their needs and wants. In effect, he did what he should have done for Adam and treated Joe and Hoss as men and as partners. He knew that he had failed miserably with Adam, and the guilt ate at him and denial was his only refuge so that’s what he did. He didn’t want any questions about a missing son so he introduced Hoss and Joe as his two sons. Few ever questioned him, and those who did were silenced by his glare. But at night, alone in his bedroom, he offered prayers for his son’s safety and happiness, and begged God to send him home and give his father one more chance. He had a few of Adam’s things on his dresser with the mementoes of his lost wives. Each stirred up memories every time he saw them.

For Hoss and Joe, there were constant reminders of their long lost brother as well. One day about a year after he left, sitting at Adam’s favorite place to fish, the brothers talked about their long missing brother.

“Hey, Hoss, do you remember when Adam caught that fish here that got stuck in the rocks there and you had to walk out on the rocks to get it?”

“Yeah, and I fell in and all you two yahoos did was laugh.”

“If I recall, we all ended up in the lake that time. The only one on shore was the fish.”

“That shur was a fun day.”

“That’s not the best lake story though. I remember bringing Becky out for a nice romantic picnic at a nice secluded spot by the lake only to see Adam first and then you dive into the lake from up on those high rocks in all your naked splendor.”

“Well, Joe you did know that’s where we went to swim on a hot day. And I don’t know about my naked splendor, but I think Becky was pretty interested in Adam’s as we came walking out of the water.”

“Yeah, I was pretty angry at him and he was pretty embarrassed, and then I got madder because Becky wasn’t as upset as I thought she should be.”

“There’s just so many good memories. Last Christmas decorating the tree, I remembered all his favorite ornaments for the tree.”

It was sobering too to talk like this and realize that there might be no more memories of the three of them together. Although they never did admit it to each other, all these memories caused each of them to shed tears some nights when they were alone. They had pressed their father to hire someone to look for Adam, and when he refused, they did it themselves. The report they had gotten was depressing. Once Adam disembarked in Sydney, Australia, he disappeared. There was no record of him anywhere after that. The Pinkerton report bluntly stated that he had likely been killed on arrival for unknown reasons by unknown assailants, or he was no longer using the name Cartwright. They hoped the latter was true but had no way of knowing.

About a year later, there was some hope when Dan told them that a newspaper in Sydney subscribed to the Territorial Enterprise. Upon contacting the paper, they got a short succinct return letter informing them that the paper subscribed to most of the newspapers in the western region. There was no reason to think Adam was involved.

After a few years, Ben had Hoss and Joe pack up all of Adam’s belongings and put them in storage. Candy came to work on the Ponderosa, and Ben acted like he was a substitute for Adam and even invited him to live in the house. Jamie was adopted, and eventually Griff was pulled into the fold. Ben always acted as if these were normal events, but Hoss and Joe understood he was trying to fill the hole in his heart. They liked Candy, and he became a trusted and loyal friend, but he wasn’t their brother. The same was true for Jamie and Griff. There were more of them at the dinner table, but no matter how many, there was always the feeling that someone was missing. It bothered Hoss and Joe that they couldn’t broach this subject with their father, but there was nothing to be gained from the discussion anyway until they knew their brother’s fate.

*****

 

Sydney and Evelyn

Chapter 1

“Sir, Port Jackson in about an hour.”

“Very well, make sure all passengers are aware and ready to disembark.”

“Sir, what about the sick one?”

“He hardly knows he’s on a ship much less about to disembark. We’ll have him carried ashore when we arrive. Carry on.”

“Yes, sir.”

As the ship maneuvered easily through the deep harbor and headed toward Sydney harbor, Adam Cartwright lay in his cabin, drenched in sweat and shaking. He had been unlucky and contracted malaria, and where some people had few and/or mild symptoms, he had the most serious and many symptoms. His fever had peaked and stayed high and he vomited almost all the fluids they got him to drink. He ached in every muscle and joint in his body and found it hard to open his eyes because any light aggravated his piercing headache.

Once the ship was tied up, the captain stood at the gangplank to bid farewell to his passengers. This had been a pleasant voyage for them, and there were pleasant memories of singing and talking with this group. Then two men carried Adam up on a stretcher and down the gangplank to the dock. He was moaning in pain as the bright sunlight made it feel like someone was stabbing him in the brain.

Sydney Harbor was already a magnificent site even though it only hinted at the city it was to become. Buildings were being constructed that would eventually showcase the talents and work ethic of the people here. The people were friendly and welcoming. Adam was unable to appreciate any of that. In his few moments of lucid thought, he thought how ironic it was that finally at this point in his life he was following his dream but might die before he even began to live it. He thought of his family and how badly they might feel never hearing from him again and wondering what had happened to him. If he survived, he intended to write to them and let them know what he was doing. His departure had not been pleasant, but the more he thought about that, the more he knew it was probably the only way he could have broken away from his family and his obligations. Mostly though, he suffered with the symptoms of a severe case of malaria. It had started ten days after a brief stop in Panama. It had not been too bad at first, but these last few days had been horrendous.

As he lay on the dock moaning softly, the captain stood with an old friend of his.

“He drunk or seasick?”

“Rex, he has malaria. He has no money to speak of and few possessions. Destitute as he is and unable to work, I don’t know what is to become of him.”

“Where is he from?”

“He’s an American on a journey of discovery you could say. He wanted to see Australia. Said he had dreamed of seeing everything here. He was a big help as we traveled. That one is not afraid of a bit of work. He’s strong and had calluses on his hands too so you know he was a workingman. He’s an educated man to some extent at least. He spent quite a lot of his spare time reading. He plays the guitar and sings well too.”

“Well, that would be an odd one. An educated man who is not a criminal coming here.”

“Darn few of those lately too. Mostly just hardened street criminals. Heard talk that the shipping of those blokes may end soon.”

“Good. We could use a few more hard workers, or even men like that poor bloke with dreams.”

“All those dreams, and now he may just die here.”

“Well, now we can’t have that. I’ll put him up at my house. When he’s well, he can work here if he wants. That will get him a good start.”

“Your dear wife won’t mind?”

“Not at all, my daughter Evelyn can help Martha, and my son’s gone off to the opal mines to make his fortune or so he says, and that mean’s I’ve got a room available.”

The captain directed two men where to carry the sick man. One of them put all of Adam’s possessions on the stretcher before they carried him off. He had only a set of saddlebags with a large stylized pine tree worked into the design on both sides. Once at the house, they carried him up the stairs and settled him into the bed as directed. Then the two ladies got to work. First they stripped off his sodden and sour smelling clothing. They bathed him, and in the process did their best to cool him. They washed his hair and shaved him with the kit they found in his saddlebags. Finally, he was covered with a sheet and allowed to rest.

“Mama, did you see the gun in his saddlebag? He’s not a bushranger is he? It seems most of the American men who come here are.”

“I don’t know what to think. The captain told your papa that he was a workingman, but that gun looks well used. But I suppose it doesn’t matter right now. He couldn’t steal a kiss at the moment.”

Both women looked at the dark haired man lying in the bed. He looked so innocent there with his hair mussed and his face relaxed finally. He was handsome and the captain had been right about the calloused hands and the muscles. But both worried about what they would face when he was healthy. They took turns sitting with him and giving him sips of cool water when he awakened. He was very compliant in his fevered state, but the water did not seem to agree with him and he often vomited it back up. Soon they were spooning tea or broth into his mouth when he would let them which led to much less vomiting and relief to all of them. Each day, they bathed his body to keep him clean but to cool him as well. After almost a week, he finally opened his eyes one afternoon completely aware of his surroundings for the first time. Evelyn looked up from the book she was reading and looked into dark hazel eyes.

“Hello there. My name is Evelyn. My mama and I have been taking care of you this past week.”

“Adam, Adam Cartwright.”

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, what would you like? Tea or broth?”

“Where am I?”

“I should have thought of that. You don’t know what had happened. You are in Sydney, Australia. The captain brought you to our house because you had no money. We’ve been caring for you for a week. Any other questions?”

“Can I have coffee instead of tea?”

“Well that’s a good sign, but no I’m afraid we have no coffee in the house. I could get some fruit drink for you?”

Adam smiled at that.

“Good. I’ll just be gone a moment. I’ll tell Mama you’re awake so she can come in to say hello too.”

Adam drank the small serving of fruit juice and didn’t vomit so that was another sign that he was starting to recover. That night, Evelyn’s parents had a party to attend so she spent the evening with Adam. She talked about Sydney and about Australia. He had asked her about the area but had little strength to carry on a conversation although he listened attentively to her narrative. Over the next few weeks, many days and nights were spent that way.

Evelyn’s mother was happy because it kept her daughter away from the docks and all the unsavory characters she regularly chatted with there. It also meant that Maxwell had no opportunity to just ‘run in’ to her as she was out and about. Martha just did not trust that man. The sick, poverty-stricken, handsome young man upstairs in the bedroom was a far better man than that Maxwell. She knew that already just by his manners. Now that he could talk a little, there was always a ‘thank you’ for things that they did for him. Well they did get thanks except for his daily bath that he endured but clearly was not appreciative of being bathed by two women. So he was a modest man as well. Martha wondered how old he was and if he was married. She could tell that her daughter liked him very much, and an honest hard-working man would be a good choice. She would discuss it with Rex and see what he thought about the man staying with them when he was healthy and working for their company.

*****

Chapter 2

For Adam, his dream of seeing Australia was coming true even if the first views of it were through the eyes of his young, petite, dark-haired nurse. She spoke of the harbor and the sharks, the mountains and the plains, of the koalas and the kangaroos, and the beauty of the sea. She talked sadly of the fate of many of the Aborigines. As Adam started to regain some strength, he talked of the Ponderosa, San Francisco, and how similar the Aborigines’ stories were to those of Native Americans in the United States. He began to tease Evelyn about her unusual accent too.

Evelyn’s family had moved to Australia from Liverpool, England because of the belief that there would be greater opportunities in the new land. Her father Rex had worked on the docks in Liverpool and used that expertise to create an import/export company in Sydney. He employed a lot of men to load and unload ships, and move cargo into the city and beyond. The resulting accent for the whole family was a mix of Scouse and Sydney.

Adam found the family fascinating especially the young lady with whom he spent most of his days and evenings. Evelyn was a fascinating conversationalist who was an exceptional chess player. In his weakened state, he was unable to defeat her which frustrated him significantly and caused Evelyn to tease him unmercifully as he glowered after every loss. They both enjoyed reading and she had not yet read the books he had brought with him so he loaned those to her.

Evelyn liked Adam more and more each day. The only thing that bothered her and her parents as well was that they thought that his mind had possibly been affected by the severe fever he had endured. Adam talked at times of investing in mining, ranching, and lumbering. He had asked them if there was much building going on in the city as he could possibly earn some money in architecture or engineering. He asked when he could visit a bank so that he could get funds to reimburse them for their expenses. Evelyn as well as her parents would indulge these talks with him so as not to upset him during his convalescence but worried what would happen when he was finally able to get out of bed on his own and would have to face his situation. Disturbing conversations though began to happen more and more and made the family concerned about his mental state.

“The Ponderosa is the largest ranch in Nevada. You can travel for hours and still be within its borders. With cattle, horses, timber and lumber operations, as well as a mill, there was a lot of work to do each day but the setting was spectacular.”

“Why would any sane man leave such a paradise?”

The phrasing got Rex a scowl from his wife and a shocked look from his daughter, but he was used to speaking his mind. He thought Adam needed to accept and face his situation squarely and couldn’t do that if he continued to have these delusions.

“The Ponderosa was my father’s dream and I helped him realize it, but I longed to travel and see things that I had only read about. I wanted to use my education which wasn’t possible punching cattle and mending fences.”

“Why on earth would you punch a cow?”

“That’s just another colloquialism from the west. It means herding. There must be a few colloquial expressions here as well.”

That launched the family into a discussion of Australian slang words and phrases. Several times Martha shushed her daughter for repeating some of those she had learned from dockworkers. Adam just smiled as it seemed adorable to him to hear this petite beauty spout phrases like any street tough.

The next day was Adam’s first day out of bed, dressed, and downstairs for dinner. As they were eating, there was a knock on the door, and Rex went to answer it. He came back to tell Evelyn that Maxwell had come calling. She groaned and asked her father to please get rid of him.

“You know he will come back every day until you see him.”

“Then let him come back. I don’t want to see him.”

Evelyn was getting very emotional which was unlike her, and her parents were concerned. Neither liked Maxwell but he had seemed to be a gentleman. Yet ever since he had taken Evelyn on a picnic six weeks earlier, she refused to see him. At Martha’s urging, Rex went to give regards to Maxwell but tell him that Evelyn was indisposed. Adam sat and observed the whole scenario and paid special attention to the facial expressions that Evelyn had exhibited. It was clear that something unpleasant had happened, and learning of the circumstances, he had a pretty good idea of what it was. Adam wondered why Evelyn’s parents didn’t have the same suspicion, but when he saw Martha’s look as she asked Rex to send Maxwell away, it was apparent that she shared his thought.

After dinner, Evelyn helped Adam up the stairs. He was quite fatigued by the day’s activities and asked her to pause at the top of the stairs as he was feeling a bit lightheaded. She had felt more and more of his weight shifted to her shoulders as they climbed the steps and wasn’t surprised. As they stood there, Adam turned to talk to her as she turned her head up to listen, their faces were only inches apart. Everything in Adam’s body told him to kiss her, but his mind told him not to do it. Evelyn’s body tensed up and her face looked stony.

“I would never do anything to hurt you. I would never do anything you didn’t want.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Oh I think you do, and I want you to know, you can trust me.”

A tear slipped from her left eye and ran down her cheek. Adam lifted his right hand and brushed it away. After a few minutes, he told her they could continue, and she helped him to the bedroom where he just lay on the bed. She asked if he needed help, and he declined.

“A little company would be nice though until I feel stronger.”

“No questions about Maxwell though!”

“You can talk to me anytime, and I won’t push you to say more than you want. But for now, have you read that book you borrowed?”

The rest of the evening passed quickly as they discussed the book, and then a myriad of other topics which seemed to be developing into their pattern. As it grew late, Evelyn took her leave and Adam undressed and crawled into bed. Adam for the first time since his arrival had trouble sleeping. Visions of a dark haired beauty and her lips just inches from his filled his thoughts. Each time he did however, he chastised himself for even thinking that way. She was younger than Joe. He couldn’t believe that a young woman as pretty as she was would be interested in a man so much older. His mind said that but his heart continued to try to convince him otherwise.

Down the hall, Evelyn alternately dreamed of Adam holding her and kissing her and had nightmares of Maxwell pushing her down, plundering her mouth with his tongue, and grabbing at her relentlessly. She knew she needed to talk. She got up and put on her robe and walked to her parents’ room and knocked. Her mother answered the door in a near panic but was relieved that her daughter was there and unharmed.

“What is it dear? It’s been a long time since you came to our room because you couldn’t sleep.”

“Mama, I have to talk to you about Maxwell.”

Evelyn shared everything that had happened on the picnic but had trouble describing the details of the attack.

“He didn’t, you know, because if he did, I’ll kill him myself?”

“No, Papa, he didn’t finish what he set out to do, but he did everything but that. He finally gave up when I fought and wouldn’t quit. I think he knew if I came back visibly damaged that he would be in a lot of trouble.”

“Evelyn, after what he did, he has an obligation to marry you.”

“Oh, Papa, no! I could never be with him. He tries to get close to me every time I leave the house, and it makes me sick. It’s been so nice having Adam here so I have an excuse not to go anywhere.”

“Is that the only reason you like having Adam here?”

Evelyn didn’t answer her father’s question, but the blush on her face and her downcast eyes were enough. Her parents remembered well how they had fallen in love, and they saw all the same signs in their daughter. Money was of no concern to them, and if Adam did prove to be an honest, hardworking man then they would approve of him for their daughter as long as he was able to rid himself of those pesky delusions. They told their daughter that, and she had a shy smile in return.

“Mama, how do you know if you’re in love with a man?”

“You think of him when he isn’t there, and you feel more complete when he is there. If you want to be with him, if you feel safe and understood with him, and if you can talk about anything with him, then I think you’re in love.”

“I’m not sure if all of that is true yet, but most of it is. So I must be falling in love with him.”

“Yes, dear, I believe you are, and I could not be happier for you.”

*****

Chapter 3

Adam had been at the Harrison’s home for almost two months. He had regained some of his strength and was anxious to start taking a look at Sydney. He had asked to go to the bank several times and was met with unusual reactions from his host family he thought. He continued to ask and finally Rex said he was going to the bank and Adam could ride along. Evelyn asked to accompany them. Rex drove his carriage and Adam sat next to him and Lyn sat in the back.

“Why did they make the tram tracks higher than the street? I would think that damages a lot of carriage and wagon wheels.”

“It does. Some bloody idiot thought they could use cars to carry heavy freight as well as cars for passenger traffic so now we have these heavy tracks. Don’t know how they’re going to fix them but they have only been here a few years. Bloody expensive to fix.”

“They can’t be fixed.”

“What? Well sure they can. They just have to find a way to get the street even with the top of the rails.”

“Can’t be done. They’ll have to tear them out and redo them as tram tracks only. Not a good location for an overhead rail line either so they will have to do something else to move the heavy freight.”

Adam spoke with such a voice of authority almost like he knew what he was talking about that Rex wasn’t ready to argue the point any more. They were nearing the bank anyway. Once inside, he wondered how Adam would react once he was rebuffed by the tellers. Well, having Lyn along should help. She could soothe him afterwards and then they would see if he could face his reality. With that in mind, Rex pulled up the carriage in front of the bank. Adam jumped out and helped Lyn down. All three walked into the bank. Adam went up to a teller and a few minutes later, he was being escorted into an office.

“Now, wait a moment, he didn’t mean no harm. The man has been sick.”

The teller who had spoken to Adam and escorted him into the bank president’s office returned and wondered what the old man was spouting off about. He ignored him until Rex came up and asked about Mr. Cartwright.

“Now, where have you taken the bloke? He didn’t mean no harm to anyone.”

“Mr. Cartwright is meeting with the bank president and will be with you when he is done conducting his business.”

Rex and Lyn stood waiting in the lobby of the bank after Rex had concluded his business. They had no idea what to make of these developments. After about a half hour, Adam walked out of the bank president’s office and came over to where they were waiting.

“Rex, Lyn, I’m sorry that took so long. If you would like, I will treat you to lunch. I would like to sample the cuisine here if you could suggest a good restaurant.”

Rex and Lyn stood staring at him completely befuddled.

“Every time I mentioned the bank, you acted rather unusually. Now this. Did you think I made it all up?”

“Well, it did seem kind of outlandish as you didn’t have any money and you dressed like an American cowboy.”

“Adam, my parents and I thought maybe your memory was affected by the fever and perhaps you were having these delusions.”

Adam looked incredulously at both of them for a moment and then started laughing. Finally, Lyn and Rex got caught up in his hilarity and laughed too.

“So you treated me so well and cared for me all the while thinking I was an indigent immigrant with malaria. You two are precious. Thank you. I know you accepted me for myself and not because of my family because you thought it was all a dream I had.”

“But why did you arrive with so little? You had no money?”

“I traveled light expecting to buy what I needed when I got here. I had the papers I needed. Money had been transferred to the Royal Bank of Sydney before I left San Francisco. I sold a number of investments I had there and used savings to create a capital account here. They had a copy of my signature so all I had to do here was present my papers and sign so they could verify it was me.”

Adam explained that he did have some business meetings coming up at the bank as the bank president was contacting people with property for sale in which he might be interested. Therefore, he renewed his offer to buy lunch and then he needed to purchase some more formal clothing suitable for business meetings. When the three arrived home in the late afternoon, Martha nearly fainted when she found that Adam’s ‘delusions’ were true. Over the next week, Adam attended a number of business meetings and arranged the inspection of some mining property. If the mines were in good condition, he planned to buy them and reopen them. He was also looking for a room to rent as he felt he had imposed on the Harrisons long enough.

“Now that you’re free for two days because it’s the weekend, I wondered if you would like to take a ride and do some sightseeing?”

“Lyn, that sounds wonderful. I’ll see some of the sights you have been describing to me. Tomorrow?”

The next day, Lyn took Adam on a tour of some of Sydney and then on a road to the coast to see the sights from the cliffs overlooking the harbor and then the entrance to Port Jackson as well as the coast. As they began to return to the city, Lyn asked if he would like to share a picnic lunch that she had prepared and packed in the carriage. He had thought she would never ask and was enthusiastic in his acceptance of her offer. They stopped near a small grove of trees overlooking the harbor. Lyn spread a blanket on the ground as Adam carried the basket from the carriage. After they finished eating, Lyn repacked what remained into the basket and then lay back with her hands behind her head looking at the puffy clouds in the sky.

“Isn’t that beautiful?”

Adam laid along side her and leaned on one elbow as he gazed at her.

“Yes, very beautiful.”

Lyn heard how his voice had gotten husky and looked quickly at him. Her fears returned full force for this was the situation in which she had found herself with Maxwell when he had assaulted her. Adam saw her expression change and shook his head.

“I will never do anything to hurt you. You do not have to be afraid of me.”

As he stayed still and did nothing, Lyn relaxed again and smiled shyly at him.

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“May I kiss you?”

Adam’s heart had overruled his brain, and as Lyn nodded yes, he leaned in to brush his lips over hers and then kiss her gently before pulling back.

“Would you do that again?”

Adam leaned in to kiss her again, but this time Lyn wrapped her arms around his neck and held his lips at hers. Adam groaned with the pleasure of it and intensified his kiss by nudging her lips open with his tongue. Lyn seemed surprised at his gentle insistence and opened her mouth and then returned the favor. They kissed passionately for several minutes until Adam pulled away.

“We shouldn’t be doing this. You’re younger than my youngest brother.”

“I don’t think age has anything to do with love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, I love you.”

Adam stared at her as his mind was caught in turmoil. Could a woman love him truly? He knew he loved Lyn but was prepared to walk away for her own good. Would she love him, or would she wound his already scarred heart?

“Why does it seem to surprise you so that I love you? We have spent so much time together and I loved every moment of it. When you aren’t there, I miss you. You are in my dreams at night and my daydreams during the day. I want to hear you talk, and argue, and sing. I cannot imagine my life without you in it.”

“I do love you. I just have a hard time accepting that you would love me.”

Lyn watched Adam as it seemed memories were assaulting him. He seemed to be in another place and time.

“Who was she?”

“Who do you mean?”

“The woman who hurt you so badly that you still feel the pain?”

So Adam told her about Laura and how she had said she loved him and wanted to marry him, but allowed his cousin Will to court her at the same time she was betrothed to Adam. They had been kissing and hugging as he struggled to get himself out of a wheelchair. He explained how their treachery had hurt more than the loss of Regina and Ruth. He explained about Sue Ellen and about Rebecca. He had been hurt so often by love that he no longer trusted it in others. Now Lyn understood better how Adam had left his family to travel the world alone.

“I am not Laura. You are the only one I love. No one else will be able to change that. And I will still be here each day. I am not going anywhere while you are here.”

Lyn leaned in and kissed Adam. She wrapped her arms around him as she had done earlier. Despite his doubts, he couldn’t deny his attraction to her and his desire for her. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close to him as he kissed her with all the passion he had. But then once again he pulled away and laid on his back although he kept her hand in his hand.

“What’s wrong?”

“If we don’t stop now, I don’t know if I could stop. I want you so much, and it would be wrong to act on that impulse.”

“I love you, and you love me. Why would it be wrong?”

“It’s too soon.”

Lyn laughed and Adam looked at her to see why.

“After Maxwell, I thought it would always be me saying no, and now I find myself in the opposite situation. I find that kind of funny.” As she said Maxwell’s name, she tensed just a little. Adam knew that at some point she was going to have to tell him what happened. He thought he probably already knew but she needed to exorcize this demon or it would forever haunt her.

Adam had to admit though that her statement had been funny. On that note, they packed up the basket and the blanket and began the ride back to town. There was a charged atmosphere in the carriage as Lyn sat next to Adam with her arm through his elbow as he held the reins. He could feel the heat of her leg on his and more than once found his mind drifting away from driving the carriage. As they returned, Martha looked out the kitchen window to see Adam help Lyn from the carriage and kiss her gently before releasing her. Then Lyn picked up the blanket with one hand and took Adam’s hand in the other. He picked up the picnic basket and held her hand as they walked to the house. It was the beginning of his courtship of Lyn except he wasn’t accepting yet that was what he was doing.

*****

Chapter 4

There was a changed atmosphere in the Harrison home. Rex and Martha were happy that Adam and Lyn were now a couple. She was twenty-three and they were beginning to worry that she would not find a man to love her. Instead, now she had a man to love her who treated her well and seemed matched to her in interests more than anyone else they had ever known. He was an honest, hard workingman who also turned out to be reasonably wealthy and was also well educated. Lyn had always wanted to pursue a higher education but that was not possible for a woman in Australia at that time. But with Adam, she could learn and develop her talents.

Within a week, Adam had inspected and purchased two mining properties. He had also found a room at a boarding house not too far from the Harrison’s home. The night before he was to move his belongings to his new dwelling, he lay in bed as he did every night thinking of what it would be like to hold Lyn in his arms and love her, and then sleep beside her. He had a physical reaction just to the thought of her, and each day had to fight the same reaction every time he was close to her. He was thinking that moving to the boarding house was happening just in time before he lost all control and made love to her. As he began to drift into sleep, he thought he heard his door open and close. Then there was a rustle by his bed and Lyn slipped in beside him simply saying ‘hello’ as if sliding into bed with him at night was the most natural thing in the world.

“You definitely should not be here.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes. But you still should not be here.”

Lyn slid herself next to Adam and discovered that he wasn’t wearing anything, which suited her just fine this night because she had slipped off her robe next to his bed. She pressed herself against him and kissed him.

“Lyn, please, if you don’t stop this, I won’t be able to stop myself. You don’t know how much I desire you, and it has been a very long time since I was with any woman. This is your parents home. We shouldn’t be doing this.”

Lyn answered with another kiss. She really had no idea what to do other than that because kissing was the only thing she had ever done with a man. All she knew was that being next to Adam made her tingle deep in her being and made her warm all over. She wanted to experience more with him, but he held back so much that she had decided to force the issue. Her breasts were pushed up against his chest and her body was pressed to his. She could feel his physical reaction to her just as she had been aware of it each time he kissed her. She knew he desired her, and she wanted him as much.

Adam lifted himself up and rolled Lyn over as he began to kiss and caress her intimately. Lyn wrapped her arms around him as much as she could and begged him to do more. As he moved to consummate their relationship, he suddenly stopped.

“Why did you stop?”

“You’re a virgin!”

“Yes. I could only give myself to the man I love, and you are the only man I have ever loved.”

Lyn wrapped her legs around Adam encouraging him to continue. Later as they lay in a soft embrace, he asked her if he had hurt her.

“Just a little. The rest was glorious. I want to be with you like this always.”

“I’m moving to the boardinghouse tomorrow. I don’t think you will be allowed in my room there, and I can hardly visit here and take you to your room.”

“We’ll find a way.”

With that, Lyn snuggled into Adam’s embrace, but he wasn’t done talking yet.

“What if you’re pregnant? You could be now. Aren’t you worried about that?”

“I know you love me, and that I love you. We can work anything else out as it happens.”

Adam was impressed by her confidence and naiveté. They would indeed have to have many more conversations and discuss what was important to each of them. But for now, he was content to have her resting in his arms. In the morning, though, he was concerned about her parents. Did they suspect what had happened? How would they react if they did? He wasn’t at all sure about that, and worried that he may have hurt the people who had helped him so much. In the morning, nothing was said, and Adam didn’t know if they knew or not.

The next few weeks were very busy for Adam as he worked to reopen the two mines he had purchased. He was hiring a number of the newly arrived immigrants as well as some citizens who had experience in mining. Governor Young invited him to lunch when he realized the economic impact the newcomer might have on the economy of the area. At that lunch, he discovered that Adam had architectural and engineering skills and offered to have him do some work for the government. The area was growing so fast and professionals in every occupation were in short supply. Adam needed square sets for the mines and visited some lumber operations to make arrangements for them to provide them. Seeing how inefficiently some of those operations were, he began to investigate the possibility of expanding his investments to timber and lumber operations. He stayed away from the pearling industry and the northern agricultural interests at Lyn’s suggestion. Apparently many of those workers were forced to work and some had even been kidnapped from their homes on various islands and brought to Australia. She told him the legislature was working on humanitarian laws but those industries continued to be the worst offenders of human dignity and rights.

Lyn was turning out to be Adam’s best advisor on business concerns in Australia. She read everything she could and was well versed in every aspect of politics, society, and the economy of the country. Their relationship became a complex and fulfilling one as both began not only to fall deeper in love, but their respect and admiration for each other grew too. Adam and Lyn did find time to share lunches and dinners but during the week, contrary to what Lyn had assumed, they could find no privacy. On Saturdays, they began taking long carriage rides and that was the most privacy that they had but not enough to allow lovemaking. Both were frustrated by the enforced abstinence. Adam told Lyn that it probably was a good thing though because although frustrating, it gave them time to talk and plan as well as get to know each other better.

Maxwell continued to be a problem. Lyn had not confided in Adam as she had with her parents. She saw enough in him to be afraid of what he would do to Maxwell if he would learn of the assault. Because Maxwell had failed in his ultimate objective, Lyn rationalized that it wasn’t so bad and she could forget about it, but to Maxwell it was a failure that he intended to rectify. He tried to call on her at her home but had to flee when an angry Rex came to the door. Instead he had resorted to furtively following her especially when she was with Adam. He built up a strong jealousy and then hatred of the American especially because he stood in the way of Maxwell achieving his objective.

*****

Chapter 5

For nearly two months, Adam had been avoiding invitations to a gentleman’s club. As more and more to the people with whom he did business invited him though, he knew he would soon have to accept one of their invitations or risk offending the very people with whom he needed to conduct business. He usually wanted to save his Friday and Saturday evenings for time to attend the theatre and concerts, and to have dinner with his ladylove. Lately however, Lyn was often not feeling well. She had had malaria herself when she was younger, and her parents assumed she might be having a relapse. She knew what it was though and was very reluctant to talk about it with Adam because she feared his reaction. So on one Friday, she encouraged him to attend one of the functions with the promise that the next day would be his entirely to spend with her. That night she confided in her mother that she was pregnant. Surprisingly to her, her mother accepted the news calmly.

“I thought as much dear. The signs were there. Granted, I agreed with your father that it might be a malaria relapse, but in my heart, I think I knew you were with child.”

“What do I do now? I pushed him into it. He wanted to wait and I wouldn’t let him. I don’t know how to explain what comes over me when I am with him and he kisses me.”

“That is something I do understand very well. My wedding to your father was a bit rushed due to the expected arrival of your brother.”

“Mama, really? Does Scouser know?”

“Oh, I would assume so. His birthday is a scant eight months after the wedding. My parents were so scandalized. When Rex suggested we move here after we were married two years, I think they were more relieved than concerned that they would likely never see us again. Mama has written letters encouraging us to visit, but it will take at least six months to do that, and as you could probably guess, your father is not too fond of my parents.”

“So you and Papa were already betrothed? Adam and I have made no such commitment and I’m worried that he might think I am trying to trap him into a marriage.”

“You need to tell him. I’m sure he knows it is possible.”

“I am planning on telling him tomorrow. He said there were some places he wanted to show me so we are spending the day together. I am just so scared.”

Martha expressed some concerns for her daughter and hoped that Adam and Lyn would marry. All she could do for her daughter now though was to explain the situation to Rex and hope he would let the couple work it out for themselves.

Lyn went to bed that evening and found sleep elusive. She rehearsed numerous speeches to explain her condition to Adam and found all of them wanting. Finally near exhaustion, she fell into a restless sleep. Adam, on the other hand, slept very well. He had been in a poker game at the club. Lyn had told him she knew the bartender there and he should ask Luke to have his whisky diluted with apple cider, and Luke would do it. He would dilute it more and more as the evening progressed so that Adam could maintain appearances with the men there without losing his good sense. So Adam drank every whisky purchased for him, and should have been drunk. He acted the part of the happy guest but stayed sober.

As the poker game progressed, the stakes got higher and higher as the men succumbed to the effects of alcohol. Finally the dealer declared it was the last hand no matter what happened. Apparently that was a signal to some of the men to push the pot to the highest by far that it had been all night. Adam had a great hand but he was out of table stakes. The dealer suggested he could write a note on one of his properties. He had been dealt four kings. He had drawn one card and it was an ace which he put into the middle of his hand as he hoped they would think he had only a full house. A straight flush or a royal flush could beat him but everyone at the table had drawn two cards so it was highly unlikely. A better four of a kind could beat him and that was a little more likely but still not probable. He played the odds and wrote out a note for one of his mines. It was worth far more than what he needed to bet, but he knew the men there would accept nothing less. When his hand was called and he showed, there were shocked expressions all around the table. He beat an aces over fives full house as well as a diamond flush. It had been close but he pulled in the pot. The man with the full house had thrown in his gold pocket watch and Adam gifted it back to him. The man was embarrassed and offered to buy Adam a drink which he accepted. He told Luke to make it a whisky which surprised everyone there except Luke. Suddenly they realized he had known about the apple cider and had played them.

“You really are a sharp character, Adam. Why don’t you come over to my offices on Monday? I think we may have some business we could do together.”

Adam got similar invitations from other men at the club who had been playing or just watching the game. They were impressed with his savvy. This was no lucky country yokel but an astute businessman. Those who wanted to ride along with him decided that he would make a good associate. The next morning when he arrived at the Harrisons to pick up Lyn, he presented her first with a large envelope which she opened to find it was stuffed with cash. Lyn looked up in shock.

“There must be ten thousand dollars here!”

“Closer to eleven I think. It’s half of my winnings from last night. I could not have done it without your help so you deserve it. You’re my partner!”

“My help?”

“Yes, I stayed sober while playing poker while they thought my good judgment was succumbing to alcohol. Everything went very well, and I have some business appointments next week as a result.”

Adam would have picked her up and whirled her around before soundly kissing her except her parents were standing there with shocked expressions. He asked them to put the money someplace safe and then grabbed Lyn’s arm to guide her outside to the carriage. She was still stunned as he drove the carriage out of town. They followed familiar roads and then turned down a narrow path.

“Adam, I think this is a private drive.”

“Yes, it is. It’s my private drive. I just bought the place this week.”

As they drove through a small grove of trees, they emerged on the other side into the courtyard of a beautiful home. There was scaffolding up around some parts of it but the basic design beauty still stood out. The views of Sydney in the distance, and the hills around as well as the sea in the distance were spectacular.

“Great views. Lots of room. Privacy. Beautiful home. What more could anyone want?”

“So you are going to be living way out here?”

Seeing the look on her face and the sadness in her voice, he had to ask.

“Will you live here with me?”

Again, Lyn looked sad. Adam was afraid she was going to say no.

“First, yes, I will live here with you if you still want me to after I tell you something. I have to be honest with you. I planned to tell you today as I just got my courage up to do it. Adam, we’re going to have a baby.”

Adam was stunned. He expected this at some point but they had only been together once and because she had said nothing last month, he had thought that everything was all right. Now he suddenly had to adjust his thinking, and quickly realized everything was still all right but now included a baby. He smiled at her which made her aching heart feel some relief. Then he held her and kissed her gently.

“Will you marry me then?”

Lyn paused so long he was afraid she was going to reject him, but she was trying to determine how she should say this so that Adam would understand without being hurt.

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, with all my heart.”

“I believe you. Do you believe I love you with all my heart?”

Adam hesitated knowing this was a test but having to be honest too.

“Don’t answer. Your hesitation is answer enough. When you can tell me that you accept that I love you, I will marry you. For now, yes, I will live here with you gladly. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

When Lyn told her mother of their conversation, Martha had remained calm, but she worried for her daughter. Couples together without benefit of marriage happened often enough not to be scandalous here. In time, they would be considered wed under the doctrine of common law marriage or sooner if they commingled assets and in this case like others, had a child together. She would just have felt better about it if Adam could have made that commitment to her daughter. Telling Rex would be another test too. He liked Adam a lot but he would have to accept her decision in this case.

*****

Chapter 6

The next morning in church, the Harrisons and Adam were surprised when another person stepped into their box. The three Harrisons stood and hugged him. Adam wondered who it was, but had to wait until after services to be introduced to Scouser, Michael Harrison by birth.

“So, you’re Adam. I ought to have a blue with you. Lyn wrote to me. I heard you got my sister preggers. You gonna marry her?”

“I asked her and she said not now. She is going to live with me though.”

“All righty then, mate. Welcome to the family. She also wrote me you was an upright bloke but I had to see for myself.”

Adam was glad to accept Scouser’s friendship. The man was built like his father but was about eight inches taller. The extra inches meant extra muscle, and he was obviously powerful. Apparently he had done well with the opal mining and was in town seeking financing for purchasing his own claim. Lyn told him she had some money, and he said she could certainly help but when he saw the envelope of cash, he was astounded.

“Lyn, how did you get this much money? You’re not a bushranger in your spare time now are ya?”

“Adam gave it to me.”

“What, he’s paying you? I may have to have a blue with him yet.”

“No, he won it at the gentleman’s club on the circular quay. He said he won because of my advice so he gave me half. Well half after he tipped Luke generously.”

“Ah, so you clued him in on the way to keep his wits while he was there. But how did he win so much?”

“He bet one of his mines to call on the last hand of the night when he had four of a kind.”

“He sure is game or maybe a bit mad.”

“No, Adam is ace.”

Scouser smiled and hugged his sister. He could tell she was in love. She invited him to come see the house she and Adam would be living in soon. He said he would be there on Tuesday morning. Adam was already moving his things to the house, and he asked Lyn when she wanted to move her things there.

“Today would be good.”

“You don’t waste any time once you’ve made up your mind. All right, today it is. We can move as much as we can pack in the carriage. How much do you have by the way?”

“I’m not sure. I never packed my things before.”

So Adam and Lyn began packing her things with help from Rex and Martha who wanted to know if Lyn would need any furniture. Adam said no as he had bought the house partially furnished and they would buy the pieces they needed to complete the furnishings. On Monday, Adam arrived at the Harrison’s with a wagon after concluding his business appointment. He thought he could get the rest of Lyn’s things to the house if she was ready to move. He already had foodstuffs and other necessities packed in the wagon. When he told Lyn, she took a deep breath.

“This is a big step for us, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I want you to be with me forever.”

“Oh, I will be, but right now I need a little time to say goodbye to Mum and Papa.”

Adam began carrying the rest of her belongings to the wagon. After a short time, Martha and Rex escorted their daughter to the wagon to wish her well. She invited them to come to the house on Tuesday with Scouser. Then Adam shook Rex’s hand and kissed Martha on the cheek before helping Lyn up onto the seat of the wagon. Martha and Rex had hoped the two would marry but they knew it would happen soon. It was so apparent how much they loved each other, but Lyn had explained Adam’s history with women to them so they could understand his reluctance at least a little. At the house, Adam helped Lyn carry everything inside. They began organizing the household. He was unusually quiet and finally she stopped him with a hand on his chest.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like I thought it would. It is all so matter of fact and mundane.”

“Perhaps we ought to do something about that?”

Warming to the subject, Adam put his hands on Lyn’s waist as he stepped very close to her. When she tipped her head up to look at him, he kissed her, and unpacking, organizing, and decorating were forgotten for a few hours as they made the day special. Workmen who came to remove the scaffolding knocked on the door several times and received no answer, so they packed up their scaffolding and left. Adam and Lyn made love, talked, and then made love again. They got to see each other in the light for the first time and Adam couldn’t help but be pleased not only by the beauty of the woman who loved him but by her appreciative looks at him. Later as Lyn slept cuddled up to his chest, Adam realized that he would fall asleep if he didn’t get out of bed so he got up very carefully letting Lyn continue to lay in bed napping.

Adam dressed and then went outside to put the team in the barn. He already had purchased a carriage and two riding horses. He fed and watered the four horses and then secured the stable for the night. Next, he carried in the remainder of the items from the wagon and stacked them just inside the door. Finally he went to the kitchen to prepare some food. He assumed that Lyn would be hungry when she awoke, and she was. After eating, they worked for hours getting a semblance of order about the place. There were four rooms downstairs: a parlor, a kitchen, a study, and a dining room. There was a washroom and water closet next to the kitchen. Upstairs were four bedrooms but only one was furnished completely so far. Two others had small single beds and small dressers. Temporarily the unfurnished one was being used for storage.

On Tuesday morning, Adam was scheduled to attend a meeting to arrange some investing in timber logging interests in the Blue Mountains. He was going to use that operation to supply wood to a lumber mill he was building near there that was going to use the most efficient methodology he could learn to build square sets for his mines and to sell to other mining interests. The vertical consolidation would allow him to maximize profits by reducing expenses. Adam didn’t want Lyn at the house alone but she reminded him that Scouser and her parents were supposed to arrive soon and would likely stay most of the day especially if she asked their opinions and for their help. Neither of them was aware that they had been followed on Monday, and that the stalker was still there.

*****

Chapter 7

After Adam left, Lyn was working in the kitchen when she thought she heard the front door open and close. Assuming that Adam had returned for some reason, she walked into the parlor after a few minutes but didn’t see anyone. She turned to go back to the kitchen and Maxwell stepped out of the dining room. Lyn screamed and turned to run toward the front door but he grabbed her.

“Now last time I was worried about hurting you, but it doesn’t make any difference now does it. I don’t have to deliver you back to your parents in good condition. So if you fight me again, you are going to be seriously hurt. Am I understood?”

“Maxwell, please, I’m going to have a baby. Please don’t.”

“You what? You’ve got a bastard in you? Well then what I do with you shouldn’t matter. You’re just a street whore anyway.”

Maxwell was pulling her forcibly to the stairs and Lyn was fighting as hard as she could not to go with him. He finally grew so frustrated he swung his fist and hit her in the jaw. Lyn fell to the floor, and Maxwell easily picked her up and carried her up the stairs. The first bedroom was furnished and that is where he took her. As she regained her senses, she began to fight and scream as Maxwell tore at her clothing and grabbed her and touched her at will. She begged him to stop, and he laughed and pushed her back on the bed. He pressed himself down on top of her and was forcing her legs apart when suddenly his weight was removed from her.

Scouser threw Maxwell up against the wall and then slammed him back into the wall when he tried to get away. One more try to get away and Scouser flung him through the bedroom window to land on the ground below. Maxwell wasn’t moving when Scouser looked out the window. By then, Martha and Rex were in the room. Martha told the men to leave so she could care for her daughter. Lyn begged her to get Adam, and told her where he could be found. Martha reluctantly called to Scouser and gave him directions to find Adam.

When Adam heard the news, he raced back to his home and ran up the stairs. As he entered the bedroom, he saw Martha sitting in a chair next to the bed where Lyn was. When Lyn saw him, she thrust out her arms toward him and he rushed to her side and wrapped his arms around her. Martha quietly left the room. If she had any doubts about Adam’s love for her daughter, they were gone now. Rex had been downstairs worrying about Lyn and Adam. He knew that many men had trouble accepting their wives after assaults. Would Adam be able to do this with a woman who was not yet his wife?

When Martha described Adam’s homecoming and his embrace of Lyn, Rex relaxed as did Scouser who had heard what she said. They agreed that Scouser should consider staying to help and that Rex and Martha would take Maxwell to town and to the constables to answer for what he had done, and they would send the doctor back. Scouser had earlier determined that Maxwell was alive and not seriously injured so had tied him up with rope he found in the stable. When Martha went upstairs to tell Adam and Lyn what was happening, she found him holding Lyn on his lap as she sobbed into his chest. He looked at Martha with the most forlorn expression as if asking what he should do. She told him to just keep doing what he was doing, and she explained what she and Rex would do and that Scouser would stay in case they needed anything. They would be back later with supplies to repair the window.

