On stories with Elaine (by BettyHT)

Summary:  On Borrowed Time— Adam tries to stop a gunfight but fails and a young man dies. The dead man’s brothers blame Adam and put a complex plan of revenge into action. Soon Adam is missing and his family is the only hope he has of being found and saved.  On the Run— about five years later. Adam faces accusations and a tragic loss, and has to flee. He and his family need to investigate to discover who is behind the things that have been done. Sexual references and violence.  On Edge— Adam and Elaine have a number of issues to face together in this story as they get to know each other better. They always have the support of the rest of the family though whether they are facing Elaine’s disapproving father, fighting in court over Jon’s custody, or working to keep everyone in the family safe. Violence, and racist opinions of a character are included.  On Top of the Mountain— There are ups and downs in any family, and Adam and Elaine experience a number of those. Hoss gets to be romantic too as the story develops.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  110,684


On Borrowed Time

Chapter 1

Despite a warning from Hoss, Adam got involved. He felt he couldn’t let a young man like the youngest of the Long boys get shot down in the street without at least trying to prevent it. Johnny thought he was fast like some young men think they are fast because they can draw down on bottles on a fence rail and win every time. Facing a man who’s going to be shooting at you is an entirely different atmosphere that unfortunately boys like Johnny didn’t realize until they were in that situation. Trying to act like a tough man, Johnny had called out the card shark. Johnny said he cheated. The card shark said he didn’t, and then Johnny had called him a cheat and a liar. He told him to meet him in the street outside or everyone would know he was a coward too. The card shark shrugged his shoulders and walked out into the street to wait for Johnny who then had the first dose of common sense but too late and he ignored it as well. Now he stood facing a man who had done this before, and Johnny would soon be cause for his mother to shed tears if he didn’t back down. To his credit, the card shark gave him the opportunity to back down. He wouldn’t. That’s when Adam called out to him that he was a fool if he thought he could survive this and that he owed it to his parents to back down so they wouldn’t have to bury their youngest son. For a brief moment, it looked like it was going to work. Johnny turned toward Adam who encouraged him to walk away from it. A few who had been drinking too much called out that Johnny was a coward though. The young man swung back and drew, but the card shark was too wily to have let down his guard. He drew and fired before Johnny cleared leather. Johnny fell into the street and his blood soaked into the dirt.

Before the gun smoke had fully cleared, Johnny’s brothers were there. They asked what had happened and several said that Adam Cartwright had distracted Johnny allowing the card shark to shoot him down. Johnny’s brothers Matt and Nate walked up to Adam to confront him about that.

Adam addressed them first. “I tried to get him to back down. He was going to do just that until his friends egged him on. I’m sorry he got shot. There was nothing more I could do.”

Matt spoke for the brothers. “Those men over there say you got his attention, and that’s why the card shark shot him down in the street.”

“The card shark shot him down because Johnny drew on him first. He had no choice.”

“So you’re sticking up for that killer now too?”

“I’m stating the facts and nothing more.”

Sheriff Roy Coffee arrived then. “What in tarnation happened here?” So Adam gave his story and Hoss corroborated it. Several others told the same tale. Some of Johnny’s friends who had been drinking tried to get their version in too, but Roy knew what they were like especially when they were drinking. He told them he had all the evidence he needed. Matt and Nathan were incensed.

“What are we supposed to tell our Pa and our Ma? That Johnny got himself killed? No, we know who is to blame for this. That card shark and Adam Cartwright are to blame.” Turning to look at Adam who waited with Hoss to see if he was needed any longer, Matt laid out their desire for revenge but couched it in terms that no one could take as evidence. “Adam Cartwright, you and that card shark are living on borrowed time.”

“Adam did what he could to save your brother. Johnny done got himself into a mess and it got him killed. Weren’t Adam’s fault he drew on that card shark. Heck if he had any sense, he wouldn’t a been playing cards at all considering how bad he was at it.”

“You can keep your nasty opinions to yourself. Our beef is with your older brother. He got Johnny killed and he needs to pay for it.”

As Hoss was getting ready to say more, Adam put his hand on his arm. “C’mon. Let’s go home. We aren’t going to settle anything here.”

As Adam and Hoss rode home, they kept the pace up like they were in a hurry because Adam said he felt like he had a target on his back. Nothing happened. In fact, nothing happened at all for months and everyone relaxed about the situation except Adam. He remembered how long Matt had waited to take revenge on Hoss when they were just youngsters and Hoss had won a contest that Matt wanted to win. They had never been able to prove that it was Matt who had killed and dressed out Hoss’ pet rabbit and left it hanging by its cage for the boy to find, but Adam had seen the look on Matt’s face the next time he rode with Hoss and Joe to school. Matt had that self -satisfied smirk that he could do to perfection while the other students commiserated with the awful news Hoss delivered. Adam was sure Matt was cooking up some revenge plot against him this time and hoped that it did not ensnare his family.

At first it was only a prank. Adam was working in the southeast pasture after he saw that a part of the fence was damaged. It looked deliberate, but that still wouldn’t stop some of the cattle from wandering away if it wasn’t fixed. After about a half-hour of struggling to do temporary fence repairs without the proper tools, Adam saw two riders approaching the Ponderosa property line. One was bent over his horse and looked hurt. Adam recognized the Long brothers immediately and was suspicious. When they got closer though, he saw that Matt’s left side was covered in blood, and Nathan called out for help. Adam walked to them.

“We was hunting and somebody took shots at us. Matt got hit. I need help. I can only ride real slow and I can’t leave him. He’s gonna bleed to death before I can get him to town.”

“Here let me help you get him down. We’ll see what we can do to stop the bleeding.”

As Adam stepped to Matt’s side to help ease him from the horse, he suddenly had a pistol aimed at his face.

“Just back up now and drop your gun. See, Nate, I told ya he’d want to help. Our Good Samaritan here always wants to help even when it gets somebody killed. Now Adam why don’t ya take off your boots too while you’re at it.”

As Adam complied, Matt had Nathan take his boots and pistol and put them in his saddlebags. Then Nathan got his canteen. “Hand over your hat too. It’s such a beautiful day, you wouldn’t want to miss any of that sunshine now would you?” When Adam finished that, Matt ordered him to unsaddle Sport before telling Nathan to cut through the cinch. Nathan slapped Sport on the rump then causing him to run off a short distance. Matt fired a few shots into the dirt near the horse to make him take off running. “Now if you catch him, you aren’t going to be able to ride him anyway. Have a nice walk home. See ya.” Then the two brothers rode away leaving Adam to complete a long barefoot walk in the hot sun with no water.

It was nearly dark when Hoss found Adam walking. He had a sunburned face and his feet had a number of cuts and small abrasions from walking. Adam was very grateful when he saw Hoss and sank to the ground. Hoss jumped from his horse and wanted to know what happened, but Adam could only croak out that he needed water. Once his parched lips and throat were soothed, he could answer.

“The Long brothers decided I needed a long walk in the sun.”

“Dadburnit, just when I was thinking they give up on that stupid talk about revenge, they go and do this. You don’t suppose this is it, and they’re done with ya?”

“No, I think it’s probably step one of whatever plan the two of them have cooked up. Matt is going to do something. I wish I had some idea what it was.”

Riding double, Hoss and Adam finally got home well after dark. Ben and others had already returned without finding him. Relieved that it was a practical joke and not something more serious, Ben said that Adam should not go anywhere alone until they were sure the Long brothers had given up on their plans for revenge. Adam agreed to reassure his father, but Hoss saw his look. Later as Adam reclined in his bed with his feet bandaged, Hoss stepped into his room.

“You think they’re gonna do the same again, don’t you? They’ll wait so long until they pull their next stunt that nobody will be expecting it. We’ll let our guard down, and they’ll do something to ya?”

“It worked this time. I should never have walked right into it like that. I know better, but Matt is very good at planning. And you know I can’t tell Roy about this. I’d look like a fool and a whiner. So they get away with it too. Only next time it’s likely to be something worse. He’s playing with me now setting me up for a bigger fall.”

“What makes you so sure you know Matt that well? We haven’t ever had much to do with them.”

“Hoss, I know it probably still bothers you, but do you remember what happened to your pet rabbit when you were about ten years old?” The look on Hoss’ face was the only answer Adam needed. “I think Matt did that.”

“What, twenty some years later you think you figured that out?”

“No, I thought so at the time, but there was no evidence except the look on Matt’s face when you were telling the other kids about what happened. He saw me watching him and smiled at me. I knew then but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.”

“Why did he do it?”

“Remember that contest where you had to throw balls through the hoop on Independence Day? You beat him at it. He wanted that win and the pocket knife prize that went to you instead. He got even.”

Hoss sat quietly. “Adam, I’ll watch your back as best I can, but you need to tell this to Pa and Joe too. They gotta know what kind of man we’re dealing with.”

“It won’t matter. Hoss, sooner or later, we all relax when a threat isn’t realized. That’s when he’ll strike.”

“With the drive coming up, I’m real worried. How can we keep you safe there? There’s always so much going on and people and cattle all over the place.”

“Well there won’t be any Long brothers along on the drive. I can’t imagine that they would follow the drive to Nevada through the desert and then the mountains especially so soon after this prank.”

And thinking like that was the second mistake Adam made that day. In town, Matt and Nathan were talking to two itinerant cowboys who had been hired for the roundup and cattle drive on the Ponderosa.

“Now just make sure he gets hurt and can’t keep going with the drive. The closer you are to Ruby when that happens, the better. In fact, one of you could suggest Ruby as a place for him to catch a stage for home while his brothers finish the drive. That way they won’t know and his pa won’t know that he’s missing for at least two or three weeks. We’ll pay you in advance, but remember what happens to people who disappoint me.”

“You aren’t gonna kill him, are ya? Cause we don’t want to be mixed up in no killing especially with those Cartwrights. They’re the only ones who scare me almost as much as you do.”

“Nah, we don’t plan on him getting killed. Although with what we got planned for him, he might rather be dead. Now get going so nobody sees us together. You got your money, so just take care of business.”

*****

Chapter 2

The drive went well and the fears that Hoss and Joe had that the Longs might try something to hurt Adam faded as they crossed the desert and then headed into the mountain valleys and neared the rich meadows with nice grass and plenty of water. The drive was going well. They had one last narrow rocky defile to get through and they would hit much nicer territory for moving cattle. Adam planned for them to halt for a few days and let the cattle recover from the hard part of the drive. From that point on the rest of the drive typically went very well.

On that last very early morning in the rocky terrain, Adam was scheduled to take the last of the nighthawk duties. He went to get his horse and found the men had already saddled one for him. The horse seemed a bit unruly, but he was not familiar with this one so he assumed it might take him a few minutes to settle the horse. Instead when he mounted up, the horse started bucking like a green broke horse in a breaking corral except there were no riders there to rescue him from the furiously bucking animal and no dirt to land in. When he lost his seat, he fell hitting his right hand and his head on a boulder. He had twisted and tried to avoid a direct collision between his head and the rock but was only partially successful. His right wrist was sprained badly and he had a large gash on the right side of his head. The men alerted Joe and Hoss who came running.

“Dadburnit, Adam, things were going so well. Why you hafta go and get hurt like that?”

Leaning against the boulder and cradling his right arm against his chest, Adam grimaced and didn’t answer. He only said one thing. “Quiet.” His head was pounding and he wasn’t sure if the world had stopped spinning around as it had been when he first opened his eyes after the fall. He tried again but nothing stayed in one place. He was forced to lean to the side as he spewed out the coffee he had drunk just before walking out of camp to the remuda to get a horse. Hoss pressed a wad of cloth against the cut on his head causing him to groan.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to hurt ya, but that cut needs a bandage. If you’re lucky at all, we won’t need to stitch it. Can you walk?”

A hoarse “Of course I can” was forced out through clenched teeth. Except when Adam tried to stand, he found he couldn’t do it. Hoss stayed on his right side pressing the cloth against the wound while lifting him by his elbow. Joe helped by grabbing his left arm. Between the two of them, they got a staggering Adam back into the camp. Once Adam was resting against Hoss’ saddle, Hoss turned around to ask what had happened. One of the men came up with a handful of jimson weed he had found where the horse was tied for the night.

“Now why didn’t anyone see that yesterday? Everyone here knows to watch for patches of that stuff. It makes cattle and horses go loco.”

“Guess somebody just made a mistake, Boss. Just your brother’s bad luck to draw that horse this morning.”

For a moment, Hoss was suspicious but decided that there wasn’t any way that the Longs could have orchestrated that scenario. He thought they could not possibly have set up that horse to eat jimson weed and then buck Adam off into the rocks. As he wrapped a bandage around Adam’s head, Joe was examining Adam’s wrist.

“Adam, your wrist is bad. It doesn’t look like anything is broken but it’s swollen up pretty bad already. You won’t be able to ride or shoot for weeks.”

“Hey, Boss, there’s a little town called Ruby not far from here. It’s on the stage line to Reno. He could go to Ruby, and when he felt well enough, he could take the stage to Reno and then the spur line home.”

“I’m not getting sent home. I can still work.”

“Oh, yeah, brother, and just what dadblamed job are you going to be able to do? You got a head injury so you can’t ride, and you can’t use your right arm.” Hoss didn’t want to send Adam home, but he could see no other alternative. “We can get you to Ruby. You can rest there, and when you feel up to it, you can take the stage and then the train to Virginia City. Send a telegram before you leave, and Pa will be there to meet you and get you home. I don’t see any other way to do this.”

Closing his eyes and sighing deeply, Adam conceded the argument. He knew that there was something wrong with the plan, but thoughts were too jumbled for him to come up with a coherent objection. He didn’t want to make trouble for Hoss, so he agreed. It would likely be difficult enough just getting him to Ruby, and he didn’t want to make any more trouble for his brothers. “Sorry. I’ll do it your way.”

“I’m sorry, too, Adam, but it’s the only way I see this turning out all right. You can rest up in Ruby until you feel well enough to take that stagecoach. We got enough money with us so we can give you plenty to get you home.”

The herd was halted for a day and the chuck wagon was used to transport Adam to Ruby. Hoss and Joe went with him and got him settled in at the hotel. They paid for two days and left enough money for him to stay longer if needed. There was no doctor in the town, but there was a woman who took care of people who were hurt or sick. Once they were all introduced to Mamie Harkness, she looked Adam over and pronounced that he should be fit to travel in a few days, but that his wrist ought to be splinted.

“Why, ma’am, ifn it ain’t broken?” Hoss had simply bandaged it to keep the swelling under control.

“Because a sprain like that is almost as bad as a break. With a splint on, he won’t do any more damage to it.”

“Well then, I guess you gotta splint it. You got something you can give him? He’s hurting bad.”

“Not with that head injury. I’ll be as careful as I can be so as not to hurt him. Then you can take him over to the hotel so he can get some rest. I’ll check on him tomorrow morning. Make sure he’s got some water to drink. I doubt he’ll want any food today anyway. I’ll make sure he gets some breakfast.”

“How much do we owe you, ma’am?”

“Two dollars ought to cover anything I got to do.”

Hoss handed her five dollars. After she splinted Adam’s wrist, Joe and Hoss helped him to the hotel and got him settled in a room. He quickly fell asleep, and his brothers headed back to the herd thinking that they had done all they had to do to ensure Adam’s safety and comfort. He had enough money for more days at the hotel if needed as well as money for meals and a ticket for the stage. What they never saw were the two Long brothers watching the scene unfold from their seats by the window in the saloon.

Once Hoss and Joe were gone for about an hour and the sun began to dip below the mountaintop, they headed for the hotel and went up to their room. There weren’t many guests so they quickly found Adam’s room. Adam was drowsy but recognized the brothers but wasn’t in any shape to resist them.

“Hey, now, Adam, old buddy. How about we go downstairs and have a little drink? No hard feelings now, right?”

Without giving Adam a chance to decline, they hustled him down the back stairs of the hotel and into the alley next to the saloon. Matt checked his pockets taking a pocket knife, watch, and all the cash he had. Matt took the opportunity to punch him several times in the stomach and then dealt a wicked uppercut to his chin that dropped him to the ground. Adam moaned and then retched up the water he had ingested only a short time before.

“Perfect. That ought to help our little story line play out real well. You got the bottle?” Nathan handed a small bottle of whisky to Matt who opened it and poured it all over Adam’s shirt as well as a generous portion over his face and made sure some got in his mouth. With the rough treatment, Adam lost consciousness. Matt kicked him a few times in the legs. He reached down then and made a fist with Adam’s left hand and pounded it into the dirt a few times to abrade the knuckles. By the time he was done, Adam looked like a drunk who had been in a brawl. Nathan switched boots with him so that his expensive boots would not cause any suspicion. Leaving Adam in the dirty alley, they went to the hotel and up to Adam’s room. Once there, Nathan pulled the bloody bandage they had taken from Adam’s head as well as the splint from his wrist. With those in place, Nathan dressed in Adam’s black clothes and put on his jacket and gunbelt as well as his tan coat and his black hat.

“How do I look?”

“For people who don’t know Cartwright, you’ll do fine. Now remember, I’ll meet you at the first way station with your horse so we’ll ride cross country toward home. The only story anyone will be able to tell is that Adam Cartwright left town and then rode off with a man in the direction of Virginia City. He’ll disappear for good.”

“Matt, that’s the part I don’t quite understand. I know Ruby is tough on vagrants, drifters, and drunks. They jail them and then make em go work for somebody to pay off their fines, but the most anybody gets is six months. How is that gonna turn into forever, and what’s gonna happen to us when he comes back?”

“Sooner or later, he’s bound to say who he is. It might be a while until his head is clear enough for him to know what’s going on though. By then, he’ll be in the system, and when they realize who it is, they won’t let him go. He would ruin the sweet little money maker this town has. He’ll never get out of the system alive.”

“So it’s perfect. You get them to kill him for us, and we’ll be back home and no one will be able to blame us for it.”

“That’s the plan, Nathan. That’s the plan.”

“But nobody is gonna know he’s dead except us.”

“Yeah, so we get all of them. Hoss is gonna be sick with worry when his brother is missing. Well, you know, I kinda like that too. I don’t mind if old man Cartwright and his youngest brat suffer some too. I never could stand any of em. Now get some sleep in his room here. I’ll wake you in the morning so you can head over to the stage line and get on that early stage. Don’t eat any breakfast or do anything where you’ll have to talk with anyone. When you’re on the stage, moan a bit when the stage hits a bump in the road but keep it low key. Just a couple so they remember you done it is all ya need. Don’t overdo it, or they’ll stop the stage and try to help ya. Keep that hat down over your eyes as much as you can too. You got it?”

“I got it, Matt. I’ll do everything just like you said.”

The rest of the plan worked just as Matt intended. By noon of the next day, Matt and Nathan were on the way to Virginia City. In Ruby, a deputy had found a dirty drunk who appeared to have gotten the worst of a fight. There was no money or anything of value on him. They carried him to the jail. The judge showed up at eight to see if there was any business. He fined him for vagrancy, loitering, public drunkenness, and public brawling, sentenced him to six months at hard labor to pay his fines, and went on his way thinking he had done another good deed for the town. The mine would pay the town twenty dollars a month for the man’s labor while they fed and housed him so the town cleared one hundred and twenty dollars with no costs involved. Adam never woke up for any of the proceedings. The deputy got the wagon hitched up, and with some help, he loaded Adam into the back and headed to the mine.

Mamie Harkness was very surprised at the hotel to find that Adam Cartwright had checked out and taken the stage, but the clerk described him just as she remembered him. Some men she decided were too damn stubborn for their own good. She guessed he would be sick from riding and that would set back his recovery. She was correct because by the time the deputy drove the wagon to the mine, Adam was dry retching in the wagon. He was disoriented, hurt, and dehydrated. The mine manager took one look at him and figured it might be up to a week before they got any decent work out of him. He directed the deputy to deposit him in one of the bunkhouses. No one checked on him again until it was time for dinner.

*****

Chapter 3

“Where am I?” Adam had awakened to the sickening smells of food, unwashed bodies, and tobacco smoke. He took a moment to get his eyes to focus properly and then asked the nearest person the question he needed to ask.

“You’re at the Ruby mine. Guess you were so drunk you don’t remember getting hauled out here. Like as not you got the full sentence with the way you look. Went on a real bender, didn’t ya?”

“My head hurts. I don’t remember having a drink at all. I only remember going to bed, and then I woke up here.”

“Not so surprising as I can still smell it on ya. Want something to drink?” When Adam nodded, the man handed him a cup of water. Adam tried to reach for it with his right hand and couldn’t. He sucked in a breath as the pain from his wrist radiated up his arm, and then he reached for the water with his left hand. “I’ll get ya a small bowl of the stew. They feed us all right here cause they want to get as much work out of us as they can. You may not want it now, but there won’t be nothing else til breakfast. I’ll get ya a hunk of bread too.” Adam dipped the bread in the stew and was able to eat that.

As the other men retired to their bunks, he leaned back and tried to remember how he could have come to be here. There were a number of memories jumbled up in his mind and he needed some time to try to make sense of all of it. He had gotten a couple of head injuries before, and each time, it seemed to take him longer to make sense of everything around him. This time was especially disorienting. He remembered the cattle drive and suddenly remembered why his wrist hurt. Then he knew he was brought to town and put in a hotel room. There were memories that were flitting about with the Long brothers, pain, an alley, jail cell, and wagon ride. He didn’t know which were real and which were dreams. In time, he would come to understand that they were all real and connected. Finally one of the men asked him his name.

“Adam, Adam Cartwright.”

Silence greeted that pronouncement. Then there was laughter. “Hey fellas, we got ourselves a comedian. Says he’s one of the Cartwrights. Yeah like they go on drunken benders and end up paying their fines with work. You’re a funny man. We’ll call you AC until you decide to tell us your real name.”

“What’s your name?”

“Buck. Got called that for so long I don’t rightly remember what my given name is no more. I only got a few weeks left to finish paying my fine. Like as not, you’ll be taking my spot in the mine. The work isn’t that bad, but in this weather especially, it can get darn hot down there. Some of the shoring ain’t the best. Some of the back caved into the stope yesterday, and we had to dig all that rock outta there before we could get back to the vein.”

“You have experience in mining then?”

“Oh, yeah, done it here and there for quite a while. Usually I get paid for my work, but not here. I’m looking forward to getting outta here and getting back to a real job. Besides the shoring ain’t so good down there, and getting out alive is gonna feel real good. You know much about mining?”

“Quite a bit actually, but I have no intention of working here. This is all a huge mistake, and I plan to let them know to contact my family and get me out of here.”

“So you gonna keep saying you’re Adam Cartwright? I wouldn’t do that ifn I was you. Ifn they think you really are, you’re likely to end up at the bottom of an abandoned shaft. They don’t want nobody ruining their little money maker here.”

“Any one of you men could go to the authorities and tell them about this place.”

“Oh, yeah, the law is real interested in what drifters, drunks, and no-accounts got to say. You really are a funny guy.”

When the boss came in the next morning, he told Adam that his job was cleaning up the cabins and helping prepare meals until his wrist was better. That took a week. Then Adam was sent down into the mine with the others. By the end of the first night, his head hurt and his wrist ached. He was exhausted. He also had come to realize the level of corruption needed to let a system like this operate. Even though Buck didn’t accept his claim to be Adam Cartwright, he agreed with Buck’s conclusion that if they found out his identity, he would likely not live very much longer. He lay in his bunk with his threadbare blanket at night wondering how close his family was to finding him for they were his only true hope. What he didn’t know was that they were not yet aware he was missing. By the time they found out, he was just another one of the bearded, unwashed miners who worked twelve hours a day and six on Sunday. Breakfast was at five, first shift was from six until twelve with lunch at twelve. Then from one to seven they worked the second shift, had dinner, and by eight, it was lights out.

The substrate was more stable in this mine than it was in Virginia City mines, but there were still cave-ins and occasional tunnel collapses. Although they were treated reasonably well, men died and were buried without markers in the open area just beyond the camp. There was no telling how many were buried out there for the windswept area removed any sign of a grave within weeks. Occasionally though as they dug one grave, they found bones from previous burials. It made no difference as they added the new casualty to the soil where the others were already interred. Adam did his best to get through each day without saying too much. It was the third week he was there that he made a mistake but one that had to be made.

“The shoring in the stope is going to collapse. The rock is bending around the timbers and within a day or less, it’s all going to come crashing down.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just know.”

“You’d have to be a mining engineer to have any way to know that.” And the boss remembered then that some of the workers joked about AC claiming to be Adam Cartwright. He decided to put it to the test. “So what should we do about it?” Adam proceeded to tell him how to shore up the back temporarily and then how to construct some square sets in that place for stability. It was all the man needed. The work was done, and it appeared nothing had changed except it had. The boss informed the owners about whom their latest worker might be. One of them had seen Adam a number of times. He came to the mine to observe, and what he saw chilled him. It was Adam Cartwright. If he got out of this mine, all of them could be facing not only financial ruin but jail or prison time as well. He went to the other owners who included the judge from Ruby. By that night, there were papers on AC that he had committed felonies and was to be locked away for life in Nevada State Prison. Adam had no idea any of this had transpired until the prison wagon was due in Ruby. He was hustled from the mine, shackled, and hauled off to Ruby where he was loaded onto the prison wagon. He had gone from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. And his family had just found out he was missing.

When Hoss and Joe rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, Ben strode out of the house to greet them. After a hearty hello and smiles, he looked behind them. “Where’s Adam?”

“Ain’t he home?” Hoss was surprised.

“Why would he be home? Did he ride ahead of you?”

“Pa, Adam got hurt over three weeks ago. We took him into Ruby so he could catch a stage home. He was supposed to send a telegram when he was on his way.”

“There was no telegram and there’s no Adam.”

Suddenly very worried, Hoss and Joe mounted up again. “Where are you going?”

“Ruby, of course. Me and Joe gotta find out what happened. We never stopped in there on the way here cause we thought Adam woulda been long gone.”

“I’m going with you. Hoss, go get some provisions from Hop Sing. Joe, write a message to Roy letting him know what we’re doing and send one of the hands to deliver it. I’m going to pack up a few things and saddle up Buck. We’re going to go find my son.”

The three men traveled as fast as they could. When they got to town, Hoss suggested that Mamie Harkness would be the first person with whom they should speak. They found her at home.

“I never seen him after that first time. I went to the hotel the next morning, and they said he had checked out. Surprised me cause with the shape he was in, I never thought he would be out of that bed so fast. I reckon he paid for that decision while he was riding on the stage. I suppose you want some of your money back now?”

“No, Mamie, not at all. I remember all you did for my brother so you keep the money I gave you.”

They headed to the hotel next, and the clerk verified that Adam had checked out. He described him exactly but said things that surprised them. “You could see the pain in them blue eyes. I told him it wasn’t a problem if he wanted to stay longer, but he said he said he wanted to get home to his daddy.”

“So, this man had a bloody bandage on his head and a splint on his right wrist?” The clerk nodded at Hoss’ question. But he had blue eyes and he said ‘daddy’ when he talked to you?” The clerk nodded again, but added more.

“I could be wrong about those things, but that’s how I remember it.”

Thanking the clerk as they had thanked Mamie, the three headed to the stage depot where it was confirmed that someone meeting Adam’s description had boarded a stage for Reno. From across the street, the judge watched with his nerves in a jangle. When the three mounted up and rode out, he visibly relaxed and went to tell the other owners that Ben Cartwright and his other sons had left town. They were headed to Reno to talk with two passengers who had been on that stage. It took a number of days to make that trip as their mounts were tiring. Finally they located the couple who had been on that stage and asked about the man in black with the tan jacket.

