Never Submit Or Yield stories (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Four stories.  Never To Submit Or Yield is a story of struggle and overcoming great difficulties and how and why Adam left the Ponderosa.  It is not the usual kind of explanation. Awake, Arise, Or Be Forever Fallen is a story of Adam falling in love with a woman who has lived through similar trauma. As their relationship develops, clues to the conspiracy that led to his abduction begin to emerge. In Torn, Adam goes on a cattle drive to reestablish his role but Joe has to adjust too so there is some friction and trouble from others who want to take advantage of the situation.   Candy is there to help out. Melinda Returns is a short story in which she tries to manipulate things with Grace who is about to deliver her child with Adam.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  49,302


Never To Submit Or Yield

Chapter 1

“What are you doing here? If I had seen you here a year ago, I would have accepted you. If you had thought to come back, two years or three years ago, all would have been forgiven and you would have been welcomed back with open loving arms. But it’s too late now. Just go back to wherever you’ve been.”

A furious Joe stood with a man dressed in red and black behind him who was looking just as ferocious as Joe. Behind them were two young men, one with red hair. They glared and waited as Adam slowly stood from where he had been seated on a rock next to the gravestones. In shock, Adam had no eloquent words to give at this point. The discovery of Hoss’ death had robbed him of any ability to speak with any confidence. He wanted to explain everything, but his brother’s anger was all too apparent, and anything Adam had to share was not with these strangers accompanying his youngest brother. All he could think to say was the obvious and practical.

“I’ll leave, but I’ll take a room in town. Please tell Pa I’m in town if he wants to see me.”

Turning his back on all of them, Adam limped to his horse and mounted up. Candy was the closest to him and saw the pink scars on his wrists and suspected that he might have an artificial leg or a severely damaged one by the way the pants leg looked as he mounted up. Joe stood his ground.

“You can just go to hell. Just go back to where you’ve been. You must have liked it better there than here.”

Only Candy heard Adam’s response clearly. The way it was delivered sent a chill through him and he knew he would never forget those words.

“I’ve been in hell, and I’m not going back. I’ll die first.”

As Adam rode back to Virginia City, he wept. Hoss was gone. He had lost his best friend. He wondered if he had lost the rest of his family too. In his mind were the memories of all those years of torment when the only thing that had kept him going was the hope that he would someday be back in the loving arms of his family. He used to dream of being in the big ranch house, of riding Sport over the meadows and hills of the Ponderosa, and of enjoying nights in town. Laying on the hard cot shivering with the two blankets he was allowed, he dreamed of sleeping in his warm soft bed in his room at home and of late night talks with his father or his brothers perhaps sipping a warm brandy or a cup of Hop Sing’s coffee. Then he would awaken to find the shackles still on his wrists and the locked door and barred windows of the small office where he lived and from where he worked every single day from sunup to sundown unless the weather was so awful that work had to be suspended. On those bad weather days, he was left in isolation until it was time for him to work again. He would go out and mark trees and set a cutting schedule before going to the lumber mill with specifications for the cuts that were needed and then to the mines to see to installation. He worked and worked because they said they would kill him if he didn’t, and he had every reason to believe they would do it too. Because he had decided he would do what he needed to do to survive, he worked and took orders because it was the only way to ensure that and the only way to someday go home.

Although Adam thought of his father and brothers and the pain that his departure must have caused, he didn’t think they would blame him for being gone. He couldn’t have done anything to avoid it, but still he felt guilt for the emotional toll his abrupt disappearance must have caused. For years, he longed to talk with his brother Hoss and explain what happened. He missed the joy his youngest brother had brought to living every day, and he missed his father and his sage advice. In that camp, he often wondered how men without good family memories like those he had managed to survive the torment of their forced labor, deprivation, and isolation.

Although Adam plotted and planned how to escape, he was never left by himself in the company of a work crew and always had an armed guard with him. Apparently the men in charge knew him well enough to know he would organize an escape effort if given the chance to do so. The work crews were housed in small cabins with no more than six or eight per cabin. Everyone had chains and shackles on their wrists. Those in charge thought that there was no way to work on an escape conspiracy although that didn’t stop him from continually trying to think of a way to do it the entire time he was there. It took years, but he was eventually successful. The surprise of it was probably one of the reasons it succeeded.

Looking back, Adam knew he had gone to his own personal hell in a series of events that could not have been foreseen by anyone. He had wanted to travel. The urge had been eating at him for years, but whenever he brought it up with his father, there was an argument that would escalate until he left before he did irreparable harm to his relationship with his father. Usually, he went away hunting for a few days until he calmed down, and on occasion, he went to town and partook of pleasures there until his guilty conscience drove him home again. That last time, he had been in town drinking and playing some cards with the intention to see some lady although he didn’t know who it was yet. Usually he didn’t have any trouble finding a willing companion for some bedroom play as he had the reputation in town of a generous and thoughtful lover. Altogether, he guessed he had a couple of days before his father would send Hoss to get him if he didn’t go home on his own. Once he blew off some steam, he would go home and be the dutiful son until his urge to travel made him try to talk to his father about it again before he stormed out of the house and repeated the cycle once more. But that last time, he had been feeling lightheaded and a bit nauseated even though he had only been drinking beer.

“Honey, you’re looking a little peaked. How about if you walk outside in the fresh air with Suzy here a while, and you’ll feel a whole lot better?”

“Suzy, you must have been reading my mind. A little ‘walk’ is exactly what I need.”

Although Suzy wasn’t one he had in mind, she was attractive and friendly enough. He thought spending some time with her would make him feel better so he had favored her with his best smile. After picking up his money, Adam had stood and the dizziness had almost made him sit back down, but Suzy pulled his arm around her shoulder and helped him walk outside.

“Suzy, I thought your place was in the other direction?”

“Now, honey, what we got to do can be done right up here in the alley.”

“Oh, Suzy, you are a wild one. What little devilment do you have in mind?”

The last thing Adam remembered clearly was walking into the alley with Suzy. Then there had been blinding pain in his head. Men were talking, and he had heard Suzy’s voice complaining that it wasn’t enough. He heard a slap and a cry, and then he heard Suzy’s angry voice fading as she apparently walked off and left him there. He heard men say things like ‘That’s the one we wanted’ and “It doesn’t matter who he is considering where he’ll be going’ and so on. None of it made any sense until he found himself in a timber and lumber operation somewhere near the American and Canadian border designing and overseeing the installation of square sets for a mine based on the timber available and what the lumber mill could do with his specifications. He had been shanghaied by white slavers. Drugged for the journey, he didn’t have much of an idea where he was except it was far north of Nevada. It took him quite some time to recover fully from all the drugs they used on him and be able to tolerate food. It was another reason he was much thinner than he had been.

For the first year or two, Adam had hoped that his family would somehow find him, but eventually realized that he was as alone as he could be with no hope of rescue. He pledged to himself to stay alive until he could escape, and nothing that was done to him ever robbed him of that resolve. Always been stubborn to a fault, that became a strength for him in the camp. Those who ran the camp saw it in his eyes though and the way he looked around all the time. They were never able to break him, so they watched him and taunted him with their knowledge.

“Yup, family has up and forgotten all about you now. Your youngest brother is running the place it seems. They don’t miss you at all.”

Adam refused to be baited by any of their games and wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of losing his temper. What was most depressing though was what they did to his family in his name.

“We send letters now and then from various places and we ask for money. The first couple of times they sent it probably hoping you would use it to come home. By now I guess they figured out it’s all just a scam. No money any more.”

At first, Adam would dream at night of wrapping his chain around that manager’s neck and pulling tight until the man’s face turned blue. But of course, he never had the chance to do anything of the sort. Whenever he tried to fight back, he got hit or sometimes beaten, and then he and the men got low rations. He had no control over anything and had learned that the only control he had was over himself. There was a woman in the camp, and she was passed from cabin to cabin to be used by the men. Once a week she was locked in the cabin with him, but he never touched her or at least not that way. Although he had physical needs and drives, he refused to hurt another person to satisfy himself. Eventually they became friends, and they would talk a lot on the night each week that she spent with him. She was Native American but did not even know her own tribe. The men in the camp called her Sally.

Sally had been kidnapped from her tribe when she was very young and had only vague memories of that time. She had been sold and resold so many times that she no longer knew how many places she had lived. She had expected to die in this camp until she met Adam. He realized that the only avenue of communication among all the captives was Sally because each crew was housed separately and worked as a team. The two of them spent months thinking of an escape plan and how to implement it. As they talked, Adam had tried words from various Indian languages. He knew quite a bit of Paiute and Bannock, as well as Newe and others. Based on her reactions, he told Sally that she was probably Newe or Shoshoni. If they were ever free of this place, he promised he would help her return to her tribe. Then he would go home.

*****

Chapter 2

On the day after Adam and Ben had had their last big quarrel, breakfast had been very somber with that one chair empty again. Finally, as Ben and his two younger sons finished their meal and sipped their coffee, Ben indicated he wanted to talk with Hoss and Joe.

“I have been thinking a lot about what Adam said. I have always dismissed his request as foolish, and you know how angry that makes him. I am thinking that if I want him to stay, I have to tell him to leave for the one or two years he wants. I tell him he doesn’t need to go, but what do I know of what he needs.”

“Pa, how could Adam need to go. Everything he needs is right here, and he ought to stay here with his family.”

“Joe, I understand how you feel, but I think I understand how Adam feels too. Boston wasn’t enough for me either even though I had a job, a family, and a solid future. I wanted to head out here following a dream. I wasn’t even sure where I would end up when I left, and it took many years to complete that journey and then build this dream. I’m sure many people didn’t understand my leaving either especially because I meant to drag my baby boy with me.”

“Joe, I think Pa’s right. Ifn Adam gets a chance to see those things he’s dreamed about and maybe do some things he wants to try doing, then he won’t have no reason no more to leave the Ponderosa. Right now he feels caged here and wants to bust out. Ifn he was free to go, he might look at things a mite different, dontcha see?”

“Well, I just don’t understand it, but if you think that’s what has to be done, I guess I can accept that.”

“I’m going into town this morning. I’m going to talk to Adam about traveling. He can start making plans, and then we’ll have to plan how to handle things around here while he’s gone.”

For a short time, Hoss was as happy as he had been in a long time because he knew that this would work. Adam always had to work those things out of his system, and this would do it. But Ben of course did not find Adam in town. No one had seen him since the night before when he had left the saloon with Suzy. Ben woke Suzy, and she said Adam had left her in an alley near the saloon and that was the last she saw of him. Ben headed over to talk to Roy. After Ben explained his dilemma, Roy walked with Ben to the livery stable where Jesse told them that someone had come during the night and taken Sport. He had assumed it was Adam because there had been payment and a tip in the stall where Sport had been.

At first feeling betrayed, Ben felt his temper begin to rise and then realized Adam had no way of knowing that his father planned to make amends with him. Ben did wonder where Adam could have gone during the night. He had not taken any of his hunting gear and supplies for a trip. It was unlikely that he would ride to Carson City or Reno in the dark. So, the biggest question remained: where was he? After a fruitless search of any nearby locations he thought he might have gone, Ben rode home. As the days passed and there was no word from his oldest son, he began to worry and then to fear that Adam had simply had enough and left. That he would do so without at least letting his family know though was inexplicable. It just didn’t seem to be the kind of thing that Adam would do, and certainly not remaining out of communication for so long. But there were no answers, only pain and heartache. Ben felt helpless. His emotional turmoil left him feeling torn. What he didn’t know was so much more than what he did know, and none of that made any sense to him. As days turned into weeks and then months, Ben could only be angry and hurt and confused. He had to believe that Adam was out there and for some reason was not contacting his family. The alternative that he was no longer alive was too horrible for Ben to accept. So, he worried every day about what had become of his oldest son and wondered how he could be gone with no clues as to where he went. Living with heartache sapped his energy and his spirit. As a year passed, he began to refer to having two sons when meeting new people. He couldn’t bear to continually revisit such a painful subject.

There had been a couple of short letters or notes purportedly from Adam asking for money to be wired so he could come home. Each time their hopes were raised before being dashed to the bottom again. They had wired money to the banks that had been identified, but there was no word from Adam. Apparently, they were being scammed by some con artists and refused to send any more money without a signature guarantee. That never came, so they sent no more money. The letters though had fueled speculation in town as to where Adam was so Ben alternately said ‘back East studying’, or ‘Europe’, and finally settled on ‘Australia’ because then no one would expect him to come back so there would eventually be no more questions badgering him about the most painful memory he had.

Joe and especially Hoss were upset to think that Ben could believe that Adam would just leave without saying goodbye. Joe had argued with Adam frequently and occasionally fought with him but admired and respected him as no other. He couldn’t believe Adam was gone of his own free will. Hoss was even more sure that something must have happened to Adam in town. Without Ben’s knowledge, Joe and Hoss hired detectives to try to find Adam. Shortly after they did that, Suzy was found dead of exposure. Apparently according to the doctor, she had had too much to drink, got disoriented on her way home, and fell probably going to sleep without realizing the danger she was in. Without Suzy to question, the investigators had almost nothing to go on. They did check all the places in Nevada and California that Hoss or Joe could think that Adam might have gone but found no one who had seen him. Adam’s relatives in Boston were contacted but had not heard from him. If he had traveled by coach, railroad, or steamer, he had left no record. It was as if he had disappeared.

“Hoss, we just may have to admit it. Adam left and doesn’t want to be found.”

“Joe, I ain’t never gonna believe that. Ifn, God forbid, we never find him, I will go to my grave believing something bad happened to our brother.”

“Pa thinks he left.”

“I don’t believe that. Pa’s upset with himself and he’s worried and hurt. Guilt is eating at him ’cause he thinks maybe it’s his fault. He gets mad at himself, and he ain’t got nobody to take it out on except himself or Adam ’cause he ain’t here. So, then he gets mad at Adam. Don’t mean Pa really believes it. He’s hurting real bad and missing Adam something fierce, plus he’s feeling guilty, and probably feeling just as helpless as we are now that those detectives told us there ain’t no point in investigating any more unless something happens to give us a clue.”

“Well, they did find Sport had been sold in Placerville by someone who looked like Adam, and that person bought a stage ticket to Sacramento.”

“Yeah, and I’ll believe Adam sold Sport to a livery stable when pigs learn how to fly. He loved that ornery head-tossing horse. And nobody matching his description was on that stage according to the report we got when the detectives interviewed the other passengers and the driver.”

“And we come back to the same thing: we got nothing.”

“For now, yes. But I pray everyday that one day Adam is gonna come sauntering through the front door and give us all that funny little crooked grin he has. I can’t bear to think of it no other way. Sport’s back in our stable waiting for big brother to find his way home.”

“I suppose we do have a few things. One, Adam wasn’t on that stage, and he wasn’t the one who sold Sport. Plus, it still bugs me that the one person who saw Adam late that night before he disappeared died. It seems an awful big coincidence, doesn’t it?”

“See, now you’re thinking the right way. Someday we’re gonna figure this thing out.”

Hoss threw his arm over Joe’s shoulder, and they walked into the house. It wasn’t the last time they had this conversation because Adam was never far from their thoughts. He was gone but not forgotten. As often as Joe could, he would ride Sport to keep him in good shape. The horse became even more cantankerous with Adam gone. He missed his master and wouldn’t let anyone but Joe saddle him and ride him. Several times Hoss had seen them riding back in and for a moment thought it was Adam until he remembered. Then a tear would likely slide down his cheek to be wiped away quickly before anyone saw.

*****

Chapter 3

After being in the white slave timber camp for just a week, Adam was frustrated with the demands being made on him while he was locked in an office and heavy shackles were on his wrists. The edges of the shackles were sharp in some places and rough in others. Unlike the other men who wore gloves, which protected their wrists while they worked, Adam’s wrists were not protected. When he got the chance, he protested his treatment.

“I could get more done if you would take these shackles off.”

“Yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t ya? You’d be running off before the key was back in my pocket. We know you know your way around in the wilderness. We know all about you. It’s what made you the choice of the people here. But we could never get someone like you to come here on your own. The money we paid for you is a lot less than wages we would have had to pay you too. The cost was a lot less doing it this way, but we aren’t going to let you run off. Then the deal wouldn’t be so good, now would it?”

“My wrists drip blood on the paper when I try to measure.”

The camp manager grabbed Adam’s hands then and pushed the shackles up his arms. There were many small lacerations and scrapes on both wrists as well as scabbing from where he had been bleeding. He stepped outside and told one of the men to bring in ankle shackles and some bandages. Then once the ankle shackles were attached, he removed the shackles from Adam’s wrists and told him to wrap the bandages around his wrists. The manager handed the wrist shackles to the man and told him to file the edges round and smooth. Later that day, the improved wrist shackles were put on Adam again and the ankle shackles removed. It was too hard for the men to work on the site with ankle shackles because there were so many things on which to trip so wrist shackles were the usual method of restraint. At least the smoothed edges were less painful.

Later that day, Adam was brought to the mine where the first of his square sets were to be used. He was able to take more measurements and realized the men there too were forced labor. As he pushed deeper into the mine to inspect the shoring, he realized it was woefully inadequate. The rock in the mine was what would be called punky with lots of cracks already showing. A major cave-in could occur at any time. Adam could see why the owners wanted to put in the square set shoring. He wasn’t interested in helping the owners increase their profits, but the safety of the wretches forced to work there was of interest to him. So, he began to work in earnest to see that the timber was cut and the lumber milled so that the square sets could be installed.

Time passed slowly when Adam wasn’t working so even though it was hard to work ten or twelve hours a day every day, he had less time to mourn the loss of all he held dear. He looked through the barred window at the stars on clear nights and wondered if his family looked at the stars and thought of him too. Even though he was exhausted from his labor, he still had hours to think about things and worry too. Adam prayed every day that they would find him. He marked each day at the camp down by scratching a mark on the wooden wall. One day when the number reached seven hundred and fifty, he dropped his head and wanted to cry but the tears had all been shed. All he felt was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness as he realized he had to accept that he was not going to be found. It was the first time that he was almost ready to give in to despair. He was weak from lack of food and nutrition. He was as lonely as he could imagine being. If he did not get out regularly to breathe fresh air, see the sky, and feel the sun, he thought he would go mad. For the first time, he had to accept that he was going to have to rely only on himself and his abilities, and on his own, he somehow would have to find a way to escape. He was better off than many in that terrible camp though. The camp manager made sure that he survived because of his value to the operation.

Some died in the timber operation every month especially in the winter months when they should have called a halt to the logging when conditions became so dangerous especially when it became icy. But the owners were feeding and housing the men, so if they did no work, they were just an expense. Even the lower yields from working in the deep snow and icy conditions were better than no yields of course by their reckoning so they continued to force the men to work. It was that weather that almost freed Adam from the camp by taking his life. Early one morning, he had gone out to mark timber to be cut. With a map of the region to use, he was carefully marking trees under the close supervision of his armed guard. In the cutting crew were men who were exhausted and cold which interfered with their thinking or at least that is what Adam chose to believe. He knew they could have done it on purpose. They didn’t know him. All they knew was that he marked trees, and then they had to cut and haul. On that fateful morning, he heard the tree coming long before he heard the call to get out of the way. It was nearly too late.

The timber crew cut the branches of the tree away so they could pull Adam and his guard out. Once they dug under the branches they found that the guard was dead, but Adam was pulled out although his left leg had been pierced by a broken branch. It was bleeding profusely and the muscle in his calf was badly damaged. They quickly wrapped cloth around the leg and carried him back to his office and laid him on the cot there. The manager unlocked his shackles and sent one of the men to get someone to see if they could save him because he was invaluable to the operation and would be extremely difficult and costly to replace. Sally was the only one willing and able to do something. She asked for bandages, boiling water, carbolic acid, laudanum, and towels. The next few days, Adam lived in physical torment as he suffered through a high fever and delirium. When he did near consciousness, the overwhelming pain drove him back under again. Day and night, Sally sat with him spooning water and broth into his mouth whenever she could get him to swallow.

After four days, it was apparent that barring a serious infection, Adam would live. He was weak from the pain, shock, blood loss, and lack of food. It took nearly a month before he was able to work again, and even that was on a limited basis at first. The camp manager made some allowances for his injury even when he was able to do more. He no longer went out marking trees. Instead, under the new system, he prepared a map and told one of the men what he wanted, and that man did the marking. Adam needed a crutch just to get around. Part of his left calf muscle had been removed because there was no way to stitch it all back together and the worst of the damaged flesh too had been cut away. Luckily, the main veins and arteries were intact. If they had been damaged, he would have lost his leg and possibly his life.

For nearly a month, Sally stayed with Adam seeing to his needs and nursing him back to health. Finally, it was Sally who suggested to the camp manager that there was no need to shackle Adam when he recovered because a man dependent on a crutch to walk was not going to run away into the wilderness. From that day forward, Adam no longer was shackled, but for a long time, his weakness kept him chained to the camp.

*****

Chapter 4

That year of Adam’s near fatal accident gradually moved into the next year and the next as Adam sank gradually into a deep melancholia. The first sign that he had reached a completely depressed state was when he didn’t eat. He then refused to work sitting on his bunk and staring at the walls. Having lost all hope, he no longer believed he had a reason for living. The camp manager came in and gave him an ultimatum. They knew there was only one thing that was important to him any more.

“If you don’t work, we’ll tie Sally to a tree and beat her with a rod. If you don’t eat your meals, we’ll tie Sally to a tree and beat her. Anything we tell you to do, you do or Sally will get a beating. Are we clear on that?”

Looking up at the manager, Adam nodded. The manager told him to stand and handed his crutch to him. Adam took it and stood.

“Now get to that table and get to work. You’ve fallen behind and you better work hard to get caught up or you know what will happen.”

Because Adam did know, he threw himself into his work and did everything he could to satisfy the camp managers. Sally became his reason for living. Sally worked with him every day and made sure he ate. She pushed Adam to exercise his damaged leg and to strengthen it. Even as he grew stronger, she told him to continue using the crutch so that they would not put him back in shackles. During those years, she bore two children because she was still being used by the men at night, but both babies died due to the harsh conditions. Sally looked one day at Adam and realized he was dying too just more slowly than her babies had. They had made plans for an escape before Adam was injured but hadn’t talked about it since that time. She decided that had to change.

“It’s time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time to escape.”

“Well now you have become crazier than me. Those plans we had didn’t involve me running on part of a leg and using a crutch.”

“They will never expect you to run. And you have only lost part of your calf muscle. The muscle in your calf is weaker than your other leg but strong enough if you keep exercising it. If we can find a way to unlock this door, we can leave and have a very long head start before they even know we’re gone.”

“It’s nearly winter. We could get caught in a snowstorm.”

“I think that’s what we need. If there’s snow, they’ll give up. They won’t chase us through the snow and risk their lives.”

“If it snows, we could die out there. Heck we’ll probably die out there regardless.”

“Better to die free than continue to live here in this hell.”

“Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.”

“What?”

“Milton said that. I had forgotten.”

“Who’s Milton?”

“All is not lost; th’ unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield.”

“Do those words mean you agree that we should try?”

“Yes.”

Adam said it quietly and without emotion. It was the sensible, logical thing to do. In many ways he had been feeling dead inside. So many emotions had betrayed him over the years that he had reacted by burying those feelings. Anger only brought hurt to him and to the other poor souls trapped here. Love and hope brought despair. A desire for revenge made him feel he was even more of a prisoner than the bars on his windows and the lock on the door. He had to forgive these men who abused him so that he could free himself from them. In the process of working through these emotional issues, he had become so calm and stoic he wondered if he could ever feel again. But he still had a desire to be free and an unwillingness to do another’s bidding so those were the things that drove him now.

Adam began collecting bits of metal when he could. Slowly he fashioned a key. With Sally’s help blocking the view, he would push it into the lock each day to see if it worked. Day after day, it did not until one day in November, they both heard a click. Adam quickly pulled the key and stepped back into his office quarters. Sally was free to roam the camp until darkness fell. She would unlock his door before she was summoned to one of the cabins. She would hand the key through a window outside to Adam when he was able to leave his office after dark, and he would unlock that cabin door. The plan was that she and Adam would run in one direction and the other men would leave in pairs in opposite directions. There weren’t enough guards at the camp to follow all of them.

Their escape plan worked as expected. They ended up unlocking all the cabins because the men in the first cabin said it was only fair and increased the odds that some of them would make it to freedom. They pledged that whoever reached a settlement first would notify the authorities of what had been happening here and in the lumber mill and mine. Some of the men were recent arrivals and were stronger than those who had been there longer. Hopefully they would make it out to go back home to family and friends.

As Adam and Sally ran, he found that his damaged leg was stronger than he expected, but it was also extremely painful to run over the rough terrain. He had to stop often. So, he used all the tricks he had learned over many years growing up as a friend of Paiute youth. Creating false trails, traveling over rocks and shale as often as possible, and walking through the courses of several small streams made their trail extremely difficult to follow. They heard men in the distance crashing through the woods. Whether it was pursuers or fellow escapees they had no way of knowing. By late the next day, they had to stop. It was a risk, but they needed rest and food. Adam used his woodsman skills to set some snares. He checked out the stream and realized that there was a possibility of fish if the snares failed.

All they had carried with them had been the four blankets from their cots, and a small metal cup, and they had worn all the clothing they had. It was so cold they huddled together under an evergreen with the blankets wrapped around them to sleep. In the morning, there was a rabbit in one of the snares. Adam chipped some stones until he had some sharp edges and butchered the rabbit. He used wood to make a fire and stuck the rabbit on a hardwood stick over the flames. They found it hard to wait and actually pulled the cooked flesh away from the outside where it was cooked and then replaced the rabbit over the flames to cook more. Eventually they ate the whole thing except for the legs which Adam said they should put in their pockets for a lunch later. They drank from the stream and began moving south again.