Adam continued to hold Lyn as she told not only of that day’s attack but the earlier one. She talked about one and then the other. Adam had to listen intently to be sure which attack was being described at any one time. Finally he felt he knew what had happened each time. He continued to tell Lyn how much he loved her, and that he would be with her through anything that happened. Whenever he said that though, she would cry more. Somehow he knew he needed to keep telling her that and holding her. He had to ignore his fury at Maxwell and concentrate on the great love he had for Lyn and the compassion for what she had endured.

When the Harrisons returned later with the news that Maxwell was in jail, they found Lyn was dressed and sitting in Adam’s embrace in the parlor. There was a small fire going in the fireplace.

“Ahh, she won’t go anywhere without me. Scouser is upstairs cleaning up the remnants of the window.”

“We’ve got the supplies to fix it in the carriage. A constable will be out here soon to take a statement from Lyn and from Scouser. We already gave our statements at the jail.”

A knock at the door meant that the constable had arrived. He questioned Lyn first, and she managed to stay reasonably calm as she recounted what happened but kept a firm grip on Adam’s right hand as she pressed herself into his side. Adam kept his left arm firmly around her to reassure her that he wasn’t going anywhere. Scouser then gave his statement of what he saw when he entered the bedroom after hearing Lyn screaming. Once the two finished their statements, Adam told Martha to hand a towel wrapped bundle to the constable who opened it to find the clothing that Lyn had been wearing at the time of the attack. He asked her then if the torn and nearly shredded clothing was what she had been wearing, and she nodded. He asked her to state her answer, and she said ‘Yes’ before beginning to sob again. He said he thought they had all they needed to have Maxwell spend his next year or two at Fort Denison in Sydney Harbor. All the men in the room knew that his time there would be difficult as a man convicted of the assault of a woman surrounded by hardened criminals, but none felt any sorrow at his likely fate.

The doctor arrived as the constable was leaving. He had Lyn go into a spare bedroom and he did a quick exam. Her jawbone was not broken nor cracked but the bruising was significant. He found numerous other abrasions and bruises. There were also some bite marks. He wrote everything down in detail as it would be evidence at Maxwell’s trial. At the conclusion of his exam, he opened the door to Adam who quickly moved to Lyn’s side. Lyn snuggled into his embrace. The doctor smiled because sometimes he had found couples estranged after such an incident, but this couple was different. Her ordeal had drawn them closer.

Martha fixed dinner for the five of them. Adam and Lyn asked Scouser if he wished to stay with them.

“Are you sure? Because you two just got together and I wouldn’t want to intrude. But I do say I like it out here a lot more than in the city. And I wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out for my sister.”

“I think we would both feel better with you here.”

“If it’s security you want, I think you ought to get yourself some blueys. I’ve got a friend whose bitch just had a litter about two months ago. He’d sell you some if you wanted them.”

Adam was not aware of what a bluey was, but after it was explained to him, he suggested Lyn might want to go with her brother to get two of the dogs. The heelers were excellent ranch dogs, but they would be great security too as they were easily trained and absolutely loyal to their owners. They were also quiet dogs who barked only when they needed to. Adam asked too if Scouser knew of someone who could be hired as a caretaker. There was a small caretaker’s cottage next to the stable. The caretaker could take care of the horses, the grounds, do maintenance, and add some corrals and such to the property. He would also be additional security especially when Lyn was home alone. Scouser said he had someone in mind: Luke. He said Luke wanted to move out of the city and was getting tired of the late hours at the club.

For several days, Adam did not leave his home. He spent as much time with Lyn as he could. He hugged her as often as he could, and at night in bed, he pulled her into an embrace and that is how they slept. After four days, Lyn started crying when he hugged her in their bed.

“What’s wrong? What can I do for you?”

“Don’t you want me any more? You have hardly even kissed me since it happened.”

“Sweetheart, I didn’t want to do more than you were ready for. Please tell me what you want. I love you and I want to make you happy.”

“Kiss me and love me.”

As gently as he could, Adam held her and kissed her. He caressed her body and kissed her more. Lyn ran her hands over his chest and lower. Soon the passion built between them and their loving intensified until they both cried out in their passion. Afterwards, they slept in each other’s embrace, and the memory of what Maxwell had done had been exorcized again.

By the end of that week, Scouser had moved into the bedroom at the far end of the hall, Luke had moved into the caretaker’s cottage, and the puppies, Bush and Banger, had taken up residence in the house. Even as ten-week-old puppies, the two dogs showed remarkable intelligence and were easily housebroken. Each morning as Adam came down the stairs, the two would be standing at the front door waiting to be let out. Adam concluded a number of business deals and transactions the next week, and became not only a gold mine owner, but also owned timber rights, a lumber mill, and had made some investments in banking as well.

On the following Saturday morning, Adam spread a set of papers out on the dining room table and asked Lyn to sign several of them. She did and then asked why. He announced that she now owned what he owned. Lyn was shocked. Men in Australia did not do such things.

“Oh my! Why did you ever do that?”

“You’re my partner! Now you’re an owner too.”

“Thank you. So, I could start ordering you about?” was delivered with a cheeky grin.

“No, I signed over forty-nine per cent of each investment to make it easier for me to do the business side of it. As majority owner, I can still sign the papers and documents I need to operate the various businesses.”

“Well, then I want to sign over fifty-one per cent of my opal mining interests to you.”

That led to a lively discussion that Lyn eventually won. They were now joined together as much or more than most married couples but still there was no marriage. When Lyn was about four months pregnant and starting to show a small baby bump and two months after they had moved into their home, Adam arrived home early one day with a large bunch of roses, chocolates, and a small box. He presented the roses and the chocolates and then knelt on one knee in front of Lyn, took her hand, and asked her to marry him.

“I love you with all my heart. Please say yes.”

“Do you believe I love you with all my heart?”

“Yes, I know you do.”

“I’ll marry you, luv. Any time, any place , I’ll marry you.”

“As soon as tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

Adam opened the small box to present a pair of rings to his beloved. He removed the engagement ring and slipped it onto her finger. Lyn was shocked at the size of it as well as its elegance: it was a large diamond surrounded by emeralds. Adam told her the diamond symbolized his love for her, the gold was from their mines in Australia, and the green was for his former home in America. The wedding band was made to worn with the engagement ring or alone as she wished. They sealed their engagement with a kiss. The engagement would be short though, very short.

Adam and Lyn drove into Sydney to announce their plans to Rex and Martha. After all the kissing and hugging at the Harrisons, they contacted a minister to do the ceremony and asked if he could do it the next day. He agreed so when they returned to the Harrisons with the news, Rex and Martha quickly planned a party. The wedding took place at one of Rex’s warehouses that was empty at the time. A band was quickly hired, and food and alcohol were ordered. With Rex’s connections, it was possible to get it done.

The next day, the sun was shining so the wedding ceremony of Lyn Harrison and Adam Cartwright was outdoors. A huge crowd of friends of the family had assembled. The wedding invitation had been extended to ‘all who wanted to come see the wedding of Evelyn Harrison to Adam Cartwright’ on posters tacked up all over the neighborhood, and many did want to be there. To those who found the nontraditional wedding to be too unusual, Rex simply said ‘well, he is an American cowboy’ as if that explained it all.

*****

Chapter 8

Scouser continued to live with Adam and Lyn. With Adam as a silent partner who provided the financing and Lyn as only a silent partner, Scouser added more and more opal mines to their investment portfolio. With his knowledge of mining, Adam had him do some of the work for him with the gold mines as well. Soon they were able to expand that operation as well when one of Adam’s original mines was found to have a large vein of gold rich quartz that expanded exponentially as they mined deeper into the mountain.

Adam bought a small ranch too which they used almost as a vacation getaway. He hired the former owners to manage the ranch, and they were very happy to do so as it gave them a steady income without the risks of ownership. There were several houses on the property and he allowed the family to use the larger of them, and they used one of the smaller ones when they visited. Another was used to house the hired Abo hands. On occasion, Rex and Martha or Scouser enjoyed a short respite at the ranch too.

As the majority owner of all properties, Adam paid a fair wage and treated all of his employees with respect. Scouser acted as his eyes and ears with the employees and brought all complaints to him so he could deal with issues before they became serious. So Adam and Lyn were very concerned one evening as Scouser said he had found out some disturbing news. They expected it had something to do with one of their businesses but were shocked when he told them that Maxwell had escaped. He had been on a crew repairing a road damaged by an avalanche of mud and boulders after some torrential rains. Maxwell had assaulted a guard, seized his weapon, and shot several guards before escaping. It was assumed he had headed into the outback with the guard’s horse and supplies. No one had seen him since. If and when he was captured, he would face additional charges of assaulting a guard, attempted murder of two guards, and escape.

Within a few weeks, everyone became aware of the general vicinity of Maxwell even if his exact location was unknown. He became a bushranger but not one of the ‘currency lads’ of folklore. No, he was a vicious and murderous outlaw who assaulted women and killed men for their valuables. Unlike the others, he operated alone. He would terrorize an area for a brief time and then things would be quiet for weeks or even months if he had acquired enough loot. Suddenly he would be back and more would suffer at his hands. The police forces from Melbourne to Brisbane increased their efforts to catch him, but as they closed in on him in one area, he would move to another. Every time there was another episode in the papers, Lyn would shudder. Adam would notice but there was nothing he could do about the man’s reign of terror.

While this unpleasant news about Maxwell had the country’s attention, at Adam’s home the attention was all on Lyn’s growing stomach. Martha said that twins did seem to run in the family even though she had not had any, she had miscarried twins once. This led to conjecture as to whether Lyn could be carrying twins but the doctor nixed the thought. He said she just looked so large because the baby was normal size but Lyn had a small figure. Despite that, he said he thought the delivery would be fine because her hips were larger and he thought the birth canal would be adequate. Lyn was also a strong, young, and healthy woman. But Adam had never thought to worry about such things until the doctor mentioned it. Then all he could worry about was that he might lose Lyn and be alone like his father had been with a child to raise. His nights were plagued with worry as his wife slept next to him. She gained weight and he lost weight. On one sleepless night he wrote a letter to his family to let them know where he was and that he was married. He planned to write another once his child was born. Then he would wait to see if he got an answer.

As Lyn found it harder and harder to work, they hired a Chinese cook/housekeeper who had lost all his family in the anti-Chinese riot in Sydney several years before. As a Chinese man, work was extremely hard to find, and he was destitute when Luke found him combing through restaurant garbage for food. He brought him home because he knew the Cartwrights would help the man. When they met him, Adam asked if he could cook and clean. What amazed everyone was that he asked in Cantonese so then he had to explain about Hop Sing. To his query, Kim smiled and nodded. So Adam hired him to help out until the baby was born although he would actually continue in their employ for many years.

As Lyn got close to her expected delivery time, Adam found her in tears one day as he arrived home.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Is it time?”

“Adam, stop! No. I just wanted to get the nursery ready and have everything set before the baby, and I just can’t do it. My legs and my feet hurt if I stand too long, and my back has been aching for a month with no relief.”

Lyn sighed deeply and dropped her head on the pillow she was holding and whimpered. She was so sad, and Adam was overwhelmed with guilt. He had been trying to get everything organized in his various business ventures so he could be at home once the baby was born. He had spent very long days going on several short trips and spending the other days in his offices for ten to twelve hours or more. He had been doing what he thought he needed to do but had not asked Lyn what she wanted. He needed to stop focusing so much on himself and start focusing on his wife and the baby who would soon arrive.

“I’ll stay home. I’ll finish the nursery just the way you want it. Scouser and Luke can help me.”

“You can’t sew. The curtains and the bedding for the crib and the cradle aren’t done.”

“I’ll ask your mother to help and get a seamstress if I have to. You know your mama wants to help. What else needs to be done?”

“The room still needs to be painted. I need to stock up on supplies for the baby. We need diapers and gowns. I don’t even have a cradle for the baby yet.”

“I can take care of all of that. Now, why didn’t you tell me your back was hurting you that much?”

“You were so busy I didn’t want to bother you.”

“You are my wife and I love you. You are having our baby, and I need to help as much as I can. I should have seen that you needed help, but if I am ever so stupid again in the future, promise me you will tell me?”

Lyn looked at him and saw the sincerity in his face. He had meant every word he said. She smiled and nodded.

“Now, upstairs to bed. I will massage those muscles in your back, and then you will rest while I have Scouser and Luke run some errands so we can get busy on those tasks. What color paint do you want for the nursery?”

Lyn told him what she had already purchased which included the paint and then what other items they would need. Adam made a list, and then escorted her up the stairs for a long relaxing back massage before he headed out to get to work on her list.

The next day, Adam and Scouser painted the nursery before Adam headed to town to buy materials and tools to build a cradle. His child was going to have a family heirloom. First though he stopped by and talked to Martha about the sewing. By the time he got home, Martha was there with friends and they were busy chatting with Lyn and sewing. He got to work out in the tack room making the cradle. By the end of the day, the cradle was assembled. He needed to finish it, but they had a cradle for their child whenever the time came which was a lot sooner than he expected.

The following day, Adam headed to the stable after breakfast to finish the cradle. He had it ready to go and drying in just two hours. He had left Lyn in bed as she had been very tired that morning so he headed inside to see how she was doing. When he got to their bedroom, she was standing next to the bed and looked up at him as he entered.

“My water broke!”

“Don’t move. Will you be all right for a moment?”

When she nodded yes, he ran outside to tell Scouser to go for the doctor and Rex and Martha. Then he went into the kitchen to tell Kim to get things ready, and the man seemed to know what was needed and got to work immediately. Bounding up the stairs, Adam was back in the room with towels and a pitcher of water in a short time. He helped Lyn clean up and get into a clean gown. He placed several sheets on the bed and laid two towels in the middle of the bed which is one thing Kim had told him to do. After helping Lyn to lay down on the bed, he pulled a clean sheet over her and sat by her side. She was having mild contractions but nothing to be frightened about, yet.

Within an hour, Lyn’s parents arrived and Martha was relieved to see how well things had been prepared. Once the doctor was there and examined Lyn, he declared that the delivery was probably many hours away and he left for a time to attend to another patient. By the time he returned, Lyn was well into delivery of the baby. The doctor and Martha sent Adam from the room as his nervousness was being transmitted to Lyn. So he sat downstairs with Rex and Scouser, and they talked of many things but worried about Lyn the whole time. By late afternoon, there was the sound of a baby crying and Adam stood and stared at the stairs. As soon as he heard the door open upstairs, he was on his way up. He entered the bedroom to see an exhausted Lyn holding a blanket wrapped bundle. She tipped the baby toward Adam so he could see the baby’s face.

“Meet your son, Adam. Here’s Adam Cartwright the second, hopefully to continue to add to a long line of men with that wonderful name.”

“He’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. How are you feeling?”

“Exhausted and gloriously happy.”

Adam went to stand at the top of the stairs and invited Lyn’s family up to see the baby. Once they were in the bedroom, he introduced his son.

“What are you going to call him, mate? We can’t have two Adams around. Too confusing.”

“Lyn and I discussed calling him AC.”

“Perfect, mate, just the right name for an Australian lad.”

Lyn’s parents could not have been happier it seemed. They had a healthy grandchild, and their daughter was happily married to the father of her child. Life was very good.

*****

Chapter 9

Over the next three years, Adam and Lyn prospered but there wasn’t another baby. Lyn worried about it sometimes at night after they made love. She sent a silent prayer to heaven each time asking that this time she could have conceived another child, but it wasn’t successful. Their life was full though with AC who was an intelligent and clever child with a inner magnet for mischief it seemed and an infectious giggle that ignited chuckles in anyone who heard him. More than once, Adam told Lyn that somehow AC had gotten some of Joe’s traits, but she said that AC was just like his father who also had an infectious smile and laugh when he chose to use them.

In fact Adam talked about his family in the United States often, but it always elicited some sadness from him. He had sent a letter after AC was born letting his family know but had never received a reply nor had he received a reply to his previous letter about their marriage. He was saddened to think that there was so little caring that they wouldn’t even send a letter. He consoled himself with the idea that perhaps their letter had been lost as mail to and from Australia was unreliable. Lyn could picture all the members of the family as well as their home except she could not envision something as green as Adam described it. It sounded like paradise so she assumed it was his idealized memory of his home.

Like Lyn, Adam was extraordinarily proud of his son AC. The boy was naturally agile and fast. He was a quick learner as well and by age three was starting to read some words. Each night his parents read to him sometimes for an hour or more before he went to bed, and he would follow along watching the pages as they read until he began recognizing some words. He was far too adventurous for his own good whether in the house or otherwise but Bush and Banger made him their prime candidate in need of protection. Often one or both parents would hear him yelling only to find him bracketed between the two dogs who were preventing him from doing something he should not whether it was trying to touch the hot stove or sneaking out of the house without a parent.

“Papa, Mama, help me, Papa, Mama, help.”

AC and Adam had been in town to pick up supplies, and Adam was finishing putting the horses in the stable when he heard AC’s cries. Lyn had let the dogs out when she heard Adam drive the wagon in, and he came outside to see the two dogs pushing and snarling at AC apparently trying to drive him toward the house. Adam ran to protect his son and almost stepped on a brown snake. He stopped before he got too close but could have been bitten except Luke had come running too and fired and killed the snake. What they saw next nearly made their hearts stop. There were two more brown snakes and two spotted black snakes between them and AC who was still being herded to the house by the dogs. When Lyn came out of the house, Adam yelled at her to grab AC and get inside. By the tone of his voice, she knew not to ask nor question and she grabbed AC and ran for the house.

Adam carefully walked backwards out of range of any potential snake-bites. He and Luke then carefully coordinated their movements and shot all four venomous snakes. Scouser rode into the yard at a breakneck pace and Adam held up a hand to halt him before he rode over the remains of the snakes so that there would be no accidental injury if any one of the snakes wasn’t completely dead. Scouser was relieved to see it was Luke and Adam doing the shooting because as he rode up the road and drive, it had sounded like the house was under siege.

“I patrol the property on a regular basis, Mr. Cartwright. I have no idea how this many snakes could possibly be here.”

“I know, Luke, I know. If it had been one or two, I would have said that you needed to improve your walkabouts of the property, but this is something far more sinister I am afraid.”

The three men heard screams from the house then and raced to it as Lyn came outside with AC. They could hear growling dogs inside.

“There’s a brown snake in the kitchen!”

Luke and Scouser had much more experience with these snakes than Adam did so they told him to stay put, and they would take care of it. Luke came out of the stable with a long pole that had a wire loop on the end with a handle on the other end that looked like a pistol grip. Luke and Scouser went inside and soon came out with another snake. Luke held it on the ground and Scouser shot the head off. Then they two men worked to remove the remains of the dead snakes.

The three men then did a careful search of the house looking in cupboards, closets, and dressers and found nothing amiss except that someone had forced open the window in the washroom which was apparently how the snake had been introduced into the house. The dogs stood protectively outside with the family until all was declared safe in the house. It was clear that a fatal result was expected from such an assault. As they entered the house, a man left the grove near the road clearly disappointed that his diabolical plan had not left any casualties. He decided he would have to plan more thoroughly in the future.

Scouser, Luke, Adam, and the dogs made a thorough search of the property once Lyn and AC had calmed enough to be left alone in the house. They found no more snakes but Adam found the tracks of a man leading from and then back to the grove. On the other side of the grove, he found the tracks of the horse the man had used as well as a crate and leather bags which had apparently housed the snakes. Adam ordered Luke to cut those trees down.

“Bloke, aren’t you going too far now with telling Luke to cut these trees down?”

“They can be used just like today to conceal someone who plans on attacking the property. We could also be ambushed here by someone lying in wait. Scouser, you rode through here today when he had to have been in these trees. Did you see anything?”

“No, of course not or I would have stopped. Oh, all right then, mate, I get your point.”

“Do you have any native friends who might like to work here for a while? They know this land better than anyone, and they often move about at night so they could patrol the property when the rest of us are sleeping. I will pay them good wages and they will have a place to sleep and good food.” Adam had recently learned that Abo was an offensive term but didn’t know what else to call them except natives, and Scouser knew whom he meant.

“I’m sure I can find a few. I’ll find some help tomorrow and have them out here by day’s end. Where will they sleep?”

“For now, I’ll put two bunks in the tack room. I’ll add a room to the cottage with a separate entrance as soon as I can.”

“Any idea who might want to do this to you?”

“There’s only one enemy I have like that in this country.”

“Maxwell! You think it’s Maxwell?”

“Don’t say anything to Lyn, but yes I do. When you’re in Sydney tomorrow, tell the police what happened and mention my suspicion of Maxwell. See what they say.”

The three men went to the house for dinner. They tried to keep the conversation light and to keep AC relaxed, but once he went to bed, the conversation turned to what had happened.

“What about tonight? What if Maxwell tries something tonight?”

“Lyn, how did you know?”

“It’s not too hard to figure out. You have made only one enemy since you came here and that’s because you’re with me. He hates me as we all know, so who else could it have been?”

“Sissie, we’re going to put some lanterns out tonight away from the buildings. Then the three of us are going to take turns with two of us on watch at all times. First me and Adam until eleven, then Luke and Adam until two in the morning, and then me and Luke until dawn.”

“Lyn, can you shoot?”

Scouser snickered, and Lyn smirked.

“Only since I was about seven years old. I lived in a neighborhood where guns were common. Our father wanted both of us to learn how to use a gun safely, so when Scouser was old enough to learn, I was included in the lessons. I haven’t done much shooting lately, but I will if I have to do it.”

Adam went in the study and came out with a .31 caliber pocket pistol with a five shot chambered cylinder. He carried it in his valise when he traveled and in his business case when he was in town. He handed it to Lyn and asked if she would be able to keep it with her as she went about her work during the day. She took it from him, checked to see that it was loaded and that the cylinder under the hammer was empty, and dropped it into her skirt pocket where it disappeared from view.

“Perfect!”

“There are boxes of ammunition for it on the top shelf in the study in the metal box. Here’s the key. You can put that box wherever you think it will be most convenient for you.”

“I’m going to carry some ammunition in my other pocket. No one tries to kill my son and gets away with it.”

Adam and Scouser were shocked. They had no idea that she had drawn the same conclusion they had. Maxwell had targeted their son because he was the most likely to be bitten and therefore the most likely to die. Now Adam understood better the steak and egg dinner the dogs had had. It was a reward for saving AC’s life.

Adoni and Balun arrived late the next day with Scouser. They were introduced to the family and shown to the tack room. Adam apologized for the quarters in the stable and said he would soon have a room built for them. He had already had lumber and materials delivered that day. What he didn’t use for building could be stored and used for maintenance and repairs.

“Bonza. We’ll protect your ankle biter and the missus. You just make sure we have enough to eat and money to send to our families, and we’ll get on handsomely.”

“Adoni worked for a family where the missus made him her personal improvement project. He dragged me into it so we speak as well or better than a lot of you Aussies.”

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, Scouser told us our duties, and we are happy with the arrangement. At times, if we can catch or shoot game, we would like to be able to cook out here for ourselves. Otherwise we would be pleased to eat what your cook prepares. And don’t worry about the tack room. We know you are doing your best, and we’ve slept in a lot worse places. We’ll help you build the addition.”

Everything was quiet for months until one night when Luke was knocking at the door.

“Mr. Cartwright, you need to come out to the stable. Balun and Adoni found a problem.”

Scouser was downstairs and was going to come with them when Luke halted him in his tracks.

“Keep a gun handy, Scouser, and get some lanterns out in back of the house.”

Luke walked Adam to the back of the stable, but the smell of coal oil told him what the issue was long before they got there. Adoni was there and explained that they had smelled the odor while out patrolling and had found this. They had heard someone running away because he had probably seen the lantern that Balun had lit. Adam asked where Balun was and Adoni said he was headed the long way around to the back of the house to see if the intruder was moving in that direction as well. Then he excused himself to go help and quickly melted away in to the darkness.

“Well, what was the second part of the plan do you think? It wasn’t the stable that was the target. That was a diversion. What’s the real target?”

Luke suddenly tackled Adam as bullets peppered the stable wall behind them. Luke doused the lantern. He had seen some movement with peripheral vision and just assumed it was bad and acted. Based on the number of shots, he had probably just saved Adam’s life and perhaps his own.

“Thank you. Now we know the target.”

Luke doused the lantern, and then Luke and Adam both ran in the direction from which the shots had come. Without the lantern to illuminate a target, their attacker was at a disadvantage because there were two of them and they knew the property. They got to about fifty feet of him when he began to ride off. Adam fired and so did Luke but it wasn’t probable that they had hit him in the darkness. The next day they found a rifle near the road with blood on it. One of them must have hit his gun hand somehow and forced him to drop his weapon. A large M had been engraved in the stock. They would hand it over to the police and everyone would know who the attacker was. Adam put up a ten thousand dollar bounty to whomever brought Maxwell to the police and he did not specify the condition he was to be in.

Once again, their stalker had been thwarted. He had no idea that Adam had added more men to his security. He would need to plan something away from the house. It was too dangerous to try anything there with the dogs and the men on watch. Meanwhile, he would have to find somewhere to convalesce as his right forearm was badly damaged. Besides the pain, he might never be able to use that arm to shoot again which would be one more reason to do something about the Cartwrights. He wanted to win this one so even in great pain, he was trying to think of what he could do next.

*****

Chapter 10

Lyn awoke late the next night to find that she was alone in the bed. She had rolled over expecting to be able to spoon and get warm but Adam’s side of the bed was cold. He must have been up for a while. She went in search of him and found him seated in the study staring out the window at the darkness. Bush and Banger were curled at his feet.

“Well, I would ask you if you couldn’t sleep but the answer is all too obvious. So what specifically are you thinking about because it must have to do with this Maxwell mess we are in.”

“Violence. It seems to be everywhere.”

“Yes, luv, there are risks in life. There are dangers. And some of those are other men.”

“One of the reasons I was unhappy on the Ponderosa was the level of violence required to live there. I thought that in more ‘civilized’ environs, there would be less. There isn’t. It is just of a different variety. Maxwell does not stand to gain from harming any of us. I don’t understand him at all. Why does he persist? I thought with the peace we had for a time, he had given up, but these latest attacks show planning and deliberate effort.”

“Do you think of returning to Nevada? I know Mum is worried that you’re going to leave here and take me and AC away from her.”

“To be honest, I do think of doing that sometimes. But I won’t so you can reassure her I would not divide her family. Here I have all that I need. I have a loving wife and son, your family, friends, our businesses, and our home. I don’t think there is anything that can push me away from the treasures I have here. I miss my father and brothers, but I have to wonder if they miss me.”

“They may not have gotten your letters.”

“I know. It’s funny because that is the only thing that gives me any comfort in this situation. In the newspapers I get, I read about what is happening there and it seems all so detached.”

“Let’s go back to bed, luv. There’s only a couple of hours until dawn.”

“I don’t think I can sleep.”

“Who said anything about sleep.”

Adam could only shake his head at his wife. In the midst of anything, her good humor held up. He suddenly realized how much she complemented him and made him whole. He didn’t get in those dark places here that could last weeks or even months back on the Ponderosa making everyone around him as miserable as he was sometimes. He couldn’t because she wouldn’t let him. He wrapped his arms around Lyn whispered ‘thank you’ in her ear.

“What was that for?”

“Just for being you. I love you and I can’t imagine living without you. Let’s go up to bed.”

The next Sunday after church services, Rex announced that he and Martha would be taking an extended break out at the ranch if it was all right with Adam and Lyn.

“Scouser and Luke will see to the business. I’m selling the house. I’m retiring. We want to have some time to enjoy ourselves and relax. We’re even considering a trip to visit Martha’s folks. My dear parents have passed on, and hers are getting up there, so we may do it. We may get a little place here so we can come for extended visits. I can’t see staying out on the ranch and not seeing my daughter and my grandson.”

“You’ve thought this all through then? I suppose I need to pay Adoni and Balun more so they can take over the caretaker duties here if Luke is going to be helping Scouser. So you’re ready to hand over the business to your son?”

“Yes, Adam, it’s time.”

“And I know my husband well. If we don’t get far enough away, he’ll be wanting to head down to the docks to see how things are going. So a nice stay out in the country will do the trick. I will miss all of you so much though.”

“Well, we have room for another small cottage on the property here if you wouldn’t mind being so close when you visit. Until then, we still have one bedroom that is unused so you’re welcome to stay here anytime.”

Martha threw her arms around Adam and hugged him. He was embarrassed by her action, and Lyn started laughing.

“For a man who loves his family so, you have a hard time showing it.”

That got the eyebrow glower and soon everyone was laughing including Adam. They went to the house with all the family to have a last big day with all the family together before Rex and Martha took their extended vacation at the ranch.

Over the next year, a routine was established for the many visits that the families had to Sydney and to the ranch. As Adam and Lyn’s fifth wedding anniversary approached though, they were ready to break the routine. They planned a large party to celebrate. Instead of going to the ranch, everyone would be coming to their house. On the morning of the party, Lyn and Adam woke at dawn and started discussing what they needed to do yet before any guests arrived.

“There’s just one more thing I want to do this morning.”

“Wasn’t last night enough, woman?” was delivered with a broad grin and a wink.

“Yes, luv, that was wonderful, but you were so tired and fell asleep afterwards, there was one thing I didn’t get to do.”

“Oh, and what was that, and am I going to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the rest last night?”

“Yes, luv, I think you will. In about seven months, there’s going to be another baby in the house.”

“Are you sure?”

“I waited this long to tell you because I wanted to be sure. This week, I’m sure.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Lyn and kissed her soundly.

“Can we tell your parents and Scouser today at the party?”

“Mum asked me on their last visit if I was with child, and I said maybe so they probably already know. And we don’t want to tell Scouser when he might have too much to drink because then everyone will hear about it. We’ll tell him tomorrow.”

Adam and Lyn got up then to get busy with preparations. Soon after breakfast, Scouser and Luke headed into town to pick up items that had been ordered for the day. Within an hour which was less time than expected by far, Scouser and Luke came racing along the drive. After Scouser pulled the team to a halt, he raced to Lyn.

“Sissie, Sissie, there’s terrible news. Terrible.”

“Mikey, what is it? What’s wrong? Oh no, Papa and Mum?”

“A wildfire. The ranch buildings are all gone. They’re gone.”

Brother and sister clung to each other. Adam stood by as tears started to roll. Lyn looked up at him and left her brother’s embrace to go to her husband. Soon all three were holding each other. The tragedy was compounded when they learned later that day that there were no bodies but only fragments of bone. The fire had burned so hotly and the wooden buildings had been funeral pyres. Plans for a party were altered to planning for a funeral as the party was cancelled. Adam and Lyn had to tell AC and the little boy was inconsolable and wouldn’t leave his father’s side for days. The three of them slept together, ate together, and stayed together for two days as their grief was only assuaged by contact with the others.

Scouser left and went to the ranch to do what he could to find something to bury. It was something he said he had to do. He brought back a box containing what he said had to be the bones of their parents which was all they had to bury. There wasn’t much there. The fire had been intense, too intense. The authorities believed that the fire had been deliberately set, and that coal oil had been applied to the walls of the buildings. There seemed to be oily residue around the foundation of the buildings. It wasn’t the season for such fires, and there had been no storms with lightning that could have ignited one.

At a time when Lyn and Adam should have been the happiest, they were burdened by great sorrow. It only grew worse when on a mine inspection trip, Scouser was lost in a mine cave-in. The cave-in was inexplicable too in a mine that was carefully shored and without a history of instability. So much of the mine collapsed that again there was no way to retrieve a body. Adam didn’t have to tell Lyn that Maxwell was the likely suspect again. She knew. That evil man’s obsession with her and with her family had done so much harm already.

Adam began to fear for his wife’s health and that of the baby. AC also was mired in sorrow. It took months for them to begin to recover and only because Adam was relentless in getting them to participate in normal activities and eat well. He was desperate to save what was left of his family. As the expected delivery date for the baby neared, Lyn started to get excited about a new life and managed to transfer that excitement to AC. Finally the three of them started to function as a family again. But Adam and Lyn knew that danger was still out there and could never fully relax.

The miracle that was Elizabeth Martha Cartwright arrived with less trouble than her brother. Both parents were now experienced, and the doctor had assured them that the smaller size of this baby would mean less trouble in delivery. Beth was soon happily suckling at her mother’s breast after less hours of labor than Lyn had endured with AC. Adam sat on the edge of the bed with AC standing next to him.

“Why is Beth doing that?”

“For the next few months, that is how she will eat. Milk comes out of your mother’s breast and feeds the baby.”

AC had a horrified expression on his face.

“I didn’t do that, did I?”

“Yes, sweetie, you did. And you got teeth a lot sooner than I liked too.”

“Lyn, you’re embarrassing him.”

“Papa, why do you touch Mama’s breasts? I see you sometimes, and you do that. Why”

Adam blushed then, and Lyn laughed so hard she dislodged Beth from her nipple which upset the infant. She rearranged the baby and got her back to suckling.

“Now who’s embarrassing whom?”

“I guess I will have to be a lot more careful in what I do. AC, Mama will find a way to explain that I’m sure. You’ll just have to ask again in a few days.”

Adam smirked, and before Lyn could retaliate, he took AC’s hand and led him from the room.

All he heard as he left was Lyn’s parting salvo.

“It’s a father’s job to explain the birds and the bees to his son!”

There was joy and fun in the house again.

*****

Chapter 11

Beth was as calm as AC had been active as a baby except that she cried a lot. Usually at night as she lay in her cradle, she would start to whimper and then cry. Holding her and rocking her helped but there were episodes of crying throughout the day and night. During the day, the crying was less but still there.

Lyn and Adam didn’t know what to do as people they asked simply said the baby had the colic which was an all encompassing term from everything from stomach problems that led to death to sulking to being a fussy baby and all sorts of variants among all those. No one could tell them what to do. The doctor said she was healthy but had the …, and they filled in ‘colic’ because they knew that is what he would say. Then he looked at them as if they were naïve, and overprotective parents and said she would grow out of it.

Sleep deprived parents were what they were, and they had to work out a schedule so that they could get enough rest. Lyn would feed her and put her to bed. Adam got up with her when she cried and rocked and sang to her until that wasn’t enough and then he would wake Lyn who would feed her and put her back in her cradle.

“I wish Mum was here. I just know she would have some idea what to do. I find it so hard to believe she’s gone.”

“Yes, the funeral and the grave just don’t seem to be real. I know what you mean. It’s even harder to believe that Scouser isn’t going to come bounding down those stairs demanding to know what’s for breakfast and asking for a lot of it. He reminded me so much of my brother Hoss.”

“You really miss Hoss, don’t you?”

“Yes, more than anyone. He wasn’t just my brother. He was my best friend. A lot like Scouser was. I miss him almost as much as you do, I think.”

“Perhaps we should think about visiting Nevada or even moving there to be with your family?”

Adam looked at her with such love and longing, Lyn knew that he had been waiting to see if she would ever open that door. Once open, he pursued it. He needed to convince Lyn but he also needed to convince himself that it was the right thing to do.

“It is beautiful there with the lake, the mountains, and the pines. There aren’t any sharks in the lake either so it’s safe to go swimming. Very few snakes to worry about especially higher up. It does get cold and there’s a lot of snow during some of the winters.”

“I’ve only seen snow once and that was on a trip with Papa when we were in Melbourne for business. He took me to the mountain tops when there was snow. It was beautiful.”

“I’ve traveled three times by sea now. It can be dangerous. I thought I would like the sea but after the first trip, it was relaxing to watch the ocean but not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. The best trip was the first one when I went east to school. As the ship passed Baja California, there were whales breaching with their calves. One of the most glorious sights I’ve ever seen. But I worry about the possibility of storms. We would have to travel outside of the typhoon season. There’s no guarantee there won’t be storms but the risk would be less.”

“You have been thinking about this a lot haven’t you.”

“Yes, in fact, ever since the attack on you. I know it was a long time ago but seeing you hurt made me want to take you away from here. I couldn’t because your family was here.”

“And now you and the children are my family. What would we do about our property here?”

“I won’t sell the house. Your parents are buried here. I won’t sell the mine that is Scouser’s grave either. In fact there is no reason to sell the mines, the ranch, or this property. They can all be managed by someone, and we could send instructions as needed. My banking investments and the newspaper interest would have to be sold. I have to be present for meetings and that wouldn’t be possible. The lumber and timber operations probably would have to be sold too. There just aren’t enough people here with expertise in that field that I would feel comfortable with a manager.”

“What about the import/export business my father built?”

“There’s a lot of rough competition out there. Without Scouser’s skills, the business isn’t seeing as much of a profit now anyway. I was going to talk to you about selling it whether we are gone or not. I know it might be hard to do, but it would be worse to let it fail and lose it that way.”

“Today in the city, why don’t you see what kind of offers you can get for the businesses and investments you want to sell.”

AC who was proving himself to be very observant and a bit of an eavesdropper as well, asked what Nevada was. That clued his parents in that he had been listening to their conversation. Adam and Lyn both knew they needed to be careful what they said or did around their young son. He didn’t miss anything, and had an unfortunate habit of repeating what he learned at some particularly inopportune times as well. So Adam told him Nevada was where he had lived, and where his other grandfather and other uncles lived.

“Will we see whales on our trip?”

“So you were listening to the whole conversation. You know we have talked about that.”

“But if it was a private conversation, why didn’t you go in the study like you do sometimes and close the door so you can yell at each other?”

Lyn choked back a laugh at Adam’s expression and then hurriedly mentioned that she had something to do in the kitchen. Adam explained that they might be traveling to Nevada and that it could be a visit or they could make it their home. They would decide after they were there.

“Do you think they don’t want you any more?”

Lyn had walked back in and thought to herself, wow, out of the mouths of babes sometimes the truth was truly revealed. Adam looked at her and then at AC.

“We’ll find that out if we go.”

“Will I be able to shoot a puma, see leprechauns, meet King Arthur, and break mustangs? Is Uncle Hoss really as big as Scouser? Do you think Uncle Joe is still Little? Grandpa’s not going to give me a tanning in the barn, is he?”

Apparently AC had listened well to the stories Adam had told about the Ponderosa. Adam looked over at Lyn and she smiled and nodded. They were going to Nevada.

Adam and his family took two cabins on a new schooner heading to San Francisco. It was one of the fastest ships making trips between the United States and Australia. It would mean a shorter voyage and therefore less risk. Adam and AC occupied one cabin and Lyn and Beth the other. Adam slipped across the corridor to Lyn’s cabin a few times when AC was asleep. He would have liked to stay the night each time but couldn’t. They only had those short interludes together.

On the ship, Adam had to be with AC at all times because he was fast, curious, and had virtually no fear. He did mind his father though so as long as Adam was by his side, he was safe. Being busy with AC helped because it gave him less time to worry. Lyn could see how he grew more pensive and taciturn as they neared San Francisco. Even the sight of whales breaching and blowing did little to alter his mood. She knew if she would have been able to spend more time with him, she could have deflected some of that introspection and guilt that he felt for anything that had gone wrong in his life. Instead, she watched as he grew more worried.

The only thing Lyn could tease Adam about was his beard. With AC in the cabin and the rolling of the ship in the waves, Adam found it very difficult to shave so he stopped. At first the plan was that he would shave it off in San Francisco, but Lyn could see that he liked himself with a beard. She thought he looked quite distinguished but very much missed the cleft chin and the dimples. As they stood on deck and sailed into San Francisco Bay, Lyn had to ask.

“How does it make you feel to see your homeland after more than five years away?”

“A little uneasy. But there’s also a feeling of being where I belong.”

Lyn took his arm as he stared. She could only hope that things would work out for them. Then she headed downstairs to wake the sleeping children and get them dressed for their arrival in a new land.

*****

Chapter 12

Hoss and Joe were in the mercantile and would have already left except there was a new shipment of sweets, and Hoss couldn’t make up his mind which ones to buy. Joe was anxious to go visit Alice. She had agreed to marry him, and he tried to spend as much time as possible with her.

“Come on, Hoss, just take one of each. It’s what you want to do anyway.”

“Allrighty then, that’s what I’m gonna do. Put one of each of these in a bag for me please.”

Candy walked into the store then and handed an envelope to Joe.

“Andy over at the International House said that he needed to deliver this to the Ponderosa, and I said that all of you were in town so he asked me to give it to you. Says it’s from a man who rented the big suite there.”

“What is it, Joe?”

“Well as soon as I open it, I’ll let you know.”

Candy and Hoss waited as Joe read.

Apparently, it’s from a mining interest in Australia, Black Mines, Ltd. It owns some mining interests around here and is interested in more. The owner wants to meet with us to discuss supplying timber square sets. He’s invited us to lunch tomorrow if we’re available. Says he wants you and me and Pa too. I wonder why that’s important.”

“Heck it’s a free lunch at the International. As soon as we can tell Pa, we can send a note back that we can make it.”

A dark haired, petite, and very pretty young lady walked in with a young son. Candy might have been interested, but she sported a sizeable wedding ring and had a son. She was obviously spoken for already. As they heard her talk though, they were intrigued. Her accent sounded a little British but different at the same time. Her son seemed to have unlimited questions most of which were ‘why’, but she answered every one of them although she spoke so quietly that they couldn’t understand most of her answers. About that time, Ben walked in and turned nearly white as a sheet as he saw the young boy.

“Pa, you all right? You aren’t going to faint or nothing, are ya?”

“No, no, it was just a surprise. That little boy over there looks just like Adam did at that age. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Pa, look at this. We got an invitation to lunch tomorrow. It’s Saturday, so there’s nothing much doing.”

Ben had to smile at his son’s enthusiasm. Add a meal to an invitation, and Hoss would be there. He continued to steal glances at the young boy and couldn’t get over the resemblance. As he heard the incessant questions, he had to smile. That little boy reminded him so much of Adam. Before he got maudlin though, he decided to get back to the business at hand. He read over the letter that Joe had.

“Yes, this looks fine. I wonder why he needs to meet with all three of us though. Well, it’s not a problem. Candy, can you let them know at the hotel that we will be there.”

“Yes sir, and then I’m heading over to see if there’s a gal at the Bucket o’Blood that would like to spend some time with a handsome cowboy. See you all later.”

“Hey Candy, if you find one, tell her I’m over here.”

“Sure, Joe, sure.”

Lyn Cartwright surreptitiously watched the three men. She knew who they were by the descriptions she had heard for years. When AC had wanted some new ‘American’ books, she had thought a trip to the mercantile would be fun. It had turned into something much more. So these were Adam’s brothers and his father. His father and big brother fit the description she had very well but the youngest had changed a lot. She would have to tell Adam that his youngest brother was turning gray and looked mature at least until he smiled. The rakish youth was still there. She heard him mention fiancée and that would be welcome information for her husband too. AC had picked out a few books and at the counter, begged for a candy treat. She let him pick a few and then asked the proprietor to add Adam’s favorite, butterscotch, to the bag. When she did that, Ben stared. It was all so amazing. If he thought about it too much though, his heart would break so he turned back to his sons and suggested it was time to head home if they planned to be back here tomorrow for lunch. There were some things they needed to get done.

“Pa, I’m going to see Alice. I’ll be home later.”

Ah, Lyn had another bit of information to tuck away for her husband. She had not meant to be a spy and collect information but was having fun doing it. She would make him pay for each and every item of intelligence though. She just had to decide what he needed to pay. Kisses would be a good start, but that was too easy. She would have to give it more thought. They wouldn’t talk about this in front of AC so she had hours to plot.

“Hey, Pa, Jamie might be a might upset not to be included. He’s a son too even if he got here a little later cause he’s adopted. Do you think it would be all right to bring him along?”

“Hoss, Jamie doesn’t need to attend business meetings. At his age, he would probably be bored anyway.”