Mrs. Daul was more than happy to answer their questions. “Oh, yes, I remember him well. He seemed to be in pain and moaned a few times when the stage hit a particularly big bump. He kept his hat pulled down over his face, but you could tell he was hurting.”

“Do you know where he went when he got to Reno?”

“Oh, he never got to Reno. He left at the first way station stop. There was a friend waiting there with a horse, and he said it would be more comfortable to go home to his daddy that way rather than on that stage.”

The jarring use of ‘daddy’ again set them all on edge, but Ben outwardly remained calm. When he asked if they could describe that other rider or the horses, Mr. Daul was able to do both. They knew then that the Longs had to be at the bottom of this mystery. They thanked the Dauls and headed to a hotel.

“Pa, Adam wasn’t on that stage. Them Longs set that all up. So where do you think he is?”

“Hoss, the answer has to be in Ruby. He didn’t leave on the stage so he’s got to be there somewhere.” Ben did not voice his fear that the Long brothers had killed him.

“Hoss, how do we know it was the Longs?”

“Joe, Matt Long especially always says things about his ‘daddy’ and you know how Nathan does whatever Matt does. Nathan Long has blue eyes too even with that dark hair. He’s about Adam’s size too. The horses they described fit the horses that Matt and Nathan ride. It was them all right. Ifn we don’t find Adam in Ruby, I got some questions I want to ask those two, and they better answer em.”

They got no more information in Ruby the second time they were there. The sheriff said he had never seen anyone fitting that description. He asked his deputies, and they claimed the same. Ben and his younger sons rode to Virginia City and laid out their suspicions to Roy. He went to question the Long brothers but got no information. When he reported to Ben, he agreed the Longs had done something.

“That Matt had that smirk he always has when he’s been up to something, and that Nathan liked to wet himself, he was so nervous. They tried not to react to my questions when you know darn well they shoulda been happier than a pig after a rain knowing Adam is likely in trouble. They done something. I wish I had some idea what it was. I’ll keep a deputy watching em. It’s about all I kin do right now.”

“Well, you let me ask em a few questions, and I’ll get some answers from em.”

“Hoss, now you stay away from em. It ain’t gonna do your brother Adam no good for you to end up in jail. Now we gotta get more information. I think I’ll send Clem to Ruby and see what he can come up with. You three go home until we get something else to go on. Ben ain’t you got that visit to the state prison coming up?”

“Yes, but I’m really not in a mood to do it right now.”

“Well, I think you oughta, and then ask them other commission folks what they might know about Ruby, and if any other men are missing from that area.”

“You have an idea, Roy?”

“Just the hint of one. Every now and then I get a drunk or a drifter in here who asks me if they treat men the same here as in Ruby. I always just tell em they’ll pay the fine or do the jail time. They look relieved at that, and now I’m real curious as to why. Something might be going on up there in Ruby, and Adam may have got himself into the middle of it.”

*****

Chapter 4

“Damn, Ben Cartwright is coming here with the prison commission. We gotta do something about that son of his.” The warden had a share in the Ruby mine too, and his career, reputation, wealth, and freedom were all at risk if Adam Cartwright was able to tell what he knew. He couldn’t sanction an outright murder though. He had never gone that far, and wasn’t sure he could.

“Warden, maybe if we just let him in the general population, they’ll take care of him for us. That Enders bunch gave him a good pounding just after he got here.” The assistant warden was the brother of the judge who sent Adam into the prison. He stood to lose as much as the others.

“Tom, where is he now?”

“He’s in the infirmary yet. He was senseless for a day or so. Looked like he had a head injury not that long ago.”

“Release him into the population. Tomorrow morning, find something to charge against him and put him in the hole. No one’s gonna look in there, and even if they do, a dirty bearded man sweating in the hot sun won’t be recognized by his own mother.”

“Warden, I’ll take care of it. We got all the other things set up for an inspection. Got a few of the loud mouths in solitary. The inspection should go just fine.”

“Just see that it does. Everything depends on that working out.”

On the Ponderosa, that night, there was a knock on the door that brought a reaction from the Cartwrights. Each grabbed a firearm before Ben cautiously opened the door. The man at the door was a stranger.

“Are you Ben Cartwright?”

“I am. And may I ask who you are especially as you arrived long after the usual time for calling on someone?”

“Sorry about that. I got directions but I got turned around a few times until I saw the lights here and figured it had to be the place. My name is Buck Tyler. I think I might have some information for you about your son Adam.”

Although Ben was still on alert for some trick or or foul play the man might be planning, he invited Buck into the house. “Now what do you know about Adam?”

“Well, you see, I’m not so sure I know anything, but I heard in town that he was missing. Well, I come here looking for work in the mines, and people said they weren’t hiring except they said the Ponderosa is usually hiring at this time of year except with Adam missing, everything is different.”

“Yes, but could you get to the point of this visit? It’s late.”

“I just got out of serving a six month sentence in Ruby. I got drunk and disorderly there and had to pay a fine except I didn’t have no money so they sentenced me to hard labor for six months.”

Hoss couldn’t believe that. “Six months hard labor for being drunk? That don’t seem right.”

“Well it’s how they do things there. Anyway, a man was brought into the mining camp to work just a short time before I got released. He told me his name was Adam Cartwright. Well I didn’t believe him, but I told him to keep it to himself cause ifn he told them bosses at the camp, well, they as likely as anything woulda probably wanted to get rid of him before he told anyone what they was doing there.”

“Mr. Tyler, can you describe this man who called himself Adam Cartwright?”

“You can just call me Buck. Well he was tall, at least three or four inches taller than me. He had on a black shirt and black pants. His hair is black and kinda curly especially the longer it got. He grew more beard in the weeks I knew him than most of us could grow in a few months. He walked real smooth like he was the boss of everything, and he didn’t back down from nobody. His eyes was kinda funny cause they looked kinda brown sometimes and kinda green other times. His voice was deep and he could sing real nice like. Led us in singing on Sunday afternoon which was the only down time we ever had. He had a bum wrist when he got there, a bunch of bruises, and a bump on the head. Don’t know what happened to him, and he didn’t rightly know either for sure I guess. He didn’t talk much about himself. Kinda kept things to himself and seemed to ponder on them some.”

Ben’s hopes had been rising as Buck talked. “Buck, you have just described my son. Where is this camp in Ruby?” Hoss and Joe stood as if they could ride there that night.

“Well, it’s not too far from town so it would be easy to find. But Mr. Cartwright, he ain’t there no more. The day before I got released, they chained him up and took him away. Some said they heard somebody say they was taking him into town for the prison wagon.”

“Prison? Why would they be taking him to prison?”

“Well, you see that did make me wonder too, and today when I heard Adam was missing, well it got me to wondering if that was him, and they meant to shut him up by locking him away for good.”

When it turned out that Buck didn’t know any more, Ben had him take a bunk in the bunkhouse. He said he would pay him a wage just to stay there for the time being until they could get to the bottom of what had happened. Then Ben sat up with his younger sons for almost two hours as they planned what they would do. In the morning as soon as it was light, Hoss rode to town with Buck to talk with Roy. With Buck’s information, Roy might be able to do something to get an investigation going about the Ruby camp, and if he could go there with Hoss, they might be able to question people and get some information. Ben planned to go on the prison inspection. In fact, he was now anxious to go, but Joe was coming with him. They hoped to add a few more people once Roy contacted the authorities in Carson City to let them know that something suspicious was going on with the state prison. Ben prayed silently as often as he could that Adam had survived and would continue to survive until they could find him and bring him home.

In the prison, Adam was having trouble sleeping. He had a gut feeling that he was in a lot more danger than anyone seemed to think. Still hurting from the beating he had received, he suspected that he had been assured that he would be safe in the population in order to set him up for something. Unfortunately, he wasn’t at all sure what he faced. He fell asleep a few times and then jerked awake with the feeling that someone was close by who meant him harm. All he heard he time he awakened though were the snores and heavy breathing of those near him. No one was moving at all for as quiet as it was he was sure he could detect that.

There actually were a couple of men in the prison who had helped him. They told him that they had worked drives for the Ponderosa and had been treated fairly. Adam told them if he ever got out of prison, they could come to the Ponderosa when they were released, and he would hire them to work. The two cowboys had gotten into a shoot-out in a saloon and ended up doing prison time because a bystander had been killed by a stray bullet. They were decent men who had made a big mistake, and they were the two who had saved Adam from being beaten to death by Bill Enders and his friends. They slept in the same corner where Adam now reclined. There was talk of a prison inspection the next day. Adam knew his father was on that commission. He hoped that there would be some way for him to get to his father, but wondered if the warden and guards knew who he was and would prevent that. He was on the prison rolls as Aaron Cavil, the name of a student with whom Adam attended college and the only one he could come up with in a hurry that matched the AC that he was called. They never questioned the name or anything else about him so he suspected they already knew he was Adam Cartwright.

In the morning, the food ration was delivered and it was only about half of what was needed. A fight broke out as inmates fought over the food. Guards rushed in and beat back the inmates until all were standing against the wall. Adam had stayed out of the melee as he was in no condition to fight any one in any way. As the warden arrived, the guards told the inmates to face the wall.

“Who started this mess?”

“Warden, our best information is that AC did it.”

Almost pulling away from the wall to deny that he had done anything, his two friends shushed him in order to save him from a worse punishment for they knew he was in for some disciplinary action.

“Put him in the hole. Oh, and ten lashes before he goes down there to give him a reminder during his time in the hole that he needs to follow the rules around here.”

Two guards approached Adam and grabbed his arms as the others held firearms on the inmates. Once Adam was taken from the cell, more food was delivered and the door was locked but not before the assistant warden warned them that they had seen nothing. The men nodded or stared at the floor. They had seen other men get that kind of treatment. They usually did not have long to live. Outside, Adam was stripped down and secured to a wagon wheel. He knew what was coming but the first lash still caused him to yell. After that, he kept control and was silent. Each lash sent fire along his back. By the tenth lash, he didn’t want to move because even the slightest movement pulled against the lacerations and sent waves of pain radiating out across his body. The ties were loosened and he was forced to stagger to the hole that was a four by eight by ten foot deep excavation in the middle of the yard. The grate was pulled open and a ladder was set in place for him to climb down. He tried but slipped and fell down most of the ten feet. He hardly even felt the damage from the hard fall with the pain in his back. He lay on the dirt floor of the hole and tried not to move. He tried to breathe as shallowly as possible as the pain was intense. He heard them talking above him wondering if he was still alive. He heard the warden’s voice.

“It doesn’t matter. Now or later, he’s a dead man, and we did it all legal like too. Now follow the rest of your instructions.”

The grate was lowered and locked. Then Adam was plunged into darkness as a canvas tarp was laid over the grate. Next he heard dirt landing on the tarp, and then he knew the plan. They would keep him in the hole and even the hole’s existence would be concealed. If his father or anyone else searched for him, they would never find him. He nearly cried when he realized he would die in this hole, alone, injured, and in the dark. He did not have any food or water and had not had any of either since the night before. He probably had perhaps a day left in this world when the sun heated this makeshift tomb to unbearable temperatures as well. He felt like a leaf blowing about in the wind. He was so used to being in charge and controlling his destiny that he felt the lack of control and the helplessness even more as they were so foreign to his previous existence. After a time, the sounds from above dimmed and then there was silence. He was in a silent, dark, hot cell from which he could not escape. His father always had told him that where there was life, there was hope. He tried to hang onto that and said a few prayers and asked for absolution for his sins. Then he closed his eyes and gave in to the exhaustion.

About that time, Ben, Joe, and the other members of the prison commission were being escorted by the assistant warden to the warden’s office. Tom could tell that this group was going to be a lot more difficult than the previous commission. They were already looking around with critical eyes and not liking what they saw. Undoubtedly there would be changes forced upon them by this new group. He hoped they wouldn’t be too difficult and expensive to implement for it could significantly lower their profits from this enterprise if there were too many reforms required. He gave no thought to Adam Cartwright in the hole because he was sure they had taken care of that problem permanently.

*****

Chapter 5

As Ben sat with the warden, he had the distinct impression that the man was very nervous. He would not meet Ben’s gaze, and frequently stumbled over words in his answers to some of their questions. Finally Ben thought to see just how nervous he could make him.

“We haven’t introduced everyone yet. Warden, this is my son Joseph. He is a temporary member of the commission. My son Eric will be here later with Sheriff Roy Coffee and a few others who will assist us in our investigation. I have a third son, Adam, but he’s missing at the moment. He was in Ruby and then we heard he was put on a prison wagon. Why was he brought here and when did he arrive?”

“Mr. Cartwright, we have no one here by that name. You sound very accusing in your questions, and I resent the implication that we have done something wrong here. I will be expecting an apology at the end of your visit.” The warden was a bit belligerent but still didn’t meet Ben’s eyes and his eyes did flick toward the assistant warden several times as if asking for help. Soon the assistant warden addressed the warden to extricate him from the conversation before he could say anything incriminating.

“Warden, I’ll get these men started on their tours so you can get back to all the work that you have to finish today.”

“Yes, Tom, thank you. That would be very good.”

That action let Ben and Joe know that the assistant warden was in on whatever was happening in this prison. They dutifully followed along on the tour opening doors and cabinets along the way and requiring all locked rooms, cabinets, and closets to be opened and inspected. They found nothing out of the ordinary, and worst of all, they found no sign of Adam. They ate lunch getting the same rations the men got that day. They knew that the food was probably better than anything the men ate regularly, but they saw no one who looked malnourished. In the afternoon they did an inspection of everything outside. Again there was no sign of Adam but Joe noticed brown stains on a large wagon wheel and asked what it was.

“Ah, that’s where we secure men who are punished with lashes. You must know that some men only respond to such physical punishment. We have to keep the other inmates safe from brutes like that.”

“There’s fresh blood on here. Who was whipped? I don’t remember seeing any man with lashes including the men in solitary.”

“Ah, I’m sure he’s in the prison hospital. We would not be so brutal as to put a man with such wounds into solitary. Anyone who is sick, injured, or wounded is put in the prison hospital until they are healthy enough to be returned to the general population. These men would take advantage of anyone who was weak like that so they have to be cared for until they can take care of themselves.”

Ben had an answer to that. “Now you gave a pretty little speech there, but we saw no one in the prison hospital with injuries to his back. In fact, there were obvious injuries to the men who are being held in solitary, and they are not in the hospital either. I want to know where the man who took these lashes is.”

There suddenly was a disturbance at the gate that drew everyone’s attention. A detachment of Nevada militia entered the prison grounds with Hoss and Roy as well the state attorney general who was there as a representative of the governor’s office. Riding in behind them was Dr. Paul Martin in his carriage. Tom visibly paled. Hoss and Roy rode up to Ben, Joe, and the other commission members.

“Pa, the governor thinks there’s enough evidence of mal something that he wants a more drastic approach.”

“Malfeasance?”

“Yeah, that was it. He’s sending some others up to Ruby to see what’s going on there too. The militia is here to take over temporary guard duty. Everyone who works here is on suspension with pay as of now and until the investigation is over.”

“Hoss, we didn’t find him. We found nothing to show that Adam was ever here.”

“Dadburnit. Well is there any place you didn’t look?”

The men were standing near a work detail who were sweeping up debris in the yard. One of the men yelled out “Look in the Hole!” and was pushed to the ground by the guard who was with him. Roy and Ben intervened.

“Hold it. We want to hear what that man has to say.” As Ben and Roy got closer, Ben recognized the man. “Jeremy, is that you?” Getting a nod from the man, Ben continued. “I think I remember you worked for us on several drives. Have you seen Adam?”

“Yessir, Mr. Cartwright. They put him in the Hole this morning.”

“Where’s the Hole? We haven’t seen anything like that.”

Pointing to the center of the yard, Jeremy had Ben’s full attention, but Ben still could see nothing. “They covered it up this morning after they put him down there.”

“Show me, please, Jeremy, show me.”

Rushing then, Jeremy almost ran to the camouflaged Hole location. He found the edge of the tarp and pulled it away letting dirt drop through the grate and dust ballooned up. Seeing the lock, Ben demanded that it be opened. When it was and the grate was opened, Ben knelt at the edge and leaned down to look. He could barely see inside and the stench was terrible. He could see what looked to be a man on the floor who was not moving.

“How do they get down there?”

Jeremy asked for help to get the ladder that was used. It was carefully placed almost vertically into the Hole so as not to hurt the man below. Ben was going to climb down when Paul placed a hand on his arm. “Ben, let me go first. He may need my care.” Ben acknowledged that was true but asked Paul to hurry. Once Paul reached Adam, he did a quick examination as the men up above held their breath. Ben couldn’t wait.

“How is he, Paul?”

“He’s in bad shape, Ben. We need to get him out of here as fast as we can. Does anyone have a canteen handy? I need to get some water in him while you figure out how to get him out of here.”

With a canteen, Joe climbed down because he would be better able to jump over Adam and Paul at the bottom of the ladder. Hoss asked if Adam had any chest or rib injuries. Paul said no and asked why.

“I’ll drop my belt. If you and Joe can stand him up against the ladder, put my belt through the rungs on the ladder and around him. We can pull him up that way.”

Asking if there was any place on Adam he shouldn’t grab, Paul only mentioned the lacerations on his back. “Although he’s senseless so he won’t likely feel any pain from his back right now anyway.” It was a struggle, but they got the limp man up against the ladder and secured as Hoss had asked. Then Hoss grabbed rungs of the ladder and began lifting it out of the Hole. Ben gasped when he got his first glimpse of his eldest son. He had blood caked on his back. There were numerous old and new bruises on his torso, but it was his pale complexion showing through the dirt as well as his clammy skin that was the most frightening. Once he was freed from the ladder, Ben cradled his son in his lap and asked for more water. He poured a little into Adam’s mouth and he swallowed. Once Paul got back up to the surface, he told Ben to do that every few minutes.

“He’s dehydrated and overheated. We need to cool him down and get fluid into him before we try to do anything else. Joe, can you locate a bath tub, set it up in the prison hospital, and get it filled will lukewarm water? Perhaps Jeremy could help. He probably knows where some things are.”

“We could fill it with cool water if that would help.”

“No, I don’t want to shock him. We’ll start with lukewarm water. That’s going to feel very cool to him as hot as he is. Normally I wouldn’t put a man with open wounds in a bath, but he’s so filthy, we need to wash all of him anyway.”

“What can I do, Doc?”

“Hoss, I want you and your father to carry him to the prison hospital. We’ll take care of the rest of his needs there.”

In the hospital, Paul worked with Joe and Hoss to undress Adam, get him in the tub, and then began to wash him. Ben sat at the head of the tub, and every few minutes, poured a small amount of water in Adam’s mouth. He swallowed each time. After Joe finished washing Adam’s hair, Hoss took a bucket of water to rinse the suds away. Adam leaned back and opened his mouth in the shower. He took in too much water and began choking. He ended up retching just a bit but opened his eyes to see his father’s worried face. With a hoarse voice filled with wonder, he had to ask.

“Pa, is it really you?”

“Yes, Adam, we’re here. You’re going to be all right now.”

“I’m sorry, Pa.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about.”

“Pa, I didn’t think you would come. I gave up. I’m sorry, Pa.”

With tears flowing, Ben addressed his son. “No, Adam, I’m sorry we didn’t find you sooner and before things got so bad. But we’re together again now. We’ll get you home, and you’ll feel better soon.”

“Please, Pa, take me home.”

“As soon as we can, we will, son. We’ll take you home.”

As Adam nodded and closed his eyes, Paul signaled to Hoss to lift him from the tub and get him in the bed that was ready. Hoss lifted him as carefully as he could but still cringed when Adam cried out from the pain. With Joe’s help, Hoss got Adam lying on his stomach on the bed so Paul could take care of the back lacerations. Once those were bandaged, he planned to take a look at the minor cuts and abrasions he had. He told Ben to go get a wagon ready if he wanted to move Adam out of the prison.

“He can travel, Ben, as long as the ride is slow, and we keep giving him fluids. Joe, could you see if there’s some broth we could have? Hoss and I can turn him over when we have to.”

“Paul, thank you so much, but I never asked why you came with Roy and Hoss.”

“Ben, Roy told me about some of the injuries he already knew about, and I guessed that if Adam wasn’t home already, he was probably hurt. I came along just in case he was.”

“Thank you. I’ll go get a wagon ready.”

Once Ben was outside, he asked for a wagon, and one was hitched up and brought to him. He asked for mattresses to put down in the back, and those were brought too. Finally sheets and a blanket were deposited in the back of the wagon as well. The militia, under the direction of the attorney general and his staff members, were rounding up the guards and the officials who ran the prison. Lined up, they were being questioned. Ben walked to confront the warden.

“Warden, you said I would owe you an apology at the end of my visit. That’s true. I’m very sorry I didn’t do this when we first met.” Ben hit the warden with a wicked uppercut that lifted him off his feet and laid him out unconscious. Ben would have liked to do more, but Roy was there to make sure he didn’t. “Roy, you will see that they’re locked up in this prison as soon as the trials are over?”

“You can bet your bottom dollar on that, Ben. Adam is my friend. Heck, he’s like a son to me. What these men did to him is downright despicable. They’ll pay for it.”

Then Ben climbed into the wagon as Hoss and Joe helped two men carry Adam from the prison hospital to the wagon. Ben cradled Adam’s head on his lap. Adam looked up at him and whispered.

“Pa, take me home, please?”

“That’s where we’re going son. It’s going to take us a few days because we can’t travel very fast, but we’ll get you home as soon as we can.”

“Are Hoss and Joe there?”

Looking up at Paul who had climbed into the wagon, Ben wondered at Adam’s question because Hoss and Joe had helped clean him up as well as helping to carry him to the wagon.

“He’s had head injuries, he’s dehydrated, and he’s got a fever. His mind isn’t clear and his memory isn’t clear. Ben, he’ll be fine, but he’s going to need some time to recuperate from this ordeal. He nearly died, and the strain on his body was severe. So answer his questions and don’t worry if he repeats himself. He knows who all of you are, and he coherently answered every question I asked him even if he repeated himself a few times and forgot I already asked.”

Buck and Chubb were tied to the back of the wagon as Hoss drove and Ben sat with Adam. Joe tied Cochise to the back of Paul’s carriage and drove that behind the wagon. They took rooms in town, and planned out the best way to get Adam home.

*****

Chapter 6

“Ben, Adam’s injuries are not that serious. I am most concerned about his memory issues because of the head injury, but I’m sure that will resolve in time. The lacerations are healing very well, and the bruises and abrasions are fading away already. However, he suffered through quite an ordeal. Now he needs to rest, and I know what kind of patient he is. You’re going to have quite a job on your hands keeping him down.”

“I know. He tried to get out of bed on the second day we were home. He wanted to eat at the table. He made it as far as the end of the bed and fell on the floor. That only worked to keep him in bed one more day though. Hoss helped him down the stairs yesterday and today. One of us has to help him back up the stairs at night. He does read and relax for most of the day, but I know his weakness is bothering him. He wants to start doing things again.”

“All right. You can tell him he can walk to the corral and back once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Have a chair or bench ready for him over there. He’ll think he won’t need it, but he will. In between, he can sit on the porch. Do you have some paperwork he could do? He needs to feel useful and productive. Well you knew that already. He is not one to take idleness well.”

“Paul, if his injuries aren’t that serious, why is he so weak?”

“With the heat and the dehydration of the Hole added to the stress and the work he was doing in Ruby, he was exhausted. Internally, his system was taxed to its limit. I can’t tell you exactly what is wrong, but know that he needs to let himself heal internally or he could make himself sick.”

“Thank you, Paul. When will you be back?”

“I’ll be back in three days. By then, I should be able to remove any bandages and stitches. They’ll probably be itching a lot by then. If necessary, Hop Sing can remove them. There aren’t many. Otherwise, I’ll do it when I get here. Any problems, send someone for me.” Paul snapped the reins and left.

Walking back into the house, Ben was aghast to see Adam working his way down the stairs by himself. He rushed to his side and took his arm. Adam wanted to say he didn’t need the help, but halfway down the stairs, he knew he shouldn’t have tried it by himself. All he said when he got to his blue chair was a quiet thank you to his father. Ben knew then that Adam had found his limits and wouldn’t try anything like that for at least another day. He told him what Paul had said about trying short walks, and he said he would like that but maybe he would wait a few minutes. Ben handed him his book before going to his desk to work. After about fifteen minutes, he looked up to see Adam slouched in his chair asleep. Hoss had helped him down the stairs for breakfast and then back up to his bedroom when Paul got there. Then he had made the trip down again. Just that much had tired him out. Ben worked quietly until Adam awakened over an hour later. Ben saw him hurriedly pick up his book as if he could fool his father into thinking he had not been sleeping. Ben wasn’t going to let him do that.

“Now that you’ve had a good nap, do you want to try that walk? I have time right now to help you if you need it.”

Insisting he needed no assistance, Adam walked out to the porch and leaned against the column. Ben quietly got a chair and carried it to the corral fence. He set it down and waited watching the horses in the corral. Adam was soon there and leaned on the corral fence next to him while fighting the urge to sit in the chair, close his eyes, and take another nap.

“You know, it’s a very nice day. I think I’ll get another chair and sit here with you. Maybe we could have lunch on the porch when you’re ready to walk back.”

Nodding, Adam sank gratefully into the chair. He hated being this weak. It made him feel dependent and that was a feeling he detested. But by the time Ben brought a chair to sit with him, he had decided to make the best of it. They had a nice conversation about ranch business before taking a slow walk back to the porch. That afternoon, Adam took another walk to the corral and sat in the chair until he felt ready to walk back. Ben had heard him leave the porch and watched through the window by his desk until Adam was back on the porch. Once Adam picked up his book to read, Ben sat back down to finish his paperwork. After about an hour and hearing nothing from Adam, he walked outside to find him asleep in the chair. The day was mild but with a cool breeze. Ben went inside to get the afghan from the settee and settled it over Adam’s legs and midsection. He never stirred.

Each time like this when Ben saw how weak Adam still was, he realized how close he had come to losing him. It made him angry each time at the people who had done this. The people in Ruby and at the prison had been arrested and would be tried. The prosecutors expected Adam to go there for the trials and testify. In fact, the trials had been delayed until Adam was strong enough to travel and testify. Ben had not told him that. He had only said that the trials would begin in about two weeks. However the Long brothers weren’t charged with anything. Adam’s hazy memories of that night in Ruby were not sufficient evidence according to the prosecutors. They apologized and said that if anyone could come up with evidence to corroborate Adam’s version of events, they would surely arrest and charge the Long brothers.

When Hoss and Joe arrived home, they were surprised to see chairs by the corral. Then they saw Adam sleeping in the chair on the porch. Joe couldn’t resist the urge to tease him a little. He grabbed a stalk of grass and moved in close tickling Adam’s face with the grass. Adam stirred and finally grabbed at the blade of grass as Joe was brushing it across his nose. Adam’s eyes opened suddenly and Joe began giggling and Hoss was laughing. Forgetting what their father had said about not teasing Adam during his recuperation, Joe just had to keep going.

“Now that’s the way to be a rancher. Sit in a chair and take a nap while your brothers do all the work. I see you got another little rest area out by the corral. Maybe we ought to put a nice rocking chair out there for you.”

Standing, Adam was stonefaced as he grabbed the Afghan throw and stalked into the house. Once inside he threw the offending throw onto the settee and began to climb the stairs. Ben asked him what was wrong and got no reply. Because Ben had heard Hoss and Joe ride in, he quickly surmised what had happened. He quickly went to the stairs to help Adam climb. Adam’s first inclination was to refuse the help, but with his father’s silence, he acquiesced, and by the time they reached the top, he said thank you before walking to his room. Ben returned down the stairs and headed outside. He had two healthy sons who apparently needed a reminder about using some good common sense. He found them in the stable.