After several days of this, Adam and Sally had developed a routine, but it failed them when a major snowstorm pushed down out of the Canadian Rockies. They ended up making a lean-to and huddling in it for two days as the snow piled up around them. The large snow banks actually may have saved their lives. Those large barriers blocked the wind and diminished the area heated by the tiny campfire. They kept the small fire burning eventually by dismantling most of their lean to and using the snow banks as walls to hold the little roof over their heads, and they stayed wrapped in the blankets. They filled their small tin cup with snow and set it by the fire. As the snow melted and then the water warmed, they would take turns drinking. Only one would sleep at a time so that they could keep the little fire going.

After two days of the storm, Adam awoke one morning to a sunny sky. Sally was happy and smiling.

“We made it. We’re still alive.”

“But now what? There are several feet of snow on the ground. Walking will be extremely difficult, and I haven’t got a single idea on how we are going to get any food.”

They spent most of that day just getting over the crest of the hill and down into the valley they found. They had water again because a small stream was flowing. Adam hoped that he could catch a fish because it was their only hope at this point. Hope was dwindling fast too. They had no weapons, and there was every chance that bears, wolves, and mountain lions were in these hills even if they had been lucky so far. Adam had Sally scoop out a snow cave in one of the large drifts of snow. He stripped off his pants and boots and stepped into the icy cold stream to try to catch a fish. He had seen shadows darting through a deep pool and meant to get some food if he could. It took him only ten minutes, but he couldn’t feel his feet much by the time he finished. Sally helped him dry off using some rags she had brought for another purpose. She had a fire going, and she wrapped Adam in their blankets before she had him sit next to the fire. She gutted the fish and laid it next to the fire. There were limited amounts of wood lying around the stream: enough to keep a small fire burning but nothing large enough to use to hold the fish over the fire. She used a small stick to turn the fish occasionally. As the fat started to sizzle on the rock, she smiled at Adam. They were free and alive one more day.

“Where do we go?”

“Downstream. It’s our only hope of finding some people who can help us. I just hope they’re friendly because we have no way to defend ourselves.”

“Adam, don’t lose hope now. We’ve made it this far. No one would have thought we could.”

“I didn’t think we could, but we had to try. We won’t give up. We’ll keep going.”

The temperatures warmed a bit, and the snow began to melt as they followed the stream. After several days, Adam and Sally were headed downstream when they found that they were moving downhill rather rapidly. There were many more large trees and less and less snow, which was fortuitous. They walked as far as they could before they made camp again. This time there were some trees nearby and Adam managed to get a long stick and used stones to sharpen the end so he could spear for fish. It was a much better method and got them several fish for dinner. They ate until they couldn’t eat any more. Then Adam shook Sally up with his next comment.

“We need to move on. I know it’s almost dark, but the fish entrails and the smell of cooking could draw bears. I want to be far enough away from here if that happens. It’s time for us to think about sleeping in a tree too.”

They found a grove of large trees about a half-mile further down. Adam helped Sally climb a tree and then she helped pull him up as he climbed. He used his belt to tie his arm to a branch. Sally sat in front of him on a large limb and leaned back into his embrace. He wrapped his legs around her and then they used all four blankets to wrap themselves against the cold. The night was mild for this far north, which was lucky again for them. In the morning, Adam clasped his hand over Sally’s mouth as she began to stir. Startled she started to fight it until Adam whispered in her ear that there were bears less than one hundred yards away. She slowly looked as Adam turned her head. He told her to be quiet and perhaps the bears would not notice them. The grizzly meandered slowly up the stream with her cubs following behind. They all walked slowly and were probably headed toward a winter den.

Once Adam and Sally were sure the bears were well away, they climbed down from their safe perch. Adam stretched and tried to ease the strain his muscles had been under. Then Adam threaded his belt through his belt loops and tied two blankets over his shoulder as he had been doing each day. Sally secured her blankets the same way.

“Another day free and alive.”

From behind them, the sound of horses emerging from the trees froze Adam and Sally in their tracks. They looked and it was a party of Native American men. Based on the facial tattoos and the dress, Adam was hoping they were Shoshoni or Newe.

“Sally, you spoke too soon, I’m afraid.”

“Maybe not. They’re young and they don’t appear angry.”

Adam addressed the group in English and the few words of Shoshoni that he knew. One of the men climbed down from his horse and walked over to them. He looked at Sally very closely. Adam pointed at her and said ‘Newe’ which caused the young man to gesture and call for someone from the group to come over to them. Another young man slid from his horse and walked over. After conversing with the first young man, he turned to Adam and Sally.

“I went mission school and know English. He say you say woman is Newe. How you know this?”

So Adam explained how he had come to that conclusion and what he knew of her history. The young man repeated the story or he assumed that was what he was doing as he addressed the rest of the group. Adam had not gone into details of how she had been abused, but he could tell the young men knew by the looks on their faces. It was probably not an unusual story for them to hear.

“We take you our home. It is reservation we left with not asking. We hunted. No one missed us with snowstorm. We need be back soon so families not punished for us be gone.”

Sally rode with one man and Adam with another. After three days of riding and camping, they rode into a Newe camp. Some of the buildings were obviously constructed by whites and other homes were traditional Newe tipis. The young men were greeted with joy by the adults there, and the meat they brought with them elicited even more happiness. The young men explained who Adam and Sally were. Sally was greeted cordially by the women and walked away with them.

One of the men walked to Adam and asked if he wanted to go see the white men in charge, and he said that he did. The Indian agent was interested in his story but said that travel to Pocatello was treacherous at best so he ought to expect to stay in the camp for the time being. Adam had been anxious to tell his story and to head to Nevada but neither was going to happen until spring. He settled in for a long winter. There were a few books to read and there was time spent visiting Sally in the Newe camp. In spring as soon as travel was feasible, he said goodbye to Sally and headed out. Sally had gotten a name, Cloud Dancer, and was accepted in the group. It was clear that she was likely Newe by her close resemblance to many of the people there, and they saw it too. For the first time since she was a toddler, she had a home.

Adam was lonelier than he expected to be his first night traveling to Pocatello. He had been outfitted by the Newe and by the agent. He was comfortable but once again all alone. He was used to it but didn’t like it. Once he reached Pocatello, the authorities were very interested in his story. Using maps, he did his best to indicate where he thought the white slave operation was. Men had gone inexplicably missing in this area for years, and now there was a strong suspicion they knew where they had ended up. Contacts with Canadian authorities revealed that they had long suspected such an operation as well. Two of the men who had fled had reached a Canadian community and information was being gathered. Adam was interviewed over and over again to glean every bit of information he had. When he mentioned Sally, it was clear the authorities knew about her and were going to be interviewing her as well.

Finally, after two weeks, Adam was given leave to travel to Nevada but was informed he might have to return if there were trials. The government of Nevada also wanted to talk with him because he had been taken from there, and they suspected some mining engineers and others may have been kidnapped the same time that he was. They told him that two of the federal investigators were traveling to Nevada to coordinate the investigation from there and would be contacting him once he arrived. He was told that he would have accommodations in Carson City.

Given funds for his journey, Adam found that traveling south to Nevada from Idaho was difficult. Most stages and all the rail lines tended to go on an east-west line. He had to make a lot of stopovers and switches before finally reaching Reno and making the last connection to Virginia City. He had no idea how things had changed although he suspected that much would have changed in the years he had been gone. When he had arrived in Pocatello, he had discovered he didn’t even know what year it was. Somewhere in his melancholia state, he had lost track of time. Now he knew though that he had been gone over six years. He had to wonder what his family and friends had thought of his disappearance and the lack of communication over that time.

*****

Chapter 5

Over six years after Adam left, he returned to Virginia City but was not recognized with his graying hair and beard and with his limp. His clothing was an odd mix of Newe and white. He walked to the Bucket of Blood and drank his first beer in over six years. Although he was anxious to get home, at the same time, he was nervous and apprehensive not knowing how he would be received. After he sat and listened to stories including many featuring Joe or his father, he decided he needed to face the greatest fear he had left and ride out to the Ponderosa. He rented a horse at the livery stable using some of the funds he had been given. On the way though, he lost some of his resolve and rode to the lake to find some solace at Marie’s grave first. Instead of solace at Marie’s grave, he found Hoss’ grave next to Marie’s. As he first saw Hoss’ headstone, he staggered back and sat on a rock that had nearly tripped him up. He realized as he sat there that the day was the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. There was another gravestone there for an Alice Cartwright and baby. He had no knowledge of her. He was lost in grief when four riders came up.

“What are you doing here? If I had seen you here a year ago, I would have accepted you. If you had thought to come back, two years or three years ago, all would have been forgiven and you would have been welcomed back with open loving arms. But it’s too late now. Just go back to wherever you’ve been.”

Joe had dismounted and stood with his fists on his hips. A man dressed in red and black stood beside him looking just as ferocious as Joe. Behind them were two young men, one with red hair. They glared and waited as Adam slowly stood from where he had been seated. Adam had no eloquent words to give at this point. The shock of Hoss’ death had robbed him of any ability to speak with any confidence. He wanted to explain, but his brother’s anger was all too apparent, and anything Adam had to share was not with these strangers accompanying his brother. Despite his inner turmoil, Adam remained calm as he had learned to do over the past years. He would show no weakness.

“I’ll leave, but I’ll take a room in town. Please tell Pa I’m in town if he wants to see me.”

Adam limped to his horse and mounted up. Candy was the closest to him and saw the scars on his wrists and suspected that he had an artificial leg or a severely damaged leg by the way the pants leg looked as he mounted up. Joe stood his ground.

“You can just go to hell. Just go back to where you’ve been. You must have liked it better there than here.”

Only Candy was close enough to clearly hear Adam’s response.

“I’ve been in hell and I’m not going back. I’ll die first.”

As Adam rode slowly away, Jamie found his voice. Jamie knew a lot about Adam because Hoss had talked about him whenever he could. Hoss had been sure that Adam would come home someday, and he had told Jamie that he would have known if Adam had died. Hoss said Adam was alive and would come back, and today Jamie had seen him for the first time.

“Was that Adam? Was that my oldest brother?”

“He’s no brother of ours. He threw it all away when he ran out on us.”

Unlike Jamie, Candy had known immediately that the man was Adam especially by Joe’s reaction. Hoss had described him well including the voice. Joe was very angry at Adam. Candy had felt the same way at first because Adam had not come home even though Hoss hurt so badly not knowing where he was. Adam had not let them know where he was, and all the Cartwrights had suffered because of that uncertainty especially Ben. Candy had been prepared to hate the man but some things just weren’t adding up for him.

“Joe, I was standing close to him when he mounted up. He’s got thick scars on his wrists and there’s something wrong with his left leg. I’m not sure it’s still there.”

“Candy, of course it’s there, he walked to his horse and rode out of here.”

“Joe, he said he wasn’t going back to hell, he’d die first. Maybe you should find out his story.”

“Candy, he had years to tell us his story. Nothing he says now can make up for the pain he caused.”

“Are you absolutely certain of that? There may be more to it than you know.”

“There’s no excuse he can make for hurting my Pa like that.”

“You’re gonna tell your Pa, aren’t you?”

“What? And get his hopes up so Adam can stomp all over his heart again? He’s been gone over six years. He can stay gone. Don’t say anything to my Pa.”

Like usual though, as Joe’s temper cooled and he thought about what Candy had said, his curiosity grew. His love for his oldest brother was buried deep but was still there. By early evening when he reached the main house with the three men, he turned to them and said he would tell his father in the next day or two, and probably the two of them would go into town and let Adam say his piece. But he asked if they would let him tell his father in his own time. He didn’t want to shock him too much and was afraid the news itself could be too much even as it was especially on the anniversary of Hoss’ death. Inside Joe found his father sitting behind his desk staring at the fireplace.

“Hoss gone forever. Adam lost. Your Alice gone too. My dream seems to be collapsing.”

“Now, Pa, Hoss wouldn’t want you talking like that. I might find another lady. And there’s Jamie. He’s young and looking pretty serious about that gal he’s been seeing.”

“It’s just not the same though, is it? I dreamed of Adam raising a family here. I thought to see little blond blue-eyed children tagging along behind Hoss. And some curly headed little rascals from you.”

Joe was thinking ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll tell him and see what he wants to do’ when Hop Sing announced that dinner would be late. He had had some problems with the stove again. The flue just wasn’t working properly, and no one had been able to adjust it properly.

“Now Adam would have had that fixed in a short time. That boy was a genius when it came to things like that. Joseph, I miss him so. I wish that he would come home. I wish there was some news of what happened to him.”

Ben’s melancholy though was more than Joe could take. If there was something he could do to ease his father’s pain, he would have to do it regardless of how he felt about it.

“Pa, I have something to tell you, and it’s gonna be a big shock to you. I want you to try to stay calm. We were riding up to see Hoss’ grave this afternoon, and there was somebody there already.”

“Well, who would be there? Those who care live here.”

“Pa, it was Adam.”

Ben stood, and then staggered and fell back in his chair. Joe rushed to his side. Ben looked up at him with tears in his eyes.

“Truth? This isn’t some cruel hoax. You wouldn’t do that to me. Adam is home. Well, where is he? I want to see him.”

“Pa, I was angry. I told him to leave. He said he would take a room in town, and we could see him there if we wanted to.”

“Then, let’s get going. We could go now.”

“Pa, it’s late. It would be dark long before we got to town, and that wouldn’t be safe. We would all be tired too. Tomorrow morning, first thing, I’ll go to town with you.”

“Joseph, you will not fight with him either. You will be respectful, and we will find out what happened. No matter what Adam says, I want that promise from you. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven.”

“Of course, Pa. But I won’t say that I will accept his answer only that I will give him the chance to tell us what happened and why.”

“Now let’s tell Jamie to come in for dinner, and we can tell him too.”

“He knows. He was with me. Candy and Griff were there too.”

“That must have been hard for Adam. For you to order him away and three strangers backing you up on what used to be his home.”

For the first time, Joe looked back at the afternoon confrontation with his brother in an entirely different way. He realized that he would not have been that restrained if it had happened to him. He wondered what had happened to Adam’s fire anyway. He had been so calm and quiet. He should have exploded when Joe talked to him that way. Suddenly Joe realized that Adam had probably not known Hoss was dead. He had most likely just realized it when Joe rode up to him. Now he felt badly about how he had acted, and he knew he should and would apologize tomorrow. He smiled and his father saw him.

“What’s funny?”

“Adam’s first day back, and I already have to say I’m sorry.”

Ben slapped Joe on the shoulder and smiled. Finally, something seemed to be so right. How could anything go wrong?

*****

Chapter 6

Well before dawn, Ben was up and dressed. He couldn’t sleep. After he dressed, he went downstairs to find that Hop Sing was up and already had coffee brewing. Hop Sing had been excited the night before to find out that Adam was back but had wondered why he wasn’t home. He gave Joe a particularly nasty looking scowl when Joe explained what had happened. Joe apologized to Hop Sing and said he would apologize to Adam the next day. It was the next day now, and Ben was anxious to get going.

When Ben was still sipping his first cup of coffee, Joe walked down the stairs carrying his boots. He looked sheepishly at his father. It wasn’t often Joe got up early without being called so Ben knew he was excited too about going to see Adam. They ate a quick breakfast as soon as Hop Sing was ready to serve it. Then they headed out to the stable to find that Jamie and Candy had their horses saddled up and ready to go. Smiling broadly, Ben mounted up to ride to town. He felt younger than he had in years because it felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest and he could breathe freely again. The ride into town was invigorating. The air seemed cleaner than ever and the sky bluer. Once in town, they went to the International House and then a couple of other hotels. Adam wasn’t at any of them. Joe started to get worried. It was possible that what he had feared most might be coming true. He didn’t think his father could stand the disappointment if Adam had left.

“Ben, hey Ben. I figured I’d see ya soon. Now that Adam of yours done surprised the heck outta me yesterday. I seen this stranger riding in and he looked kinda familiar. He just pulled up like never you mind and said ‘Hi Roy’ jest like he’d bin out riding and not been gone all this time.”

“Do you know where he is, Roy?”

“Well, yes’m, I do. He was met by these two men who was looking for him. They had come to my office wondering if I had seen him, and I said of course I hadn’t cause he’d been gone from these parts over six years. But then I seen them walk right over ta him like they knew who he was right off. Then they all came to my office to explain.”

“But where is he Roy?”

“Well, now, I was jest gettin to that. He said ifn you was to ride in here today, to let you know he was at this here address in Carson City. Said there was some official business he had to go do.”

Roy handed a note to Joe who handed it over to his father.

“Roy, this is the address of the governor’s mansion. Why would Adam be at the governor’s mansion?”

“Well, seems there’s an investigation going on into white slaving for the timber and mining operations in some places, and since Adam knows about that, well they wanted to talk to him as soon as they could.”

“What does Adam know about white slavery?” Ben asked but Joe thought it because both were getting a bad feeling about this.

“Now, Ben, of course since they had him for over six years, he knows a lot about this kinda thing. Poor Suzy. She didn’t know what she was getting herself in for, now did she?”

“Roy, what are you talking about?”

Roy looked surprised and then concerned.

“Maybe the two of you oughta come over to my office where we can discuss this. This isn’t a topic we should we talking about too much in the street.”

Ben and Joe led their horses and walked behind Roy as Jamie and Candy followed along behind. All of them were concerned but also mystified by what Roy had said so far. Once they got to the office, Roy asked if Ben wanted Jamie and Candy to know all the details of the case. He said they were family and had a right to know.

“Now, Roy, will you tell us what is going on?”

“I better start at the beginning. Adam was in the saloon that night years ago and apparently his drinks was drugged. Suzy led him out to some men who was waiting in the alley outside for him. They hit him over the head, drugged too, and she was paid off for what she done. Then he was taken with some other men up to a mining and timber/lumber operation in the Rockies on the Canadian border. It was straddling the border there. They wanted Adam ’cause of his work with shoring up mines and also experience with timber camps and lumber mills. He was there most of the last six years. He escaped last fall and made his way to an Indian reservation where he spent the winter. Then he went to Pocatello where he informed the authorities of what had happened to him and a number of other men. Our government has been working with the Canadian government, and they done arrested a lot of people up there. ‘Cause Adam and some other men got kidnapped here, the governor wants an investigation into any white slave trade that might be happening here. Now we know it goes on with the Chinese workers but they don’t trust us enough to tell us about it.”

“You’re telling me that my son was slave labor for some company for the last six years!”

“Most of that time, yeah. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you about it.”

Ben looked at Joe and shook his head. This was all so much to take in at once. It was shocking and gut wrenching. All the things they had thought over the years had never come close to this scenario.

“Hoss always said he believed something bad had happened to Adam. He was right. We hired detectives, and they never found any of this.”

Now it was Ben’s turn to be surprised again. He did not know his sons had hired detectives. He had talked about it at one point, and they had talked him out of it.

“Why didn’t you want me to know you hired detectives? In fact, why didn’t you want me to hire them?”

“By the time you talked about it, we had already done it, and they found nothing. With Suzy dead, there wasn’t much to start with. We told them everything we thought might help and nothing.”

“Well, I may be able to help the two of you with that part of the story. The investigators think that Suzy was part of the scheme to kidnap men here. She seemed to have quite a bit of money for a saloon gal when she died. The theory is that they drugged her and left her outside to die in the cold so the investigators couldn’t talk to her.”

“If they would do that kind of cold-blooded killing, is Adam in any danger?”

“Probably not. He can’t identify anyone here ’cause he never saw a face. He heard some voices but after six years, it’s not likely he’ll come in contact with those people again. Probably be a good idea to keep him out there on the Ponderosa though once he gets back to town.”

“We’re not waiting for that. We’re going to Carson City to see my son.”

The ride to Carson City was a bit more stressful than the ride into Virginia City had been. But nevertheless, they were looking forward to seeing Adam now. So many questions had been answered, and Joe was actually looking forward to apologizing to Adam for what he had done the day before. They could grieve for Hoss together. He could tell Adam about Alice and all that had happened. Ben was looking forward to hugging his son and bringing him home. He would introduce him to Jamie. They would get all of his things out of storage where Hoss had lovingly packed them a few years before.

Once Ben and Joe reached Carson City, they immediately went to the governor’s mansion and said they were looking for Adam Cartwright. In just a few minutes, they were escorted into a room in the mansion and asked to wait. Neither Ben nor Joe could sit. The wait stretched into two hours. They stalked around the room like tigers in a cage. Both of them ended up at the large window in the room staring out at the manicured garden.

“Not how I envisioned our reunion but here we are.”

Ben and Joe spun around to see Adam standing in the doorway. He looked apprehensive and he was. He was no longer certain what his reception would be. He had dreamed of reaching the Ponderosa and being welcomed home, but yesterday’s reception had made him wary. Finding that Hoss was gone hurt him deeply for Hoss had been the closest person in the world to him. He was still having trouble believing that he had lost him and would never hear that sweet voice and that laugh again. Just thinking about it brought tears to his eyes. He waited to see his father’s reaction, and it was all that he had hoped for. Ben had an expression of joy on his face and walked swiftly to Adam and reached out his arms to hug his son. Adam allowed the hug but still held back a little. He had suffered so much, he was finding it difficult to trust anyone again.

“Son, my God, Adam. I have missed you so. I prayed you would return. Roy told us what happened to you. Well at least the short version. I love you son. I am so happy you are home.”

As Ben hugged his son, he was shocked by how thin he was. He could feel his ribs. He also was amazed at his appearance with the beard, the gray streaks in his hair, and his mountain man style clothing with its mix of white and Native American items. Adam stayed in his father’s arms though. He had not had a hug in over six years and although usually uncomfortable with such displays of affection, his needs overwhelmed his natural reticence.

“Is it still my home?” and Adam looked directly at Joe. Yesterday’s reception had left him very wary of his younger brother.

“Of course it is! Adam, I am so sorry about yesterday. You know me and my temper. It got the best of me again. I can’t think when I’m mad. This is your home, and I am so happy to see you back here.”

“I guess there are some things then that never change.”

Adam finally smiled that crooked smile of his, and Joe stepped forward to take his father’s place and hug his brother. Soon there were tears from both brothers. Adam kept his arm around his brother’s shoulder for a bit.

“I think I’m done here. I just have to wait a little to be sure. They’ll let me know soon. They said we could all wait here, and they will bring in something to eat.”

After Adam sat, Ben sat close to him and Joe on the other side.

“Tell me about Hoss.”

Ben and Joe looked down. It was still painful after a year so they could imagine the torment that Adam was in. For him, it had just been yesterday.

“He was out checking the road and the bridge after some heavy rain. There was a mudslide and the stagecoach was on its side and being pushed toward the river. Hoss rode in as fast as he could and rescued three passengers. He tried to rescue the driver who was tangled in the reins, but as he got to him, the coach rolled and Hoss and the driver were pinned underneath the coach in the water. He drowned before anyone could do anything.”

Adam held his hand over his mouth and closed his eyes as Joe told the story. Ben reached out a hand and put it on Adam’s arm. When Joe finished, Adam dropped his head to his chest and sat that way for a time. Ben and Joe were quiet giving him a chance to grieve. Adam lifted his head and there were tears on his face.

“So there was nothing that anyone could do. And Hoss died a hero so others could live. I hope they make his sacrifice worthwhile. I hope they do good things with the lives he gave them.”

Before more could be said, a servant came in with a tray of sandwiches and coffee. He asked if they needed anything else. Then he withdrew.

Adam looked at the coffee and sandwiches. He couldn’t get used to food being in such abundance and there whenever you wanted it. Joe noted how thin he looked and with the look he gave the food, both he and Ben wondered how deprived he had been. Ben reached forward and poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Adam. Then he handed him a sandwich. Once Ben poured for himself and for Joe, and each of them grabbed a sandwich, Adam sipped his coffee and slowly ate his sandwich.

“Hey, Adam, if it doesn’t bother you too much: what happened to your leg?”

“A tree fell on it.”

“Is it still there?”

Adam looked at Joe wondering what he was getting at.

“Candy, the guy in the red shirt and black vest yesterday, he’s our foreman. Well he said he thought maybe you had an artificial leg like a wooden leg or something.”

“No it’s there. It’s just damaged.”

“Do you have luggage like a bag or a valise or something we should get before we head home?”

“No, all I have, I’m wearing.”

“Is the horse yours?”

“No, rented from Virginia City.”

“We’ll get him back there then once you get home.”

“How is Sport?”

By their expressions, Adam knew the news wasn’t good.

“He was so feisty after you left, nobody but me could ride him. One of the hands tried one day and Sport bucked so hard he ended up kicking the side of the corral really hard. He broke a bone in his leg. We had to put him down. Hoss said it would never heal.”

“Maybe I should be asking what stayed the same. So much has changed.”

“One thing hasn’t changed at all, son. The Ponderosa is your home.”

“That’s really good to hear, Pa. I dreamed of that for years.” Pausing then, Adam looked at his brother. “Joe, who were the men with you when I saw you yesterday?”

Both Ben and Joe suddenly got rather shocked expressions.

“Adam, there are a few other changes we should tell you and we’re going to have to apologize to Jamie and Candy too because we forgot all about them waiting outside for us.”

“You said Candy is the foreman. Who’s Jamie?”