Ooh, Lyn got one more bit of information as she was leaving. She walked across the street and entered the hotel. As the Cartwrights exited the mercantile and Joe and Hoss saw her enter the hotel, they both wondered if she was married to the man they were to meet the next day. If she was, the scenery at lunch might be very pleasant regardless of where they ate. The brothers looked at each other and smiled: on this, each knew what the other was thinking. They finished loading the wagon and then Hoss and Ben headed for home, and Joe rode to see Alice.

*****

Chapter 13

As was the routine for each meal, Adam and his family had their meal delivered to their hotel suite. After dinner, Adam helped AC read from his new books, and Lyn nursed Beth. She was a fussy baby but was content as any baby during and after being nursed. They would have about four hours of peace before the nightly assault of a crying unhappy infant. Adam got AC settled in the small bedroom of their suite and then joined his wife in their bedroom.

“Now you said you had some things to tell me but there would be a price. What are those things, and what is the price?”

“To start, every question requires a kiss in payment.”

“Hmmm, two questions, two kisses. I like this arrangement.”

Adam nuzzled her neck and kissed her twice.

“I saw your family at the mercantile. You need to make me an offer for more information.”

Adam started to caress his wife as he kissed her neck and then traced the line of her dress below her neck.

“How’s this?”

“Your father looks just like you described and Hoss too.”

Adam unbuttoned her dress and as the dress fell to the floor, he kissed her shoulders and slipped his hands under her chemise and pulled her into another deep kiss.

“But Joe is turning grey and he doesn’t look at all skinny.”

Adam grabbed the edges of the chemise and tugged it up her arms and over her head. Then he caressed her more and moved lower with his kisses.

“Joe is engaged to a woman named Alice.”

Adam slid his hands down her arms to her hips as he pressed his body into hers as he stood and moved to her lips for another long and passionate kiss.

“A man named Candy works for them.”

Adam slipped his fingers inside the waistband of her pantaloons and slid them to the floor never stopping the kisses he was trailing down her body.

“You have an adopted brother named Jamie.”

Adam stopped in surprise.

“Oh, don’t stop.”

“Is there any more?”

“Oh, sweet God Almighty, luv, I hope so! Please don’t stop now.”

Adam slipped his arm behind Lyn’s knees, picked her up, and gently laid her on the bed. Dropping his own clothing to the floor, he slid into the bed and wrapped his arms around his wife. He continued his caresses and covered her mouth with his so her screams wouldn’t wake the children. That had happened before especially on the ship, and he was one frustrated husband until the children could be coaxed back to sleep. As she kissed him passionately, he let her know just how happy he was with her and how much he wanted her. Later as they lay together in a relaxed embrace, they talked.

“Do you think your father can handle the shock of seeing you tomorrow? He looked a little pale when he saw AC. I think he recognized how much he looks like you.”

“No matter how I do it, it’s going to be a shock. But I want to see his face. I want to be able to read him. I need to know what he’s really feeling. If I’m not welcome, I need to know it. We can go back home then with no regrets.”

“How could he not welcome you? You are the most wonderful man I have ever known.”

“I think my father loved me, and he could be very compassionate and caring especially if I was hurt or in trouble. He worried about us if we were late or if there were threats or other issues hanging over our heads. But he was not an easy man to live with. I know I have told you stories about some of our confrontations especially the last ones. I need to know if anything has changed, and how.”

“Well, tomorrow we’ll know.”

Adam kissed her and pulled her into a tight embrace. He wasn’t sure he could sleep tonight, but with Lyn by his side, he could face anything. In the morning, they both looked a bit haggard. Adam had had trouble sleeping, and Beth had awakened repeatedly interrupting and shortening Lyn’s sleep as well.

*****

Chapter 14

Late the next morning, Adam sat in a chair by the window rocking Beth and singing all the lullabies that he could remember. A cool, soft breeze was blowing in and Beth was snuggling into the blanket Adam had wrapped around her. It was nearing time for lunch, and Beth needed to nap so that the babysitter they had hired would be able to watch over her. Outside, Joe stopped so suddenly that both Ben and Hoss bumped into him.

“What’s the matter, Joe? See something that scared you?”

“No, didn’t you hear that? It sounded like someone singing one of those songs that Adam said my mother taught to him, and it sounded like Adam’s voice too.”

Beth had finally succumbed to sleep so there were no more lullabies. Adam carefully stood and placed her gently into the cradle in the master bedroom. He pulled the window closed so that she would not be disturbed by any noise from outside. Down below, the three men listened but heard nothing. Joe shrugged and the three of them walked into the International. Upstairs Lyn walked out of AC’s room and asked Adam where their son was.

“I don’t know. While you were dressing, I was rocking Beth. Earlier AC said he was hungry. I hope he didn’t go downstairs on his own. I’ll go check.”

As Ben, Hoss, and Joe waited at the reception desk, they saw the little boy from the mercantile the day before. He was wandering about looking at everything. Ben was again struck by how much he looked like Adam. Then they heard a bellow that shocked all three of them.

“AC, come here right now.”

The little boy ran over to the tall, bearded man at the foot of the stairs who gave him a few swats on the behind. The little boy burst into tears, and the man gathered him in his arms as the boy hugged him around the neck and then wrapped his legs around the man’s waist as he stood. Ben started forward with Joe and Hoss right behind him.

“Adam?”

Adam looked behind him to see his family.

“Oh damn it to hell, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

“Papa, you said bad words.”

AC had leaned back and was regarding his father with a very serious expression.

“I know and I am sorry. You can tell your mama, and she’ll punish me. Is that all right with you?”

AC nodded and laid his head on his father’s shoulder again.

“Pa, Hoss, Joe, would you join me in my suite upstairs please?”

Adam turned and walked up the stairs. He could only hope that they were following him. If they didn’t, he would be heading back to Australia soon. If they did, they would talk, and he and Lyn would have some decisions to make. When they got to the suite, Adam opened the door and his family walked in behind him. Lyn looked up in surprise, and Adam shrugged and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I found AC in the lobby. My father and brothers were there too. I believe you saw each other yesterday so Lyn actually knows who you are. Pa, Hoss, Joe, this is my wife Evelyn but everyone calls her Lyn.”

“I am pleased to meet you. Adam, I’ll take AC into our bedroom until the sitter arrives.”

With that, Lyn took AC’s hand and walked to their bedroom tugging at her son as he was half turned and staring at the three men with his father.

“Mama, Papa said some bad words.”

“And you think I should punish him?”

AC nodded and Lyn quietly closed the bedroom door.

“Adam, we thought you were dead. It’s been six years and no word from you for over five.”

Adam raised his eyebrows and smirked as only he could but there was a hint of a smile too.

“Sorry if it disappoints you, Joe, but I am quite well.”

“Adam, we hired detectives and they said they couldn’t find ya once ya reached Sydney. They checked every place you coulda stayed, and no one had heard of ya.”

“Hoss, I had malaria when I reached Sydney. Must have picked it up somewhere along the way. Probably in a stop in Panama. I was in a private home, Lyn’s parents’ home. They knew the captain and as I had little money on me, they thought me destitute and took pity on me. I spent months recuperating. I met Lyn, and we fell in love. We married soon after I was able to stand on my own two feet. I got the money that I had transferred to the Bank of Sydney and bought some mining property. Eventually the business got so big, I had to incorporate.”

“Son, why didn’t you write? I so wanted to beg your forgiveness, but I had no way to communicate with you.”

“I did write several letters. One when I left San Francisco, another when I finally was well although of course that was almost a year after I left. I tried one more time later but never received a reply. I thought you didn’t want to hear from me.”

“We only got that first letter.”

Adam sighed. If only he had known.

“Adam, what do you want here?”

“I wanted to know if I was still part of this family. I left due to my anger and frustration which was my choice, but I was also told to leave. Lyn’s parents died in a fire last year. They had retired to a small farm outside of Sydney and there was a wildfire in the night. They never had a chance. Her brother was caught in a cave-in at an opal mine a few months after that. They had moved from England to Australia and have no other relatives there. We have many friends but no family there. Do we have family here?”

Ben stepped toward Adam. “My son!” He reached out his arms and Adam stepped toward him. Soon all four men were hugging and a few tears were shed. There was knock on the door, and Adam answered it. He escorted the sitter to the bedroom, and Lyn and AC came out and shut the door behind them. Lyn gave Adam a questioning look.

“I think my family would like to meet our son.”

“What does AC stand for? Adam Cartwright?”

“the second. We’re hoping that AC will have a son someday too and pass along his father’s name.”

“Why Black Mining instead of Cartwright Mining?”

“We specialize in black opals and silver which is often black when it is discovered. There are also some other opal mines and a few gold mines but the focus remains on the black opals in the Blue Mountains and on silver here. There’s some mining for lead and zinc at those mines as well. There is also a timber and lumber operation in the Black Mountains as well as in the Blue Mountains.”

“So it ain’t got nothing to do with your liking black clothes?”

Lyn poked Adam in the side and grinned at Hoss’ question.

“He’ll tell you no, but I think there’s a little fibbing going on with that. He likes people to think he’s a mysterious Mr. Black. Got a little of that pirate imagination in him.”

“Papa’s a pirate?”

“No, but I think your grandpa might have known a few. Do you know which one of these men is your grandpa?”

Joe grinned as AC looked them over. AC ran over then and pointed at Joe which got everyone laughing.

“AC, do you remember what a grandpa is?”

AC shook his head negatively.

“Your grandpa is my father so he has to be older than me.”

AC looked again and walked over to Ben.

“Are you my grandpa?”

“Yes I am. I am proud to meet you.”

Ben knelt down in front of the little boy.

“I would love to have you come visit me.”

“Can Mama and Papa come too? Beth doesn’t have to come. She cries a lot.”

“You are all most welcome to come.”

Ben looked at Adam to see where he wanted to go with this.

“I’ll have lunch sent up here. We’ll talk and see how things go. We will bring AC out to the ranch at some point. There are a lot of things I would like to show him and Lyn.”

*****

Chapter 15

They ate lunch and it turned into hours of conversation as they were updated on each other’s lives. Adam knew a lot about what had happened in Virginia City and with his family because a newspaper in which he had invested had subscribed to all the papers in the region at his request. It took months for them to reach Australia, but through them, he knew a lot of what had happened in the previous six years. He asked about Candy and Jamie. Then Hoss had what he thought was a final question.

“I looked for you all over Virginia City the day you left. Where were you?”

“I stayed with Swede and Annie. They had always told me I was welcome anytime. As I rode that night, I was wondering where to go and thought of them.”

“Doggone it, I shoulda thought of that. Why didn’t you come back?”

“If I came back, I was only going to leave again. With the way things were, I thought it would just be hard on everyone. After a few weeks, I visited some friends in Sacramento and worked for a time on the street project there. Finally I ended up in San Francisco and saw that Edwin was due. I stayed there until he finished his run, and then booked passage to Australia. I thought if you were looking for me, you would have found me by then. I wasn’t hiding so I guessed you weren’t looking.”

At that, Ben hung his head. That was his fault, and he knew it.

“Hoss and Joe wanted to search right away. I said no. I thought you would get over being mad and come home. By the time I realized that I was wrong again, I thought it would be hopeless to try to find you with no clue as to where you went. Once we got the letter that you had shipped out, I thought there was no point to a search. Hoss and Joe did that search for you on their own after we got the letter.”

“You don’t need to feel too bad about that. Life has been very good to me for the last six years.”

AC had climbed onto Adam’s lap after lunch, and Adam reached over and took Lyn’s hand in his. By the smile she gave Adam and his in return, his father and brothers could see that he was a happy man. He hadn’t been happy before he left so maybe this had all been worth it. Adam looked over at Joe.

“And a little bird told me that you’re engaged?”

“Yes, Alice. If you come to church tomorrow, we’ll be there. Otherwise, anywhere, anytime, I would love to introduce you to her. I think you will really like her. And Hoss has a steady gal too: Laurie. I think he’s getting ready to pop the question.”

Not only Adam but Ben looked surprised by that statement.

“Aww, Joe, why’d ya hafta say that. I told ya to keep that a secret.”

“Well Hoss, I can keep a secret and so can Lyn. But AC knows now and he’s terrible at keeping a secret. You better ask her quick before he blurts it out.”

“Can’t ya tell him not to tell?”

“Oh, he doesn’t mean to tell. It just kinda pops out at the most inopportune moments. Reminds me of another hyperactive boy we both knew.”

“And he ain’t changed a bit as you can tell by him telling my secret just a minute ago!”

Beth squalling from the bedroom was Lyn’s signal to exit lunch. Lyn excused herself and sent the sitter out to Adam who handed her several silver dollars. Her eyes grew wide at the payment and she thanked him profusely before taking her leave. Adam agreed to meet the family at church the next morning. He asked if Jamie would be there and they assured him that he would. Adam picked up AC and walked with his father and brothers to the front of the hotel. There was no reason to hide any more.

As Adam stood there chatting with his family who were reluctant to leave, Roy Coffee crossed the street walking toward them. He had seen the tall, bearded, elegantly dressed man get off the stage the day before with a pretty little woman, a boy, and a baby. He had wondered if it could have been Adam, but had been distracted by a ruckus in the street. By the time he had returned, the family had gone to the hotel. Now seeing him standing with Ben, Hoss, and Joe, he knew it had to be Adam. Adam greeted him and invited him to dinner asking him to invite Paul too. Roy took his leave promising to be there at dinner with Paul. As Hoss and Joe started to walk away, Ben turned to Adam because there was something he needed to say and couldn’t wait any longer.

“Son, if you want to talk to me about anything even if it is to tell me to stay out of your affairs or make changes in what I say to you, please talk with me. I will promise to listen and not lose my temper no matter what it is. I know that my temper and not listening were big parts of the trouble between us. I have tried over the last six years to mend my ways with my sons. Please, give me another chance.”

Adam put his hand on his father’s shoulder and pursed his lips as he nodded affirmatively. They would both have to work on the relationship to mend the rifts, but this had been an excellent start.

His father and brother left then and Adam returned to his suite. A lot of people had seen the group together and rumors began to fly through Virginia City.

*****

Chapter 16

The next day, outside the church, Adam greeted a number of people he recognized. He introduced his family. By the time Ben and the others arrived, most knew that the wandering son had returned. What they didn’t know was all the rest: where he had been, what had he been doing, and how rich was he? There would be a lot more rumors before the day was done. Seeing his beautiful wife and hearing her unusual accent had a number of people guessing her origins and their story.

Dan DeQuille from the Territorial Enterprise was in church and heard a lot of the rumors. Some were good, some were bad, and some were outlandish as obviously those people had never known Adam. There was a good story here but Dan assumed Adam would be as reluctant as he had always been to share anything about his private life. Dan began thinking of possible ways to get him to relent at least a little.

In church, Adam and his family sat directly behind Ben and his other three sons with Alice next to Joe. Alice met Adam and his family. Alice noted some similarities in Joe and Adam, but Adam was a much more serious and intimidating man. He made her feel just a bit nervous, and she could see why some had told her that people usually didn’t challenge the oldest son. After meeting Adam and chatting briefly, Jamie decided he liked his new oldest brother, and when Adam started singing, Jamie turned around to stare. He had no idea anyone in his family could sing like that. What was even more amazing to Ben, Hoss, and Joe was the voice that sounded like an angel when a simple hymn was the choice for after the sermon. They turned expecting it to be Lyn but found it was AC. Some in church stopped singing and listened as Adam and his son continued to sing not realizing that they had become the center of attention. The deep resonant baritone and the boy’s clear and soaring soprano made the song sound truly heavenly. After the service ended, many people came up to the family to thank them for singing. Adam was embarrassed at the attention, but AC loved it and made sure to thank every one who praised him.

“Lyn, I told you he was more like Joe than me.”

“He has your singing talent, your charm, your intelligence, and your looks. He’s only five. Wait until he’s older before you worry too much.”

Adam had rented a carriage and told his family he would be out to the ranch house later but first wanted to show a few sights to Lyn and AC. He took them high on the hill over the lake to see that view. He brought them to meadows filled with wildflowers and then to his favorite fishing spot. He showed them the cabin he, Hoss, and their Pa had lived in before they built the house high above the lake. Then he drove to the hill above the ranch house and stopped and stared. He had sometimes thought he would never see this again and there it was. Lyn almost held her breath at the view. This was gorgeous, but she knew that Adam no longer wanted to live here. If he stayed, he would build them a house. It had been one thing he would not budge on for some things make an impression that couldn’t be changed. He would never again live in his father’s house. So even though he was the oldest, he would let one of his brothers have that distinction.

Once Adam drove into the yard, the family came out to greet them. Joe and Alice said hello again, and Alice and Lyn seemed to be taking to one another. Hoss introduced Laurie and AC’s parents held their breath but he said nothing so they relaxed. Griff and Candy were also there and were introduced. Hoss and Laurie took AC out to the barn to see some new puppies, and Adam was amazed to learn that his father now allowed dogs on the ranch. As Adam approached the house, Hop Sing came out to greet him with a bow. Adam walked closer and enveloped his old friend in a hug. Adam reached into his pocket and then pressed an amulet into Hop Sing’s hand. Hop Sing opened his hand to see a carved three inches tall jade dragon, the symbol of good luck, talisman of protection, and symbol of happiness to its owner. Hop Sing smiled at Adam and gave his thanks. Then he mumbled something in Chinese, but everyone could tell how happy he was as he walked back into his kitchen.

Beth started to make her unhappiness known and for the next hour, it grated on everyone’s nerves as the baby fussed. Finally, Hop Sing came out with a tiny dish of something yellowish white that looked like pudding. He asked Lyn to feed to the baby as he said it would help her tummy and she would stop crying. Lyn looked at Adam who nodded. He had seen so many of Hop Sing’s remedies work over the years that he was not going to object. Beth did not want to eat any so Hop Sing retrieved some honey and spread that over his concoction. Then Beth was more than willing to eat and soon the bowl was empty. Lyn waited for the fussing to resume, but Beth lay in her arms smiling instead.

“What was that magic food?”

“Baby have sore tummy. She not do well with milk. I feed her cultured milk pudding with herbs and spices. It help her eat. You do every time baby eat she no have sore tummy.”

“Hop Sing, I love you. You are a priceless gem.”

Hop Sing looked embarrassed and highly pleased as he returned to the kitchen. He brought out a small container and handed it to Lyn. She smiled and thanked him. Maybe they could all sleep through the night for the first time since Beth was born. Lyn asked if it was possible to take a ride on the Ponderosa sometime when they could arrange a sitter for the children. Alice volunteered to watch the children for them.

“Hon, do you know what you’re getting into. That’s a Cartwright boy! And it’s Adam’s son too.”

“Joseph, why should that matter?”

“Pa, I never told you, but when I used to get in trouble over and over again, Adam gave me some advice that helped a bit. He told me that my problem was getting caught. He said he did a lot of the same stuff but was smart enough not to get caught most of the time. So he said I should not only plan what I was going to do but how to get out of it without anyone knowing.”

Adam had the grace to blush a little at that even if the news was twenty years old, and Ben had to laugh.

“I suspected as much, but that boy of mine was always smarter than me. It was only experience that I could count on to catch him at anything.”

Hoss and Joe both knew that ‘boy’ had always grated on Adam’s nerves, and the stoic expression he adopted confirmed that it still did. Ben took note and resolved to remove that word from his vocabulary.

“I meant to say that son of mine.”

Adam nodded in appreciation of the gesture. He had asserted his independence, and his father had accepted it, but Ben knew he would have to be careful in what he said. Adam was still prickly about their parting and it would take time for him to relax around his father. As Adam drove his family back to town and stopped by the hotel to drop off his wife and children before returning the carriage to the livery stable, Dan walked down from the hotel porch where he had obviously been waiting.

“Welcome back to Virginia City, care to talk a bit?”

“No, actually, William, I do not.”

“How about if I talk then, and you listen. Not that many people know my name. William Wright is such a boring name.” And Dan swung himself up into the carriage without an invitation.

“On the other hand, Adam Cartwright fronting for a notorious criminal, Mr. Black, now that is interesting.”

With that, he had Adam’s attention.

“Oh yes, the rumors floating around town about you are quite juicy, well at least some of them. Gun for hire home now to retire and avoid family and friends seeking revenge. Home with a mysterious illness which has caused him to grow a beard to hide the telltale signs on his face. Taken up with a married woman and fleeing Australia to escape her husband’s wrath. Abandoned his wife who had given him a son and ran off with the nanny. She is a lot younger than you which has certainly sparked speculation. There’s a bunch of them out there. You may not like publicity but showing up after six years with a pretty wife and obvious wealth has caused an avalanche of gossip. You know I don’t lie. Now if you would like to calm the waters, you could give me a short and sweet synopsis of where you have been and what you have been doing for six years. I’ll publish my exclusive and the talk will die down. It can be in the paper in two days. That’s my offer.”

By then, they had exited the livery stable and were nearly back at the hotel.

“Meet me in my suite tomorrow morning at eight for breakfast. We’ll talk and then Lyn and I will give you an answer.”

Dan walked away whistling. He knew he had the story. Within three days, the rumor mill shut down. The real story was interesting but hardly the grist the gossip mill needed to keep producing. The only personal item in the story was about the beard.

“Why the beard?”

“I got tired of shaving twice a day.”

*****

Chapter 17

Over the next few weeks, Lyn agreed with Adam that they should live here. The more that she saw, the more she liked it. She spend time with Laurie and Alice and enjoyed that as well. Adam purchased a house in town as a temporary residence and they moved in there buying only essential furniture pieces. Ben signed over a section of the Ponderosa to Adam so that he could build a house on land that he owned. Adam already had plans prepared so in short order, a house was being constructed. Adam planned its construction in three phases.

Adam and Lyn bought two horses and paid for their care in the livery. They began taking rides out to the home site and to other areas. Adam showed her his favorite picnic spot by the lake, and they spent a romantic afternoon there. The sitter, Aubrey, enjoyed being with their children and didn’t seem to mind having to rock a baby to sleep either. She and AC loved books and they would often find the two of them reading when they returned.

Adam rented an office in town and hired people to work for him as he managed his many investments. Telegraph lines and burgeoning railroad lines made it possible for him to virtually work from any location. He divested himself of most of his Australian holdings and used that money to invest in a number of new businesses. Most of his work was in hiring people to oversee the operation of those acquisitions.

By Thanksgiving weekend, the central part of the house was ready for the family to move in. There would be two additions, one at either end of the house, but the essential rooms were ready. His family helped move them. Most of the furniture had been delivered by freight wagons, and had already been arranged as they wanted it. The pieces they were bringing from the rented home filled in the other spaces. All of his family members wanted to see the water closet he had designed into the second floor and the washroom with water closet that was next to the kitchen. There was a separate room with a bath as well. When Hoss saw the size of the tub, he was shocked.

“Adam, I think you made a mistake. This here tub oughta be at Pa’s house. I could really relax in this one. Why do you need such a big tub anyway?”

Joe started giggling and Lyn blushed, and then so did Hoss as he understood.

For a month, they enjoyed their new home. AC liked his room which was lined with bookshelves on one side so he could have his books, his ‘treasures’ and anything else on display. Beth’s room was opposite of AC’s and both were on the opposite end of the hall from their parents by design. Lyn was a bit of a screamer and Adam wanted to indulge that as often as possible.

The first snowfall was a memorable event. Lyn and AC had never seen it snow. They made snow sculptures, built a snow fort which was attacked by Adam as he initiated a snowball fight, and slid down a nearby slope on a sled. Beth was too little to do most of those things but enjoyed the sledding immensely as she sat on her mother’s lap as they hurtled down the slope. AC’s first solo sled trip had his parents laughing as they heard a plaintive query as he headed down the slope.

“How do you stop this thing?”

“Just hang on, AC, it’ll stop itself at the bottom.”

The Christmas season brought more traditions for Lyn and AC to learn and enjoy. Adam bundled his family in the sleigh and headed out to get a Christmas tree and branches for trimming and decorating. Lyn had never imagined how beautiful a Christmas tree could be until she saw that pine in her house decorated with ornaments, popcorn, cookies, and candles. AC especially liked the cookie decorations and his parents allowed him one per day as a treat. On Christmas morning, Adam bundled his family into the sleigh again, and they headed to his father’s house to join in the celebration of the holiday and of Hoss’ engagement. Joe would be married in spring and Hoss in the summer. AC had not let the secret slip out but announced he did have a secret. When Joe snickered, he got mad.

“I do too. Mama is going to have a baby but you’re not supposed to tell anyone yet.”

Adam rolled his eyes skyward and Lyn blushed. They had only discovered the news and AC had overheard Adam’s deep voice as he was overjoyed and exclaimed ‘We’re having a baby!’ after which they instructed AC that he couldn’t tell anyone yet. It had lasted all of two days.

Presents were exchanged and opened. AC liked having all of these relatives because he got a huge stack of presents to open. Finally it seemed there were no more presents, but Ben walked behind his desk and brought a guitar to Adam. He solemnly handed it to his son.

“I believe I owe you one of these. I’m truly sorry for the one I damaged.”

The guitar was beautiful. It had mother of pearl up the neck and as a finger guard. The wood was a rich cherry color. Adam strummed the guitar and tuned it. Then he played some chords and it was clear that this guitar was special. Adam handed the guitar to Lyn to hold and then stood. He walked to his father and initiated a hug which as everyone watching knew was a rare event. Then the two men whispered to each other what they would have found nearly impossible to state in front of everyone.

“Thank you for the guitar. Pa, I love you.”

“Adam, I love you son. Christmas was never the same after you left.”

The newly expanded family spent the next few hours singing Christmas carols. Lyn, Laurie, and Alice had wonderful singing voices and sang in tune beautifully which helped muffle Hoss’ and Joe’s enthusiastic but frequently dissonant contributions. Ben provided the low bass sound. AC brought tears to most eyes when he sang Silent Night as his father accompanied him on guitar. The melody had originally been written to be played on guitar, and the simple pairing made the song all the more beautiful and uplifting. The Cartwrights, father and sons, were together again at last for a Christmas celebration.

*****

Chapter 18

Spring was an exciting time normally on a cattle ranch as herds were checked to see how well they had survived the winter and how well the calving was going. Mustangs were gathered to be broken for ranch work and for sale. Fence lines were checked for damage and line cabins had to be restocked and repaired as needed. This year though was an especially joyous year on the Ponderosa as preparations were made for Joe and Alice’s wedding. There was a little bump in the road when Hoss was forced to tell his family that Laurie was already expecting a child. Ben had their minister out to the house for a quick and quiet wedding with only her immediate family and the Cartwrights in attendance. Laurie moved into the big house. There would be a formal celebration of their wedding as planned in the summer. Joe enjoyed jibing his brothers.

“Who would have thought I would be the one to uphold the family honor?”

Adam sat quietly feigning disinterest in the comment but Hoss was puzzled.

“What do you mean, Joe?”

“Well, you had to hurry up and get married, but Adam didn’t even do that.”

Adam raised an eyebrow at that although he was sure he knew where Joe was going with this one.

“Hoss, all you have to do is look at their anniversary date and AC’s birthday. Unless he was only five months when he was born, he was already on his way when they got married.”

“Joe!”

Alice was embarrassed that Joe would talk that way, but Lyn laughed.

“Well, luv, you said he would talk it up sooner or later. You can collect on that wager later.”

“Hey, what do you mean?”

“Adam bet me that you would be sure to notice and wait for just the right time to try to embarrass him with that information. He does seem to know you rather well.”

Joe shook his head. Adam did always seem to find a way to turn a situation back at Joe.

Alice Harper was thrilled to have two sister-in-laws to help plan the wedding. Her brother had left town running away from gambling debts he incurred after spending all the money the two of them had, and she had no other family in the area. Ben and Adam assured here there was no problem in finances and that whatever was needed for the wedding would be purchased. Lyn and Laurie had taken Alice into town soon after Christmas to have a fitting for a wedding dress. Unknown to Alice who ordered the simplest gown in the shop as she tried to be frugal, Lyn had ordered a number of embellishments to be added to the dress and veil. With a little encouragement, Adam advised Joe on what the appropriate jewelry gift to wear with the dress would be. Adam said he would take care of the ordering but Joe would have to pay for it because it needed to be a gift from the groom.

In the evening before the wedding, Joe asked Alice to walk outside with him. He carried a plain paper bag with him and Alice wondered what could possibly be inside it. He walked with her until they reached the garden behind the house.

“Tomorrow, you will be my wife. I wanted to give you something that you will have forever in addition to my heart. You need something borrowed, something blue, something old, and something new. I have two boxes here that I want you to open tomorrow when you are getting dressed. It will take care of the blue and the new.”

“Joe, I didn’t get you anything!

“You have given me everything. I never imagined I could love someone as much as I love you. My brothers used to tease me unmercifully about falling in love with the woman of the month. I know now that they were right. It was infatuation and not love. With you, I see forever. I see us moving along in life sharing everything and loving each other always. You are the greatest gift a man could ever have: a woman to love who will stand by my side no matter what.”

Joe kissed his fiancée with all the care and tenderness he could find. He wanted to be passionate, but knew that he would have trouble stopping if he did. In one day, he would no longer have to hold back. He would be married. Alice rested her head on his shoulder as Joe wrapped his arms around her. They heard Hoss calling Joe’s name and knew he was anxious to head to town. As best man, Hoss had arranged a dinner for the bachelor party and wanted to get going. They both chuckled and headed back to the house. Alice was going to have a pampering party with Lyn and Laurie at Lyn’s home. The three ladies would spend the night there and help Alice dress for the wedding in the morning. Ben and Hop Sing would watch over AC and Beth until Adam retrieved them later.

As Joe walked Alice into the house, Ben asked Alice if she had a moment. He handed her a box.

“Joe said he took care of something blue and something new. This belonged to Joe’s mother and now it belongs to you. It takes care of the something old.”

Alice was going to open it, but Ben said no quickly and looked a little embarrassed. Now she really wondered what was in the small box. She took all three of her boxes, and a valise she had packed and headed outside where Laurie was waiting in the surrey. Hoss and Joe escorted them to Lyn’s house. Adam was heading to the ranch house to drop off AC and Beth and said he would join them in town shortly.

For the Cartwright brothers, this was one of the most sedate nights they had ever had in a saloon on a Friday night. Jamie was happy to be along but all three brothers watched over him so carefully he felt like he was in school. Candy and Griff however made up for the others and were getting very happy by the time Adam took his leave. The plan was for him to get Jamie home and pick up his two children. The other four partied on until almost midnight and then Joe insisted he needed to get going. There were lots of jibes thrown his way about why he wanted to be in good shape the next day. All Joe could do was grin: it was all true.

*****

Chapter 19

The next morning, Adam got up early to tend to the children, which was his assigned task for the early morning. Lyn was still sleeping and he couldn’t resist and trailed his hand from her neck along her arm and over her hip down to her knee.

“Keep doing that and you’re going to owe me tonight.”

“It is a debt I will most gladly repay. Perhaps I could borrow a little more on my assets?”

Adam moved to put his hand elsewhere and Lyn playfully slapped it away.

“You are insatiable, but I love you anyway.”

“Who’s kidding whom this morning? That’s why you love me, and don’t try to deny it.”

Adam stood to leave and then raced for the door as a pillow was thrown his way. He laughed as he left the room and headed down the hallway to retrieve Beth and AC. He brought Beth back for nursing and asked if he could stay and watch which got another pillow thrown his way. He and AC walked down the stairs as AC tried to determine why his mother had thrown a pillow at his father.

After Beth was fed, Adam heard Lyn call from the top of the stairs and he got his daughter.

Upstairs then the three ladies started to dress for the wedding. When Alice opened the box that she thought her dress was in, she was dismayed.

“Oh no, it’s the wrong dress. This isn’t my dress!”

“Yes, dear, it is. We just had a few things added.”

The plain dress that Alice had chosen now was decorated with pearls and pearl buttons and with some lace as well. Alice slipped it on and fairly glowed in the dress that was radiant with the sun pouring in the bedroom window. Tears were running down her face so Laurie handed her a beautiful silk handkerchief that was embroidered with all sorts of Chinese dragons.

“Hop Sing gave me that for long life. Now you have something borrowed. There’s a little pocket sewn into the waist of your dress where you can slip that in.”

Alice remembered the boxes then. She opened the one from Ben first because her curiosity had been aroused so much by his seeming embarrassment. It was a garter.

“Ben gave you that!?”

“He said it belonged to Joe’s mother and now it was mine.”

All three ladies chuckled and Laurie helped her slip the garter on her leg. Then they slipped another garter on her other leg for Joe to remove later and toss to the men at the wedding. Then Alice opened the two boxes that Joe had given her. One was a set of earrings and the other was a necklace. Alice looked in shock at Lyn because she suspected that she must have had something to do with it. Lyn just shook her head. It was the first she had seen them. The ladies helped Alice put on the necklace and the earrings. Then they fixed her veil.

“Now comes the hard part, love. You have to wait until we dress and Adam dresses and then we’ll drive over.”

Alice put her hands to her mouth and sighed deeply. The ladies smiled and quickly dressed. Lyn then went downstairs to watch over the two children so Adam could dress which didn’t take long. She had her own deep sigh as he walked down the stairs. She was never used to how handsome he could look and when he grinned at her, her knees got a little weak. He knew exactly what she was thinking and waggled his eyebrows at her.

“You’re really going to pay tonight, mister!”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

“That was some fine jewelry Joe gave to Alice. How much did you charge him?”

“He got the full family discount so it was only five hundred.”

“How much was the discount?”

“He paid about one fourth of the retail price. I have connections though.”

Lyn’s eyes got very big at that.

“Does he have any idea how much the jewelry is worth then?”

“I doubt it. I told him to keep it in a safe when she’s not wearing it, although many people here probably don’t know the value of fire opals.”

Alice came down the steps then. The dress and the jewelry made her look like royalty.

“My brother is a very lucky man. May I escort you to your carriage, milady?”

Adam was driving Alice to the wedding. Jamie waited outside in a carriage to drive Laurie, Lyn, and the children there. Adam helped Alice into the surrey that was decorated with blue and white ribbons that Lyn and Adam had attached late last night after the children were in bed. Adam could see that Alice was on the verge of tears so he started telling tales of Joe as a child and as a teenager. Soon Alice was laughing and relaxing. When they arrived at the ranch house for the wedding, Adam helped her down and she thanked him for making her relax. By then the ladies were there and whisked her into the house and into the guest bedroom for last minute touchups.

“Pa, did John make it?”

“No, Adam, and I didn’t expect him to. He’s too afraid of Sloan. You weren’t here when all the trouble started with Sloan and his gang, but they can be an intimidating group.”

“Who’s giving away the bride then?”

Lyn suddenly called to Adam from the house. Once inside, she told him that Alice was in tears. She had hoped so much that John would be there that she had not asked anyone else to give her away. Adam knew just the person. He told Lyn to assure Alice that she would be happy with his choice. Adam went outside to tell his father.

“Alice has someone to give her hand in marriage to Joe.”

“Good, good. Who is it?”

Adam smiled and put his hand on his father’s shoulder.

“You need to get inside. The bride is waiting for you.”

*****

Chapter 20

Once inside, as guests were arriving, Adam and AC went to the landing. Adam sat on the landing and AC stood at his side with his hand on his father’s shoulder. Joe and Hoss moved to stand next to the minister. Adam nodded at AC and started to play as AC launched into Greensleeves. The bedroom door opened and Laurie emerged first to walk to the minister, and then Alice came out on Ben’s arm. The rest of the wedding was a blur to both Alice and Joe. Despite all their nervousness, the wedding proceeded well. Then there was the reception and buffet dinner followed by dancing. At one point, Ben was dancing with the bride and Hoss was dancing with Lyn. Joe met Adam at the punch table.

“How much did that jewelry really cost? Joshua Greene from Maxims saw it and said it must have cost a fortune. Now five hundred is a lot but it’s not a fortune. So how much?”

“Joe it doesn’t matter. I have connections so I used them.”

“But if I walked in a store and wanted to buy it, how much? Come on, you can tell me, I’m your brother.”

Adam didn’t want to say but Joe was like a mosquito when he wanted information buzzing constantly until you told him or smacked him. He didn’t want to smack him so he told him. The music had ended and Alice was walking up behind Adam and heard his answer.

“Two thousand dollars! Oh my God.”

Adam turned and had to steady her because it looked like she might faint. Lyn, Ben, and Hoss walked up at that point and Adam had to explain what happened. Ben had wondered what kind of wealth Adam had accumulated because he seemed not to worry about expenditures at all. This kind of thing made him realize that his son was likely wealthier than all of them combined. In the past that might have ignited a small flare of jealousy, but now it just made him proud to know how talented his son was in financial dealings. Ben slapped Adam on the back to let him know how proud he was that Adam would do this for his brother. Lyn assured both Joe and Alice that Adam only meant to make a gesture to show how happy he was that they were married and that it was something they could well afford. Adam just asked Joe to drop the subject and enjoy his wedding, and apologized if he had offended him in any way. Joe realized the sincerity of Adam’s statements, slapped him on the back, and asked him if he had any more baubles he didn’t need. The two brothers laughed then. All was well.

After the toasts and traditions were met, Joe wanted to take his leave with his bride. With his brothers’ help, he had finished their home and wanted to go there to start his honeymoon. Hoss asked if he could please make his speech before they left.

“I’d like to thank everyone on behalf of the bride and groom for sharing their wedding day. It is a chance for friends and family to show the happy couple how much they mean to us and to express our good wishes for their future. It takes a strong and intelligent man to realize his dreams and achieve his goals in life and love. Joe is a man who is not afraid to live life to its fullest and embrace what is truly important. He discovered that Alice is the most important part of his life. So two people, Joe and Alice, have come together today to make a marriage that will surely last forever. Joe is lucky to have found such a beautiful and wonderful gal to share his life. Joe is my brother and best friend. I hafta say I’m honored that he chose me to be his best man on his most important day. I wish both of you peace and happiness in your new life together and may God bless your marriage, and have lots of grandchildren for Pa. We can’t expect Adam, at his age, to provide them all.”

Adam had helped Hoss with his speech but that last line was an ad-lib that caught him by surprise. There were laughs and he knew it was at his expense. But Hoss had done well and he told him that. He also said there was a wedding celebration coming up in summer and to expect payback. Hoss hadn’t thought about that and got a worried look especially when he saw Adam’s grin. He thought, ‘Dadburnit, Joe told me to put in a little humor and suggested that line and now Adam has months to plan something really really painful for me’. Hoss would have to be worried until it happened.

*****

Chapter 21

By May, Joe was very excited when he announced that he and Alice were expecting a baby that should arrive just after Christmas. So there would be a Cartwright baby in August, another in early October and then one in January. Ben was prouder than ever. It was something he had dreamed of but had begun to wonder over the years if it would ever happen. Suddenly in less than a year’s time, he had gained three daughters-in-law, found he had two grandchildren, and there were three more grandchildren on the way. It seemed that life was so good nothing could mar his happiness.

On the first day of June, Hoss asked Joe and Adam to ride with him to do a survey of the pastures. He thought that they could make some changes so they could increase the size of the herd. Adam met the two of them in the south pasture but said he needed to deliver some things to Alice that Lyn had sent with him.

“Well I wondered what was in your saddlebags because it looked like you had Hoss’ lunch stuffed in there instead of your own.”

“I have no idea what is in those packages and I don’t want to know. When your wife packs some things up in brown paper and says to hand them to your brother’s wife, you don’t ask any questions. I should be with you in less than a half hour.”

Adam rode to Joe’s house. Joe had wanted a more rustic home and it was set in the trees more than Adam’s house so he didn’t see anything wrong until he got there. He saw a man hitting Alice and another holding a gun on another man who was calling out to Alice that she had to give them some money. Adam raced in and dismounted with his gun in his hand. The man on horseback holding his weapon on the other man turned and fired, and Adam shot him out of the saddle. The man who had been yelling at Alice then rushed toward her blocking Adam’s view of Alice. The man beating Alice dropped her to the ground and fired at the man running toward him and killed him. Then he quickly grabbed Alice and held a gun to her head.

“Drop that gun or I kill her right now.”

“You’re not going to kill her because you know I’ll put a bullet in your head the moment you fire.”

It was a classic standoff until the man started moving back toward Joe’s cabin. Adam could not let him take her inside. He fired hitting the man in the foot which caused him to fall but he took Alice down with him and quickly put the gun to her head again. He stood again pulling an unconscious Alice up with him. They were back to the standoff. With his injured foot he would not likely be able to climb the steps to the porch of the home, but he still refused to let her go. Joe and Hoss had heard the gunfire and were racing to the house. As they neared the house, the man holding Alice gestured toward them with his gun.

“Tell them to stay …”

But he never got to finish the statement. As he pulled the gun to gesture toward Joe and Hoss, Adam fired and the top of the man’s head exploded. Joe and Hoss arrived and Joe vaulted out of the saddle and ran to Alice. Adam had reached her but she looked dead. It appeared she wasn’t breathing. Joe pulled his gun and walked to the man Adam had shot off his horse because he had regained consciousness.

“Sloan, I’m going to blow your head off.”

Hoss reached Joe just in time and deflected his arm as he fired. The bullet landed in the dirt by Sloan. Hoss took Joe’s gun and stuck it in his belt.

“Joe, get over here. Alice is alive.”

“Look! She’s alive. Adam’s trying to help her. Now get over there and see to your wife.”

Looking at Sloan, Hoss held his gun pointed at Sloan’s head. He walked over and took Sloan’s pistol.

“If’n you’d like to give me a reason to shoot ya like trying to run away, well you just go ahead and do that. I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Sloan put his hands out flat on the ground and lay quietly.

“Joe, she’s alive but she’s hurt very badly. We need to get her inside and get the doctor.”

Joe carefully lifted Alice and carried her inside. With Adam’s help, he got her in the bed. Adam brought him some water, towels, and bandages.

“You stay with her. Hoss and I will go for help.”

Outside, Adam asked Hoss who the two dead men were. It was hard to tell with the one but Hoss thought it was Sloan’s hired thug, Hanley. He told Adam the other dead man was Alice’s brother John.

“Tie that worthless piece of shit over there to his horse. My horse is faster than Chubb so I’ll get him to town and send the doc back. Tie that bastard on tight enough so he doesn’t fall off. I don’t mind if he bleeds some. You go to the house and get Hop Sing and whoever else you can get to help here.”

Doctor Martin got to the house well before Adam who had stopped off to tell Lyn what had happened. Hop Sing, Laurie, and Joe had done enough to stop all the external bleeding. Paul was worried about internal hemorrhaging and asked Joe to step outside while he examined Alice. Joe didn’t want to go but his father and Hoss got him out of the room by explaining that his questions would only interfere with the doc as he worked. When Adam and Lyn arrived in their carriage, there was a somber group sitting in Joe’s living room. There was no need to ask. The closed bedroom door let them know that Paul was still with his patient. Lyn and Adam had raided whatever their cook, Kim, had prepared already and set food on the dining table for sandwiches. Kim would care for their children until they returned.

Joe greeted Adam with a hug.

“Thank you for saving my wife.”

Joe turned then and looked at Hoss.

“Thank you for stopping me from killing Sloan. Seeing him hang will be enough.”

As the group waited, the time ticked away and they feared that the news could only be bad. Then Roy Coffee arrived with more bad news.

“Adam, Sloan already has met with his sleazy lawyer. They’re gonna say you started this whole thing. It’s gonna be your word against his. He’s still got some of his hired muscle so you and your family are going to be in danger until he’s tried and hanged.”

Adam and Lyn looked terrified and jumped up to head home.

“Now don’t you worry too much. I already sent some deputies to your house. You two shouldn’t go anywhere alone. I assume that some of the Ponderosa hands can help you with that?”

Ben nodded, but Adam wanted to leave immediately. Candy said he’d get some men and they would escort them home. Adam gave Roy his statement. It wasn’t complicated. Within an hour, Adam was at his home confronted by armed deputies who relaxed when they realized who it was. Adam asked one of the Ponderosa hands to take some messages to the telegraph office. Within two days, he expected to have professional help guarding his family. He had thought about doing it before because of the threat of kidnapping and regretted that he had not, but he was remedying that situation now.