“All right, what did you say to Adam?”

“Aww, Pa, Joe was just joshing him a little for sleeping on the porch while we were working. There was no call for him to get so upset.”

“No call, huh? How would you feel if you ached all over and couldn’t even walk up the stairs by yourself? How about if you couldn’t eat without the feeling that your stomach was about to throw it all back up? How about if you’ve worked your whole life and suddenly can’t do much of anything while your brothers taunt you about your weakness?”

“Pa, he’s been home for four days. He doesn’t have a gunshot wound or any broken bones. It just seems he’s dragging out this thing. It doesn’t seem like he should be so sick any more.”

“Joseph, Paul was here today as you know. He said that Adam’s internal organs were damaged by the heat and lack of water. He nearly died. That damage doesn’t show, but let me assure you that Adam is well aware of it every minute of the day with the discomfort and exhaustion he feels. He walked to the corral today and then had to rest before he could walk back. What would you be like if you had to deal with weakness and inactivity like that? Hoss, how would you feel if you couldn’t even eat eggs and toast without feeling sick?”

“Sorry, Pa. We had no idea it was that bad. Adam’s been saying he feels fine.”

“Joe, when does Adam ever say he feels anything but fine?”

“Yeah, Joe, remember when he got shot in the arm and had it in a sling. When you saw him, you asked how he was, and he said fine like nothing was wrong.”

“Yes, and in just over a week, he has to testify in the trials in Carson. Those Long brothers are another worry for him. So can you please remember to take it easy on him?”

Hoss and Joe agreed, but by the time they got in the house, Adam appeared at the top of the stairs and asked if someone would help him so he didn’t fall down the steps instead of walking. Joe bounded up the stairs to help and apologized.

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry. You were just treating me like I was normal, and I overreacted. Let’s forget about it.”

The rest of Adam’s recuperation proceeded as planned. Paul removed the bandages and stitches three days later, and Adam was able to take a bath that improved his mood immensely. The next day he walked down the stairs by himself with a big grin. He pronounced that he no longer felt like he had been run over by a stampede. His fatigue had diminished as well although he tired easily. He began to do light chores around the ranch. A week later, the four of them rode to Carson for the trials. Most of the cases had been consolidated so Adam only had to testify to his treatment twice. The first time was about the Ruby mine, and the second was the more important case about his treatment at the prison. All men charged with crimes were found guilty. All the men at the Ruby mine had been released, and Jeremy was given parole from prison. Adam asked if he could be assigned to work on the Ponderosa, and the judge agreed although Jeremy was prohibited from entering a saloon during the duration of his two-year parole. Buck had been asked to stay as well but preferred mining so Ben had helped him get a job at the Ophir mine. Everything had been settled except for the Long brothers. Adam assumed they would not give up, and was correct. The two brothers were worried that if evidence was found to back up Adam’s story, they would be arrested.

In the Bucket of Blood saloon where they were often seen loitering, the Long brothers discussed their situation. Nathan was all for leaving town and being done with the Cartwrights forever. Matt’s pride wouldn’t let him do that. He had another plan.

“Well, right now, they’re wet nursing him all over the place. But sooner or later, he’ll be someplace on his own. He’s gonna get one then right between them eyes of his. He ain’t never gonna tell nobody else that we done anything to him.”

“But, Matt, if anything happens to him, we’re gonna be the first ones they blame. We can’t do anything to him and get away with it.”

“No, we’re gonna get him so mad that he comes after me. Nobody can blame us if he calls me out and gets killed.”

“But, Matt, he’s darn good. You might get shot instead.”

“That’s where you come in, Nathan. You’re gonna be hiding off to the side and have a pistol aimed right at his chest. As soon as he goes for it, you’re gonna shoot him. As fast as all that happens, nobody’s gonna know you was the one who shot him.”

“Matt, what if I miss?”

“That’s why we’re gonna go out to the folks’ place and practice every day. By the time he calls me out, we’re both gonna be ready for him.”

“What are we gonna do to make him mad enough?”

“Well, we’ll think of things as we go. First let’s go practice some, and then go take a look around the Ponderosa and see what’s going on. I heard they’re all back now with them trials being done and such.”

On the Ponderosa, Hoss and Joe had gone out to mend fences that had been damaged in recent rainfall that had caused some flooding and mudslides that took down fences. Adam was with them to suggest where they could move some of the fence lines so they wouldn’t be as vulnerable to those two problems. One section only had to be moved about ten feet over to get it above the high water mark. They took care of that section in the morning. The more problematical of the fixes was what to do about a fence line that curved around a hill from which a previous owner had removed the trees with clear cutting. This was land that their father had purchased for the quality of the pasturage, but he had not realized the problems that might occur due to the clear cutting that had been done. Adam suggested that they not only needed to move the fence line lower, but also thought they should consider replanting some of the area with seedlings so that within a few years, the danger of mudslides or landslides would be considerably reduced. His brothers agreed but groaned at the amount of work that entailed.

“Well, lets find some shade and find out what Hop Sing packed for our lunches. I’m so dadblamed hungry after all that digging, I could eat a horse. No offense intended, Chubb.”

“Wouldn’t matter what we did. You would still be hungry. I think I’d rather have a nap first so don’t eat it all.”

After ground tying Sport, Adam sat and leaned against a tree pulling his hat over his eyes. Joe looked at Hoss who shrugged. Ben had asked Adam that morning if he thought he was ready to work a full day, and Adam had been adamant that he could and acted almost insulted by the question. He had worked hard that morning and done as much as his brothers, but Hoss had noticed that he seemed to be slouching in the saddle as they rode to this hill and that wasn’t like him at all. He normally rode tall in the saddle. He only slouched in the saddle when the horse wasn’t moving. Hoss decided they would have lunch and rest a bit themselves. An hour later, Adam was still asleep. Hoss stood and motioned to Joe that they should go and to let Adam sleep.

An hour later, Adam joined them. Hoss had just dropped a post into a hole he had dug. He handed the shovel to Adam and held the post in place. Adam backfilled the hole, and then both of them tamped the soil down.

“Did you eat anything?”

“I grabbed a chicken leg and a biscuit.”

“Good. We should be able to finish about half of this today and do the rest tomorrow. Then we can plant some seedlings. Joe wondered if we could try transplanting a couple of bigger ones to try to speed up the process some.”

“We’ve never done that, but I don’t see any harm in trying. It’ll be a lot of work.”

Joe smiled because now both brothers had endorsed his idea. “We can use that freight wagon from the lumber camp. They aren’t hauling anything out of there for the next week. I thought that if we could put about three or four at the steepest point, it might help hold that area better than seedlings.”

“Sounds good to me. We’ll work out the placement tomorrow after we finish the fence.”

Later as they rode home, the three brothers talked and joshed a bit as all were in a good mood because it felt so good to have a day that was normal with no trials, no threats, and no danger. None of them had realized that they were being watched during the last hour they had worked. As they rode home, the Long brothers began their plan.

*****

Chapter 7

The next morning, Ben rode with his sons to the fence area that needed a redesign. What they found there made all of them angry. Someone had pulled down all the fencing that had been repaired the previous day. The wagon of supplies still stood there but had a strong smell of urine all around it leaving no doubt as to what had been done there.

“Dadburnit, now who woulda done that? There just ain’t no point to it except to make us mad, is there?”

“I think we know who probably did this. They’re not done with me yet.”

Hoss tried to deflect Adam’s feelings of guilt that more trouble had come their way because the Long brothers hated him so much. “Aw, Adam, we don’t know it was them Long boys what done this. Coulda been any yahoos passing through here, or anybody with a grudge against any one of us.” One look around and Hoss knew that no one was buying that story. They were all thinking it was the Longs.

“It meant they had to be watching you boys yesterday. They didn’t just happen on the spot where you worked yesterday. This is to send a message loud and clear.”

Joe wasn’t so sure what it meant. “Yeah, Pa, but what’s the message? Seems like this is just a try at making all of us mad.”

Adam was more fatalistic. “We’ll probably get a better idea with the next messages they send. I’m sure that this is just the start of another of Matt’s plans for me.”

“The three of you should keep working here. I’m going back to let the men know to watch out for the Longs. Don’t be surprised if you see some of our hands riding around this area. If the Longs are on our ranch, I want to know about it.”

All of the brothers nodded in agreement with that plan. Before Ben left, they did ride up the slope getting Ben’s endorsement that planting seedlings was necessary, and Ben told them to go ahead with Joe’s plan as well. Adam asked if one of the hands could be assigned to stay out here at night to protect the area from more vandalism. Ben agreed with that plan and said he would find someone willing to do the night work for a bonus. Usually that was enough incentive to get volunteers. Nothing happened at that site for the next week though. It was clear that the Longs were aware they would be watched and did nothing to arouse any more suspicion for the week at least. They did keep practicing their marksmanship at their parents’ place, but no one knew that.

The Cartwright brothers meanwhile had a lot more work to do because of the vandalism. They had to cut more fence posts, dig out the broken ones and replace them, and then repair the rest of the fence damaged by the slide. It was several more days before they got seedlings to plant, and then two more full days of digging up small pines to transplant into spots Adam thought would do the most good. Finally they terraced a few of the worst spots with loads of rock to help hold the soil until the tree roots would grow out to do it.

“It looks good, Adam.”

“Yes, Joe, it looks a lot better than when we first saw it. I hope that our repairs hold long enough for everything to settle into place before the next rain.”

“Oh don’t be so pessimistic. It’s going to be fine.”

“Yeah, and now all of us can get cleaned up and still get to town for the dance.”

“Hoss, I don’t know if I want to go.”

“Heck, why not? We’ll be with ya, and ya ain’t had no fun in a long time. C’mon, let’s go.”

Giving in to Hoss’ persuasion because he did want to relax and have some fun, Adam rode home with them and then to the dance after they were cleaned up. Ben smiled as he watched the three ride out together. They were getting along so well these days, he wondered when the next argument or dispute would create tension in the house especially between his stubborn oldest son and his hotheaded youngest one. For now, he decided to relax with his pipe, read a book, and enjoy the peaceful evening. He gave no thought to the Longs because nothing had happened since the vandalism.

Of course with the increased surveillance around the Ponderosa, the Longs had decided they needed to do something away from the Ponderosa to anger Adam. In town, they saw him heading into the dance with his brothers, and Matt decided they could probably get a couple of things done that evening. Matt sent Nathan on one task as he went to the dance to observe to see if he could come up with another one.

At the dance, many ladies noted the Cartwright brothers entering especially with Adam in tow. Matt had been spreading stories about Adam and Jeremy and why Adam had brought Jeremy from prison to the Ponderosa. Most wouldn’t believe the tales he was telling, but a few did wonder a bit especially because Adam was over thirty and still unmarried. Jeremy was not allowed to be anywhere alcohol was served so there was no point in him coming to town. He had to find ways to relax on the ranch. The men liked him so that was no problem, but with Adam and Jeremy rather scarce around town, there were a few others in town who wanted to believe the rumors.

At the dance, there was a lot of whispering and staring. Adam didn’t want to think he was the center of all of it, but it was apparent he was. He looked at Hoss and then at Joe. They shrugged for they had no more idea than Adam did why people were staring and whispering. It didn’t take long to find out. Each of the men found a willing lady for the next dance. In each case, the discussion was about the rumors that had been circulating about Adam and Jeremy. Adam was dancing with an old friend, Barbara Tyler, who had been widowed and only recently had stopped wearing a mourning dress. She had to ask him if he had heard the rumors. He looked at her wondering what she meant, and she could see he had no idea about the stories that had circulated in town for the past two weeks.

“Adam, I know you’re going to be angry, but try to control it.”

“Barbara, just tell me. Don’t you think I have a right to know if I’m the subject of the rumors? It only seems fair.”

“Well, it seems that someone has been saying that you and Jeremy were more than, oh I don’t know how to say it, but I’ll try. The story is that you and Jeremy are, oh, well, that the two of you are, oh, Adam, I can’t say it.”

“People think that Jeremy and I are in a relationship?”

Barbara was worried how he would react, and was absolutely shocked when he laughed after she nodded yes. “Perhaps some of the ladies in town won’t be chasing after me quite so hard, and there won’t be any fathers looking to match me up with their daughters.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Why should it bother me? It’s ridiculous, and the only people who would believe it are not friends of mine anyway. It’s the opposite of the usual rumor about me that I fathered some dark haired baby, and the cuckolded husband is coming after me.”

“You’re in a remarkably good humor.”

“Surviving what I did gave me an appreciation of being alive that no one is going to take away. I found out how important my family and friends are. I could not have survived without them. Now if you don’t believe the rumors, will you dance the next dance with me as well? I’m hoping for a waltz.”

“Yes, but I have a sneaking suspicion why you would like a waltz.”

“And you are absolutely correct. I hope that it doesn’t bother you that I would like to hold you close?”

“Not at all. I wouldn’t mind if all the dances were waltzs.”

The two smiled and spent most of the evening dancing until Barbara asked for a break. Adam walked outside with her. When she shivered, he took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders using the opportunity to draw her close to him. He kept his arm wrapped around her as they walked and when they sat on a bench. She leaned toward Adam letting him know his attention was appreciated. He held her to him and lifted her chin with one finger before leaning down to kiss her. Then he sat back, and they talked. After a half hour, Adam suggested they ought to head back inside before there were rumors about her.

“I don’t care about that. You’re a good friend, and I like being with you. I miss Jim a lot, but it’s been over two years so no one has a right to say anything negative if I want to walk in the moonlight with a handsome gentleman.”

Adam grinned at her and took her arm to guide her back into the dance. They got punch, danced a few more times, and then sat and talked as people began to leave. There hadn’t been a fight of any kind and that made this dance unusual. Joe had spent the night dancing with a number of girls and came over to ask when Adam wanted to leave.

“Well, Barbara came with her sister, Julia, who seems to be missing at the moment, but Hoss is missing too. Now what do you suppose could have happened to them?” Adam had that classic smirk.

“So I suppose we have to wait until Hoss gets back in here. Barbara, I hope taking care of Adam all evening wasn’t too much trouble?”

“Not at all. We had a marvelous time.”

Joe looked nervous, and Adam had a good idea about why he was nervous. “Joe, hear any good rumors tonight?”

“Ah, no, no, nothing at all.”

“You’ve never been a very good liar. Barbara told me already. Don’t worry about it.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’ll tell you what I told Barbara. Anyone who believes that kind of thing about me isn’t a friend anyway. So I don’t see why I have to be concerned about that rumor any more than any rumor that has ever been spread about me. Besides, I think we know who’s the likely origin of that rumor.”

“You think the Longs started that story.”

That made Barbara curious, and Adam explained all the things that had happened because he had failed to get the youngest Long brother not to participate in a gunfight.

“But how could that be your fault? Everyone in town was talking about how stupid he was to do that when he had a chance to walk away. Of course, those Longs have never had much good sense.”

A short time later, Julia and Hoss walked back in. Adam and Hoss escorted the ladies to Barbara’s carriage. Barbara planned to drop Julia off at her house, and then proceed to hers that was only a short distance from town. “Don’t worry, Adam. My hired hand will have a light burning and he always waits up until I’m home safely. He worked for my father, and he treats me like a daughter. I’ll be fine.” Bidding each other good night, the brothers waved as the sisters rode away in their carriage.

“She seems like a real nice lady, Adam. Why ain’t you never shown any interest in her before?”

“Hoss, I didn’t get to know her until she was already involved with Jim. Then he died, and she was in mourning. Who knows what might happen now that she has officially ended her mourning period. I like her, but she still loves Jim a lot. So, for now, we’re still just friends. Now, how about you and Julia?”

“Adam, I like her a lot too. She’s only twenty though. She seems so young. She’s younger than Joe!”

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with her being younger than me. It’s going to take a young strong woman to handle you anyway. They get as old as Adam, and they might die from the strain.”

“I am not old.”

The bantering continued as they reached the livery stable and got their horses out. They tightened the cinches and prepared to ride home. Sport seemed especially edgy, and Joe had to comment on that. Adam simply responded by saying Sport hadn’t had a good run lately and was probably getting a bit antsy because of it. He thought that if the moonlight was bright enough, he might let him run for a while on the way home at least for the long straight stretches of road they had to cover. Adam mounted up, and immediately Sport began bucking. Adam nearly lost his seat with the surprise, but managed to hang on. Joe vaulted onto Cochise and tried to get close to give Adam the chance to slide off safely. Hoss saw what he was doing and mounted up on Chubb and moved to the other side of Sport. With the two horses boxing him in, Sport calmed enough that Adam was able to slide off onto Cochise and then to the ground. He spit out a few expletives then to which his father would have objected. Once Hoss and Joe had calmed Sport enough, Adam loosened the cinch and pulled the saddle from him. There were a number of burrs under the blanket.

“Well, the Longs strike again.”

Joe and Hoss didn’t bother disputing the statement. The Longs were the likely culprits. Adam carefully cleaned and refolded the blanket before saddling Sport. The horse seemed reasonably calm so Adam mounted up with Hoss and Joe waiting close to him to intervene if necessary. Sport did a few of his usual antics, and then the three brothers rode home wondering what the next stunt by the Long brothers would be. They only had to wait until the next morning when one of their hands rode in with the bad news he had heard from a neighbor who had ridden up to him with a message he thought the Cartwrights would want to get.

“Mrs. Tyler’s home burned to the ground last night. She got out all right, but she’s got some burns on her hands. That’s all I know.”

With a look that bode trouble for the Long brothers, Adam strode out of the house to the stable leaving his family sitting with their coffee at the breakfast table. Ben looked at Hoss. He had just heard from them about how Adam and Mrs. Tyler had danced together for most of the previous night. He suspected as Adam did that the fire was not a coincidence.

“Go with him. He shouldn’t go anywhere alone, and let him know he can offer any assistance he wants to Mrs. Tyler with my blessing.”

By the time Adam and Hoss arrived at the scene of the fire, Barbara and Julia had returned from the doctor’s office and were walking around the ashes of the home looking for anything that could be salvaged. The hired man was carrying a bucket with bits and pieces of metal and ceramic that they had been able to retrieve so far. As Adam and Hoss reached the two ladies, Adam apologized for causing this to happen and offered to compensate Barbara in any way he could.

“You think the Longs did this just because I danced with you?” With Adam’s nod, she continued. “It is so cruel, Adam. I have nothing left of Jim now except his grave. All the pictures and mementoes as well as his clothing are all gone. There’s nothing left.” Barbara began to cry softly, and Adam reached out to console her. She rushed into his arms and began sobbing. He walked her to an undamaged bench nearby and sat with her until she regained her composure.

“You’re going to need clothing and other necessities. I want you to buy what you need and put it on the Ponderosa account. I’ll make sure all the bills get paid.” Barbara was going to object, but Adam held up a hand. “I want to do that for you as a friend. I brought this trouble down on you, and even if you don’t blame me, I blame myself. Please let me do this for you so I can feel a little better about that.”

Barbara nodded then and sat up straight. “I guess it might be a sign too that I should move on with my life. I was thinking of going to Sacramento. I hear there are some openings there for teachers and librarians. Perhaps I could get a job there.”

“Don’t be rushed into anything. Take your time and think it through. Sacramento is a nice place, but there are many places where you could build a new life. Are you going to be staying with your parents for now?” Barbara nodded. “We’ll ride with you to make sure you get there safely after you do some shopping.”

“What about Henry? He worked for my father and then me. He has nowhere to go now.”

“Hoss, do we have some work for Henry?”

“Well, ifn he wants to do some mending and fixing around the place, we got a whole bunch of things he can do.”

“All right. Would you see if he’s agreeable to working for us?”

As Hoss went off to talk with Henry, Barbara thanked Adam. Then the four of them went to town so Barbara could get things she needed before heading to her parents’ home with her sister. Adam and Hoss rode home, but Adam had a look on his face that let Hoss know the Longs were going to be facing him directly soon. He worried that was exactly what Matt was orchestrating, and decided to broach that subject with Adam.

“That may be true, but who else has to get hurt before Matt and I square off face-to-face and settle this? Everything he’s done has been to make me angry. Well it worked. I’m very angry, but I won’t walk into his trap. We’ll talk and work out our own plan before I do anything else. But we need to do something soon because Barbara is at risk just because she agreed to dance with me last night. We ought to tell Jeremy about the rumors too so he doesn’t go off half-cocked and get himself in trouble. I owe him that and a lot more.”

*****

Chapter 8

“Adam, if you go to town, there’s going to be a gunfight. I know you’re good, but we don’t know what Matt has planned.”

“Don’t we, Pa? He’ll have Nathan hiding somewhere ready to shoot me as soon as we face off. Hoss is coming with me. He’ll have to take care of Nathan. This has already gone too far. Barbara could have been killed last night. He’s getting desperate. He tried to get me mad with tearing down the fence, with spreading rumors, with getting Sport to buck me. It didn’t work so he set Barbara’s house on fire.”

“Adam, we don’t know he did that. It’s not like you to go off half-cocked like this. You usually think things through.”

“Pa, somehow I know Matt is responsible for me getting hurt on the drive. I can’t prove it, but he and Nathan were the ones who set me up in Ruby. Now they have this other plan to try to goad me into a fight. Well, it worked. I won’t wait until they kill somebody. It’s time to settle this.”

“So that’s why you and Hoss have been practicing your shooting so much. It had nothing to do with wanting to go hunting.”

“Oh, but it did. I never identified the object of my hunt. I’m going into town. I’m going to hunt Matt Long down, and I’m going to give him the fight he wants except Hoss is going to be there to make sure it’s a fair fight. Matt won’t be ready for that.”

“That’s it? That’s the extent of your plan? What if Hoss doesn’t find Nathan? What if they found such a good hiding place that he’s able to shoot you down in the street?”

“Then that’s what happens. I won’t let any more innocent people get hurt because Matt wants me dead.”

“You’re innocent too.” Adam dropped his head and stared at the ground because he had no answer to that. “I almost lost you only about a month ago. I can’t let you risk your life like this again.”

“Pa, I have to face Matt. If Hoss takes Nathan out of the equation, then I can pressure Matt to admit some of these things he’s done. Hopefully there will be plenty of witnesses so he won’t try to back down from it later. But one way or the other, it has to be over. I have to do this.”

“I know you do, but Joe and I will be there too. We can get a few of the men to come along too. There is no possible way that I am letting anyone shoot you from ambush. We’ll ride in together. I don’t think Matt has the backbone to face all of us. His kind prefer secrecy and darkness. Having to face up to those he has wronged will be more than he can handle.”

Within an hour, Adam rode to town with his father, brothers, and several hands. As Adam went to find Matt to confront him, the others would scout out the area to make sure it would be a fair fight if it came to that. Adam found Matt at the Bucket of Blood. Matt had been watching for him and signaled Nathan to head out the back door as soon as Matt saw Adam. Nathan moved stealthily toward the selected hiding place. As Adam dismounted and entered the saloon, Ben and the others fanned out in the area looking for Nathan who was already well hidden.

“You tried to get me killed and then you got me locked up in Ruby. You damaged property on the Ponderosa and put burrs under my saddle probably hoping that I’d get bucked off and killed. You spread rumors about me. But the worst thing you did was to burn down Mrs. Tyler’s house just because she danced with me. It’s time for you to face justice.”

“Oh, and I suppose you think you’re the one who’s gonna do it?”

“Or you can go to the sheriff and admit what you’ve done.”

“I haven’t done anything. You got no proof. They told ya that. So as I see it, you’re the one spreading rumors and damaging my reputation. There’s only one answer to that. Let’s take this out on the street and find out who’s the better man.”

It’s your call. I’ll be waiting.” Adam backed out of the saloon then not wanting to give Matt any kind of opening to do something more to him. Once he was outside, he looked around and everyone seemed perplexed. His father shrugged. They had not found Nathan, although all the armed men around might make Nathan and Matt nervous. It was the only hope they had at this point to keep it a fair fight. Adam walked across the street, which was exactly what Matt wanted. Nathan sighted in on Adam’s chest and waited for his brother to square off against his nemesis.

Matt exited the saloon and surveyed the street. Seeing the other Cartwrights and some of their hands unnerved him just a bit, but he still had his ace in the hole. Matt glanced at the wagon as he moved to face Adam. Both men loosened their pistols in their holsters. Hoss had a sudden inspiration. That glance of Matt’s had seemed too focused for a casual look around. Hoss moved to the side of the wagon and pulled up the cotton bonnet. He reached inside for a startled Nathan and dragged him over the side. Adam saw it all happen, but Matt had to turn to see. He paled noticeably to see his brother found and disarmed. Hoss grinned at Adam.

“He’s all yours now, Adam. It’ll be a fair fight. Ain’t nobody here gonna say otherwise when you kill him.”

Suddenly, Matt wasn’t as enthused about a gunfight with Adam. “Now, Adam, we was just funning with ya in Ruby. We never meant for ya to get locked up and end up in prison. That was all just a big misunderstanding.”

“And the rest of it?” Adam stood unyielding and looked as intimidating as any professional gunfighter. He never took his eyes from Matt and the stare unnerved him.

Roy had arrived and heard that exchange. He wanted to stop this fight, but he wouldn’t do anything at this point because he might distract Adam, and that could have dire consequences. He waited to see how this conversation would pan out.

“Now we were just having a little fun with ya with those stories and having your horse buck you around like that was kinda funny if you think about it. We just pulled a little prank on ya with the fences. It was kind of like a Halloween joke getting you a bit early.” Sweat had started to make rivulets in the dirt on Matt’s face even though the day was mild.

“And Mrs. Tyler?”

Those three words caused near panic in Matt. He was starting to think that Adam was going to kill him no matter what. He tried to make light of what had happened. “Well that wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It was only supposed to be a little fire and a lot of smoke. We didn’t use no coal oil or nothing, but that wood on her house musta been tinder dry and it went up like a box of matches. We did wait to make sure she got out safely. Heck, it was Nathan what throwed rocks through her window to wake her up so’s she’d get up. We wasn’t gonna do nothing more cause it was all kinda getting out a hand as you know. Now that we cleared the air, maybe we could shake on it and let bygones be bygones.”

“Matt Long, you’re under arrest for arson and a bunch of other charges.”

“What, Sheriff, you can’t arrest me. You don’t have any evidence.”

“I got plenty with you saying them things. Now come along with me. You got a date with a jail cell.”

“No, I’m not going to jail.” About that time, Matt felt the barrel of a rifle press against his spine.

“Now I ain’t fast like my brothers, and I wouldn’t face ya in a gunfight, but I can’t miss at this range, and you could never do nothing to stop me before I split you in two. So you’re gonna reach for that pistol with your left hand and drop it in the street.”

Hesitating and thinking furiously, Matt could come up with no plan to extricate himself from this mess. He did as Hoss directed.

With Hoss’ help, Roy marched Matt and Nathan to the jail. Now with Adam’s testimony, even if a bit hazy, there was enough evidence to convict Matt and Nathan of crimes. Within a week, Matt and Nathan were tried, convicted, and headed to Nevada State Prison to serve long terms consisting of consecutive sentences for multiple offenses. The brothers had asked for mercy because of their brother’s death, but the judge was not inclined to grant it because of the series of crimes they had premeditated and carried out especially the fire that could have claimed Barbara Tyler’s life. Their claims that they never meant to burn the house down was met with skepticism by the jury who were more interested in what they did than in what they intended to do. The two brothers would probably never see the outside of prison walls again. All in all, it was a sad ending to a tragic tale with all three of the Long brothers lost to their family. Only the parents and the younger sister remained alive and free, but the parents left to head back to St. Louis because of all the negative reaction to what Matt and Nathan had done. Eloise didn’t leave and moved in with friends and continued to work at the mercantile.