“It’s a long story, but he’s your new brother. Pa adopted him.”

Turning toward Ben, Adam’s eyes got big as he waited for confirmation. Ben nodded.

“Joe’s right. It’s a long story. We can talk about it on the ride home. We have lots of time now to talk.”

*****

Chapter 7

Ben, Joe, Adam, Jamie, and Candy arrived home on the Ponderosa as dusk fell. They had talked only a little on the ride back because Adam had wanted to enjoy the freedom and the familiar sights. Once they rode into the yard, Adam dismounted and they took care of all five horses in the stable. When he walked inside the house, he was expecting things to have changed. Remarkably, little had. The red leather chair, the faded blue velvet chair that had been ‘his’, the table in front of the fireplace with a bowl of apples, and the silly delicate settee that Marie had purchased were all still there. Occupying them now was another one of the men he had seen with Joe the day before. Ben introduced him to Griff with a brief rundown of how he came to be on the Ponderosa. Candy and Griff then excused themselves to leave the family to talk.

When the men left, Adam walked to the kitchen. He stood in the doorway until Hop Sing turned to look at him, and then quickly closed the space between them and gave a hug to the diminutive cook who had always been his friend. Hop Sing had watched him limp and asked what had happened to his leg and then demanded to see it. He poked and prodded a little and said that by the next day, he would have something to help. Adam returned to the great room where Ben, Joe, and Jamie were waiting.

“I guess there are a lot of questions you would like to ask, but I am really tired. I haven’t been able to sleep much lately especially last night. Where do I sleep?”

“Hoss packed up all your stuff when I got here, and I have your old room. You can have that back if you want.”

“Is anyone using Hoss’ room? If not, I would like that one.”

“We’ve just been using it as a guest bedroom so if you want it, it’s yours. We’ll get your things out of storage tomorrow morning. If there is anything you need, just ask. I’m sure we have it or we can get it. I would guess we don’t need to pull out a nightshirt for you.”

Adam smiled at that, and shook his head no. Then he said good night and headed up the stairs. The last two days had been exhausting. He hoped he would be able to sleep that night.

“He’s so calm and serious. I know Hoss said he was the serious brother, but I thought he would be more fiery from what Hoss told me. I’m not sure I ever met someone so calm.”

Ben and Joe filled Jamie in on what Adam had been through. None of them knew the details and with Adam, they knew they might never know. He had changed in some ways but was even more reticent than he had been before enduring these last six years of imprisonment. The next morning Adam was still in his bedroom at ten. Ben went to peek in the door to make sure he was all right. As he looked in, Adam opened his eyes and saw his father at the door.

“Some habits never die, I guess.”

“A father gets to worry. That never ends.”

Adam got up then and dressed. Jamie and Joe started hauling boxes and trunks out of the attic. They put all the items in Adam’s room. He began emptying the contents into the dresser but didn’t have enough shelf space for his books. Jamie went to his room and came back with a bookshelf saying he didn’t need it. Then Ben came in carrying Elizabeth’s music box and her picture and set them on the table next to the bed. There were pieces hanging on the walls that Hoss had carved and another carved wildlife scene that sat on the table. This bedroom had a nice window view of the yard and Adam stood there for a time looking out. He felt strangely out of place like he was floating in a dream with some things that were familiar and many that were not.

Hop Sing called them all to lunch with his usual complaints and threats. Adam had to chuckle at that. At least one thing was exactly as he remembered it. At lunch, they again noticed how slowly Adam ate as if every morsel was to be cherished. Everyone slowed down their pace because of it. After lunch, Hop Sing insisted that Adam go to his bedroom so Hop Sing could put a healing poultice on his leg. Adam acquiesced and had to admit an hour later that his leg did feel better. Hop Sing said they would do that two times per day until his leg was stronger. Adam walked outside where he saw Joe and Jamie standing with Ben at the corral. There were at least a dozen horses in there.

“Hey, Adam, we have a lot of nice horses right now. You can pick any one you want. The rest are going to be sold to the Army.”

Adam walked to the corral and leaned on the fence looking over the horses there. There were large horses and strong horses, black, brown, and spotted horses. A few had socks or blazes. One horse stood to the side almost aloof from the rest. He had turned to look at the men when Adam arrived. Apparently not seeing a threat, he had once again turned his attention to the mares milling about in front of him. He threw his head back a few times and stomped to get their attention. Another horse walked over to the men and looked them over before turning and walking back to the other side of the corral. She ignored the stallion and walked sedately around the corral as if she was the only horse there unless there was a movement or a sound which caused her to watch briefly until she was sure there was no harm threatening her. She picked her head up and watched the stallion each time he made some noise as if she was evaluating him but apparently each time found nothing to concern her too much. The stallion pranced and stomped.

“I’ll take her.”

“Damn.”

“Joseph, your language.”

Jamie started laughing as Adam smiled. Joe explained that he had lost a bet with Jamie. He had been sure the dark stallion with the socks would be Adam’s choice. Based on what Hoss had told him about his oldest brother, Jamie thought he would pick the smartest horse not the showiest one and had pointed out the same mare that Adam had chosen.

“Adam, I thought you would pick the horse that was the most like Sport?”

“I did. Sport was a handsome horse and spirited which I liked. But he was loyal and intelligent too. That big stallion is all about himself, and not particularly bright. He’ll make some officer proud prancing around, but I want a horse I can rely on, a horse I can trust.”

“What are you gonna name her?”

“Cloud Dancer. In honor of a good friend of mine. We went through a lot together.”

“Hey, let’s get her saddled up, and you two can start to get to know one another.”

Adam whistled and Cloud Dancer trotted over. He pulled an apple from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. She sniffed, looked him over, and then gently took the apple from his hand and chomped it down. Adam walked to the gate and picked up a lead rope. He opened the gate and as Cloud Dancer approached, he hooked the lead rope to her halter. She walked out of the corral and he swung the gate closed behind her. She calmly followed him to the stable. Joe and Jamie were amazed. Ben wasn’t.

“I remember the day he picked Sport out of the herd. He walked up to him much like he did with Cloud Dancer. It’s like they were communicating without words then and now. He’s got the right horse for him.”

“Hey, Adam, want to take a ride?”

“Joe, I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do.”

Joe and Adam worked side-by-side saddling up their horses. The two brothers mounted up and headed out riding their horses through the pastures scattering cows as they went. Ben stood with his arm around Jamie’s shoulders. He had hope again. The family had healed and would move forward again. He remembered one of Adam’s favorite Milton quotes.

“All is not lost; th’ unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield.”

“Pa, what is that from?”

“One of Adam’s favorites. Milton. And it seems so appropriate now.”

*****

 

Awake, Arise, or Be Forever Fallen

Chapter 1

“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;

And in the lowest deep a lower deep,

Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,

To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.” John Milton

Ben sat at the breakfast table savoring his coffee. Hearing a sound, he looked up to see his oldest son walking down the stairs. He could see this several more thousand times he thought and it would still bring a smile to his face. His son was home after more than six years and his heart still swelled at the sight of him.

“Good morning, son. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, sleeping is not a problem. All the fresh air and the sunshine, and that horse ride yesterday made me appreciate the soft comfort of that bed.”

Each day, Adam saddled up Cloud Dancer and rode with Joe to look over the Ponderosa. After five days, they had managed to see most of it so that Adam could see the changes that had been made and how the operations were going. He had been very gratified to see the number of windmills on the ranch bringing water to some of the drier pastures and that the mill had been rebuilt to better use the flow of the stream it sat on. But this morning as on the previous several days, Ben noted how a slight frown had taken up residence on his brow. He was worried about something and it wasn’t letting go of him.

“What’s on your mind?”

Adam dropped his head as he sat at the table. He cradled a cup of coffee between his hands but didn’t drink. By his demeanor, Ben could see he was ready to say what was troubling him but needed a bit of time to compose his thoughts into coherent statements he could make. Some things about Adam had not changed at all. Unless he was angry, he would not speak until he had thought through the issue as completely as he could, and then he would think through how to say what was on his mind.

“I feel odd. I feel like I am home and not home. The memories I have, the dream I had of returning, were of the Ponderosa as I last knew it which was over six years ago. So much has changed from that time. When I wake in the morning, I have to think about where it is that I am. I have no place here.”

“Of course you have a place here. You are my son. This is your home.”

“You don’t understand. I have nothing to do here. Everything is already being taken care of by someone who knows what they are doing. Shall I become a ranch hand and take orders? I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think I can submit to another’s authority. It would make me feel that I never escaped.”

“You’ll find your place. You have been home only a week. You need to take some time to heal your body and your mind.”

Ben noted the raised eyebrow indicating the skepticism his son had for his statements, but when he said nothing, Ben continued.

“In your mind, you’re not home yet. You have had a number of shocks and you need to allow yourself time to adjust. There may be no blood, but you’re a wounded man who needs time to heal. You’re thin as a rail too. You can’t even wear the clothes you left behind because they hang on you. You need to build up your strength, in body and in mind. Then we’ll talk of what you can do here. You worked almost every day for over six years. It’s time to take some time off, to relax.”

“I don’t think I know how any more.”

“Then perhaps you need to take some time and learn how to have fun again and how to sit back and enjoy life. You’re always on edge. You turn at every sound. I know there are reasons for that, but now you need to learn to live here among people you can trust, people who love you.”

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

“Yes, Milton. He was always one of your favorites and one of your mother’s too. Have you been reading his works again?”

“Each night, before I go to bed I read some. Milton’s words were the ones I could remember best when I was locked away and losing hope. His words always reminded me that I was the one in charge of where my mind went and what I chose to believe. I used his words to strengthen my resolve again and again when I had nearly lost it and my will to even live. I knew I had to continue to fight and to struggle or I would be lost forever.”

“Awake, arise or be for ever fall’n.”

“Exactly, and I need to remember his words now because I am struggling as much now as I was then. It is a different kind of struggle, but I know I have to keep trying.”

“We’ll be here to help you now. You are no longer alone.”

Hop Sing who had been waiting for the two men to finish their talk came out with breakfast for them then. He had prepared many of Adam’s favorites as he did with each meal. Anyone who looked at the man Adam was now could see he needed to gain some weight. So for breakfast there were berries and flapjacks, biscuits with jelly, and scrambled eggs with crispy bacon. It was discouraging though to see how little Adam put on his plate. He ate well but not enough according to Hop Sing. Joe came down the stairs then rubbing his sleepy eyes. The smell of breakfast had nudged him from his bed. Meals had been scrumptious since Adam’s return as Hop Sing did his best to encourage the man to eat. Joe didn’t want to miss it. Soon the front door opened and Jamie led Griff and Candy in to breakfast. They had completed all the morning chores. Like Joe, they had been heartily enjoying the breakfasts since Adam’s return. Hop Sing had always provided fantastic food but it seemed he was trying with each meal to outdo his own reputation.

The conversation at the table became boisterous and convivial. Ben, as he had for the previous week, noted how Adam became an observer when more than he and/or Joe were there. He had not become comfortable talking with anyone else yet. The daily rides with Joe were probably extending his isolation for when there was any talking to do with an employee of the ranch, the always gregarious Joe would jump in and take care of it. Ben began to think he ought to talk to Joe about letting Jamie or Candy go riding with Adam when Joe himself brought up the topic.

“Hey, Adam, today is payday and we need to get more money from the bank. We always have two of us go now and rarely the same two to do our best to avoid any bushwhackers. It’s Jamie’s turn, and Candy needs my help getting the string of horses ready to deliver to the Army. Could you ride with Jamie today?”

Ben could see Adam was surprised by the request. It was a big change for him.

“I don’t even own a pistol any more.”

“Heck, you won’t need one on the ride in. You could get one there, and then you’d have one for the ride back.”

“I haven’t fired a gun in over six years. I may have forgotten how.”

“C’mon, Adam, a talent like yours isn’t lost that easy. We’ll go out after breakfast and you can practice a little to get the rust out. Jamie isn’t going to be leaving for a couple of hours yet anyway.”

Joe kicked Jamie lightly under the table so he wouldn’t disagree. Adam looked up and looked to his father. This was exactly the kind of thing they had been discussing. Adam needed to do this.

“All right, I’ll go. And, yes, I need to practice, but not with your gun. With that filed down hammer I’m liable to shoot myself in the foot.”

The men laughed heartily. It was the first light-hearted comment any of them had heard from Adam, and the first hint that he had a personality under that calm exterior. Griff, better than anyone else, understood the difficulties Adam was having. He offered to ride into town with the two of them to get some supplies they needed. Ben endorsed the idea before anyone could offer an objection.

When all the plates on the table were empty, Hop Sing had come to clear them away with a big smile on his face for he felt they appreciated him when all the food was gone. The men stood and walked outside around to the back of the barn where target practice was usually done. Jamie set some bottles on the fence. Ben had thought to offer Adam the use of Hoss’ pistol but knew that he wouldn’t be able to use it without thinking of his brother. It was too much now. Perhaps at a later date, he could make that offer. Instead Ben offered the use of his pistol which was very similar to one Adam had used many years earlier so the weight and the handling would be reasonably familiar to him. Adam stood and prepared himself by drawing in a big breath. Then he leveled the pistol and fired shattering six bottles. He held the pistol in firing position as if he was frozen there. No one said anything for a moment until Candy broke the silence, and then Jamie offered his observation.

“Hot damn, Adam, how well do you shoot when you’ve been practicing?”

“That’s what Hoss said about you. He said Joe was really fast, but you always hit what you were aiming at.”

Adam didn’t react to the two statements. Joe walked over to Adam and pushed his arm down to his side. The other men walked away leaving the two brothers together.

“Did that bring back a lot of memories?”

Adam just nodded. So many images had flooded his mind when he finished shooting. He had not realized how much he had repressed.

“If you don’t want to go, that’s all right. Someone else can ride with Jamie.”

“I’ll ride with Jamie. I just need a little time.”

Adam turned to walk to the house, and Joe walked beside him. Ben had come outside with the ledgers and contracts because the day was so warm and mild with little breeze to disturb his papers. He planned to read over the latest contracts and check out the balances in the ledgers. He no longer had to struggle with them because Jamie did all of the entries and tallied the figures. He was worried though when he saw how Adam walked into the house. Joe told him what had happened, and Ben recounted his conversation with Adam from that morning.

“He’s hurting, Joe. He needs time to heal and get his strength back. He looks so normal that most people would think he’s fine, but he isn’t. We need to be sure to be there for him. He’s going to have some difficult days ahead of him adjusting to being in a regular environment with good people, people who care for him and want to see him find some happiness again. This reminds me so much of when he suffered in the desert with that madman Kane. In some ways this was worse. He wasn’t physically abused so much as isolated and beaten down. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Pa, what if something happens when they’re bringing the payroll home?”

“He’ll have Griff and Jamie with him so it’s unlikely anyone would try something but put a couple of men at each of the spots along the road where trouble would most likely be. They can keep out of sight and make sure nothing out of the ordinary happens.”

Joe nodded. That was an excellent plan. Adam could do something important, and they could make sure it was successful. Less than an hour later, Adam walked outside and surprised them: he had shaved off his beard.

“Well you look more like the Adam I remember now. You still look a little like a mountain man in those clothes though. While you’re picking up a pistol rig, you could get yourself some shirts and pants that fit, and a new pair of boots if they have some you like.”

Ben knew that Adam had little money and would not make him ask.

“Put whatever you want on the Ponderosa account. Joe can get some spending money for you out of the safe. It’s a new larger one so you don’t know the combination yet. I’ll get that for you when we start going over the books together. Jamie does most of that work, but I like to look them over to see how we’re doing. Joe does the same, and now you can too.”

The ride to town and back to get the payroll went smoothly. While in town, Griff picked up some supplies while Adam picked out shirts, pants, a new pair of boots, a hat, a pistol and holster, and a new shaving kit. He changed in the back room of the store and came out looking a lot more like the Adam people would recognize. His hair had gray streaks and was thin on top, but with his hat on, no one would notice that. He also picked out a tan barn jacket and tied that behind his saddle and put two extra shirts and pair of pants in his saddlebags. On the ride home, several times Adam spotted men high above the road. Nothing happened so by the time they got back, Adam was fairly sure he knew what had been going on.

“So, did you have some watchers out there making sure there was no trouble?”

Ben was caught out and knew there was no way to deny it so he shrugged his shoulders.

“Well you did say it’s a father’s prerogative to worry about his sons, but you don’t have to nursemaid me through everything. I’m not fragile.”

“I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but there were good reasons to avoid any gunfire today. By the way, I do like the new look.”

Adam was wearing a light blue shirt and black pants with black boots. He had a plain black Stetson hat and a tan barn coat over his arm. He was wearing a simple holster but the pistol was a Colt. He had a box of ammunition as well.

“I got a red shirt and a white shirt too. I thought I might go to church with you on Sunday. There are a lot of people I would like to say hello to.”

“Well a couple of them will be here for dinner. Last week I asked Roy and Paul to come to dinner and tonight is the night.”

*****

Chapter 2

“Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind.” John Milton

“Ben, you don’t need to worry about Adam eating. He had plenty at dinner and ate some of everything from what I saw.”

“But, Paul, he’s so thin. He needs to put some weight on and build some muscle.”

“Yes, but he’s been underfed and malnourished for years. Give it time. He probably isn’t able to eat much more at a meal than he did tonight. It will take some time before he’s able to eat as much as you or Joe. If you want to see him gain back some weight faster, offer snacks. Eating more often will help more than trying to get him to stuff himself at every meal.”

“Hop Sing does know how to make some tasty treats. Adam used to love his oatmeal cookies and his fresh doughnuts.”

“Yes, things like that perhaps with a glass of milk and even an apple or two during the day will help.”

Ben had told Paul of his concerns about Adam so Paul had observed him at dinner. Then Roy and Ben had joined Paul on the porch as the three smoked cigars.

“Ben, I think you have more to worry about than his eating. Adam has made great strides forward in the time he’s been back. Shaving off that beard and wearing new clothes show his willingness to put the past six years behind him. However, I am more concerned by his demeanor. He’s holding everything in.”

“But Paul, he always did that.”

“Not like this, Ben. He’s doesn’t laugh, he rarely joined in the conversation, and I dare anyone to read that expression he has on his face most of the time. He’s always on alert looking to every sound or movement. He’s constantly evaluating things to see if there’s a threat.”

“I just thought that was Adam being Adam. He’s always been a bit like that.”

“Yes, a bit, but this is an all-out effort to suppress any emotion and at the same time he’s constantly on alert and on edge. Now we know he’s feeling things but he isn’t letting even a hint of them show. I’m sure that in that situation he was in, it was probably necessary. But I fear he’s going to explode. So much has happened to him, and he must be so angry at what was done to him. He needs to let the reaction out. By holding back, it’s making it more likely that when he lets it out, it will be an unhappy if not an unhealthy or inappropriate response.”

“Adam does have a healthy temper, but we haven’t seen even any of that since he’s been home.”

“Exactly, you know it’s there, but he has a tight rein on it now, much too tight.”

“Well I suppose I oughta keep a close eye on him when he’s in town then.”

“Roy, you’re probably right. Some unfortunate fool is likely to push him at just the wrong moment. I wouldn’t want to be the man who faces all that anger when it pours out of him.”

All three men were silent when they heard the front door open. Adam walked out followed by Joe and Candy.

“Well, everyone is so quiet, you’ll make me think you were talking about me.”

“Adam, we were discussing you a bit. I like the new look.”

“Thank you, Paul. Although I would have purchased a black shirt if they had one.”

The men laughed at Adam’s comment, but he only raised an eyebrow. The laughter did relieve the tension, but he knew they had been discussing him, and it made him resentful at first although he wouldn’t show it. He thought about it for a moment and realized it was only natural for them to have been discussing him for he was the biggest story around at the moment. Paul watched him carefully. Anyone being discussed like that should have shown at least a little resentment but Adam remained as neutral in expression as he had for any other conversation that had occurred.

“Adam, is there anything that you have been doing that you find to be fun?”

Adam looked at Paul. He had noticed Paul watching him all evening. He knew he was being evaluated but didn’t know if the results were good or bad.

“I like riding Cloud Dancer.”

It was the closest to a statement with feeling that Paul had heard.

“A new horse?”

“Yes. Would you like to see her?”

Again, this was the first effort to take an initiative and the first effort to have a conversation with someone other than Ben or Joe so Paul was encouraged. These were small steps but healthy ones.

“I would love to meet your new horse.”

Adam began walking to the stable, and Paul followed. Once in the stable, Adam lit a lantern and hung it on a hook near the stall where Cloud Dancer stood. Adam stepped into the stall and rubbed her neck. As she turned toward him, he ran his hand up and down her cheeks. She bobbed her head making it clear she liked it. Then Adam took the lead rope and backed her out to meet Paul. Paul stood next to Adam and noted how this mare looked him over and then looked to Adam. He talked soothingly to her and told her that the man’s name was Paul. Paul reached out and ran his hand down her neck. Cloud Dancer snorted, and Adam chuckled.

“Well, she likes you well enough, but I wouldn’t try to ride her if I were you. She’s letting you know to be careful.”

“I haven’t ridden a horse in years so she is quite safe from me. Carriages are all I ride.”

“So how did I do on the test?”

Paul looked at Adam thoughtfully. He should have known that Ben’s request to come out here for dinner and diagnose his son through observation would be discerned by someone as smart as Adam.

“Well, using the same type of terminology. You haven’t had the test yet. You’re doing well on the first assignments though. Your father is more worried than he needs to be, and I have reassured him somewhat. Don’t be surprised if Hop Sing is offering you delicious snacks during the day. I suggested that was a better alternative than trying to get you to stuff yourself at every meal. What does concern me most is that you should be terribly angry at the injustice of what was done to you. You should have a desire to strike out at those who abused you so. Yet I see a very calm man in front of me and that does worry me.”

“Maybe I’ve completed that assignment already.”

“No, I think you’re avoiding that one, hiding it deep inside, and I’m worried about who will bear the brunt of it when it comes out.”

“How do I deal with it if you’re correct?”

“You need to find an outlet for it. Doing something very physical will help, and it will make you stronger too. Just make sure it’s an inanimate object you abuse. Too many men have taken it out on their wives or other family members, their horse, or themselves or they start drinking to cover the pain. You’re a very smart man. You’ll figure out a way. But don’t take too much time. You need to start work on this assignment soon.”

“Thank you, Paul, for trusting me.”

“Now trust yourself, Adam. Have you had any trouble sleeping?”

“No, if anything, I sleep more than I should and have trouble waking sometimes. I do very little every day, but I’m always tired.”

“Interesting thing happens sometimes when people do even more physical labor when they have had troubles like you endured. The more they do, the less tired they are. Holding everything in is sapping your energy. Doing more physical work will make you feel stronger and more refreshed. Try it tomorrow.”

“Do you need to give my father a full report now?”

“Anything said here between us is confidential. You can tell your father how much you want to tell him whenever you want to tell him.”

The next morning, Adam told his father he was going to chop some wood. Ben said that wasn’t necessary, but Adam said it was. Ben was going to argue until he realized how silly it would be. So, he simply said if that’s how Adam wanted to spend the morning, then that’s what he ought to do. Adam had seen the change in his father’s demeanor and was grateful. He didn’t want to tell him why he wanted to chop wood, but it was all too obvious to Ben anyway as he sat at his desk and heard the chopping outside. He knew Adam had to be throwing everything he had into each swing of the axe by the sounds he was hearing. After about an hour, he felt he had to go outside. What he saw amazed and worried him. Adam was attacking wood like it was an invading army it seemed. He was splitting log after log and had wood scattered all around him. Adam stopped when he saw his father standing there.

“I think I may have to stop now. I have blisters and a lot of wood to stack.”

Ben could see that he had more than blisters. Blisters had broken and some were bleeding a bit.

“Why don’t you go in to see Hop Sing about something to put on those blisters. I can stack the wood.”

“No! I’ll stack it! Don’t do anything with it! It’s my job and I’ll finish it!”

Adam stalked off to the kitchen, and Ben was almost afraid to say anything. The fury in Adam’s words had been unmistakable. Ben thought about what Paul had said and decided he would go back inside and let Adam work through this. Over an hour later, Adam walked inside and over to his father’s desk where he stood quietly. Ben looked up and could see the torment on his son’s face. He felt bad about that but based on what Paul had said, this was a good thing. He was letting some of his inner pain out.

“I’m sorry for how I spoke to you. It was uncalled for.”

Ben stood and walked to his son’s side and put his hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“Adam, I understand. I accept your apology. I think I know now what you were doing and I shouldn’t have interfered. I am sorry for that. Can I assume the wood is all stacked?”

Adam looked at him a little sheepishly, and shook his head no.

“I could use a little help. The bandages Hop Sing put on my hands are making it difficult.”

“Well then I guess I’ll be working up an appetite for lunch too. Just don’t expect me to work as fast and furiously as you were. I don’t think I could.”

Adam smiled at his father, and the two went outside to stack wood together.

*****

Chapter 3

At dinner that night, Adam’s bandaged hands were the object of speculation, but only Jamie thought to say something.

“What happened to your hands?”

“I was chopping wood, and I got some blisters.”

“Why would you get blisters? I thought you were …”

“I didn’t work with axes and saws.”

Nothing more was said about the wood chopping. It was a task no one liked so they were more than willing to allow Adam to do as much of it as he wanted. Adam worked on the wood pile day after day. The blisters hardened into calluses. His arms got stronger, his appetite improved, and he began getting up earlier in the morning.