Adam didn’t sleep. Lyn woke in the night and when he wasn’t next to her, she went looking. She found him standing in the darkened study staring out at the night.

“Worried about Alice and about Joe?”

“Yes. But I killed a man today. I did it without a second thought. I haven’t killed anyone in over six years. The faces of men I have killed were finally fading. I thought I could come back here and avoid the violence. The violence didn’t avoid me though.”

Lyn wrapped her arms around Adam but he remained stiff and unyielding. He would have to come to terms with all of this. It would take some time. She asked him to sit and he did. She held his hand and leaned on his shoulder, and they sat that way until dawn. As it grew light, a familiar rider came up to the house. Candy knocked and waited at the front door. When Adam opened it, he looked as bad as all the rest of them. No one had slept that night.

“Doc says he thinks she’s gonna make it. She’s got a concussion, broken ribs, a broken left wrist and broken left arm, a small broken bone in her right leg, and lots of bad bruises. The baby may not make it though. She’s bleeding a little there.”

“She was bleeding a little before this happened. I sent some cloth pads over to her house. She was going to talk to Paul about it soon.”

“So maybe it’s not because of the beating?”

“Yes, please tell Paul.”

At Candy’s pained expression, Lyn told him to wait. She went into the study and wrote down all that she could remember about what Alice had told her. Then she walked out with the folded paper and asked Candy to give that to Paul. He looked very relieved at that. After Candy left, Adam insisted that Lyn go back to bed. He said he would sleep later when she got up. As he waited, he sketched out a design for a bunkhouse to match the style of his home and stable. There would soon be men working for him, and they would need a place to stay.

Alice recovered and the baby was all right. Paul assured her that a small amount of bleeding early in a pregnancy could be normal even as long as three months in. Joe had John buried in a grove of trees not far from their house but out of view if you didn’t want to see it. Alice could decide when she was well how much she wanted to visit her brother’s gravesite. Lyn and the rest of the family worried about Adam and Alice until Sloan was convicted and hanged. Sloan had counted on Alice dying so that it would be his word against Adam’s. Once Alice, still showing the remnants of bruising on her face and neck and with her arm in a sling, limped to the stand and testified, the jury had no problem in returning a guilty verdict. Within a month, Alice was feeling better too and Adam was able to smile again. Attention turned to the upcoming celebration of Hoss’ wedding.

*****

Chapter 22

Adam hired two of the men permanently from those sent by the Pinkerton Agency. They would do light ranch work but would not leave the vicinity of Adam’s home unless accompanying Lyn to town or to another home or ranch. If Adam was with them at a location, they were free to go until the family intended to leave. Otherwise they stayed and kept watch. Adam hated having to do this but the violence at Joe’s home and his wealth made him worry about what someone might try to do to his family. Lyn suggested they get some dogs too because in Australia, they had several dogs, and they always put up a fuss when a stranger came to their home. Adam also told Joe that his two employees could do some training of horses once Joe had them green broke. So a bunkhouse, several large corrals, and two additions to either end of Adam’s home kept the place a scene of bustling activity.

When the dogs Adam had ordered arrived, Lyn was not so sure that she wanted them around the children. They were three German Shepherds and looked fierce. The trainer arrived with them and introduced them to Adam and then to Lyn and finally to the children. Each member of the family was sniffed by each dog. The trainer gave a command in German and all three dogs dropped to the ground watching their trainer. The trainer whispered a word to Adam and when he said it all three dogs stood and walked to him waiting for his next command. The trainer supplied it and when Adam told them to, they took a defensive position around the family. With one more word, the dogs relaxed.

Odin, Mannheim, and Thor were part of the family.

The trainer took out three leather wrapped sticks and threw them. The dogs chased after them and brought them back. He explained that it was their favorite game and could be used as a reward or to help them bond with the family. AC was excited to try. He took all three sticks and wasn’t able to throw them very far but was delighted when the dogs retrieved them at the trainer’s command and brought the sticks back to him. The trainer told him to pet each dog then and praise it.

Soon the entire family was having fun with the dogs. The trainer explained that their appearance that so resembled a wolf was part of the protection as some would stay away just seeing those dogs. They would be fiercely protective of their family and suspicious of all strangers. Each friend or family member would need to be introduced to the dogs just as they had been. These dogs had a tremendous sense of smell and would never forget the smell of a friend or family member.

There were only about a dozen command words and all members of the family or anyone living on the property were to learn them. They were German words so it was highly unlikely that a stranger could command these dogs to do anything even if he could get close to them with his strange smell. Pass auf was the most important because it meant to guard or alert. The others were more basic such as setzen to sit, platz for down, bleib for stay, hier for come, nein for no, and fuss (foos) for heel. Several more commands that the trainer suggested Adam and Lyn learn to practice with the dogs were voran for search and such (su-kh) for track. With children around, that might be good to know. The one they were most likely to use daily was apport for fetch. The trainer handed over a document with those and a few other commands and the pedigree of the dogs. The three were brothers. Then with payment in hand, the trainer left.

“A-pro.” And AC threw the sticks and the dogs retrieved them. Apparently they understood how a five year old could talk. Adam spent some time trying to get AC to say apport but made no progress. As he and AC were working with the dogs, Joe and some hands arrived with some horses.

“Kinda strange looking to see my brother and nephew playing with wolves!”

Adam commanded the dogs with ‘bleib’.

“German Shepherds, but your reaction is what we’re hoping any intruder will think. They are probably as deadly as wolves to any one they don’t like.”

Joe and the others were looking a little nervous, but Adam introduced all of them to his dogs. Adam told Joe the commands. Seeing the riders and horses come in, Adam’s hired men rode in to join the group and put the horses in the corrals. They were taught the commands as well and introduced to the dogs. All of the men enjoyed playing the fetch game with the dogs who appeared to be having a great time in their new home.

“Adam, how much did these dogs cost? I mean could I afford a couple of them? I would feel a lot better if Alice had some dogs like these with her.”

“Affordable. The trainer wouldn’t have to come with them this time, and I think there is a place near Sacramento training dogs like this. I’ll look into it and let you know the details when I have them.”

Immediately, Joe began planning.

“And if I get a couple of females, we could breed them and start selling dogs like this as another source of income for the Ponderosa. We could even create our own breed. Hey, Adam, what do you think?”

“Joe, I will never get involved in another of your schemes. You’ll have to look for another partner. And don’t bother Hoss with it. He’s got enough on his plate with that baby due soon.”

Joe shrugged. He had a lot to do too so he would wait.

Over the next few weeks, the dogs met a lot of people. It was amazing though that when anyone new arrived, the dogs immediately alerted and waited for a command. At night, all three dogs came inside and slept on the rug in front of the fireplace. They waited patiently there in the morning for someone to let them outside. During the day, they romped outside roaming the property or lying on the porch. Adam and Lyn were finally able to relax a bit. They felt safe in their home again.

Hoss came over to see the dogs after Joe told him.

“Hey, Adam, I really like the looks of these dogs. Do you think you could let me breed them with my hounds? We could get some real nice dogs for the ranch that way.”

“That should work. Let me know when one of your hounds is in heat, and we can get Odin, Mannheim, or Thor over there to cover her.”

“Now where did they get names like that anyway?”

“Those are names of Scandinavian gods. There’s a long list of them.”

“Well, my ma was from there, right. I mean Sweden is part of that Scandinavia thing, ain’t it? Could you get me a list of some of those names? Won’t be too long before one of my hounds has a litter and I can name the pups.”

Adam agreed to do that. Hoss’ ma was still a strong connection between the two of them. Anything to keep her memory alive was a good thing. In fact, everything seemed to be going smoothly. A pessimistic person would predict that something just had to go wrong, and just days before the wedding celebration, it did.

*****

Chapter 23

Heavy rains started falling in the Sierras and then storms moved out all over the Washoe region. Streams overflowed and bridges were washed out. The one bridge essential to travel to Virginia City was on the Ponderosa border and was also in danger of washout. If it washed out, there would be no big wedding celebration because guests would be unable to get there. Adam, Hoss, and Joe went there with Candy and other hands to try to figure out ways to reinforce the bridge. One thing they could do was bring some boulders to place in front of the bridge supports to take the brunt of the water’s force. Adam also thought they could sink some timbers further back and connect chains to the main bridge to give it more stability. Adam took off his boots and shirt so he could wade into the water near the supports to see if it was feasible to get a chain around them. Joe tied a rope to his saddle horn and Adam secured it around his waist.

“Take it easy out there. I don’t want to have to haul you in like a drowned rat.”

“Well, gee, thanks so very much for your concern.”

Candy and Hoss sat on horses next to Joe. Joe and Hoss were surprised at how muscular Adam looked. They had kind of assumed that all the deskwork and such would have made him soft, but instead he looked as strong as ever. After working his way to the support, Adam slipped into the water and dropped underwater to see if he could get a chain around that post. He soon came up sputtering. He nodded yes at the men and moved to climb out but slipped on the bank and fell backwards into the strong current. Joe immediately began backing Cochise up, and Hoss jumped off his horse to go to his brother’s aid.

“Hoss, stay here. Hoss, I’ll pull him in. Stay back!”

“Hoss, let Joe pull him in. Get back here.”

As Adam came up the bank coughing, Hoss stepped forward to grab him. The bank gave way and both Hoss and Adam fell back in the water but Adam didn’t fall far because of the taut rope. Joe pulled him out again as he looked in panic for Hoss to appear. Candy pulled off his boots and dove in to search for Hoss. He pulled him up but the current caught both of them and spun them downstream. Adam tore the rope off his waist and ran down the side of the stream. Candy grabbed hold of an overhanging branch but couldn’t hold Hoss with one hand and the big man was washed away from him. Candy was exhausted and couldn’t try again, and he just managed to hang on himself until one of the men threw a rope to him.

Hoss was managing to stay afloat and breathing but was unable to control his passage as the swift current pushed him faster and faster. He grabbed onto a boulder as he was slammed into it feet first, but it was too round and slippery and even with his great strength, he was pulled away from it. The time he was there though allowed those pursuing him to get close again. Adam dove in, and swimming with the current was able to grab Hoss but the two of them continued to be washed down the stream by the unyielding current. Adam managed to get Hoss to roll so he was on his back again as they were propelled along and the two of them could breathe. Luckily Hoss was not the type of man to panic or the two of them would have been doomed. Adam kept surveying what he could see of the area ahead. Seeing that the roots of a tree had been exposed by the floodwaters he started doing what he could to direct them that way. As they neared that spot, he jerked the two of them to the side and grabbed an exposed tree root. Hoss was conscious but coughing.

“Grab my belt, Hoss, grab my belt. Hoss, I can’t hold you with one arm, grab my belt.”

Finally, Hoss understood and grabbed Adam’s belt with both of his hands. Adam then swung his body around to use both arms to hold on. He was facing upstream and swallowed a lot of dirty water as he tried to breathe. Some of the men and Joe got there. With a rope around his waist, Joe waded in to grab Hoss, and by then Candy had arrived and pulled them to safety with the help of the other men.

Then Joe went back in to get Adam but before he could get to him, a log tumbling with the current hit one of Adam’s arms and he lost his grip to be swept away in the current again. Only by then he was so weakened that he was unable to grab hold of anything. Joe and Candy raced to their horses and rode along the raging torrent until they got to an area where it was wider and the current shoved Adam to one side. Candy let loose with his lasso and it dropped over one of Adam’s arms and around his neck. It wasn’t an optimum way to pull him in but it was the only way they had. Joe tied his rope around his waist and secured it to Cochise’s saddle so he could wade into the water to grab his brother and pull him to safety. Once they had him on dry ground well away from the water, they laid him down. Adam started coughing and Joe held his shoulders but Adam tried to force his way up.

“Joe, let him up. He needs to cough out that water.”

As soon as Joe released him, Adam crawled up on all fours and started coughing and then vomiting brown water. Hoss and the others had arrived at the spot by then. Hoss looked at Adam with concern even as he coughed some himself. Hoss had swallowed a little water but mostly had been on his back breathing air. Joe sent one of the men to get the buckboard they had brought, and they placed Adam in back. Adam continued a hacking cough and brought up small amounts of dirty liquid periodically as they drove to his home. The bridge held, but the wedding celebration was postponed as Adam spent the next week fighting for his life.

*****

Chapter 24

For almost a week, Adam was unconscious or semiconscious and never able to talk with anyone. His fever rose and stayed high for days despite their best efforts to keep him cooled. Doctor Martin said it was his body fighting the infection and there was little they could do. His body would win or not. When Ben heard him say that, he almost lost consciousness himself. He couldn’t lose him after finding him again. Members of the family took turns sitting with him around the clock with often two of them there. They kept him as upright as possible to help him breathe. They cooled his body with cool damp cloths. Lyn and the other ladies would spoon small amounts of broth or water into his mouth when they thought he might be able to swallow. Sometimes he did and sometimes the liquid ran down his chin from his slack lips.

Lyn talked to Adam almost constantly throughout her frequent stays in their bedroom. She slept by his side when she could but her pregnancy was advanced now, and sometimes she had to rest elsewhere to diminish the pain in her back. Ben and the others worried about her pregnancy with the stress and the lack of sleep. Paul talked to her about what she needed to do to make sure she and the ‘baby’ stayed healthy. Ben wondered at the way Paul would say ‘baby’ in that exaggerated way, but then would forget about it as he listened to Adam’s labored breathing. Lyn’s sisters-in-law were a godsend and took over much of the care of AC and Beth.

AC was unrelenting in his requests to sit with his father. Finally, Lyn allowed him in. He deserved the right to see his father one last time because it was looking like Adam might not make it.

“Papa, you gotta get better. You promised to take me riding. I need you, Papa. Nobody can do what you do. Mama can’t have her baby if you’re not here. Papa, please talk to me.”

Lyn began to sob silently as her son begged his father to live. Hoss wrapped his arms around her as his own tears flowed. Ben walked in with Doc Martin as AC began to sing. Paul watched his patient and placed his hand on AC’s shoulder.

“You keep singing son. It’s the best medicine for your father right now.”

The four adults listened as AC sang his heart out to his father. He reached over and touched Adam’s hand as he sang almost willing him to react. After a time, Paul motioned for Hoss to bring Lyn over to the bed.

“Talk to Adam now. He seems possibly to be focusing on AC’s singing. His breathing is more regular than it has been all week. The singing seems to be helping.”

Lyn sat on the opposite side of Adam from AC who kept singing in an almost desperate attempt to get his father to wake. Lyn leaned down and began quietly begging Adam to open his eyes and come back to them. Adam’s eyelids fluttered and AC stopped singing and held his breath.

“Sing, AC, sing. You’re bringing him back to us, son. Sing.”

AC began singing Greensleeves, the song his father had taught him for Joe’s wedding. Adam fluttered his eyelids and slowly opened his eyes to look at his son. AC grinned and kept on singing. Lyn bent down and kissed her husband’s cheek, and Adam turned his head a little to look at her.

“Welcome back, luv. Don’t you ever scare us like that again.”

Hoss turned away as his eyes flooded with tears. He would never have been able to forgive himself if his foolish action had caused his brother’s death. It was one time when he was very grateful that his brother was so stubborn. He walked downstairs to tell everyone the good news. Paul closed the bedroom door. No more visitors for the time being. Ben stood silently thanking God that his son would live.

“Adam, don’t try to talk. Concentrate on breathing with a regular rhythm. We’ll ask questions. Yes is one eye blink and No is two eye blinks. Do you understand?”

Adam blinked once. Paul and Lyn smiled. He was going to recover, and his mind apparently was not affected. Lyn asked if he wanted a drink of water and he blinked once. Ben and Paul helped shift him more upright and Lyn spooned cool water into his mouth until he refused to open his lips for more.

“AC, you can stop singing and come hold your father’s hand now. You brought him back to us, son. I am so very proud of you.”

AC held Adam’s hand and then climbed on the bed and leaned into the pillows next to him still holding his hand. It would be hours before he could be coaxed from there and only then because Paul said they needed to clean Adam up a bit. Lyn and Hoss washed Adam with warm cloths after removing his nightshirt. They pulled clean drawers on him but when they tried to put another nightshirt on him, he shook his head no. Then Hoss lifted Adam from the bed and placed him in the rocking chair so the bed linens could be changed, and then carried him back to the bed and covered him with a clean sheet and blanket.

“Adam ain’t never liked no nightshirts. Always said they stuck to him and rode up. Reminded him too much of a dress too.”

“Oh, struth. I bought him those nightshirts he has because when we married I thought he simply did not have any only to find out that was by design.”

They heard an ‘hmmpf’ from the bed and looked to see Adam scowling at them.

“Well you must be feeling better if you can be grumpy already. How about a little smile to thank Hoss for helping me clean you up so you don’t smell like a sheep pen when you have visitors?”

Adam managed a small smile. He hated being a patient and was already showing the dissatisfaction. Lyn sat next to him and helped him drink another cup of water. They were getting fluids in him as fast as they could. Paul had warned them that the only danger he still faced was his dehydration.

“He ain’t never been a patient patient either!”

“Oh, struth, I met him as a patient so I know it. He was toey as soon as that fever broke. He walked like a grog besotted galah but we couldn’t keep him in the bed.”

That got another ‘hmmmf’ from the patient but with less of a scowl. Adam knew he needed to try to behave himself with those who cared so much for him. Hoss on the other hand stood with a confused expression. Lyn had tried to weed the Australian slang out of her vocabulary but when she was relaxed like this, she often reverted to common phrases. Seeing his confusion, she explained by rephrasing.

Oh, it’s the truth. He was restless to get out of bed as soon as he could. When he did, he walked like a drunken fool.”

Hoss nodded. That sounded like his brother. Hoss spent a lot of time helping Lyn with Adam over the next week. One day as they sat in the bedroom as Adam slept, Hoss and Lyn talked quietly. Hoss asked her about what Joe had brought up about AC being born only five months after their wedding.

“Did it bother ya much that Joe brought up AC’s birthday being so soon after your wedding?”

“No, Hoss, I expected some people to notice. Adam assured me that Joe would be the first. But when I met Adam and fell in love with him, he had a wounded heart. That Laura and your cousin Will really made him not trust the love of a woman. I knew he loved me, but he wasn’t sure that I loved him, at least not enough.”

“Weren’t ya kinda worried then when you was gonna have a baby? I mean, I woulda expected Adam to ask ya to marry him then.”

“He did and I said no. I said if he never married me, I would accept that because I wanted him to marry me when he was sure I loved him and not because we had a baby. I knew he would stay with me because he loved me. I knew that a man with a heart so big would love our child. Our child would have two parents. Being married or not was not the biggest issue.”

“The next time he asked me, I asked him if he believed that I loved him. He said yes and that was why he was asking, so I said yes and we got married the next day. My parents lived near the docks and my papa shipped freight in and out of the harbor. That’s why I talk the way I do sometimes.”

They heard a loud snort from the bed then. Adam had awakened, and he was laughing. He had heard that last part, and in his experience he had found that her slang was certainly colorful on occasion.

“Well, anyway, we had lots and lots of people we knew who would want to celebrate with us. We had lots of friends there and had a grand party.”

“I’m really glad Adam found you. Not many women could put up with him.”

That got another hmmmpf from the bed, and both Hoss and Lyn started laughing.

It would take nearly two months before Adam felt as good as he did before the pneumonia, but only a week before he declared himself well enough to get out of bed and get dressed. He was so weak that he couldn’t manage the stairs by himself for nearly a week after that, but his brothers brought a small table upstairs so he was able to work a few hours a day at least and eat his meals sitting up. With books that Lyn brought up from his study, his guitar, and frequent visits from his children, the time passed better for him than it ever had when he was sick or injured.

*****

Chapter 25

Once Adam was feeling better, plans for Hoss’ wedding celebration kicked back into full gear. They had a big party at the Ponderosa main house two weeks after Adam was able to get out of bed. Adam had to sit for most of the celebration, but Hoss had waited until the brother who had saved his life could be there. Adam got several kisses on his cheeks from Laurie as she thanked him again and again for what he had done. Hoss got tears in his eyes with the gift they received from Adam and Lyn. Not wanting to incite another incident, Adam presented them with an opal necklace for Laurie and a matching string tie for Hoss. The gifts were simple but elegant which meant that Hoss and Laurie would actually wear them at least on formal occasions. Ben accepted congratulations from all on the marriage of Hoss to Laurie but also the impending births of three grandchildren on the Ponderosa over the next several months.

Hoss and Laurie continued to live in the big house as Ben took up residence in the downstairs bedroom which was convenient for him. Jamie took the first bedroom at the top of the stairs. The rest of the second floor became a private area for Hoss and his wife unless there were guests on the Ponderosa. They began to convert the bedroom next to theirs, which had been Adam’s, into a nursery. Candy moved into one of the rooms that had been added to the bunkhouse, but he had found a steady gal and probably would be marrying soon too. Joe offered his cottage for Candy to use if he got married and that brought a big grin to the foreman’s face.

As soon as Adam could, he started working in the forge at his home. The work could proceed at any pace and the hammering allowed him to rebuild his strength. He could stop whenever he was tired and resume whenever he wished. Several of the first items he had made before his bout with a lung infection were weight bars and heavy round weights as well as a pair of dumbbells. He was working on making some light round weights too but they weren’t done yet. He and the two men working for him began using the spare room in the stable as a workout room. All three had lived in cities where gyms were becoming regular features for men, and they liked the opportunity to work together. The heavy weight bar, the dumbbells, and pull-up bars gave them enough to do for now. Adam had ordered a punching bag, a speed bag, and some gloves and hoped to have those soon. He had put a small stove in the room so that they could raise the temperature to a reasonable level quickly once winter arrived. This had been the plan he had for that room when he designed the stable but had not thought he would be outfitting it so soon.

Adam was working out by himself one morning when Hoss and Ben stopped by. They heard grunts and other sounds including a few words Ben thought were unacceptable so they went to see what was happening. What they saw was a surprise. Adam, shirtless and sweating, was trying to lift a bar with large round weights above his head and failing. Hence, there was grunting and complaining.

“Dadburnit, Adam, what are you trying to do?”

Adam was startled.

“I’m trying to do some weightlifting and my arms are not cooperating.”

“Why don’t you try lifting less?”

“Because I used to lift this weight, and I haven’t made any smaller ones yet.”

“How much do those weights weigh?”
“Each one is seventy-five pounds.”

“Well, I bet I can lift that easy.”

Hoss did lift the weight over his head but then dropped it in front of him.

“Did I mention that the bar is fifty pounds? And five pounds each for the nuts holding the weights in place. So that’s two hundred twenty pounds total.”

“Well I’m glad you did now cause I was getting worried that I was losing my strength.”

The brothers laughed, and Ben, who had been quiet to that point, asked why he was doing this. He explained his fitness plan to recover from his bed rest, and what else he planned to add to this room. He showed them the bars suspended from the ceiling for pull-ups and for other exercises. Hoss was most interested in the punching bag.

“Hey, Adam, I wouldn’t mind working out with those punchin bags when you get em.”

“They should be here within the month. You can help me find sand to fill them. Then we’ll hang them in here, and you can use this room whenever you want. I’m looking forward to having it this winter.”

“Son, I did wonder when you built this stable why there were two tackrooms, but there weren’t because you had another purpose in mind for this one. So working out like this is how you stayed strong over the years while you were working behind a desk. And that strength is how you were able to save Hoss. That alone tells me you have a great idea here. It makes the expense worth it.”

“It’s not bad at keeping those extra pounds off too.”

Adam grabbed a towel and wiped down before donning his shirt. He asked what had brought them there that morning, and Hoss said he would like Adam to create a second floor washroom like he had in his own home, and Ben added that he would like a water closet added to the downstairs washroom if that was possible.

“It will be so nice when the baby comes, and then this winter for all of us.

Adam agreed he would work on some plans for doing that and explained what kind of materials they would need and that some items would need to be ordered. He told them the washroom could be finished in a short time, but the water closet project would depend on the availability of the items needed.

*****

Chapter 26

The three men walked to the house and were almost there when the dogs went on alert on the porch and started barking. Adam raced to the house then and once inside, saw Lyn on the floor with a white faced AC standing next to her holding Beth’s hand.

“What happened? Are you hurt?”

“No but I think you need to send for the doctor anyway. The contraction I had was big as a boomer. Gobsmacked me, and I feel like I could chunder right now. Kinda wish you’d been using a franger about nine months ago.”

Ben and Hoss had no idea what Lyn was really talking about, but that last part made Adam blush a little even under these circumstances so they could guess. Adam turned to them and asked if one of them could get the doctor. Ben volunteered as Hoss went to make sure the children were all right and Adam lifted Lyn to carry her to their bedroom. He got about ten steps and asked Hoss for help. Once upstairs, Adam was able to take care of her as she loudly asked that Hoss not see her nuddy. Hoss figured that one out right away and quickly left the room to see to his original task.

Kim was alerted and began boiling water and gathered lots of extra towels. Once upstairs, he instructed Adam to spread a number of the towels under Lyn’s hips. The Kim set clean sheets and blankets on a chair before returning to the kitchen. Lyn was in a gown and leaning back on pillows suffering contractions that were getting alarmingly close together. When Adam heard people arriving he breathed an audible sigh of relief. Doctor Martin was soon in the room and had brought his assistant and his wife to help. He told Adam to go downstairs and reassure his other two children.

Once downstairs, Adam ended up with both children on his lap. They sat with their heads together for quite a while as Adam reassured them that their mother was having the baby and was not sick despite what AC had heard. Kim was able to convince Beth that she needed to nap and offered her the chance to take her nap in his room next to the kitchen. The novelty of the offer was more than she could resist and she took his hand. Adam nodded gratefully to the young man. This would ensure that if there were screams and yelling, Beth would not hear them. He remembered vividly some of the things Lyn had yelled during her last two deliveries. He hoped that she stuck to her native slang because only he would actually know what she was saying.

Soon, Joe and Alice, Hop Sing, and Laurie arrived. Hop Sing immediately went upstairs to help. Alice and Laurie went into the kitchen to help Kim. Hoss could see that Adam wanted to talk but couldn’t with AC there so he offered to give AC a ride on Chubb if it was all right with his father. Adam had a smile for that but it didn’t reach his eyes. He was very worried. Once AC was outside, Ben asked why he was so worried.

“I was scared when AC was born but Lyn was so strong and healthy the doctor assured me there was little cause for concern. When Beth was born, I was worried but not as much because of how well the first one went. But this time is different, and I’m terrified.”

“Son, why, what’s different this time?”

“She’s having twins. And the contractions were much worse suddenly than what she had the other two times. I could see the fear in her eyes when I came in the house. Doctor Martin said there is a greater risk with twins.”

Adam dropped his head into his hands, as Joe stood by him and put a hand on his shoulder. There really wasn’t much they could do except wait. Laurie and Alice brought out some sandwiches and cookies with coffee, but no one had an appetite except for Hoss and AC when they returned. The ladies took care of Beth, and AC came to sit at his father’s side. Adam explained to him about twins and then the two sat holding hands and waiting. The only benefit of those violent early contractions was that the first baby was born relatively quickly. Everyone downstairs heard the crying and relaxed just a little, but then there was nothing more for many hours. Just after midnight, they heard a baby crying. There was no way downstairs to know if it was the first one or if the second had been born. Almost twenty minutes later, Doctor Martin came to the top of the stairs to ask Adam to come up, alone.

“The babies are fine and healthy. They are a bit small but not something to worry about.”

“But what about Lyn?”

“It was very hard on her. She’s exhausted. We need to get someone else here to nurse the babies if we can, at least for a few days. If that is acceptable with you, my assistant will go with one of your brothers to make the arrangements right now. Even though it is late, those babies are going to need to be fed soon especially the one born six hours ago, and Lyn just doesn’t have the strength to do it now.”

Adam nodded as he looked to his wife. She was a small woman, and now looked tiny in the large bed and so very pale especially with her dark hair dampened with the sweat from her ordeal.

“Sit with her. Reassure her that everything is going to be all right. She needs time but there is no reason to think she will not make a full recovery. But stay calm. She needs to rest.”

All went well and by the third day, Lyn was able to sit up in bed and eat some solid food. Immediately she demanded that her babies be brought to her. Adam said the doctor was due soon and would make that decision which only made her pout. Adam reminded her to be a good patient and she went ‘hmmmf’ and scowled which did get both of them laughing. Adam brought Beth and AC in for a short visit until the doctor arrived. Doctor Martin agreed she could start nursing the babies but had to stay in bed for at least four more days, and then could get up but was not to do anything except care for herself and nurse the babies. Adam hired the girl who had been their sitter as a nanny. Her name was Aubrey and she had a dream of opening a bookstore in Virginia City. Lyn teased Adam that was the real reason he hired her. At sixteen she was too young to open a business, but she was bright and personable. After a few days of her helping, Lyn didn’t know how she had taken care of the first two without help.

About the end of that first week, Ben rode over as he did every day to see how his son and the twins were doing. This time, Adam was sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee and three dogs at his feet. Ben relaxed because his oldest son would not be there unless things were much better. He walked up and Kim walked out with a cup of coffee for him. The young man reminded Ben of Hop Sing so much especially when he did things like that.

“Pa, can I ask you a very serious question?”

“You can, and I’ll answer it if I can.”

“Well, when I was worried about Lyn dying, I was torn inside. Did I pray for her to make it no matter what or did I pray that the babies would live no matter what? It was tearing me up.”

“What did you decide?”

“I prayed for them all and for me too if it didn’t go well. When I was born, whom did you pray for? Did you want my mother to live? Were you disappointed that she died so I could live?”

Ben paused and closed his eyes and frowned. Could he tell his son the truth even if it hurt? He decided he owed him that.

“At first I prayed for both of you. Then I prayed that Elizabeth would live no matter what. I had never been a father. I didn’t know what it meant. When you were first born, I looked at you, so small and helpless, and wondered why God would do that to me. I sat at her side and mourned her as you lay in the cradle and cried. The midwife picked you up and handed you to me. I didn’t want to hold you. I wanted Elizabeth to live. Then I held you, and I fell in love with you. I realized then that I had not lost Elizabeth because she lived in you. I saw her in you and I still do. As long as I had you, she was still with me. Does that make sense to you?”

Adam nodded and his father continued.

“That’s what hurt me so much when you left and didn’t return. If I lost you, then I really would have lost Elizabeth. You see, all three of my wives live in my sons. As long as the three of you live, then they are with me.”

“Thank you for being honest. When I was younger and blamed myself for my mother’s death, I always had the sense when you talked with me about it, that I wasn’t hearing the truth. You were holding back what you thought would hurt me, weren’t you?”

Ben nodded.

“I worried that you didn’t really love me. I thought that perhaps you cared for me out of obligation. It felt good to hear you say you loved me since I was born. I understand now that I am a father and fell in love with each of my children as I held each one for the first time. But it’s so frightening though to fear losing your wife. I can’t imagine how you did that three times.”

“That third time was almost too much. I think that’s why I can never make it to the altar even though I would like the companionship of a wife. The fear of loss stops me from trying.”

“That may be why all three of your sons waited to marry. I know I had that fear.”

“One other thing about your mother I never told you. It was her dream to come out here and build among the tall trees. She wanted to travel, to see new things, to have new experiences. That same spirit has always been in you. She dreamed big dreams. She was so smart, so well read. I was a little jealous of her sometimes, just like I have sometimes been jealous of you.”

Ben looked sheepishly at his son as Adam looked surprised.

“Is that why you seemed angry at me when I had new ideas I wanted to try or places I wanted to go?”

“Probably some of it. I feared losing you so much. I worried how I could deal with another loss. But I was envious of your talents, your intelligence; you could do so many things better than I could. Sometimes I thought you were trying to take my place.”

“But you did many things better than I could. I just thought of us as being different like Joe and I and Hoss and I are different. We all have strengths and weaknesses.”

“I know that now. These last six years I have had to take a good look at myself. Introspection is not something I ever cared to do much. You were always thinking. I prided myself on doing and being a man of action, but I found that some thinking is not such a bad thing.”

“What I very much like now is that we can talk without yelling. In some ways we were both much too stubborn for our own good. This way is much better.”

For another hour, father and son sat, talked honestly, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

“How are the twins doing?”

“Well! Paul has stopped by almost every day. The way they’re growing, he says there’s nothing to worry about.”

“With everything that has happened, I never heard when the twins are to be christened.”

“Soon. Lyn needs to be stronger first. Michael Benjamin Cartwright and Nicholas Benjamin Cartwright. Lyn’s father’s name and her brother. Her father was called Rex but his given name was Nicholas. And your name to tie the twins together. You do know that they will have separate birthdays. I actually like that because they will not have to share their most important day.”

“Hoss asked me if you had that list of names of Norse gods ready for him. I hope he’s not naming his child that way.”

Adam let his father worry a little bit more before he told him.

“No, one of his hounds is about to litter and he wants to name all of them after Norse gods. He’s giving the pick of the litter to Joe so that Alice will have some protection during the day.”

Ben sighed at the necessity of that, and then they both chuckled because it would not have been all that unreasonable to expect Hoss to use Norse god’s names for his children. Adam was going to tell Ben that in fact he had talked Hoss out of doing just that but decided not to open that topic. Ben didn’t ask either so he didn’t tell him.

*****

Chapter 27

As Laurie grew even larger and October began, Hoss began to worry. He had trouble sleeping at night and sometimes wasn’t even very hungry. Lyn’s difficulties with the delivery of the twins had gotten Hoss to start thinking and worrying that something could go wrong. Even though Hop Sing was there with her every day all day, Hoss got in the habit of making sure he was home for lunch even if he didn’t eat much. It was like the fear was contagious because Joe confided in Hoss one day as they worked that he was fearful of what could happen in the next few months as Alice got closer to her due date.

One day as the three brothers were riding about five weeks after the birth of the twins, discussing plans for the Ponderosa they wanted to discuss with their father, the subject of pregnancy came up as both Joe and Hoss wanted some advice as well as reassurance from Adam. He had been through this three times so they assumed he had known what to do.

“Relax and enjoy this special time. Talk about baby names and plans for the future. Keep your wife central to your life though, before and after the baby is born. You will love your wife and you will love your child, but your children will make their own lives someday, and it will be your wife who is still there by your side.”

“Is that how you did it with Lyn?”

“No, I messed up pretty badly the first time. Luckily I’ve had two more chances to get it right.”

“How’d you mess up?”

“I was too focused on me and what it would mean to me. I learned to focus on the us, the two of us, and then the three of us. That makes the six weeks of abstinence go by faster.”

“The what?” emerged from both at the same time.

“Well, that brings up the next idea. Talk to the doctor about what will happen. There are some surprises like that that take some getting used to.”

Both Hoss and Joe were contemplating a lot by then.

“So right now, you can’t, you know?”

Adam just gave Hoss one of those long suffering looks.

“Anything else?”

“Work together on the nursery and buying things for the baby. Get or make something special for your child. Your wife will appreciate it immensely, and your child will have a family heirloom.”

The three would have more conversations like that over the next few months as the two younger brothers took advantage of their older brother’s experience as a parent.

But about three weeks after that first talk, Hoss and Joe were preparing for a trip to Carson City to look over some stock. As it was early fall, they weren’t sure they would buy anything, but the fliers for the sale indicated there were some quality bulls and stallions in the stock that would be sold to the highest bidders. Hoss had checked with Laurie to be sure she was all right. His baby was due soon and he wanted to be sure to be there for that. She told him all was well and to hurry back. Ben walked outside to talk to them before they left.

“Boys, Adam and Lyn went for a ride that way earlier. You should see them as they are using the carriage. Lyn’s not quite ready to sit a horse, but she wanted to get out for a while. She’s been stuck in the house for a long time so Adam thought a little tour to see the sights that way would be nice for her. Please ask Adam to come in the house when they get back here. I would like to talk with him and I have something for him as well.”

Hoss and Joe agreed to do that. As they rode near the last line shack in that direction, they saw the carriage standing next to it. Smoke was trailing out of the chimney so it was clear that a good fire was burning inside.

“Hey, Hoss, what do you suppose they’re doing at the line shack? I thought Pa said there were some things Adam wanted to show Lyn out here?”

“Now, Joe, ifn you were to think about that, you’d know the answer. Adam has four children at his house now. Pretty hard I bet to get some privacy with his wife.”

“Oh come on, Hoss, it’s still morning, and heck, he’s forty one years old.”

“Joe, I’m thirty five and I ain’t expecting to stop using it when I’m forty one!”

Joe just nodded but then shrugged at that. At twenty-nine, forty one did seem kind of old.

“When we get there and I yell to Adam, we’ll see how long it takes him to answer. Then we’ll know if it’s before or after.”

Joe started giggling and Hoss laughed too as they rode slowly down the hill to the line shack. When they reached the shack, Hoss used his most singsong high-pitched syrupy sweet voice.

“Yoo hoo, oh, Adam, honey, are you in there?”

Joe almost fell off his horse he was laughing so hard. Inside, the line shack, Adam stretched his head back and groaned. He had been in this delicious spoon with his wife on a blanket in front of a romantic fire and then this.

“Who is it, luv?”

“That would be my charming brothers who apparently have no respect for a man wanting a little time with his wife.”

Adam started grabbing his clothing and yelled back.

“Just a minute, Hoss, I’ll be right out.”

It did take a few minutes, and by the time Adam stood on the porch of the line shack stuffing his shirt into his pants with his hair all mussed, his brothers could barely talk.

“After, Hoss, after!”

Peels of laughter erupted again and continued as Adam stood there with a scowl waiting for them to talk. He was in no mood to talk to them at that time. Finally Hoss was able to choke out their father’s message, and then the two of them rode away still laughing.

“Wait, just wait. In a few months, you’ll start to know exactly how I feel.”

Adam was muttering that as Lyn joined him on the porch. Adam wrapped his arms around her unwilling to give up the rest of the time they had today.

“Well, at least we can still enjoy lunch in private. Those two won’t be back.”

“We have about an hour and a half before I need to be back to nurse the boys.”

Adam pulled his wife into a last embrace before they ate lunch and had to head back. Lyn wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his passion. From the top of the hill, Hoss and Joe looked back.

“In six years, I hope Laurie still looks at me the way Lyn looks at Adam, and kisses me like she kisses him.”

“Why wouldn’t she, Hoss?”

“Oh, you know, you see how some marriages start so well and then a few years later they’re all angry at each other and such.”

“I guess we have to do what he does then. He treats her like a queen. Hey, when we’re in Carson, maybe we ought to take some time to do a little shopping for the ladies?”

“Now, that, little brother, is a fine idea, a fine idea indeed.”

“Hey, is that one of Adam’s men up there on that hill?”

“Sure is. Adam don’t want to take no chances with his family. Always one or both of them shadowing the family looking out for them.”

After a quick lunch, Adam and Lyn stopped at the Ponderosa main house. Lyn went in search of Laurie as Adam walked to the study to see his father. Ben greeted him with a big grin and thanked him for stopping in. Then he reached next to his bookcase behind the desk to pick up a small guitar that he handed to Adam.

“With AC’s musical talent, I thought perhaps he would like this. If he has an interest in learning or perhaps one of the younger children would want it later if he doesn’t?”

The guitar was about half size but looked very familiar to Adam. It looked like a smaller version of the guitar his father had damaged in one of their last confrontations. Ben noticed his look and explained.

“I took your guitar to be repaired but they said the neck could be shortened or replaced but not repaired. I didn’t know what you wanted and simply put it with your other things here. I forgot about it until you returned and knowing it couldn’t be repaired to its original state, I bought that other one for you. Then I thought about this one and that they said the neck could be cut down so I took it back and they fashioned this smaller guitar using parts from that other one. The man said it sounds better than the usual small guitar because of the fine woods that were used.”

Ben looked hopefully at his son wanting to see if his gesture was as meaningful as he wanted it to be. Adam lightly strummed the small instrument and then made a few adjustments. He strummed it again and smiled.

“Looks like most anything can be fixed. It’s different. There’s still some of the old, and now some new parts, but it has even greater quality than the original. Thank you.”

“Things of exceptional quality are worth working on. We’re good then?”

“We’re good.”

Adam found he couldn’t say any more. They both knew they had been talking about more than the small guitar. His father slapped him on the shoulder, and they went to show the beautifully refashioned guitar to Lyn.

*****

 

Full House Blues

Chapter 1 Blueys

Laurie had a fast delivery. It was so fast in fact that Doctor Martin asked Laurie not to tell other expectant mothers that as they would have an unrealistic expectation of labor and delivery. Laurie was well suited to childbearing with a full figure. Still Doc had never expected that her entire labor and delivery would be completed in four hours with a healthy little girl with blue eyes and blond hair. Hoss did mention that Gerd was a nice name, but Laurie insisted they stay with the name they had chosen: Ingrid Marie Cartwright.

Adam and Lyn came over with gifts for their first niece and a gift for Hoss and Laurie too. Hoss wondered why Adam’s family arrived in the buckboard instead of his carriage until AC yelled for him to come look. In the back were two unusual looking dogs: blueys or Australian blue heelers.

“Hoss, we gotcha the best dogs in the world. These are the dogs that work cattle and sheep stations all over New South Wales and Queensland and even into the outback, and there’s no finer ranch dog anywhere.”

“Lyn, I ain’t so sure I understood everything ya said but the ‘best dog’ part certainly means a lot.”

The dogs jumped down when given the command to do so by Adam. Hoss wanted to call them to him but didn’t know their names and looked imploringly at Adam and Lyn who understood immediately.

“The male is Banger and the female is Bush Walk. These were our dogs when we were in Sydney. Banger is a great watchdog, and Bush won’t let a child go anywhere alone. AC and Bush were very close, but she doesn’t like the smell of the other dogs on him now.”

Hoss called out Banger and Bush and the dogs went over to him and allowed him to pet them.

“Adam and I were able to train these dogs easily. They are very smart. They’re young enough that they could still have pups if you want. And they can be very good house dogs too if a certain gentleman here would be willing to give them a chance.”

The adults knew who they were talking about but didn’t want AC to know and repeat what they said. Hoss knew it would be a challenge to convince Ben but he was already in love with these dogs, so he was going to make every effort.

“Unlike your hounds, they won’t bark unless they’re working or on alert because something is wrong.”

With that, both Laurie and Hoss were convinced.

“You trusted them around your children?”

“Laurie, Lyn got them as puppies before AC was born so they’re about six years old now. Yes, they were in the house as AC was a baby and then grew up. They were with us briefly after Beth was born, but we got them a home with friends when we left. They sent them to us because the dogs were so sad after we left. I think they’ll be fine here. We’ll see them a lot if you want them.”

“Want them? Adam I’d pay ya for ’em ifn I had to. Thank you. I think I’ll be giving away them hounds and working with these dogs. Those hounds are just hard to train, and they are loud.”

Laurie nodded at that. Well that would be one selling point to Ben: let them have these dogs in the house and Hoss could get rid of the hounds.

*****

Chapter 2 Harvest Celebration, Adam and Joe

By early November, the Ponderosa was being readied for the annual harvest celebration. There was cleaning and decorating to do, food to prepare, and punch to mix. An area for dancing was set up just outside the house, and tables were set up and covered. The preparations had never gone so smoothly. With three women to help, much of the planning and the work had been willingly handed over to them as the men waited to be told what to do. Joe had hired a cook/housekeeper to help Alice and have someone else there for her protection. So his cook and Adam’s were helping Hop Sing.

With nearly perfect weather, wagons and carriages streamed in from all over. The dancing was boisterous and the music festive. Food was served and dancing was interspersed with eating and drinking. As the evening wore on and there was less and less for the Cartwrights to have to do, Joe took Alice by the elbow and walked her to the dark behind the stable for a little quiet time with hugs and kisses. Alice said they ought to get back soon, and as they walked around the barn, they saw Adam approaching but a woman called out to him from the shadows.

“Howdy, cowboy, y’all one of them thar doggies what can curl a gal’s toes with your kisses?”