On occasion, one of the Cartwrights would see her there and greet her, but she never returned the friendly salutations. Everyone knew that she was very upset with them, and hoped that time would heal her emotional wounds. It didn’t which they found out months later. Ben was in the mercantile handing over a list of supplies needed at the ranch and mentioned to Mr. Cass that Adam would be there in an hour or so to pick them up. Eloise began plotting. After a half hour, she told Mr. Cass she wasn’t feeling well, and he advised her to go home. She headed out the back of the store, but she didn’t go home. She took the shotgun that she had taken from the store and loaded it with two shells she had also taken. Then she waited behind some crates next to the store for the nemesis of the Longs to show up. As expected, Adam was on time. Eloise stepped out with the shotgun to greet him. She held it pointed at his midsection and he stopped abruptly. As close as she was, it wouldn’t matter if she had never fired a shotgun. She couldn’t miss.

“Eloise, don’t do this. Your parents have already lost three sons. Don’t make them lose a daughter too.”

“My father is dying. He got consumption because of the lousy job he had to take to support my mother. They’re living like common trash with barely enough to eat. It’s all your fault, and you’re going to pay for it.”

A crowd was gathering but no one knew what to do. Even shooting her was out of the question because it would likely cause her to fire the shotgun and end Adam’s life. Ben came out of the bank with all of the commotion, and his heart began to pound in his chest when he saw what was unfolding. Adam wasn’t doing much better. He had faced guns before but never had anyone intent on killing him stood there with his death on their fingertips and talked with him about it. Usually he reacted first and thought about it later. He needed to think here and be very careful in what he said to the young lady in such a volatile situation.

“Eloise, your brothers made bad choices. It got Johnny killed. Bad decisions cost Matt and Nathan their freedom. If you kill me, then you’ll hang or you’ll go to prison for the rest of your life. What will be gained by that?”

“Justice! Isn’t that what you Cartwrights always preach? There’s got to be fairness and justice. Well, the law won’t do anything about you, but I will.”

Adam saw the imperceptible signs that she was tightening her finger on the trigger. He got ready to leap to the side for he thought it was the only chance he had. He never saw his father step out of the crowd. Ben had seen the same thing Adam saw and rushed forward to push the shotgun down. It worked but Eloise pulled the trigger. People rushed in to grab her and the shotgun then. Roy was there to tell them to hold her. Ben turned and saw Adam on his knees and bent over with his hands cradling his face. He was rocking back and forth in obvious agony. Ben thought his heart might stop right then. He moved to Adam’s side.

“Are you hit? Adam, are you hit?”

“My eyes, Pa, my eyes!”

The double blast from Eloise’s shotgun had exploded into the dirt in front of Adam and shot dust and debris upwards. He had gotten a lot in his face and his eyes were the most affected although there were tiny cuts from pieces of gravel and such that had bounced up.

“Just keep your eyes closed, Adam, and don’t touch them. We’ll get you to the doctor’s office as fast as we can. He’ll take care of cleaning up your eyes and your face.”

Roy stepped to the other side of Adam and helped him stand. Clem took Eloise to jail as Adam was escorted to Doctor Martin’s office. Paul had Ben and Roy help Adam into the surgery. He asked Ben to bring him pitchers of water. He held a basin under Adam’s face, and gradually irrigated his eyes having him turn first one way and then the other until all the debris was gone. He examined the eyes closely and then after irrigating the eyes once more, he had Adam shut his eyes so he could bandage them loosely. He put salve on the tiny wounds on his face before going out to talk with Ben and Roy.

“It doesn’t look like any damage to the eyes. He got a lot of grit in there, and has some minute scratches but they should heal. I want to keep him here for the time being to monitor the situation, and I don’t want him exposed to any bright lights for a few days. He needs to rest quietly and let the eyes heal themselves. Don’t look so worried, Ben. He’ll be fine in a few days.”

Letting out the breath he had been holding, Ben nodded. “Can I go in and talk with him?”

“Certainly, but keep it calm. He needs to stay relaxed.”

Ben sat by Adam’s side for over an hour until Adam told him he ought to get those supplies home before Hoss and Joe sent out a rescue mission for them. He also asked his father to explain everything to them and assure them he would be fine. “Really fine. Not the fine I say when I don’t want any more questions.” Adam smiled then, and Ben truly relaxed. He agreed to do as Adam asked.

“I’ll be back tomorrow with a change of clothing and your shaving kit. Is there anything else you want?”

“Normally I would say a book, but that’s not going to do me much good like this.”

“I’ll bring Moby Dick along. Anyone can read that aloud, and it will help pass the time better.”

“If you’re doing that, could you bring that new Verne book? I only just started it.”

The next day, as promised, Ben was back. Hoss and Joe came with him to be sure of his condition. Ben had downplayed the seriousness of it so they wanted to be sure he hadn’t downplayed it too much. All were relieved to hear from Paul that his eyes were already less red and there was no more bleeding.

“Now in the light, his eyes look terrible but no worse than a drunk’s on the day after a very big drunken bender. They’ll even be a bit red when he heads home tomorrow, but they’re healing just fine. His vision is close to normal already.”

“Then why the bandages, Doc?”

“He’s healing, but the eyes are very sensitive. I don’t want him blinking too much and rubbing irritated tissue over other irritated tissue. I irrigate his eyes for him every two hours and in between he has a moist bandage on them. If all goes well, he can go home tomorrow.”

The judge put Eloise on a stage to begin her trip to St. Louis. As promised, Paul cleared Adam to go home the next day, but suggested he keep the bandage on his eyes until he was home and in the house so he rode in the back of the carriage. At home, he recuperated over the next week until Paul declared he was fine and could resume normal activities. The saga of the Longs in Virginia City was over. All was back to normal on the Ponderosa except Adam was thinking even more of leaving to see if he could find a part of the world not ruled by violence and tainted by corruption, but usually he concluded that there was no such paradise on earth.

*****

 

On The Run

Chapter 1

“There’s no point in second guessing it now. Once you walked out of that jail with me, you accepted my decision.”

“Joe, I can’t help it. I had to run, but you don’t.”

“I had to do it too. With this disguise, no one can swear it was me. I know Roy’s going to have some questions, but Hoss is ready to cover for me. We’ll meet him up ahead soon with the packhorses. He’s been hunting, and should have several animals already. We didn’t care what he shot because it just has to be enough to show that we were hunting. You’ll take the extra packhorse, and we’ll head back to the Ponderosa. I wasn’t going to let my brother hang for something he didn’t do. Now we have to find out who did it and why they did it. Someone wanted you out of the way and wanted you to be badly hurt enough that they committed murder.” Joe watched as a dark shadow passed across his brother’s face and tears glistened in his eyes. Adam’s tears always came from deep within his soul. Anyone who knew him would understand that he didn’t kill her if he could feel so awful about it. “When we find out who did that, we can bring them to justice. It’s the only way to clear you so you can go home.”

“I’m not used to doing things this way.”

“Well, I am. For once, you need to follow my lead. I was afraid that when I showed up, you wouldn’t go with me. Then you’d be swinging from a rope right about now, and Pa would have lost a son for no good reason. We have a chance to fix this, but we need to ride hard and fast. Once you cross into California, you only have to worry about bounty hunters.”

“Well that’s reassuring.”

With a small grin, Joe swing mounted up on Cochise. They had to rest the horses, but they needed to keep moving too. It would soon be dark, and they knew their way around these mountains almost as well as the Paiute who lived here. No posse would find them if they stayed up in the near wilderness. Unfortunately, if Adam stayed in the mountains, he would be safe but never able to go home. That was not acceptable to either one of them. It had been an elaborate set-up. Whoever had done it had created a case that a jury believed. Adam had been so devastated by his loss, that his mind had been numb. He had not been able to think. When he realized his son would lose a father as well as his mother, he was determined to do something, but locked in a cell and facing the gallows, he had been feeling hopeless. Joe’s arrival had reinvigorated him. He would find his wife’s killer and unravel this frame-up. His grief was pushed down into his heart as his anger over what had been done to his wife and to him emerged. First though, he and Joe had to find a way to be safe. To do that, now they had to find out who that was and why they had done it. Unfortunately, they had no clues and would have to begin their investigation blind.

It had started with the arrival in town of Matt Galvin, an old friend of his wife. Adam had been gone to San Francisco for two weeks. By the time he returned, there had been all sorts of rumors about his wife and Matt Galvin. Adam had asked her if anything happened while he was gone, and she had said nothing important. He had stewed on that because he had been shocked in town when one of the local troublemakers had taunted him on his return. He had hit the man and would have done more except Sheriff Roy Coffee had intervened and told Adam to go home and cool off. Finally after two days and another fight in town, he confronted her after their four-year-old son was in bed and sleeping. His voice was quiet but intense.

“How do you know Matt Galvin?”

She could hear the anger in his voice. She had known since he had arrived home that he was angry with her. She didn’t know how to tell him what had happened. She didn’t want him to go after Matt Galvin because she suspected that was exactly what Matt had tried to orchestrate. “When I was young, I was with him for a time.”

“So ‘with him’ is exactly what I think it is?”

Nodding, she tried to explain. “I didn’t know you then. I was so delighted to have freed myself from my father’s control that I lived life according to my own rules. That changed dramatically when I met you. I found that I liked some of the rules, and one of those was pledging myself to you for the rest of my life.”

“How about the pledge to always be truthful with each other?”

“I have been truthful. Adam, I love you like no other. I can love no other with you in my life. You have filled my heart, my mind, and my soul. Our son is the only other one who has that kind of hold on me.”

Adam had taken her to bed then. He had been rough and demanding, and she had smiled and enjoyed all of it. By the time they finished, he had burned out the anger within as well as any feeling of betrayal. No woman could react as she had done if she entertained feelings for any other man. He had smiled when they were done and her head lay on his chest.

“Well, cowboy, I’m going to be sore tomorrow. I’m glad we’re not expecting any company. They would wonder what was wrong with me, and my smile would give it all away if they asked.”

“Barbara, I love you so much. I’m sorry I was angry earlier.”

“I understand better than you think I do. Our son has the same temperament. Please keep that in mind as he gets older. He tries to be strong and tough like you, but inside, his heart is just as soft and vulnerable.”

“So now I’m soft and vulnerable?”

“On the inside. On the outside, you’re all tough and hard.” Barbara pressed her body into his and began kissing him.

“I thought you were already sore. Woman, I’m going to be walking funny tomorrow too.”

Laughing lightly, Barbara had kissed her way up to his chest again. “No, you won’t. You’ll want me again in the morning, but you need to wake up early if you do because Jon will be awake by six.” They had made love gently then showing the love they had for each other.

Afterwards, pulling the covers up and over them, Adam settled back into the pillows and closed his eyes. The next morning he awakened to a pair of hazel eyes gazing into his at the side of the bed. Jonathan smiled as soon as his father was awake. He had missed him and wanted to see him the night before but Adam had arrived home after Jon was asleep. However, when he saw his parents’ bedroom door closed, he knew his father was home.

“Did you forget that you’re supposed to knock on our door when it’s closed?”

Shaking his head, Jon smiled again. “I knocked and then I came in. You and Mama were still sleeping so I waited for you to wake up.”

“How about if you go get dressed and give us a chance to do the same. You can come back in to watch me shave if you want.”

Life had seemed so simple and wonderful. That had ended that day. Adam had gone out to work, and when he got home, the sheriff was at his house. He wanted to go inside, but they wouldn’t let him. His son was at the Ponderosa main house with Grandpa Ben, but they wouldn’t let Adam go see him. The boy had been devastated. Matt Galvin was there. He said he had ridden in to see Barbara as soon as he had seen Adam leave that morning. He said he found her dead, and her son crying at her side. In the trash pit outside the house, they had found a bloodstained pair of Adam’s trousers and one of his shirts wrapped around a bloody knife. Adam had not been allowed to attend his wife’s funeral but had been arrested, tried, and convicted of his wife’s murder. His son was nearly catatonic and wouldn’t speak at all to anyone. The authorities granted custody to Ben under condition that Jonathan not be brought to the jail to see his father.

*****

Chapter 2

During the trial, Adam had been almost too numb to react to the various witnesses who were brought forward to demean his reputation and convince the jury that he was capable of such violence when provoked. Adam had some unusual tastes in women and in sexual behavior. Women from various fancy houses were brought in to testify to those. Other women were banned from the courtroom during that testimony, and some men felt compelled to leave as well although the stories were widely circulated throughout the town by those who remained in attendance. The painted lady who had been his favorite before he married Barbara was apologetic about testifying but told Adam she had to tell the truth.

“Can you tell us some of the requests that Adam Cartwright made to you?”

“Well, I could, but I don’t think it’s proper telling what a man does in private.”

“You have no choice here. What requests did Adam Cartwright make of you?”

“Well he liked to do it a lot of different ways. Sometimes he made me lean up against the window so anyone walking by could have looked up to see me. He took me on the bed, on a chair, and up against the wall. Is that enough to tell?”

“Did he ever hit you?”

“Well, not exactly.”

“Just tell the court what he did.”

“He only spanked me a few times. He used his hand or a hairbrush. It stung some at the time, but it never left no bruises or nothing.”

“Did he ‘take’ you as you called it after he spanked you?”

“Oh, yes, he was especially good after that.”

“You liked him to hit you?”

“He never did hit me. He spanked me. I didn’t like it much but it didn’t really hurt. He paid well, and when he took me after that, it was always real good for us.”

“Some of the other girls said he liked to order them around and ordered them to do particularly demeaning acts. Did he do that with you?”

“Well, he did, but it was all business. I mean he never forced me to do anything. He ordered me to do things, but he always paid well afterwards.”

The questions then became far more specific and the answers far more detailed. Adam had his head down staring at the table during all of this questioning. His lawyer tried to stop it with objections, but the prosecutor said they were trying to show what kind of man he was. He heard the snickers, the occasional surprised sigh, and whispers too low to be understood. With those last statements, there was outright laughter. Adam didn’t want to turn around to see his father. He could only imagine how embarrassed he was. The judge called a halt to the questioning of that type when his lawyer objected once again. He told the prosecutor that he had established all he needed and to move on. Adam thought he had established all he needed at least two hours previously. He guessed that the judge had actually been curious too and wanted to hear the lurid details.

Next up were witnesses who had seen Adam hit someone. There were enough instances of that to allow the prosecutor to spend another couple of hours laying the foundation for Adam having a hot temper and a willingness to use violence when he was angry. Having laid the basis for Adam being a violent man, the prosecution set the scene for a bloody jealous rage. The fight Adam had in town the night before his wife’s body was found stabbed numerous times helped the case immensely. Witnesses were called to testify to the rumors and how the man had baited Adam with them that night. As far as anyone knew, he went home in a rage and killed his wife. The prosecution theory that he calmly went off to work then so that he could come home later and claim an unknown assailant had killed his wife made the jury look over at Adam as if he was a monster and not the helpful, caring man they had known for so long. By the time Matt Galvin testified to what he had found on that morning, Adam’s fate was sealed. The only defense Adam had was his own testimony. The jury was not in a mood to believe him. It took less than an hour for them to bring in a guilty verdict. He was scheduled to hang at noon two days later.

The night before the scheduled hanging, Joe came into town dressed in black clothing, a duster, a slouch hat, and with a bandana over his lower face. He rode a horse without a Ponderosa brand, and he had on a two-gun pistol rig. He tried to remember to use his right hand on the reins. He walked into the jail and forced the deputy to unlock the cell. Then he told Adam to go out the back door of the jail. There, he handed Adam a duster and a nondescript hat. Adam mounted up on another horse without the distinctive brand, and the two rode out of town at a gallop. By the time Roy organized a posse, Adam and Joe had an hour’s head start. Their knowledge of the countryside helped them widen that gap considerably over the next twenty-four hours. They rode over rocky areas, through streambeds, and through marshy meadows where tracks would disappear in the mud after just a short time. They brushed out their tracks on numerous occasions and dragged brush behind them several times. By the second day, they were well away from town and from the pursuing posse. Their next task was to rendezvous with Hoss so that Joe would have a cover story. They had already told their father they were going hunting because they couldn’t bear to be there when Adam went to the gallows. They all knew their father never believed that for a moment, but if questioned, he could only say what he had been told. Roy and the posse as well as most of the town could think they knew what happened, but not one of them had any evidence. Joe and Hoss were all right with that, and in his heart, so was Ben.

That second day of hard riding ended when they smelled wood smoke and headed in that direction. They knew it had to be Hoss letting them know he was there. They found him with a camp already set up with a lean-to and with a quarter of an antelope roasting over a fire. Adam dismounted and walked to Hoss enveloping him in a hug. Joe walked up to the two of them and hugged both. Then he had to say something to lighten the mood.

“Hoss, bet you never thought you would see the day when I could order Adam around, and he’d do exactly what I said.”

“Nope, but we got to talk about what we’re gonna do next.”

Adam wasn’t ready for that yet. “How’s my boy?”

Joe hadn’t said much, but now Adam had to know. Hoss decided to lay it out for him. “He still ain’t talking. If he sees something that reminds him of Barbara or you, he starts crying. He won’t go anywhere without Pa. He sleeps in a trundle bed in Pa’s room at night. It’s just as well. He never gets through a night without waking up at least once with nightmares.”

“What does Paul say?”

“He says that Jon needs you, but you know it’s impossible. That’s why Joe and me think we gotta work out a plan with you. We gotta find out who done this and why. Then we can clear you so you can come home.”

Dropping down onto a log, Adam stared at the ground. Both Joe and Hoss anticipated what he would say next. “How can I ever go home? I can only imagine what our father thinks of me now. And the people in town will never have respect for me again even if they accept that I didn’t do this horrible thing.”

Hoss was as direct as only Hoss could be. “Adam, are you embarrassed about those things they said you did with them gals?”

“Of course I am. Anyone would be embarrassed to have their most private behavior out there for everyone else’s amusement and entertainment. I can only imagine the stories going around town by now.”

“I don’t know. I think I was kinda impressed by it all. I might just try a few of those things myself next time unless Julia agrees to marry up with me. After all this, though, I’m not sure she’ll ever say yes. She’s been putting me off for two years now, so this might be the thing that makes her say no. Ifn she does, I’m gonna go see if I can get a gal to do some of those same things, and you can bet a bunch a men in town is doing the same. Now that’s enough of that feeling sorry for yourself. What’s the plan?”

Joe sat down next to Adam on the log after carving off a chunk of meat. Hoss did the same after handing a plate of meat to Adam. Then the three talked for hours working out a plan of action. By dawn the next morning, they ate the rest of the antelope and then Hoss and Joe bid Adam farewell and good luck. He rode off with a packhorse to spend some time in the mountains transforming himself. By the time he got to San Francisco to look up Matt Galvin, he wouldn’t look like Adam Cartwright any more.

*****

Chapter 3

“Why did you do it?”

The voice coming out of the darkness in Matt Galvin’s bedroom and the click of a hammer being pulled back on a pistol that was pressed to his cheek made Matt wet himself. He expected to die right then and there and was ashamed to think what people would say finding him lying in his own filth. Matt was not a brave man nor a particularly smart man, but he knew at that moment he needed to keep his wits about him as well as he was able.

“Why did I do what?”

“Why did you kill Barbara?”

That helped Matt. He was astonished to think that anyone would think he would kill Barbara. “I could never kill her. I loved her once, and regretted for years that I let her become another man’s wife. When I went to Virginia City, I didn’t know that Barbara had married again. I was paid to go there to see her. That was all.”

“Who paid you?”

“A woman came to see me. She said she had a thousand dollars that was mine. All I had to do was go to Virginia City to see Barbara Tyler. She said she wanted to embarrass someone and that would do it. I had no idea that Barbara had married again. I knew her years ago, and I loved her. She knew better than to stay with someone like me. She married Jim Tyler and that was the last I saw of her before I went to Virginia City. I had no idea how my arrival there and my visit to Barbara would be taken. I went to your house that morning to tell her I was leaving. That woman had come to my hotel room the night before to tell me my job was done. She gave me the money she promised. She told me I should go say goodbye to Barbara and apologize for all the trouble I had caused her. When I got to your house, I found Barbara just like I told you and everybody else at the trial. That woman had said that I was to watch the place until you left, and then I was to wait fifteen minutes to be sure you weren’t coming back. I did just like she said. Maybe if I hadn’t waited, I could have saved her, but she lost so much blood before I got there.” Matt thought about what Adam had asked him and suddenly some things became clearer to him. “You didn’t kill her, did you? I thought you did, but you didn’t. I may not be that smart, but I can tell from the way you talk and what you asked. You didn’t kill her. Then who killed her?”

“What did you see exactly when you got to my house?”

“Nothing at first. I thought perhaps that Barbara was out back of the house because I thought I heard a door close back there, but then I heard your son screaming and crying. I ran into the house then and found her. I grabbed some towels that were on the table and I tried to stop the blood, but it was too much. I was too late to help her. I took your son and rode over to your father’s house. I could see it in the distance. He thought at first that I killed her, but I explained. We rushed back to your house as soon as he could get someone to watch over your son. He sent someone for the sheriff and someone to look for you, but we had no idea where you had gone. I told the sheriff the direction I saw you ride out, but they couldn’t find you.”

Adam had ridden hard that day. He wanted to get up to the timber camps, set the orders for the next two weeks, and get home the same day. He longed to spend more time with his wife and son. Instead he came home to find he had lost it all. “What did this woman look like?”

Matt knew then that Adam believed him. He described the woman and her manner of speech. Finally Adam told him that he needed to go to his desk and write all of it down. “Why?”

“Because you are a liability to this woman. With everything she’s done, do you think she would hesitate to kill you too?”

“Wait a minute. You think she killed your wife? How could she do that?”

“She set it up perfectly. If it didn’t work to make me the suspect, then all suspicion would fall on you. I have a theory as to who it can be, and I have to tell you that she already tried to kill me directly once. She was capable of killing then although she failed, but now she has killed. She has to be very upset at having her plans not work out entirely as she hoped. She won’t stop.”

Matt was going to turn from his desk to talk to Adam, but he felt the pistol again. “No, don’t turn around. Just write it all down, sign it, and date it.”

After finishing writing everything he had told Adam, Matt let the ink dry. He had a few questions. “Do you know there’s a big reward for you? Aren’t you worried about being recognized here?”

“Yes, I knew. Who do you suppose put that money up for the reward? My family wouldn’t so that only leaves on likely candidate. I know how to blend in when I have to. No one is going to recognize me here. Now hand over the papers and go back to bed.”

“I have to change the sheets first.”

“After I leave. For now, slip into the bed and pull the covers over your head. Stay that way until you count to one thousand. I’ll probably be gone by then. If you get out of bed before I leave, I’ll be forced to shoot you. Is that clear?”

“You’d kill me? But you’re no killer.”

“I said I’d shoot you. I didn’t say I’d kill you, but a well placed bullet to your most private spot could cause you to bleed to death, I suppose.”

Matt almost put his hands over his privates, but instead hurried to his bedroom and slipped under the covers. He didn’t count to one thousand. He stayed in bed with the covers over his head until he saw the room becoming lighter with the morning sun. He pushed the covers down and peered over the top of them. No one was in his house. He walked through the three rooms of the small house and checked the doors and windows. The doors were still locked and the windows were still latched. He wondered if he had dreamed it all, except when he looked at his fingers, he saw the ink stains. He took a deep breath and went to pack. He would leave town. He had no ties here, and the house was a rental. He heard that Portland was developing some businesses that might be willing to hire him. He booked passage that morning on a ship headed there. A man in a stylish three piece suit with a thick but popular style beard and bowler hat watched him leave before walking into the crowd and disappearing.

Later that day, Adam posted the statement from Matt Galvin to his father on the Ponderosa along with other information he had gathered. The return address was for the San Francisco law firm that did all the contract work for the Ponderosa. Next he picked up a newspaper and checked the ads. Searching, he soon found what he was expecting. A small notice that the Ponderosa is looking for hands at the usual wages and the usual working conditions. Nothing has changed. It was the usual method that his family used to communicate with him. Joe and Hoss had found out nothing recently, and Jonathan was still silent and suffering, and there was nothing Adam could do to remedy that. Adam carefully composed a letter, and again he put the return address of their San Francisco lawyers at the top. He needed to meet with his family and to find out if they had discovered any new information. What he had sent them might help them in their quest for knowledge to clear him. Meanwhile, he had a plan for them to meet. His heart ached at not seeing his son although he wasn’t sure a short visit would do more harm than good. He would let his father and Doctor Martin decide that. The lawyers had been hired to work on an appeal of his conviction and thus were not allowed to divulge anything he told them. Doctor Martin was covered under patient confidentiality although that one was rather weak. However no one was likely to question the doctor about the father when the doctor was treating a four-year-old although he would soon be five. Adam guessed he would probably be missing that birthday party. He posted his letter and returned to his hotel room with lots of time to think about what he needed to do next.

*****

Chapter 4

Before leaving San Francisco, Adam went to the lawyers’ office one last time. He asked them to hire some detectives to find out all they could about Eloise Long who had been in St. Louis but probably recently had traveled to Virginia City. Adam gave a description of the young woman that was four years old. He left by the back door of the offices to try to make sure he wasn’t being followed. A large bounty on his head made him even more cautious than he would have been. Because as far as the lawyers knew, he wasn’t planning any additional crime nor was he a threat to anyone, they had no legal obligation to tell anyone that he had been coming to their offices. However, any pattern of behavior could be a huge mistake for Adam so he resolved that this would be his last visit to these offices looking as he did. He needed to change his appearance once more so with a bit of shopping, he would be ready to leave the city and this persona behind.

After a trip to the bank to get cash in an account set up by his father for him, Adam went shopping. When he returned to his hotel room though, he found the door open and the room in a shambles. Someone was obviously close to finding him. If so, they had undoubtedly seen him enter the hotel. He suspected they would have an accomplice waiting in back. Very quickly, he moved up the stairs to the next floor where he had booked another room under another name but never used. He stripped off the clothing he was wearing and dressed in the new clothing he had purchased. He looked like a cattleman after a successful trip to the city. He stuffed his hair up under his hat and then trimmed his beard. One look in the mirror told him that he still resembled the businessman disguise he had used for many weeks, so he removed his beard. He knew he could grow it back quickly if necessary. He put a pocket pistol in his jacket pocket, a boot pistol in his boot, and strapped on the pistol rig he had purchased. With all three guns loaded and ready for action, he grabbed his new saddlebags and headed out into the hallway. There was a man at the top of the stairs looking down who hardly gave Adam a second look as he walked by. He passed two more men on the way down but they seemed intent on looking up. In the lobby, he spotted one more and assumed there could be more in the back. He was just about to relax as he walked out the front door when a woman’s voice screamed out.

“That’s him, you fools! Going out the door!”

Bullets plinked into the door just as Adam pushed it open and fled into the crowded street. He ran for three city blocks to where he had a horse ready to go. There were several more shots fired as he ran, but he made it to the horse, mounted up, and rode off as even more shots were fired. He rode hard and left the city to head into the hills. He pushed the horse as hard as he thought he could. After several hours and no signs of pursuit, he slowed to let the horse cool down.