By that Friday, Adam had been home three weeks. He had attended a church service and greeted many old friends there. A lot had already changed in Adam, but other than taking Cloud Dancer for rides, he had not had anything that anyone would call fun. So, although he was working through his anger, he had found no way to be joyous. His guitar stood unused in his room as did his drafting table. Joe and Candy suggested that on Saturday, the five men should go fishing, and then that night, go into town for the annual spring social.

The first thought that Adam had was to say no. Holding back as the men discussed the next day and the fun they would have, he tried to understand his own feelings. Ben watched his eldest son and by the stoic expression correctly surmised that he was in turmoil over the plans. Ben said a silent prayer that his son could find the strength within himself to join the others. Everyone there including Adam knew he needed to do this, but the emotional component of making the commitment was a strong barrier to saying yes. Adam looked to his father and could see the hope in his eyes. He could not disappoint him.

“Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named not good.”

Ben smiled. He had not ever been so appreciative of Milton’s works. Adam was finding solace and strength in those words. Adam gave his father one of those little crooked smiles before turning to the other men and agreeing to accompany them. The fishing trip appealed to him while the dance made him exceptionally nervous. He had not been with a woman for over six years other than Sally and they had been friends and nothing more. He wondered what it would be like to be with women who saw him as a potential husband. He was forty years old so wondered too if any woman would find him attractive any more. He worried that his needs could overwhelm his reserve if he got into a situation where he could embrace and kiss a woman again. That his body reacted just to thinking about these things made him worry more. He did not want to embarrass himself either.

The next morning, Adam arose early and chopped some wood. It was his outlet for excess energy and released his emotions as well. That first day he had pictured the camp manager’s face a number of times in the wood he was splitting. It was satisfying to feel the axe bite through the wood and hear the resounding thud of the axe each time as well. As the days moved on, he saw the logs as wood and the chopping as exercise. He felt better each time he finished some chopping and stacking. He hoped that it would help him keep his equilibrium for this day especially that evening in town. Riding Cloud Dancer to the lake and back, and then into town, would help as well.

Shortly after breakfast, Adam and the others saddled up and rode to the lake where they threw their fishing lines in the lake. There wasn’t much fishing that actually took place though. It was their thought that the fish would be responsible for hooking themselves. Few did so the catch was minimal. Most of the time was spent talking and laying back and resting. Spring tasks were numerous and required a lot of hard work. The men enjoyed the day off grateful that Ben thought they deserved it. The lake was too cold for swimming yet but Adam thought about jumping in anyway with all the talk the other four men had about the dance that night, the gals they would dance with, and the kisses and whatever else they could steal on a moonlight walk. Adam’s apprehension over the dance grew. By the time they returned to bathe and dress for the dance, he regretted his earlier agreement to go. He consoled himself with the idea that he could leave early if he wished and ride Cloud Dancer home at a leisurely pace.

So long in isolation from normal activities, Adam was understandably nervous about his first big social event. The first person who greeted him on this Saturday was no help. Barney Fuller’s oldest daughter had returned to the area after her husband’s business failed in Sacramento. She saw Joe and Candy walk in and assumed the dark-haired man with them must be Adam.

“So, you must be the one who was locked away for six years. We better tell the fathers to hide away their daughters. You never know what you might want to do after all that time alone.”

Adam turned on his heel and strode to the refreshment table where he grabbed a cup of punch and downed it. Joe and Candy would have hit any man who had dared talk to Adam that way but could only glower at the unhappy woman who wanted to spread her bile around.

“Adam, she’s just one ignorant miserable woman. Don’t let it ruin your whole evening.”

“Joe, how many people are talking about the freak show attraction now that she started it?”

“Don’t talk like that.”

Candy, Jamie, and Griff joined the two brothers at the refreshment table. They had all heard the insensitive comment but didn’t know what to do.

“I’ll think I’ll just leave. All of you will have a much better time if I’m not here.”

They all objected but knew that Adam was probably correct in his assessment of the situation. By now, everyone in town seemed to know the story. Seeing him here had stimulated discussion of him that would likely continue throughout the evening. Then there was the worry that someone else would say something cruel, and if it was a man, there was going to be a fight.

Joe reassured his brother that there would be a chance soon for Adam to have a chance to enjoy himself socially. “We’ll have a party at the Ponderosa soon. We can decide who to invite and that miserable woman won’t be on the guest list.”

“Thanks, Joe. I just don’t want any trouble. I made an appearance. Maybe next time things will go more smoothly.”

Quickly, Adam took his leave saying good night to several people he knew. He walked away slowly savoring his freedom and the dignity he had managed to keep this night. The music from the social hall could be heard very well outside and he assumed for several blocks in each direction.

“Are you just going to ignore me?”

Adam stopped at the familiar voice. Looking over at the porch of a nearby home, he saw a figure reclining in a swing.

“Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, in every gesture dignity and love.”

“Lovely! John Milton”

“Yes, you were always good with literature. Although I can’t get the picture out of my head of you and Hoss fighting in that mud puddle. Then you both fell in that pond that was covered with scum. We had to rescue you two, and our parents were so glad you were both safe, they forgot all about the fighting and the muddy, smelly clothes.”

“Adam, we were seven years old, and we both wanted that frog.”

The two began to laugh at that old memory.

“How are you, Grace?”

“Well, I’m doing all right. It’s hard to make your way as a widow with a business to run especially with my background, but I’m managing. And how about you? My troubles don’t begin to compare with what you went through. Oh, don’t look at me like that. Everyone in town has been talking about it. You could come up here on the porch, set a spell, and talk about anything you want?”

“I don’t know. I was going to ride home.”

“Afraid of me?”

“Not exactly.”

“Afraid to trust yourself?”

Adam had walked closer, and Grace could see his face lose its expression. He was shutting out any emotion from view. She knew that look. She had seen it in the mirror for several years. Surviving an Apache attack and watching your husband die, and then being held captive for several months until freed by an unexpected attack by soldiers had led her to the same result. It had taken her a couple of years to start feeling and showing emotions again.

“Adam, I trust you. A man’s character is not lost just because he loses his freedom. I know that. You’re the same person you were before, but you have some unpleasant experiences to put behind you. Why did you leave the dance?”

“I could ask you why you didn’t go?”

“All right, I’ll answer first but then you. I won’t go to an event like that unescorted, and no one will escort me after what happened.”

“But Grace, that wasn’t your fault. It was done to you without your consent. It doesn’t make you less of a person.”

“Well, now, I hope you’ve been telling yourself that every day because you need to hear that more often I think. So, c’mon up here on the porch and sit with me. I trust you.”

“Perhaps you would consider another idea? You come down here and dance with me. We can hear the music just fine, and we don’t have to worry about what anyone is thinking.”

“Someone said something stupid to you at the dance then?”

“Yes, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s dance. I haven’t danced in years, literally.”

Grace walked down the steps, and Adam held out his arm for her. The sounds of a waltz had just begun. He took Grace by the arm, and they danced over her yard. When the music ended, Adam held her in his arms.

“Adam, the music stopped.”

“I know, but this is so heavenly I hoped you wouldn’t want to stop. I’m sure they will play another tune.”

Grace stood on her toes and kissed Adam softly and briefly before wrapping her arms around him and leaning in to his chest. Adam wrapped his arms around her and waited for the music to start again. The next song was a Virginia reel. They ignored it as Adam began to hum Greensleeves and they rocked in rhythm with that tune instead. After a few minutes they broke their embrace, and Grace took Adam by the hand and led him to the porch swing. They rocked back and forth in the swing as they talked. Occasionally Adam would lean over and kiss Grace on the cheek unless she turned toward him, and then she got a kiss on the lips. They spent several hours just that way. Adam never saw Jamie and Griff walk by. They both heard and then saw Jamie run back to the social hall.

“Oh, oh. I think I’ve been missed. They’re probably wondering why my horse is still in town. Come here. Let me kiss you one last time tonight.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Grace, and she looked up at him. He kissed her gently and then more insistently. Adam had awakened feelings in Grace that she thought she would never know again, and she responded to his kiss.

“Joe, Cloud Dancer is still in the livery stable!”

“Where’s Adam?”

“We didn’t see him anywhere, and Jesse said he hasn’t been back to the livery at all.”

Fireworks that traditionally ended the spring social started exploding in the sky illuminating the street for intervals.

“Hey, Joe, Adam was wearing a red shirt tonight wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, Candy, why?”

Candy pointed to Grace’s house when the next fireworks exploded. All four of them then saw Adam in an embrace with Grace and locked in a kiss. The four of them stared for a bit unwilling to believe what their eyes were telling them. Then Adam stood and lifted Grace’s hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Tomorrow, may I pick you up for church?”

Grace smiled and agreed.

“About nine-thirty then?”

“That would be lovely.”

“Goodnight, Grace. Thank you for the dance.”

“Goodnight, Adam. Thank you for everything.”

Adam walked over to where the others were standing and asked if they were ready to ride home. No one knew what to say so they said nothing about Grace. The next morning though, Ben asked Joe how the evening had gone.

“It was all right. I think Adam had a good time though.”

“Joe, Adam danced with a number of ladies then?”

“Not exactly. Just one, and I’m not sure they even danced.”

“Who was it?”

“Grace.”

“Oh, my Lord, that son of mine never does anything the easy way.”

*****

Chapter 4

“The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.” John Milton

Near the church, Adam pulled the carriage toward a tree and stopped under it. After putting on the brake, he climbed out and walked to the opposite side to help Grace out of the carriage. Offering her his arm first, he walked with her toward the church.

“They’re staring already.”

“Grace, we’re making it easy for them. They can stare at both of us at once. And we’ve given them even more fodder for the rumor mill. Ignore them. It will frustrate them if you don’t react. Church services are something I found I missed a great deal. I know that the message in there will not support the behavior we see out here, and I can’t wait to sing with you. I recall that you had a wonderful voice.”

Inside, Adam saw his father sitting with Joe and Jamie in the front. He guided Grace to the bench right behind them. Ben glanced back and smiled at his son and Grace. It was a relief to see Adam taking some initiative and to see his desire to be in church. What worried Ben was that Adam already had to face so many curious townspeople many of whom could be cruel whether it was intentional or not.

Now that he was with Grace, there was liable to be more said about Adam, and some of it could be very cruel. Grace had suffered a lot because of her ordeal as well. She had been assaulted while in captivity, but the way the story was told by some, it was her fault. Sadly, in sexual assault, Ben knew the victim was often blamed. There were those who said she didn’t fight back enough, and their evidence consisted of the fact that she was still alive. To their minds, it would have been better if she had been killed than assaulted. Ben had great sympathy for Grace but also an overriding concern for his son’s mental and emotional health. Carrying the additional burden of what might be said about his relationship with Grace could threaten his recovery.

The minister must have been aware of a lot that went on with the gossip and rumors in town. He announced the subject of his sermon was taken first from a line from John Milton: “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.” Then he started going through the Bible citing references to that idea. He started with Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. and Ephesians 4:29-32 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. He worked his way all the way to the Gospels and various renditions of the Golden Rule.

By the time his hour-long sermon was completed, there was silence in the church and quite a few heads bowed in embarrassment and guilt. Everyone there knew that there were still many more in town who had not heard this sermon and would not be moved to change their ways, but they also knew it was their duty to try to change attitudes they may have helped create. As Adam and Grace left the church, there were several who stopped and said they were sorry for the gossip and rumors that had made life uncomfortable for them sometimes.

When Adam neared the minister, Ben was surprised to hear what was said.

“Thank you, Adam. When we discussed some of those Milton ideas, that one stood out for me, and I built the sermon based on that idea. It was an unconventional way to start a sermon but it caught their attention, and I used His word then to lay out the persuasive argument.”

“You’re welcome. I did enjoy our talks as well.”

“I have enjoyed our conversations, and I would like to include Grace in the future sometimes. I think we share some of the same concerns.”

Based on that conversation, Ben now suspected he knew where Adam had been on some of those long rides on Cloud Dancer. It was good that he was seeking out help. Perhaps this friendship with Grace was good too in getting him to examine his experiences within a philosophical framework. Ben began to re-evaluate his earlier conclusion about Adam seeing Grace. The two of them had some experiences in common, and Grace’s strength had carried her through so perhaps she would help Adam on his journey.

That Sunday, Adam took Grace on a ride to the lake and the two of them walked through the meadow and talked. They did kiss and hug too, but Grace knew that Adam needed the warm friendship that she was offering more than he needed anything else at this point. As the afternoon neared evening, Adam drove Grace to her home and said goodbye with a kiss. Then he rode home and as soon as he was well away from the city, he began to sing. He sang every song he could remember, and before he realized how much time had passed, he was home. He came inside to find the others just sitting down to dinner. He sat with the other men and talked about his afternoon with Grace. Ben had a tear in his eye when he looked at Joe and saw the misty eyes he had. They realized that a part of Adam that had been missing was back again.

That evening, Adam went to his room and Ben, Joe, and Jamie could hear some guitar chords although not all sounded good. After six years, Adam needed to practice. He also found that he was getting more blisters so he had to stop playing. But now he had something else to do to occupy his time and to give him joy.

On Monday, Adam rode with Jamie into town to pick up supplies. As they rode in the wagon, Ben rode beside them on Buck because he had business to attend to with the bank and with their lawyer. Joe had a number of contracts that had either been paid off and the drafts needed to be deposited and others that had just been negotiated and the terms would be run by their attorney before the contracts were signed and returned. The three of them met for lunch at the International House. Paul Martin came in just after they did and joined them for lunch.

“Well, Adam, you certainly have made yourself a feature in the town news. I don’t know how many people have talked of you and Grace, and many also mentioned what the minister said about how he decided on his sermon yesterday.”

Adam’s countenance darkened, and Paul had to amend his statement.

“Everyone I talked to said they liked that Grace finally had a good friend. She deserves it, and so do you.”

“Thank you, Paul. But Jamie and I should probably get going now. There’s a lot to load up and then get it all home and unloaded.”

After Jamie and Adam exited the restaurant and they saw them crossing the street to the mercantile, Ben turned to Paul with an expectant look.

“I know, I know, you want an opinion on how he’s doing. Ben, that son of yours is remarkably resilient. He has made remarkable progress in just a few weeks. Now there could be some setbacks and don’t expect that every day things will go well, but from what I’ve seen, he’s going to be fine. And he has done wonders already with another patient of mine. Grace is looking happier than I’ve seen her in years. They both need this friendship.”

“And if it goes any further?”

“I guess that is up to them, but I don’t see any problem with it. Now that the minister has stepped up and basically become their champion, I can’t see the gossips trying to do much with their story.”

Ben sipped his coffee and smiled over his cup at Paul. Paul was thinking that there was another patient of his right here who was benefiting from all of this as well. He had not seen Ben look so alive and hopeful for the past year. His depression over Hoss’ death had lifted. He knew that Ben would mourn his lost son every day for the rest of his life, but now Ben had realized he had living sons who needed him. Paul had his own smile as he savored the last sips of his coffee.

*****

Chapter 5

For the next few months, Adam gradually worked his way into ranch business. He did the lumber, timber, and mining contracts as well as negotiating rates with the freight companies and the railroads. When needed, he assisted with branding and herding cattle from pasture to pasture. For ranch work, he did better on horseback than on anything requiring him to stand for long periods. His leg wasn’t strong enough nor did it have the stamina needed for long stretches of physical exertion like that. Adam was grateful that meant he was no longer expected to help with fence repairs. He did ride fence lines, and both Ben and Joe were apprehensive when he said he could do the fence lines in the upper pastures which required staying out in line cabins.

“I won’t break being on my own for five days. I did travel from Pocatello to Virginia City on my own when I was in a lot worse shape than I am now.”

“It can just get lonely up there by yourself for a week.”

“I won’t be lonely. I’ll just be alone. There’s a big difference. Now let’s finish breakfast so I can pack up to go. I want to be back by Friday.”

Joe’s eyes lit up.

“Oh, and why do you need to be home by Friday? Any special reason?”

“Griff’s going to be gone to pick up that bull from Sacramento. Candy has plans with Ann and Jamie will be with his fiancée. You’ll be going to town, and it’s my turn to watch your back in the saloon.”

The men laughed, and Joe sputtered unable to come up with a quick retort for that. Even Ben had to smile. Conversation had gotten lighter and more convivial unless they were discussing ranch business when this group could be very serious. Candy and Adam had developed a respect for each other’s opinions and often bounced ideas off each other. Hop Sing brought in another plate of eggs and ham. He was smiling a lot lately too as he cleaned away mostly empty plates at every meal.

For five days, Adam rode fence lines and spent each night in a line shack. Despite what he said, he had been a bit apprehensive too about being alone. He had wondered how he would feel. He had no experience with which to compare. What he found though was that he enjoyed the freedom and the solitude. He was able to spend time thinking through some things. One thing frequently on his mind was his relationship with Grace. He wasn’t sure if he loved her. He wasn’t even sure how one knew if it was love and if that love would endure. He had been wrong so many times before. By Friday when he was riding home, he was determined that he would discuss this with her and knew she would be honest with him. One thing he was sure of was that he trusted her as much as he trusted his father and Joe.

When Adam rode in, Ben and Joe were happy to see him looking so relaxed. Joe told him to hurry up and bathe and dress because he was ready to go to town. Joe added that he had not found a lady yet but he was enjoying the search. This Friday though was his regular monthly poker game too. At the saloon, Joe convinced Adam to share a drink with him before he went to spend the evening with Grace. Lights were on in her store when they arrived in town so Adam stopped in to visit with her and told her where he would be for a drink before he came to see her for the evening. She smiled and said she would wait at the store for him. Adam joined Joe at the crowded saloon and they stood at the bar near the door and had whisky. Joe was expected and one of the men at his regular table called out to ask him when he would be sitting in. Adam froze in place.

“What’s wrong?”

Adam didn’t say anything because he was hearing voices from his past.

He won’t know anything. He’ll be drugged. No one will know where he is. We have nothing to worry about. This is pure profit minus what we paid Suzy.

“Who called to you?”

Adam said it with such vehemence that Joe was worried.

“What’s wrong?”

“That voice belongs to one of the men who stole six years of my life.”

“That’s Dave Donaldson, Barney Fuller’s son-in-law. You met his wife at the dance. She was the rude miserable woman with the big mouth.”

“I need to get Roy.”

Adam’s reaction had not gone unnoticed. One man had edged closer to the brothers to listen to them talk. He turned and nodded at the table. Adam turned to leave, and as he did so, Joe looked over to the table to see Donaldson drawing his pistol and pointing it at Adam’s back. Joe fired first as he pushed Adam to the side. It was over in seconds and Roy was there in a minute. He had been doing his rounds and heard the gunshots when he was already near the saloon. Donaldson was dead. Adam and Joe gave their statements and many in the saloon who had seen what happened backed them up. Most were surprised to hear Adam’s claim but Donaldson’s action backed Adam’s story.

Neither Joe nor Adam wanted to stay after what had happened. Adam walked out and saw Grace sitting on the bench outside her store. Terrified by the shots and Roy running to the saloon, she had not known what to do and had been frozen with fear. Seeing Adam walk out uninjured made her heart swell with joy and love. She had not been sure if she loved him but sitting there wondering if she would ever see him again had made it very clear to her. One thing she had discovered was that she found it hard to think of living a life without him. His patience with her and his gentleness as well as his consideration for her needs made her sure she would never meet a man as wonderful. He had been so understanding of her fears and reticence. She knew that there would never be another for her. So, she ran across the street and grabbed him in a big hug spinning him to the side and spinning her directly into the path of the bullet fired from the alley and meant for Adam.

Grace almost slipped to the ground before Adam caught her in his arms. He dropped to his knees holding her to him. Whimpering in pain, she grasped his shirt in her hand. After calling his name softly several times, her head fell back and her eyes closed. Adam looked up in anguish at Joe, Roy, and others crowded around.

“Adam, what happened?”

His voice choked with pain, Adam stated the basics and nothing more. “A shot from the alley. I didn’t see anything except a flash.”

After Joe helped Adam stand with Grace in his arms so he could carry her to Doctor Martin’s office, he and Roy ran toward the alley followed by some other men. Roy hurriedly organized a search pattern as Joe ran down the alley. No one was there. Following a hunch, Joe ran toward the Fuller offices. When he saw a man enter the offices as the building came into view, he ran there drawing his pistol on the way. Once he reached the area outside the door, he paused to look in the window and saw a man lighting a lamp. Waiting until the office was illuminated, Joe opened the door and surprised one of Fuller’s sons. Joe had seen him in the saloon standing at the bar near where he and Adam had stood.

“Raise your hands and put your hands on your head.”

“Ah, what’s wrong, Joe? Just tell me what’s wrong.”

“I’m taking your pistol to see if it’s been fired recently. Turn around.”

As Joe stepped forward, he pushed his pistol against the man’s back. Next, he reached and pulled the man’s pistol from his holster. It was slightly warm and had an acrid smell. The gun had been fired recently.

“Why did you do it, Trey? Why? Your father has all sorts of money. You never lacked for anything.”

“Yeah, I had everything except the right to make a decision, the right to do some things I wanted to do.”

“So, you thought kidnapping and murder were better? That was a bad idea.”

Whirling around, Trey tried to grab Joe’s pistol. They struggled briefly and the only result was that Trey caused the pistol to fire and he fell to the floor with a bullet in his abdomen and bleeding profusely. A short time later Roy and the other searchers got to the office.

“I’m dying, ain’t I? I am so sorry for what I did. I never meant for it to get so bad. At first, we just sent a few men to work up there. Then they started sending requests. Adam was our best sale. But then we had to get rid of Suzy before she talked. I quit it then, but once Adam came back, I was afraid every day that I would get found out. I’m so sorry that the lady got shot. I was so scared of hanging. Please, could you ask the minister to come here. I need to talk with him before I die.”

Trey’s voice had grown weaker and weaker as he had talked. He could barely be heard by the last sentences he said. He never said any more. Shortly after Reverend Wallace arrived, Trey died. His father got there shortly after his death, and Barney Fuller looked older and smaller than he ever had after he was told the whole story by Roy who had heard the young man’s confession.

Once the whole story had played out with Trey, Joe walked rapidly to Doctor Martin’s office. Inside he found Adam slumped in a chair with bloodstained hands and forearms. He looked up at Joe with such anguish and sorrow that Joe teared up just looking at him.

“How is she?”

“Joe, she said she loved me. I never got to tell her how I feel because she passed out again. How can I lose her just when I found her?”

“Has Paul given you any word on how she’s doing?”

“No, and there was so much blood. She was in such pain. It was supposed to be me. She may die because of me.”

“No! That is absolutely not true. Trey Fuller shot her trying to cover his crimes by murdering you. He’s the only one responsible, and he’s dead.”

Adam dropped his head into his hands. Joe walked over to the table and poured some water into the washbowl. He used some soap to prepare a cloth, which he used to wash Adam’s hands and arms. He handed Adam a towel then to dry his hands. Adam said a quiet thank you, and Joe put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. They waited together.

*****

Chapter 6

Doctor Martin walked out of the surgery after washing his hands and discarding his bloodied apron. After the surgery to repair the damage from the bullet, he had sat with Grace for almost an hour to be sure she didn’t die. Grace was still breathing weakly and her color was as pale as possible. She had lost so much blood that Paul wasn’t sure that her internal organs would continue to function. That was his greatest fear for his patient that her system would shut down even though the bullet’s damage was repaired and the bleeding was stopped. Adam looked at him with such hope and fear that Paul wished wholeheartedly that he had a better answer to give.

“She’s alive but extremely weak. The bullet went through but did quite a bit of damage. I sewed everything up and stopped the bleeding. She lost a lot of blood which is the greatest factor in whether she will survive. I don’t know yet whether she will make it or not. It’s in God’s hands because there’s nothing more I can do at this point.”

“I want to see her.”

“Go in, but remember she is fragile. I’m not sure if she’ll hear anything you say but talk softly so you don’t startle her. Don’t try to hold her or hug her.”

Immediately, Adam walked quietly into the surgery. Paul’s wife was standing by Grace who still lay on the surgery table. Paul thought she was too critical to move at this point so he would make sure someone was by her side at all times. Grace was covered with a sheet and a blanket but Adam could see where there was a large wad of bandage. Adam spoke softly to her.

“Grace, I’m here. I want you to know that I will be here for you no matter what.”

Paul’s wife moved away. The raw emotion in Adam’s voice and the tears trailing down his face had moved her nearly to tears as well. Adam took Grace’s hand in his. He remembered the first time that delicate hand had gently explored his chest. She had unbuttoned his shirt and then tentatively slid her hand inside. The more she touched him, the bolder she had gotten. Then she had looked up into his face with such longing, he had leaned down to kiss her, and he remembered her reaction. She had shown such raw fear that Adam had leaned back and away from her. He never wanted to see that reaction from her again.

From that point on Adam had never loomed over Grace even a little. He would pull her onto his lap and kiss her gently and hold her against him. He would sit beside her and they would lean toward one another and kiss and touch. But he never put his arms around her arms nor held her hands as he kissed her or touched her. He would lie down and let her lie against his side and lean on his chest to kiss and touch. He had held back too even though it was nearly impossible for him to do. He desired her so much, but in intimacy, she was a delicate flower that needed a tender touch. When they first renewed their friendship, she had seemed so strong and so bold that Adam had not realized that was a cover for the terrible hurt and the fears that lay beneath. They had lain together several times before actually completing the act of love. The first times she had been eager at first but memories had made her freeze at some point. Then Adam would hold her and reassure her that it was all right. She would feel guilty that she caused his physical reaction and then did nothing to help him satisfy it. He had told her he was patient and that he would wait for her to be ready. As their trust in each other had grown, her ability to accept his touching grew until there was no barrier between them.