Adam moved in and all they could see was a woman’s arms circling his neck as he leaned in for what was clearly a passionate kiss. Joe left Alice’s side and rushed over to grab Adam, pull him back, and smash a fist into his face. Adam fell back against the wall of the barn from the surprise assault.

“What the hell?”

Lyn dropped to her knees and put her hands on either side of Adam’s face as he sat against the wall of the barn trying to rein in his temper.

“Luv, are you all right? All we wanted was a little pash and Joe comes in here like a bounce and does this.”

“Adam, I am so sorry. I had no idea that was Lyn. She sounded like a Texas cowgirl.”

“Joe, I will tell you once and never forget this: I will never be unfaithful to my wife even with a kiss. If you ever smack me like this again, be prepared for the consequences.”

Alice tugged Joe to go before he said or did anything to make the situation worse. As they talked later, Joe realized he had not apologized to Lyn and turned to go back. He and Alice walked back toward the stable looking for Adam and Lyn but didn’t see them. Suddenly, Alice grabbed Joe’s arm and propelled him in the direction of the dance.

“What, why, what’s going on?”

“Well if the sounds coming from the loft are any indication, Lyn isn’t thinking about needing an apology from you right about now.”

“Really? In the loft? Those two really need to get some time away.”

Both of them snickered, but then Joe took Alice’s elbow and steered her back into the shadows where they had been earlier. Later, as Joe and Alice came sauntering back to the party, they walked up next to Adam and Lyn. Joe picked some hay from the back of Adam’s jacket and held it in front of him meaningfully before dropping it. Adam leaned to the side and picked a couple of twigs from Joe’s hair, handed them to him, and smiled. They understood each other perfectly.

*****

Chapter 3 Harvest Celebration = just for laughs, Ben

At the harvest celebration, Ben Cartwright got to show appreciation to all of his neighbors and friends for everything that people had done for each other for that year. Everyone got to celebrate another season of herds thriving and crops being harvested. In addition, this year Ben was celebrating his growing family and that Alice, Hoss, and Adam had survived their ordeals. He couldn’t have been a prouder man, but he was feeling a bit lonely too. As his three oldest sons spent time with their families, there was less time between father and sons. Jamie was spending his time chasing after young love, and Candy was betrothed and planning to marry in the spring. Griff seemed to prefer the company of the younger men in the bunkhouse and wasn’t much of a chess player or conversationalist anyway.

Clementine had seemingly given up on her pursuit of Ben Cartwright, and he surprised himself by admitting that actually bothered him some. So when Ben saw Clementine at the dance, he asked her to dance and she accepted. Then they danced a number of dances as the evening progressed. Without her aggressive push to ensnare him, he had time to appreciate her good humor, her skill with dancing, and her interesting comments on others which were not mean nor nasty but often quite entertaining. She was more petite than he had realized. His fear had apparently made him remember her as being more dominating than she was.

Standing at the refreshment table, savoring some cool punch after a number of dances, Ben got up the nerve to ask.

“Clementine, it is very warm tonight. Would you like to take a stroll?”

“Well, Benjamin, I would enjoy that.”

“You can call me Ben you know. Benjamin sounds so formal.”

“Alright, Ben. My parents called me Clemmie but I much preferred my late husband’s name for me: he called me Cleo. It sounds so much more royal than Clementine or Clemmie.”

Ben offered her his elbow, and they walked to the garden in the back. Candy and his fiancée were locked in a passionate embrace on the bench there so they made a strategic retreat. Ben steered her toward the barn because there was a nice grassy area behind the barn and a pretty grove of trees where they could have a nice walk and privacy. As they walked there, there were some passionate sounds coming from the grove and what sounded suspiciously like his son Joseph’s giggles, so Ben suggested they take a walk into the barn to see the new puppies Hoss had told him about. As they stepped into the barn and Ben grabbed a lantern to light, there was a decidedly feminine but oddly accented ‘Yee hah, ride ’em, cowboy’ from the loft, and he had no desire to find out who was up there. Ben set the lantern down, grabbed Cleo’s elbow and steered her toward the house. As Ben and Cleo walked into the house, they interrupted Jamie as he tried to steal a kiss from a red haired girl who had recently moved to town with her family. Jamie got almost as red as his hair as did the young lady, but Ben decided this was not the time to talk about it. Instead, he turned to Cleo and asked her for the next dance. She was chuckling.

“Ben, I never knew what went on at these parties of yours!”

Ben could only shake his head and walk his dance partner outside. All thoughts of finding out if he could steal a kiss tonight were gone. As they walked outside and began to dance, Joe and Alice, and Adam and Lyn were standing just outside the circle of dancers.

“Hey, Adam, that’s not Pa dancing with Clementine Hawkins, is it?”

“Well, Joe, I would say it is except he looks happy.”

“Amazing, you just never know what’s going to happen at these harvest parties!”

*****

Chapter 4 Joe and Alice have the baby

At Christmas, Joe was getting worried. It seemed that Alice was always uncomfortable. She said things to him that made him feel guilty. She cried at anything he did it seemed. Finally as he and his brothers were hitching up the teams so he and Adam to return to their homes, he asked his brothers.

“Oh yeah, I remember those days all too well. Three times now I have suffered through those days. How about you, Hoss, was Laurie like that too?”

“Ya, I thought for a while she was getting ready to pack up and leave me. I couldn’t do anything right, and she cried all the time.”

“Well you were lucky too that Laurie’s delivery time was so short. You wouldn’t believe some of the things Lyn can say during delivery. Then afterwards she is so sweet and lovable, you wonder if you imagined the whole thing.”

“So this is going to keep going on until the baby is born?”

Adam and Hoss looked at each other, and then at Joe and nodded.

Luckily for Joe, that blessed event was only a week away. Soon, harmony reigned again at his cabin in the woods as they welcomed their daughter into the family.

*****

 

Missing Scouser

Chapter 1

Lyn was missing Scouser. The more that she saw Hoss, the more she remembered her brother and it intensified the feeling of loss. She loved being on the Ponderosa and she loved Adam’s family. It was wonderful for her to have two sisters too with whom she could discuss things that required a more feminine audience. Laurie and Alice made it easier for Lyn to accept that her mother was gone, just as Ben’s wholehearted welcome of her eased some of the pain of the loss of her father.

Adam had noticed how she looked at Hoss sometimes and guessed at the connection she was making. The sad look that passed across her countenance at such times was brief but telling. He mentioned it to Hoss one day as they rode. Hoss started to feel badly about it but Adam assured him that was not why he broached the subject. Instead, he wondered if Hoss could spend a little more time with Lyn. If he could talk with her as an older brother, Adam felt sure that the pain of Scouser’s loss might be less. Hoss did like spending time with Lyn so for him, the request was not a difficult one to accept. He started the next day after breakfast when he rode to Adam’s home supposedly to discuss business with Adam.

“Now that’s done, I think I may just go fishing. Hey, Lyn, you ever been fishing?”

“No, that wasn’t something anyone in my family did.”

“Well, then, how about if you come with me, and I’ll teach ya how to fish like an American?”

“Oh I don’t know. I have the children to care for. I can’t just dump them in Adam’s lap and go off and play.”

“Hey, wait a minute. They are my children too. I can care for them for a few hours. Besides there’s always Kim. You should go. Hoss knows how to fish, but its his fish stories that are the best part of an outing with him. Go on, have some fun.”

So Lyn agreed and spent the next few hours fishing. For a change, Hoss actually did quite a bit of fishing instead of using the time for a nap in the sun. After about three hours, they arrived back at Adam’s house. Adam had not seen Lyn so vibrant since before her parents’ death. She held up a stringer with a few fish on it and grinned from ear-to-ear.

“I caught all of these myself. Hoss is going to teach me how to clean them now so we can eat them. We had so much fun, I hardly had time to worry about you or feel guilty about shunning my responsibilities.”

“Well if there’s anyone who can make a person feel that way, it’s my brothers.”

Adam smiled and hugged his wife, and then smiled again as she walked off toward the stable with Hoss to clean her fish.

*****

Chapter 2

Hoss hadn’t been to town for a night out in a long time. He, Joe, and Adam had decided to celebrate spring with a trip to town. For Hoss, this night felt very special. First he had been home awaiting the birth of his child. Then there was a cattle drive and he hurried home from that instead of celebrating with the men because he missed his wife and child so much. Then there was the long winter with a number of big storms and the only trips to town had been to get supplies or attend church services as the weather allowed. Christmas had been fun too with the children, especially AC and Beth too now that she understood the concept of presents. But then the rest of the winter passed slowly and he was ready for a good time.

The Cartwright ladies also planned an outing. Lyn, Laurie, and Alice were going to do some dress shopping and then have dinner at the International. Adam made reservations for them as soon as he had arrived in town. He ordered flowers for their table and a bottle of wine. He paid for Lyn’s meal and left a generous gratuity to ensure the ladies got excellent service.

Relaxing at the bar with a beer each to start, Hoss and his brothers began to reminisce about the days when they had come to town and often left only after paying fines and damages.

“Why was it that I had to pay when the two of you were the ones who started those fights?”

“Now Adam, you did start a few yourself. And besides, who’s to say we weren’t fighting because some jasper insulted you by calling you something awful?”

“Yeah, like a bossy pig-headed stubborn mule, or uppity know-it-all too-big-for-his-britches smarty-pants? Huh?”

“Joe, why does it sound like the same kind of things you used to call me back then?”

“Well, maybe in here is where I learned to call you those things.”

“Damn, I forgot to get those things Kim wanted from Chinatown. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Adam left and Hoss and Joe ordered a second round as they leaned back against the bar to survey the room. There was a table of poker but the table was full. It looked like a group of down o their luck cowboys anyway so it probably wouldn’t be much fun. The saloon gals stayed away because it was well known that all three Cartwright sons were married and fathers now. No one wanted to anger the Cartwright women: they all appeared to be able to take care of themselves even the little one married to Adam. People said she could shoot and even had her own gun that she carried in her skirt pocket on occasion.

“Joe, somehow I remember a Friday night in town as being a whole lot more interesting than this.”

“That’s because it was. We can’t drink too much or get in a fight or our wives will make life pretty miserable for a while. The poker game isn’t interesting. This could end up being an early night.”

Just as Joe said that, a mountain of a man walked into the saloon. He walked to the bar and set his hat on it before ordering a beer. He dropped a valise at his feet. Hoss started to get an idea and walked over to the man.

“Hello, my name’s Hoss.”

The big fellow smiled and stuck out his hand to shake.

“My name’s Michael.”

To Hoss and Joe, the man had a funny accent but lots of people around Virginia City lately did as there were several mines hiring and people from all over were moving in. Hoss had a proposition to make.

“Now you look like a sporting man. How about an arm wrassel or a wrasslin match and loser buys drinks?”

“Well, now that sounds like a good time. Where’s the man big enough to challenge me though?”

Michael had a twinkle in his eye as he said it, and Hoss wasn’t offended.

“Arm wrassling or just plain wrassling?”

“Wrestling I think. Here or in the street?”

Sam hurriedly assured them that the street was for wrestling, but that arm wrestling would be allowed in the saloon area. Hoss handed his coat and gun-belt to Joe. The two big men walked outside and the saloon emptied as the patrons rushed to be spectators at the best thing that had happened in town lately. The two big men started by shaking hands and then started to wrestle. It was clear that the newcomer was quite good, but Hoss had a lot of experience on his side. After about twenty minutes and no clear winner, the two wrestlers stood facing each other trying to catch their breath. Hoss had a suggestion.

“How about one last clinch and the winner is the one left standing? Ya gotta stay in this circle though or you lose.”

Hoss drew a circle with about a five foot circumference. Both men took up a position inside the ring and when Joe said ‘Now’ they started in on each other. Neither seemed to even move for a bit until suddenly Michael shifted his weight down, up, and then sideways. Hoss tried to regain his balance but failed, and he stepped outside the circle. Hoss shook Michael’s hand and the two went inside to enjoy a beer on Hoss’ expense. Michael was going to introduce himself further until Joe said something about the Cartwright wives being in the hotel restaurant. Michael excused himself and headed that way. Michael asked directions for that restaurant without seeming too excited, but inside his heart was pounding.

Michael followed the directions and headed toward the restaurant. From inside, Lyn saw him and gasped. Then she stood and ran out into the street and threw herself into his arms. She hugged him and kissed him.

“It can’t be you, but it is.”

“Yeah, Sissie, it’s me. I missed you so much.”

“Why didn’t you send a letter?”

“Because it would have gone out on the same ship I was on and you wouldn’t have known any sooner. I just met your two brothers-in-law in the saloon. Good blokes they are.”

“Wasn’t Adam there?”

“Never saw the bloke. He’s here in town too?”

From the restaurant, Laurie and Alice didn’t know what to make of the two in the street. They obviously knew each other and cared for each other, but they knew how much Lyn loved Adam. So they waited expecting that at some point Lyn would come back and tell them all about it.

In the saloon, Adam returned with his packages and questioned Hoss about his disheveled appearance.

“So you did get in a fight?”

“Nah, there was a big man in here with a funny accent and we wrassled for drinks. Then he headed over to the International after I mentioned that our wives were there having dinner. He musta been hungry. He even forgot his valise here.”

“He had a funny accent?”

“Yeah, he sounded a little like Lyn only not as fine.”

Adam picked up the valise and after seeing the design on it, he dropped it and ran out of the saloon. Hoss looked at Joe.

“Something I said?”

“No, Hoss, but something’s funny here. We better follow him.”

Hoss and Joe walked out of the saloon and looked down the street. What they saw shocked them. In the distance, Lyn was in the arms of the big man, and Adam was on a dead run toward them. They heard Adam yell something and the big man released Lyn and faced Adam. Adam slammed pretty hard into the man and they lost their balance and fell to the ground. Hoss and Joe rushed to help because both were afraid that Adam had taken on too much. When they got there, Adam and the big man were laughing uproariously and each had an arm around the other’s shoulder. Lyn was laughing too but had tears running down her face. It had been too much for the ladies in the restaurant so they arrived as well. Adam stood and helped pull the big man to his feet.

“Ladies, and my brothers, I would like to introduce Michael Harrison, Scouser, who is quite alive apparently. There’s got to be a good story in there, mate.”

“Oh, there is, but I think I would like to tell it in a more private setting.”

Packages, valise, and other belongings were collected and the seven of them headed to Adam’s house. On the way, they decided that Ben might like to be there so Joe headed that way to get him. It was a bit late but they knew he would like to hear about this. In less than two hours, all were enscounced in Adam’s house in front of the fireplace ready to share stories. Before Ben and Joe got there, Scouser was surprised to learn he not only had Beth as a niece but twin nephews, Michael and Nicholas, as well. He had to see them so Lyn and Adam took him to the children’s bedrooms and he looked at the sleeping treasures. They decided not to wake AC but tell him all about this in the morning. Once Ben and Joe were there, Scouser launched into his narrative.

*****

Chapter 3

Lyn sat next to her brother with a hand on his arm. She needed the physical contact to believe that this was all real. Adam sat next to her with his arm around her waist to support her. He could feel her still shaking.

“Maxwell had me kidnapped. He waylaid me like any bushranger would but when I went to hand over my wallet, the buggers tied me up instead. They put me in a wagon, and the next thing I know I’m on a boat to Queensland where I was forced to work on a banana plantation. Well I had fought them every step of the way and wasn’t in good condition to work as a banana bender much less fight any more. I thought I was going to die there, but then that damn Maxwell showed up. He’d been putting the money he stole into that plantation. Then he kidnapped people to work it. He had a partner too. An aborigine woman who had helped kidnap even some of her own people. Workers died there because conditions were so terrible. Maxwell taunted me. He told me what you believed. He said I would die, and then they would feed me to the salt crocs like they did with any worker who died.”

Scouser had to stop and explain some of that. Lyn and Adam had not told the family about Maxwell and what he had done so Adam filled in that part of the story saying only enough so that they would understand because he didn’t want Lyn reliving too much of it. Then Scouser continued with his story.

“Well I acted like I was hurt and sick and not getting better. I ate bananas and anything else I could to get my strength back. Once you left for America, that bloke thought he would get some satisfaction wounding me and watching the crocs eat me. He walked me toward the river there but that bullet you put in his arm helped. He raised his pistol to shoot me but was too slow because that hand was partially disabled. That gave me time to get close enough and I grabbed that pistol and threw it in the river. He did nick me in the arm but it wasn’t enough to stop me. One good hand was all I needed to take care of that galah. Well I grabbed him by his neck and lifted him off his feet. I choked the life out of him with my bare hand. He tried to kick me but it was a feeble thing. I looked into his eyes as he knew he was dying and I laughed at him. I could see fury replaced by fear and I kept going until his lips turned blue and his eyes turned glassy.”

At first everyone was silent. The ferocity of what Scouser had done had shocked them. Adam pulled Lyn into a tighter embrace though. Their nightmare was over thanks to Scouser. Lyn was worried for her brother though.

“Scouser, aren’t you afraid what the authorities might think? You could be tried for killing him when he was unarmed.”

“There ain’t no body and no witnesses. I left his carcass lying there on the banks of a river in northern Queensland. The saltwater crocs must have had a feast on him. His partner fled back to her people, but because of what she had done to some of her own people by helping Maxwell, they took care of her.”

“What did they do?”

“Joe, they banished her. Now some can live for quite a while in the outback, but it was the dry season and a long way from everything. Too many dangers to survive. It was the reason that they could kidnap workers. No one was around there to stop them, and it was impossible to escape.”

“How did you get back from there?”

“The workers who went back to their people told them what I had done. They found me and helped me and the others with food and water. They gave us some basic weapons. Before we left, we took anything from that plantation that could help so we had extra clothing, blankets, canteens, more food, and such. We followed that river upstream until we got to the mountains. They aren’t nearly as high as the ones here. We followed the valleys through and got to Towns’ plantation. The bugger heard my story and then made me work for some money that he then took as payment for my passage to Brisbane. Once there I was able to contact people who helped me. When I got to Sydney, I talked to Luke and found out where exactly you had gone, and got on the first ship I could to come here.”

Lyn hugged her brother. She was sorry for his ordeal but inordinately pleased that he was here with her. She felt more complete than she had in a long time. She leaned back into Adam’s embrace and relaxed. Soon after, the others took their leave. Adam showed Scouser the guest bedroom, and he headed to bed. His long trip and the telling of his story had left him exhausted but fulfilled.

The next morning, AC was awakened early by Adam. He didn’t want his son shocked if he suddenly saw his uncle without preamble. He explained what had happened and that Uncle Scouser was sleeping in the guest bedroom. AC wanted to go wake him, but Adam told him that isn’t what you did to people you cared about. AC had to wait until Scouser awoke on his own which to AC seemed to take forever.

Finally as they were eating breakfast, Scouser walked down the stairs and directly to the dining room where he asked for breakfast and lots of it. With a tear in her eye, Lyn asked Kim to please bring out more food. Then AC started filling Scouser in on everything he had missed although he had to be reminded several times that certain things were private and not to be shared especially at the dining room table. Adam shook his head because AC reminded him so much of Joe. Lyn wondered if that is how Adam would have been without all the pain and difficulties of his childhood. After breakfast, AC wanted to play his guitar for his uncle. He played the songs he had learned so far and got his father to accompany him. Guitar music and singing would be heard in that house for many years.

*****

 

Brotherly Love

Chapter 1

As fall slowly swallowed up the summer, both Laurie and Lyn grew. Once again, Adam was thrilled to feel life developing as he held his hand to his wife’s tummy and felt the kicks of an active child. Lyn complained that this one was far worse than the others kicking her all day and all night robbing her of sleep. But she smiled as she said it each time for she knew it meant a healthy baby.

“This little one is jealous.”

“How can an unborn baby be jealous?”

“Every time you touch me, the little hellion starts kicking. It’s hard to concentrate on anything with someone stomping your insides.”

The early dawn light bathed the bedroom in a soft glow as Adam smiled and kissed his wife. He began rubbing her tummy in circles to settle the little one. He nuzzled his wife’s neck as he continued to soothe the baby in her tummy. He kissed and caressed and the two of them slowly made love. It was the perfect way to start a Sunday. He let Lyn relax in bed for as long as he could by getting the four children up and moving with Aubrey’s help. It was the only day of the week when he got to do this. He got them all around the dining table and made sure they had their breakfast. AC was becoming a big help with the twins. He hurriedly downed his own breakfast so he could help feed the twins and give his father some time to eat. Aubrey helped with the twins and with Beth who liked to talk rather than eat and had to be reminded often that there was still food on the plate. Then all four were brought upstairs to dress for church services.

Adam and Scouser went out to hitch up the carriage and the buckboard. Adam and Lyn would ride in the carriage with Beth and the twins. AC and Aubrey would ride in the buckboard. Adam had been noticing some looks between Aubrey and Scouser that Lyn said he was imagining. But he thought that her eighteenth birthday soon might make a change in behavior around the house. Each time he said something about Aubrey, he noticed that Scouser would turn away. Perhaps it was the age difference that bothered him, but it wasn’t that much more than the difference between Lyn and him so he didn’t think it should be an issue.

“Do you think we ought to hold a party for Aubrey’s eighteenth birthday?”

“Don’t matter to me. You two do whatever you think is right.”

“Well I do think your opinion matters to Aubrey. When are you going to tell her how you feel?”

“I feel fine, mate. No idea what you’re talking about.”

Adam laughed and Scouser looked at him and grinned.

“Yes, I think she would love to have a party.”

Adam slapped him on the back. The two of them climbed in their vehicles and drove to the front of the house to pick up their passengers. It was quite an occasion when this group got to church. Usually the other Cartwrights were already waiting even though all lived further away because none had a group this size to get to the church. When they arrived, Ben was always the first to greet them and hug each of the grandchildren. Joe’s Maria and Hoss’ Michele would be there next to hug their cousins. Adam noted that Laurie hung back this time and wondered what the problem was. When he saw the look on Hoss’ face, he knew something was wrong.

“Hoss, is there something I can help you with. You look like you lost your best friend.”

“Adam, just say a few prayers for us if you would. I cain’t talk about it now.”

Adam put his arm around his brother’s shoulder as they walked to the church. Ben and Joe saw it and knew there was something wrong but had no idea what it was. After church, there was supposed to be the last picnic of the season. Hoss and Laurie said they couldn’t stay. Lyn volunteered to watch Michele with the rest of the brood. Adam walked with Hoss and Laurie to their carriage.

“You two do what you have to do. We’ll bring Michele by later.”

“Adam, do you think she could stay at your house?”

“Certainly. Anything else you need, just ask?”

“Thank you, that’s what we need right now.”

Hoss pulled a small valise from the carriage and handed it to Adam. As Hoss and Laurie left, Adam noted that Doctor Martin climbed into his carriage and followed them down the road. Ben and Joe walked up to ask if he knew what was bothering Hoss and Laurie, and he told them what little he knew. When Adam told Lyn, she looked at him and asked the question they had all been thinking.

“Do you think there’s a problem with the baby?”

When Ben and Jamie arrived home late that afternoon, they saw Doc Martin’s carriage parked in front. Jamie went to get water and grain for those horses and volunteered to put up Buck when he put his own horse in the stable. Ben walked inside to find Hoss sitting in the red chair all hunched over and sobbing.

“We lost the baby. And what’s worse is Laurie is bleeding something fierce. Doc and Hop Sing have been with her for hours now. I cain’t lose her too, Pa, I cain’t. She’s gotta live.”

“We’ll pray, son. Laurie is a strong woman. She’s a fighter too.”

“Doc couldn’t hear a heartbeat from the baby yesterday, and he said it looked like Laurie was ready to deliver anytime even though it was way too early. Then this morning the labor started.”

“The baby was stillborn then?”

“Yes. How could I live if she dies too?”

“You will no matter what. Remember that you have a daughter who needs you, so don’t go giving up on life so quickly.”

Hop Sing came to the top of the stairs then and asked them quietly to come see Laurie. When they entered the room, her struggles were apparent by her pale countenance and drawn features.

“She’s going to make it, Hoss. We got the bleeding stopped. She will be weak and need a lot of time to recuperate, but she’s strong.”

Hoss went to Laurie’s side to comfort her, but she immediately began sobbing. She told him it had been a boy, the boy they had dreamed of having. Then she shocked him by saying there would be no more children for them. Hoss looked at Paul who nodded sadly. Too much damage had been done. She would not be able to bear any more children. Hoss wrapped his arms around his wife and both cried into the other’s embrace. Ben and Paul left the room pulling the door closed behind them. Downstairs they told Jamie what had happened, and Ben and Jamie hugged and cried too for the great loss that Hoss and Laurie had suffered.

Ben went to Adam’s house to tell him that Hoss’ son had been stillborn. He also told them that Laurie was very weak but would survive, except she was emotionally devastated by not only her loss but her future of being barren. Lyn and Adam said that Michele should stay until Hoss and Laurie were ready to have her back home. Then Ben rode to Joe’s home to tell him. He and Alice offered to do anything that was needed but of course there was nothing anyone could do for the grief stricken couple. The next day, the family gathered on the shore of the lake as the tiny casket was lowered into a grave and prayers were said. Adam brought a small wooden marker from his carriage and handed it to Hoss. It simply said ‘Eric Cartwright II’ and nothing more.

“We can get one made the way you want it. This was all I could do in one day.”

“Thank you, Adam. This was made with love. It’s all we need.”

Then Hoss picked up his wife from the chair where she was seated and carried her back to the carriage. The doctor had said she should not be out of bed, but nothing could have kept her from the funeral of her son. Hoss looked at Adam and asked for his daughter. Adam picked her up and carried her to the carriage. Michele was so young and had no idea what was happening, but she had picked up on the unbelievable sadness of those around her and started to cry. Laurie reached out for her daughter and wrapped her arms around her as Adam set the little girl on her mother’s lap.

That night, Lyn and Adam held each other in bed for a long time and said nothing until Adam broke the silence.

“The greatest fear we have had was that we would lose a wife like Pa lost his. Now I think I know a greater fear. How can one accept the loss of a child? My heart is breaking and it was my nephew. How can Hoss and Laurie bear this grief?”

“I know. I have looked at our children over and over today and can’t imagine our life without them, any of them. Now we have another on the way, and how it will hurt Hoss and Laurie to see our joy when all they have is sorrow.”

Lyn and Adam would fall asleep each night from that point on thanking God for the continued health and safety of their children. They had learned how fast that security could be lost. Laurie and Hoss gradually lost that look of profound sorrow, but somehow their laughter and their conversations no longer had the same life in them that they did before. They loved their daughter and she flourished in their care, but somehow, their lives had been irreparably harmed it seemed.

Near Thanksgiving, Joe suggested to Adam that they should all go on a bird-hunting trip for Thanksgiving. Jamie and Hoss were invited to come as well and Adam said that AC and Scouser would make the trip as well. Hoss was reluctant to go but Laurie convinced him that they needed to get back to doing normal things. She and Michele were going to stay with Lyn and the children while the men were gone. Lyn invited Alice and Maria to stay too which alleviated some of Joe’s concern. Finally Ben asked why he wasn’t invited, so he was. To haul all they needed with this size group, they decided to take a buckboard along so they could bring a few cots too. Jamie was disappointed to learn that he would again be sleeping on the floor, but the dogs would be there again so it wouldn’t be too bad. Adam and Ben got the two beds, and Joe, Hoss, and Scouser got cots.

The Cartwright men and Scouser spent three days hunting and bagged turkey, quail, partridge, and a goose. It was going to be a great feast on the holiday. In the buckboard, they packed the birds in ice they found on the edges of a pond each morning. AC and Jamie wanted to fish but Adam said the water was too cold. However both boys enjoyed being with the others as they hunted. Jamie had his first experience with a shotgun and bagged a bird. AC walked with his father and Hoss as Adam taught his son how to move quietly through the woods. AC was a quick learner and started to sneak up behind the other men as they did tasks around the cabin.

“Dang, now we got two of em that can sneak around like Paiute. You can sure tell that AC is Adam’s son.”

“Joe, you got that right. He looks like him and now he walks like him. Hey Pa, what do you think?”

“From the first time I saw him, I thought he looked exactly like his father at that age. Nothing has changed about that except AC smiles more and laughs more easily.”

Adam noticed how Hoss looked at AC sometimes and turned away to wipe tears from his eyes. If there was anything he could do to ease his brother’s sorrow, he would. It pained him as it did his father and brothers to see the deep hurt that Hoss carried now.

The group returned to the main house of the Ponderosa as planned on Thanksgiving eve and found everyone there. That night the house was full. Adam and Lyn took one bedroom with the twins. The three girls stayed in another room, and Joe and Alice took another bedroom. Hoss and Laurie of course were in their room and Jamie bunked in with Ben and AC slept on one of the cots out by the fireplace with the dogs. Scouser had returned to Adam’s house and would be back the next day with Aubrey. Hop Sing was delighted with the birds and planned to be up early the next morning to begin preparing a feast.

As the twins were sleeping on cots next to their bed, Adam and Lyn had to postpone any welcome home loving for a day. Instead they whispered.

“Hoss is so sad. I was with him every day, and it seems the sorrow has touched him so deeply, there is nothing I can do to help him.”

“Laurie was the same. No matter how much fun we were having, there was sadness there that never left her eyes. Her mouth would smile but her heart wasn’t in it. We have been so lucky. We seem to have children now just by thinking about it. But I remember how I felt after we had AC and then I couldn’t seem to get pregnant for so long. It was a great hurt and was such a relief when I was pregnant with Beth. Then the twins came, and now we have another on the way. It just doesn’t seem fair.”

*****

Chapter 2

“Pa, do you love your brothers?”

“Yes, AC, I do; very much.”

“Do they know you do?”

“I am sure they do.”

“How do they know you love them?”

“Well, for example, when we were boys living in the same house, Hoss and Joe used to sneak into my room every day and each would steal a butterscotch candy from the top of my dresser.”

“How did that help them know you love them?”

“I never hid the butterscotch candy.”

“How do my brothers know I love them?”

“Do you play with them? Hold them? Talk to them? Help them when they need it?”

“Yes, I want to do a good job as an oldest brother. Grandpa said you were a good oldest brother. That’s what I want to be.”

“It’s a hard job but I loved it. Watching out for my brothers, helping them, teaching them, and sometimes playing was fun.”

“Was it ever not fun?”

“It’s not fun when they’re hurting or in trouble and you can’t fix it.”

“Are you still the oldest brother?”

“Yes, it’s a forever thing. Once the oldest, always the oldest.”

“It’s harder for me than it was for you.”

“Really? Why do you say that?”

“You only had two to watch out for. I have three already and there’s another one coming. It’s going to be a lot of work for me. I’m only six years old you know.”

“Almost seven.”

“Yes, but I have to go to school and take care of them too.”

“But your mother and I are here to help, and so are Aubrey and Uncle Scouser. There’s Kim too, and he does a lot of work for us.”

“When can we go on another fishing and hunting trip? I like that when I have you all to myself and there’s no other children that you have to take care of.”

“In spring. We can do that again in spring. Now, don’t you have some work to do?”

AC went running off to the house. Adam continued to buff his saddle. He had been thinking all day and needed to work off some energy, but he was still thinking. AC had been a welcome distraction but as soon as he left, Adam began thinking the same thing he had been thinking about for weeks. He needed to talk it over with Lyn but had no idea how to broach the subject. As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Lyn brought it up that night as they lay in bed together just hugging and kissing. Her tummy was large and her delivery date was near so their time together was mostly cuddling and kissing. When Lyn mentioned what he had been thinking about, he froze.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No, it’s just uncanny how you were thinking the same thing.”

“Well, they both live here in our house, and it may have been a mistake not to pay more attention to what was going on.”

“Do you think he knows?”

“I’m not sure. He looks at her with desire, but I can’t say that I think it is love. I love my brother, but he can be a ladies man instead of one lady’s man.”

“With AC’s hearing and proclivity to repeat nearly everything he hears, let’s just talk about this here. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

Just a week later, Lyn woke Adam in the early dawn to tell him it was time. Luckily it was sunny out and there was no snow or ice to worry about. The weather had been mild. Adam was sure that the baby would be born during the first snowstorm of the season and Lyn reminded him that he had lost the wager. The weather was fine. Scouser went to alert his family, and Aubrey rode to town to get the doctor. Kim was up like he knew there was going to be an emergency and already had tea and coffee brewing by the time Adam got to the kitchen to request the boiling water and a stack of towels. As Kim readied things in the kitchen, Adam returned to the bedroom to help Lyn get into a clean dry gown. He settled her in the rocking chair and put clean bedding on the bed. When Kim arrived with the stack of towels, Adam took those and handed him the bundle of wet bedding. He spread the towels in the center of the bed and then helped Lyn to the bed so she could lie down. He pulled a sheet and then a blanket over her. He had already stoked the fireplace so the room was warming. All they had to do now was wait. They had done this three times and the sense of panic was gone. There was nervous apprehension of the unknown, but they expected no problems.

By midday, the family members waiting down below heard the loud wail of a baby. Several remarked that this one had exceptional lungs as loud as the cries were. Upstairs, Adam looked at Lyn who was holding a baby with reddish hair.

“Who would have thought the two of us could have had a red headed baby.”

“Well it is more of a chestnut color than red.”

“He is going to stand out like a torch when this family goes to town.”

Everyone came in to see the baby then, and offered congratulations and a few jibes at Adam for the redheaded baby. Aubrey was in briefly and then with tears in her eyes, she left the room. Adam saw and looked at Lyn. She nodded and he followed Aubrey out the door and knocked on her door that had been hastily closed. When she answered, he asked if he could speak with her, and she turned her back to him.

“Does he know?”

Aubrey whirled on him with shock on her face. She had been wearing wraps and shawls and had noticeably gained weight.

“You can’t hide it much longer.”

“He doesn’t love me. We were together just twice and I knew. He wants me but not as a wife. He talks all the time of how he misses Australia and wants to go back home.”

“Do you love him?”

Aubrey dropped her head, and Adam stepped closer and put his hand under her chin and lifted her face. She mouthed a ‘no’ and tears flowed again. Haltingly, she said her thoughts.

“I was in love with being wooed by such an impressive man. But we have little in common, and rarely have much of a conversation other than to talk about the children or this place. His ideas of the future are not at all like mine. Oh, Adam, what am I going to do?”

“First, I will send Doctor Martin in here to see you. Then you need to tell Scouser. I’ll help you all that I can, but that baby needs your attention too so you can deliver the little one safely. How soon do you think?”

“I think I’m over six months along.”

Adam was surprised by that, but did what he said. With Adam and Lyn sitting quietly and ready to help, Aubrey told Scouser the news. Scouser said he would marry Aubrey, but the four of them knew that it would be a loveless marriage. Adam suggested another possibility, and after a few days of thinking about it, Aubrey and Scouser agreed it was the best solution.

*****

Chapter 3

The Christmas season was bittersweet at Adam’s home. He and Lyn and the children were thrilled to have a baby in the house again. Adam had been sure that he wouldn’t be happy with the late night and middle of the night changing and feeding, but found surprisingly that he enjoyed it this time more than with the others. Lyn said it was because he was so comfortable with the routine of it. Adam suspected that this might be the last child for them and wanted to savor every experience that might never be repeated.

Aubrey and Scouser though seemed to be more depressed than anything. There was a great sadness about both of them that could not be alleviated. Knowing that you are doing the right thing is not the same as being able to accept the emotional toll. There were a lot of tears and discussion. Aubrey began to waver in her decision in January, but Lyn spent a lot of time talking with her and counseling her trying to get her to lie out the reasons to go ahead with her decision and the reasons she had to change her mind. Each time, Aubrey stated that she had trouble saying any reason for changing her mind, but that emotionally, she felt despair. Lyn supported her in that and said it was to be expected. Adam and Scouser had similar talks except Scouser’s was more related to the guilt he felt. The decision was solid in his mind. When they had a visit from Adam’s brother Hoss and his wife with their Michelle, Aubrey said she was at peace with her decision. Her baby needed two loving parents and a loving home and she could not provide those.

By the end of February, Aubrey was at eight months when suddenly, there was panic. She went into labor, and was in agonizing pain almost immediately. Adam sent one of the men for the doctor and then he and Lyn helped Scouser get Aubrey settled in her bed. Doctor Martin was in the room a very long time. Hoss and Laurie had come to help if they could as did Joe and Alice. Ben and Jamie arrived soon after. All waited anxiously for the young lady they liked so much. Scouser stayed in the room with Aubrey, and Paul found he was an able assistant. The delivery was difficult but finally there was the cry of a newborn baby. He was small but appeared to be healthy.

Scouser and Aubrey had told Doctor Martin what they wanted to do so he walked to the top of the stairs and asked Hoss and Laurie to come upstairs. Laurie was reluctant to go but Hoss said she needed to because they had been requested. Adam followed them up the stairs. None of the others knew why, but Ben suddenly suspected the reason.

Upstairs once Hoss and Laurie were in the room, Adam asked Hoss to close the door.

“There’s something that we want to ask you. It’s a big responsibility, and you can say yes or no, but we need an answer soon.”

Scouser looked at Aubrey as she held the baby in her arms, and she nodded yes. Scouser looked at Adam’s brother and at Laurie and paused before continuing as his voice nearly cracked.

“We want to know if you would accept this baby and be his parents?”

Laurie dropped to her knees and started crying. Hoss dropped down beside her and embraced her. He looked at Adam and Lyn who both had tears running down their faces now, and then at Scouser and Aubrey.

“You mean it? You really mean it?”

“Yes, we didn’t want to say anything until we were sure the baby was born healthy, and we wanted to be sure we could do it. But yes, the answer is yes.”

Laurie stood then with Hoss’ help and approached the bed. Aubrey lifted up the bundle in her arms and handed him to Laurie. Laurie almost reverently took the baby in her arms and leaned back into Hoss.

“He’s a beautiful baby. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe you would give your baby away.”

Scouser had to answer because Aubrey couldn’t talk.

“We are not giving him away.”

Hoss looked up in alarm, worried that it wasn’t really going to happen.

“We are placing our son in the hands of two people we love very much who will love him very much. We will still see him grow, and see him be loved. We’ll be his special aunt and uncle if you’ll let us.”

“Of course, but Aubrey, he’ll love Laurie as his mother. Won’t that hurt you?”

“Hoss, Lyn and Adam love five children. If they can love five children, can’t he love two mothers? I will be the mother who carried him for nine months beneath my heart. Now he will grow in Laurie’s heart and yours.”

“Hoss, we don’t want any secrets about this. Nothing should be covered up as if we were ashamed of what we are doing here. He will always know then that he was loved by both sets of parents: the birth parents who gave him life and the adoptive parents who gave him a loving family and home.”

Hoss drew Scouser into a bear hug and cried tears on his shoulder.

“You’re sure? You’re really sure? You’re my brother now too. You’re not just a brother to Lyn and to Adam, but to all of us now. ”

“We are sure. Finally I have a brother my size too. Now do you have a name for him?”

“We were going to have a son called Eric after his father. We can still do that Hoss. How about Eric Michael Cartwright after both of his fathers?”

Aubrey started crying, and Scouser sat at her side and embraced her. Hoss and Laurie didn’t know what to say.

“You’re going to have to accept some of this with us for a while. There is great joy and great sadness in what we are doing. I’m sure you understand that more than most would. We’ll be all right though.”

“Now Hoss would you ask Pa to come up here. He probably suspects by now anyway but he ought to be the one we tell next

When Ben entered the room and saw the baby in Laurie’s arms, he knew. The tears on all the faces let him know how emotional this had been for all of them. With that, Ben had tears in his eyes too, and the whole group had more tears to wipe away. When they got their composure back, they discussed how they would tell the rest of the family.

Joe and Alice were thrilled for Hoss and Laurie. There had been such a depth of sadness in them that they had worried if it could ever be alleviated. Jamie was happy too for the gentle brother who was such a great father.

AC accepted the decision almost with relief. The prospect of another baby in the house had worried him. He was a little upset to see that his parents had been crying because they couldn’t hide their red eyes, but they talked with him and hugged him and said it was what Uncle Scouser and Aubrey wanted to do. He also saw how happy his Uncle Hoss was and that made him happy too, although he couldn’t exactly comprehend how getting a crying baby who would soil diapers for a long time now was something to be so happy about. Adam told him he would better understand it in about fifteen or twenty years. Or in thirty years Ben amended if he waited as long as his father did to get married. The thought of being married to a girl and having a baby made AC cringe visibly and brought the first laughter of the day to the room.

*****

Chapter 4

As hints of spring were becoming more common, Aubrey began to shut herself away from everyone. She did her work with the children but without joy. AC asked his mother why Aubrey was so sad. Lyn knew but had little experience with this type of depression. As Aubrey refused trips to town and then stopped attending church, Lyn decided she had to talk with her. So on the last Saturday of March, after the children were in bed, Lyn asked Aubrey to please come into the study with her.

“Are you going to fire me? I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

“No one is being fired. We are very concerned about you. You hardly talk to anyone and only say what is necessary. You never leave the house. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

Once Aubrey got started, it poured out of her.

“Just everything. I go into town and women stare at me and whisper behind my back but just loud enough for me to hear. In church, they all stare at me like the sinner in their midst. I see my baby with his parents, and I know I made the right decision, but it hurts all the same to see him and not have him. Then I think about how it would be if I had him with me, and it would be worse for both of us. I don’t know what I want any more. I feel guilt, and shame, and anger. I thought that once I wanted a husband and children and a bookstore and I would be happy. Now I don’t know that I trust any man. And children can be the source of so much pain. I don’t know how you had so many. Don’t you blame him for putting you in that position?”

“When you love a man, you want to be in that position. You love the babies you make together and raise together. You’ve been through a very awful time, but some good did come of it. Eric Michael is a beautiful child and will grow to be a wonderful man. Never lose sight of that. As for how you feel, I can’t even imagine it. But I do want you to know that we will do anything we can to help you. It’s just that we don’t know what to do.”

“I would like to go somewhere else for a while at least. I want to get away from everything that hurts here. I don’t want to look like I’m running away. I want to go somewhere to make a fresh start. But I don’t know where or what I can do. I can’t afford to do much of anything now. I was saving money for a bookstore but I don’t want to do that here now and I don’t have enough money to have one anyway.”

“If you could afford it, what would you like to do?”

“My dream was always to have my own place and have a bookstore. But I thought that it would happen when I was married only I don’t see that happening soon especially with how everyone looks at me. What man here would dare be seen with me now?”

“Where would you like to go then? San Francisco?”

“No, that’s too big. I have relatives near Carson City, but I always thought Reno would be a good place if I couldn’t start a store here.”

“We will help you to do that if you can decide what you want to do. You are like a daughter to us. Our children love you, and we would like you to stay here. But we understand that life may be too difficult for you here. Will you think about what you want to do, and let us know so we can help, whatever your decision is? You can take all the time you need.”

“Thank you. Thank you just for letting me talk. I was holding so much in and it felt good to let it out. I think I know my decision already and I think you know too. But it is all such a rush just like everything felt so rushed before. I would like some time to think things through.”

Aubrey was still quiet, but she was more relaxed. Lyn thought it was that she had come to terms with what she had done and was thinking of the future again. It would be weeks before Aubrey told them of her decision, but during that time, she started to make a new plan for her future much as Lyn suspected.

Lyn was distracted from Aubrey’s issues when she and Adam were summoned to school to talk about AC on Monday. They worried that he had gotten into some mischief. What they heard was surprising.

“Good afternoon. We are here to discuss AC. Apparently he has done something wrong?”

“Good afternoon, and thank you for coming. No, AC hasn’t done anything wrong. He answers every question I ask, and answers correctly. He finishes every math problem and every reading assignment more quickly than everyone, and then asks for the next task. He volunteers to do the math problems on the board and to read aloud.”

“I’m sorry, but I think my wife and I do not understand why we were called here then.”

“AC does everything. The other students are sitting back and letting him do it all. He is capable of all of it, but that means the other students aren’t doing much of anything. I would like you to curb his enthusiasm if you would.”