“Sorry, boy.” Adam patted the horse’s neck. “I never would have done that to you if I had any other choice. You are a magnificent runner even if you’re not much to look at. Got you at a good price just for that reason. Liveryman had no idea what a prize he had in you.” When they got to a small stream, Adam dismounted and found how close he had come to being killed or apprehended. He stumbled when he dismounted because the heel of one boot had been partially shot off. The day was warm and he had been riding hard so he pulled off his coat as well finding four separate bullet holes in it. The jacket had been unbuttoned and with it billowing because of his gallop out of town, the gunmen had apparently had trouble aiming. Adam looked up to the heavens and sighed. He had been gone from home for three months already. The lawyers thought he had a chance at a new trial, but wanted more than Matt Galvin’s statement to try to convince a judge. Adam hoped his family could find out more. The lawyers said he probably needed more to shed a reasonable doubt on his guilt. What Adam missed most was his son. It drove him to find out more every time he thought of how his son must be suffering having lost both parents. He resolved to see him no matter the pain to both of them when they would be forced to separate again. Jon deserved to know his father was alive and loved him.

In the first town Adam entered in his flight from San Francisco, he wondered if there was a telegraph warning the authorities he might be there. The liveryman seemed nervous, and when he took a room at the hotel, the desk clerk also seemed nervous. Adam took a meal in the restaurant where all seemed normal, went to his room to collect his things, and slipped out the back way. He entered the livery stable after it was locked up for the night, saddled his horse, and took him out to a dark alley where he could watch the front of the hotel. He knew he needed sleep, but he needed to know how close the pursuit was as well. He got his answer at dawn when five men and a woman rode up to the hotel. The woman and three men entered the front door as two others went to the back. Adam thought about how easy it would have been to shoot her right there, but then he would be guilty of murder as well as losing any good chance of proving his innocence in his wife’s murder. He mounted up and headed out of town. From this point on he knew he would need to be less predictable in his movements.

After a week of riding north instead of east, Adam rode into a small mining town. By the number of tents with false building fronts, he knew it was a relatively new town but old enough to have the things he wanted. He opted for a bath first, dropped his clothing at a laundry, sought out a restaurant that had outrageously high prices but was the only one in town, and ended up at a fancy house. He correctly guessed that there was no hotel in town. His choice was the fancy house or the livery. The livery was a lean-to with piles of straw that was mostly weeds, and the fancy house was more substantially built. He guessed business was good. He had tried to be with a woman to satisfy his needs twice while he was in San Francisco. It hadn’t gone well. Being with a woman reminded him of his wife, and when all the other unpleasant memories intruded, he lost his enthusiasm for lovemaking. He hoped it would be more successful this time because he felt a need to be touched and held. He strode into the house finding it better furnished than he had expected. There were miners there and a number of scantily clad women. Most were young enough with soft curves and warm smiles not having been jaded yet by the life they had. He sat at a table and soon had a woman there asking if she could sit on his lap. He politely declined. Another approached him and slid her hands inside his shirt wondering if he would like to go up the stairs with her. He politely declined again. A third woman walked up with a tray holding two glasses and a bottle of rye whisky. She set the tray on the table, sat down, and then poured two drinks. Adam smiled at her.

“What’s your name, and don’t tell me Monique, or Isabella or some other name you’ve adopted for the trade?”

Looking at him speculatively, the dark haired woman smiled. “Just plain old Elaine. And what’s your name?”

“Adam.” Downing the first glass, Adam slid his glass toward her for a refill. He sipped that and asked her how she got to this town.

“Probably the same way you did. I left Circumstances because I had to, made my way as well as I could through Travails, and ended up here in Hope. Now, are you ready to go upstairs, or do you just want to sit here with me and get drunk?”

Standing, Adam offered Elaine his arm and grabbed the whisky bottle as she took the two glasses, and then she tugged him toward the stairs. Once in the room where Elaine lived as well as plied her trade, Adam looked around. The room was far more tastefully done than in most fancy houses. There were several books on a bookshelf as well as newspapers from various locales. He set the bottle on the table next to the two glasses. Elaine stepped up close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“So, dark and mysterious cowboy, what would you like to do?”

Finding his voice suddenly hoarse, Adam did manage to tell her to undress. He stripped his clothing from his body but watched her too. He motioned to the bed. Elaine backed up and lay down. She had expected to be kissed twice now, but Adam ignored her lips kissing her neck and shoulders as he touched her. And then it happened as it had when he had tried it before. The act of actually having sex with a woman seemed to trigger his memories and he couldn’t do it. Unlike the other ladies, Elaine didn’t try to rekindle the fire. Instead, sensing his need, she wrapped her arms around him and pulled his head to her chest. She held him there even when he began to move as if to leave.

“It’s late. No more customers. Just stay here and sleep. I’ll stay by your side all night, and we can see what the morning will bring.”

Adam had to squeeze his eyes shut to hold back the tears that threatened to spill at her gentle comfort. He hadn’t known that it was just that very soothing touch that he craved more than anything. He couldn’t hold himself and slide a hand up and down his back as Elaine was doing. He fell asleep not caring what she would charge him for it was worth any price she could set.

*****

Chapter 5

In the morning, Adam woke with an awful taste in his mouth but a soft warm body pressed up against his. Her head lay against his shoulder. She wore no clothing and he began kissing her shoulder to wake her. Finding her willing, he began again to make love expecting to fail as he had done before but instead found himself delighting in the physical sensations. After so many months without release with a woman, it didn’t take long before they finished, and then he simply held her and allowed his breathing and heart rate to return to normal.

On the Ponderosa that same morning, Adam’s parcel arrived. Ben read through the statement from Matt Galvin. Nodding with some relief that finally there was something to use to help with the appeal, Ben pulled Adam’s letter from the package. It wasn’t signed, but the penmanship announced as clear as any signature that Adam had penned this letter to his family. He wrote about the young woman he suspected might be behind this plot against him. Her brothers had been sent to Nevada State Prison. One had been killed trying to escape, and the other had died in a typhus epidemic that hit the prison. If Adam was correct in his thinking, she was the last of her family left alive. He did wonder where she could have gotten enough money to do the things she was doing, but that would be up to the detective agency to find out. Meanwhile, he asked in the letter if there was a lady who could help them discover when those rumors about Barbara being involved with Matt Galvin had started, and if possible, who had started them. Ben decided to leave that investigating up to Joe because he could charm any lady any time. He expected Joe and Hoss to be home soon. Neither of them could go to town. Sheriff Roy Coffee had been adamant about that. Ben remembered that conversation.

“Sheriff, we were out hunting. Neither of us could stand the thought of being here when our innocent brother was murdered.”

“No one was gonna murder your brother. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced. Now I know you two had something to do with his escape. There is no way I’d believe that you two would go hunting and not be there for your brother. I especially can’t believe that you would leave your father here alone to face the grief of losing his oldest son.”

“Roy, you don’t think I had anything to do with Adam escaping, do you?”

“No, of course I don’t, Ben, but these two sons of yours are in it up to their eyeballs, and you know it. You should be standing up for the law instead of covering for these two.”

“Roy, Hoss and Joe left and told me they were going hunting. I told them not to do anything stupid. Four days later, they came home with antelope and big horn sheep. I have to believe they were hunting.”

“Ben, you know it ain’t true though and so does the whole town. There’s a lot of people a might riled up about the whole thing too. It don’t look good at all when the leading family hereabouts goes against the law. Now I don’t believe Adam done it either, but the law is the law.”

“Is it the law when an innocent man is convicted of a crime and sentenced to death and no one will take a stand on his behalf?”

“Ben, you coulda got the governor to commute that sentence.”

“And see my son die a little each day serving hard time? No, that is not justice, and he was not convicted under any law. He was convicted because people are jealous, because people are judgmental and didn’t like his lifestyle, and because it was a woman who was killed. The evidence never supported him killing Barbara. There was enough reasonable doubt in everything that was presented, but the jury made up their minds without paying attention to the evidence.”

“Well you can believe what you want to believe, but keep your other two sons out of town till things cool down. There’s no way I can guarantee their safety if they come to town. I don’t need a riot or a lynch mob. Now maybe some months from now, things will blow over, but for now, stay close to home.”

So Ben had stayed close to home too. He spent a lot of time with Jon, but mostly Jon wanted to be with Hoss. He hadn’t said a word since his mother had been killed and his father arrested. He hadn’t seen Adam at all, and the little boy must have felt like he had been abandoned. He did what he was told to do, ate his meals, took their hands when they walked with him, but there were no smiles, no words, and most disturbing of all, no tears. He seemed like he was a shell of a little boy with none of the heart and soul that had been so apparent before the tragedy that had destroyed his happy life. He wouldn’t go in the stable where Sport was still waiting for his master to return. He wouldn’t go anywhere near the boxes of stuff that had been packed up from Adam’s house and brought to the main house. They had thought familiar things would help, but somehow they hurt instead, so the boxes remained stacked in Adam’s old room. Jon had recently started playing with some new toys that Hoss had carved for him. He looked at some old picture books that Joe still had sitting on a shelf in his room. Ben worried that Jon might never recover from what had happened. Without his father, he might never regain the smile he had lost.

Ben wondered if he should say that the packet had been from Adam. He decided to wait for Hoss and Joe to see what they thought about that. Ben needed help understanding part of the letter anyway. At the end of the letter from Adam were references to some of the hunting trips that Adam had taken with Hoss. There was some sort of code there but Ben had no idea what it was. As soon as Hoss and Joe walked in from working on the ranch that day, Ben showed them what Adam had sent.

“Pa, I think Adam wants me to go meet him. I think this reference to reuniting the bear cub with its parent means he wants me to bring Jon to see him.”

“Where does he want to meet you?”

“Well these references to the burial ground and such, I think, mean the area around Pyramid Lake where those Paiute were killed back when Winnemucca had Adam held hostage. We hunted near there a few times, and Adam always mentioned the same thing he said here. He called that area ‘the graveyard of innocence’. He talks about that here in this part. Nobody reading this would have any idea what he was talking about. But I know.”

“Do you think Jon would go with you?”

Hearing the men talking and believing that they had mentioned his father’s name, Jon was right behind Ben when he asked that question. Jon reached for Hoss’ hand and tugged. He wanted to leave right at that time.

“No, punkin, we can’t go now. It’ll be dark soon, and it says in here to wait.” Taking the letter from his father’s desk, Hoss pointed to one part of it. “Your Papa wrote this. He wants to see you, but he said where he would be in seven days. See it says ‘when there is no moon, ghosts can meet at the graveyard of innocence’. That’s a week from now when there won’t be a moon. Can you wait one more week? I know it’s a long time, but it won’t do no good to get there early. He won’t be there.”

“Yes.”

Ben had tears in his eyes when he heard that one word. It was the first time Jon had said anything for over three months. They had told him that his father was alive but had to travel to be safe. Finally though they could tell him that he would get to see his father. It was what the boy so desperately needed. Hoss reached out his arms, and Jon rushed into them. In a week, they would ride to see Adam, and hopefully have some good news by then because Joe was going to see if he could get some ladies who never believed Adam to be guilty to help him prove it.

Bounty hunters had been monitoring the messages that went to the Ponderosa. The packet from the lawyers in San Francisco had raised their interest. Surreptitiously for several days they watched the Ponderosa for any unusual activity. There wasn’t any, and they went back to watching for mail, telegrams, or any other deliveries to the Ponderosa that might mean Adam was back for a visit. By the time Ben, Hoss, and Jon headed out to meet Adam, there were no watchers. Candy had reported back to them two days earlier that the men who had been watching the house had gone back to town. Joe stayed behind to keep in touch with the ladies who were trying to ferret out exactly who had started the rumors that were at the basis of the prosecution allegation that Adam went into a jealous rage over a cheating wife. Ben and Hoss did know the preliminary information that the story had started at the hotel with some guests. They were still trying to find out their identities when Ben and Hoss had to leave in order to make the rendezvous at the prescribed time.

*****

Chapter 6

Waking in the chill of an early morning in the mountains, Adam felt the press of a warm body against his and smiled. He hadn’t been at all sure that this was a good idea, but after a week of traveling together, he was feeling more and more comfortable in her company. She demanded nothing, readily engaged in serious conversation, and made the nights warmer. After he had found out her age, he hadn’t touched her again except to sleep beside her at night so the two could share their warmth and be more comfortable. She was letting him decide what their relationship would be and didn’t push him to make a decision. He recalled that morning a week earlier as they talked and dressed.

“Adam, what are you running from?” Instantly on guard, Adam had stared at her wondering how much she knew. “You don’t need to worry. I don’t know anything about you except your first name and that you are a passionate man who needed comfort. I was glad to be able to give that to you. No, everyone here is running away from something. I am. I wish we could all be running to something instead.”

“What are you running away from?”

“My father. Now I look back and see that he only meant the best for me, but after what I’ve done for the last two years, I can’t go back home.”

In the early morning light, with her face freshly scrubbed and without powder and rouge, she looked so young. Adam had to ask. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen. I started the life when I was sixteen. I ran away with the love of my life who turned out to be only the first huge mistake I had made. I was stuck in a mining camp with no means of surviving. I had only one thing to sell or so I thought. By the time I figured out what else I could have done, I was already stuck with this life.”

“Why don’t you leave and try some of those other options? You’re young enough.” In truth Adam was shocked that he had slept with a woman who was barely old enough to make that decision.

“Our boss holds our money for us. I can buy anything I want. I can have anything I want except my freedom. If I walk out that door, I have nothing.”

After pulling on his boots, Adam looked at her and thought he knew what that look of hers meant. “You want me to take you with me?”

Anxious because Adam wasn’t the first man she had asked, but he did seem like the best bet for escape that she had ever had up to this point in time. “Yes. I won’t be a burden, and you already know there are some benefits to being with me.”

“No. Don’t sell yourself like that. If you truly want to escape this place, then you have to do it with dignity and not by offering your body as payment.”

“Would you take me with you if I didn’t?”

And Adam knew he would desire her body every moment he was with her, but this situation demanded that he act another way. He didn’t want to do this. Every thought he had was how difficult this was going to be, and yet he also knew he was going to do it. “Yes. Pack your things and get ready to travel. I’ll talk to your boss and see what I can do about getting you at least some of your money.”

“No. I don’t want it. It’s part of the life I need to leave behind. I’ll work hard to earn money some other way, but I don’t want that money any more if you’ll help me be free.”

After packing the things she wanted to take with her, Elaine had taken Adam’s arm, and they had walked out of there. At the livery, Adam paid an exorbitant price for an ordinary horse. He bought an old saddle and bridle, and the two of them rode out of town. Adam told her he was going to meet some of his family in the mountains and asked if she wanted to come with him or head out on her own.

“I can give you some money to get started. You can decide where you want to go and what you want to do.”

“For now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with you. I feel safer that way.”

Reminded that she was still very young even though very bright, Adam nodded and turned his horse to head to the Paiute lands. She asked where they were going when he did that. “To the graveyard of innocence up in the mountains on the Nevada side. We won’t be going into any towns along the way. I’ll hunt for food, and we’ll have to sleep on the ground at night. Still want to come with me?”

In answer, she had wheeled her horse to follow after him. A week later, they were camped where Adam expected to see Hoss and hoped that his brother would bring his son too. Elaine still knew nothing of Adam’s story. He couldn’t trust her enough to tell her at this point. He wondered if Hoss would take her back to the Ponderosa to be a nanny and helper with Jon. It seemed a good compromise, but he hadn’t told her what he had in mind yet. One way or another, she was going with Hoss though. He couldn’t continue on the run with her along. It was simply too dangerous.

With all those thoughts in his mind, Adam slipped from the bedroll and built up the campfire to chase away the morning chill and to prepare breakfast. He had shot a deer the day before, and they had feasted on venison the night before. Now they had venison for breakfast, and unless Hoss brought some supplies, they would have smoked venison and then venison jerky for the next day or two. After building up the fire and setting the venison closer to the heat, Adam walked off into the trees to take care of his needs. On several mornings, Elaine had been awake when he left to do those things and smiled at him when he left and when he returned. He found that the smile did more for him than anything else. He had made another person happy. When he got back to camp that morning, she had a question.

“Are we traveling today or staying here? I noticed that you cut up a lot of that venison to smoke and some of it will soon be hard enough for jerky if we leave it there all day.”

“This is where I expect to meet some of my family. I want you to go back with them when they leave.”

“Why? I thought you liked me.”

“I do, but I’m on the run, and that’s no place for you. You wouldn’t be safe, and it would make it harder for me too. I want you to go with my family. You can be a nanny and helper on my family’s ranch until you get some money and decide what you want to do next. You’ll be safe with my family.”

“What are you running from? I asked you once before but you never answered me.”

“I was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.” Adam expected her to be shocked and was amazed instead at her reply.

“You didn’t do it.”

“How could you know I’m not capable of killing someone?”

“Oh, I have no doubt you could kill someone but only in self-defense or to protect another. You could never murder someone. It isn’t in your character.”

“How could you presume to know that about me after only a week?” Yet inside, Adam felt better knowing that she thought he was innocent even though she knew nothing of what had happened.

“You have had ample opportunity to show your darker side if you have one. You’ve treated me with respect ever since we met. I just know.”

Picking up some venison and putting it on a plate, Adam smiled as he handed it to her. Then he took some for himself and leaned up against a rock to eat. They were quiet as they finished their meal and cleaned up the campsite. Then they went to take care of the horses. Adam pulled the last of the grain from his provisions and fed some to each horse before he led them to a stream for a drink before taking them to a grassy area to let them graze.

About midday, they heard the sounds of riders approaching. Adam signaled to her to get behind some boulders and he grabbed his rifle and stood beside her as Hoss and Ben rode in. Jon was perched in front of Hoss looking all around for his father for Hoss had said they should see him that day. Adam stepped from behind the boulders as Hoss dismounted and set Jon down. The little boy ran as fast as he could to Adam.

“Papa, Papa, you’re here!”

Adam enveloped his son in a hug as Jon wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck and buried his head against his father. They stayed that way for several minutes as the others had tears in their eyes. Adam had never mentioned to Elaine that he had a son although now she realized she should have guessed that when he said she could be a nanny and helper on his family’s ranch. After the long hug, Jon leaned back to take a good look at his father.

“Papa, a bad lady hurt Mama. I tried to stop her, Papa. I did. Mama was crying.” Shocked by Jon’s statement, Adam looked to his father and brother.

“He never said nothing about it to us, Adam. All he said since it happened was yes when I asked if he wanted to go see you and would he wait a week.”

Sitting down then with his son still in his arms, Adam cradled Jon close, introduced Elaine, and told his family what he had found out. Hoss then explained what Joe had been doing and that the detective agency had already contacted them and was in town checking things out.

“It’s looking good for a new trial, Adam. It’s gonna be in Carson. The lawyers already got the judge to agree that there’s too much emotion about all of it in town.”

However Ben could contain his curiosity no longer. “Adam, why is Elaine with you?”

*****

Chapter 7

After telling a lot of Elaine’s story but without his time in her bed of course although Ben and Hoss probably guessed it along the way, Adam asked if Elaine could travel to the Ponderosa with them and stay there to help with Jon for a while. Jon was immediately upset.

“No, Papa come home.”

“Jon, I can’t. I have to find that bad lady. If I don’t, some people are going to hurt me.” That upset Jon even more and he started to cry. “Jon, I will do everything I can to be home with you. With all my heart, I love you and I hope it won’t be much longer. Elaine needs someone to take care of her. I was hoping you could help with that.”

“But I want you to come home.”

“I know. I want to come home too, but it’s too dangerous for me to do that right now. If Grandpa, and Uncle Joe, and Uncle Hoss can find out more about that bad lady, then I can come home. Right now, I need to keep moving.”

Sitting to the side, Elaine was lost in thought. She now understood that Adam had been convicted of killing his wife. With what she had heard from his son though, it was clear that he had not done it. She knew she should go back with his family and tell the authorities what she had heard, but she was already falling in love with Adam and couldn’t imagine the pain he must be feeling and how awful it would be when he had to say goodbye to all of them.

With the supplies that Hoss had brought and a sack of food from Hop Sing that Ben had carried on Buck, they ate a wonderful lunch and dinner. Adam spent most of his time with his son. They walked and talked, and then Adam held Jon as the little boy took a nap in the shade of a tree. Ben walked over with a blanket and laid it over Adam’s arms that were wrapped around Jon.

“You can sleep too. We’ll keep watch.”

For the first time in over three months, Adam was able to close his eyes and sleep with no worries. Ben walked back to sit with Elaine and Hoss. He looked over at Elaine leaving no doubt that he wanted to know her story, but his kind expression let her know he wanted to know for his son’s sake and not because he was judgmental.

“Adam was a customer. He quickly became a friend. I knew he was concerned about my profession especially at my age. I wanted to leave, and he was willing to help me.”

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen, and I’ve been on my own for well over two years already. I’m almost nineteen.”

“Do you know how old Adam is?”

“Yes, he told me. He wants me to find someone and have a normal life.”

Hoss had just been listening to the interchange but the silence that greeted that made him decide to speak up. “But you’re already falling in love with Adam?” Elaine nodded. “He wants you to come with us. What do you want to do?”

“I’d like to stay with Adam, but he says I won’t be safe with him. He said that he would be more in harm’s way too because he would have to protect me, and that could be used against him.” Pausing for just a moment, Elaine had a question for Hoss. “I heard what Jon said when he was first with Adam. Would it help if I told the sheriff or someone what Jon said?”

“Well it would be a sight more believable coming from you than from one of us. We could swear we heard it too, but coming from someone not related to him would probably help a lot. We’ve been trying to get the prosecution to see that someone else murdered Barbara.” Hoss glanced at Ben and had a question. “Pa, don’t you think it would be big help to Adam’s case?”

“I agree with everything you said Hoss. Yes, it would help a lot.”

Looking at both men, there was a big question to which Elaine needed to know the answer. “Knowing what I am, would you allow me to be a nanny and a helper on your ranch?”

“It’s really Adam’s decision because Jon is his son, but yes, I would trust you.” Ben smiled at her to let her know he held no ill feelings toward her because of her previous profession.

Hoss nodded at his father’s statement. “We’ve had quite a few work for us that had a past. Don’t matter none if they’re good people and do a good job. Adam thinks you’re the one for the job, and it’s his son. Welcome to the Ponderosa.”

Suddenly Elaine wasn’t so sure of herself. She had heard of the Ponderosa and the wealthy family who owned it. She didn’t know much about them or it, but now she knew that Adam must be a Cartwright, and that must mean that Ben and Hoss were Cartwrights as well. “The Ponderosa? Then you must be the Cartwrights?” Ben and Hoss nodded. “I heard about you and your ranch. How could Adam have been convicted? Didn’t he have a good lawyer?”

“He did, but the jury was swayed by things they learned about Adam and choices he has made in his life. They didn’t approve especially as it was all made very public. Someone set him up for it too by spreading rumors about his wife and another man. We have proof now that the supposed affair never happened, and that the same person paid that man to come to Virginia City so that there would be the appearance of an affair. He was paid to go out to see Barbara once, and then every day for almost two weeks, he was told to ride out in that direction and not come back for hours. Rumors were started and spread like wildfire. Adam got home from a business trip and walked right into a huge mess.”

“Whoever it is must hate him very much.”

“We think we know who it is. We have detectives working on the case trying to verify it. Right now she is apparently working with some bounty hunters to try to get Adam. That’s why he doesn’t think you would be safe with him. I worry that he isn’t safe either. As long as he’s in these hills, he’s probably all right because very few people know these hills like he does. But every time he goes to a town, he’s at risk. Meeting us was a risk, but we have a lot of people helping to make sure we were not followed here, and Jon almost desperately needed to see his father.”

“Who do you think it is?”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t tell you too much. I don’t want you to know too much when you talk with the sheriff and the prosecutor. That way, your testimony won’t be seen as colored by knowing the story from our perspective. We’ll tell you after you make your statement if that’s all right.”

“What statement?” Adam had awakened and walked over to the group leaving Jon asleep under the tree. He didn’t remember Jon sleeping that soundly in the afternoon, but then he thought perhaps this whole ordeal had made it hard for Jon to relax and fall asleep soundly too.

“Elaine heard what Jon said to you when we arrived. Without any previous conversation with you, those were the first words he said in months. He must have been waiting to tell you. Elaine testifying to those words will carry more weight than if it’s just me and Hoss.”

“I don’t want Jon dragged into this though. He needs to be protected from all the ugliness.”

“Don’t you worry none, older brother. We’ll do everything we can to keep that boy safe and healthy. I’m shur glad we brung him along though. This is the best he’s been since it all happened.”

“It’s the best I’ve been too.”

Hoss put a hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed. “You two are the best medicine for each other. Now, let’s get some dinner cooking. I don’t want to shrink away to nothing while we’re up here. Now you got the meat, so let’s get some gravy and potatoes. Hop Sing packed up a pie when we left. He said for number one son.”

“He knew you were coming to see me?”

“Adam, he always knows everything. Now, you cut some chunks of that venison for the pot so I can make some gravy. Elaine, you know how to peel potatoes?” With her nod, Hoss pulled some potatoes from his bag of provisions. After Adam cut some meat as Hoss directed, he walked back to sit by Jon because he didn’t want him waking and becoming frightened in the strange setting. He need not have worried. Jon awoke to the sounds of Hoss and Elaine preparing dinner. He crawled into Adam’s lap immediately and waited quietly for dinner to be ready. After dinner and cleaning up, it was time to prepare for the night. The horses were brought in from grazing, watered, and fed some grain. Then bedrolls were laid down. Adam put Jon’s next to his and threw a blanket over both of them. Elaine knew that she wouldn’t be able to sleep next to Adam the way they had been so she put her bedroll as close to him as she could and kept the fire at her feet to keep them warm.

In the morning, Elaine was shivering when she awoke. Adam was already up and building the fire up. He saw her shivers and pulled her to her feet wrapping his arms around her. He rubbed her back as he let her snuggle into his jacket which he opened for her. As he felt her shivering subside, he released her and took off his jacket wrapping it around her shoulders.

“Now you’ll be cold.”

“I wasn’t planning to let you keep it. It’s just until you warm up some. I should have gotten you a thicker coat before we came up here. I just wasn’t thinking. I’m used to people knowing what to wear in the mountains.”

“Is Jon warm enough?”

“He was when I crawled out of the bedroll. He’s still wearing his coat, and now he has the blanket doubled over him so he should be fine.”

The light conversation awakened Ben. He walked to the campfire hoping that there might be some coffee ready.

“Not yet, Pa. I just got up a few minutes before you did. Watch over Jon, will you, while I go down to clean up?” Adam grabbed his kit and headed to the small stream releasing the horses to graze as he did so. Elaine sat by the fire warming herself more.

“I have an extra shirt in my saddlebags. I’ll get it for you. It won’t warm up for a few hours yet from the feel of it. You can wear it over your jacket, and it will help you be warmer.”

“Thank you. All of you are so nice. I had heard stories about you, but apparently none of them are true. People must be jealous to say such negative things about you and your family.”

“There’s always some of that when you have wealth. We worked hard for what we have, but you would never know it the way some people talk. Now if you’ll sit by Jon, I’ll get cleaned up too, and bring you that shirt.”

Hoss didn’t wake until the bacon was cooking. Hop Sing had carefully packed some eggs, and Adam was very pleased with the treat of having eggs for breakfast. Ben dropped a couple of them in the coffee too so Adam could have hardboiled eggs later in the day. Then it was time to go. Adam walked off a little ways to talk with Jon. They saw the little boy put his head down on his father’s shoulder, and they could tell that he was sobbing. After a while, Adam walked to his father and handed off Jon to him. Then without a word, he mounted up and rode into the trees disappearing quickly.

Elaine was disappointed. “I thought he would say goodbye.”

Hoss walked up and put a hand on her shoulder. “I reckon after that talk with Jon, he wasn’t able to say anything. I know he wanted to, but he just couldn’t.” Hoss voice became hoarse with those statements too. It was all so very hard on them. “It’s really been hard on him. I hope that new trial gets scheduled soon so he can come home.”