But now Grace lay here helpless and so pale her skin seemed translucent in the lamp light. Adam whispered to her. He stroked her arm and kissed her hand. He could barely tell that she was breathing. He stood there for over an hour watching her and willing her to live. He said prayers and begged God for some time for them. They had both lost so much and suffered so much, he asked for some time for them to live joyfully.

The door opened and Adam heard a soft tread behind him and turned to find that Reverend Wallace was there. Reverend Wallace took Adam’s hand in his, and then he grasped Grace’s hand before saying a prayer for healing. He placed his hand on Grace’s forehead and whispered more prayers for healing and blessing. Then he clasped Adam in an embrace before leaving. Adam turned back to Grace and thought that she seemed to be a bit better. When Paul entered the room soon after, he too said that Grace seemed a bit better. She was still ghostly pale but her breathing was more noticeable as if she were making a greater effort to fight against the bullet’s violation of her body.

“If she gets a bit stronger, we’ll move her to a bed. I don’t want to do anything to disturb her ability to fight back so for now, I want her to stay right where she is. I can stay with her.”

“No, I’m staying by her side until she wakes. I want to be here for her no matter what.”

Paul moved a stool over for Adam to sit on. It would likely be a long wait. Paul sat down in the rocking chair that was there just for that purpose. He closed his eyes. He knew Adam would wake him if there was any change not that it was likely he could do any more to help Grace, but by being there, he was at least helping Adam by providing some peace of mind for the worried man.

“Grace, I love you. Come back to me, please.”

Adam repeated the same phrases or others just like them as often as he could. He hoped that at some point, Grace would hear his words and they would comfort her and strengthen her resolve. He hoped and he prayed. As dawn began to show through the window, Adam felt Graces hand tighten almost imperceptibly in his. He began to whisper again that he loved her, and she opened her eyes. In a voice almost too weak to be heard, Grace made a request.

“Kiss me. I heard your voice calling to me and now I need a kiss.”

Adam was hesitant to lean over her to kiss her afraid that he might provoke a fear response so he quickly kissed her lips and withdrew. She smiled and closed her eyes.

“Kiss me like you mean it.”

Adam leaned down and kissed her softly and sensuously. When he stood, he could see a small smile on her face. Then she opened her eyes to look at him again.

“Paul, she’s awake.”

Paul had awakened earlier but seeing the scene between the two, he had closed his eyes to give them privacy. Now he stood and walked over to the table.

“Well, you gave your man here quite a scare, young lady. I think we can get you into a bed now. Let me go out to the waiting room and see how many helpers I have.”

Paul walked back in with Joe, Ben, and Jamie rubbing sleep from their eyes. Paul showed them how by grabbing handfuls of the sheet under Grace they could lift her. Then walking sideways they could remove her from the table and reversing the procedure, they could place her on the bed without disturbing the blanket that covered her and putting any pressure on her wounds. Adam pulled a chair next to her bed to sit by her side and hold her hand once she was settled there.

“Son, you need to get some sleep.”

“I’ll sleep as soon as Grace is resting. I can sleep right here.”

“Listen to your father.” Grace’s voice was weak but had the ring of authority in it.

Adam smiled at his feisty gentle lady.

“All right, I’ll go get some sleep. But you first. I’ll go when you fall asleep.”

It didn’t take long. Ben offered to sit with Grace while Adam got some sleep. Paul offered a patient’s room down the hall because he had no one there at the time. Then Paul took his leave to have some breakfast and get a bit more sleep before he began his workday. Joe and Jamie headed to the hotel to get breakfast and reserve some rooms for that night. They had done this so many times for members of the family, and all assumed that Adam would be making Grace a part of the family very soon.

*****

Chapter 7

Within a day, Grace was able to be moved to her home. Her injury was healing well but she was exceptionally weak. She worried about her business. Staying in town, Adam helped her to deal with everything she needed. He arranged for a woman to work the counter at the dress store. There would be no alterations until Grace was able to get back to work, but items that were ready to be picked up or purchased as is could be bought and paid for. Adam went each night to the shop to close up and tally her ledgers for her. He hired a woman to be with Grace during the night, but he took care of her during the day. After a week, she was chafing under his protection but got no help when the doctor supported Adam completely in his efforts.

“Grace, you’re feeling better because you are getting the rest and the nutrition you need. If you try to work now in your condition, you could end up very ill. Just manage to tolerate this care for another week and you should be able to start resuming some of your work.”

“But Paul, I could do some sewing right here in bed.”

“No, my prescription is complete bed rest. I don’t believe you understand how close you came to dying. Your whole system was taxed nearly beyond endurance, and frankly I’m a little surprised you made it. Patients in that condition rarely do.”

Grace was recovered enough that Paul thought he could be honest with her and that his bluntness might shock her into listening to what he said.

“I almost died?”

“Grace, I waited an hour after surgery before I let Adam in to see you. I was afraid you might pass at any minute. Even for the hour after that, I couldn’t see how you were still breathing. Adam stood at your side holding your hand and praying you would live. Somehow, you must have wanted to come back so much that your will to live was able to overcome your grave injuries and severe loss of blood. Now I’m telling you this so that you understand why Adam is caring for you the way he is and why I endorse his every action. In a week, I’ll help you to get him to back away a little but for now he’s doing the right thing.”

“That was a shock but thank you for being honest with me. I always know I can trust you to tell me the truth. Honestly, Adam stood at my side for an hour?”

“Yes, and then he sat at your side all night talking to you and praying for you.”

“Can I sit at my bedside table for meals at least?”

“Yes, as long as you let Adam help you sit there and then to lie back down. I’ll even allow you to sit in your rocking chair there for a little each day if you follow that same rule.”

“Did you tell Adam anything else?”

“No, I thought that was news you need to deliver and it’s confidential as well. However, I’m still worried about what might happen. You’re so weak that any additional strain would be a real threat to your health.”

Grace knew the doctor was holding back a little on that one, but she was relieved that so far that nothing more had gone wrong. She had been waiting to tell Adam about it on the night she was shot. Now didn’t seem to be a good time to bring it up but very soon she needed to do that.

“How long do you think the risk is high?”

“I would think another week. If nothing happens this week and you gradually resume normal activities, I think perhaps it will be all right.”

Adam was pleased when the doctor left, and Grace was gracious in accepting his help. He brought her some lunch and helped her sit at her table. Then when she finished, she asked to sit in the rocking chair and he helped her to sit there. She rocked a little and he saw her eyelids drooping. As she slipped into a nap, he laid a blanket over her before removing her lunch tray. When he came back, she was sound asleep so he lay down on her bed and took a nap too. When the lady who was to stay with Grace for the night arrived she found them like that. She walked back to the parlor and left a note. Then she hurried to her friend’s house to tell her tale. By the next morning, it would be all over town.

The slamming of the front door woke Adam. He woke Grace and got her back in her bed. He wondered who had been at the front door. When he went to look he found the note in which the woman had given her notice. Well she had not been the nicest person anyway, and now that Grace was feeling somewhat better, he thought she could stay by herself for an hour while he went to close up her shop. He came back to her house and planned to spend the night. He made sure Grace had something to eat and drink, and then helped her with her basic needs as much as she would let him. By the time she had washed and changed into a clean gown, she was exhausted. Paul’s words hit home then. She realized there was little she could do as weak as she was. Adam helped her settle into the bed and pulled the blanket up to cover her.

“Adam, sleep in the guest room. I don’t want you all stiff in the morning because you tried to sleep in the rocking chair again.”

“I’ll leave a lamp burning low in here and both bedroom doors open. If you need something, you call me.”

Grace slept through the night. Adam was up a couple of times just to check that she was all right. The next morning, he was up and making coffee in the kitchen when he heard a knock on the door. Roy was there which surprised Adam who invited him in for coffee. Adam was dressed but in his stocking feet. Roy asked where he slept and he answered that he had slept in the guest bedroom.

“I was afraid of that. There’s some nasty stuff going ’round about you and Grace. There’s a story that you were caught in her bed last evening and your night nurse quit because of it. Then they’re sayin’ you spent the night with her. Unfortunately you hired one of Bertha Donaldson’s friends as Grace’s night nurse. The two of them been spreading those stories around.”

“So that’s what happened to our night nurse. Roy, I was in Grace’s bed but she wasn’t in it. She fell asleep in the rocking chair so I lay down on her bed to take a nap. If I had slept in the chair and she slept in the bed, there wouldn’t have been anything to say. And I couldn’t leave her alone last night so that was a set-up. I guess Bertha want to hurt Grace like that to get at me and my family.”

“Yes, I’m sure Bertha was waiting for information from a situation just like that to make trouble since Joe shot her husband and her brother.”

“But why go after Grace? She didn’t do anything. Doesn’t she have any decency at all to go after her when she’s hurt like this and especially after all she’s been through.”

“No, she’s completely innocent, but she’s your friend and for some reason, Bertha really doesn’t like you at all.”

“I don’t know the woman, but I got that impression too at the spring social dance. I don’t understand it either. It makes no sense to me. Roy, there’s something going on here that is more than what happened to David and Trey.”

“I think you’re right about that. I’m gonna keep my ears open today and nose around some too to see ifn I kin come up with something. It’s Saturday, and there’ll be lots of people out and about. You stay here and take care of your lady.”

After Adam saw Roy out, he went to see if Grace was awake. She was, so he helped her with her morning needs. She had been horribly embarrassed the first time he had helped but was getting more used to it as the days of the week passed. She still would have preferred not to have his help but knew she needed it. He helped her bathe by washing her back. She teased Adam by saying he could wash her all over, but he groaned and left the room. She decided she really shouldn’t be teasing him like that and apologized when he came back to help her settle in the bed. He gave her that long suffering look of his, and she just had to smile which of course didn’t make her apology seem sincere so he teased her about that. They spent the rest of the morning talking and just relaxing. Adam read some of a novel Grace had gotten just before she was shot. He read some of it every day.

“My goodness, Adam, that voice of yours could talk the devil into going to divinity school.”

“Well thank you, sweetheart. Glad to be appreciated for my capabilities.”

“There are a few other of your capabilities I would like to enjoy.”

“Please, don’t do that. It’s been difficult enough without you teasing me about it.”

With a sigh, Adam went back to reading to take his mind off other things. Luckily Jules Verne was a good choice for that. Just before noon, there was another knock at the door. Adam went to answer it expecting Roy but found it was his father and Joe. They came bearing gifts of Hop Sing’s cooking. Adam said that Grace wasn’t strong enough yet to walk to the dining room and sit there for dinner. She sat in a padded chair with arms at her bedside table to eat so they would have to have lunch in there if they wanted to visit with her. Joe and Adam carried in a small table from the parlor and three chairs so they could have lunch together. Adam had told Grace about the story circulating about them. He didn’t want her shocked if someone else visited and brought it up.

“Well, I have been wondering about that. That son of Barney’s couldn’t find his way out of a flour sack if you gave him a map. In all the years Barney and I competed, I never saw Trey do a single thing without being told. When it became known that he was part of this white slave thing, I wondered right away who was giving him the orders. Barney is not a nice person and would do anything he could get away with, but outright criminal activity was never something I suspected him of doing. Immoral, unethical, and underhanded would be more his style.”

“Pa, that’s not much of a standard to teach your children. You always taught Joe and me that there was a higher law we ought to be paying attention to all the time.”

“Yeah, and our backsides can swear to the fact that you enforced that too. You know I played poker with David. Now he was a nice enough guy to play poker with, but I couldn’t see being with him for any other reason. The man was pretty dull. And he had this extra income from what they were doing but still lost his business in Sacramento. It doesn’t seem like he could have been the brains of the outfit either.”

“What about Bertha?”

All three men looked at Grace. She looked back and shook her head. Three smart men and not one of them had thought to suspect a woman. You would think with their experiences with some of the conniving women they had had to deal with, they would have had a more open mind about the possibilities. At least they were looking like they were seriously considering the idea.

“None of us know Bertha and what she’s capable of managing. She was gone from here before we ever had a chance to get to know her. Joe’s too young to really know her at all. He was probably about seven years old when she got married and left.”

“How old is Bertha?”

“A little older than me. I’m not actually sure but probably somewhere in her early to mid-forties.”

All four looked thoughtful. This was a mystery that needed solving. Bertha was a likely suspect, but they knew that it could be someone else too.

*****

Chapter 8

Shortly after lunch, Roy came to Grace’s home again. He had been checking around and was finding out all sorts of interesting information. Bertha, it seemed, had been spending a lot of time with her cousin, Frank Fuller, who worked for her father and had been promoted to a status much higher than her brother. Apparently, she had been pushed into the marriage with Donaldson after being caught in a compromising situation with her cousin.

“Well, now, I got people watching the both of them. They’ll be telling me if they see any suspicious activity. Got to say, wouldn’t surprise me none of the two of them was in cahoots and set this whole thing up. Never did see two people more interested in themselves. That Frank is a mean tough son of a gun too. He’d chew off his own leg if it was caught in a trap.”

“We know him. He was my age. He and some of the other toughs used to band together to pick on the younger kids. Hoss was someone they liked to target. Hoss and I had to fight against those boys fairly often and it continued into adulthood. Those men all work for Fuller now. Last fight we had was before I was taken, but we tossed those boys around the saloon pretty hard.”

“Adam, I remember that fight and a few before that. In that last one, Hoss cleaned the bar off by sliding one of them down it, and now I remember too that you broke a table with Frank Fuller. He can’t think anything good about you.”

Adam dropped his head into his hand and massaged his forehead. Grace looked at him with worry.

“Adam, honey, are you all right?”

Looking directly at Grace, Adam didn’t know what to say at first. His heart rate had risen dramatically. He was frowning but then gave her a sardonic little grin. He had remembered more and told both of them.

“Now I know. Frank was there. I knew that the other voice I heard was familiar but couldn’t place it until now. I was remembering a voice filled with anger and trying to match it to everyday voices I hear now. But that was Frank. There was a woman there too, but I don’t think she talked. She put a cloth over my mouth, and that’s the last I remember of the alley. The next time I was in a freight wagon being very sick and then someone put a cloth over my mouth again.”

“Are you sure, Adam? Cause ifn you are, I could go arrest that Frank. Once he’s locked away, I could put some pressure on that crew of his. I bet at least one of them would talk to get leniency.”

“I’m sure enough to swear to it in a court of law.”

“Sheriff Coffee, what about Bertha?”

“Grace, I ain’t got nothing to arrest her on except suspicion. I need something and Adam can’t testify to her being the woman helping them kidnappers. We all know it was probably her but until I got some proof, I can’t do anything about it.”

Roy left to find Clem so the two of them could go arrest Frank Fuller. Ben and Joe took turns watching out the front window and when they saw Roy and Clem marching Frank toward the jail, they left to go there too. Adam sat with Grace and the two of them were quiet for a while. There was a lot to think about and not all of it had to do with the Fullers and what they may have been up to. Adam excused himself and told Grace he would be right back. He went down the hallway to the guest bedroom and retrieved a small box from his saddlebags. He opened it and smiled. He hoped it was the right time, but again he had been wrong about that before, so with his heart pounding, he went to talk with Grace.

Grace saw Adam’s look when he came back to her bedroom and wondered what had him worried so much suddenly.

“Nothing else has happened, has it?”

“No, but I hope something will happen. Grace, I love you. I love your laugh, your strength, your gentle, kind soul. I love everything about you.”

Adam knelt on one knee before her.

“I’ve been carrying this around with me for over a week. Please accept this ring and marry me?”

Adam looked at her with such longing and concern, Grace reached out and put a hand on either side of his face before answering.

“Adam, I love you too. More than I ever thought I could. I worry though if you will still have me after I tell you some things.”

Adam looked concerned and was nervous but was still somewhat hopeful after what she had said.

“Grace, nothing you say could change my mind. We both have a history, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I love you, and if you’ll have me, we can spend the rest of our lives together.”

“Adam, I do love you so but when I said you and I could be together because I thought because of all those years married and then what happened to me, that I was barren. But Adam, I’m not. I wasn’t trying to trap you into a marriage. I really didn’t know it could happen.”

Grace watched all the emotions and thoughts play over Adam’s features: worry, confusion, and most gratifying to her was the joy that suddenly transformed him. He looked at her and reached out to touch her cheek with one hand and grasped her other hand in his.

“Really? We’re going to have a baby? I’m going to be a father?”

“You’re happy? I was so worried that you would be so angry with me. I was going to tell you the night I got shot. Then I needed to get strong enough to tell you. I was going to tell you soon. Oh, but you are happy, aren’t you?”

“Grace, I had given up hope that could ever happen for me. I was so happy to be able to love again. If we can have a baby, that will make life even better. But did being hurt so badly hurt the baby?”

“Paul isn’t sure. He thought if I could get through this next week with no problems, then the baby will be fine. Adam I was going to tell you after this week was over, but you asked me to marry you, and I had to be honest with you.”

“You shouldn’t have to suffer this worry by yourself. I’ll be here with you. However, I think I know your answer but you haven’t given me a final answer to my proposal yet.

“Yes, Adam, yes. I will marry you and be your wife, and we shall live a long and happy life together.”

“And hopefully raising our child together.”

Grace could hear the worry in his voice. She sighed. He would be even more protective of her now. Soon they would have their first fight she supposed.

“Adam, we have a lot to talk about now.”

Time flew as they talked of when they would marry, where they would live, if Grace would keep her shop, and how they would tell his family.

“I think my family already knows. This will just confirm what they suspect. They were probably wondering what was taking me so long.”

Adam and Grace had to laugh at that. Then they heard the front door open and wondered if Ben and Joe were back, but it was odd that they had not knocked. Adam went to see who was there and the next thing that Grace saw was Adam backing into the bedroom with his hands raised to each side.

*****

Chapter 9

In Roy’s office, there was a spirited discussion going on about how guilty Barney Fuller might be in this whole conspiracy. Joe and Clem argued that he had to be in on it while Ben who had competed with him for so long on contracts said he couldn’t believe he would go that far. Roy, who had a vast understanding of the human character and its weaknesses, kept an open mind and told Clem to have someone watch Barney as they were watching Bertha. Frank Fuller wasn’t saying anything but had asked to have an attorney there as soon as possible.

As the three men sat and discussed the case and what some men would do out of greed which didn’t shock them because in the silver mining, there had been innumerable tales of awful things done to gain wealth, Clem burst back into the office.

“Bertha was just seen going into Grace’s home. No one has seen Barney in a while but said he was wearing a pistol this morning.”

“That’s not good. In all the time I’ve been sheriff here I rarely saw him going about armed. He always had men with him who were but not Barney.”

The four men had rushed from the office and headed to Grace’s house which luckily wasn’t far away. The door stood open when they got there, and they walked carefully and quietly up the steps to the porch but rushed to Grace’s bedroom when they heard a thunderous shot. When they got to the bedroom, Barney was standing just outside the door with a smoking pistol in his hand and acrid smoke swirling around him.

“Drop that gun, Barney. Drop it now!”

Barney started to turn toward them, and Joe was going to fire, but Roy brushed his arm upward where his bullet buried itself in the ceiling. Barney was not threatening them. He looked like he was dazed. Roy stepped forward and took the gun from his hand. He pushed him down the hallway into Clem’s custody.

“Clem, just hold him there until we see what we got here.”

Roy stepped forward into the doorway to see a body and a pool of blood around it. On the bed, Adam sat with his arm around Grace who was sobbing. Then Ben was pushing him forward and he had to step into the room. Ben issued a loud sigh of relief to see Adam safe and Grace in his arms.

“Adam, what happened here?”

“Bertha came in the house with a pistol in her hand. She made me raise my hands and walk backwards into here. She said that I had taken everything away from her. She wished I had died in that camp, but she planned to rectify that mistake. First, she said she would take everything away from me. She said she was listening outside and had heard we were going to be married and have a baby, so she was going to shoot Grace and then me. She said taking David and Trey had been disappointing losses, but taking Frank was unforgivable.”

“But what happened to her?”

“Barney came in and told her that she couldn’t do this. That it was evil. She said some pretty vile things to her father then. She turned sideways to him so I was going to move forward to try to get her gun, but she turned back to me too fast. She said enough talk, and it was time to do what she had come to do. Barney pulled his pistol on her yelling at her not to do it, and she turned her pistol toward him. They fired at the same time. She missed. Then you were here.”

“Adam, I’m gonna write down what ya said and then bring it back here for you to sign. I’ll have to talk to Barney too and get his statement, but sadly it all looks pretty cut and dried here.”

Ben asked Joe to go get the doctor for Grace. Adam was holding her yet and her sobs had diminished to a few whimpers.

“Adam, I can’t stay here.”
“I’ll carry you into the other bedroom.”

“No, I can’t stay in this house. I have to leave.”

Ben watched as Adam whispered into Grace’s ear and she nodded her head in agreement several times. Then Adam asked Ben if he would ask Reverend Wallace to please come to the house. Ben agreed and left as Adam lifted Grace in his arms and carefully walked to the parlor where he sat in a stuffed chair with Grace still in his arms. She looked so much younger and vulnerable, Ben’s heart broke for her.

When Doctor Martin got there, he went into the parlor to examine Grace. He found her to be in good health and the baby

was still there. He said he still couldn’t guarantee the pregnancy would continue, but he was hopeful after her surviving two crises without a miscarriage so far. Reverend Wallace arrived with Ben and met Joe who was waiting on the porch. The undertaker had been there and removed Bertha’s body and said he would send some people to clean up if they would be paid. Joe assured him that they would. When the minister got inside, Adam and Grace asked to speak with him privately, but they asked the others to stay. Then after about fifteen minutes, they called them into the parlor, and the minister performed a wedding. A simple ceremony, it was all that Ben had hoped to see for his son though as Adam’s joy was contagious. The wedding wasn’t to be announced until Grace was feeling stronger. Ben and the others congratulated the couple.

For now, if the carriage was driven slowly and carefully, Doctor Martin agreed Grace could go to the Ponderosa to finish her recuperation. Ben said he would go rent a carriage so they could leave soon. Adam asked Joe to stay with Grace so he could go to her room and pack things for her. Within an hour, they were headed out to the ranch. Adam carried Grace to the carriage and with Joe’s help, got her into the back seat. He climbed in beside her just as they heard Roy call to him. They waited and Roy handed Adam a sheet to read. He read it over, nodded, and signed it when Roy handed him a pencil.

“That about wraps it up, I guess. Frank is distraught now that he heard Bertha is dead. He’s telling everything and naming names. I got Clem headed over to Carson City right now with names of people to be arrested. The judge there will issue the orders.”

“Anyone else here?”

“No, Adam, I’m glad to say all the perpetrators are accounted for here.”

“Barney Fuller?”

“No, Ben, you were right. He had nothing to do with it. He’s a broken man though, I can tell you. Keeps saying it was his fault. Looks like a shadow of himself all slumped in a chair in my office. Don’t rightly know what he’s gonna do now.”

It was a somber group who left Virginia City that afternoon. So often they had seen what greed and avarice could do to people, to families, and to friendships, and that horrible drama had played out again. Finally, it was Grace who broke the mood.

“I just got married, but I feel like I’m at a funeral. Would someone please say something nice or good please.”

“So, you and Adam are having a baby.”

If Adam could have jumped from the wagon to slap his brother, he would have. Joe just smirked and looked at Ben who was chuckling. Adam looked back to Grace who was smiling at him.

“That is a good thing, isn’t it? He just did what I asked.”

Adam shook his head. She was going to fit right in with his family.

“Yes, Joe, we’re having a baby. In about …”

“Seven and a half months.”

In all of the talking that Adam and Grace had done, he had not asked that question. He knew they had more talking to do but now had a lot of time to do it.

“When do the two of you plan to announce that you’re married?

“Pa, we’ll do it in church when Grace is strong enough to attend. For now, just family will know. So, we can tell Jamie and Hop Sing. Candy too if you want.”

Grace was surprised to hear Hop Sing included. She had not known how close Adam felt to the cook, and by the reactions of the others to including Hop Sing in the family group, she knew they felt the same way. Both Joe and Ben were happy that Adam included Candy.

The questions about where they would live, and if Grace would keep her shop led to some lively discussion but no resolution because Adam and Grace had not yet decided either of those questions and they were related. If they lived on the ranch, it would be difficult for Grace to keep her shop. If they decided to keep the shop, then Adam would need to make a home in or close to Virginia City. Ben was the one who suggested an alternative they had not considered until then. Someone could be hired to run the shop and do the fittings. Grace could do the needlework while living on the ranch. She and Adam could go to the shop once or twice a week to do the records, conclude any business, make payments, and pick up any work that needed to be done. Grace immediately liked that scenario, and she could see the signs that Adam was thinking about it. She would be able to do what she loved, live with her husband on the ranch he loved, and care for her child.

Once they reached the ranch, Joe went inside to tell Hop Sing that Grace was now married to Adam although it was a secret for just the family to know and that she would be living with them. Hop Sing met the couple at the door as Adam carried Grace into the house and over to the settee.

“Do you want to be in my room, or our room, upstairs or would you like to be in the guest room down here?”

“Whither thou goest, I will go.”

“Now or later?”

“Later, I think. I can rest here and admire the place. I can visit and have dinner. After that I think I’ll be ready to go to our room.”

“I’ll put your things up there then. I’ll get Joe to help me put another dresser in there. We can get more of your things from town tomorrow if you wish. I mainly packed clothing, but I did take the pictures from your bedside table.”