“You want him to learn less?”

“Oh no, AC will learn no matter what. He learns from everything he does. His memory is amazing. He tells tales of all those things his father has taught him already, and then he repeats a number of conversations he has had with his mother and others. I can’t swear to it, but I think he repeats them verbatim. They just sound so authentically like an adult’s sentences. I don’t know how you can keep anything private in your family.”

Adam smiled at Lyn on that one. Private discussions happened in bed away from AC’s ever-vigilant hearing.

“Frankly, I think he’s smarter than I am, and in a few years, he may be teaching me some things. All I would ask at this point though is that you talk to him about letting the other children have turns too.”

Adam and Lyn agreed but had to grin as they exited the schoolhouse. This had not been what they expected. AC was shocked by their request but acquiesced when they said he was so smart, he would know the answers and could help other students get the answers too. His parents told him that it hurt the older students to have AC always showing them up, and he felt a little bad about that. The idea of tutoring older students appealed to his ego much like it would have with his father, but that strong desire to help and protect was being transferred from father to son as well. Adam also thought he needed to get AC working on some projects at home to keep his mind challenged and further develop his talents.

Aubrey and AC started talking again as AC related what his parents had said about him at school and that he needed to help out more at home too. Lyn and Adam saw Aubrey slowly transform from her sadness back to her more optimistic personality. They knew it had to be that she was looking forward and not letting the extremely difficult decision she had made take away her hope for a bright future. When they got home from church a few weeks later, Aubrey asked if she could speak with both of them.

“If your offer is still open, I would like to travel to San Francisco to visit some bookstores and libraries. I would like to stay there a reasonable amount of time not to have to be rushed and to make a plan for my own bookstore. Then I would like to come back here and open a small bookstore.”

“Here? I thought that there was too much pain in living here. Adam and I will support you wherever you choose to do this, but I’m surprised, I guess, more than anything.”

“I want to do it here because I want to show people that I am not ashamed of what I did. I made a mistake with Scouser, but there was no intent to do wrong. It happened and I’m sure it has happened with lots of other people my age and they were just lucky enough not to get pregnant or the man married them or they took a trip to visit some ‘distant relative’. There was probably plenty of gossip about each one, and then they moved on to the next juicy story that feeds their sad lives.”

Adam and Lyn were thinking the same thing at this point. Probably lots had done what they had done. If marriage and birth records were checked, it would probably be surprising how many people had done the same. And Aubrey was right. If she stayed and held her head up, the gossips would eventually tire of her story and move on to the next one.

“I made the right decision for my son. I did what I did out of love. I love him yet and that will never change. But I also want to move forward. And I’ve decided I need to wait until there’s a man willing to be seen with me. It may take some time, but that man willing to be seen with me is exactly the kind of man I need to meet. He will be a forgiving man with a big heart. It may take a very long time, but I have prayed and thought, and I believe this is my home and I want to stay here.”

“When do you want to do this? I have friends in San Francisco and I can wire them to help you while you are there.”

“Adam, thank you. The sooner, the better. I think I need to get doing something so I don’t let the sad thoughts take over again.”

“I’ll start tomorrow. I have errands in town, and need to spend some time at my office. I’ll send out messages and when I get answers, we can start to make a plan.”

A week later, Adam, Lyn, and the children waved goodbye to Aubrey as she left on the stage. She would be met by friends of Adam in Sacramento and they would ensure that she got on the steamer to San Francisco where she would be met by other friends who had arranged for a flat that she could use, and had an option to renew the lease month by month. Adam had wired money into an account to support her while she was there.

“When do you think she’ll be back, Mama?”

“AC, she’s eighteen years old. Who knows what the future brings. I won’t tell you because I don’t know. We will have to wait.”

In Adam’s mind, it was one down, and two to go. He knew Scouser was hurting too even if it wasn’t obvious. He and Lyn had discussed it, but until he wanted to open up, there was little they could do. The other one was Hoss. When you want a baby so badly and one is offered, you say yes because you can’t imagine saying anything else. But some comments Hoss had made in passing lately said that he too was troubled. Adam had told Lyn that he thought it was time for the guys to take another hunting and fishing trip. She agreed it might be the best thing but like Adam wondered if Ben would let them all be gone in the midst of all the spring tasks that needed to be done. Adam headed over to see his father and discuss that very thing.

*****

Chapter 5

Ben wasn’t happy about losing his sons for a week, but understood that they needed to get away so they could talk. Adam wasn’t sure that Scouser and Hoss would open up on the trip but he sincerely hoped they would. Jamie made sure that Joe was included when Adam asked him to go, and then Adam clued Jamie and Joe in on the ulterior motive he had for this trip. They would hunt, fish, and have some fun, but Adam hoped that Joe would be a help in getting Hoss to talk about what was bothering him. AC was included which probably was a relief to his teacher. The ladies were going to stay at the main house with Ben who looked forward to a lot of time with his grandchildren. Candy and Hoss hired a few extra men for the week, and told them there would be work for the season if they proved themselves to be hard workers.

So the first of the annual spring hunting and fishing trips began. The first day, AC pressured Adam into fishing for their dinner, but it was Jamie who grabbed most of the fish. Hoss leaned against a tree to watch and after catching one fish, Adam decided to join him there as they watched Jamie catch fish with AC waiting for the next one to be tossed his way.

“How does it feel to be away from the house and all the commotion of two little ones?”

“It feels good to be able to relax and not worry about Michele gettin in trouble or Eric needing a bottle or a changing. I haven’t been able to sit like this since our last trip. You must love this even more.”

“I have a lot of help at my house. Kim helps as does Scouser sometimes, and AC helps out a lot. I have more children but probably have an easier time of it than you do.”

“So what was your real reason for asking Pa to let us have this trip. You worried about me?”

So many people underestimated Hoss because of his size. Adam didn’t, but the question still surprised him. He thought he had been more subtle than that.

“Yes. Some things you’ve said lately made me worry about you. It seems that you were troubled about the adoption.”

“Not about that really because I love that little boy as if I fathered him. No I saw how hurt Aubrey was every time we saw her. It was so hard to be joyful and then see her pain. And I worry about what people will say to Laurie. She’s having a hard time yet accepting that she will bear no more children herself. We could adopt ten babies, and I’m afraid she would still suffer about being barren. I don’t know how to help her.”

“Does it bother you that she can’t bear any children?”

“Nah, of course not, I love kids. You know that. Don’t matter where Eric came from, he’s my son now. Sometimes I look at him and wonder how I got a son who looks so handsome, and then I remember he had other parents. Seems weird doesn’t it, that I would forget sometimes that he’s adopted?”

“Not at all. When I see you and Laurie walk up to the church or to the house with the little guy, he looks like he belongs with you.”

“Do you think Pa thinks that way too?”

“Do you think he doesn’t? He adores that little boy.”

“But do you think it bothers him that part of his dream will be inherited by a grandson who isn’t blood relation?”

“Are you forgetting that he adopted Jamie?”

“Oh my God, I did. I was thinking there was the four of us, and our children would inherit. Well now that I think of it, there’s probably going to be more redheaded grandchildren for Pa other than your little guy. How is DJ by the way? Heard he had a cold.”

“Oh now you’re calling him DJ too. Joe started it and everyone is picking up on it. Daniel Joseph is doing just fine.”

“Getting back to Laurie. I think you ought to tell her exactly how you feel. You should tell her that you forget that Eric is adopted and that he is your son now. Part of her feeling bad is probably feeling that she has failed you. You need to let her know that isn’t true. Tell her often.”

“You know, you’re probably right. That would help. I wish I had talked with you sooner. Sometimes I’m afraid you’re going to think my ideas are dumb, and I’m afraid to say them out loud.”

“Hoss, now that hurt. When have I ever made you feel that way? If I ever have, I am profoundly sorry. You are one of the wisest men I know. I talk to you lots of times because you help me find the truth. Don’t underestimate yourself.”

“Thanks, oldest brother. Nah, you’ve been the one rock steady friend I’ve had. Now let’s help those boys clean up those fish for dinner. I’m powerful hungry.”

“When is that not true?”

Hoss gave Adam a playful swipe to the shoulder and the two of them stood to help the younger ones clean the fish for dinner. Jamie had heard the conversation between his two older brothers, and when Hoss got close to him, Jamie grabbed him in a big hug. Hoss wondered what that was all about.

“Thank you for forgetting that I’m adopted even if it was only for a little while. I know you love me as a real brother.”

That brought tears to the eyes of the three brothers there. The four of them took the fish back to the cabin to find that Joe and Scouser had returned empty handed. It was fish for dinner, and breakfast was going to be light unless someone decided to do some early hunting. Adam volunteered and asked if Scouser would go with him. He hoped to find some time to talk with him, but didn’t think he would be an easy nut to crack. He wasn’t. They hunted in the early morning and brought back a deer shortly after the others woke up. Adam liked to hunt for deer in the early morning when he was often successful. They dressed out the deer and cut up meat to use for that day. They ended up roasting all of the meat though as the day started to get very warm and they didn’t want any to spoil. It was a small deer and with the group of men there, the meat would be gone in two days. So they made plans to scout that day looking for a big buck or an antelope. There would be no hunting as there was no way to preserve the meat and they had plenty. But if they found a good one, they would set up a plan to hunt it over the next three days.

AC ended up with Adam for the first day and Joe went with Scouser and Hoss with Jamie. When Joe walked back in at the end of the day, he looked at Adam and shook his head no. Scouser had barely talked to him, and then it was about hunting or other mundane things. Joe was very good at prying, but found that Scouser was even better at holding back. The next day, Hoss took AC out to teach him more about tracking, Joe and Jamie went together, so Adam and Scouser were together. Adam had the same experience as Joe. He was at a loss as to how he could help his brother-in-law until that night when they sat outside after AC and Jamie had gone to sleep. Hoss and Joe were sitting with them.

“Why don’t you blokes just come out and ask me what you want to know? All of this nagging is bothering me. I feel like a roo with a pack of dingoes on my trail.”

Joe and Hoss looked mystified by that so Adam explained. Then he addressed Scouser.

“You haven’t been talking, and it’s not like you. I figured it had to do with the baby and with Aubrey, but you were so sure of yourself at the time, I don’t know what’s bothering you.”

“How could you not know? You saw how Aubrey was suffering because of me. Now she’s run off from the life she wanted, and it’s all my fault. I was attracted to her, but it never should have happened. We weren’t in love, but it still bothered me that when she found out she was going to have a babe, she didn’t tell me. We could have worked something out. We could have married. By the time she told me, there was no way to take care of things. Now you got Lyn to marry you when she was pregnant so I would have thought you would understand. How would you have felt if she wouldn’t marry you?”

“She said no to me too. But I loved her and she loved me, and we would have been together, married or not. She did tell me she was pregnant, but it took me two months to get her to agree to marry me. We got married because we were in love not because we made a baby together. The baby was a bonus.”

“But Lyn had her parents to support her and me. Aubrey had no one.”

“No, she had Lyn and me. She’s like a daughter to us and we told her that. We said we would support any decision she made, and we meant that. And she didn’t run off. I’m sorry she did not confide in you, but she has a plan for her immediate future. She’s studying bookstores and libraries in San Francisco. I have friends there who are helping her. When she’s ready, she’s coming back here to open a bookstore. At least that was her plan when she left.”

“I had no idea. I guess that does tell me more than anything that we made the right choice, doesn’t it. She never told me what she was doing. Now that the baby has a home, there’s no connection between us.”

“Do you love her?”

Scouser’s answer was slow in coming. He was thinking.

“No, but I am attracted to her a lot. But the more I learn about her, the more I know, the two of us were never meant to be together. I can’t imagine being tied to one place by something like a bookstore. I cannot imagine that being anyone’s dream. Adam, I don’t love her. We made the right decision. I wish I had known what was going on though. It would have helped me carry the guilt better.”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Joe, I don’t, but I miss my Aussie home and friends. I miss not being able to do the things that I know how to do well. Working here on the gold and silver mines with Adam has been fine and I’ve learned a lot, but I can’s see myself doing that forever. I think if anything, I would like to go home at least for a while.”

“Gosh, won’t you miss your sister and the kids. I know you won’t miss that ugly brother-in-law ya got, but there’s Eric here too.”

“Hoss, you’re right and it’s why I guess I couldn’t stay away forever, but right now, I think it may be the best thing for me. Adam and I still own businesses there, and there’s still a house to live in. Luke’s there now but it’s a big house. We could share.”

“Sounds like you had the decision made already.”

“No, Adam, I didn’t, but talking here with you three and suddenly everything is so clear. The decision was easy to make. I guess I did need to talk about it.”

“All right then, hunting tomorrow, and tomorrow night, ghost stories! We ought to make sure that AC and Jamie have trouble sleeping so the ride back home the next day will be quieter. They won’t have the energy to talk constantly.”

“Dadburnit, Adam, but you tell the spookiest stories that I can’t sleep either. And when I get home, I won’t get a good night’s sleep for months yet until Eric decides to sleep through the night.”

Everyone laughed, but after Adam’s ghost stories the next night, he was the only one who slept well. They all got up grumpy and were grumpier still when he was all bright and cheery. The ride back was quiet. When they got back, there were kisses all around with husbands and wives and children. Scouser looked on and wondered if anyone would ever be that happy to see him. Ben noted his look and wondered if the trip had done what Adam hoped. When he caught Adam’s eye, Adam nodded yes. Hoss let something slip though that was going to take a lot of explaining or perhaps the truth would finally come out.

“Gosh, Adam, that’s two hunting trips in a row where we went where we said we were going and did what we said we were going to do. That’s a record for us I think.”

Adam grimaced, and Hoss suddenly thought to look at his father.

“Sons, is there something I ought to know about all those hunting trips you two took when you were younger?”

“Well, Pa, maybe we should talk about that sometime, but right now, I have a wife and four children I have missed. AC and I need to take everyone home and enjoy some family time. Goodbye all, we’re heading home as soon as I can hitch up the wagon and pack up our stuff.”

It was always fun for the others to see Adam squirming. It happened so seldom. There was a lot of laughter then, and a lot of anticipation to see what would happen the next time they were together.

*****

Chapter 6

“Hoss, come back to bed. We hardly get any sleep at all. You can look at him all you want tomorrow.”

“He’s just so cute. I never thought I would have such cute babies.”

“But, Hoss, Eric’s not . . .”

“He’s my son and he’s cute. That’s all there is to say. Thank you so much for being my wife and sharing these fine children with me.”

“That he’s adopted doesn’t bother you at all. That I can’t have any of your children . . .”

“Sweetheart, you are the mother of my children. It’s all I ever dreamed about in a marriage. A darling little girl who can learn to be a great lady from her mama, and a boy that I can teach what I know, and watch him grow to be a man.”

“Did Adam tell you to say those things?”

“Yes, he did, but only after I said those things to him, and he said I ought to be sayin them to you. So now I am, and I should have let you know all along how I felt. I love you, and I love my children, and that’s all that matters.”

Laurie threw her arms around Hoss’ neck and kissed him soundly.

“Hey, now, who said we oughta be getting our sleep?”

“We can sleep later. Right now, I want to let you know how much I missed you.”

“Darlin, I thought we took care of that earlier, but I don’t mind repeating the lesson. Now what exactly did you have in mind?”

So Laurie showed him because as Hoss would have said, ‘The time for talking is over’.

Lyn and Adam had been doing a lot of talking too. Lyn was worried that Scouser would be leaving and Adam confirmed that was probably what was going to happen. He told Lyn of the conversations with Hoss and with Scouser.

“Laurie talked that way when you were all gone. She worried that Hoss wouldn’t love her enough because she couldn’t have more children and thought that he would love Eric less because he’s adopted. I’m glad Hoss is going to let her know that she doesn’t have to worry. I wish you Cartwright men would say what you’re thinking more often. It would certainly make life easier on your wives.”

“Is there something we ought to be talking about?”

“Do you think five is enough?”

“Sweetheart, I thought one was enough, but I’ll happily accept any children God sees fit to grace us with. Why, do you think five is enough? There are things we can do if you are worried.”

“No, I was willing to let it be in His hands too, but Doctor Martin thinks we’re tempting fate. He said because I’m small, he worries about another baby being too much. After what happened with Laurie and the tears in her womb and such, I think he’s more cautious in his thinking.”

“I’ll be sixty when Daniel reaches manhood. It might not be a bad idea to slow things down and see what happens. The only sure way to stop is abstinence and that isn’t acceptable. If there’s another baby, it will be because He wills it. Is that all right with you?”

“Yes, just so long as we can still express our love, it will be more than all right.”

“We have made Pa proud with all of these grandchildren. It’s time for Joe to do his part.”

“I think Joe and Alice are going to be adding to the family anyway. She had the look about her, and she was eating often but not much at a time. I think she may be struggling with morning sickness again.”

And at Joe’s house, that had been the topic of conversation that night. They had not told anyone of their news because of all the turmoil with Eric, but soon it wouldn’t matter because Alice would start to show a baby bump.

“I wanted to tell my brothers this week, but there was still so much soul searching and worrying, I just didn’t do it.”

“I felt the same with the ladies and even more probably. Laurie is so sad that she can’t have more children. It just seemed like it would be hurtful to throw our good news in her face like that.”

“Well, now that you say the morning sickness is almost gone, and soon you’ll have that baby bump showing, we need to tell everyone. Adam and Hoss talked a lot and Hoss will be reassuring Laurie. How about if we tell everyone on Sunday?”

“That would be good. Joe, do you want a boy this time?”

“A boy would be great, but I love our daughter and any baby is a blessing. Of course, I may have to make this one a tomboy if it’s another girl.”

Alice hit him with a pillow then and started a pillow fight that woke their daughter. Alice picked her up and sat in bed leaning back into Joe and holding Maria. Joe was thinking that life was just about perfect and would be when he had five or more children. When he said that to Alice, she elbowed him in the ribs.

“Not everything is about competing with Adam. Now, we will have the children God wants us to have no matter if it’s two or ten.”

Joe’s eyes lit up at the mention and ten which made Alice just shake her head. He was such a charmer and so talented. He would be a great father to ten but Alice didn’t think she wanted that many unless they hired some help. She had seen other women with six or more children and they all looked so beaten down by the work. She was thinking that with this child, perhaps Joe would consider hiring a cook/housekeeper. It would be company for her out here as well. She no sooner had thought it, and Joe brought it up. She acted like she was thinking about it and let him convince her it was a good idea. After she put Maria to bed, she slid in next to Joe and went to sleep in his embrace with a smile on her face.

Scouser was the only one not sleeping that night. What he had discussed with Adam and his brothers was on his mind. He wrote out some plans and evaluated them before making some changes. Finally by about dawn, he felt he was sure of what he would do. It would be hard telling Lyn and AC of his decision but it was the right thing to do. At breakfast, he asked Lyn and Adam if they had time to talk with him in the study after breakfast. AC knew that meant serious business so Scouser would have to include him or send him outside. He asked AC to sit in but asked him not to ask too many questions. AC agreed.

“Lyn, I’m sure Adam told you I was thinking of going back home. I have to tell you that is exactly how I am thinking. Australia is my home, and I want to live there. I may come back for a visit someday, but I will be living there.”

Lyn stood and wrapped her arms around her brother who had tears in his eyes too. AC went to sit next to his father who put an arm around the seven-year-old who had to deal with another change in his life, but he had his parents there for support.

“I appreciate all you have done here for me, but this is your home not mine. If it works out, I would like to transfer my ownership of property here to you if you would give me an equal share of the property back home. I will be able to handle those businesses better as a majority owner instead of a one-third owner. I think Luke will stay on to help.”

In the end, Adam and Lyn signed over all property in Australia with the understanding that Scouser would send payment for the balance when he was able if ever. Adam and Lyn gifted their home and ranch in Australia to Scouser. They hoped to visit one day as well but with five children, all knew it might be some time before that happened if ever. Scouser agreed to host AC for a summer because Australia was where he was born and he ought to have a chance to see more of it. Beth had been so young, she had no memory of her homeland or of the trip to America. In her mind, she was an American, which meant there was no need to have her visit the land of her birth. Scouser had all the legal papers he needed within a month, and made arrangements to leave.

The Saturday before Scouser left, the Cartwright brothers decided to spend the night in town for a last fling before Scouser was gone for it was unlikely they would see him again. The five of them had dinner and then headed to the Silver Dollar for drinks. Before the night was out, there would be one last huge barroom brawl by the Cartwright brothers. It all started when a loudmouth drunken miner asked Adam who the father of his redheaded son was. Adam hit him and it might have stopped there except another miner said something about Hoss’ ‘bastard’ son and then the melee was on. It didn’t stop until there were at least five miners lying on the floor, assorted broken tables and chairs, and bruised and bloodied Cartwrights. Scouser had tried to stay out of it mostly by throwing miners out the door to even the odds. Most didn’t try to come back in because of his size.

“Well, it probably won’t work to hit every man who has listened to gossip, but that felt good. However, my wife might see it differently when I get home.”

“Adam, you are right on both those counts. I think Laurie might have a few words for me and I gotta sit down to breakfast with Pa too. Gonna be hard for him to miss seeing these bruises. At least I don’t have a broken nose cause that’s what it looks like Jamie has there. Maybe we ought to take him over to the doc’s.”

“Well, I don’t know about Jamie’s nose, but I got some ribs that need strapping. Wish you hadn’t pushed that big one my way, Adam.”

“I was busy with another one, and you were just standing there.”

“My nose is all right. I heard about these fights you guys used to have. Pa always looks so stern when he talks about it, but there’s a little hint of pride in his voice and his look too.”

“Jamie, you better hope that’s how he’s looking at it tomorrow morning. He’s probably going to blame me anyway. I did throw the first punch, but nobody talks about my wife that way.”

“Well I should have known. Been quite a few years, but nobody starts a brawl with as much enthusiasm as you boys. Sam, you and Cosmo figure out the damages. I’ll add one hundred to that for a fine. That all right with you boys?”

Clem got a nod from each of them. Jamie wondered how he would pay his share, but Adam told him not to worry because he was used to paying for his brothers. That got a smile from Hoss. He remembered a bunch of those times. To him, those had been real good times too.

The whole Cartwright clan was on hand to see Scouser off, and it was a lot of people with the family growing as it was. There were assorted colorful eyes, chins, and cheeks as well as some seriously scraped knuckles in the group, which explained a few scowls thrown by wives toward husbands and father toward sons. Scouser had one long hug of his son before handing him back to Laurie. Both had tears in their eyes. He shook hands with the Cartwright brothers, and then he gathered his sister into a big hug lifting her off the ground with ease. Lastly, he knelt down and eye-to-eye with AC, said he ought to come visit when he was old enough, and they would see the sights of eastern Australia. AC threw his arms around his uncle’s neck and cried into his shoulder. Finally, Scouser picked him up and handed him to Adam. AC clung to his father and Adam held him to reassure him. Beth asked why he was crying, and the twins looked like they were ready to cry too because AC was crying so Lyn had to gather them and reassure them that everything was all right. Scouser stepped into the stage, and with hardly a pause, the driver headed the team out. A new chapter was beginning for them all.

*****

Chapter 7

For a few days, Lyn was very somber. Even the joyful play of her children, and AC’s tales from school couldn’t break the sadness of seeing the last of her original family heading away probably forever. Adam talked to Hoss, and he stopped over to see if she would go fishing with him. Lyn wasn’t excited about the idea but thought that perhaps Hoss wanted to talk with her so she asked Adam if he could watch over their brood. Hoss and Adam shared a smile over Lyn’s head. She needed to do something joyous. Once they were at the lake, there was little talking but a lot of fun. Lyn caught fish with Hoss’ instructions and help in pulling them in. Within just a few hours, they mounted up and rode back to her home with a string of fish for dinner. Lyn’s spirits were bright again until they rode near the house to see all the children on the porch with Kim. All were crying, and when she got near them, she could hear their laments.

“I want Papa. Where is Papa?”

“Beth, he went out to the barn. He’ll be back soon. I know he will.”

As Lyn got close enough, the children started running toward her. Kim was holding Daniel who was crying too. AC held the hands of Michael and Nick, and admonished Beth to stay back from the horse and let Mama dismount. Lyn embraced her children one by one, and then asked the key question.

“Where is your papa?”

Then she had to say that AC would answer for them.

“We were all in the house drawing pictures. Papa had paper for everyone, and some colored chalk to use. We sat at the dining table and didn’t make a mess at all. Then there was some noise from the stable and Papa said he would go and find out what it was. But he never came back. We have called for him and called for him, but he won’t answer.”

Kim nodded that was the story, and Hoss and Lyn ran to the stable. All they found was Adam’s hat and the signs of a struggle perhaps with some tools lying on the floor of the barn. None of the horses were missing. Hoss started to make a circuit of the barn and found tracks of at least three horses leaving and heading toward the high country.

“Lyn, don’t let anyone go this way and mess up those tracks. I’m heading over to the main house to get some help. We’ll be back soon and we’ll follow these tracks and find my brother. You see to the children now.”

Hoss mounted up and headed out. He was as puzzled as he could be by what had happened. There was no one that he knew of that would abduct his brother and no reason for anyone to do that as far as he knew. He would need to let Roy Coffee know too as soon as possible. First thought he needed Joe and Jamie to ride with him. When he got to the ranch house, he was relieved to see his brothers’ horses there. Inside, he quickly explained what little he knew. Ben insisted he was coming along, and Jamie went to saddle Buck.

As the Cartwright men were getting ready to mount up, Roy came riding in at a leisurely pace. He saw the looks on the faces of Ben and his sons and knew something was terribly wrong.

“I jest came out here ta let ya know there’s some bad talk in town. Some of those miners what got in the tussle with you boys at the saloon got fired this week cause they couldn’t do the work. There’re more miners than jobs right now so the bosses let them go for someone more able to do the work. I was visiting with Clem at the office, and he asked if I wouldn’t mind riding out here ta let ya know. Now what’s got you so all fired worried cause I can see it in ya?”

“Adam is missing. I wish we had had that information sooner. We’re going to track from his place and find him.”

“Now, Ben, you oughta let the law take charge of this. I could ride back and let Clem know.”
“Roy, reckon Pa and the rest of us don’t want to waste any more time. If you want to ride with us, you’d be more than welcome but we’re going now. I don’t want anything to happen to the tracks and I need daylight to follow them.”

Roy accepted as he thought it was probably the best he could do for the moment. He certainly did like that eldest son who was a good friend of his too, so riding to find him felt like the right thing to do.

It didn’t take long for Hoss to lead them out on the trail from Adam’s barn. Ben had gone to the house briefly to tell Lyn they were heading out. He also said Laurie was going to tell Alice and it was possible the ladies would be by shortly. Then he hurried to catch up to the other four already moving rapidly away. The trail was easy to follow until they reached some rocky soil and then some shale. Hoss couldn’t find a track until Joe called to him that he found blood. Ben paled at the word, and all hurried to see what Joe had found.

“Pa, it don’t look like it was dripping out. It looks like somebody spit it here. It has to be Adam leaving us a sign. He can’t be hurt too bad if he could think of that and then leave this for us.”

Ben was reassured somewhat by Hoss’ conclusions, but still worried over why someone had abducted his son. Hoss led his horse through the rocky area looking for overturned stones or horseshoe marks on the rocks. Slowly over the next two hours, he led them through to a grassy area beyond where anyone could follow the trail as they had made no effort to hide their tracks there.

“Well I guess they thought they would lose any trackers in those rocks so they aren’t being careful anymore. We can go a lot faster now.”

“Pa, Hoss, doesn’t it look like they’re headed toward that Jupiter mine we shut down last year?”

“Joe, I think you’re right. But what could they want there? That mine is mostly played out and the shoring is getting old.”

“Pa, if it’s miners, they might have worked there for us. Some of those miners in the saloon did look familiar. Maybe that’s where they plan to hideout if they want a ransom.”

All the men nodded at the common sense of that. Unfortunately, the men who had abducted Adam were not planning to hold him for ransom. Vengeance and payback was all they had in mind. They had already hurt him like they had been hurt in the saloon brawl. Now that they were fired and had no jobs, they were going to take everything away from Adam Cartwright too in the only way they knew how: separating him from everything he had.

Once the vengeful miners got to the old Jupiter mine, they pulled Adam from his horse. His hands were untied and tied behind his back. Then he was led into the mine and pushed in front of the others as they headed down the first tunnel to the right after entering the mine. Adam was familiar with it. The floor had broken through here and exposed a large natural cave below. He walked slowly and carefully worried that he might step in that hole. The men behind him carrying lanterns had no such worries because that is exactly what they wanted. As Adam sensed the hole was near by the darkness at his feet, he stopped. The first man in line pushed him and he ended up jumping down through the wide opening. He landed hard and unevenly and was sure he had sprained his knee at the very least. One of the miners lowered his arm holding a lantern to briefly illuminate the cave.

“Good, you’re not dead. Wouldn’t want that now would we?”

“Why don’t you just kill me if that’s what you plan?”

“I’m not going to kill you, Cartwright, but give it a few days and you’ll wish I had. See you in hell.”

The miner pulled the lantern up and the cave was dark as pitch. Adam yelled up to the men but there was no answer. They had his gunbelt and wallet. They would sell the gun and belt and spend the money they got as well as what had been in his wallet. They laughed as they walked out.

Adam didn’t look so tough now. The two mounted up and led the third horse as they rode away. They would return the horses to the livery stable, and then buy stage tickets to Placerville to see if the job situation was better there. They would sell the gun and belt there. They thought it was unlikely anyone there would recognize it even if they did know the Cartwrights.

In the cave, Adam worked to find a sharp edge of rock that he could use to fray the rope binding his wrists. Then he would see what he could do about making some light. Without light, it would be nearly impossible to find a way out. He heard dripping water somewhere nearby and hoped it was clean enough to drink. Other than that, it was quiet in the cave. Once he found a sharp edged rock, he began to laboriously rub his bindings to loosen them strand-by-strand. As he worked, he rebuked himself repeatedly. He had relaxed his vigilance. He had sent his two men to town to pick up supplies because he was there to watch the children, and Hoss was with Lyn. He had the dogs in the house with him and had not taken them with him when he went to the stable to see what the noises had been about. It had been so easy for the two miners to overcome him, hold a gun on him, and tie his hands before forcing him to mount up and ride away with them. He blamed himself as much as them. There was little else for him to do but think thoughts like that as he rubbed the strong rope across the jagged rock trying to avoid abrading his wrists in the process.

Nearby, the five men tracking him and his abductors stopped briefly outside the mine. They saw the tracks of all three horses continued on and had no idea why they had stopped here. One look inside the mine showed no one was there, so they mounted up to follow the tracks which now appeared to be headed in the direction of Virginia City. It was nearly dusk by the time they entered the town. There was no way of knowing where those horses had gone now. They headed to the livery to ask if anyone had boarded three horses there, and the stable man said no. It was only after they left that he thought he should have mentioned the two men who had rented three horses, but that wasn’t what they asked so he just forgot about it. The frustrated searchers headed over to Clem’s office to report what had happened and their failure at finding anyone.

Clem said he had been watching the miners who had been in the brawl and then got fired. He had thought all of them had left town, but mentioned he had recently seen two of them at the stage office and they appeared to be buying tickets. Where they went from there, he hadn’t noticed. It was a long shot, but they asked who they were and the group headed out to find them. Joe and Hoss found them at the Bucket of Blood having a beer. They claimed no animosity and said they were leaving town to look for work. Hoss and Joe had nothing to counter that so they left.

“Don’t sound too sincere when they say there’s no hard feelings. Looked ta me like they was still aching for a fight.”

“Hoss I thought the same thing. But we got nothing on them. Let’s ask around town and see where they’ve been today.”

It was a Saturday evening and many businesses had closed already. When they came across Ben, Roy, and Jamie, they told them what they were doing and why. It was nearly ten before the five men met back at the livery stable to collect their horses. Just because he couldn’t think of a reason not to, Hoss asked the stable man if he had seen the two miners. Then he told them they had rented three horses that morning which he thought was odd because there were just two of them, but when they brought all three horses back, he didn’t concern himself with it any longer.

“Dadburnit, why didn’t ya tell us that before?”

“Ya asked about somebody stabling three horses not renting them.”

In disgust, the men headed over to the Bucket of Blood. As soon as they entered, the two miners tried to run out the back. Jamie and Joe were much too fast for them, and soon the five men had the two miners over at Clem’s jail for questioning. They refused to explain anything and Clem put them in a cell in ‘protective custody’. There wasn’t much more they could do at this point. Next Ben and the others had to go tell Lyn that they had failed to find Adam and had no idea where he was. The plan the next day was to backtrack the trail to see if they had missed something.

*****

Chapter 8

The next day Hoss and Joe led a group out to follow the trail they had discovered the day before. They started at the rocky part where they had seen the blood spot. They assumed that meant Adam was still alive and conscious at that point. Whether he was alive any more was a serious concern. Joe worried aloud about it once they were far enough away that Lyn would not hear. Hoss said he thought he had to be alive because he thought he would know if his brother died. Ben said they ought to concentrate on the search and stop speculating. That’s when all three sons knew he was worried about the same thing.

If Adam was out here, the questions were where was he and why wasn’t there some sign of him. They had brought the dogs, Odin, Mannheim, and Thor, with them and none of them seemed to be too concerned about the trail they were on although they did seem like they were anxious to keep going. Once the group got near the Jupiter mine though, the dogs got very agitated. Hoss and Ben again walked into the mine but could see no sign that anyone was in there. When the men mounted up to leave, Adam’s dogs refused to go. They kept milling around at the mouth of the tunnel. It appeared they wanted someone to go in the mine with them. Hoss dismounted and walked over to the dogs who headed into the tunnel as soon as he neared them.

“Whoa, boys. Hey what’s that command again?”

“Which one, Hoss? There’s a bunch of them.”

“To stay?”

“Bleib. Fuss for heel. Voran for search.”

At Joe’s statements, the dogs appeared confused. Then Hoss ordered them to stay and they all stood by him. Joe, Jamie, and Ben approached and found some lanterns that had a bit of fuel left in them. Once those were lit, Hoss ordered the dogs to search and they headed down the tunnel and took the first right. Hoss called out for them to stay until the men caught up with them. Hoss asked each man to use his belt as a leash to slow the dogs down. Once that was done, Hoss ordered them to search again and all three started pulling down the side tunnel.

“Hey, Hoss, isn’t this the tunnel that collapsed into a cave?”

Hoss ordered the dogs to stay and looked at the floor. There were bootprints. He started moving forward slowly and examining the prints.

“Pa, Joe, the hobnailed bootprints are in both directions. The cowboy boot prints only go forward. Adam must be in here.”

Edging forward slowly, the lanterns suddenly showed a wide-open expanse ahead of them.

“Adam, Adam, can you hear me?”

A hoarse, throaty answer came floating up from below.

“Well, it took you long enough. I hope you have some rope.”

“Just hang on. We’ll get some in here and have you out of there in no time.”

“Son, are you all right?”

“My left leg is a bit swollen. I thought I sprained my knee but now I think I may have broken a bone. I found a little water to drink but it’s been darned cold in here. How long have I been in here anyway? Hard to tell time with no light and those bastards took my watch when they took my wallet.”

Adam’s voice was getting weaker as he talked. Hoss came back with some of the men and ropes. They tied one to a lantern and dropped it slowly into the cavern so they could see what the area looked like down below. What they saw caused Ben to pale again. Adam had obviously been beaten and he had used his shirt to bandage his leg so the bruising on his torso was very obvious. The pain in his knee had masked the pain in his ribs for a time just as it had masked the fact that a bone was broken in his lower leg, but by the night before the pain had become severe when he tried to move around. He had forced himself to move to get water until he had to quit from the pain. Finally he had just leaned back against a rock and pulled his legs up as much as he could to try to stay warm. It didn’t work and he was quite cold.

“Hoss, how are we going to get him out of there? He’s hurt too much to use a rope around him. It would just injure him more, and from what I can see, my son has been hurt too much already.”

“Hoss, Pa, lower me into the cavern. Send down a blanket. I’ll wrap Adam in it and then wrap rope around him like a harness staying away from his lower leg and his ribs. We have enough rope. Then if you pull him up using three ropes, you should be able to grab him when he gets close and slide him over the edge without hurting him.”

Hoss tied Joe into a harness sling and with Jamie’s help, lowered him into the cavern. It was hard to see what he was doing, but he called up for more supplies.

“He’s really cold. Can we get another blanket down here?”

Ben handed over his coat and Hoss lowered that to Joe. The warmth in the jacket should help. Adam stopped shivering with the jacket wrapped around him and then the blanket. Within about thirty minutes, Joe called up that he was ready. Hoss lowered more ropes which Joe secured to Adam around his thighs, his waist, and around his chest.

“Shit, I’m trussed up like a damn hog for slaughter.”

“You may be hurt but don’t let Pa hear you talk like that. We don’t need any bellowing in here. Now if you will just lift your head a little, I’ll tie the third rope off here. I tied it to the one at your waist so it won’t pull up to your neck. You need to keep your head up as they lift you. Ready?”

“Yes, I’m ready. And Joe, thank you. I thought I might die in here.”

Joe patted Adam on the shoulder. “You’re welcome. I wasn’t ready to have Hoss as my oldest brother just yet.”

Soon Adam was being lifted. Joe yelled out instructions to let the men at either side know if they should pull more or slow down. It took some time because they were being very careful, but finally Hoss and the others knelt down and reached over the side to pull Adam to safety. Once the ropes were untied, Hoss carried him out of the mine as the others pulled Joe up. Hoss had tears in his eyes, and Adam saw them once they were out in the light.

“Sorry, Hoss. I seem to draw trouble like moths to a flame.”

“Ain’t your fault. I just need my older brother around for a bit longer, that’s all. Now you jest rest easy here, and we’ll get you all taken care of.”

Outside, Ben started cleaning up the abrasions first to lessen the risk of infection. Then the next task was to see to his leg. Adam grimaced as the makeshift bandage was removed from his leg. There was significant bruising and a lot of swelling but the leg looked straight. They had packed some basic medical supplies so they wrapped his leg to control the swelling and had him rest it on a folded blanket for support. The rest of the bandaging was used to strap his ribs. They were bruised so there was a possibility of cracks but his breathing was not so strained that they suspected a break at this point. They were just being cautious.

The next dilemma was how to move him. Ben sent Jamie with one of the men for a wagon, and another man to tell Lyn that Adam was safe although injured. By the time the wagon got there, it would be too late to transport him home so Ben asked that food and blankets be brought back with the wagon.

Lyn and AC were with the wagon on its return. Ben shouldn’t have been surprised. She said the other wives were at her house and would watch over the children. Clem had visited to tell the ladies that Adam’s gun and holster had been found with the two miners’ possessions, but they were still claiming innocence. The two said they had found the gun and belt while out riding, and that no one could prove they committed any crime. Adam would have to come in and identify the men so they could be prosecuted. Lyn relayed that to the men as she sat by Adam caressing his face. He slowly awakened and had a slight smile despite the pain when he saw his own personal angel there by his side. Next AC held his hand and Adam turned toward him and raised his arm to give his son a hug.

“Luv, you have to stop doing this to me. I only have so much heart that can break.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Now don’t start blaming yourself for this. We know who did it. I was just so worried for you when they couldn’t find you. I don’t understand men like that, and why they couldn’t face you straight but had to come for you like that.”

“I wasn’t careful. I forgot my own warnings.”

“Son, listen to your wife. None of this was your fault. Now you just have to get better. I’m sure your son there still has a million questions to ask you, but I’ve asked him to wait a few days until you have more strength.”

“Papa, I’ll do anything you want. Is there something you want?”

“Just another hug before I go to sleep tonight.”

Jamie had brought the canvas tent top they rigged on the wagon when they used it for trail drives. Ben commended him on his thinking, and they set it up for Adam. Adam was already cleaned up and bandaged, so Lyn helped him into a clean shirt and a jacket. Then Hoss helped him get in the wagon to sleep after AC gave him a hug. Lyn climbed in to rest by his side, and AC and Ben put their bedrolls under the wagon. The dogs slept together at one end of the wagon. It started to rain a little and the other men grabbed their gear and bedrolls and slept just inside the tunnel mouth. The next morning, the air smelled fresh and the sky was clear for the return trip.

Doctor Martin met them at Adam’s house. He checked him over, restrapped his ribs which were bruised, and splinted his lower leg and wrapped his knee. After cleaning up a few abrasions, he said Adam had been very lucky because none of the injuries were serious. Adam wanted to go to town immediately to confront the two miners, but everyone else demanded that he get some rest. They agreed they would help him get to town the next morning. Then everyone headed to their homes.

“Sweetheart, I missed you so. All I could think of sitting in the dark there was my family. You, my children, my brothers, and Pa: you are my wealth. Don’t ever let me put anything before you, especially before you. I wish I could let you know how much I love you, but right now everything I do hurts.”

“How about if you let me kiss you and let you know how much I missed you and how much I love you?”

Lyn carefully positioned herself so she would not hurt Adam, and they got to kiss as lovers do. Lyn slid down next to his side then and pulled his arm around her. They slept that night side by side. As the dawn light entered the room, Lyn quietly called Adam’s name and caressed his cheek until he awakened. He looked at her and smiled, but then Lyn pointed at the other side of the bed. Adam turned to see two sets of eyes just showing over the top of the bed.

“Good morning Michael. Good morning, Nick. I see the two of you aren’t very tired this morning. I’m sorry I can’t pull you into bed this morning.”

Beth came trundling in followed a moment later by AC who helped all three to sit on the bed after admonishing them not ‘to hurt Papa and sit still’. Then AC pulled a chair closer to the bed, and all four children wanted to hear their father tell them a story about what had happened. He told a simple version without all the details and tried to minimize the parts that might especially scare them while emphasizing the cleverness of Joe and the strength of Hoss. Then Lyn sent them to their rooms to dress for the day, but AC lingered with one more question.

“But Pa, why did you get in a fight with those men in the saloon?”

“Son, I lost my temper when they insulted your mother. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“That’s all right, Papa. I would hit anyone who insulted Mama. I think that’s what we men have to do.”

AC sauntered out and left his parents speechless. It wouldn’t be the last time he did that. But then Lyn had a question too as she had never gotten a clear explanation of why that fight started so she pressed Adam to tell her. When he finally did, she apologized to him for being so angry when he came home bruised and bloodied from that brawl.

“If I had known you would think about it that way, I would have told you right away. That would have saved me the cold shoulder I got for a few nights there.”

“Oh, luv, I’ll make that up to you.”

And they sealed the deal with a kiss. Lyn dressed and then helped Adam to dress before they headed downstairs for breakfast with the children. Adam had to lean on Lyn for support even as he used a crutch to take the weight off his injured leg. He sat at the dining table with his leg resting on a chair for support which drew a lot of curious interest from his children. They had seen the bandages on his chest when he was in bed, but had not realized his leg was bandaged so much. The twins thought the crutch was intriguing too.

Soon after they finished breakfast, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie were at Adam’s home. They would take him to town to identify his assailants. Hoss drove the carriage, and Lyn rode by her husband’s side. Once they were at the Sheriff’s Office, they could hear the two miners yelling in the back.

“You have to let us go. Ya ain’t got no evidence that we committed a crime. Sheriff, you out there? C’mon in here and open up this cell.”

Clem did walk in the back and they repeated their demands.

“Now what would you boys say if I said we do have evidence that you committed a crime? You would have to shut up then, wouldn’t you?”

“You ain’t got nothing, Sheriff. You won’t find no evidence against us. You’re gonna have to let us go, and then we’re talking to a judge about how unfairly we was treated.”

“Oh, I think you have been treated far too well.”

Adam limped into the cell area using a crutch and leaning on Hoss. Joe walked behind him in case he faltered. He looked at the two men and said a simple ‘Yes, those are the two.’ before turning on his heel and limping back out.

The miners were dumbstruck.