“Hoss, won’t that be a big risk. I mean, what if he’s found guilty at the second trial?”

“We’ve talked about that. Pa would get any sentence commuted. Then we’d have to keep on working until we got him cleared. One way or another though, we gotta have that second trial. With what you heard, the judge might think it’s enough to call that first one a mistrial. Then we can get going on the second one. I just hope those detectives can track that woman down. We need her in that courtroom.”

“Why?” Then Elaine knew. “You want to call her as a witness and get her to admit to some of the things she’s done, and if she lies, you have witnesses to prove that she’s a liar.”

“Now you got it, but don’t say it to nobody else. It’s our strategy, and if she ever finds out, she disappear and we’ll never get Adam cleared. The best thing we got going for us right now is that she wants him so bad, she’s hunting him. That keeps her where we can find her. We just gotta find her before it’s too late. Now let’s get going. The sooner we get out of these hills, the better it’s gonna be.” Elaine looked confused so Hoss had to explain. “They’ll never be able to track Adam from our tracks if we get far enough away from here. We’re gonna be riding back and forth over our trail up here from yesterday until even the best trackers will never be able to figure it out at least not before Adam is well on his way. If he gets a day or two ahead of any pursuit, ain’t nobody gonna catch up to him. He knows these hills too well.”

*****

Chapter 8

“Woo hoo, Hoss, that is one beautiful woman you brought home.” Joe was helping with the horses as Ben went inside with Jon and showed Elaine to a guest room.

“Don’t go getting any ideas. That’s the lady that Adam wants here to help with Jon. She’s gonna be a nanny and a helper.” Hoss wanted to let Joe know that Elaine was off limits for the time being at least without giving away too much of what had happened between her and Adam. He had been able to read between the lines and knew where Adam had met Elaine.

“Well, she can be a nanny and a helper, but that doesn’t mean she can’t help me out some too. Just one look at her, and I’m ready to crawl on my hands and knees to beg her to let me in her bed.”

“You know you can’t do that. Pa would have your hide if you did that in the house here. Besides, she’s got some feelings for Adam.”

“Adam? How could she? How old is she anyway?”

“She’s eighteen almost nineteen. It don’t matter though. She’s off limits to you so just keep your pants buttoned up tight.”

“He’s way too old for her. She’s not too young for me though.”

“Just leave her alone.”

“Since when are you her knight in shining armor? I think it ought to be up to her if she wants to spend some time with me.”

“Joe, there’s enough trouble for this family right now without you pestering her and making more. Now just back off. You got plenty of ladies you can go pester. By the way, you get anywhere with your detective work?”

“Yes, got a description of the woman who started the stories. She went to the dress shop almost every day for two weeks and gossiped about Barbara and Matt. She was staying at the hotel. Apparently she wore a lot of makeup and that got the ladies real interested in who she might be so they paid close attention to her. She was a lot younger than she tried to act. They figured she was only in her early twenties at best. In the house, I have a couple of sketches of her, and some written descriptions too. I got statements from the ladies about her starting those rumors too.”

“Joe, ya done real good. Elaine is gonna make a statement too.”

“About what? She wasn’t here when it all happened.”

“No, but she was there when Jon told Adam that a bad lady hurt his Mama. He said he tried to stop her but he couldn’t and that Barbara was crying. It sure shook Adam to the core to hear him say it, and plumb near knocked us on our behinds too.”

“Jon’s talking?”

“Yup. Seems he needed his Papa so bad. He must have felt awful thinking he lost both his parents. Adam spent a lot of time with him even if the leaving was pretty hard on both of them. Jon’s been talking some ever since. He don’t say much, but he is talking.”

“That’s great. It used to make me choke up when he would sit silent and just eat whatever we put on his plate even when we knew he didn’t like something. Pa even put those pickles on his plate to try to get him to say something. He hates pickles, but he just ignored them when he ate. It’s going to be good to hear the little guy talk.”

“Don’t push though. Pa doesn’t want us to put any pressure on him. He wants him to talk when he wants to talk. He’s probably gonna be questioned by a judge, and that’s gonna be awful hard on him.”

“So, Elaine and Jon have to go to Carson to see the judge?”

“Probably. He’s the one we need to convince that Adam ought to get a new trial. He already agreed that if there’s a new trial it’ll be in Carson so he’s already leaning that way. Now we just need to nudge him a little to take that last step.”

“Will Adam come back for the trial?”

“He said he would. He knows it’s a big risk, but he cain’t keep running his whole life and not be here for Jon. Pa thinks that even if he gets convicted again, he can get the sentence commuted so we can keep working to prove he’s innocent.”

“There’s a lot of ifs in that, and they’ll be watching him real close this time so nobody can break him out of that jail.”

“You been to town yet?”

“Just once to get some barbed wire. Roy gave me the evil eye. He knows I busted Adam out of that jail. He can’t prove it though, just like he knows you helped Adam get away, but he can’t prove that either.”

Finishing with the horses, Hoss and Joe went to the house for dinner. They stopped in the washroom to clean up and entered the house through the kitchen. Jon was talking quietly with Elaine as the two sat in front of the fireplace. Jon was showing her the toy soldiers his father had given him and showed her the books he had gotten from Joe. It was the first time he had played with those soldiers since his mother had been murdered. Adam’s promise that he would come home seemed to have energized the little boy. At dinner, Jon didn’t say much but he did say please and thank you, and once he said no when his grandfather wanted to put some pickled beets on his plate. Ben had smiled before passing the pickled beets to Hoss. Elaine looked at Ben wondering what that was all about.

“Before Jon wouldn’t even say no when I put something on his plate that he doesn’t like. He doesn’t like anything pickled. He doesn’t like anything with vinegar on it. He sneezes anytime he gets too close to something with vinegar.”

Up in the Sierras, Adam was sneezing too. He realized he was coming down with a respiratory infection and hoped it would only be his nose and throat that were affected. With the supplies he had gotten from Hoss, he hoped that he would be able to travel through the mountains for a time to stymie those who were following him. Even if they weren’t particularly good at tracking, they would eventually catch him if he remained in one spot too long. He needed to keep moving, but by the end of the second day of travel, he hurt all over. He made camp in a sheltered location and hoped to be able to stay there for a few days. That wasn’t possible. That night he did his usual surveillance. In the distance, he saw a campfire and correctly assumed it was the group that was pursuing him. He wondered how they had gotten so close after all he had done to cover his tracks. Then a screen was put in place so that he could no longer see the campfire. Then he knew. She had hired an experienced tracker. It was probably one of the Paiute. None of his tricks were good enough to fool a good Paiute scout. He would have to move fast and try to come up with a plan to elude them at least until he could get word on whether he would get a new trial or not. He ate a cold meal, and bedded down for the night as soon as he ate. He planned to be moving at first light. He was on the opposite side of the ridge from his pursuers and would have at least a one or two hour advantage there. He hoped it would be enough.

When Adam awoke in the morning, he was hot. He knew it wasn’t because of the air temperature. He did all that he had to do and mounted up to leave. Every step of the horse caused him pain. He wondered how he could possibly elude capture in the state he was in. He remembered a cave that he and Hoss had stumbled upon once when they were hunting. Hopefully the Paiute didn’t know about it. He headed directly toward it and hoped it looked just as it had looked all those years ago. He knew it was a last resort, but he also knew that if she was with the pursuing group, he wouldn’t live to see jail. He had to take risks in order to survive. As evening approached, Adam reached the cave and relaxed somewhat seeing that it looked as he had hoped. It was overhung with vegetation and no one would know it was there unless they already knew. He approached it warily hoping that no predator had made it into a home. He found what appeared to be signs that a bear may have hibernated there, but there were no recent signs of habitation. He took all of his supplies, bedroll, canteen, and clothing into the cave. Then he did his best to cover all the tracks he had made. Finally he rode the horse about a mile away to a long slope heading toward California. He dismounted in an area of shale, tied the reins to the pommel, and slapped the horse hard on the flank. It ran for a ways and looked back at him. He took his pistol and fired several times into the shale near the horse. It spooked and ran. He watched for a time until he was sure the horse kept on running. Then he slowly walked through the shale and on other rocks until he returned to the cave. He was sure they had heard the pistol shots but they would have no idea what they meant. He carefully worked his way into the cave making sure the vegetation showed no sign of being disturbed. He rolled out his bedroll, drank some water, and said a prayer before falling asleep. His fate was in the hands of lady luck, and he could only hope she would be kind.

The next morning, Adam awoke with a severe headache, sore throat, congestion, and a higher fever than he had the day before. He couldn’t allow himself to cough so he choked down each one that threatened. He sipped water and hoped that his precautions had been enough. He assumed his pursuers had to be close, and he wasn’t surprised when they rode by his cave in the early morning. He heard them talking.

“He stop here. He walk around. He get water. Then he ride that way.”

Adam had to assume that the scout was pointing up the ridge. Then he heard her, and there was no mistaking who it was.

“How long ago?”

“He here one day. He make camp on ridge then because too dark to go more.”

“We should catch up to him today then?”

“Yes. Then you pay me?”

“As agreed. When we find him and shoot him down like the dirty cur that he is, then you get paid and not before.”

When they dismounted to water their horses, they were only about twenty feet from him. The most nerve-wracking moment was when one of the men relieved himself in the vegetation that covered the cave’s entrance. Adam hoped that he had swept up the tracks well enough. He had never thought that someone would stand within a few feet of him and relieve himself. It was so close he could smell it. Luckily the man was more intent on doing what was necessary than he was in being observant. Soon Adam heard them mounting up, and then they moved on. He lay back on his bedroll and waited. If his plan didn’t work, they would be back here by the afternoon and nothing he did would make any difference.

Exhausted, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. When he woke, it was nighttime and there were no sounds of any men or horses anywhere near him. He had been drinking water all morning until he fell asleep but he didn’t need to pee, which was helpful but caused some worry. He obviously was losing a lot of fluids because of the fever. He still had some water in his canteen and that would have to do. He wouldn’t feel safe leaving the cave until the following day. By then, if they had discovered what he had done, there would be no hope for him, and if they hadn’t, then they would be many miles away, and he was safe. He drank as much water as he could, and then lay back to rest again. When he awoke in the early morning hours, he was feverish, coughing, and weak from lack of food. But he almost laughed despite all that. It was raining. There was no possible way for them to track him back to this cave now. They could backtrack all they wanted and it was unlikely they would discover him. He knew that by now they must have found his horse, but there were so many places he could be, that they would have to give up and wait for him to be sighted in a town. He was sure now that she had people watching for him. That didn’t matter too much at the moment. First he had to get healthy again. Luckily, Hoss’ supplies and the venison jerky were probably enough for at least a week. He had water only about twenty feet away. He had time to recuperate. He thought that he might even be able to have a campfire that night to chase away the dampness.

*****

Chapter 9

Only a few days later, there was a meeting called by the district judge in Carson City. He had the statements from Elaine, Ben, and Hoss about what Jon had said. “Tell me exactly what you remember about what Jonathan Cartwright said when he was reunited with his father.”

“A bad lady hurt Mama. I tried to stop her, I did. Mama was crying.”

“And Adam Cartwright said nothing to him before that excited utterance?”

“No. He walked out and put his arms out and Jon rushed into his arms. He held him for probably a minute or two, and then Jon said that.”

“Very well. That is exactly the way you wrote it in your statement, Miss. Can you tell me how you came to be with Adam Cartwright when he met with his son?”

“Ah, he was a customer of mine. I asked him to help me get out of that town and make a fresh start. He helped me. I only knew him as Adam. I didn’t know he was a Cartwright from the Ponderosa until after I met his family. His brother Hoss welcomed me to the Ponderosa when his father agreed that I could have a job as a nanny and helper in the house on their ranch. That was when I realized who he was.”

“So he gave you a job, and you like him and feel very grateful to him?”

“Yes, your honor. I do.”

“Do you like him so much and are you so grateful that you would lie for him?”

Elaine paused then, and Ben sat with Joe and neither of them was breathing until she answered. So much was riding on the judge believing what she was telling him. “I’m sorry, but I guess I would, Your Honor. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s the truth, and I swore to tell the truth. But, Your Honor, I don’t have to lie because that is exactly what happened. I didn’t add anything to the story.”

“Did you want to add something to the story?”

“I did think about doing that to make it sound better, but Adam only asked me to tell you what I heard, so I did. I didn’t add anything.”

It wasn’t a formal hearing. The judge simply wanted a deposition from Elaine. Next he asked if Jon would be brought into his chambers. The bailiff opened the door, and Jon walked in with Hoss. The judge asked Jon to sit on a chair right next to his desk. Then he asked Jon what he had seen, but he did so very gently.

“Jon, your grandfather, your uncle, and your nanny have told me that you said you saw what happened to your mother. Jon, I know that must have been awful for you. I heard that you tried to help your mother, and to me that is absolutely amazing in a boy as young as you. It may be very difficult but I think you are a very brave little boy, and I hope you can do this. Can you tell me what happened to your mother?”

Jon looked over at Hoss and then to Ben and then Elaine. He looked back at the judge and watched his face for a little while. “I want my Papa to come home.”

“I know you do, Jon. I think your whole family wants that. Now if you could tell me what you saw, that might help bring your father home.”

Pursing his lips and breathing rapidly, Jon still wasn’t sure until Elaine said something. “Jon, I already told the judge what I heard you say. If you could tell him too, that would be good.”

The judge was about to order everyone to be quiet except Jon started talking. “I was in my room. I was supposed to be cleaning up my room, and I wasn’t supposed to go downstairs until I got done, but I did because I heard my Mama. She was crying. I went to the kitchen and a bad lady hit my Mama and made her fall. She was bleeding. I grabbed the bad lady’s arm but she pushed me away. She said she would kill me too. She took some of our clothes that Mama was folding and she left. I don’t know where she went. Then this other man came and said Mama was dead and he took me to Grandpa’s house. Where’s my Mama? No one will tell me.”

“Jon, I’m sure your grandpa has told you. He wouldn’t lie to you, now would he?”

Jon started crying then, and the judge signaled to Ben and Hoss to come get him. As Ben soothed Jon, the judge looked over papers on his desk and called the prosecutor and Adam’s lawyer to his desk. They whispered for a time, and then stepped back.

“I have a petition here to declare the trial of Adam Cartwright for the murder of his wife to be a mistrial. I am not inclined to do that. I do have a report here with sketches of a woman who started the rumors. It bears a striking resemblance to the pictures I have in the rather extensive report from the Pinkerton Detective Agency on an Eloise Long. I also have a report from the U.S. Marshals Service about an Eloise Long who is working with bounty hunters and trying to apprehend Adam Cartwright. I have a statement from a Matthew Galvin about the woman who hired him, and again there is a remarkable resemblance to the picture of Eloise Long. With what I have heard here this morning, I am not inclined to declare a mistrial. I am setting aside the verdict in that trial. There never was enough evidence to convict Adam Cartwright beyond a reasonable doubt, and opening the door to further prosecution would be ludicrous. I am issuing a bench warrant for Eloise Long for conspiracy to commit murder, the murder of Barbara Cartwright, assault, interstate flight to avoid prosecution, and for obstruction of justice. If you would locate Adam Cartwright, please offer him my sincere apology for the miscarriage of justice that was done to him, and for the emotional harm that was done to his son as a result. Do you know where he is?”

“No, Your Honor, we do not. We have tried to contact him to attend this proceeding but without success.” Ben was worried and with good cause.

“All wanted posters and rewards on Adam Cartwright are to be immediately withdrawn. I ask that a notice of my rulings be posted in all newspapers in the region. It’s time for that man to come home, and for that woman to be put in jail.”

If it was possible to be wildly elated and gravely worried at the same time, then that was what gripped Ben, his sons, and Elaine. Jon asked when his Papa was coming home, and Ben had to say as soon as they could find him. They had put notices in a number of newspapers letting Adam know to send a wire so they could give him information. He had not responded in two days. It was very unlike him. For another day, they worried and then there was a remarkable development. A Paiute rode into the yard of the Ponderosa leading a horse. He asked to speak with Ben Cartwright. When Ben strode out, the man pulled the horse he was leading up next to him.

“This your son’s horse. Woman say she pay me to track him. He get away. She not pay. I bring horse you. You pay?”

“Yes, yes, I will pay, but you have to tell me where you found his horse?”

“I show you. You pay first.”

By then, Hoss and Joe were outside listening. Ben turned to Hoss and asked him to saddle up their horses. He asked Joe to get some provisions from Hop Sing, and then told the Paiute that he would bring payment from the house. Within minutes, Ben was back with several hundred dollars. He handed one hundred to the Paiute, and told him that he would get an equal amount when he showed them the spot, and another if he helped them search for Adam. Ben then went inside to tell Elaine that they were going to go search for Adam. Jon was taking a nap.

“Take good care of Jon while we’re gone, but don’t tell him we’re searching for his father. He’s had too many disappointments already in his life, and I don’t want to upset him if we come home without Adam.”

Handing over decision making to Candy, the three men set out with the Paiute scout. It took them two days of hard riding to find the place where the bounty hunters had found Adam’s horse. Hoss took a look around and asked in what direction they had come on the day when they found the horse. When the scout pointed back up the ridge, Hoss smiled for he had a good idea where Adam had gone to hide. He wheeled his horse and signaled to the others to follow. Several miles away from where the horse was found, there was the hint of wood-smoke in the air. Hoss picked up the pace heading along a small stream that was gently flowing over a gravel bed. Here and there one could see a shadow of a fish darting from cover to cover. When Hoss got to the cave, he yelled out.

“Oh brother, where art thou?”

Stepping from behind some bushes, Adam smiled. He was bearded and his clothing was dirty, but he was alive and safe. Hoss dismounted and grabbed him in a bear hug. “We got great news, older brother. The verdict was set aside. You’re free!”

Ben and Joe were soon there and there was hugging and back-slapping until they heard the distinct sound of a rifle being cocked. They looked back and the Paiute scout was smiling but not in a nice way. He had his rifle trained on them. “Drop guns.” They had no choice but to comply. Within a few minutes, Eloise Long rode in with several bounty hunters.

“Well, what better way to find a dirty dog than to send the rest of the pack after him.”

Hoss and Ben stepped in front of Adam so no one could shoot him down.

“We have a legal right to apprehend him. He’s wanted dead or alive. We’ll do it either way. It’s your call.”

Ben hoped to reason with Eloise. She was mean and dangerous but not stupid. “The verdict was set aside. The wanted posters have been withdrawn.” They could see that at least two of the bounty hunters were concerned about that. They operated on the fringes of the law frequently but tried not to cross the line. It was hazardous in their profession to end up locked up with men they had apprehended.

“Miss Long, maybe we ought to back off on this. You know we don’t cotton to breaking the law. We need to stay within the rules.”

“They could be lying. They just want you to think that so they can get him away again.”

“I don’t know. It sounds like the kind of thing that coulda happened.”

Taking advantage of the discussion among his pursuers, Adam ran for the cave. He had firearms there that could help him survive this day. When he ran, there were shots fired in his direction but from horseback and they all missed. His father and brothers used the commotion to grab their weapons. Soon there was a lot of shooting. Two of the bounty hunters quickly decided it wasn’t their fight and rode off. The other two, Eloise, and the Paiute scout continued firing. Ben was behind some trees and Hoss and Joe were behind boulders. Adam was the most vulnerable in the cave, but he couldn’t be seen so there was no way for them to aim at him. Taking cover behind rocks and trees, Eloise and her group could make no headway against the equally well-concealed Cartwrights. Something had to break the stalemate, and Eloise was the one who came up with the idea once she had realized that Adam had taken cover in a cave.

“Throw down your guns or we’ll all fire into that cave. Your son will never survive that.”

Hearing Eloise, Adam yelled out to his father not to do it. Them he began to move very quickly. Hoss yelled over to Ben too that they shouldn’t drop their weapons. “Pa, Adam will be all right. I know it.” The cave curved on the inside. Adam moved to the very back section where the wall of the cave would block any bullets. He couldn’t do anything except stand there but hoped they might expend so much ammunition and energy that they would leave. He was surprised then at how it did turn out. A deadly barrage was fired into the cave. A ricochet got Adam in the leg and he cried out but had to remain standing in order to protect himself from any further shots. After he cried out, the gunfire stopped.

“You called it, Cartwright. You can collect his body. That’s more than I was able to do for my brothers. We’ll be leaving now.”

“I don’t think so.”

Distracted for a moment by the two bounty hunters who wanted the body thinking that they could use it to get the reward, none of them had seen Joe stand up behind them. He had used the firing barrage on the cave to work his way around until he could come up behind the four. “Now it’s your turn. Drop your guns.”

They did, but the Paiute went for his knife. Ben saw it and shot. He fell clutching his stomach. Gut shot, he would die and likely in a very painful slow process. He knew it too and reached again for his knife. Ben fired again and hit him in the chest. The Paiute scout almost looked relieved at the fatal blow. He had died in battle. The two bounty hunters were compliant, but Eloise was thinking of how to escape for she knew that the Cartwrights intended to turn her over to the authorities, and there simply was too much evidence out there against her. Her thought process froze when Hoss stepped into the cave, and brushing the vegetation to the side, helped Adam limp out. Hoss settled him by his campfire and began working on a bandage for the leg as Adam poured water over the shallow wound.

Furious at seeing Adam alive and hardly injured at all, Eloise charged him intending to kill him with a small pocket pistol she pulled from her coat pocket. Adam had no choice but to draw and fire at point-blank range. Ben and Joe couldn’t fire without a risk that they might hit Adam instead, and Hoss had his gun holstered and wasn’t fast enough. Blood spattered Adam’s face and chest from the bullet that tore into Eloise’s chest when she was only a few feet from him. Her body landed on him. He quickly pushed her to the side. She grimaced. “I’ll see you in hell.” Then she groaned and closed her eyes. It was over.

Very late the next day, Jon paused for just a moment to take a good look at the bearded, scruffy man standing in the door before running across the room and jumping into his arms. “Papa, you came home. You came home!” Elaine had tears in her eyes seeing Adam standing there hugging his son. Jon had a few comments to make though. “Papa, you smell bad.”

“Yes, I know. I didn’t have any clean clothes to wear, and I need a bath.” After being spattered with Eloise’s blood, Adam had donned the soiled clothing he had worn previously considering the ripe smell to be better than the bloodstains. They hadn’t taken any extra time for him to bathe or shave either, as Adam was anxious to get home. Jon rubbed a hand over Adam’s chin.

“You need to shave too. I don’t like this.”

“Yes, I’ll go take care of that. Do you want to come with me?” Jon nodded enthusiastically, and Adam limped into the kitchen to greet Hop Sing and ask for a bath.

After seeing Adam limp away, Elaine had to ask why.

“That Paiute led us into a trap. He lied. But Pa shot him, so he got his punishment for trying to get us killed.”

“I never should have trusted him, but his story was so convincing, and he had Adam’s horse. I guess I wanted it to be true and didn’t question it at all.”

“Pa, Hoss and I thought the same thing you did. He seemed real friendly. There was no good reason to doubt him.”

Elaine still wondered why Adam was limping. “But what happened to Adam. Did he get shot?”

Hoss noted her look of worry and sought to reassure her. “No, he took a ricochet in his leg. It isn’t bad. It was only part of a bullet. He’ll be fine in a couple of days. It didn’t even go in very far, but it’s in his shin so he feels it with every step.”

“Well he won’t be able to take you to the dance on Saturday. Maybe you wouldn’t mind going with me.” Joe’s invitation got a sour look from Hoss, and a stern look from Ben, but Joe ignored them. Elaine seemed unable to answer that question so Hoss stepped in.

“Maybe we ought to let Elaine get settled in a bit more here before we go pushing her to do things, dontcha think so, Pa?” With a look at Joe that included the arched eyebrows, Ben agreed with Hoss.

*****

Chapter 10

For the next week, Joe did his best to become friends with Elaine, but she spent most of her time with Jon, or with Adam and Jon. Joe decided that he ought to talk with Adam about the situation so he asked to work with Adam the first day that he was able to get back to work on the ranch. Ben didn’t want Adam to work away from the house until they were sure that all the bounty hunters had gotten the word that he was no longer wanted. Hands were told to watch for any strangers on Ponderosa land and to tell them not only to leave but also to tell them that there was no longer any reward for Adam. So Adam was working the forge that day, which was not normally a job that Joe would willingly share. After working for about an hour with Joe who seemed very nervous about something, Adam had to ask.

“So, are you here as my bodyguard or is there something else you want? I don’t need a bodyguard so close to home, so it must be something else.”

“Well, I would like to start seeing a bit more of Elaine, and I wondered if you would mind.”

Nodding at getting the expected response, Adam thought for a time. “It’s really up to her. If you’re asking if I’m in love with her, the answer is no. But Joe, I don’t think that it’s a good idea for you to think that way about Elaine.”

“Why not? She’s pretty, smart, and close to my age?”

“To be blunt, you do know that she made her living entertaining men?”

“I kinda guessed that, but lots of saloon girls are pretty nice, and it’s not like she was sleeping with all those men.”

“Joe, she wasn’t a saloon girl.”

Slowly recognition dawned and showed in Joe’s expression. “Aw, why’d you have to go and sleep with her?”

“In my defense, I wasn’t planning to sleep with her and ruin all your plans. I only intended to get a quick one and be on my way. Sleeping with her all night and taking her with me the next morning had not been anything I had foreseen.”

“So you were with her all the while you two were traveling together?”

“No, I never touched her again that way when I found out how young she was. With all the makeup and the whisky, I had no idea she was that young when I was with her in her bed that one time. If I had known, I wouldn’t have.”

“Did you have to say it like that? Now I’m going to have that picture in my head every time I look at her.”

“I do, and I wish I didn’t. Let’s get some work done here.” And Adam turned away to grab some tools for their next task effectively letting Joe know he would say no more about it. So Joe decided to talk about another topic.

“Jon sure likes Elaine. How long are you planning on having her work here with him?”

It was clear that Jon liked Elaine’s attentions. She was teaching him to draw, to read, and to do some basic math. Barbara had started Jon doing those things, but since her death, no one had thought to do that with him. He was curious about things around him, and Elaine had a lot of patience in answering his many questions. He often needed to be shown that his father was still there, but other than that, he was obviously happy spending time with the young woman. Ben watched the two of them and was happy that Jon was returning to the happy, inquisitive little boy he had been before tragedy struck, but Ben worried about the situation. It was clear to him that Elaine had feelings for Adam, but he was treating her like a sister. Ben could see how that hurt Elaine who quite clearly wanted more of a relationship. Hoss had noticed all of that too and spoken with his father about what they should do.

“Hoss, we can’t dictate how Adam feels. He certainly likes her, and she’s doing a very good job with Jon. We’ll just have to see how this plays out. Adam hasn’t gone to town or anywhere else for that matter. Everything is still pretty raw for him. It isn’t just the loss of Barbara. The revelations at his trial following the loss of his wife so tragically hit him hard. The stress of being on the run just trying to survive had to be an unbelievable strain especially not seeing his son all that time. He needs some time to heal all of that. I don’t think he’s ready for a relationship like the one Elaine wants.”

When Joe asked Adam that question, he wasn’t ready with an answer because he didn’t have any idea what he wanted. All he could say was brief. “Jon starts school in about a year from now. I don’t know. Maybe until then.”

“You going to move back into your house or just live here?”

That question was one that Adam could answer. “I’ll live here. I haven’t even been able to go over there to collect my things. I know it would make me remember Barbara, and it’s just so difficult.” Adam’s voice had gotten hoarse as emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He turned to the forge grabbing the metal and hammering it on the anvil for some time before reheating it and hammering again. Joe knew to let him alone at that point and simple got more supplies and put more metal pieces into the forge. They were making barrel hoops for small and medium barrels. The ranch had saved a lot of money over the years because Hoss and Adam had learned to make barrels. Coopers were hard to find in the west and could charge a premium price. But both Adam and Hoss could make the staves, hoops, heads, and even rivets if needed to complete a barrel.