“Thank you, Adam. That’s wonderful.”

Hop Sing was by her side then with a plate of cookies and some milk. Adam smiled. Someone must have told him about the baby because he had put some red frosting on each cookie. Undoubtedly there would be eggs, noodles, and probably red frosting on a cake or cookies for dinner. Hop Sing promised Grace that he would make a fine wedding dinner for them to celebrate that evening with the family.

Grace was wrong. She didn’t make it all the way through dinner. She was so tired she needed to lie down and even sitting was getting to be too much of a strain. Adam noticed that she was leaning on his arm prompting him to say goodnight for both of them, and despite a few mild protestations from Grace, he lifted her in his arms and carried her up the stairs. His leg was starting to hurt with all the exertion, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. Once in the bedroom upstairs, he lay Grace on the bed and pulled open a drawer to get out a gown for her.

“Don’t bother with a gown.”

Adam looked back at her with a frown. Did she intend to sleep in her dress?

“It’s my wedding night. I will spend it in the arms of my husband.”

“Sweetheart, Doctor Martin said we had to be careful so as not to do anything to cause you to miscarry. I can wait.”

“I can’t. We can do other things. But this is my wedding night and something darn well better happen so I remember it fondly.”

Adam smiled at his wife and then chuckled. She was this amazing amalgam of gentleness, vulnerability, and sweetness mixed with steely resolve, creative intelligence, wit, and wanton passion. He sat down next to her on the bed and kissed her as he began to help her remove her dress. She unbuttoned his shirt at the same time. She pushed her tongue into his mouth to let him know she wanted more. He kissed and touched as she reciprocated and found that there were in fact many fascinating things they could do with passion and gentleness. Grace fell asleep in his embrace and with the lamp still burning, Adam looked down at her face in repose.

“I waited so long for my one true love, Grace Cartwright. You were worth the wait. I love you and I always will.”

Grace smiled at him even though her eyes remained closed, and he realized she was not asleep but merely looked it. He would not have changed a word if he had known she could hear them. She kissed his chest and snuggled into him. After a few minutes he felt her regular breaths against his chest and felt her relax into his arms. He watched her for quite a while until his eyelids fluttered closed, and he fell into the most relaxed sleep he could ever remember.

*****

Chapter 10

“I speak today of talebearers, gossipers, and scandal-mongers. There are those who have privileged information about people but reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it. They have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves over others as some kind of grand sources of knowledge. They spread stories of the character faults and life failings of others, and relish in revealing embarrassing and shameful details of the private lives of their friends and neighbors. Even if there is no intent to harm, it is still wrong in the eyes of God. Instead God’s wrath shall be extended to those who reveal their own sinfulness and disregard of God’s laws by ‘saying things they ought not to’ Romans 1:29-32. Such people have turned away from God’s instruction, from his guidance, and from his Word. They distort, they betray, and they cause hurt and hardship. They belittle others, and in the process, belittle themselves. ‘A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret’ Proverbs 11:12-13. We cannot trust, we cannot love, if all we sow are seeds of anger and sadness. In the Bible, it tells us that ‘a perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends’ Proverbs 16:28. Those who do this do nothing but cause trouble, bitterness, and pain. It is sad in God’s eyes that some people look for opportunities to destroy others and derive enjoyment from doing so. ‘A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul’ Proverbs 18:7-8. We must refrain from this sinful talk and realize that our words go directly to God. Would you have him hear those things you gossip about?” [ ideas derived from Got ]

The congregation was silent when he finished. He had continued for nearly an hour and ended with Paul’s treatise on gossipers. Then the minister announced that Adam and Grace would renew their vows in front of family and friends for they had been married by him some time before with only a few present. No one would question Reverend Wallace on the veracity of his statement nor would they dare question him now on when he had performed that marriage.

Grace stood at Adam’s side as they said their vows again this time in front of friends and neighbors as well. Grace was still pale but the joy she exuded made her as gorgeous as a porcelain doll with her brown hair framing her face. Adam never took his eyes from Grace’s brown eyes throughout. The women in the congregation longed for their men to look at them that way, and many a daydream started where the dreamer was the recipient of that look of love and longing that Grace was receiving from the dark handsome cowboy. Adam kissed his bride when the minister announced they were husband and wife ‘still’ which got a chuckle from the crowd. Then Ben announced that there were refreshments outside and that there would be music as well for the next few hours. Hop Sing and his cousins had prepared a feast and set it on tables while the congregation sat for the service and then witnessed the vows of Adam and Grace. Adam and Grace received the members of the congregation at the door with the minister and Ben on either side of them.

“Adam, I may have to start giving you some of my salary.”

“Why is that, Reverend?”

“So many sermons lately have been the direct result of talking with you. I fear what will happen if I need the subject of a sermon, and you are not available.”

“Sadly, our community is likely to offer many more ideas of which people need to be reminded.”

“I fear that you are correct. I do hope though that you will still find time to come visit and talk with me. I so enjoy our conversations.”

“I enjoy them as well. I will certainly be along now and then.”

Reverend Wallace noted how much Adam had changed since he had first met him. He had been so unsure of himself in so many ways and hurting for so many reasons. Now he was a confident man with a lovely wife and a child on the way. He had found his place again and liked it even better than what he had had before except for the loss of his brother Hoss which continued to haunt him. That pain might never leave him, but now he had joy to offset the sorrow. As the afternoon waned, Adam took his leave of his friends for he wanted to get Grace home before she was exhausted. He knew this was a strain for her and wanted to soften the impact by getting her home and resting soon.

On Monday morning, Adam answered the door to find a surprise visitor. Barney Fuller was there. He had been under the doctor’s care after he had been forced to shoot his daughter. His clothes hung on him. Adam invited him in worried and wondering why he was there.

“You have to know how sorry I am about what my son did, and what my daughter tried to do. You know I used to laugh when I saw Ben riding herd on you boys and never letting you have your way. My children were free to do as they wished as I did everything I could to become wealthy. Now I see what I did, and how my greed and avarice made my children morally corrupt. There is nothing I can do to make up for what happened. I’m going to go live with my brother in California. His wife died and he has some health issues. I can do some good there.”

“Barney, I am sorry for your losses. If there is anything I can do to help, I will if I can.”

“Well, there is. I have teams of draft horses, wagons, lumber and timber contracts, and a load of other stuff I can’t take with me. It’s listed on this manifest. If you’d like to make an offer, I’ll sell it all to you.”

Barney handed a large envelope to Adam who pulled out a long sheet of items. He looked it over.

“Barney, we couldn’t make a very good offer on this much material. Lots of these things would be backups and only be put into storage. You could get a lot more money selling each thing separately.”

“Yes, I know that, but that would take a lot of time and effort. Frankly, it’s not worth it to me any more.”

“I’ll have an offer ready for you tomorrow morning if that is all right? I’ll talk this over with my family tonight. Where should I bring the offer?”

“How about if we meet at the bank about the time it opens?”

“That would be fine. I’ll see you then.”

“Thank you, Adam. I don’t think I could have been as gracious if I was in your place. Thank you for your understanding.”

Ben and Joe rode into the yard as Barney was leaving which caused them to hurry into the house.

“What was Barney Fuller doing here? Is everyone all right?”

“Pa, everything’s fine. He made an offer to sell out to us. Here’s the sheet of what he wants to sell.”

“You’re not seriously considering this, are you?”

“Pa, he didn’t do anything except be a poor father. He knows that and has already paid dearly for it. We will have use for everything on that list eventually, and some would benefit us right away. I told him we would have an offer ready by tomorrow morning. He wants to sell it all in one deal. I told him we would have to make a low offer, and it didn’t seem to bother him.”

“Well, you and Jamie work it out then. Joe and I can look it over when you’re done. If we’re all in agreement, then you can make the offer.”

Once Jamie got a look at the list and compared it to the list of items they were preparing for capital outlays over the next five years, he had to agree with Adam that it was a good idea. They would not use everything right away but there were certainly things that were needed. They based their offer on a good price for things they could use immediately, and low offers for items that would be stored until needed. The overall outlay was large but within their limits. If there was a crisis in the next year though, they would be strapped for cash.

Joe suggested paying half down and paying the rest like a loan with payments every three months until the balance was paid. Barney would not have need for all the money immediately, and with interest, he would get a greater sum in the long run. They agreed to make that their offer. The terms were drawn up and Adam delivered them the next morning. It was actually a better offer than Barney had expected. It was certainly more than he would have paid in a similar circumstance. He realized how different he was than these Cartwrights and why his life had turned out so much worse than theirs. Adam shook his hand and walked out of the bank after making arrangements for Barney to be paid.

Riding back to the Ponderosa, Adam reflected on all that had happened. With a smile, he started singing. Grace heard his singing as he neared the ranch house and stood to greet him. After a kiss, she walked with him into the stable and helped him groom Cloud Dancer after he unsaddled the horse. Then they went to the porch where as if by magic, Hop Sing appeared with coffee and doughnuts. Adam sat in a chair he pulled next to the one Grace had sat in. He held her hand as they sipped coffee and ate fresh hot doughnuts. They talked of the deal he had made, of the future of her shop, of the home they hoped to build, and many other things as they prepared to live a joyful life together.

*****

 

Torn

Chapter 1

“I wish he’d never come back.”

“Now, Joe, you know you say that all the time and you don’t mean it. Ya gotta stop saying that though. Just because you’re mad, don’t mean ya gotta say things that would hurt our older brother if he heard them, and he’s heard them plenty, I’m afraid.”

“Well, what should I say when I don’t want him around. He just wants to boss me and interfere in what I’m doing all the time. He doesn’t accept that I’m a man now and can make up my own mind about things.”

“Joe, you know in your heart he was right about that horse. Ya, maybe one more ride and you woulda had him, but maybe you woulda ended up tossed into the fence too. You’re tired, that horse is tired, and both of ya was upset. Adam just wanted you to wait and walk him some to calm him down. That’s just what he’s doing with that horse now. Now ifn you was to go back there in a calmer state, mebbe Adam would let ya have one more ride today. But if you plan to go back there like ya is now, don’t bother.”

“Ya, cause Adam’s always right and wouldn’t let me ride him. Well I don’t need his help. I can handle things on my own. I’m gonna ask Pa if he’ll put me in charge of the horses, so Adam can go do all those big important things he’s always gotta do when there’s real work to be done.”

“Now, that ain’t fair, Joe. Adam pulls his weight around here just like everyone else.”

“Ya, when he ain’t in Sacramento or San Francisco, or sitting in some bank or lawyer’s office, or behind Pa’s desk.”

Adam was walking up to the stable when he heard those voices. He had heard some version of this argument so many times that he was thinking he could write the dialogue for them if they got stuck. Instead of going in and escalating the situation, he walked to the house. His father would not likely be angry with him at least and wouldn’t yell, except when he got inside, that is exactly what happened.

“We lost both those lumber bids you submitted yesterday. How could you have done an equally bad job on both?” Ben stood at his desk obviously fuming with both letters in his hand.

“Pa, I submitted bids based on our expenses and because of the delivery deadlines with penalties built in, those bids had to be high enough to cover any problems we might encounter as well as hiring and training more men. There’ll be other bids we can make. It’s not like we needed those two that much.”

“Oh, we don’t, huh? How exactly are we going to pay for that new breeding stock then?”

“Pa, we can wait till August for that stock. Those cows are hardy and will withstand the winter, and we’ll still have some of their calves in the spring to build up the herd.”

“I know that’s what you’ve been telling me, but I wanted those cows here fattening up on our grass long before then. Did you lose those contracts on purpose so you could have your way?”

Adam’s temper had been rising especially after the altercation with Joe earlier had put him on edge, and that last statement was too much. He turned and walked out before he said things that would be hard to take back. He heard his father calling after him and saying he was sorry, but at the moment he needed to get away.

Adam was striding toward the stable when Joe walked out. He hardly acknowledged Joe who passed him without a word but turned back in wonder. Joe had been sure Adam would say something to him. Joe shrugged and continued on into the house to make his request of his father. His temper had cooled and he was prepared to make a logical argument for being put in charge of the horses. Unfortunately for Joe, Ben was in no mood to listen to a logical argument especially one that would alter Adam’s position on the ranch. He couldn’t do that after the things he had just said, nor could he find it in himself to explain to Joe truly why he said no. He fell back into the old argument that Adam had always been in charge of the horses and breaking them. Joe notched up another reason to resent his oldest brother.

In the stable, Adam grabbed his tack to saddle up Sport. Hoss was sitting on a bale of hay watching him.

What are you so all-fired mad about now?”

Hoss, I just need to get away for a bit. I’ll take a ride to cool down.”

Now, Adam, you didn’t get into it with Joe again, didja? I just had him cooled down a mite so I hope you didn’t go set him off again. You gotta learn how to talk with him, you know. Not always swing your weight around. It ain’t always about you being right.”

Do you think it would really matter? He just doesn’t want me to tell him anything. He doesn’t feel he needs me around here at all. After today, it doesn’t feel like anyone does.”

Adam said the last part mostly to himself. Hoss asked him what he said, and he replied it was nothing. Hoss was irritated with that, stood, and walked out.

Sport, I promise I will take it easy on you on this ride. I need at least one who is happy to see me around.”

Dinner that evening was somber. No one seemed to want to make a statement that might rile up the others and start an argument. Hop Sing served the food without his usual banter and fired some glares at Ben who seemed oblivious to them. Hoss finally asked why Hop Sing was mad at Ben who proclaimed he had no idea why. Hop Sing had heard the argument that afternoon and was upset at what Ben had said to Adam. He knew that such words caused wounds and an apology did not heal them. There had been too much of that kind of talk lately and he feared what the long term effect would be. Just the day before, Joseph had made a remark about how Adam couldn’t keep a woman even when he was engaged to her. That conversation had been lighthearted until then but there was no going back when such words were used to strike out.

After dinner, Adam picked up the book he had been reading and headed to his room. Hoss sat and stared at the fire after adding some logs to it. Joe picked up his book to read but anyone could see he wasn’t actually reading it. Ben sat with the newspaper that had come with the letters that had so disappointed him. No one wanted to talk and everyone needed to talk. Hoss finally couldn’t stand the stress and started.

“Pa, what we gonna do about all this? Everyone’s snapping at each other. It ain’t a happy place to live, let me tell ya.”

“I know. I snapped at Adam earlier and now he doesn’t even want to be in the same room with me.” Ben was feeling very guilty about what he had said. He had slipped into that trap that Joe often was caught in. He had let his temper get out of hand and said things he didn’t mean just to cause hurt because he was feeling hurt.

Sitting in the red leather chair with his head leaning back, Hoss was the picture of misery as he recalled how he had laid into Joe first and then into Adam. No wonder it was so depressing around here.

Leaning back against the armrest of the settee, Joe was having similar thoughts. He had overreacted he knew when Adam said he should either take a break or make that last ride the final one for the day. He was so upset with that darn stubborn horse that he had struck out in his anger. As usual, Joe’s temper burned very hotly and then dissipated quickly. He didn’t hold a grudge. What he did have was guilt. He had lashed out at Adam and then argued with Hoss.

Ben had a few thoughts on how to defuse the situation and started laying them out.

“Joe, I will let you take charge of the current contract with the Army. There are twenty-one horses that need to be ready by the end of the month. There’s been good progress so that should not be a problem. Hoss, we need someone to take charge of moving the herds from the lower to the upper pastures. I want you to do that. You’ll probably have to hire a few more men for the summer. Could you do that tomorrow?”

Hoss was pleased with his assignment but worried about the effect of these changes.

“Pa, I can do it, but ain’t this gonna upset Adam? He’s been in charge of all that?”

“Well, in the morning after I apologize again for the things I said, I want to get him to take over the timber and lumber operations. We have too many cooks for everything we’re doing. If we have one in charge of each part, that should help with reducing the friction. I want both of you to be more careful in what you say to each other too, especially you, Joseph. That remark yesterday about Laura was cruel.”

Joe hung his head. He was elated about the horses, but he knew his father was right about the other thing, and he felt ashamed for what he had said. He was trying to hurt Adam when he said it so he had no excuse either. He planned to make an apology for everything in the morning. He had lost track of how many times he had had to say he was sorry to his oldest brother and resolved to try to do better so he wouldn’t have to do it so often.

There were other issues that concerned Hoss though.

“Pa, what about things like cattle drives, fence mending, and branding and such?”

“The cattle drives can continue as they have because each of you has a specific job on the trail. As for the other work, we’ll need to sit down and talk about it. Maybe we just need to agree to help each other and work together on jobs like that. Let’s talk at breakfast. It’s gotten late, and we have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

Ben checked Adam’s door as he went to his room. The crack under the door showed only darkness so Adam had already turned down the lamp. At least he was getting some sleep was his only thought as he turned to his room. Inside Adam’s bedroom though, he was not getting the sleep he so much wanted. He stared instead at the darkness and replayed events from the last few weeks that had resulted in so much tension and hard feelings. He thought again and again of things he could have done differently and what he needed to do to try to improve things if he could. It was hours before he fell into an exhausted sleep and then he awoke as dawn first was dawning. He dressed and headed to the stable to do chores for physical labor always helped him relieve stress. He pulled the tools he needed and set them next to Sport’s stall. He planned on doing all the chores hoping to start the day off well.

Feeling a pounding suddenly in his head and a warm body pressed to his side, Adam opened his eyes to a new day. It took him some time to realize he had been dreaming. It had been so vivid and so real. The argument the day before about the upcoming cattle drive has bothered him far more than he had been willing to admit to Grace the previous night when she asked him about it. Now he felt her stirring and realized his restlessness with the dream had probably awakened her and that made him feel bad. She did need her rest and he had stolen some of it from her. Sadness made him breathe deeply to avoid the tears too for Hoss had seemed so alive in his dream and so much like he had been when Adam had last seen him.

Lying next to Adam with her head on his shoulder, Grace could feel his pounding heart as she awoke. She took some time to be fully awake before she said anything to Adam, but it was clear he had had another bad dream. He wasn’t having nightmares because these dreams did not cause him to be fearful, but he was often sad and upset when he awoke. He had been reluctant to talk about them saying all the turmoil they had endured was causing them. However, this was the seventh night in a row with such an ending; a full week of bad dreams. Adam was looking as tired as he probably felt. She needed to get him to talk.

“Will you tell me about this dream?”

“It was just about stuff that used to bother me. Years ago. I don’t know why it’s all coming up now.”

“Don’t you? For a week, you’ve been arguing with your father and with Joe about this cattle drive. For a week, you’ve been having bad dreams. I’m not stupid. These two things are related. You promised to share your life with me, but you’re shutting me out now, and it hurts.”

Grace felt his arm tighten around her even as his other hand began to massage his forehead. She knew he was very troubled by this cattle drive but had no idea why. Not knowing him until he was forty made some things very difficult. He was reticent by nature, but she had not realized how hard it could be to get him to open up about things that were bothering him. He wanted to handle everything himself. The last few mornings she had tried to get him closer to her with shared intimacy, but his response afterwards was that he didn’t want to spoil the moment. Then he was up and dressed and gone before they could talk. This morning she was determined to hold him to the bed right next to her until he talked. So, as he slid one hand down to caress her back and moved the other to tip her head up for a kiss, she said no. The surprise on his face made her want to smile, but she knew that would be the worst thing to do at this point.

“I want to talk with you. You’re not going to distract me by being romantic. It’s time to talk. Why have your dreams been bothering you so much? And why won’t you agree to boss this trail drive? I don’t want the excuses you’ve been giving your father and Joe either. I want to know what’s going on.”

As Adam closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, Grace relaxed a little. He was going to talk but was thinking through what he was going to say and how. She just rubbed her hand across his chest in a circular motion. She was trying to soothe him to make it easier to talk. She felt his breathing slow and knew he was getting control of his emotions. It was amazing what you could learn about another person in such a short time. When they had first become reacquainted, she had looked to his expressive face for clues to his thoughts and feelings. She had learned however to watch his hands, where they were and what they were doing. She also paid attention to how he positioned his body. For someone who held so much inside, he showed a lot with his whole self. She wasn’t sure she should ever tell him how she knew sometimes what he was thinking. Let him think it was her feminine intuition. As he rolled on his side to look directly into her face, she knew he meant to tell her something very important to him.

“I’ve been dreaming of a lot of times when Joe and I argued and even fought when we were younger. He resented taking any kind of orders or advice from me. It was as if he resented the experience and knowledge I had because I was twelve years older than he was. He said a lot of things to hurt me intentionally then because he was trying to push me away. I know he loves me as a brother. But what will happen if I boss this drive? We’re going to argue, and I don’t want to fight him. I don’t want to harm the relationship we have now, and Hoss isn’t here to help.”

“Can you switch roles? Can he boss it and you ramrod?”

“I wish we could. As little as I know of the terrain we will be crossing, I know even less about the men who will be working it. I haven’t been back long enough to have earned their trust. So, I’ll be the one lacking experience and knowledge this time. It will be a difficult relationship between Joe and me.”

“Are you worried too that he will think less of you because you won’t be able to do the job as well as you did many years ago?”

By the look on Adam’s face, Grace knew that was true too. He was lacking confidence that he could do it and do it well enough. He had worked his way back into ranch business negotiating contracts and working out deals that were good business for the Ponderosa, but he did not have an area of responsibility like the others did. He handled most of the supervision of the lumber and timber operations but wasn’t officially in charge of that. And working the trees was a lot different than working the cattle. He had been doing a lot of riding, but that wasn’t at all like riding with a herd for as many as twelve hours a day every day.

“You need to do this, I think. You are a very capable man who has survived a terrible ordeal. You have suffered many losses, and yet here you are: a strong man, husband, son, brother, friend, and many other things. Men respect you, but right now you don’t respect yourself enough. Take the challenge. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I could fail. I could make a mess of things.”

“Really? With Joe and Candy there to help?”

“No. I just want to be able to do the job. Maybe Joe and I really have reversed roles. Now I want him to let me do it by myself.” But he was smiling as he said it, and Grace knew he was joking finally which meant he had made a decision. He would boss the drive.

“Will you tell them at breakfast that you’ll do it?”

“Gawd, woman, how do you read my mind like that?”

“I don’t read your mind. I just listen and observe, and you tell me.”

Rolling onto his back again, Adam pulled Grace with him. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her softly.

“Will you miss me?”

“Of course, I’ll miss you, but there’ll be Ben here, and Jamie, and Hop Sing. Hop Sing really fusses over me.”

“I’ve noticed that. It’s like he’s going to be a grandfather too. I’ll tell him you’re sleeping in, and he’ll fix something for you when you do get up.”

“I can get up now.”
“There’s no need, and you’re still officially recuperating and you’re also carrying our child. Rest is what the doctor ordered.”

Grace would miss him terribly, but Adam needed to do this. Everyone seemed to think he had put his whole ordeal behind him, but she knew he hadn’t. She knew it would take more time and hoped it wouldn’t take as long for him as it did for her. But Adam had a loving wife and a loving family to help him. She had been alone. She prayed a little for him, and then rolled over and did what he had told her to do. She fell asleep easily with the comfort that Adam had found more peace of mind. She could only hope that it would work out well between him and Joe.

*****

Chapter 2

Waking with bright sunlight illuminating the room, Grace dressed taking her time and reveling in the leisure she had been granted. She knew that in about seven months her life would be so full caring for their baby that she would find mornings like these only a fond memory. When she walked down the stairs, she saw Adam poring over maps with Joe and Candy as they were discussing a route for the drive. She knew that this was probably one of those things that made Adam so unsure of himself in this job. Being gone for six years, he would not know of changes that had occurred whether they were manmade or natural. They needed to go through mountain passes where the going was narrow so any barrier became a significant issue. The discussion among the three was very animated and she was gratified to see how involved Adam was in the discussion.

Because he was so involved in the discussion and thinking of how to reach their goal in the least amount of time, Adam did not see Grace approaching and jumped as she touched his arm. He turned quickly though and wrapped his arms around her and gave her a kiss. That didn’t stop the others from teasing him though.

“Gosh, Candy, he’s as skittish as a newborn colt. Is that what marriage does to a man?”

“Gees, Joe, not me, so it must be that Adam is a little afraid of his pretty wife. I think there’s a term for that, isn’t there?”

Grace could feel the tension in her husband as she stood with him.

“You boys played with fire when you were children, didn’t you? Probably took all sorts of chances when you were playing?”

At Candy’s puzzled look and Joe’s look of dawning awareness, she nodded. They had not seen a temper display from Adam since his return, but the more he regained his former status, the more likely it could occur. She had not seen it either but remembered as did Joe of course how Adam could blow like a volcano when he was pushed enough. The object of his wrath might not see it coming though unless they were used to the warning signs and they were there now.

“Sweetheart, would you walk with me to the kitchen. You promised me that Hop Sing would fix a late breakfast for me, but if he’s upset, I want you to say it’s your fault. I don’t want him angry with me.”

Grateful for the chance to collect himself, Adam walked Grace to the kitchen where Hop Sing welcomed her with his usual smile for her. He began to set out fruit and biscuits for her, and put on a pan to prepare the rest of her meal. Adam got a fresh cup of coffee and thanked Hop Sing for caring for Grace so well. Hop Sing of course was very happy that these two especially appreciated what he did so it was never an imposition to help them out. Adam sipped his coffee and waited just a bit until heading back to work with Joe and Candy. He knew he had overreacted and was glad he had not said anything. Luckily Grace had been there to defuse the situation. He knew as he watched her eat that she could read him better than anyone had ever been able to do. Sometimes like now they could communicate without words, and that as much as anything confirmed to him every day that they had made the right decision when they married. If it was possible for two people to be made for one another, then they were those two. He touched her shoulder and bent down to give her a kiss as she turned toward him. Then with a smile, he headed back out to his planning session.