“How did anyone find you?”

Adam paused in the doorway and turned back to the men in the cells.

“I have brothers, and brothers take care of each other.”

*****

 

Nightmares From Down Under

Chapter 1

Lyn cried out as Maxwell grabbed her arm and pushed her to the floor. Adam came rushing into the room to rescue her but was unarmed. Maxwell raised his gun and shot, and Adam fell to the floor with blood pooling around him.

Lyn awoke screaming, and Adam was startled awake and looked wildly about to see what had happened. Realizing that Lyn had awakened from a nightmare, he embraced her and pulled her close. Soon he heard others moving about in the hall and called out that everything was all right. He knew that once again, Aubrey and Scouser would soothe the children if they were awakened by this episode as they had been the last two nights when Lyn screamed in the midst of a nightmare. He resolved to stay awake each night until this nightmare came to her again and calm her before she awakened. It had been a rough time at night lately, and he didn’t know why. Had he known what had really happened to lead to his wife’s turmoil, he would have been worried sick about the safety of his family. The current crisis had begun much earlier but he was unaware of what had happened.

Schooners were making more and more trips between Australia and the United States carrying people and cargo both ways. It was a profitable route so many ships were using it. The day that Scouser got off the schooner in San Francisco, another ship from Australia was already there and passengers had already disembarked. It wasn’t as if Michael “Scouser” Harrison would have recognized any of them anyway. But when he disembarked, there was a pair of eyes watching him. The pair of eyes belonged to a man who wanted him to suffer in the worst possible way. Losing his sister would be the best torture of all. To let him suffer months before killing him would possibly satisfy some of the blood lust in the watcher. But Adam Cartwright had to suffer too as did his wife, Scouser’s sister Lyn, who the man felt was ultimately responsible for all of it. The final result, the man decided was that they all needed to die for him to feel avenged.

For several days, the stranger lingered in San Francisco slowly making contacts and arranging his finances. Finally he boarded a steamer bound for Sacramento where he would make a connection to the stage line to travel to Virginia City. There he would do more research and formulate a plan of action. He had lots of experiences doing both, and actually he found that the prospect of what he endeavored to do was invigorating. Walking in San Francisco with its many hills and slopes aggravated his leg and he was forced to buy a cane. He had discarded the last one before boarding the ship in Sydney and had thought he would be stronger by now. The damn doctors had apparently been correct when they said his leg would never be strong, and that was another wrong that had to be avenged. The wrongs he tallied included a disabled right hand from being shot by that damn Cartwright, a left leg with half the calf missing due to bites that got infected, and a voice that would scare anyone when he forced air through his damaged throat to say only what he needed to say. Talking and swallowing were painful reminders of the day he almost died at Scouser’s hand. In addition, he was a wanted man in his adopted homeland. Soon he would be a wanted man here too, but the prospect didn’t worry him at all.

In Virginia City, Adam and Scouser were at his offices. Adam had asked Scouser to take a look at their holdings and see what he thought.

“Now you keep saying our holdings but these are all your investments, you and Lyn.”

“Much of the cash we used to make these investments came from selling the import/export business and some of the mines in which you were one third owner or half owner. When we thought you were dead, Lyn inherited. You’re alive so your share is still yours. So as soon as the lawyers finish the paperwork, you will officially be an owner of the mines here and the properties in Australia that Lyn and I own. One third set right with you?”

“You are an upright bloke just like Lyn told me in that first letter she sent me telling all about the sick man recuperating in my bedroom at my parents’ house. It sets just right with me. Now what do I do to make myself useful here?”

“We’ll have to sit down and work on the division of duties. First, though, Hoss may ask for my help this week and next, and we need to get some work done so I can be gone if he does ask. I want to take you to the mines and introduce you and show you what contracts we have and what deliveries to expect as well as the work I have scheduled. With your experience, you should have no trouble taking over as needed.”

Adam and Scouser spent the rest of the day visiting mining properties where Scouser was introduced as Michael Harrison, one of the owners. He looked at Adam when he was introduced that way and once they had some privacy, Adam explained.

“You’re new here. Hoss uses his nickname but everyone knows him, and knows he’s a Cartwright, so he has no problem being addressed as Hoss. You’re a big man, but they don’t know you. You’ll have to prove yourself to these men. As you make friends, tell them to call you Scouser. The others will see that, and it’ll be just like a club they’ll want to join. Knowing you, it won’t take long.”

“Well you aren’t just a pretty bloke then, mate, you got a clever mind too.”

Adam shook his head. These Harrison siblings were just as good at sass as he was, and he was outnumbered now. He started to think twice about curbing AC’s tongue. He was six now and very smart. He might come in handy in verbal sparring as long as he took his father’s side.

Late in the day, Adam and Scouser returned home for dinner. Scouser thanked Lyn for the partnership because he knew Adam would never have done what he did without talking it out thoroughly with her. Lyn looked tired though. Lyn had begun having nightmares soon after Scouser’s return. They had begun the first night after she took the carriage to town to pick up some supplies. She had seen a man in her peripheral vision who caused her heart to race. She turned and saw that there was a man in the store who had the same build as Maxwell but his voice was hoarse and raspy and it was impossible to tell the origin when he addressed the clerk in the mercantile. The very thin man walked with a severe limp, and was heavily bearded and gray. He leaned on a cane and had to be much older than Maxwell.

Once Lyn returned home, she retrieved her pistol and put it in her skirt pocket, but that night woke up screaming. The children and the adults were all awakened. Aubrey settled the twins down, Scouser rocked Beth back to sleep, and Adam soothed AC before returning to Lyn’s side.

“What was your nightmare about?”

“Do you have to ask? What is the only thing I ever have nightmares about?”

“But he’s dead. Scouser said he left his body laying on the side of a river in Queensland. We’re here in Nevada. You’re safe now. Why did the nightmare happen again? Did something upset you today?”

“I saw a man in town and he looked like Maxwell. I know, I know, he’s dead. Well this man is too old and weak looking, and his voice is horrible, and he walks with a cane but still limps. I know it’s silly but something about him made me think of Maxwell and all those terrible memories came flooding back.”

Adam knew exactly what she meant. Maxwell had assaulted her, tried to kill her son on one occasion and him on another, killed her parents, and had Scouser kidnapped and forced into hard labor on a banana plantation.

“What can I do for you?”

“Just hold me. You make me feel safe. Just hold me.”

Each night seemed to be a repeat of the first night with the nightmare except after three nights in a row, Adam stayed awake until she started to thrash about and awakened her before the terror became so awful she screamed. He would pull her even more closely to him and tightly wrap his arms around her until she was fully awakened and calm. With her head tucked under his chin against his chest, she would fall asleep again in his arms listening to his heart beat and sleep the rest of the night. Nothing they did before Lyn fell asleep seemed to make any difference. Both of them were sleep deprived after a number of nights like that.

*****

Chapter 2

The spring rains had been relentless and hampered the roundup. With the boom in mining again, a lot of men took the mine jobs to get out of the seven day work week of spring ranching and to get out of the rain. Hoss was at a loss as to how to get enough men to finish the spring roundup and drive the herd to market.

“You do have two brothers who would help if you asked them.”

“Pa, Joe’s got that new baby at home, and Adam has four children and those twins are still so young. I hate to ask them and have them take more time away from home. They both have a lot to do too.”

“Yes, but Adam has several people who can handle his workload while he’s gone. With Scouser there now, he has an able partner to handle the mines and the paperwork. Joe’s horse contracts have months left on them, and I’m sure you would help him in return. And don’t forget that you and Laurie have a baby here too, and it isn’t fair to them for you to be gone all the time trying to get this job done. You leave before dawn and get back after dark on the days you don’t stay out there.”

“I suppose I should ask.”

“Yes, your brothers would feel bad if they knew you didn’t ask for help when you needed it.”

“After church today, I’ll ask em.”

At church, the Cartwright clan now took up two full rows. Ben, Hoss with Laurie and their daughter sat in the front with Joe and Alice and their daughter. Adam took the whole second row with Lyn, his four children, and Scouser. The first time Scouser showed up for services, there had been open-mouthed wonder at his size and musculature. Hoss was big but Scouser looked bigger unless he was standing right next to Hoss. It was an imposing presence with just a hint of danger that made people take a step back when they saw him. Sweet Hoss with his ready smile never intimidated anyone unless he got mad.

There was no one like Scouser which made him instantly recognizable to the bearded man watching from the periphery of the crowd. The lurker followed the group into the church and took a seat in back. He listened attentively to the sermon even as he disagreed with it. He would not love these neighbors but he would know them. He had been shocked to see Adam and his wife arrive with four children. She was just another sheilah as far as he was concerned now. He would get his revenge but his desire for her was gone. He followed behind the group as they left the church and gathered at their conveyances. It was clear it was a close family as he had been told in town. He listened and heard what he needed to hear and left before anyone could be suspicious seeing him lingering there.

Lyn felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. It was the same feeling she had in town during the week when she had taken AC to pick up supplies. She looked around and saw nothing suspicious. She saw many people she had met over the previous year and a half that they had been here. She saw some strangers but none who appeared threatening. She knew she was getting spooked again and still couldn’t determine why it was happening.

That night Lyn had another nightmare, but Adam wasn’t there. He and Scouser had been called to one of the mines because the men had opened up a section that had started to flood. They needed Adam’s engineering as well as Scouser’s experience to work out a solution. Lyn stayed awaked after her nightmare. She and Aubrey had gotten the children settled, and then Lyn had sent Aubrey to bed as she sat downstairs and drank hot chocolate. When Adam walked in the door looking exhausted, he saw Lyn and knew she had been awakened by a nightmare.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Perhaps we need to talk to Paul. You can’t keep going like this.”

“I know. And neither can you. You’re exhausted. You never get the sleep you need any more.”

“I’ll be fine. I have to check back with the mine in the morning, and then go help Hoss. Will you promise to go talk to Paul. At least ask him. You might ask Hop Sing too, or have Kim ask. He often has a potion or a tea that will help.”

“All right. Where’s Scouser?”

“He stayed at the mine. He’ll sleep in the office there so they can get him quickly if they need him. I think we have the problem resolved though. Hopefully that’s what I’ll find when I check in tomorrow morning. Come now, let’s go to bed.”

“I don’t think I can sleep.”

“Well then we’ll find something else to do until you’re tired enough to sleep.”

All too early the next morning, Adam was up and heading out. He had slipped out of bed very carefully because Lyn was sleeping. That was such a welcome sight he couldn’t bear the thought of waking her. He stood for a moment appreciating the view. Her face was so serene in sleep and haloed by her dark hair that was loose and tumbled about her on the pillow. He had to force himself to leave. He had breakfast because Kim was always ready for him in the morning. Then he rode to the mine to find that Scouser was up and had the second crew in working on shoring up the mind and pumping out the water. Adam walked with Scouser into the mine as close as they could get to the weak area and appraised the progress.

“Looks good. If all goes well, we can have everyone back to work tomorrow on schedule. It was a good idea to have someone watching here on Sunday. This would have been much worse if we had just discovered it this morning.”

“This was one of the things I did in the mines back home. When we weren’t working them actively, we had a watchman on hand. Mostly it was to prevent anyone working the mine to steal some opals, but it worked well too to know that we would get immediate notice of any problem.”

“Well, I need to head out to the ranch to help Hoss with the roundup.”

“You look like you ought to be headed home to get some sleep.”

Adam just nodded. Sometimes, you just had to dig in and forget about sleep. He had done it before. Once he reached the roundup, it was nearly ten. Hoss sent him to go help Joe in a canyon where a bunch of cattle were scattered. It was brushy and difficult to move all the cows out and it took most of the day. When they returned with those cattle, Hoss asked if they could go help another crew who hadn’t yet returned. Once they got to the plateau, they could see that the men were having a lot of trouble with one steer. As they got closer, Joe suggested they ought to get a rope on that one and hold it back until the others could be driven down below. Adam was on an unfamiliar horse because his first horse had picked up a stone and the horse he had now had only been green broke and trained the previous fall. He had to fight the animal for everything he wanted him to do.

“Adam, with that ornery horse of yours, why don’t you stay and hold that steer until we get the rest out of here.”

“Well, Joe, I was thinking that you could do that since your horse is well schooled and you would have a lot less trouble with this ornery one.”

“Well I’ve been working since seven this morning and you didn’t get here till ten. Seems like if anyone ought to have a longer day, it’s you.”

Adam heard the edge in Joe’s voice and was too tired to consider an argument with him so he acquiesced. He held the loco steer until the others were well down the mountain. Finally, he loosed the rope a little so the steer could start moving, and it went the wrong way. His horse went with him despite Adam’s efforts to turn him. He was wondering who had thought this horse was ever going to make a cow pony. It took quite a bit of time to turn the horse and then get the stubborn steer headed in the right direction. Just as Adam was moving downhill, he felt a stinging in his back at the same time he heard the distant retort of a rifle. He fell and the horse took off running but not toward the herd. It ran in the opposite direction with the rope tying the steer to the pommel still attached.

Down at the main gathering point for the roundup, the men heard the rifle echo. It sounded like it was a long way off and well up the mountain. Hearing no more shots, they assumed it was someone hunting, and they had been successful. What they didn’t know was that it was someone hunting and he had taken down his prey. Now he was riding away, thinking of how he would accomplish the second part of his plan to get the two men out of the way so he could get to the main target of his vengeance. He wasn’t concerned at this point if Adam was alive or dead. He was hurt and out of the way. If he lived, so much the better so he could suffer more when his wife was targeted.

A few men were staying to nighthawk the herd. Everyone else rode home. Joe assumed Adam would head directly home once he brought the single steer back. He also assumed Adam would not need any help with one steer. He reached home in time to have dinner with his family as did Hoss at the main house. Ben was working and Hoss and Laurie were sitting on the settee with their daughter when they heard a rider coming in. Hoss answered the door to find Scouser.

“Do you blokes know where Adam is? He didn’t come home and Lyn is a wreck.”

“He was right behind us. He should have been home hours ago.”

“Hoss, did you see him riding for home?”

“No, Pa, he was working with Joe. Joe said they had a loco steer and Adam was bringing him down on a rope. I didn’t think nothing of it. Adam could handle that with one arm tied behind his back.”

“Why didn’t Joe do it? He’s been working cattle for the last seven years and Adam hasn’t.”

“I guess Joe was peeved that Adam didn’t show up until ten this morning.”

“That’s because he was at the Silver Hill mine with me last night and early this morning. We had some flooding to deal with. He hardly had any sleep last night.”

Both Hoss and Ben were surprised at that. Adam should have said something. They hoped he had not had an accident due to being overtired.

“Hoss, wake Jamie and let’s go talk to Joe and find out exactly where to start looking. It’s going to take some time to get up there in the dark.”

“Ben, there’s good moonlight out there. I was able to ride here at a good pace.”

Once the men were at Joe’s house and explained the situation, he started feeling very guilty.

“Joe, it wasn’t your fault. Adam just never said anything. There was no way to know. But I’m worried about our brother now because there should have been no problem with that beeve on a rope, so something else happened.”

“C’mon son, we have lanterns and torches too because it’s been so wet lately we don’t have to worry about starting a wildfire. We’re going to go find him.”

*****

Chapter 3

For Adam, the ordeal had been going on for hours. When he fell, he landed facedown. Each breath was a struggle. Dust and grit clung to his hands, his face, and his clothing. Every time he tried to push himself up, he felt searing pain from his shoulder blade. He was sure it was broken. He didn’t know how much he was bleeding. It was too dark to see the trail he must have left on the ground as he crawled to cover. He had pushed himself with his legs and used his right arm to try to smooth the slide so his left side wouldn’t stab him with pain so great he feared passing out. Minute after excruciating minute he pushed himself toward cover. He had no jacket or blanket and the temperature plummeted up here in the spring. With the little clear thinking he had he knew he had to get away from the open area where the wind was blowing and stealing his body heat or he would die before he could be rescued. Crawling to an area of rocks and scrub trees and brush had been agony but at least temporarily he felt warmer out of the wind once he got there.

Adam pictured Lyn and the children as he lay there and hoped there would not be another funeral she would have to endure. He prayed then that he would see his wife and children again. A tear slipped out and down his cheek as he thought of his children and that they might have to face a life without a father. He had been so careful for years now to avoid dangerous situations as much as possible so he could be there for his children. Now some unseen unknown threat from a distance had struck at him. He tried to think when the pain allowed him any respite, but he could not think of anyone who wanted him dead.

And Adam knew for a certainty that the shot had been meant to kill. If it had not hit his shoulder blade, he would have died. That and the distance that robbed the shot of some of its power by diminishing its velocity were the only reasons he still lived. Now he had to draw on all the stubbornness he possessed to try to live until he could be found. Then as darkness descended and the temperature dropped, he started shivering uncontrollably until the shock, cold, pain, and blood loss caused him to lose consciousness. He never heard the gunshots nor the voices calling to him many hours later.

“Pa, he’s got to be near here. This is where we had that steer roped. Adam has to be between here and the herd down below.”

“Mate, he ain’t answering our calls. He’s either hurt so bad he can’t or he’s not here.”

None of them liked to consider that first possibility. It was very cold up here. Adam had his jacket and a blanket on his horse but if he had stopped voluntarily, they should be able to see a campfire or smell wood smoke and there was nothing. Joe drew his pistol and fired three more shots. They waited but there was no reply just as they had heard nothing in the hours they had been searching. The men watching the herd down below said they had not seen Adam so he had to be up here somewhere.

Out in the open area where Joe said Adam had been holding the steer, Hoss was walking a pattern holding his torch near the ground. So far all he had found was a mess of tracks of cattle and horses. The others stayed out of the area so he could look for tracks. He and Adam were by far the best trackers in the family. The others had to wait to see if Hoss found anything.

As they waited, Joe thought he heard a horse neighing further up the mountain. He and Jamie went to investigate. A short time later, they returned with the horse Adam had been riding.

“That steer was still tied to the pommel. There was no sign of Adam. We let the steer go.”

Now they knew Adam had not ridden from this area. He was here somewhere without a horse or any of his supplies. Suddenly Hoss stopped. Something or someone had been dragged or slid along the ground where he was. He carefully examined the marks and saw dark spots along the track. He started following the track and when he had gone about fifty feet toward the rocks on the hillside, he suddenly let out a yell. His torch had reflected from Adam’s pistol.

“He’s over here.”

Ben, Joe, Jamie, and Scouser quickly dismounted and ran to where Hoss was kneeling. Hoss had his hand under Adam’s nose and was bent over shielding him from the wind and from the view of the others too in the process.

“Lordy, get some blankets and get a fire going. He’s cold as ice. He’s shot or hurt too, but I don’t know where yet. I got blood on my hand when I turned him so it’s his shoulder or his back I think.”

“Hoss?”

“Pa, he’s alive. I can feel him breathing but it’s shallow. We gotta get him warm as fast as we can.”

As they moved Adam and the lanterns were set on the ground, it was clear that he had a wound in his back probably from a bullet.

“I don’t know if it’s a through-and-through or if the bullet is still in there.”

Ben retrieved a wad of bandages from his saddlebag and Hoss pressed it against the wound in Adam’s back. Scouser stripped off his heavy coat and wrapped it tightly around Adam. Hoss handed him a blanket that he wrapped around the coat. Scouser pulled Adam into a seated position and wrapped his arms around the wounded man. Ben took another blanket and wrapped it around Adam’s legs that he lifted and laid over his own legs. Hoss took off his heavy buffalo coat and laid it over Adam’s lower body as well. Scouser and Ben sat there with Adam as Hoss and Joe collected firewood. Once there was a fire roaring, they moved him closer to the fire but continued to hold him so he wouldn’t lie on the cold ground that could leach the heat from his body. Hoss and Joe did an emergency lean-to frame over the three men. Jamie collected pine boughs to spread over the frame. By the time they were finished, Adam was noticeably warmer.

As Adam was warmed and became more aware of his surroundings, he also began to moan in pain, and grimace. Ben laid Adam’s legs down toward the fire and moved to open the coverings and Scouser helped by pulling open the coat and blanket. Ben could find no wound on his chest or abdomen so Scouser leaned Adam forward and again he moaned but now all could see the injury. He had been backshot and the bullet was still in there. There was not much bleeding but his back and shirt were bloody indicating he had lost perhaps a lot of blood already, but at least the cold had slowed the bleeding. They wrapped the coat and blanket around him again. The cold was more of a threat now than the wound.

“Joseph, at first light . . .”

“Yes, I’ll get the chuck wagon from down below up here, Pa. We’ll get Adam home. I’ll send one of the men for the doc, and Shorty will go tell Lyn.”

Hoss and Scouser were each wrapped in a blanket now sitting on either side of Adam. Their bulk added more windbreak that conserved body heat. Ben, Jamie, and Joe continued to feed the fire. In just an hour or so, they could begin the move down the mountain and toward home. It was a very long hour as Adam moaned in pain and they could do nothing to help him. As dawn broke, Adam regained consciousness. He moaned in pain, grimaced, and then locked his jaw so he wouldn’t yell out. They could all see the effort he was making.

“Does it hurt a lot, son?”

“Only when I breathe or move.” was a pained, whispered response.

Even in the dire straits in which Adam found himself, the sass and irreverent attitude was still there even if he was just making fun of himself and his predicament no matter how much it hurt. Ben shook his head at his son. He never could just say how he felt. He always wanted to spare the others from worrying too much. It was good though to hear him speak and know that he had his senses. All of them had worried that the extreme conditions may have caused even more damage than his bullet ravaged shoulder.

Once the chuck wagon was emptied and driven up to the clearing where Adam lay, the men placed the blankets in a thick pad on the bed of the wagon. Then all four men worked together to lift Adam and place him in the wagon. Getting him next to the wagon had caused him to grimace and lock his jaw, but what happened next caused them to feel a stab into their hearts. Hoss slipped his hands under Adam’s shoulders to lift him into the wagon and he screamed in pain. Hoss stopped and the other three resumed their places. Beads of sweat had broken out on Adam’s face and Hoss had tears in his eyes for the pain his brother was suffering.

“We need to find a better way of lifting him into the wagon.”

“Pa, if we laid him on a blanket, Scouser and Hoss could lift him in over the side. You, Jamie, and I could be in the wagon and take him from there to settle him in on the blankets.”

So that’s what they did, and although it was a better plan, they could see the pain every movement brought to Adam. Once safely deposited on the pile of blankets in the wagon, Adam gave himself over to the exhaustion and pain and passed out. If only he could have stayed that way. The men had searched but they had no laudanum with them or alcohol. Adam would have to endure this without anything to soothe any of the pain away.

Hoss drove the wagon and did his best to have a smooth ride but there was no road or trail here and there were numerous bumps along the way. Each time he cringed because he would hear a moan from the back. After about an hour of this, he slowly realized the moan was more than that; Adam was saying his name. He pulled the team to a halt and turned and leaned down toward Adam.

“I’ve been trying to avoid the bumps, but I just can’t miss them all in this grass. I’m real sorry you’re hurting. Is there something I can do for you, Adam?”

“Stop, please, just stop.”

Hoss tied off the reins and climbed into the back of the wagon as a worried looking Ben, Joe, and Scouser pulled their mounts up next to the wagon.

“Pa, Adam can’t take any more of this. We gotta do something so he doesn’t hurt so bad.”

“We need to strap him to keep that shoulder blade from moving. With the pain he’s in, it’s got to be broken. We don’t have any more bandages so it will have to be our shirts. We’ll tie them around his shoulder and strap his arm down too. It’s about all we can do. That pad of bandages we have on his back should have stopped any bleeding.”

All four men stripped off their shirts and tore them into long strips. Ben told Jamie to keep his on because he was younger and smaller and needed to stay warm. Hoss got behind Adam and pushed him carefully into a sitting position, and then the strips from their shirts were used to bind him as tightly as they could. When Hoss eased him down onto the blankets, he seemed to be in less pain. As Hoss started the wagon moving forward again, he took rapid peaks at Adam to see how he was doing. Ben was sitting in the back now with Adam who was still grimacing in pain but the moaning was gone. It looked like it was more tolerable for him to ride all bound up even if it did make breathing more difficult.

After several hours, Hoss saw a rider coming toward them. By the size, Hoss guessed it was Lyn and yelled to the others. He pulled the wagon to a halt as she got closer. Ben relinquished his spot in the wagon as Lyn hurriedly dismounted and ran to the wagon. Adam looked at her and would have smiled if he could. Instead he closed his eyes in relief at the wagon stopping, and his wife’s cool hand caressing his cheek.

“It’s not too bad sweetheart. It just hurts like hell.” The words came out slowly and softly. The pain was all too evident by the weak voice.

“Luv, I brought some laudanum.”

Adam normally would have objected to the drug, but in this situation it would be a blessed relief. Ben handed a canteen to Lyn who tipped the small bottle to Adam’s lips and he swallowed the bitter draught. She then tipped the canteen to his lips so he could have water to wash it down. Most of the water ended up pouring down the sides of his face as the pain made it so difficult even to swallow. Lyn talked quietly to Adam and caressed his bristly cheek. As the minutes passed, his eyes gradually closed and slowly his face relaxed. She called his name a few times and there was no response. Lyn looked up at Hoss in the driver’s seat and nodded. They could move quickly now to get him home.

*****

Chapter 4

As Adam endured a slow and painful recuperation at his home, Sheriff Coffee was confounded by the investigation into who had shot Adam. There were no suspects, no motive, no evidence, and no witnesses. Roy talked to family, friends, business contacts, and rivals. None could offer a reason why it had happened, and no one could suggest anyone who might have done it. The only anomaly that Roy could find was an elderly disabled man that a number of people mentioned had been asking a lot of questions about Adam, his wife, and her brother. The man did not seem to have any business in town, had no relatives in the area as far as anyone knew, and was not seeking employment. When Roy went to talk with him, he found that he had purchased a wagon and left town without mentioning a destination. If Roy could have played a hunch, he would have followed that man to find out what he was up to, but it wasn’t allowed within the parameters of his job. Before leaving town, the man had made one business arrangement though with some toughs.

“So what do you want us to do, Mr. Maxwell?”

“Just Maxwell. I want you to get into a real blue, a fight, with Scouser Harrison. Get him away from the Cartwrights and hurt him enough that he won’t be fighting for a while.”

“How bad do we hurt him?”

“Anything less than killing him will do, but it would be good if he could still ride even if painfully. And I want him conscious and aware of what is happening so no blows to the head. When you’re done, tell him the message was from Maxwell.”

“We take your money and you leave town. How do you know we’ll do what you say? We could just keep the money and do nothing. It’s not like we’re afraid of you.”

“Trask, you have a little boy, about four years old, don’t you. And each of your partners here has several small children including at least one precious little girl in each litter. You may not be afraid of me, but how about them?”

“You touch my son, and I’ll kill you.”

“You need to know that you won’t do anything to me and you will follow my orders. People who don’t do what I say end up paying for it for a long time.”

Despite his bravado, Trask was worried. This Maxwell talked with no emotion, like he had no heart. Considering what they were being hired to do, he would probably do anything including harming children to get back at the parents.

“We’ll do what you say. We’ll meet you at the designated spot in three days and we’ll deliver the goods.”

“Very well. Here’s the first payment. You’ll get the second when you deliver that whore to me.”

Maxwell had contacted one of the last group of Comancheros, Hispanic and mixed blood traders of northern and central New Mexico and west Texas who traded with the Plains tribes. Their trade with the Comanches of food, tobacco, manufactured goods such as tools, cloth for hides, and gold as well as other items looted from homes and ranches had diminished significantly with MacKenzie’s raids. These Comanchero traders were occasionally involved with traders from northern Mexico. Maxwell had an offer he thought they would like.

General Ranald Mackenzie’s troops had attacked and defeated five camps of Comanches near Palo Duro Canyon burning villages, and killing over hundreds of their horses. Defeated and afoot, and without supplies led the last of the free Comanches, the Kwahada under Quanah Parker, to agree to reservation life at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. This had ended most of the Comanchero trade that had been a feature of the area for over one hundred years. Those Comancheros who continued the trader lifestyle had to search further for trade and accept any item for sale.

Some like El Caudillo, the jefe of the small group Maxwell contacted, had started to specialize in human trade. Just a few humans could provide them with the same profits as many pack animal loads had in the past. It would get them hunted down by the authorities, but for the time being, they continued to ply their trade escaping into Mexico regularly to avoid posses and search parties. Men to work, and women to supply the need for mistresses and wives in the northern Mexico highlands were their products for the market. Maxwell offered two prizes: a beautiful woman and the man or men who would follow her. In exchange, he wanted passage to Mexico. After what he had done and what he had paid men to do, he would shortly be a wanted man with a price on his head.

Adam slowly recovered. Doctor Martin had removed a bullet from his shoulder blade, and strapped him up much the way he had been when transported down from the mountain. Adam had never been a good patient, and this was no exception. He wanted to be doing things not sitting around his house watching his children play and be fed. Lyn had dealt with him when he had malaria but this was worse. He had been so weak when he had malaria that he couldn’t try to do too much. Now he had strength but needed to stay still so the bone could heal. After several weeks of his incessant bouts of grumpiness, Lyn enthusiastically agreed to ride into town with Scouser. They would get supplies and have lunch. For Trask and his cronies, the set-up could not have been better.

In town, Scouser pulled the wagon in front of the mercantile. He was a big man and wasn’t surprised when two men asked him to come into the alley to help load some heavy freight. What he got when he did that however was a beating. It started when he reached for the handle on a barrel to heft it into the wagon and was hit across the forearm with an axe handle that broke his right forearm. Handicapped with one good arm, Scouser was unable to stop the others from pummeling him. He heard another snap and fell to his right knee with extreme pain in his left knee. If he didn’t have so much pride, he would have yelled for help. He didn’t and when he realized he should have, he was shoved to the ground and his arms were tied together and a gag was stuffed in his mouth.

“We’re to tell you that’s from Maxwell.”

Seeing the shocked look on Scouser’s face, they added the next part of the message.

“Yeah, he said you’d be surprised. He said you should have checked to see if he had a heartbeat before you left.”

Lyn had been in the store and wondered why her brother was taking so long to come back. She walked outside and into the alley where he had gone to help the two men. She called his name but saw no one until she saw her brother’s boots sticking out from behind some crates. She rushed to see him without checking her surroundings. She was shocked to see his condition but had little time to react as a wet cloth was clamped over her mouth. Her arms were grabbed and she was held until the chloroform took effect. The men had followed Maxwell’s instructions exactly. Scouser wanted to do something but could not. He knew that his sister was being delivered to Maxwell, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. His torture had begun. The men loaded the unconscious Lyn into the back of the wagon and covered her with a sheet of canvas. Then Trask hopped into the seat and drove the team out of the alley as the other two mounted up and followed on horseback.

The men met up with Maxwell after three days on the trail. A conscious and very upset Lyn was transferred from Trask’s wagon to Maxwell’s. Maxwell handed over payment and the three men returned to Virginia City. Maxwell rather hoped they would be apprehended soon for what they did so that Scouser and Adam would know what he was doing and where he was going. Part of his plan included the men following him. If they didn’t, Lyn was still valuable enough for him to use her for his escape.

Within another two days of hard travel, Maxwell met up with the Comancheros. When the jefe saw this woman that Maxwell offered, he considered keeping her for himself but in the camp, she was sure to incite jealousy and that would not do. Also, he had several customers in mind who might be willing to pay a lot for her.

*****

Chapter 5

In Virginia City, Scouser had been discovered by the mercantile storeowner who untied him and summoned Roy Coffee. Several men were asked by Roy to help the big man get himself over to Doctor Martin’s office. When Roy was done asking if anyone had seen what happened, he went to Doc’s office where Scouser was trying to leave without being treated for all of his injuries. The doctor had splinted his forearm.

“Now, you just hang on there. Ifn you don’t settle down and tell me what happened, I’ll put ya in a jail cell until you cool down. Now talk and explain everything.”

“Maxwell is alive. He sent those men to hurt me and take Lyn. They drugged her and put her in the back of a wagon and took her. I have to get Adam and we have to go after her.”

“Now who’s this here Maxwell feller?”

“He hurt Lyn when she and Adam lived in Sydney. He tried to kill AC and then Adam. He did kill our parents. He is a sick, twisted galah bent on revenge and now he’s here. We thought he was dead or we never would have let our guard down.”

“Now he sounds like a nasty one, but I don’t know how either of you could ride. Let me send some people out to the Ponderosa, and we’ll meet at Adam’s house. Now ifn the doc says it’s all right, you can drive your wagon there. I got to get a couple of men myself, and then we’ll all meet ya there. Is that understood?”

Scouser said yes because he would have said anything to get out of there and on his way to talk to Adam. He knew what Maxwell was capable of doing and so did Adam. They needed to rescue Lyn before anything horrible happened.

Roy sent a rider to the Ponderosa. Scouser had more trouble managing the team with one arm than he thought he would so he was unable to rush as he wanted to. Ben, Joe, Hoss, Candy, Hank, and Charlie met Scouser as he pulled into the front yard of Adam’s home. Adam was saddling a horse as were the two men who worked for him providing security. Well that was moot now. None of them had ever considered that Lyn could be taken while in Scouser’s company. But they had not known that Maxwell was alive. Now the shooting of Adam made sense. He wanted revenge and he wanted to get the two men out of the way so he could get to Lyn, and it had worked.

“Adam, are you sure you ought to be doing this? You’re only a few weeks out from being shot yourself, and you have four children here who need you.”

“Pa, what kind of father would I be to them if I let that madman take their mother and did nothing about it?”

Ben knew he would have done the same. Anyone in this situation would do the same. Yet it was terribly difficult to see AC and Beth standing there crying

Roy would ride with the group but his authority did not extend past the Nevada borders. Kim handed over food sacks. All the men had taken bedrolls and jackets as well as extra ammunition. Watching from the porch of the house, AC was distraught. Adam walked up to him just before they left.

“I need you to take care of your sisters and brothers while I’m gone. I know you listened to what those men were saying and you know we have to rescue Mama. Now you can’t say anything to Beth to upset her, and you need to help Aubrey with the twins. The little ones are all going to be very sad, and I’m counting on you to try to cheer them up.”

AC had tears running down his face.

“I want to go with you to find Mama. Maxwell has snakes and other bad stuff and he could hurt her.”

“That’s why you can’t go. Your pony can’t go fast enough and we need to go very fast to save Mama. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Papa. Papa, please come back, Papa. I want my Mama home.”

Adam pulled his son into a strong embrace and then tousled his hair.

“See you soon, son, and Mama and I will be home.”

“Please come back, Papa, please come back.”

Adam’s heart was breaking. He was abandoning his children to find his wife and their mother. But it was a quest that could cost his children both of their parents. His children, especially his oldest son, had already been quite upset that he had been shot. Now he rode away with the memory of his son’s tears on his own cheeks.

Once in town, with Hoss and Adam working together, they were able to identify some marks on the wheels of the wagon used to kidnap Lyn. Outside of town, they walked or rode slowly watching for those marks. Several miles from Virginia City, the wagon took a road to the east. They followed and the wagon continued in a southeasterly direction even when the road went west toward California. Now they were sure they were on the right trail. It wasn’t likely that anyone would head in this direction. They continued to trail the wagon but were unable to make up much ground because they had to follow the tracks. If they went to fast, they might obliterate some tracks or lose them. Then they would have to backtrack and lose more time.

Adam and Scouser were both suffering with the ride. Adam was nearly healed but still very sore. Scouser had a terribly bruised knee that made riding difficult and had to use his left hand to control his horse, which was very unfamiliar and difficult for him. They were also very impatient and worried because of the slow pace of the pursuit. When they finally reached the spot where the wagon had met another, they were sure that they had to be getting closer. Roy and his deputies began trailing the wagon that turned back toward Virginia City. The rest of the men followed the new trail heading into northern Arizona. Joe and Adam began scouting out ahead of the main group by going to high points of land and trying to see further ahead. After five days on the trail, an excited Joe rode back to the group.

“I can see the wagon up ahead from atop that butte. It’s only about ten miles ahead of us. Just one man and the wagon.”

They prepared to make a hard ride to overtake the wagon when Adam returned. His news was not good though.

“I spotted a large group of men. They appear headed toward the wagon as Joe described the location. By what I could see, they look like Comancheros.”

Everyone took a deep breath with that except Scouser. They had to quickly explain to him what those men were and what they were probably going to do. It was a strong possibility that Maxwell had made some kind of deal with them. If he did, they needed more help. They had enough men to take on the group except the group would have Lyn as a bargaining chip. No one wanted it to come to that.

Ben sent Hank to Flagstaff to alert the Army, and to see if he could hire a few more men to help. Hoss and Adam rode ahead to get closer to the group and keep an eye on them. The others would follow at a discreet distance and camp well back so that they would not be detected. They would wait for reinforcements and just track the group for the time being. Once the group ahead of them settled into camp for the night, Adam and Hoss would stay and watch, taking turns during the night. That was the plan anyway.

On his first night of watching, Adam did not see Lyn. The wagon was between him and her. He saw Maxwell though. It had to be him, but he had a limp and was much thinner than he had been. On the second night of watching, Adam saw Maxwell bring a cup and a plate to Lyn whose hands were tied behind her back. Her hair was a mess, her face and hands were dirty, and her dress was torn in places and the skirt was filthy. Yet she was the most beautiful vision Adam could imagine. His heart swelled at the sight of her. Adam could only imagine how abused her soft wrists were by those ropes. She was seated next to the wagon. Maxwell set the plate and the cup on the ground and stood and watched as she struggled to her knees and bent over to slurp the water from the cup with her tongue and then eat the food on the plate the same way. With the ease with which she did it, it was clear that Lyn had been treated this way from the beginning. Maxwell laughed heartedly at her and limped away.

Adam clenched his fists in anger at the humiliation his wife was enduring. What he saw next made him want to kill Maxwell right then and there. Apparently Lyn must have needed to relieve herself. One of the women in the group walked her a short distance from the wagon and pulled her skirts up, and she had to squat and relieve herself in full view of anyone who wanted to look. Lyn stood then and her skirts were dropped. As the woman walked her back to the wagon, Maxwell walked over and hit her with his cane and pushed her to her knees. Apparently she was not allowed to stand. For good measure, Maxwell hit her in the side with the cane. Adam was too far away to understand the words that Maxwell was using but understood the intent. He also knew that his wife was battered and not just from the blows she had received today as he watched. He could see in her demeanor that she had suffered and was trying to avoid more pain.

Because Adam saw what Maxwell was doing, he had to stop him. He knew he probably could not rescue her by himself but he could try. At the very least he would interfere with his treatment of her until the others got here and could rescue both of them possibly. Hoss was still sleeping a he picked up his rifle and began to quietly walk toward the camp using cover. When he got close enough, he crawled to the wagon and underneath it. He whispered Lyn’s name until he saw her react. He told her he was going to cut the ropes on her wrists. He pulled his jack knife from his pocket and reached through the wagon wheel to start cutting the ropes binding Lyn’s wrists. She flinched a little when he did that because it pained her bleeding wrists, and her reaction was noted by Maxwell who was always watching her.

Maxwell alerted the Comancheros who quickly fanned out around the wagon. Adam saw what was happening and threw his gun out but not before slipping a small caliber pistol under Lyn’s skirt. Her hands were free and he hoped she could hide the small pistol before her hands were tied again. Under Maxwell’s direction, the Comancheros tied Adam in an unusual position. They tied Adam’s hands and feet together with his arms wrapped around the trunk of a small tree and his legs to either side. He couldn’t rest and whenever Maxwell walked by he delivered a blow to his back using the cane. After the fifth or sixth blow, he had to taunt his victim with his horrible raspy voice.

“You’ll be pissing blood by morning. How’s the shoulder? We’ll see how tough you are when you see your life blood flowing out of you, and nothing you can do about it.”

His raspy voice had a demonic sound. With that he cackled like the devil and limped away again. He had seen the look of horror on Lyn’s face. It made him feel so good, he didn’t need to land another blow. He no longer desired her sexually. She had four children with his enemy and he couldn’t imagine touching her with desire after that. However he did want to see her suffer. He thought that making her watch her man in pain and slowly dying would be a good start on his vengeance. He would never forget all the wrongs he attributed to her. He did however forget that Lyn’s bindings needed to be checked. She very carefully and slowly maneuvered the pistol into her skirt pocket.

From the observation point, Hoss had seen what happened. He had awakened to find Adam gone, and had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach because he was sure he knew where he had gone. He had watched until he had seen Adam slip into the camp and had held his breath praying that he would be successful. But then when the Comancheros had moved to surround him, Hoss waited to see if he would be hurt. Once Adam was tied, Hoss slipped away and got his horse. He slowly made his way back to the main encampment to let the others know what had happened.

In the camp, watching Maxwell and seeing his actions, the mixed blood they called Luna Azul was worried. These two prisoners could bring them top dollar in the northern Mexico highlands. The dark man was strong and could do a lot of work in an area often short of workers. She was beautiful with her dark hair and petite build. She would make a good mistress or wife depending on what a ranchero or comerciante wanted, and would be far preferable in many of the families there to the other women available in the north. But if this Maxwell continued to abuse them, they would be nearly worthless. The deal was that they would take Maxwell into Mexico and he would pay for that service with the sale of this woman and possibly one or two men. He was not keeping his end of the bargain. The jefe needed to know what Maxwell was doing and Luna Azul was going to tell him. The jefe was his father. They would decide what to do about it soon.

Once the camp settled down, Adam whispered to Lyn. He told her that the rescue party including her brother was nearby. They had sent word to the army, and were also trying to hire more men to help. What the two of them had to do was survive and wait for rescue. They had to be ready though and try to get away when chaos started if not sooner. Lyn had a gun now in her skirt. There was no reason for them to suspect that so they had not searched her. And her hands were free. She kept them behind her back and waited for an opportunity to help Adam.

“Sweetheart, if you get a chance, run for it. If you get away, Maxwell will have broken his trust with these people. Without you here, my father and the others will be more willing to come in shooting.”

“No, luv. You’re just telling me that if I leave, you will be in more danger. I can’t do that.”

“Lyn, I love you.”

“I know you do.”

“No, I mean I love you like I have never loved anyone in my life. All the times I thought I had loved, it was infatuation. It wouldn’t have lasted. It would not have endured. With you, I love you more every day. I cannot bear the thought of you being hurt any more.”

“Luv, I feel the same about you. We’re stronger together. I’ll run when you can run with me.”

Adam knew he would not change her mind. He had married a strong woman, but at the moment he wished she was more willing to do what her husband told her to do. He was so scared for her safety. He tried to talk calmly to reassure her. Her statements somewhat helped him too, and he would have been surprised to know that Lyn was trying to help him by remaining calm too when all she really wanted to do was scream and cry at the hurt and the humiliation and the fear.

“Right now, you’re thinking that I should have been more like those girls you dated who would do what you told them, aren’t you?”

“At the moment, it is a pleasing thought.”

“Well, when the shooting starts, you’re going to be glad again that you married a feisty woman.”

“Oh, I’m glad about that every day and every night. But just once in a while, I wish I could give you an order and have you do it.”

Chuckling softly, Lyn was able to lean back against the wagon wheel and get some sleep. For the first time in days, she was not distraught. Having Adam there even under these circumstances was more reassuring than she wanted to admit. Adam dropped his head to his chest, but in his uncomfortable position and with a general feeling of nausea and aches in his back, he only snatched a few minutes of sleep here and there. He watched and observed. It was clear to him that the Comancheros did not like nor trust Maxwell. Because he and Lyn were still alive and in a Comanchero camp led him to believe they were to be sold in Mexico. He had heard that there was some human trafficking going on which included whites. Now it appeared they were part of it. He waited and hoped that his father and the others had a plan because he didn’t.

*****

Chapter 6

“What kind of crazy fool idea was that to get himself captured? Now we have to rescue both of them which complicates things.”

“Pa, you know that if any one of us had a wife who was being abused in that camp, we woulda done something.”