Elaine walked out with Jon on one of his trips to reassure himself that his father was still there. The two brothers were very impressive working shirtless in the cool air. Adam’s shirt hung over the corral fence, and Joe had his hung up on a hook by the forge. Joe’s chest was shiny with sweat and accentuated his muscular build, but it was Adam’s chest with the hair glistening in the sun that made Elaine tingle low in her belly at the sight of him. She hadn’t seen him like that since the first morning they had been together. Now she got gentle hugs but nothing more intimate than that. She wondered about his feelings for her and if he even had any. Jon tugged at her hand though wanting to get closer to see what his father was doing. When Jon got within about ten feet, Adam told him that was close enough.

“Sparks and even shards can fly out from what I’m doing so it’s best if you watch from a safe distance.”

“What are you doing, Papa?”

“We’re making hoops for barrels. Your Uncle Hoss made a bunch of staves and heads while I was gone, and now we need to make the hoops so we can put the barrels together.”

“You can make a barrel?”

“Yes, we can. Joe, why don’t you grab the pieces for the small barrel Hop Sing wanted. The hoops are cool now so we can fit it together.” Within a few minutes, Adam and Joe had put the small barrel together. It was quite a bit easier than the larger ones but both Jon and Elaine were impressed with their skill. “That one was easy because Hoss already had fitted all the pieces perfectly. The larger ones will be more difficult as we still have to carve the edges of the staves so that they all fit tightly together.” Tipping the cask on its side, Adam took a drill and drilled a hole. Jon had another question.

“Why did you make a hole in your barrel? Won’t everything leak out now?”

“No. This is a bung hole. I’ll make a cork for it to hold everything inside, but that’s the hole that Hop Sing needs to put something into the barrel. Then later, he can remove the cork to pour it out. Would you like to take this to Hop Sing? He’s been asking when we would get it done.”

Jon was so proud to carry the small barrel to the kitchen. Elaine walked with him to make sure he didn’t drop it on his toes. With lust in his eyes, Joe watched Elaine walk away.

“That is one fine woman. If you don’t want her, just let me know. I’ll be on that like a bee on honey.”

“Joe, get your mind off of that. Let’s get back to work.”

Joe picked up more staves and began carving the edges as Adam pounded away on the hoop they needed. Both would have been surprised probably that Elaine had been having similar thoughts except she was thinking about Adam making love to her and kissing her. As she thought about it later, she realized he had never kissed her. That first night when he had been in her bed, he had kissed her neck, and quite a bit of the rest of her but never kissed her lips. She wondered why, and decided that she needed to have a serious conversation with him.

That evening, there were several serious conversations between Adam and members of his family so there was no opportunity for Elaine to talk with him. Hoss and Joe volunteered to go to Adam’s house to get anything he wanted.

“You just make us a list, older brother, and Joe and me will go get it all.”

Since coming home, Adam had visited Barbara’s grave several times already, and he had ridden up on a hill to look at his house but had not ventured any closer. Doing just those two things had caused him to sob in his grief and loneliness. He couldn’t even imagine himself walking through that door into the kitchen and seeing where his wife had died. Ben had gotten all of Jon’s things from the house, and he and Hop Sing had scrubbed that kitchen floor until no one could see where the blood had stained the floorboards. When Adam had returned, Ben had gone to the house with Hoss and they had brought his clothing and books as well as a few personal possessions to the main house. There was still quite a lot of his property in the house, and as yet, they didn’t know what to do with it or with the house. Adam sat down and wrote a list for Hoss adding to it as the night progressed until he could think of nothing more he wanted at that time. When only Ben and Adam remained downstairs and everyone else was in their beds, Ben asked Adam how he was doing. Adam dropped his head and thought a moment before answering.

“All right, and a lot better than I was two weeks ago. If I haven’t thanked you enough for everything you did, it’s just that I cannot begin to express my gratitude with mere words. You gave me my life again.”

“What happened to you wasn’t your fault at all. We had to do what we did. You’re my son. Know that I would do all of that and ten times more if I had to. Will you go to church services with us this Sunday?”

“I don’t think I want to face that yet.”

“Are you still upset about those things that were said about you in the trial?” At Adam’s nod, Ben continued. “Adam, you made some choices different than I would have made, but those girls said you never forced them to do anything and even when someone was reluctant, you didn’t push. A lot of the men in the courtroom probably had done the things that you did or wished they had. You broke no laws and hurt no one. I doubt anyone is going to say anything. Just like you, a lot of people want to put this behind them and forget about it.”

“But there are some people who did things that I find it hard to forget.”

Thinking only briefly, Ben knew one that must be weighing heavily on Adam’s mind. “Roy was only upset that we didn’t use the law. He knows Joe broke you out of jail and Hoss helped you to escape in those hills. He wanted me to get the sentence commuted so we could work within the law to free you. He didn’t want you to hang.”

“Hard to look at it that way from my side. I always counted Roy as a friend. With all that happened, I don’t think I can do that any more.”

“Roy is resigning as sheriff.” Shocked at that news, Adam looked up. “As soon as they can have an election, he’s stepping down. Most of us assume Clem will win the election and be the next sheriff.”

“Why?”

“He said that he was ready to step down, but you got arrested, tried, and convicted. He wasn’t going to quit then. He said he wanted to do everything in his power to help you. He could have made an issue out of what he knows Joe and Hoss did, but he dropped it. He is your friend, Adam, but he was in an impossible position.”

As Ben sat there, Adam assumed that he had one more topic to broach. “I don’t know how I feel about Elaine. If she could stay here and be Jon’s nanny and helper, that would be fine with me. I’m rather sure though that she wants more of me, and I can’t give her any more right now, and maybe not ever.”

Knowing that Adam had a lot of thinking to do about those topics they had discussed briefly, Ben stood and crossed to where Adam was sitting. He put a hand on his son’ shoulder and squeezed gently. Then he bid him goodnight and went to bed where he was sure he would sleep far more soundly than Adam.

*****

Chapter 11

On Sunday, Adam woke early and dressed in his Sunday best. Hoss and Joe had retrieved the rest of his clothing and belongings. The furniture, Barbara’s things, and everything in the kitchen were still at Adam’s house. He was having trouble deciding what to do about all of it. He wanted to keep some of Barbara’s things to give to Jon when he was older. Adam knew his son would likely not remember his mother other than as a shadowy figure from his past involved in a traumatic event that was indelibly imprinted on the boy’s mind. But he wanted to be able to give his son some things that had belonged to his mother. Adam assumed that someday, the jewelry he had gifted to his wife would be worn by a daughter-in-law and become family heirlooms. For now, they were stored away in his closet for he couldn’t bear to look at them. He pulled out a tie and remembered how Barbara would redo them for him because she said he always made them lopsided. He tried to do it the way she had done it, but it looked like it always did when he tied it. Then he headed to Jon’s room to be sure he was dressed properly for church. Jon greeted his father with a big smile. He loved being with his father, and this trip to church was one more step on getting back to normal. Jon liked singing and he especially liked singing when his father was singing with him. So he thought he had a wonderful time coming up when he could be with his father and sing. When they got downstairs, Adam noted that Elaine was dressed in her everyday dress.

“Miss Lainy, are you coming to church with us?”

“No, Jon, that’s a time for family. I’ll be here when you get home.”

“Aren’t you part of the family?”

“No, Jon, I work for your family. They pay me to take care of you and be with you during the day.”

“Miss Lainy, don’t you like me?”

“Jon, I like you more than anyone in the whole world. You know that, don’t you?”

“Then why do they have to pay you to be with me? I thought you were my friend.”

“I am your friend, but I have to save up some money to go out on my own when you don’t need me any more.”

“But Papa needs you. My Mama went away so he needs you.”

Watching Adam as Jon talked, Ben could see the pain on his face. It was clear that Adam had uncharacteristically been caught at a loss for words. Ben decided to help him out.

“Jon, we need to get going so we aren’t late for church. Now Miss Elaine will be here when you get back and for quite a while so you don’t need to worry. And your Papa will be fine no matter what happens.”

“But Papa is sad sometimes. He cries.” At Ben’s look of surprise, Jon explained. “He cries inside but the tears leak out. He doesn’t cry out loud like me. But I see Papa’s tears sometimes. Uncle Hoss told me when that happens, somebody is crying inside.”

All of it had made Adam on edge. “Can we just go and forget about this conversation?”

“Adam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” Elaine could see that he was upset and that bothered her a great deal.

“Listen, I don’t want to talk about it. Can we just drop this and get going?” He grabbed his hat and reached for Jon’s hand. Jon could see that his father was upset so he remained silent as he walked outside with him.

Near tears, Elaine watched them go. She wished she could make things better but knew that the time wasn’t right. Hoss came up beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t let it get to you too much. Things ain’t settled down around here yet. Things’ll get better. Ya just gotta give it more time. Maybe next week you could go with us to church. It sure would make Jon and Pa happy.”

“And Adam?”

“Just give it more time. He’ll come around, I think, but he needs more time.”

“Thank you, Hoss. You always seem to know just what to say to help someone.”

Hoss was a little embarrassed by that and shrugged. He walked out with Joe then who had a question for him. “You think Adam will fall in love with Elaine?”

“Joe, I think he already started, but he just don’t know it yet, and you know how stubborn our oldest brother can be. Plus he still loves Barbara and he has to get that all straight in his head first.”

“It’s less than six months. Isn’t that a little soon to be looking at another woman?”

“There’s no timetable for it. He loved Barbara. Everybody knows that. He’s got a lot of sorrow in his heart that she’s gone. But he’s alive and smart enough to know that he needs to take care of himself so he can take care of Jon. If Elaine is the right one for that, he’ll know.”

“But there’s what she used to do, and her age, and stuff like that too. Is he supposed to just ignore all of that?”

“Ain’t none of us perfect, Joe. He knows that. It don’t matter so much what we done. What matters is what we’re doing now. And we need to get going if we’re gonna catch up to the carriage.”

Ben and Adam were in the carriage with Jon. Adam had a fair idea why his brothers were lagging behind. He assumed they were talking about him. On the one hand, he didn’t like knowing that, but on the other hand, he wished they could figure things out for him and tell him what to do. His father looked over at him several times as they rode on, and Jon was watching him too to see if he would smile again or if his anger was still there. Ben reached over and took the reins from Adam’s hands. “You have too much on your mind to do this. Let me, and you talk with your son. He’s a bit upset with what happened.”

Wrapping his arm around Jon, Adam didn’t say anything until he felt his son relax against him. “I’m sorry if I sounded angry before. I wasn’t upset with you or anyone else. There’s just so much going on. I would like to have a day where I don’t have to have any serious conversations. Maybe just a day to have fun and relax. We can sing in church, and then on the ride home, maybe we can get Grandpa to sing a few rounds with us. How about a trip to the lake after lunch? We could skip stones and maybe even do a little fishing.”

“Can Miss Lainy go with us?”

Ben chuckled and looked over to see his son shake his head. “He is persistent. I wonder where he gets that from?” Then he chuckled again at Adam’s look. “You were a lot that way when we first met Inger. I guess he comes by it naturally.”

“Oh, and where did I get it from?”

“Your mother, of course.”

Then Adam did laugh, which felt good and made all of them relax. About that time Joe and Hoss caught up with them and were relieved to hear the laughing.

“What’s so dadblamed funny?”

“Oh, nothing much. We were just telling stories about you and that whale you saw in the lake.”

“Now, dadburnit, how was I to know Mrs. Reinders was swimming in that confounded contraption she calls a bathing dress. She did look like a whale when that whole thing puffed up with air when she tried to swim. Besides, I was only seventeen at the time. How was I to know any different?”

“Uncle Hoss thought a lady was a whale? Papa, that’s funny.”

“Did I tell you about the time he thought he saw some leprechauns?”

“No. What are leparicons?”

So Adam regaled the family with the story of Hoss and the leprechauns embellishing liberally as he went until Jon was laughing so hard he couldn’t sit up by himself. Adam pulled him onto his lap to finish the story of Hoss getting his pants pulled down and then finding that Professor McCarty was the scoundrel behind the whole thing. By the time they arrived in the churchyard, everyone was in a jovial mood. Adam was sensitive to the people who turned away to whisper to their neighbor and a few who turned their backs and walked to the church without acknowledging his arrival, but the great majority of people came up to greet him and his family, and to say how sorry they were that he was treated so badly. By the time they walked into the church and took their seats, Adam had relaxed considerably. Things had gone much better than he had expected. They did sing rounds on the way home, and Elaine heard them coming with all five voices singing loudly. She smiled knowing that everything had to have gone well for them all to be in such a jovial mood. When Adam walked in, it was as if all the earlier tension was gone. He asked Hop Sing for a lunch, and asked Elaine if she would go with them to the lake as Jon’s guest. He smiled, but she knew the message had been that he was not inviting her to be with him but to be with Jon. She hoped that when Jon took a nap, she and Adam could talk, and she got her wish although she might have wished for something else by the time they finished their conversation.

“Why don’t you kiss me?” Elaine decided to get to the heart of the matter immediately. She wrapped her arms around Adam’s waist and pressed herself against him. “Don’t you want me?” She actually did know the answer to that part. “You have touched me so intimately but never kissed me. Why is that?”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Kissing won’t hurt me.”

“But it would be meaningless. When you kiss someone, it means that you care deeply about them. At least I do. If I pull a woman into my arms and kiss her, that’s a commitment of sorts. It shows a depth of emotion that cannot be denied.”

Backing away from Adam just a bit, Elaine was afraid to ask the next question but knew she had to know. “A kiss means that you care for someone and perhaps even love them, but you don’t feel that way about me?” His lack of an answer was enough of a response. “When I met you, you were on the run. What are you running away from now?”

“I’m not running from anything. I’m just where I want to be.”

“Alone. Is that really the where you want to be?”

“I still love Barbara. I can’t love someone else. It’s not even six months yet since I lost her.”

“Your father could tell you something about that. You’ll always love Barbara, but she’s your past. Are you going to let that be your present and your future too?”

“You’re eighteen and ready to lecture me about how to live my life?”

“I’m nineteen.”

“You had a birthday? Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I’m only an employee and not a member of the family as you are so quick to explain to anyone who asks.”

“I’m sorry if you want more and I can’t give it to you. Joe would like to spend time with you if you want a member of the family to fall in love with you.”

“You don’t get to pass me around like you own me. It’s you I want, and if you ever decide that you want me, be sure to tell me. Until then, I’ll leave you alone and concentrate on my job. At least Jon knows who he loves and who he wants.”

“Whom.” Adam smiled and tried to lighten the mood but failed. He could see how hurt Elaine was but wasn’t ready to do anything to comfort her and give her the wrong idea about his feelings for her. He wanted her to think of her future and being with a man with a dark side, a soiled past, and twice her age was not how he saw her future even if she did. He felt she was looking at him through rose colored glasses because he had rescued her and because he had been in such dire straits when she met him. He didn’t think she truly loved him but had mistaken sympathy, empathy, and gratitude for love. He couldn’t say those things to her because he knew she would be hurt, and that would bother him as much as or even more than it bothered her.

When Jon awakened, the mood had changed. He asked if they were mad at him, and both reassured him that was not the case and made an effort to make the rest of the afternoon be pleasant. As they drove back, Adam told Jon that Elaine had had a birthday and they needed to celebrate. Jon was excited to get home and share that news. Hop Sing always made a special dinner on Sunday evening, but he added candles and red frosting piped around the edges of the cake to make it more festive and for good luck. The mood in the house was jovial, but Ben noticed the looks that Adam and Elaine gave each other and knew that there was something wrong between the two of them. Again that night he stayed up until everyone was in bed knowing that Adam was usually the last to retire for the evening.

“Everything go all right on your picnic?”

Knowing his father already had the answer to that one, Adam said nothing. He waited to hear what his father really wanted to know.

“Have you two sorted out your feelings about each other?”

“We have, and Elaine didn’t like the truth.”

“The truth, or what you want the truth to be?” Adam waited because he wasn’t sure what his father meant by that. “It’s not a betrayal of Barbara if you love again. I loved all three of my wives and never stopped loving any one of them. You can keep your love of Barbara and open your heart to someone else too.”

“I know that. It just isn’t Elaine. She’s too young and needs to find a young man.”

“She’s young in years, but she’s lived a lifetime in the last few years. She’s much older in some ways than other women her age. A boy of nineteen years could never hold her interest.”

“Pa, it’s just too soon. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.”

As he watched his oldest son trudge up the stairs, Ben knew his tread would have been lighter if he had been honest with himself. He knew it too. He was in love with Elaine and trying to make that not be true. He was on the run again, but this time, he was running away from himself.

*****

Chapter 12

“Checkmate!”

“How did you get so good at this so fast?”

Because Adam didn’t want to spend time alone with Elaine, she found ways to get his attention when everyone was there. One way had been to get him to teach her to play chess. When Adam wasn’t around, she had practiced with Jon who was also learning the game. Eventually she played with Joe and then with Ben as her skills improved. She even found that Candy enjoyed chess and had a few matches with him on Sunday mornings when the family went to church. She didn’t want to admit that to Adam, but the smirks from his family let him know that her answer wasn’t the entire story.

“I’m smart. I learn fast.”

It was late so Joe declared that he was turning in. He kissed Elaine on the cheek as he went by and congratulated her on her win. She gave him a smile and a kiss on the cheek in return. Hoss came by next and gave her a hug with his congratulations and got a hug back as well as a smile. These types of things happened a lot, and they stirred pangs of jealousy in Adam although he wouldn’t let it show, but the slight narrowing of the eyes or sometimes the raised brow let all of them know that it was getting to him especially because there were no kisses on the cheek for him and no hugs. He had said he didn’t want a relationship with Elaine other than as his son’s nanny and helper and she was holding to the letter of that.

The next day, Hoss took Elaine with him when he went to town. She was going to the dressmaker’s and he had a list of supplies to get. It would likely take her a lot longer than him to complete the task, so Hoss went to see Julia. He hadn’t seen her much since her sister had been killed. He wondered what she was thinking and how she was feeling especially about him. He had good news to tell her about her nephew so that gave him a good excuse to stop by her house without an invitation.

Adam heard them return. He was working in the tack room but no one could mistake the booming laugh that Hoss had and the gentle laughter that belonged to Elaine. They appeared to be in a jovial mood, and once again, Adam felt jealous. He told himself he shouldn’t and that it was a good thing that Elaine was able to make friends with his brothers and his father, but in truth, he was jealous and couldn’t help himself. All he could do was hide his feelings, and he was quite good at that he thought. Jon was sitting with Adam and asked if he could go see Hoss and Elaine. He hoped they had bought him some peppermint sticks. Hoss usually remembered that he liked them. In just a few minutes, Jon was back with a peppermint stick and a small bag he handed to Adam. Inside were butterscotch hard candies, which were his favorite. He hoped Hoss had bought them, but Jon caused him to doubt that.

“Miss Lainy told me to give these to you. She said I can have a peppermint stick now and one after dinner if I eat a good meal. Papa, why does everybody always watch what I eat? I don’t tell them what to eat.”

“You’re a growing boy, and we want you to grow up healthy so we have to teach you what to eat.”

“Uncle Hoss always says he’s a growing boy too.”

“Your Uncle Hoss is a very funny man. Ask him about that sometime.” Smiling, Adam kept on working because he knew that Jon would ask him, and he could only hope it was at the most inopportune time. Jon did seem to have a knack for doing that. Just after that, Elaine walked into the tack room.

“I hope you like your candy treat. I thought I remembered you saying that those were your favorites so when I bought the peppermint sticks for Jon, I got a couple for you.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but I thought we were at least friends, and friends do those kind of things for each other. You could have just said thank you instead of making a fuss about it.”

“I’m sorry. Thank you.” And Adam was frustrated once again. She had a way of doing that to him. Being lectured on friendship and knowing that she was correct irritated him so the apology and the thank you were surly. Jon looked up at him.

“Papa, why are you mad at Miss Lainy? She brought you candies. Don’t you like them?”

“Yes, I like them, and I am not mad.”

“You sound mad.”

“Well, I’ll go and let you explain it to Jon.” With that, Elaine left, but she was smiling. Just like Hoss had advised her. She had gotten under his skin one more time. She knew he cared because he wouldn’t be so frustrated if he didn’t. Like Hoss, Ben had advised her to be patient. It was difficult, but situations like this provided some relief. Hoss grinned when he saw her come out of the tack room. As they walked to the house, Hoss had to ask.

“Did he get that look like he’s gonna blow, but he was keeping it all bottled up inside?”

“Yes, just like you said. Now when he sees my new dress and that I’m going to the Harvest Ball with Joe, you think he’s going to finally break down and admit he likes me?”

“I don’t know. He can be pretty darn stubborn. But it’s gonna make him crazy. I know that. Sooner or later, he’s gonna have to admit how he feels.”

“And you’re sure Joe understands that I don’t have any feelings for him other than being his friend?”

“Yup. I talked with him just to be sure. He thinks a lot of ladies are gonna be jealous of you and try to win him away from you. He’s looking forward to all the attention he thinks he’s going to get, and he probably will.”

“You’re playing chess and giving him a real fight. I was tickled pink last night when you beat him. You’re reading his books and talking about em. I think you won’t have to do that much longer.”

Elaine looked surprised at that comment. “But I like doing those things.”

“You do?” At Elaine’s nod, Hoss smiled again. “You two are meant for each other. I ain’t ever known a woman before who liked to play chess and read all them books like he does. Soon you’ll be drawing pictures and designing stuff too.”

“Oh, I love to draw. I did that a lot when I was younger. I haven’t had much of a chance lately except to help Jon.”

“Hot diggity, this just keeps getting better and better. I’ll see if I can get more paper so you can draw too when Jon draws. Adam is bound to have something to say about that.”

That Saturday afternoon when Hoss and Joe were cleaned up and ready to go to the Harvest Ball, they asked Adam if he was going. Adam walked outside as they walked outside to go get the carriage ready. He said he wasn’t going to the dance.

“Why not? You go to church and that’s it. You haven’t been to town other than that since you got home.” Joe was as direct as he could be, but Adam didn’t seem to care. “What are you afraid of? Folks already let you know that they’re sorry, and that they want you back in town like before, so what’s the problem?”

“Going to town is what got me in that mess. If I hadn’t been there the first time when Johnny Long got killed, none of this would have happened. If I hadn’t gone to a fancy house, they wouldn’t have been able to throw my private life out there to convince a jury that I was some kind of immoral bastard. It was in town that I got into all the fights that they used to convict me by making the jury think I couldn’t control myself. I need to be here for Jon, and going to town could put that in jeopardy. There’s nothing there I need. Is that enough of an explanation for you?”

“Geez, Adam, that was a speech. It was also a pile of cowpies. That jury should never have convicted you in the first place, and the whole thing was set up by Eloise Long. That could happen to anyone whether they go to town or not if somebody is out to get them.”

“But it happened to me, and I have a right to do my best to protect myself from it happening again.”

“So, you going to become a hermit? Hide out here on the ranch until you die?”

“I’m not a hermit. Maybe I’ll play a game of chess tonight with Elaine.”

“Well, you can’t do that. Elaine is coming to the dance with me.”

That caught Adam completely off guard. “With you, but I thought, oh hell, what difference does it matter what I thought.” He walked back into the house then slamming the door behind him.

“Ya laid it on pretty thick, Joe.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to get a rise out of him, and that hasn’t been easy to do lately. He’s wound up tighter than a watch. He hardly ever lets loose with anything except when he plays with Jon. It just isn’t natural for Adam to be so calm.”

“I know, Joe. It does seem weird for him not to lose his temper once in a while. Heck, he ain’t even argued with Pa over anything since he got back. Ya think instead of a watch, he might be like a keg of powder? When there’s just the right spark, he’s gonna explode?”

“I don’t know, but I hope me taking Elaine to the dance isn’t that spark. It sounded like such a good idea when you thought of it. Now I’m not so sure.”

“Well, it’s too late now. Wait till he gets a good look at her in that new dress.”

“That good?”

“You ain’t gonna believe it. She’s a real beauty. I can see why Adam picked her over any other women who mighta been in that fancy house.”

“Hoss, don’t say that. Somebody might hear you out here. Nobody here knows her background except us and that judge and the lawyers who were there in Carson. We need to keep it that way.”

“Joe, what do you suppose is gonna happen if somebody recognizes her and says something?”

“Hoss, you mentioned a keg of powder and the right spark. I hope it doesn’t ever happen cause that could be that spark.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be the poor fool who says something like that about Elaine when Adam might hear.”

In the house, Elaine came down the stairs in her new dress. The dark green set off her dark hair very well as well as showing her curves. She had her hair up with tendrils of curls next to her face. Jon was getting a game of chess from his father and stood up in amazement when he saw her.

“Miss Lainy, you’re real pretty. Isn’t she pretty, Papa?”

“Yes, Elaine is a beautiful young woman. She’s going to the dance with your Uncle Joe.”

“Why aren’t you taking her to the dance?”

“Because apparently Uncle Joe asked her to go with him.”

Further discussion was forestalled when Joe and Hoss entered the house to see if Elaine was ready to go. Both whistled in appreciation and got a stern look from their father. Joe offered his arm, and the three left talking and smiling. They were going to stop and pick up Julia when they got to town. For the rest of the night, Adam was relatively quiet answering questions but not offering anything. Ben knew that Adam was questioning himself again and didn’t push. After Jon went to bed, Adam went out onto the porch. Ben left him there with his thoughts an hour later and went to bed himself. When Joe and Hoss returned later with Elaine, Adam was sitting in the dark at the end of the porch. Joe and Elaine never saw him as they went inside. Hoss walked up with a lantern later after taking care of the horse and carriage.

“What you doing out here?”

“Thinking.”

“Anything you care to share?”

“Nope.”

“Elaine was the hit of the dance. She got to dance with all sorts of men, and the gals were jealous just like Joe predicted. Musta been a dozen of em trying to impress him and get him away from Elaine’s side. He played it up real good.”

“Did you and Julia have a good time?”

“Yes, we did. She wants to come out for a visit sometime to see Jon. She wishes you would bring him to town sometime to visit her. I told her why you wouldn’t. She didn’t seem to like it much.”

“Not my problem.”

“No, nothing seems to be your problem lately. Well, good night. Oh, you going to church with us in the morning?”

“I don’t know.” Hoss left then, and Adam sat there for another hour before going to his room to toss and turn for a few hours before it was time to get up. He dreamed of Elaine in that beautiful green dress when he did sleep. When he woke in the morning, he felt like he had never been to bed. He was grateful at least that it was Sunday, and he had no work to do.

*****

Chapter 13

The next morning at breakfast, Adam looked like he hadn’t slept at all. Hoss gave Joe a look and the two of them smirked. They had meant to stir things up with Adam and apparently had succeeded. Ben saw the looks and realized they had been scheming again. He hoped it worked out better than it usually did with the two of them. Elaine didn’t know that they had planned to get Adam worried and upset.

“Are you feeling all right, Adam?”

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, Elaine, until he falls flat on his face, he’s always fine. Never met anyone so sure he was never sick until he couldn’t walk.”

“Thanks, Hoss, I just love being the topic of conversation around the breakfast table.”

“Papa, are you mad again?”

“I am not mad.”

“You sound mad.”

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Adam tried to soften his tone. “I’m sorry, Jon. I didn’t get enough sleep last night I guess, and I’m just a bit cranky.”

“A bit cranky. That’s like saying a tornado is kinda windy.”