When Ben and Jamie returned from looking over the herd, they sat down with Adam, Joe, and Candy to finish planning the drive by discussing supplies they would need, how many men to take, how many horses, and how much cash to carry. The possibility of using a second wagon was discussed because of the lack of grazing they might have in some areas. The cattle could manage to get by for a day or two on lean grazing but there was concern for the effect it would have on the horses who would be working. They could take more than the usual number of horses in the remuda but then they would need another hand or two to work just with the horses. If they took a wagon with extra feed, then they would only need one more man and two horses to pull the wagon. Adam opted for the extra wagon and the others agreed. The amount of cash on the drive would be larger than usual too because there were those who fenced now and if they would accept a reasonable payment, then that is what was done. It was faster and more efficient than getting law enforcement involved which they would only do if the people who had erected a barrier demanded an exorbitant fee or refused them passage. Joe was going to have to hire a few more men, and he and Candy would head to town to do that after lunch. With that agreed upon, they were through planning. Next they would begin preparations.

With the death of Hoss, Ben had become even more concerned with the safety of his other sons. It had been terribly difficult to bury a son. It had been Joe’s steadfast presence and the hope that someday Adam might return that had helped him through those first months of terrible loss and loneliness. Now although he had the greatest confidence in his sons, he worried about the unknown. Ben was also concerned with the relationship between Adam and Joe. They had been bickering a bit this past week but primarily about Adam agreeing to boss the trail drive. Now that he had agreed to do it, would they continue their harmonious relationship or revert to their old contentious relationship? He hoped not but feared the two brothers would have to work out a new working relationship. The difference in ages was not so important any longer because both now had knowledge and experience and both had been boss. But the two working as equals was a relatively new experience and although had worked together well so far, it had not been on something as pressure packed as a trail drive. He would pray for them and wait and see. It was all he could do.

Not only would Ben be worrying, Grace was already worried. She knew Adam needed to do this, but he also needed to be successful in doing it. She had felt the tension in him already. He would be on edge for the whole drive probably. He would be tested by circumstances and by the men he worked with. She had confidence he was ready for that but couldn’t help but worry. A cattle drive was a dangerous place and many things could go wrong that no amount of preparation or planning could stop. She wished now that the men had not been bringing those things up in the past week as they anticipated the drive. She might be the one with bad dreams until everyone returned safely.

Down at the horse corrals, Joe had suggested some horses to Adam for his extra rides on the drive and he was trying them out. He picked two and thanked Joe for the suggestions. Adam had a list of items to go over with Cookie for the chuck wagon and the extra supply wagon as Joe continued to make selections for the remuda. So far there had been a neat division of labor so there were no problems. Candy was working with the hands to cut out the cows they were taking and moving them to a far western pasture. They should be ready to go in just a few days if the weather held. Each of those days, Adam met with Joe and Candy to discuss what needed to be accomplished that day, and then they met again at the end of the day to evaluate their progress. They were establishing a routine for the drive, and the hands seeing the three work together like that had confidence that the drive would run smoothly.

Very few hands had been there long enough to remember the feuding brothers so had no reason to be concerned. Candy had not witnessed it either but had heard many stories from Hoss over the years he had worked with him. Therefore, Candy was alert to any signals that the two brothers might be slipping toward an argument but had seen nothing to worry him.

Very soon it seemed to everyone, they met one last time together on the night before the drive would begin. Hop Sing made a feast including as many of the favorites of Adam, Joe, and Candy as he could. Adam noted how well Grace was eating. He was relieved because he was leaving her for four weeks and had worried about her. Apparently, her recuperation was proceeding very well, and he knew Hop Sing would make sure she continued to have the best of care. He had already asked his father to take her into town to visit her shop soon. She wanted to start working and the doctor had told her she could start light work. Sewing would qualify as long as she didn’t put in too many hours. After dinner, Adam asked Grace to walk outside with him which got all sorts of comment from the other men at the table.

“You’re just jealous. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to have a little private time with my wife.”

On the way out the door, Adam grabbed two small packages from the credenza by the door. Outside, he walked Grace to a chair and pulled her down into his lap. He hugged her and kissed her.

“If this is what you wanted to do, we could have gone up to the bedroom. It is a little early though.”

“Exactly, my love. No, I just wanted as much time with you as I could get before we leave. Now is there anything I can do for you before I leave tomorrow?”

“Adam, I thought I just told you that. I don’t have to spell it out, do I?”

Adam shook his head and chuckled. Less and less now, she was having that fear response and as that had diminished, her passion and desire had increased. Their intimate life was very pleasurable and satisfying. Adam picked up the two packages where he had dropped them next to the chair and handed them to Grace. She opened the first one to find a journal with a leather cover embossed with the Ponderosa brand.

“We won’t be able to talk. I want you to have a journal to record your thoughts. When I get back, you can decide if you want me to read any of it or keep it just for yourself. I find journaling helps when I feel there’s something I have to say and there’s no one I can say it to.”

“Thank you so much. It’s beautiful. I will leave it by the bed because at night when you’re not there will be the time I most likely will need it.”

Then Grace opened the second package and found a smaller journal with a green leather cover. She looked at Adam quizzically wondering at the duplication.

“I have been trying not to visualize a house to build for us until I have some input from you on what you would like. In this journal, I would like you to write down any ideas for things you want in our home no matter how much of a dream you may think it is. When we get back, we can discuss your ideas and then I’ll show you mine.”

With a good imitation of how a man might leer at a woman, Grace delivered her response. “Well I like how that sounds.”

“I mean about the house.”

“I meant the house too. What did you think I meant?”

Adam started tickling her then because she was teasing him. Their laughter could be heard inside. Everyone was relieved to know that the two of them were in such good spirits before the first long separation they would have to endure especially after Grace being wounded just less than a month earlier and expecting a baby.

*****

Chapter 3

Early the next morning with just a hint of dawn, Adam was going to get up and dress. Grace asked him to stay with her and snuggle just a bit. Snuggling turned into a bit more, and it was quite a bit later that Adam hurried down the stairs, made a breakfast sandwich with egg, bacon, and a biscuit and went out to the stable to meet Joe and Candy. He had a sheepish grin, and they smiled as they mounted up and headed out. A short time later, Adam came riding up behind them and the drive officially got under way. Fences were opened and the cattle driven through. After they left, Jamie had a crew who would put the fence line back in place.

The weather held for the first few days and then the heavens opened up with deluge after deluge. The swollen streams and muddy conditions that they frequently encountered cost them a number of days. After two weeks, they were nearly a week behind schedule because almost everything took twice as long as they had planned. Two hands were injured trying to free some cows caught behind deadfall that had been pushed into the stream by a mudslide. The injuries were not serious but both could no longer do their jobs and were sent back to the Ponderosa. Joe went to the nearest town to hire two more men. When they got back to the herd, those two seemed to know two others who had been hired in Virginia City for the drive.

“Joe, I think I may have seen those two before in Virginia City.”

Candy’s comment immediately got Adam’s attention.

“Then what would they be doing here. It’s way out of the normal travel routes, and in this weather, it would have been difficult to get here too. Joe, this stinks a bit. Those two might be up to something, and how well do we know the two they seem to know?”

“You’ve always been suspicious of people you didn’t know. Adam, we needed two drovers and I got two drovers. Let’s not make a big deal out of this.”

“Joe, did you hear what Candy said. Something isn’t right about this.”

“Do you hear yourself? Really? You’re convicting them of a crime, and they haven’t done anything except look like two men Candy saw in Virginia City. So what? Adam, bossing the drive doesn’t mean interfering in every little thing I do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I could use a hot cup of coffee before I get back to work.”

Adam rubbed the back of his neck and looked at Candy.

“Watch those four for me, will ya?”

“Sure thing. Don’t get too upset about all this. Joe’s just irritable because of the weather. He’ll be fine once he gets a chance to calm down. We can talk again tonight after dinner.”

Adam nodded at Candy. He was irritable too and had done everything he could to hold the line on his temper with Joe. He couldn’t let himself get into a big argument with his brother especially one that could escalate into a fight. It wouldn’t be good for the drive, and it would be even worse for their relationship. So he swallowed his anger and mounted up to ride out to see if all the conditions warranted any changes in their plans. Finding no immediate problems, he decided to ride a ahead to see what conditions they would face the next day. What he saw bothered him a great deal. He also felt the hairs on his neck stand up as he rode, and Cloud Dancer was fidgeting every time he stopped to survey the area. He never saw anyone but felt he was being watched.

When Adam got back to the camp, he pulled the maps out of the tube in which they were stored. He spread them out on the back gate of the wagon that could be lowered to function as a table. What he saw was encouraging. There was an alternate route. It was almost twice as long but looked like they could avoid some of the most treacherous terrain so they wouldn’t lose much time if any. He got a pencil and started drawing out a route they could follow if they veered off that way the following day. If they didn’t, they would miss the opportunity and would have to contend with similar conditions until they reached the western downslope of the mountains where he assumed that the rains were lighter if it was raining at all. When Joe got back he showed him the alternate route.

“Adam, we’re going to lose even more time. We’re really behind schedule already. We can’t afford more delays.”

“Joe, this route widens out a lot more. We’ll be able to move faster, and there’s no likelihood of mudslides either. We may lose a little time but maybe none at all with the faster pace.”

“I don’t like it. We had a plan that all three of us agreed on. Unless you’re going to throw your weight around and force this on us.”

Candy walked up for the last part of Joe’s statement because although phrased like a question it was a challenge statement. Several of the men were close enough to hear the argument. One added in his idea that the other route was an unknown because no one ever went that way. That hand was one of the new men, and Adam wondered how he came by that knowledge. Candy wasn’t sure which route would be better. Adam and Joe repeated their reasons but it didn’t help him.

“Seems like the old six of one, half dozen of another. Course I haven’t seen the problems up ahead like Adam has and that could make a difference. Trusting his judgment, maybe we ought to go the other way, Joe.”

“No, he’s just guessing. Several more of the hands voiced their support for Joe. Adam knew he had to back down or risk a fight with his brother. Against his better judgment, he acquiesced. Candy heard how he said it and knew he didn’t believe they were doing the right thing. Candy was leaning more and more toward Adam’s viewpoint the more he thought about it, but Joe was so riled there was no point in continuing this discussion at that time. Joe stomped off to get his dinner. Candy stayed next to Adam.

“Did you notice which hands were backing Joe?”

“Yeah, Candy, I did. Why do you suppose it’s so important to them which way we go? I felt like someone was watching me out there today. I was going to dismiss the idea, but now I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Keep a close eye on all four of those new hands. Alert some of our regular hands that you can trust to keep quiet and have them watch them too.”

At Candy’s look, Adam felt he had to add more.

“I know it’s Joe’s job, but you know I can’t talk to him about this right now, and those men might be up to something. If they do nothing, then I was worrying for nothing, but I like to be prepared for all contingencies.”

“All right, boss, but if Joe asks about it, I’ll be honest with him.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything else from you, Candy.”

The next morning, Joe was up earlier than usual and had the men moving the cattle before Adam could make an attempt to change his mind. It was obvious to everyone what had happened. Joe had now undermined Adam’s authority and taken over bossing the drive. Once the cattle were on the move, Adam rode up beside Joe.

“There’s really just one thing I want to know, Joe. If you didn’t want me to boss this drive, why did you try so hard to make me take the job?”

“Maybe I thought it would be good for you. Maybe I thought you would try to work with me. I just didn’t know you would try to make such a mess of it.”

“So that’s how it’s going to be? Joe, when we get back to the Ponderosa, I’ll be moving to town with Grace. We have her house there. I’ll find other things to do. I don’t want to fight with you, and it seems that’s where we’re headed. If having me around is such a problem for you, then I need to be somewhere else.”

With that, Adam wheeled his horse and rode out to the side of the herd and then headed to the front. He had let his temper do his talking. He needed to cool down before he made things even worse. Because he wanted to see if the problems he had anticipated would create any serious problems riding by himself out ahead of the herd would help. Candy rode over to where Joe was to ask what that conversation had been about.

“Adam’s going to leave the Ponderosa. He’s moving to town with Grace. It’s gonna kill Pa, and Adam’s going to lay this whole thing on me.”

“No, he won’t. But he should.”

“So you’re taking up with his side now? I thought we were friends.”

“We are. But you wanted Adam to boss this drive as long as his decisions were the ones you would make. As soon as he disagreed with you, you backed him into this corner. He could be the boss and hurt his relationship with you cause you know you would probably have poked him if he tried to do it his way. Or, he could go along with what you wanted and lose his standing with the men. He chose you. He was never trying to take your place. He was just trying to find his way.”

Candy left Joe stewing over what he had said and didn’t wait for Joe to say anything. He knew how Joe’s temper burned hot and then cooled fast. He would consider what Candy had said and hopefully make an overture to his brother if it wasn’t too late to make things right between them. Joe had been running the Ponderosa for quite a while and seemed to take Adam’s presence as a threat to his status. Maybe this would make him see that his brother wanted to work beside him not take his place. Joe too had had a tough year and a half. He had lost Hoss, lost Alice and his unborn baby, and had to be there to hold up his father who had suffered terribly in his life and was almost undone by the death of his son.

Riding alongside the herd, Candy was thinking that Joe needed to realize that he should take some time to work out his differences with his brother and not expect everything to be fine just because he wanted it to be. Perhaps Adam’s marriage and the baby that was expected had opened old wounds of Joe’s as well. It must be hard for him to see how happy Adam and Grace were and how happy everyone in the family was because there was a baby on the way.

Lost in thought, Joe never saw two of the hands slip away into the trees up the slope from where he was riding. Things were going smoothly and Adam’s fears seemed to be unjustified. Then suddenly there were shots fired. Joe kicked his pony into a run but the cattle started running too. He would never be able to get to the head of the herd and turn them. All he could do was yell.

“Stampede, stampede!”

Well up ahead, Adam had heard the shots and turned to race back toward the herd. He saw a man on the slope about to fire shots, and he yelled at him to stop. The man turned and it was one of the hands he had suspected of being up to something. Now he had a very good idea of what that was. When the man leveled his pistol in Adam’s direction, Adam took aim and fired. The man dropped his pistol and rode slumped over toward the trees. Adam headed deeper into the valley to intercept the lead cows and try to turn them. This was a dangerous thing to try but the only hope left if this was to be a successful drive. He rode with the lead animals and began to slowly turn them to his right. After turning and turning, he had the lead animals heading directly back at those charging toward him. There were some collisions and undoubtedly there would be losses but soon there were only milling and mooing cattle jammed together with hardly any room to move.

When Adam saw a number of hands arriving, he rode to where he thought the wounded man had gone. Once Candy and Joe got there, they took charge of getting the herd fully under control. Knowing that Adam had been the one to turn the herd, they asked where he was, and the men pointed up the slope in the direction he had gone. As Candy and Joe rode in that direction, they heard gunfire. They kicked the horses into a gallop and as they neared the trees, Adam rode out very slowly on his horse. Suddenly the horse toppled to the ground and Adam went down with his horse. Joe sped up as much as the terrain would allow. He got to Adam’s side as his brother was trying to sit up.

“Are you hurt? What happened?”

“After I turned the herd and some of the men got here, I headed off to follow the men who did this. It was the four hands we suspected. One of them was wounded and the other three stopped to help him. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t think it through. I just didn’t want him to get away.”

Joe went to help Adam get up from where he had landed, and when his hand felt wet he looked down at it.

“Adam, you’re hurt.”

“Joe, it’s not too bad.”

“You’re bleeding all over my hand, so it’s bad enough. Here, sit back down.”

Joe pulled Adam’s vest off and saw him grimace with pain. Once he got a good look at the wound, it appeared the bullet that got him had hit the shoulder blade. The wound was shallow and the bullet would be easily removed. It was a painful injury even if it was not life threatening. They would need to get him cleaned up, and he probably wouldn’t be able to ride for the rest of the drive. Both Joe and Adam jumped at the sound of a gunshot but looked up to see a steely look from Candy who had just mercifully ended Adam’s pony’s life. The animal had been far too badly injured to attempt to save.

“Candy, would you ride back and get the herd started, and get the wagons sent this way? We’ll wait right here until they get here. Adam, what about the four hands who did all this?”

“I shot at all four. I know I hit at least one of them, and the one who started the stampede I shot earlier. Don’t know about the other two.”

“Well, we can’t look for them now. We’ll alert the authorities in the next town. You were right, you know, about everything. Those four were up to no good right from the start. We should have gone the other way too. We couldn’t even get up here to turn the herd to stop the stampede because it was too narrow. If you hadn’t been up here, we could have lost most of the herd. I’m really sorry for how I acted and what I said. I hope you can forgive me.”

“Of course I can. You’re my brother.”

“So you’ll stay on the Ponderosa?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want any more confrontations like that. I want to be able to see my brother without having to worry about arguing and fighting.”

Joe was pressing a wad of cloth against the wound as they were talking. Adam started to feel light-headed.

“I think I’m going to be sick. Can you help me turn?”

Breakfast came up, and when Adam had stopped retching, Joe handed him the canteen to rinse his mouth. Adam was looking very pale so Joe pulled him back and had him lie back against the saddle Candy had removed from the pony. Within about a minute, Adam’s eyes closed and he was asleep.

There were a lot of things that Joe now wanted to talk about with Adam but they would have to wait. The herd had been saved; the four troublemakers were gone, and the drive should be a success because within a few days they would clear these mountain passes and be in open grasslands and meadows close to their destination. They would be shorthanded until they reached the next town and could hire some temporary help but at least in these mountains, the cattle didn’t find too many places to wander off.

*****

Chapter 4

When they made camp that night, the talk among the hands was about Adam. The men had decided that they had misjudged him. He had turned the herd by himself without getting killed which was an amazing feat in their eyes. That it was a foolhardy risk was not something that they considered. Results mattered out here. Then he had ridden after the men who did it and wounded one or more of them before being shot himself as he rode away. The men who drove the wagons had been there when the bullet was removed and said he didn’t do anything except groan. Then he refused the laudanum and only asked to be allowed to rest in the back of the supply wagon. There was respect now for the trail boss as well as concern for him. The men liked and respected Joe too so they hoped the two brothers could work out their differences.

It did look like that was happening as a very pale Adam was sitting on a chair by the wagon discussing the drive with Candy and Joe. Adam said he would take the supply wagon the next day and go into the little town up ahead. He would see about hiring a few men for a week or so and refresh their supplies as well. The men were tiring of bacon and beans although because of losses from the stampede, they did have beef with every meal if they wanted it. Joe was going to argue that he shouldn’t but held back. Candy noted he tensed up and then relaxed, and he smiled to himself that Joe did a good job with that. Of course, Adam probably shouldn’t go into town to do this the day after being shot even if it was a minor wound, but they were shorthanded and having him do this would help a great deal. Candy agreed he would scout ahead to anticipate any problems they had, and Joe would pick up any of the other duties he could for Adam. Adam would do any paperwork or anything else he could do from the wagon. Any movement of his left arm caused pain to shoot down his back and down his arm. He would have to drive the wagon with one hand. He had done it before and mostly it meant going fairly slowly, but he had all day to get the job done. The regular driver had been drafted into trail duty.

Joe walked over to the wagon the next morning before Adam left.

“I wish we had a chance to talk. You know I’m really sorry for those things I said. I got it in my head that you were questioning what I was doing with the hiring and with the men, and I let it affect how I thought about everything else. I don’t know why but working with you always seems to bring out the worst in me. I want to impress you, to show you how good I am at something, and it goes the other way too often.”

Adam took some time before answering. Joe knew that meant he was trying to be sure to word it just the way he wanted.

“Joe, you don’t have to try to impress me. You’re a strong man with a lot of talents and you ran the Ponderosa for years now. All I want if for us to work together and not fight. Can we work on that?”

Joe gave Adam one of his cheeky grins before answering.

“We already are, aren’t we?”

Adam shook his head and picked up the reins as he reached with the same hand to pull back on the brake to release it.

“Take it easy now. I don’t want to face Grace if you get hurt again. Just this is gonna be enough to get me a glare or two.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t plan any heroics. If it gets too late, I’ll stay in town and try to catch up to you tomorrow.”

The herd moved well that day and by that night they had found a very nice place to camp. The sky was clear and the cattle were calm. Adam had not returned yet, but four men rode in as camp was being set up.

“Hey, you men get hired by an old guy all dressed in black?”

“Yessir, he said to talk to his brother and tell him he hired us. Then we was to tell ya where he is.”

“Where he is? Isn’t he just resting in town?”

“Well, I guess you could say he’s resting. He got himself arrested. Told us where to find you and said to see if you would go see about getting him out of jail.”

Joe started to laugh, and Candy had a big grin too.

“So what did my serious, law abiding older brother do to get himself locked up?”

“Well he saw some men in town and held a gun on those two and took them to the sheriff. He said they caused a stampede probably to try to rustle the herd or a big chunk of it. When they got to the sheriff’s office, the sheriff arrested him instead for shooting the two who had been with them. Turns out one of the men he shot was the sheriff’s son, and he’s darned mad about it.”

“But they broke the law and shot Adam in the back! Damn it! Candy, will you come with me. We gotta get this straightened out. By the way, how do you know so much about what went on in the sheriff’s office?”

“We saw him get arrested and Jake and me went to see if we still had this job. He said we did and sent us here to explain everything to you.”

Candy had two men go saddle up horses for them.

“Joe, maybe we better take a couple extra men with us. These little towns sometimes have their own version of what the law is. We might need some help.”

As Joe nodded his head, Candy went to tell a few of the men what happened and to get some volunteers to ride with them. They all wanted to go but some had to stay with the herd. Candy picked a few of the men who had cool heads under pressure and told them to get saddled up. After an hour of hard riding, they could see the town. Joe told the other men to split up and ride slowly to town and stay as much out of sight as possible. He and Candy would ride ahead and go to the jail. Joe left them with instructions that if there was trouble, they could help, but otherwise they should stay out of everything. Once in town, Joe and Candy headed directly for the sheriff’s office. He took their guns before allowing them next to the cell to talk with Adam.

“Well, brother, looks like another mess you got yourself into. What am I gonna tell Pa this time?”

Joe kept his smile until he heard his brother cough and saw him struggle just to sit up.

“What happened to you?”

“The sheriff will tell you I resisted arrest, I’m sure. All I did was question how I could be the one shot in the back but ended up arrested while the ones who broke the law were walking around free. He didn’t like my question.”

“We’ll get you outta here, don’t worry. The telegraph office is open yet and we’ll send for a lawyer. Pa will want to be here too.”

“That may not be enough. They have a trial scheduled for tomorrow. Oh, did I tell you that that Sheriff Dill also acts as judge when they have a trial? And the schoolteacher is my defense lawyer?”

Candy put his hand on Joe’s shoulder to remind him to keep his cool. Joe took a deep breath and whispered to Adam.

“We’ll take care of things.” And in a louder voice. “Well we’ll be there for this so-called trial. You need anything?”

“No, I’ll just try to sleep although this drafty window makes it a bit cool in here.”

The sheriff walked over and shoved a blanket through the bars. Joe shook his head slightly for yes because he had gotten the message about the window. If anything happened, Adam wanted a chance to protect himself. Joe and Candy said their goodbyes and headed over to the telegraph office. The Cartwrights had good standing here in California too. Joe was going to send a couple of messages to try to get some help before Adam faced this kangaroo court. He wrote out his message and the operator began tapping the keys when Candy slammed his hand down over the operator’s.

“He’s not sending your message. He’s tapping out gibberish.”

Joe pulled his gun and ordered the operator out of his seat. There was a closet in the office that Joe opened. There was plenty of room in there so he ordered the man in and then jammed a chair under the handle. For good measure, he and Candy slid a large cabinet in front of the door too. Then Candy sat down and sent the messages they wanted sent and a few extra because it was free. As the two men left the telegraph office, a young woman approached them.

“You need to get your man out of that jail tonight.”

“We should have some help here tomorrow. He’ll be fine. Why are you so concerned anyway?”

“Two of those men he hired are my brothers. We really needed the money, and he promised they could each take a steer back with them too. Our family needed the help, and he’s a stranger, but he’s the one who helped. Now there’s talk of a lynching. Those two men he tried to arrest are over in the saloon trying to get a lynch mob going. They want him dead before any marshal gets here. What they tried to do to you, they done before. There just never were enough proof. Everyone knows your brother would be enough proof. A jury’d believe a Cartwright.”

“Thanks. What’s your name?”

“Marcy. Jake and Mike are my brothers. A couple of their friends was the other two he hired. They’re good men. They’ll work hard for ya.”

“You go home now. We’ll take care of this.”

Candy had been looking around and when Marcy left, he told Joe their men appeared to down next to the livery stable. Walking there as if to put their horses up for the night, the two men watched carefully. It appeared they were not under observation. After putting their horses in the stable but telling the stableman only to water them and give them some grain, they walked out the back of the livery to be met by the four men who had ridden with them. Joe gave them instructions and then he and Candy left to take up positions and watch. They didn’t have to wait long before a rowdy mob rolled out of the saloon. It looked to be about ten men. Joe ran across to the window on Adam’s cell to drop in a pistol, but what he heard from inside led to a rapid change in plans. He raced around the building to the front door calling for Candy to join him.