“Something, yes, but getting captured isn’t the kind of idea that I would have thought your intelligent, thoughtful older brother would have had. This whole situation has affected his thinking.”

All of them knew how worried Ben was about his son and his daughter-in-law. He was just venting. It had taken some of them a long time to understand that part of Ben and to realize not to take that kind of talk seriously. It was like the safety valve on a steam engine: it released some of the pressure so there wouldn’t be an explosion. He and Joe were a lot alike that way with their hot tempers and loud talk when they were upset. Adam and Hoss tended to hold in their feelings when they were upset so it was harder to read them until they were about to explode and then they could be downright dangerous.

“Pa, with the beating of Scouser, is it possible that Maxwell thinks only Adam was after him. If he does, then they may relax their guard a bit thinking that there’s no threat out here.”

“Pa, I think Joe’s got a good idea there. If they rode out and scouted around, they would have only found Adam’s horse. They might think he came alone.”

“Well, boys, if that’s true, we be able to use that to our advantage. Hoss diagram out in the dirt here where everything is and where Lyn and Adam are.”

Hoss sketched the camp in the dirt. Everyone took note of where things were. Then they discussed a plan. There were just a couple of hours until dawn. They hoped to be in position well before then and move into the camp at first light hopefully gaining an advantage with the surprise. Ben and Hoss were to move to where Adam and Lyn were if possible and free them. Joe would take two men and Candy two others and they would attack the camp at two other points. There wasn’t time to wait for the Army any longer.

“Pa, if you were in charge of that camp, what would be your defensive position if attacked?” Joe thought he had detected a flaw in his father’s plan.

“Joe, I would fall back to the wagon and use the boxes in there to set a defensive perimeter.”

As Ben said it, he realized that Joe had highlighted the weakness in their plan. The Comancheros were going to fall back to where Adam and Lyn were held. Now it was clear why they had been tied in that spot. In the event that Adam had not come alone, they had a fall back position.

“Pa, Joe’s right. We need to attack from behind the wagon so they move away from Lyn and Adam.”

“Hoss, can you get us into position before dawn?”

“Pa, it’s gonna be close. But if we can’t attack at dawn, I just have a gut feeling we ought to attack anyway. That Maxwell fella is just crazy. I’m afraid he’s gonna hurt Lyn and Adam now that he has both of them under his control.”

“I have to agree with Hoss. That man has obsessed over my sister for years and Adam too because he’s with her. They’re in more danger now than ever. We can’t trust the Comancheros to protect them.”

So the eight men came up with a new plan in which they would attack in force. They would carry extra guns and hopefully Adam could be set free and help in the fight. Scouser said that Lyn was a good shot too but Ben couldn’t accept the idea of having her fighting shoulder to shoulder with the men against Comancheros. The eight of them were in position just before dawn. As Ben prepared to give the signal to start the assault, the predawn was shattered with Adam’s scream.

Maxwell had gotten the whip from the wagon. It wasn’t all that substantial but wielded with enough force, it would cause extreme discomfort. Maxwell had walked up behind Adam who had his head down on his chest trying to get some rest, and he slashed him across his back, which was stretched taut because of how he was sitting. Adam screamed out with the first lash because he was jolted from sleep by it, but held himself under control when the next two fell. Maxwell started that demonic laugh of his. He felt he was invincible at this point. He had the Comancheros to do his bidding and here he had two people to use for his vengeance. He thought they were powerless, and he was all-powerful. He felt better this morning than he had for a long time and he planned to have some fun before they began moving again.

Lyn was getting ready to use that pistol when Maxwell stopped and climbed into the wagon muttering in that horrible voice of his something about salt. Suddenly Lyn realized he was going to throw salt in those open wounds. That would not do any more damage but she knew the pain would be excruciating. She was debating what she should do when a barrage of gunfire and yelling let her know that the rescue effort was underway.

“Lyn get under the wagon and get behind something if you can.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to hug this little tree and hope that’s all I need.”

Adam moved around the small tree to get it between him and the Comancheros. With Lyn hiding under the wagon using a wooden box and the wheel for protection, they waited for help. The gun battle was a fairly even match. It was not clear who would win out. Then from the distance, there was the sound of a bugle. The Comancheros stopped shooting. It was clear they feared the Army. With signals from El Caudillo and Luna Azul, they quickly grabbed what they could and ran to their horses. Maxwell had been hiding in the wagon and yelled for them to wait. Their answer was to send a barrage of bullets into the wagon. He had dropped as soon as he saw them turn to fire so he wasn’t injured, but he was maniacally angry. He jumped down from the back of the wagon and advanced on Adam. He holstered his pistol and pulled a long knife.

“You’re going to die, and you’re going to be ugly before that happens. I owe you a lot, and I pay my debts.”

Maxwell grabbed Adam’s hair and pulled his head back. There was nothing Adam could do, but Lyn had a gun and her hands were loose. She rapidly slid out from under the wagon and as Maxwell prepared to drive the knife into Adam’s face, she fired. It was a small caliber and Maxwell turned more in anger than in pain to advance rapidly toward her. Lyn fired three more shots hitting Maxwell in the torso each time but he continued to advance. Adam was screaming at her to ‘Run, run!’ but she couldn’t believe Maxwell didn’t fall. He would die from the wounds she inflicted but the adrenalin was allowing him to threaten her. Before he could reach her though, his body was suddenly jerked about as two men ran from behind the wagon and fired point blank into his back with forty-four caliber Colts. The rescue party had seen Maxwell climb out of the wagon and had taken off at a run to stop him but the wagon blocked their shots. Joe and Candy were fast runners though and got there just in time to end Maxwell’s reign of terror. Once Scouser got there, he turned Maxwell over with his boot and placed his pistol directly over the dead man’s heart and fired. As the others looked at him in shock, he explained.

“His hired lackeys gave me a message with the beating. He said I should have checked his heartbeat when I thought I killed him. Well I just checked, and it ain’t beating.”

Lyn ran to Adam’s side and tried to untie the ropes. Joe and Hoss hurried to help and cut through the ropes quickly. By then, the Army troop had arrived with Hank, and Ben went to explain to them what had happened and the direction the Comancheros had gone. Within minutes, the unit headed out at a gallop to try to apprehend the group. Basic medical care was given to both Adam and Lyn but they needed to be seen by a doctor because of the risk of infection. So the wagon was cleaned out and the team was hitched up. The two of them would ride in relative comfort to Flagstaff because that was the closest community.

Once in town, Adam and Lyn were delivered to the doctor. Ben then went to the bank to arrange to get some funds transferred so he could pay for rooms and food for the group. He had encouraged any who wanted to return home to go but all declined. They wanted to see this through to the end. Then Ben went to the hotel and signed for six rooms. The men could double up and he would take a room by himself. Adam and Lyn would share a room of course. His last stop was the telegraph office and he sent messages to all who would want to know. He sent one addressed to Adam Cartwright II too. When he returned to the doctor’s office, several workers from the laundry were carrying in buckets of steaming water. Once inside, he found out why.

“My two patients are filthy especially that poor lady. First order is to get them clean and a bath is the best way. Neither of them have any deep wounds so the water is not going to aggravate anything. It will be a relatively quick bath. I need one of you to help get each of them out of the washtub though.”

Scouser volunteered and the others agreed he was the best choice. The doctor pointed out a washbasin and some towels so he could clean up before helping.

“You do have a clean shirt to wear I hope.”

“Yes I do. In my saddlebags.”

“Good. I don’t want you spreading some dirt onto my newly clean patients. Next order of business is to get some clean clothing for the patients. The mercantile will have what you need for him and there’s a dress shop next door to it. Just ask them for whatever a woman would wear if she was traveling to Virginia City by wagon.”

Scouser spent some time cleaning up before entering the doctor’s exam room. Joe and Hoss went to get clothing from Adam’s saddlebags, picked up additional items for him from the store, and then flipped a coin to see who had to go in the ladies dress shop to get items for Lyn. Hoss lost, and with a deep blush before he ever entered the place, he walked into the dress shop and got the job done.

The doctor’s final diagnosis was guarded but mostly positive. Both had bruises and abrasions. Lyn had some ribs that might be cracked. The doctor had bandaged those as well as her wrists. Adam had bruises to his kidney area and his urine was tinged with red. He had some mild, shallow lacerations on his back and his wrists were mildly abraded. Other than bruises, he had no other injuries. The doctor was concerned by his nausea but assumed it could be from the injury to his kidneys. The doctor’s prescription for both was keep the wounded areas clean, get lots of rest, and no riding of horses for at least two weeks.

By that night, Adam and Lyn were in a hotel room. They were bandaged and clean. Lying in bed next to each other, they made love, but it was rather frantic and more of a release than anything. Then they gave in to their exhaustion and slept wrapped in each other’s embrace. Lyn did not have a nightmare.

The next morning as the dawn’s light began to brighten the room, Lyn tried to wake Adam with kisses. She kissed his forehead and then his nose. She kissed each bristly cheek. She kissed his chin. She knew he had to be waking by then because he slept lightly all the time. So she wondered just how long he could play dead to her kisses. She kissed each ear and then behind each ear. She could swear there was a hint of a smile on those beautiful lips of his but he wasn’t giving up yet. She had heard his breathing increase so she knew she was having an effect. To be sure, she kissed his chest and could feel his rapid heart rate with her lips. She decided to really torture him then as her hands caressed him as she kissed his neck and gently tickled his sensitive skin there with her tongue. She slipped one hand behind his neck and toyed with the curls there as her other hand lightly stroked his bare chest and down to his abdomen as she leaned on his chest and then leaned more forward to kiss him. Finally she made it to his lips and as soon as her lips touched his, he lost all control and wrapped his arms around her. His kiss had a gentle passion and conveyed his desire for more. They made love slowly and gently then avoiding all the bruises and abrasions each had and enjoyed each other immensely.

As the others left their rooms to go downstairs for breakfast, Ben almost knocked on the couple’s door but decided not to do that. Joe and Hoss smiled. If they had been in a similar predicament as that which Lyn and Adam had survived, they knew what they would be doing at this moment and a knock on the door would not have been appreciated. About an hour later, Ben had the hotel restaurant send breakfast up to their room. Lyn answered the door and thanked them for the breakfast and Adam tossed a coin to her to pay the waiter. Lyn was famished and ate heartily but was concerned that all Adam wanted was coffee. He again said he was feeling a little queasy. She wanted him to see the doctor before they left, but he was adamant that he would be fine with rest. Lyn thought ‘adamant’ was an appropriate word for him, and wondered if perhaps that should have been his full name. She knew she would never win this argument so she stopped trying, but resolved to watch him for signs of a more serious problem.

Out and about, Ben and the others spent some time laying in supplies for the return trip. The supplies and blankets were packed into the back of the wagon in a configuration that would allow Adam and Lyn to recline as they rode home. The group got a late start leaving for home by the time Adam and Lyn appeared in the hotel lobby, but seeing how happy and relaxed Adam and Lyn were, they decided it had been worth the wait. Of course, the brothers did make sure to jibe Adam quite a bit, and Scouser teased his sister too especially wondering if he would have another niece or nephew now and asked if they had decided on any names yet. The ribbing had to stop just an hour into the trip as they saw that both Adam and Lyn had fallen asleep in the back of the wagon.

In mid-afternoon, they stopped in a small grove of trees for lunch and dug out the sandwiches and fruit they had purchased at the restaurant before leaving. It would be the best meal on the trail most likely so almost everyone dug in and ate heartily. Adam again only wanted some water and then coffee. Lyn was getting more worried and touched his forehead with her hand, and suspected that he was developing a fever. Hoss and Ben had noticed Adam didn’t want to eat and saw Lyn’s expression after she checked him for fever. Lyn looked very worried, and Adam’s family began to worry too. They decided they better push harder for home. Adam and Lyn could sleep as they traveled so they could still rest and recuperate, but getting home and to a doctor now seemed to be more of a priority.

By the second day of travel, Adam definitely had a fever. He was suffering with alternating chills and sweats. The nausea continued, and all he would take were liquids as anything else was likely to be vomited back up. The men were pushing hard now. There was no reason to go slow. They expected that they could be in Virginia City in four days if they kept pushing like they had been. By the third day, Adam had developed an excruciating headache. Lyn wrapped some cloth around his eyes because he complained that the light of the sun was like daggers to his brain. He was a very sick man.

*****

Chapter 7

On the Ponderosa, another Cartwright was having problems with nightmares. Every night and sometimes twice in a night, AC awoke in terror. His dreams of a menacing Maxwell, and missing parents continued even after he received a telegram that Aubrey helped him understand.

Adam and Lyn Cartwright safe. Stop. Home in seven days or less. Stop. Maxwell dead. Stop. Love, Grandpa. Stop.

AC had a hard time believing it was true. So much had happened to him in the last few years that he was prone to expect the worst in a situation. He had changed with these last two episodes. His father had gone off to help Uncle Hoss herd cattle and had nearly died. Yes, the adults had told him that his father wasn’t in any danger, but he had overheard them talking about things like exposure and shock and how those might have killed his Papa before he was even found. He remembered too how sick his father had been when he had rescued Uncle Hoss. He suspected that his father might have been near death then too. He saw the looks they gave each other when they talked about the shock and the exposure and it was just the same as when talked about how sick Papa was after swallowing all that river water. Now they told him that his parents were safe and Maxwell was dead, but he had heard that Maxwell was dead once before, and yet here he had been again to hurt his family. No he decided he would never believe that Maxwell was dead. He would keep his guard up and protect his family. He was becoming more and more like his father every day.

Jamie was struggling too with all of his brothers gone as well as Candy and Hank. Shorty and Charlie tried to help but knew much less about the overall operations than Joe and Candy. He had to send a crew to fix a section of fence that went down because of the wet soil and a thunderstorm. He had to hold the spring roundup together even though he was more short of hands than Hoss had been. He had to get to the breaking corrals every morning to be sure the men there had enough horses to green break and then begin training. He had to check supplies for the house, the bunkhouse, the wranglers, the chuck-wagon, the stables, and the forge, and had to be sure to have adequate grain for the horses, chickens, pigs, and goats. Then he had to go to town and get what was needed or send someone else who could be trusted. Hop Sing, God bless him, was helping as much as he could but some things Jamie had to do. All of the bills and receipts were piling up on the desk waiting for him whenever he had time to fill in the ledgers. When he got that telegram that his Pa and the others would be home in seven days or less, he wanted to cry. How could he do this for another week was his only thought. He went to bed late and got up early. He was exhausted.

Exhaustion was affecting Ben and his group too. They had pushed hard for four days and as night neared, they were only a few miles from Virginia City. Ben sent most of the men back to the ranch. He asked Hank to tell Jamie and Laurie what had happened, and asked him to get word to Alice in the morning. Once they got to town, they had to wake Doctor Martin who had been busy and had hoped to have an early rest.

“Well, now, a Cartwright needs my help in the middle of the night. Why doesn’t that surprise me? Who got banged up this time?”

“No one is banged up. Adam is very ill. He has been for four days.”

“Ben, why didn’t you bring him in sooner?”

“We were on the trail. We pushed as hard as we could to get him here. He has been riding in the back of a wagon. We’re been pushing him to drink, but he won’t eat anything.”

Paul quickly opened the door to his surgery and spread a clean sheet on the table there. As the men carried Adam in, he directed them to put him on that table. Adam smelled pretty ripe by then after four days of sweating and no bath. When Paul’s wife entered and asked what she could do, she wasn’t surprised when Paul asked for lots of hot water. Lyn and Ben stayed to help. Adam was undressed and his soiled clothing was taken away by Hoss who brought it to a laundry/bath house that was open around the clock. He took a quick bath while he was there and put on the clean shirt and socks he had. Everything else would have to wait. When he got back, Joe and Scouser went to do the same. Once Adam was bathed and lying under a clean sheet on the table, Paul asked Lyn and Ben to leave so he could do an exam. With pushes from Scouser, Joe, and Hoss, the two of them went to the bathhouse as well. All of them hoped that someone would bring them clean clothing the next day. Then they sat together and waited for the doctor to emerge which occurred soon after Ben and Lyn returned from their baths.

“He’s very sick as you well know, but I have no idea what it is. He has a high fever, chills, and sweating that could indicate cholera, but also has from your description, a severe headache. There’s the nausea but he is able to take fluids. That doesn’t fit with most cholera cases I have treated. In addition, I have found that his abdomen is tender, and it appears the liver and the spleen may be enlarged. There is a slight jaundice. There is no sign that there is a problem with the kidneys. The bruising on his back is fading, and he did manage to give a sample of urine that is normal as far as I can see. Can you tell me anything more about his condition?”

Lyn had been staring openmouthed at the doctor as he talked.

“Oh my God, I think I know what’s wrong.”

“What is it?”

“Malaria.”

“Well I could see how the fever might remind you of that. I know very little about the disease, but the Arizona desert is not someplace where someone would contract malaria.”

“Doctor, in addition to everything you described, he has been complaining of aches all over even in places where he had no injury. He has been exhausted even though all he did for four days was lay in the wagon and sleep or rest.”

“Lyn, why do you think my son has malaria despite what the doctor has said?”

“The symptoms you describe are exactly the ones he had when I first met him. Everything fits. It can relapse months or even years after the first illness hits.”

Doctor Martin was intrigued. He had never dealt with a malaria case and without Lyn there, he would never have guessed that was what was ailing Adam. He walked to his bookshelf and searched for the correct volume. When he got to the section on malaria though, he found that there was scant information there but the risk of relapse was mentioned although it said it was far more likely in the first twelve months. To have it recur so many years later fit in the rare category but it was listed as a possibility. He would have to rely on Lyn’s expertise for a treatment plan.

“What did you do in Sydney for someone suffering from malaria?”

“Much of what has been done so far. We pushed him to drink fluids. We kept him cool with daily baths. We changed his clothing and his bedding as often as needed and sometimes that was several times a day. We kept him in a darkened, quiet room so he could rest as much as possible and get some relief from the headache, and someone sat with him every minute. The possibility of vomiting is very strong at first and could lead to choking or breathing problems if someone isn’t there to help. We need to get some quinine too.”

Ben, Hoss, and Joe had known that Adam had malaria and that was how he met Lyn and her family. They had never heard the details though of what apparently had been grueling for all of them.

“Well, we should keep him here for the time being then. When he gets a bit stronger, we can send him home. I don’t know if you can find a quiet place at your home with those four children of yours though.”

“The children will mind. They’ll just be so happy to have their Papa home for such a long time.”

“How long will it be do you think?”

“Papa Ben, the first time was over two months before he was able to do much. There is a fatigue with this illness that makes it nearly impossible to do anything for some time. Although he did like to talk and read, or have someone read to him. Those are things that the children can be there to share.”

“Now Lyn I want you in that exam room so I can check you over. You can stay in there with Adam, and there’s a bed too so you can get some sleep.”

Seeing Lyn about to object and knowing Ben would too, Paul quickly finished outlining his plan.

“My wife will watch over him first, I’ll take the next shift, and then we’ll wake Lyn and she can sit with him. One of you can come over about six tomorrow morning so the rest of us can have breakfast. We’ll need people to sit with him all the time for the next two days I would think so you’ll all get a chance if you want one. Now get yourselves over to the hotel and get some sleep.”

The next morning, Laurie and Alice were in town bright and early. Laurie had gone to tell Alice what had happened because Hank had told her the whole story the night before. The two of them stopped by Adam’s house and got some basic clothing and such for Adam and Lyn and also brought clothing for Scouser, Ben, Hoss, and Joe but thought that Hoss and Joe and probably Scouser would likely not be spending another night in town. They arrived as Lyn was leaving the restaurant with the Martins and Scouser, Hoss, and Joe. Ben was sitting with Adam. Alice and Laurie got out of the carriage quickly to run to their husbands. Hoss held Laurie in a firm embrace, but Joe gave Alice a passionate kiss.

“Joe, we’re in the middle of town.”

“Yes, and I’m your husband and everyone knows that. I missed you so much. Where’s Maria?”

“All the children are with Aubrey. Michele is there too. Aubrey said it was no problem. She has Kim to help if need be. And Lyn, we have a passenger in back who insisted he had to come along.”

AC climbed out of the carriage and stood with his fists on his hips and a defiant look on his face. He would see his father today and no one was going to stop him. Lyn looked at him and then at Hoss and Joe.

“I know you never knew Adam at this age, but can’t you see him standing there just like that?”

Hoss and Joe had to laugh. If they ever were imagining Adam at six, this would be the picture they would have had. Lyn walked over to AC and wrapped her arms around him and his resolve faltered. It felt so good to hug his mother, and then the tears came.

“Is Papa going to die?”

“No, sweetie, but he is very sick.”

“That’s what you told me when he saved Uncle Hoss from the river but I heard you say later that you let me see him because you thought he wasn’t going to make it. That meant you thought he was going to die, wasn’t it?”

Lyn didn’t want to lie to her son, but she didn’t want to make him worry either.

“That was a different situation. This time he has an illness he had before. Remember the story we told you about how Papa was sick and he came to stay at my parents’ home, and that’s when I first met him?”

“Yes.” was the hesitant answer.

“Well, he has that same sickness again. We know what to do with this one. Papa is going to be sick for a while, and then he will be very tired and have to rest a lot. By summer, I hope, he will be feeling better and get back to normal, everyday things. Until then, we are going to need your help.”

“What can I do?”

“Right now, you can go sit with Grandpa. He’s watching over Papa now. And you need to do whatever he tells you to do. All right?”

AC nodded vigorously and then ran to the doctor’s office stopping on the porch to walk in with decorum. He had gotten his wish and he was going to see his father. He was shocked though when he did enter the room. His father’s face was covered in sweat. He looked terrible and his eyes were closed. Grandpa Ben asked him to go get some cold water from the pump and he hurriedly complied. Then Ben showed him how to bathe his father’s face, chest, and arms to help cool him. AC watched as Ben did the same from the other side and followed his lead exactly.

Outside, Alice and Laurie were explaining what they had learned from Aubrey as they packed up the items for Lyn and Adam.

“AC has been having terrible nightmares since you were kidnapped. He was afraid neither you nor Adam was coming home. He also does not believe that Maxwell is dead.”

“That’s a lot for a little boy to handle. But Adam is the best at talking with him about things like that, and he isn’t up to doing any of that now. I’m not even sure Adam knows where he is right now.”

“Lyn, if you tell Pa what’s been going on with AC, I’m sure he would talk to him honestly and help him get over his worry. He did that a lot with us when we was growing up.”

“Hoss is right. Pa can talk to him like he’s grown up, and he’ll be able to trust what he says.”

Lyn made arrangements to get a ride home to see her children. Then she went inside to tell Ben what had been happening with AC and to ask Ben to talk honestly with him. She told AC she was going home to see the other children, but would be back within a few hours and he should stay with his grandfather. Lyn rode with Laurie and Alice and headed home to reassure her other children and then to come back to sit with her husband. She knew the next few months would be difficult but Adam would be well in time, and AC would learn to trust again.

*****

Chapter 8

Adam awoke after two days at Doctor Martin’s office and in a weak voice asked where he was. It was the first hint of awareness he had had for almost four days. Lyn was with him and told him about how he had relapsed with malaria and that he was staying at the doctor’s office. Now that he had become conscious and fully aware of his surroundings, Paul would release him. AC heard his parents talking and awoke from his nap. He had helped the last two nights when his mother sat with his father so he took a nap each day. Adam was surprised when AC came to stand on the opposite side of the bed from Lyn.

“Papa, I missed you so much.”

Adam moved his left arm to hold his son and AC wrapped his arms around his father and cried into his chest. Adam held him close and looked up at Lyn wondering why AC was crying. She mouthed ‘Later’ at him, and he nodded slightly.

“I’ll get Doctor Paul. He said you could leave when you were fully conscious and aware. He has sent a telegram to San Francisco requesting quinine. It could be here today. Once we get that, you should be able to go home. For today, I think we could move over to the hotel. We already have a room there and so does your father. I’m certain he will let AC stay with him for a night or two.”

The stage brought a package containing quinine with instructions for its use, and Doctor Martin started dosing Adam with it immediately. He wanted him to stay in town for a day or two until the quinine would start showing its effects. So Adam was to be moved to the room Lyn had, and AC packed up his things and moved into the room next door with his grandfather. When Scouser had visited Adam, Lyn had made a list of things including a couple of books that she wanted him to bring, and he arrived with those as they were preparing to move Adam. With his strength to rely on, moving Adam to the hotel happened easily.

Once Adam was in a bed in Lyn’s room in the hotel, Scouser, Lyn, Ben, and AC sat in chairs and visited. Adam was an interested observer but didn’t have the energy to participate. As the time for dinner approached, Adam’s eyelids were fluttering and Lyn signaled everyone to be quiet. Once there was silence, it only took a moment and Adam’s eyes closed as he fell into a healing sleep. Scouser whispered that he would take AC to dinner but Ben pointed at himself and Lyn nodded. Once AC and Ben left, Lyn explained that Ben needed to talk with AC. Upon hearing what the topics were, Scouser said he would give it a go too when he could. For the time being though he helped by going downstairs to get two dinners and brought them back to the room.

In the hotel restaurant, Ben and AC sat at a table near the back and relatively secluded from the other diners. Ben had asked if they could have some privacy.

“So, how are you handling all of this responsibility? Does it make you feel good or do you feel worried?”

AC thought for a time about how to answer that. As Ben watched him and realized what he was doing, he was reminded again of Adam as a small boy. But Adam never got to eat in a restaurant like this, and Ben had never been able to take the time to ask him how he was feeling about all the responsibilities he had had when he was so young. Ben realized that at this age, Adam had become the main caregiver for Hoss because his mother had been killed. Adam had lost the only mother he had known as well but there was no time for grieving. So usually when Ben talked with him, the questions were more practical or were to make Adam think about something he had done. He resolved to be sure to give AC all the time he needed to show his feelings. It wouldn’t do to teach him to hide them like his father had done for far too long.

“I like it that Mama trusts me to help with Papa. But I miss Beth and the boys a lot. I wish I had time to do fun things like ride my pony. But I want to stay here with Papa until he can go home. I can do all those other things when I get home, but I can only help my Papa now.”

“That’s very good thinking. You’re not worried any more that your Papa won’t get well are you?”

“No, Mama and Papa both said that there won’t be no secrets like that no more. Papa says I have excellent hearing but if I hear anything that’s scary, I have to talk to him or Mama. Mama made me promise to do that. A promise is a promise so I have to. Papa says that a broken promise is a lie.”

“Your Papa is a very smart man.”

AC looked very proud at that statement. Ben wasn’t sure if he should bring the subject of Maxwell up or not. Finally he felt he had to.

“You do know that Maxwell is dead and can’t hurt you or your family any more, don’t you?”

“Nope.”

“But we told you that Candy and Uncle Joe shot him after your Mama shot him, and then your uncle Scouser shot him too.”

“Uncle Scouser told us once before that he was dead only he wasn’t.”

“But this time, we all saw him dead. He can’t come back any more.”

“Papa told me about a bird called a phoenix. It burns up and then comes back. I think that Maxwell is like that. He’ll be back just like the phoenix.”

Ben realized that although AC was a brilliant child, he was still a child and held some childish ideas. He still had some trouble distinguishing reality from fiction.

“The phoenix is not real. It is a mythical bird. Did your Papa tell you that?”

“Yes, but in church, they said that if you believe, then it is true.”

“But in church, we are talking about God, about Jesus, not a man like Maxwell.”

“Yes, but what if Maxwell if the devil. We talk about the devil and evil in church and Maxwell is evil. Doesn’t that mean he’s a devil?”

Suddenly Ben felt overmatched in a philosophical discussion with a six-year-old. It was like all those conversations he had had over the years with Adam and many had turned out just as poorly as this one. Finally he had to admit defeat on this point and let AC’s parents handle it.

“So, how’s your steak? Is it done the way you like it?”

“It’s just right, Grandpa. How’s yours?”

At that point, Ben was glad that AC had the attention span of a six-year-old. At least he was spared trying to debate him. When they got back to the room, Ben whispered to Lyn that AC no longer feared for his father’s life but still believed that Maxwell was out there. Scouser heard their conversation and decided to try himself.

“Hey, AC, you do know that I made sure Maxwell was dead this time. I checked his heart and it wasn’t beating.”

“Yes, and the phoenix gets burned all to ashes but it isn’t dead, and it comes back. Maxwell is coming back too.”

Adam heard the conversation. He resolved to find a way to explain this to his son. He knew about the nightmares because he had overheard Scouser and Lyn discussing them when he had his eyes closed but was awake. He didn’t feel bad about them not telling him. They were trying to protect him, but he had to find a way to reassure his son. He would do it too but unfortunately it would probably be some time before he could manage it.

Within two days though, Doctor Martin gave Adam permission to move home. He was tolerating the quinine quite well and his fever had dissipated significantly as had the swelling of his liver and spleen. Paul prescribed no riding, no strenuous activity, lots of bed rest, and quiet. Adam wasn’t sure he could have done the first two anyway, and the second two sounded just right by the time he was helped down to the carriage for the ride home. Scouser settled him in the back so that there would be no risk of him falling out. That was all right, but the stares of people who were walking by were very irritating to him. Lyn saw his look and handed him his hat and then spread a blanket over his legs and up to his chest. When he dropped his chin to his chest, no one could see him. AC sat up on the bench seat with Scouser who was driving and Lyn got into the back with Adam. Once out of town, he picked up his head and enjoyed the scenery.

Adam got quite a welcome home. Aubrey had the twins and Beth on the porch waiting for him to arrive. There were colored streamers decorating the porch posts. As Scouser helped Adam to the house, he asked if he could sit on the porch for a bit with his children. Scouser and Lyn knew he needed to get upstairs to bed, but he needed his children more at this point so they agreed he could stay for a half hour. He held each of the twins for a short time with Lyn quite close just in case he weakened. Then Beth came and sat on his lap and chattered on about what she had been doing. She had gained a remarkable vocabulary for one so young, and Adam began to wonder if she was as smart as her mother. Finally, Adam looked at Lyn and nodded. He knew he had no reserves of energy and needed to rest. Scouser helped him up and by the time they got to the stairs, he almost had to carry him up to his bedroom. He was home now though and on his way to recovery.

Early one June morning, Ben rode over to Adam’s house. He hadn’t been there since the first week Adam had been home. He got regular reports from Hoss who had visited Adam often before the cattle drive took Hoss away for weeks. Ben wanted to see for himself how his son was doing because Adam had been so weak those first days at home he could only visit a short time with anyone before he needed to rest again. When he got to the house, Lyn and Beth were sitting on the porch cleaning up some early season beans and peas from the garden.

“Good morning, and how are two of my most favorite ladies this morning?”

“Good morning, Grandpa. We’re gonna have peas and beans for lunch.”

“I hope you are going to have more than that.” Seeing the disappointed look on the little girl’s face though, Ben amended his statement. “Although peas and beans sounds like a delicious lunch.” Beth smiled in acknowledgement of his appreciation of her plans.

“Good morning, Ben. Adam is awake. The boys are with him. Go on up.”

Ben walked up the stairs and could hear Adam’s voice as he got to the top. He wondered at Lyn leaving two rambunctious toddlers with Adam in his weakened state but had to smile as he got to the open bedroom door. There were Mikey and Nicky sitting on either side of Adam who was propped up with pillows on the bed. Each of them was leaning on him with a hand on his chest. He had a hand on each of them and was telling stories of Australian wildlife. He described in colorful details the ‘duck’ who swam like a fish, the large ‘rabbit’ they called a kangaroo with a pocket on its tummy where it could keep its baby, and the cute huggable little bear who lived in a tree and liked to be cuddled. When Adam talked about the kangaroo, he pulled up each of the boys shirts and rubbed their bellies and said ‘Not a kangaroo. No pocket.’ Then the twins pulled down the blanket exposing his stomach, rubbed his stomach, and said ‘No roo.’ AC sat on the end of the bed as mesmerized as his little brothers. He remembered some of what was being described, but his father made it all seem so much more magical.

Ben felt Lyn’s hand on his back as she came up behind him.

“I’ve told him he needs to write those stories in a book for the children. They all like to hear these stories so much. He can tell Mikey and Nicky those stories over and over again. In fact if he stops, they will urge him on with ‘More, more’ until he relents and tells the stories over again.”

“Aren’t you worried that those two will tire him too much?”

“That’s AC’s job. He stays with Adam when the boys are up here, and when he sees his father getting tired, it’s his job to take the boys off the bed and get them downstairs. He’s been very diligent in helping out that way. He knows he’s helping his father to get well again.”

“How about the other issue?”

“He still has some nightmares about Maxwell. Adam says he has some ideas about that but can’t do anything until he’s able to be up and about.”

“How soon will that be?”

“He’s been spending part of each day downstairs after he gets himself dressed. He’ll be down for lunch. Then he usually sits outside and reads for a while as the twins are sleeping. Sometimes he reads aloud if AC wants to hear the story. Beth will spend some time with him and chatter about almost anything. That’s easy because all she expects him to do is listen and nod or smile now and then. He tries to stay up through dinner and makes it most days. He’s still easily fatigued yet so he doesn’t manage it every day though. Scouser helps him up the stairs when he’s ready to retire for the night.”

“Who helps him downstairs for lunch?”

“That he’s managing on his own. After a good night’s sleep and a restful morning, he can do it now. He is getting better. Will you stay for lunch?”

“Well, I thought you would never ask. Of course. We are having something more than peas and beans I hope.”

Lyn and Ben both chuckled, except Lyn knew how disappointed Beth would be to find that Kim had prepared chicken and gravy with corn bread too.

*****

Chapter 9

Gradually Adam began to do more and more. By the time Hoss was back from the cattle drive, he and Adam were able to take a ride to the lake. It was an early July day and the brothers kicked off their boots, pulled off their socks, rolled up their pant legs, and waded in the water like they did when they were kids.

“Hey, Adam, you remember that time we was diving and swimming here in only what God gave us, and Joe brought Becky here and she saw us all nekkid?”

“Oh, I couldn’t forget that day for a long time. Thanks for bringing that memory back.”

“Yeah, Joe was sure mad.”

“You up for a hunting and fishing trip?”

“You sure you’re up to it?”

“Not entirely, that’s why I asked you to come along.”

Hoss laughed then. Adam was always giving those back door shots just the same way he gave back door praise. Seemed he had trouble just out and saying what he was actually thinking.

“You gonna tell me the real reason or do I have to guess?”

“I want to take AC along. I want him to see the difference between life and death. He still thinks that Maxwell can come back to hurt us so he has nightmares yet. Not every day, but he has several every week.”

“Would you mind if I asked Jamie to come along? He had an awful lot of work to do when we was all gone. I don’t think he’s fully recovered yet.”

“Didn’t Pa do something for him for taking on all that responsibility as a seventeen-year-old?”

“Nah, Pa praised him and said he did just as well as you did when you was that age and took over the ranch for months while Pa was grieving.”

“Ouch.”

“Oh yeah. I don’t think Jamie dared ask for time off or anything after that.”

“I was thinking of going to the northwest lineshack. There’s only two bunks there. Do you think Jamie could sleep on the floor? That’s where AC will be sleeping but he’s only six.”

“I think he’ll be fine with that, but just in case, I won’t tell him until we get there. That’s a good spot too. Good fishing there and usually lots of small game. We should be eating well.”

“Does it always come back to food with you?”

“Well I gotta keep up my energy. Michelle is starting to be very active and I have to keep up with her. She’s crawling all over the place and pulling herself up on things, and I need to help out Laurie.”

Adam looked at Hoss speculatively.

“When is she due?”

“Now how in tarnation did you know that? I just don’t know how you do that.”

Adam did his classic smirk. To tell the truth, sometimes he didn’t even know how he knew. It just seemed that certain words or how they were said triggered his brain into jumping to a conclusion that was usually correct.

“She’s due at Christmas. I’m hoping for a boy this time. Sure would be nice to have one like AC. That boy is just amazing. It’s like having a young you around all over again.”

“Yeah, and that scares me a little.”

“Why would that scare you?”

“You forget. Only I know how much trouble I was capable of. I just hope we can teach enough values to AC like Pa did with us to keep him out of big trouble.”

Hoss had to laugh. Adam had gotten into trouble when he was younger and often was able to keep Pa from knowing but not always. Unlike Joe who usually got into trouble because of his temper or falling in love at the drop of a hat, Adam got into trouble by trying things that were more adult than he was. On occasion, Hoss talked himself into going along. They had had several great adventures that Pa still didn’t know about.

“Adam, do you think we’re ever going to tell Pa where a bunch of our hunting trips actually ended up?”

“Nope. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

The brothers got their boots back on and headed home. On the following Monday, Adam and AC arrived at the main house of the Ponderosa ready to go. Hoss, Jamie, and the blueys were by the barn as the men finished loading a packhorse. Then the four headed out for their trip after Hoss gave all the hugs and kisses he could to his wife and daughter. Ben slapped his sons on the back and wished them well.

“Hey, Adam, how come you didn’t invite Joe to come? I mean it’s a brothers’ trip and all.”

“Actually, it’s a guys trip and I invited AC to come along, and Hoss invited you. So I guess it was up to you to invite Joe. I hope he’s not too disappointed that you forgot to do that.”

Jamie looked at Adam who was so serious looking and then at Hoss who was smothering his laugh. Then he knew he was being kidded and laughed too which made Adam smile. Once they arrived at the cabin, Adam started training AC into how you set up a cabin for four males who were going to hunt and fish. AC thought it was a great adventure that he could sleep on the floor in front of the fire, but Jamie was miffed when he knew he would have to sleep there too with a six-year-old. The only good part was that Banger and Bush would sleep there too. Jamie loved those dogs.

“Hey, older brother, it’s too late to hunt for today but how about some fish for dinner? Think you can catch us some?”

Jamie and AC looked mystified. They hadn’t packed any poles and there weren’t any at the cabin. When Adam nodded yes, Hoss looked very pleased though. Adam walked out of the cabin and headed to the creek and Hoss was by his side. Jamie looked at AC who shrugged. He had no idea what his father was going to do either.

Once they got to the creek, Hoss laid down next to a tree and participated in his second most favorite part of fishing: the nap. AC and Jamie watched as Adam rolled up his shirtsleeve nearly to his shoulder, lay down on the creek bank, and put his whole arm in the water. They asked what he was doing but got no answer. Hoss told them to sit and watch and not to get too close to where Adam was. They sat that way for nearly twenty minutes and suddenly Adam rolled violently to his side and pitched a fish at the two boys who screamed and scrambled out of the way. Hoss nearly had a hernia laughing at them. He told them to sit back down and let Adam do some more Paiute style fishing.

“Oh, Joe told me he did that. He never said he grabbed fish and threw em at ya though.”

“Uncle Hoss, how does he catch them?”

“Your Papa was friends with some Paiute boys when he was young. They taught him lots of stuff including how to hold your hand in the stream and when a fish swims close enough, you grab and throw. No talking and no moving. Joe never could do it because he cain’t sit still that long.”

“How about you, Uncle Hoss?”

“Ifn I stay that still for that long, AC, I’m sleeping.”

All three laughed and then screamed again as another fish came flying in. Within a little over an hour, there were four large fish on the bank. They were lying in the grass and the setting sun was making their scales glisten. Adam stood up and walked over to the fish as the boys were admiring them.

“Well, AC, are they dead so we can clean them and cook them up for our dinner?”

“Yes, Papa, they aren’t moving or breathing so they must all be dead.”

Adam surveyed the fish for a time and then picked one of them up. He walked to the stream and beckoned AC to join him. Once AC was there, and Jamie too out of curiosity, Adam reached down into the stream and gently held the fish in the water for a short time. Suddenly the fish splashed out of his hands and swam away. AC was shocked.

“That fish only looked dead, AC.”

Now let’s clean up the other ones. Adam pulled a knife from a scabbard at his belt and proceeded to slit each fish down the middle of its belly and removed all the entrails. Once that was done, he slid a long piece of grass through the gills of each fish and then tied it creating a nice stringer of fish to take back to the cabin.

“AC, are these fish dead now?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“If I put one in the water, would it swim away without a heart or a stomach?”

“No, it can’t because it’s dead.”

“That first fish was like Maxwell when Scouser thought he killed him. He looked dead but he was alive and that’s why he could come back to attack us. These three fish are like him though after he was shot in the heart and stomach. No one can live through that. We put him under the ground and piled rocks and stones on his grave. He’s dead and he’s never coming back now.”

AC looked very thoughtful. It would take a few more lessons like this first one for him to be able to accept the reality of Maxwell’s death and give up his magical thinking with the phoenix and the devil. But he was a very intelligent boy, and he did learn this lesson well. Hoss wanted to write this one down in case he needed it with one of his children some day, but then he figured he could just ask Adam to tell the story.

Adam taught Jamie to fish the Paiute way and was impressed by his skill as was Hoss. It would be something Jamie could use to tease Joe when they got back too, and both men smiled a little every time they thought about that. Hoss and Jamie went out hunting to try to take down a deer, but never saw one they wanted close enough to get it. Adam taught AC how to set snares and traps, and each day, they provided the meat for dinner. AC learned how to skin and gut rabbits and squirrels, and how to clean fish that they often ate for breakfast or lunch.

By the seventh day, when it was time to pack up to travel home, Adam and Hoss agreed they ought to do this every year and actually do the hunting trip their father thought they were doing. Jamie and AC were so proud that they were to be included in the annual trip. In many ways, this was the first brother experience for Adam and Jamie. They started to talk a lot on this trip. Adam was impressed with how intelligent Jamie was, and Jamie was impressed with everything that Adam knew. He was aware of Adam’s accomplishments with music and business as well as architecture and engineering but was amazed at his skill as a hunter and fisherman. To learn that he knew quite a bit of Paiute and had spent time with them hunting and fishing as a youth was something that he had not known about his oldest brother before. Hoss was pretty happy to see the developing relationship between Adam and Jamie. He felt that Adam could really help the young man grow and develop.

On the ride home, Jamie had some questions for Hoss.

“Is it true that Adam killed a gunfighter in a gunfight?”

“More than one actually.”

“Then why does everyone always talk about Joe’s shooting and not Adam’s?”

“Adam always hated the violence. He’ll tell you he remembers the faces of every man he has killed. He just was never comfortable with it. He knows it’s necessary sometimes, but he’s never been proud of being fast. He’ll tell you it’s just another way to stay alive and protect the ones you love.”

“Who’s faster: Joe or Adam?”

“Never want to see that put to the test again.”

“Again? Who won the first time?”

“Well they was both shooting at six cans each on a fence rail. At the signal they each drew and fired six shots. Joe was faster by at least a half-second in drawing and in shooting. Adam shot all six cans off the fence and Joe hit five. So what do you think? Who won?”

“That’s like comparing apples and peaches. Nobody won and nobody lost I guess.”

“Some advice: never ask the two of them that question.”

Behind them, Adam was riding next to AC who had questions about everything, and then asked the question Adam was expecting.

“When can I shoot a gun?”

“Do you need to shoot a gun for some reason?”

“Well not that I know right now. But what if I do need to and I don’t know how?”

“Tell you what: you ask your mother and I will back her decision completely.”

AC was disappointed by that. He knew his mother would make him wait a long time. He thought that at least he had learned how to set snares and traps. That was a start. He also had not had a nightmare in the whole week. He couldn’t wait to tell his Mama that. Of course, he didn’t know why they had stopped, but he was certainly glad they had. Adam’s lesson had sunk in to his subconscious without him being aware he was learning something of such great import. Lyn was even more thrilled when she found out, and hugged and kissed Adam with intensity she seldom showed around the children.

AC shared all the stories of what he and his Papa had done that week. Adam shared Hoss’ news and got a little worried when he saw the look on Lyn’s face. She saw his frown and smiled, and he knew. As AC continued to tell his tales, Adam walked into his study and pulled out the house plans and started a drawing on his sketchpad of how to add another bedroom to the house.

***The End***

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