Sheriff Dill was doing his best to beat Adam into submission. Because Adam only had one arm to use effectively in his defense, Dill would have been successful. Hearing Joe’s pistol cock next to his head made him pause however.

“You touch him again, and your brains will be decorating this cell.”

Adam pulled away from Dill’s grasp. His nose was bleeding, he had a split lip, and he was going to be sporting some nasty bruises, but no serious damage had been done. Joe handed him a pistol. Candy had already barred the front door.

“Really, Joe! ‘Your brains will be decorating this cell’. You have been reading far too many of those dime novels again.”

“Well it worked, didn’t it? Besides I always wanted to say something like that. There’s a necktie party on its way to honor you. We assumed you would prefer not to join them. But now we’re pinned down here with no rear exit and about ten armed men out front. We have a few men ready to help but I can’t see us getting out of here soon. I told our guys not to kill anyone unless they were trying to kill us.”

There was gunfire outside and a lot of yelling. Joe looked at Adam to explain.

“I think our helpers just decided it was time to draw a line. We hold this side of the street and they’ve got the other. We can’t cross the street to get to our horses in the livery, and they can’t cross the street to get to you.”

It was the classic standoff. How it would end would take hours to determine. Demands and threats were yelled at the jail periodically throughout the night. Neither side could sleep nor gain an advantage. The sheriff kept up a nonstop barrage of accusations and threats from the cell where he was locked up until Joe told him he would get the same treatment as Adam had received if he didn’t shut up. Adam tried to sleep but yelling and occasional gun shots ended any naps he managed to get. Candy walked close to Joe so he wouldn’t be overheard.

“Even if we get out of here, he can’t ride in the shape he’s in. We’ll need our wagon and I don’t know how we’ll keep ahead of anybody that way.”

“Then let’s hope one of those messages you sent gets through and help is on the way.”

At dawn, the impasse was still sputtering along. Occasional threats were made and gunfire followed those, but nothing else happened. The men who wanted to lynch Adam did have the advantage of the saloon and restaurant being right behind them. The smells of their breakfast blew across the street making Adam’s defenders even hungrier. The sound of a number of horses arriving about ten made Joe smile and the sheriff chortle when he stood and looked out the window to see a cavalry detachment.

“You boys are in a world of trouble now. You’re all gonna end up in this cell.”

Candy unbolted the door and opened it for the cavalry colonel and his junior officers. Joe stood and walked to stand next to the colonel.

“Good day, Colonel Hawkins. Sure hope you liked that big stallion with the stockings I sent in the last batch. He had officer’s mount written all over him.”

“He is the pride of the command. I have never had such a beautiful animal for parade. But I have to tell you, Joe, that is one stupid horse. I never take him out on patrol or maneuvers. He just isn’t good in the field. But he is still one beautiful horse, and I love having him. He really loves to show off. Now do you want to tell me what’s been going on here?”

*****

Chapter 5

As the colonel sat at the sheriff’s desk and occasionally asked questions, his clerk recorded Adam’s statement and then Joe’s. Candy was questioned next, and then the colonel had his soldiers try to locate the Marcy they had met. Everyone outside had been disarmed. The two identified by Adam as perpetrators were sitting in a cell with Sheriff Dill. Other soldiers were sent to find the two wounded men and place them in custody. The colonel had declared martial law shortly after arriving and finding what had been happening in this little town. Marcy came in to testify which opened up a floodgate of people willing to testify against the sheriff, his son, and the three others who worked with them. On the sheriff’s bunk in his office, Adam sat next to Joe and leaned over to rest his head on Joe’s shoulder. Joe choked up when he did it. He had seen Adam do that a number of times to Hoss. When Adam was troubled or hurt, it had always been Hoss he had leaned on for support.

“Colonel, did the surgeon come with you as I requested?”

“Yes, Joe. Would you like him to take a look at your brother now?”

Nodding yes, Joe slipped out from under Adam’s weight and slowly lowered his sleeping brother to the cot. Then he picked up his legs and carefully lifted them on to the cot before covering him with a blanket. As he waited for the doctor to examine Adam to be sure he was fit to travel, he pulled up a chair and sat at his brother’s side. After the doctor’s exam through which Adam had only been half awake, Joe asked if he could travel.

“Normally I would say the man needs a week in bed resting. But I’ve heard a few tales of the Cartwrights from the Colonel. He has to have at least a day of rest. Tomorrow, he could ride in a wagon if you take it easy.”

“Don’t worry, doc, I’ll make sure he rests.”

“Joe, you need to get the herd moving.”

“Adam, you’re more important than that herd. The herd can wait.”

“Leave one of the other men here. He can drive the wagon and get me back to the herd in two days.”

“Who’s going to take care of you? You can barely sit up.”

“Sir, with my brothers working for you, I could do it. He could stay at our house. It’s not big and fancy, but we got a bed for him and I would cook for him.”

So Adam and one of the hands stayed at Marcy’s house until the next day. Adam had a chance to talk with her in the morning. By the time he left, she had some serious decisions to make. The wagon trip back to the herd was far harder than Adam had thought it would be, and much harder than he was going to admit to Joe. Of course as soon as Joe saw him, he knew. He didn’t embarrass Adam by pointing out his weakness though. Instead he offered a shoulder to lean on as Adam made his way to the chuckwagon. He was greeted by the men there who curbed their enthusiasm when they saw how ill he looked. Normally someone riding back in like this would get a few slaps on the back. If they had done it, Adam would have ended up flat on the ground. He settled down next to the wheel of the wagon and Joe sat next to him telling him what they had done so far since he had been gone. The four new hands were hard workers which made it easier for Adam to suggest to Joe that they hire them to come back to the ranch. Adam knew he owed those young men his life and Joe understood that as well. They agreed to make the offer at the end of the drive and let the four decide what they wanted to do.

Two weeks later, Adam was driving the wagon up to the Ponderosa ranch house. Marcy was on the seat beside him chattering away about the beauty of the ranch and the house. He hardly heard a word she said as he focused on the ranch house in the distance. As they drew closer, Marcy realized they were going faster and smiled at the excitement Adam had for the reunion with his wife. As they drove into the yard, Ben, Grace, and Jamie came outside to greet them. Candy and Joe and the hands had caught up to them so the reunion was complete. Adam was smiling as he climbed down from the wagon, but Grace had lost her giant grin and was smiling only a little as she had seen Marcy on the seat of the wagon with Adam. Adam wrapped Grace in his arms and bent down to kiss her but got a peck instead of the kiss he expected. He frowned a little and then wondered if her pregnancy had made her feel unwell.

“Are you feeling all right, sweetheart? You seem a little pale.”

“I’m fine. Who’s your new friend?”

“Grace, this is Marcy and her brother Jake and her brother Mike. They’re going to be working for us now.”

Joe realized that Grace was a little jealous so he tried to help Adam.

“Yeah, Marcy took care of Adam when he was hurt. Without her and her brothers, you’d be after me with a shotgun right about now.”

Ignoring all the warning signs from Adam, Joe kept going.

“Yup, once we got him out of jail and that Army surgeon patched up that bullet wound really well, Marcy was good enough to let him sleep in a bed at her house overnight. Her brothers and friends are really hard workers, so we invited them to work for us, and they agreed. Isn’t that great?”

With his chin dropped to his chest, Adam was rubbing the back of his neck. When Joe finally ran out of steam, Adam just said a simple ‘Thanks, Joe’ and grimaced. Grace said a cool “I’ll see you inside.’ and turned on her heel and walked into the house.

Ben turned to his son with only sympathy in his expression.

“Son, remember what I said about pregnant women being emotional and sensitive and sometimes downright unreasonable?”

Adam nodded. He remembered telling his father that he had seen none of that in Grace.

“Well, son, you said you hadn’t seen any of that in Grace. Now you have. All I can say is, good luck!”

Adam found Grace in their bedroom getting clean clothes for him from the dresser. He closed the door and walked up behind her putting his hands on her shoulders.

“Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, of course you’re not. You’re upset with me. I should have let you know that Marcy was coming home with us.”

“You should have let me know you got hurt too! I got two telegrams from you and they both said you were fine. Now I find out you were shot, you were in jail, and, and, …”

“There is nothing else. I was fine when I sent those two messages. When I was hurt, I was in no shape to send a message. I was back with the herd on the trail before I found out that Joe never let the family know what had happened. By the time I was in another town, I was fine again. There was no reason to worry you about something that was already done.”

“Marcy is very pretty.”

“Yes, she is. I think Joe is smitten, but I don’t think Marcy has noticed how he looks at her.”

“Joe?”

“For me, there is only you. I am smitten with you. I thought of you constantly. Sometimes it was hard to do my work because I was thinking about you. I love you, Grace.”

Adam turned Grace toward him and started to unbutton her dress. She looked up to him and saw only love and desire. She slid her hands around him and looked up. She wanted a kiss and she wasn’t disappointed. Adam kissed her with all the pent up passion of the past six weeks. He finally released her to catch his breath. Then she started to cry.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t deserve you. All you wanted was a kiss when you got home, and I didn’t kiss you. I’m so sorry.”

“Love, it kinda makes me feel good to know you would be jealous. You really care, don’t you?”

“I love you so much. I missed you terribly. I kept your shirt, the one you wore the day before you left. I didn’t wash it. It reminded me of you. I would cry at night sometimes because I missed you so.”

Grace pulled back the blanket on the bed and there was the red shirt he had worn the day before the drive started. As he pulled her to him for another kiss, Adam smiled down at her.

“You didn’t kiss me to welcome me home, but there’s an even better way to welcome me back if you want.”

Grace didn’t need a second invitation. She began unbuttoning his shirt as he continued to unbutton her dress. They reaffirmed their love in the most ancient of ways. Afterwards, as Grace lay in his arms, she had another question.

“Why did you bring Marcy home with you?”

“She’s a good cook, she kept a very clean little house, she has experience taking care of chickens and a garden, and she can milk a cow. In about six months now, you are going to be very busy trying to care for our baby and keep your business going. Marcy is going to be our nanny, housekeeper, and cook if you’ll let her.”

“Oh my goodness, you did that for me.” And Grace started crying again. Adam just held her close. Later he would have to share the details of what happened on the drive, but for now, just holding her and comforting her was all he had to do. He would tell her he was grateful that she had pushed him to trail boss the drive. It had made him feel stronger and had forced Joe and him to face the issues between them. They had talked, really talked, about things that were important to them and things that worried them. They talked of their hopes and their dreams. By the end of the drive, they were closer than they had ever been because they had given each other trust. Everything else in a relationship was based on that. Adam felt like he was finally back home. He felt whole again.

*****

 

Melinda Returns

Usually a letter announcing a house guest was welcome news at the Ponderosa. When the house guest was to be Melinda Banning, there were frowns all around. About ten years earlier, Melinda had done her best to lead Joe into a marriage for monetary reasons while throwing herself at Adam which nearly drove the two brothers apart. If not for Horace Banning’s arrival leading to the discovery of the nature of the scheme cooked up by his wife, there would have been tumult in the Cartwright family. Now Horace had been injured while traveling, and while he recuperated in Reno, he had written to ask his old friend Ben to watch after his daughter.

When Melinda was to arrive, Ben and Jamie drove into Virginia City to pick her up. Adam had told Grace the main parts of the story which explained why he did not want to be the one driving her, and it was obvious too why Joe would not want to do that either. In fact Joe had volunteered to do the resupply of the line shacks. Adam would have done the same but did not want to leave Grace so far along in her pregnancy. Often Adam would hold her close at night for late fall often left a chill in the air. He rubbed oil into the skin of her rapidly expanding abdomen. He rubbed her sore feet and massaged her lower back. He did not want to miss any of this time with her doing what he could to make her more comfortable.

When Melinda arrived, she nearly threw herself out of the carriage to hug Joe as if they were long lost friends who had looked forward to this reunion. She kissed him and each cheek before releasing him. Then she turned and rushed to Adam who grabbed her upper arms to hold her away from him. Joe had a flashback to ten years earlier when he had seen Adam holding Melinda the same way. He thought too of how he had seen Adam hold Grace with one arm around her waist and one hand to the side of her face when he kissed her. Any small doubts he had as to what had happened those years ago vanished. Instead Joe found that he was repulsed by Melinda and how she was acting and wondered how he had ever thought he loved such a shallow and devious woman. He muttered “Melinda returns.”

Once free, Adam introduced Melinda to Grace, and Melinda barely acknowledged Adam’s wife which sent warning signals to everyone there. Melinda was on the hunt, and Adam looked to be her target. Ben suggested Jamie escort Melinda inside and show her to the downstairs guest room. Adam had suggested it to his father so that she would have no reason to be upstairs. He had been wrongly accused because of this woman’s actions once before and was trying to find a way to stay out of her range this time.

Clearly, Melinda was disappointed with how her arrival had gone. She had hoped for more reaction from Adam, and seeing his wife with her large belly, she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more attentive to her instead of his wife. For Melinda had maintained an excellent figure and was dressed as always to show it off. As Melinda walked to the house, she kept her attention on Adam and never watched for obstacles in her way. Jamie never thought to warn her about the water trough thinking it was so large anyone could see it but Melinda wasn’t looking in front of her as she was thinking how handsome Adam still was. She hit the water trough with her leg and plunged backwards into the water. Everyone laughed uproariously, and Jamie helped pull her out and then watched as she stomped into the house.

All Adam wanted to do was saddle up Cloud Dancer and go ride some fence lines which is normally what he would do when he wanted to be alone. This time though all he could do was avoid Melinda so he volunteered to unhitch the team from the carriage and take care of them as Jamie carried Melinda’s luggage inside.

Ben escorted Grace into the house. Grace was feeling vulnerable and unsure of herself with the advanced state of her pregnancy. When she saw how beautiful Melinda was and how she was attracted to Adam, Grace started feeling jealous. Her belly was huge and she walked awkwardly as her balance had been thrown off by all the extra weight she was carrying in front of her. She had described her walk to Adam as a waddle, and he had said she was the most beautiful swan he had ever seen. She had appreciated his reassurance but wondered if he would say that today.

In the stable, Joe was needling Adam partly because it was fun and partly our of a little bit of jealousy of his own. Joe was younger than Adam by twelve years, and Adam was married, but Melinda seemed to have eyes only for Adam. When Adam told Joe to stop in that authoritative older brother voice of his, Joe got a little angry.

“She’s just a woman. You don’t have to be so touchy about the whole thing.”

“That ‘just a woman’ almost made you hate me and nearly split this family apart. She is a conniving, manipulative bitch. Don’t underestimate her.”

With that Adam stalked off to the house. Once inside he was going to sit with Grace but Melinda jumped up and grabbed his arm. Unfortunately he had delayed long enough for her to have changed into dry clothing. She wanted to know where Joe was, and he told her while trying to extricate his arm from her grasp. Short of punching her, he couldn’t pull free from her grasp. Melinda felt him pulling but did her best to make it appear that he was standing by her side willingly.

“Oh, Adam, could you show me where Joe is?”

The last place Adam wanted to be was anywhere alone with Melinda.

“Melinda, I’m sure you remember the way.”

Jamie stepped up and volunteered to show Melinda the way and took her other arm. Unless she wanted to create a tug-of-war, she had to let Adam go. It was only the first of many such contacts. By the time, Melinda retired for the evening, everyone had seen the touching and the adoration in Melinda’s eyes every time she looked at Adam. It was clear too that all of this hurt Grace. Joe and Jamie did enjoy seeing Adam squirm, but the pain she was causing their sister bothered them both very much. Once Adam walked upstairs, both of them asked Ben what they could do to stop her.

“I’m not sure there is anything we can do. Grace will likely have more to do with this than anyone. If Melinda understands the bond between Grace and Adam is unbreakable, she will realize that she will fail. At that point, the two of you just watch out. That woman is a predator.”

“But, Pa, Grace was looking pretty upset. I’m sure Melinda saw it.”

Joe nodded in agreement with Jamie for he had seen what Jamie described.

“It’s still up to Grace and Adam. I have confidence in the two of them. They can weather this.”

Jamie and Joe weren’t as sure, and in the guest room, Melinda was laying in bed smiling at her performance that day. She had seen that swollen belly and duck walk and had purposefully managed to get herself compared favorably with her rival she was sure. She had seen how upset Grace was and believed that she had driven a wedge between the couple. Tomorrow she planned to drive it in further. She felt in her heart that Adam was attracted to her and would soon do something about it. She smiled at the thought.

Upstairs, darkness enveloped the bedroom when Adam opened the door and that was quite unusual. Grace usually just turned down the lamp a bit before he came to bed. The darkness in the room matched his mood though. Melinda was almost painful to be around. Her barbs at Grace, her efforts to constantly touch him with a hand on his arm or brushing a stray lock of hair back into place, and her nearly constant glowing praise of him was sickening him and making him the butt of Joe’s ridicule as soon as no one else was around. She did the type of things a lover did not a house guest. And if Joe told him one more time that he was ‘irresistible to women’ in that high pitched irritating tone of voice, he was going to deck him regardless of what his father would think about that.

With the darkness in the room and the complete silence, Adam correctly surmised that Grace was upset. What he didn’t understand was why she was so upset with him. Other than being rude and obnoxious or even slapping some sense into the young woman’s head, he didn’t know how to change her behavior. He was doing his best to be civil but was getting the same response from his wife as a result.

Undressing in the dark so as not to disturb Grace, Adam slid into his side of the bed. Grace had her back to him which was not unusual. The bed was small for two and they usually ended up sleeping spoon fashion with her back up against him and his arms around her. Tonight though as Adam reached out a hand to caress her back, she said a distinct ‘No’ which left no room to misunderstand. Adam lay back and stared into the dark. He didn’t think he would sleep well. After a bit, Grace was restless.

“Oh no, you can’t sleep on your back like that. You’ll snore, and then I won’t be able to sleep.”

“There’s a solution but you didn’t seem to want me near you tonight.”

“All right. It’s the only way we can sleep in this small bed.”

“I offered to get us a new bigger bed, but you said you liked this one because we had to snuggle together every night to sleep. I thought you liked that.”

“I do but not tonight.”

Adam slid over closer to Grace and laid on his side wrapping his arm around her middle. He began to caress her swollen stomach slipping his hand through one of the openings in the front of her gown.

“The skin feels very tight. Would you like me to rub some of that oil into your skin for you? It’s got to be uncomfortable as dry as it is.”

“That would be nice, I suppose.”

Adam got out of bed and got the jar of oil from the table. He returned to the bed and sat on the edge of the bed next to Grace. She had opened the ribbons in the middle of her gown, and Adam massaged oil across her abdomen stopping and smiling when he felt some kicks.

“Our little one doesn’t seem to like having this done.”

“I like it. Adam, why do you have to spend so much time with Melinda? Is it because I’m so big that you want to look at a pretty woman?”

Adam stopped what he was doing and just stared at Grace for a moment. He couldn’t see her expression in the dark as she was only a silhouette against the white pillow so he wasn’t sure if she really was serious about what she had just said.

“Sweetheart, I have tried to avoid her as much as possible. Other than punching her out, and don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, how do I get rid of her?”

“You don’t want to spend time with her?”

“I have been rude and obnoxious. I have walked away when I saw her coming. I have ignored attempts at conversation. But nothing stops that crazy woman. As for looking at a pretty woman, there’s a gorgeous woman who happens to be my wife. I never tire of looking at her and she’s getting more beautiful every day. I never thought I could love her more, but I find that I do love her more and more. Does that answer all of your questions?”

“Yes, and you do need your sleep. You may have a very busy day tomorrow?”

“Why tomorrow?”

“Your father and Jamie are going to town to do some business, and Hop Sing is attending to some family members. Joe will be riding out to resupply the line shacks. So just you and Melinda and I will be here. You’re going to be so tired running away from that crazy woman.”

Adam couldn’t see Grace’s face, but the humor was back in her voice. Melinda had become an inside joke for them. Tomorrow, no doubt, Grace would be enjoying his discomfiture around Melinda Banning. He leaned down and kissed her, before going to the opposite side of the bed to slip in and wrap his arms around his wife. They slept together in a warm embrace.

The next morning, Adam arose early to get busy with chores. Joe would be leaving so he would have to do his as well. Grace got up soon after he left to sit in the chair by the window. When she heard horses, she looked out, and as expected, saw Joe riding out leading pack horses. What was unexpected was seeing Melinda walking to the stable as soon as Joe cleared the yard. Grace stood and dressed as quickly as she could. As she went outside and neared the stable, she heard Adam’s voice raised in anger, and she walked to the side of the stable to listen and not interfere.

“My wife grows more gorgeous with each passing day. In a few months, she will have our child. A child who will be born to two parents who love each other with every fiber of their being. Our child will be born of love and caring by two parents who love each other just as completely. I will finally have my dream. You, Melinda, are my nightmare. You are everything that is wrong with the world. You are selfish, self-centered, and cruel. You have no sense of decency and no understanding at all of what it means to love someone.”

“Well, I never.”

“I believe that too. It’s a shame, really. You could have made some man a lovely wife. But now it’s too late with your fading looks and your brittle personality. Please, for the rest of your stay here, stay away from me and stay away from my wife.”

Melinda burst into tears. Adam wasn’t going to fall into that trap. He quickly exited the stable and walked toward the house. Grace came back around the side of the barn and entered the stable to find that Melinda miraculously had been able to stop crying and dry her crocodile tears the moment she realized there was no one to use them against.

“I think you need to leave. All you are doing here is trying to hurt people and make trouble. It’s a wonder they ever agreed to let you stay here after what you did last time.”

“Adam loves me. He wants me, and I love him too. He has a sense of loyalty to you because you’re carrying his baby, but that could change.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Joe had returned because one of the pack horses was favoring a right foreleg. He heard the exchange between the two women.

“Melinda, go in the house and pack your bags. You are no longer welcome here. We’ll get you a room in town. You might want to stay in your room too until there’s someone to drive you to town. You wouldn’t likely be safe around Adam when I tell him what I heard.”

“You’re even worse than your brother. You would both choose a fat cow over a beautiful woman. You’re both crazy.”

“Grace is the only beautiful woman here. You’re just a pretty cover over a rotten core. The sooner you’re gone, the sooner the stench will clear.”

Returning in the afternoon, Ben and Jamie were surprised to see the carriage hitched up and luggage packed in the back. Ben rushed inside worried that something awful had happened. On the settee, he saw Adam sitting with his arm around Grace’s shoulders as she leaned into his chest.

“Where’s Melinda?”

“Hiding in the guest room waiting for someone to drive her to town. She decided to cut her visit short.”

Grace grinned then and Ben relaxed telling Jamie he was heading to town again.

*****

Over five months later, Ben and Grace were sitting at his desk making final preparations for Adam’s birthday, the first one he would celebrate as a father. They wanted to make it very special as it was also the first one in many years that Adam would celebrate on the Ponderosa. He had returned the year before just after his birthday and after being gone for over six years. Hop Sing was making all of his favorite foods and was working on a chocolate cake with red frosting.

“A year ago, I was feeling hopeless. I had lost two sons I thought. Hoss was gone. Adam was gone. And Joe had lost Alice and his unborn baby. Now we have Adam here with us and he has a beautiful wife and a child. Last year at this time, I could never have imagined this.”

Walking down the stairs with his son in his arms, Adam interrupted their conversation. Adam was shirtless and the baby was only wearing a diaper so they knew what they were going to do. Their small son was afraid of a bath and would scream and almost convulse if you tried to put him in water or wash him with wet soapy cloths. However, they had discovered that if he was held firmly by Adam, he would sit in the tub with him. He would stare at his father’s face the entire time but wouldn’t cry.

“Hop Sing said he had our bath ready as soon as our little guy was awake, so I’m going to take a bath with him now. We’ll both be smelling like soap when our guests arrive.”

Never taking his eyes from Adam Eric Cartwright except to send a grin to Grace, Adam headed to the washroom. Grace went to get clean clothes for both of them. When she brought them into the washroom, Adam looked up with a big grin. She had heard AC laughing but had no idea what had caused it. AC had discovered splashing. He was kicking his legs and sending water everywhere and giggling madly as he did it. Then as Grace watched, he discovered that his hands could splash too and more water went flying. AC splashed himself in the face and stopped moving. He was resting in the crook of Adam’s left arm and Adam had his right hand over the baby’s tummy. AC looked up and Adam was smiling. He went back to splashing.

“I don’t think he’s afraid of the bath any more.”

“I wonder how long he can keep this up?”

“Probably as long as we let him.”

Staying back out of range, Grace got a big towel ready.

“We need to get him dressed for the party though, and I would prefer if you were dressed when our guests got here.”

Adam handed AC to Grace and then got out of the tub as well. He watched as Grace dried AC, and then wrapped their precious son in a warm towel. Adam dressed as Grace dressed AC and then she handed him to his father so she could go get dressed. When Adam and Grace returned to the great room, Ben was reading a letter as Jamie and Joe rested after completing the work outside to get ready for the party. Ben looked worried so Joe asked him what was in the letter.

“Melinda Banning got married. Her husband found her with another man and killed both of them before killing himself. When Debra found out, she had a stroke and sits silent and unmoving. Horace says there’s nothing that can be done.”

Adam was the first to speak. “What a tragic tale. That woman brought trouble to everyone she met and ruined lives wherever she went.”

“Not here.” Grace was not sorry she said that. They had managed to avoid being entangled in Melinda’s snare. Adam kissed his wife who was holding his son. Ben, Joe, and Jamie looked at each other and then at Adam. It was a beautiful loving moment.

“Happy Birthday, Adam! and many happy returns.”

***The End***

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