“Thanks, Joe. Always good to have some brotherly support.”

“That’s enough. It’s Sunday, and we’re going to church. I expect everyone to keep a civil tongue around my table.”

Normally that might have gotten a rise out of Adam, but he held his tongue because he didn’t want to get into an argument in front of his son. As soon as he could, Adam went to the stable to get the carriage ready. He helped Jon up onto the front seat and climbed up beside him before Ben walked out with Elaine. With a raised eyebrow, Ben helped Elaine into the back seat and then sat beside her for the ride to church. As usual, Jon was talking. He had recovered from his trauma with no ill effects except for an occasional nightmare, which was resolved as soon as his father held him. In the carriage, he pointed at lots of things and asked questions. When they were almost to town, he turned to Elaine.

“You should ride up here with Papa on the way back. You can see a lot from up here. Papa knows lots of stuff.”

“If Elaine sits up here, then Grandpa has to watch you and answer all of your questions.”

“Oh, Adam, I don’t mind at all. I would love to have my grandson all to myself for the ride.” When Adam turned back to his father with a scowl, Ben just smiled at him daring him to disagree with that. Adam couldn’t. The Jon had another question.

“Hoss says that winter is in the air. Does that mean it’s gonna get cold soon because it sure isn’t cold today? Hey, Papa, how about if you take me and Miss Lainy to the lake again? It might be the last time if winter is in the air.”

“Son, that sounds like a great idea that my grandson had there. You don’t get to just relax much, and Elaine can’t take Jon to the lake by herself. It wouldn’t be safe.”

“I already have plans for the afternoon.”

“Oh, what do you have planned?”

“It’s private.”

By snapping the reins then and speeding up a bit, Adam let them know there was to be no more conversation about it. Ben looked over at Elaine and shrugged. He had tried. Outside the church, Roy was waiting for them. Adam had been avoiding him at church services, and Roy knew it. Because Adam didn’t come to town at any other time, there had been no opportunity for the two men to speak. Adam sighed when he saw him knowing that there was no more avoiding what could be a painful conversation. Ben walked Jon and Elaine to the church to allow Adam and Roy to talk privately.

“Adam, I wasn’t much of a friend to you when you needed me. I was wrong. I shoulda resigned my office right then and there and helped Joe break you outta that jail. I was so blinded by my oath to uphold the letter of the law, I forgot I also swore to uphold justice. What happened to you wasn’t just. It’s the main reason I’m resigning the office.”

“You don’t have to resign because of me.”

“Yes, I do. I have to show you that I’m really sorry for what happened, and that I didn’t do more to help you. I can’t let myself be in a position to fail a friend like that again. It’s time for me to resign. Clem’s gonna win this election. He’ll make a better sheriff than me.”

“You were always a good sheriff.”

“I thank ya for saying that, but we both know I made a big mistake. Somehow I shoulda been able to see what was happening. I didn’t, and you coulda died because of it. I hope that someday you can forgive me for failing you so badly.”

“I will, Roy. Just give it some time, all right? I have a lot of adjustments to make. It’ll take me some time, but it will happen.”

“Thank you. I don’t know what I woulda done ifn you said you couldn’t. You need me to do anything at all to help you, and I will.”

Uncomfortable at the possibility of any more of this conversation, Adam had a suggestion. “Let’s go into church now. I don’t want to call attention to myself by being late.”

On the ride home, Elaine did ride beside Adam. She was worried that he would be upset that she had followed Jon’s suggestion, but he was polite and did answer any questions she had. When they arrived back at the Ponderosa, Adam didn’t put the carriage away.

“I have some things to do, and I’ll need the carriage. Please watch over Jon. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

After Adam left, Ben decided that it was a very nice day and asked if anyone wanted to go to the lake for what might be the last picnic of the season. Everyone did, and they had a grand time at the lake with Hop Sing’s lunch, a little wine, some fishing, and some stone skipping. There was nothing serious about the day as they simply enjoyed being in each other’s company. It got late, and it was evening before they returned. Adam was just coming from the stable when they got back. His hair was mussed up, and he had what appeared to be rouge on his collar. Joe got upset, and after Elaine and Jon went in the house, he confronted Adam before his father could stop him.

“Did you go see a woman?”

“No, Joe, I didn’t go see a woman. There were some things I needed to take care of, and I did.”

“Then what’s that on your collar?”

“Nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing. I think you owe us an explanation.”

“And I don’t think that I do. Now, I think I’ll go inside to see my son if you don’t mind.”

“And if I do.”

“Then I’ll do it anyway, because my life is none of your business.”

“It was all of our business when we had to save your neck.”

“And I have thanked you often and sincerely for that, but that doesn’t mean that you get to run my life or know everything about it.”

Moving between Adam and Joe and stepping close to Joe, Ben did his best to settle the two men down. “Joe, let Adam go into the house. This is not the way to talk about this.” Joe wanted to say more, but acceded to his father’s request. Adam turned and walked to the house without another word. He talked little with anyone at dinner and after, and went to his bedroom after he got Jon settled in bed for the night. Ben walked upstairs to talk with him. He knocked on the door, and it took a moment for Adam to answer. He pushed the door open to see Adam seated by the window staring out.

“Rough day?” Getting a nod, Ben thought he knew some of what Adam had done. “Did you go to Barbara’s grave?” He got another nod. “Have a few things you wanted to say to her?” That got Adam to turn to look at him. “Remember, I’ve been through this too. I spent a number of hours at your mother’s graveside. I debated with myself whether I should go west or stay in Boston. I argued with myself about whether to take you with me or leave you with your grandfather until I had a place for you here. It was easier somehow to do that talking there where she was.”

“I went to the house too. I got some of her things and packed them up. The boxes are in my closet. I wanted to have some things to give to Jon when he was older. I also packed up some of Barbara’s family items and brought those to Julia. I asked if she wanted anything else, and she couldn’t even talk. She cried. I cried.”

“That’s where you got the rouge on your collar.” Ben got another nod.

“I don’t know what to do about the rest of the stuff in the house. What do you think?”

“If you don’t want to keep it, why don’t we invite the minister to get a few people to go out there to get everything and distribute it among the families who need things like that?”

“I thought about that, but it would be very difficult to see her dresses and other clothing on strangers.”

“We could send the clothing to Carson or Reno for distribution there. That way it would be very unlikely you would ever see any of it again. The furniture and household goods wouldn’t be a problem, would they?”

“No, and maybe we could go strip the stable of anything useful first. I would want Jon’s cradle if only to store it for him. I didn’t think of that today. If they want, they can take windows, lumber, and anything else. I don’t think I could ever live in that house again, and I wouldn’t want to take a chance on the memories it might trigger in Jon.”

“I can take care of all of that for you.”

“Thank you. Can you tell Joe I’m sorry? I just couldn’t talk about all of this when he wanted answers.”

“I will, and I’ll explain to both Hoss and Joe. We’ll go take care of those things tomorrow. You should plan on spending the day with Jon. He had a good time today, but he was missing his father.”

“I would like that, and thank you, again.”

The next day, Ben enlisted Hoss and Joe to do what he had told Adam he would. Hoss led a crew that dismantled the house and stable stacking the best pieces of lumber in a storage shed, and having the rest cut up so the hands could burn it as fuel in their stoves in the winter. Piled in back of the bunkhouse, no one would recognize the pieces as being from Adam’s house and stable. Nondescript items were simply put with the regular Ponderosa equipment and supplies, and wagonloads of furniture, household goods, and clothing were brought to the minister to be distributed in Virginia City and to Reno and Carson City to families in need. By December, there was nothing except some cornerstones to let anyone know there had ever been a house there.

On a number of occasions, Elaine took Jon to visit his aunt Julia. He liked her and knew that his Uncle Hoss liked her. It was there that Elaine learned of the rumors in town about her. As Julia got to know her and like her, she thought that Elaine had a right to know. She invited Elaine to visit when her duties with Jon allowed. That’s when the discussion turned to the rumors.

“But they have all been gentlemen. Not one of them has even kissed me.”

“After you were at the dance with Joe, some of the more jealous females began saying nasty things about you. They’re jealous.”

“But I have no interest in Joe. We only went to a dance together.”

“Oh, and who would you have an interest in then?” Elaine didn’t want to answer, but that was all it took for Julia to guess. It can’t be Hoss, so it has to be Adam. Well there are certainly a lot of rumors about him.”

“What kind of rumors?”

“Well, I guess they aren’t true rumors. The men who attended his trial and heard the, ah, ladies describe his proclivities, well that’s what started the stories. It’s calmed down considerably but every now and then, someone will mention something in passing, and then they all titter away.”

“Proclivities?”

So Julia informed Elaine of the things Adam had apparently done with the painted ladies in the fancy house. Elaine thought it was all very tame compared to some stories she could tell, but she wasn’t going to share that. Julia also mentioned a broken engagement and romances, gunfights, and fights. Elaine began to use those tidbits to formulate questions to Hoss and Joe when she had the chance. She was getting a very clear picture of the man she loved, and began too to understand why he thought she should look for someone else because of her age. She wasn’t about to do that, but she knew why he might think that way. She thought she understood him.

What continued to be so difficult for Elaine though was the polite friendship that Adam maintained with her. He was kind, but not affectionate. They played chess. They read books and discussed them. They talked about activities for Jon, and often they did things together. But Adam continued to keep his distance, and he seemed to have no interest in changing that relationship. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Elaine.

*****

Chapter 14

“Mr. Cartwright, with the winter snows coming, you won’t really be needing me at all. There will be some members of the family here all the time. Jon will have plenty of supervision.”

“That’s not it entirely though, is it? I know I asked you to be patient with him and let him find his way again, but I have to admit, I thought he would have shown interest by now. I’m sorry if I gave you false hope.”

“No need to be sorry. I gave myself false hope thinking that Adam did love me and only needed time to admit it. Now I can see that he doesn’t love me, and I need to move on.”

“Now, you will let me pay for the boarding house in town for the winter. I know there aren’t many jobs available right now. When spring comes, the businesses will all be hiring as with more and more activity in town every day after the snows begin to melt.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Please, I want to do that.”

“Thank you. Do you think someone could give me a ride to town tomorrow then?”

“Hoss hardly ever passes up a chance to go to town because he gets to see Julia that way. I’m sure he would be willing to do that for you, but we will all miss you.”

“Well, most of you will. The hardest will be saying goodbye to Jon. I hope this won’t be too much of a problem for him.”

“He’ll be sad, but he can still come to visit you in town, I hope. That way he won’t feel that he’s lost you. And he’ll have his father here full time for the next few months so that should help too.”

“I’ll tell Jon in the morning. I don’t want to tell him tonight and have him upset and troubled. I’ll pack and be ready to go so the goodbyes won’t be dragged out. I only have two valises anyway.”

“I’ll tell my sons tonight so that they know to be ready in the morning. I will miss you, young lady.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. All of you have been very kind. It’s not Adam’s fault that he doesn’t love me. I guess I should have known that you can’t make someone love you. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going up to my room. I’ll stay there this evening. It would be too hard to be here with all of you knowing I was leaving in the morning.”

“Of course, Elaine. I’ll see you in the morning then. I’m sure Hop Sing will want to have a special breakfast for your last day here.”

When Hoss, Adam, and Joe came in the house after doing evening chores, Ben told Jon that Hop Sing had cookies and milk for him in the kitchen. Adam looked at his father wondering why he would send him in for that just before dinner was served. By the time Ben finished telling them about Elaine leaving, Hoss and Joe were shooting dagger like looks at Adam who was doing his best to maintain a calm, neutral facade. His brothers couldn’t see through, but Ben thought he looked like he was in shock. He wondered if that would be enough to shake him out of his feigned indifference to Elaine. Yes, she was young, but she loved Adam and she loved Jon. Ben couldn’t see a better match ever happening for Adam. He waited to see what Adam might say, and there was no response. Joe was about to say something, but Ben said they should go to the dining table and not to talk about it in front of Jon because Elaine was going to tell him the next morning.

“He’s going to need our support in this. She will be in town, and he can visit, but it’s another loss in his young life. We need to be sensitive to that. Now try to keep things light at dinner. If you want to talk, we can do that after Jon goes to bed.”

At dinner, Hop Sing was surly and had a few words about the situation. “Mister Adam supposed to be smart man. But he not smart. Now he need lesson in being smart.”

After Hop Sing went back to the kitchen, Jon had a question for his father that was not unexpected. “Why is Mr. Hop mad at you, Papa?”

“Oh, for some reason, everyone seems to like being mad at me. Just eat your dinner. They’ll get over it.”

Ben raised his hand to silence Hoss and Joe who wanted to respond to that. The rest of the dinner was relatively quiet as Ben had to ask questions just to have some conversation at the table. After dinner, Adam played a short game of chess with Jon letting him make a lot of moves before the inevitable check and mate. Hoss and Joe tried playing checkers but there was no joy in the game for them. Adam never returned downstairs after putting Jon to bed, and the others soon trudged up to their beds.

In the early morning hours, some noise awoke Ben who was a light sleeper. He couldn’t hear any more but went to the window to verify his suspicion. He nodded a short time later when Adam led Sport from the stable and rode off slowly. There was a waning moon, but still enough light for a short ride, and that’s what Ben thought it would be. He suspected he knew where Adam was going. The next morning, Adam was not at breakfast. When Jon asked, Ben told him that Adam had gone for a ride. After breakfast, Elaine told Jon that she was moving to town. As expected, he cried, and no assurances that he could come to visit seemed to help at all. He sat sniffling on Ben’s lap as Hoss and Joe walked Elaine outside. Ben said they ought to go see her off, and Jon agreed to that. As Elaine was picking up her bags to walk to the carriage after saying goodbye, Adam rode into the yard. Elaine had rather hoped he wouldn’t get back in time to say goodbye. Another cool statement from him might be enough to push her over the edge into tears that she had avoided to that point. Adam tied off Sport and walked over to the group.

“Were you going to leave before I could kiss you goodbye?”

“A kiss?”

“Yes.” Adam leaned down and brushed his lips softly over Elaine’s lips.

“You call that a kiss?”

“No, I call this a kiss.” Adam slid his hands inside her coat and around her waist pulling her to him as he pressed his lips against hers willing her to respond. She was shocked at first, but then dropped her bags and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. They continued to kiss as if there was no one else there.

Joe shrugged and stepped forward to pick up the two bags and carry them back to the house. Hoss climbed into the carriage and his father had to ask. “Hoss, Elaine won’t be needing that ride to town. Aren’t you going to put the carriage away?”

“Heck no. I’ve been thinking since last night that I could visit Julia. I took a bath and everything. Don’t wait up.” Hoss snapped the reins and drove out of the yard.

Jon was staring at his father kissing Elaine, until Ben took his hand. “Jon, we need to go in the house and let your father and Elaine talk.”

“Grandpa, you’re funning me. They aren’t talking. They’re kissing.”

“They’ll start talking when they break to get some air. Now, let’s go in the house.”

As predicted, Adam and Elaine did need to break apart. Both of their hearts were pounding.

“Your hands are cold.”

“Not any more.”

“Very funny.”

“Are you sure you want to do this. I’m not the easiest man to be with. You’ve seen the moods and the anger. I can be demanding too especially of a woman. Are you going to be all right with that?”

“Of course as long as you ask first and kiss me before and after.”

“Before and after what?”

“Julia has told me about the rumors of all the things you like to do. Her sister too apparently confided some of your proclivities as she called them. I didn’t find anything objectionable as long as you show you love me with kisses and respect.”

“I can do that. Now, how about if you come with me into the stable so I can put Sport away. He’s cold and hungry.”

“Certainly. When do you want to get married?”

“Married? Woman, I just kissed you, and you’re talking marriage?”

“Yes. Don’t you want to marry me?”

“Yes, but I thought I was supposed to do the asking.”

“Well, ask.”

“Will you marry me at Christmas? The house will be decorated beautifully, our friends will come for a party, and we could be married. Then I could open up my present and show you a few of those proclivities.”

“Yes, that sounds like a good plan. I have one condition though. You have to promise to kiss me every day for the rest of our lives.”

“What if I’m not here?”

“I’ll bank them and you can make it up to me when you get back.”

“That sounds like an even better plan.”

“When do we tell Jon?”

“When we tell everyone as if they haven’t guessed already.”

“I love you, Adam Cartwright.”

“I love you, Lainy.” And he sealed that with a kiss. Then he had to ask. “My father is going to be outraged at what activities? What did you have in mind?”

“At night, sometimes, I wanted to go to your room and crawl in your bed to make you admit you wanted me. Then I pictured you grabbing me and taking me. You know I’m not quiet when that happens. Not with you. You made me feel things I had never felt before. I want that again.”

Chuckling, Adam pulled her to him again. “I had the same thoughts at night. Well, I had them in the morning, in the afternoon, and often in the evening too. I wanted to go to your room and make love with you.”

“Is it all right with Barbara now if you do?”

Stepping back and looking down at her face, Adam frowned and then smiled. “You knew the trouble I was having with that. Yes, I had a good talk with her last night. I know she would want me to be happy, and I definitely know she would want a loving mother for Jon. She is more than all right with it.”

“Not feeling guilty then?”

“Not any more. Barbara will always be part of my life though because she is an important part of my past. I love her, and now I love you and we have the future. Is that all right with you?”

Elaine nodded, and she sealed that with a kiss. “I have one more request.” Adam looked at her waiting for what it was. “You need to shave in the morning and at night, or grow a nice soft beard because I’m not going to like being whisker burned all the time.”

“Well, Jon said he doesn’t like me having a beard, so for now I guess I’ll shave more. Although the idea of a beard is appealing too.” Then Adam took care of Sport before he and Elaine went into the house to make the expected announcement and begin planning the wedding.

*****

 

On Edge

Chapter 1

Shivering with the cold, Elaine snuggled into Adam’s embrace except he wasn’t that warm either. The two of them had been out collecting more pine boughs to decorate the house when a sudden strong windstorm had come up. It had been futile trying to get back to the ranch house with the wind blown snow creating near zero visibilities. Pulling into a copse of pines, Adam had used the boughs they had collected to construct a quick windscreen for the horse before climbing into the sleigh and snuggling under the blanket with her. It wasn’t enough though as both of them had been covered with snow from the blustery winds and had damp clothing as a result. They were trying to talk about things that would keep their minds off their predicament until they could do something about it.

“Where are we going to spend our honeymoon?” Adam had mentioned it a few times without being specific. Usually it had to do with what he wanted to do when the two of them were alone, but Elaine wondered where that was going to be.

“I would love to take you to San Francisco. We could see plays, go to the theatre, picnic at the ocean, and do all sorts of wonderful things together. But we can’t.”

“Yes, you can’t leave Jon alone that long. He still worries when you’re not here by late afternoon. His first thought is always that something bad happened.”

“Do you have any ideas?”

“Perhaps a night in town?”

Thinking that over, Adam began to smile. “Maybe we could spend several Saturday nights in town. Jon would be all right with us gone only one day per week. We could go in early on Saturday, do some shopping, have lunch and dinner, and then have the whole night to ourselves in the hotel. We could meet everyone at church the next morning and go back home.”

“That sounds promising, but how about if we skip the shopping and have our lunch and dinner in the room?”

Now that made Adam smile even more except he felt Elaine shivering even more. The temperature had dropped precipitously. “I would like to rub your back and get you warmer, but I’m afraid my hands are cold too so that would likely only make things worse.”

“Adam, we’re not going to die out here, are we?”

“Of course not. The weather will change soon so we can head home. By now, Hop Sing is cooking up some broth for us, and he probably is already heating water for a bath.”

“Oh that sounds good. It will be the best broth and the best bath ever.”

For Elaine’s benefit, Adam chuckled a bit, but he was thinking that they were in dire straits and he could only hope that his prediction of a quick break in the weather was true. He knew his family would be worried and likely would look for them as soon as they could, but no one could venture out into this maelstrom. For nearly another hour, they snuggled together and tried to make the best of it. Snow piled up around them and actually helped by blocking the wind, but they had nothing to generate any more heat.

Finally the winds began to diminish. Adam knew they couldn’t wait. He left Elaine wrapped in the blanket and set out to clear the boughs and snow from the horse who seemed to have survived reasonably well although the look he gave Adam was angry. Adam climbed back into the sleigh and did his best to grab the reins and get the sleigh moving again. He was shivering and his hands were so stiff and cold that he couldn’t feel the reins, but they were moving again albeit slowly. After about a half hour, Adam nearly had tears in his eyes when he saw Hoss approaching with a logging sled. They had one at home to move some logs and had used it the day before to bring in a Christmas tree for decorating. Hoss saw them and raised a hand in greeting. Then Adam saw his father and Joe stand up behind Hoss.

The logging sled made better progress through the snow than the sleigh did and reached them quickly. When Hoss pulled up next to the sleigh, Adam and Elaine were helped to the sled. Normally catching their brother in a predicament would have had Joe and Hoss teasing him unmercifully, but it was clear that both Adam and Elaine were in danger from the cold. The three men worked quickly to help Adam and Elaine sit on the sled, and Joe climbed into the sleigh as Ben sat beside Adam and Elaine with Hoss driving the team that was pulling the sled.

Ben wrapped blankets around the couple and offered them a canteen of warm coffee. It had been hot when they left the house, but the air was frigid and had cooled it somewhat. It was still a lifesaver, and Adam and Elaine took turns drinking from the canteen. Adam had to hold it because Elaine’s hands were too stiff in her wet gloves to manage. Seeing that, Ben pulled her gloves from her hands and slipped his soft warm leather gloves on her hands before stuffing his hands in his pockets to keep them warm. Seeing Elaine still shivering despite being wrapped in a blanket with Adam, Ben moved beside her and wrapped his arms around her adding his warmth and shielding her from more of the cold. Behind them, Joe brought the sleigh home in the wide track the sled made.

Once they got to the house, Adam helped Elaine to the house and directly to the washroom. As predicted, Hop Sing had a warm bath already to go. Elaine still couldn’t do much with her hands so Adam helped her undress. In any other circumstance, that would have been highly arousing, but his concern for her welfare effectively dampened his ardor. He helped her step into the tub and sit before leaving the room only to get a large mug of hot tea from Hop Sing who ordered him to deliver it to Elaine. She was reclining in the tub letting the warmth seep in and her eyes were closed. Adam stopped at the door for a moment savoring the view before softly calling her name. Her response let him know she would be fine.

“Are you some kind of pervert who has to get his thrills watching a woman bathe?”

“On any other day, I would be inclined to say yes, but today, I am only concerned with your welfare. I’m back because Hop Sing insists that you drink this. I’m sure there will be a substantial hot meal whenever you’re ready to come out of there.”

“Right now, I wouldn’t mind at all if you joined me in here. Don’t you need to warm up too?”

“Woman, you are torturing me now. Yes, I need to warm up. But Hop Sing has his big washtub full of warm water for me. I’ll be fine. Now you drink your tea and stop teasing me.” Adam leaned down to kiss her softly taking any potential sting from his words. He left for his own bath wishing as Elaine did that they could have shared the large washtub. As he sat in the warm water that banished the last of his chills, his father came in to talk with him.

“You didn’t see anything coming out there?”

“No, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t paying attention. We were on the opposite side of the trees and didn’t feel it until it hit. It blew down out of the high mountains without any warning. I tried to get home, but it was hopeless, so I protected the horse as well as I could, and we did our best to sit it out. Your rescue was just in time. Thank you so much. Elaine was getting much too cold, and I couldn’t help her.”

“Hoss wanted to go for you as soon as it hit, but I told him we could never find you in those conditions. We hadn’t realized what was happening until branches hit the house. It put a damper on our holiday spirits until we saw the two of you in that sleigh headed home. Jon wants to know if he can join you in the tub.”

“Ah, sure, but this one is a tight squeeze. It might be better if I get out, and he gets in as soon as he’s ready.”

“Are you warm enough?”

“Yes, with the exertion, the hot tea, and the bath, I’m fine. I wouldn’t mind a warm blanket to throw around my shoulders though.”

Smiling, Ben left to take care of those two things. Within ten minutes, he was back with Jon who immediately started shucking his clothing. Ben had clean clothing for Jon as well as for Adam, and a nice big quilt, which he laid on the bench next to the laundry tub. Adam stood up and lifted his son into the tub before he stepped out. He toweled dry, dressed, and wrapped the quilt around his shoulders as he waited for Jon to get tired of splashing in the tub. Jon enjoyed bathing as much as Adam did so it was never a problem getting him into the tub. It could however be a problem getting him out. This time Adam called time because he said he needed Jon out and dressed so that Adam could go help Elaine.

“But Papa, she’s a woman. You’re not supposed to see a woman in her bath. That’s what you told me when I asked Elaine if I could have a bath with her last week. You said she got to have her bath first, and then I could have one because men and women aren’t supposed to be in the washroom together.”

“This is different because she was too cold. I have to go make sure she is all right. When Elaine and I get married, then it will be all right too.”

“It’s all right for you to see her without her clothes when you marry her? Why?”

Walking back into the kitchen to see how things were going, Ben was surprised and then smiled when he heard the conversation between father and son because Adam had talked himself into a corner. Ben was familiar with that situation after raising three sons especially Adam who had been very curious as a boy and often asked him such questions. After Adam, it was a lot easier with the other two. Adam saw him smiling and knew how much his father was probably enjoying this.

“Grandpa probably knows that answer. I have to go see if Elaine is all right.”

“Oh, no, that is a question that fathers need to explain to sons. Jon can wait until you have time. I’ll help him towel dry and dress while you see to Elaine.”

With a shake of his head, Adam went into the washroom. Elaine was resting against the tub with her eyes closed. Standing quietly, Adam admired his fiancée. Within a few days, they would be married so he could see her like this every day. Assuming it was Adam and wondering why he didn’t say anything, Elaine slowly opened her eyes and looked over to see him. Then it was her turn to smile. She could tell that he wanted her and that filled her heart with joy. She still worried that somehow the mistakes she had made would intervene and end any thought he had of marrying her. But with the lusty look, there was also a gentle loving look, which reassured her of his love for her. He stepped closer and held his hands out for her to help her from the tub. Nothing was said as she stood and then stepped over the side of the tub. Adam released her hands and reached for a large towel, which he used to dry her.

“A few hours ago, I was worried I might not survive. Now I’m wondering if we can last another few days before we marry. I can tell what you want to do and I want to do that too.”

“I’ll be fine.” As Elaine reached to touch him, Adam grabbed her wrist. “Oh no, you will wait too. Our wedding night is still going to be special. Now I’ll help you get dressed.” Slipping a chemise over her head, Adam was able to start getting some control over his desires especially once she pulled up pantaloons and tied them at her waist. He knew now that the next few days were going to very difficult to endure. With that image in his mind of a naked Elaine lounging in the tub imprinted on his mind, he would have a difficult time thinking of anything else when she was around.

Through dinner and then later lounging on the settee in front of the fireplace, Elaine kept a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She wasn’t sure she would ever be warm again. Jon and Adam played chess with Elaine whispering instructions to Jon, which made the match between father and son last a lot longer. Finally it was time for bed, and Adam picked Elaine up to carry her to bed.

“Adam, I can walk.”

“Yeah, older brother, you’re supposed to wait for the honeymoon to carry her up the stairs.”

“Hoss, he’s just practicing or maybe trying to see if his old bones can manage it. At his age, he might need some help.”

Smiling, Ben enjoyed the banter. He knew that often his sons let each other know with their playful teasing that everything was all right and that they loved each other. The scowl Adam gave them only added to their enjoyment. Jon asked his father if he needed help, and Hoss guffawed with that as Joe nearly fell on the floor laughing.
“Papa, why are they laughing? I don’t know what’s funny.”

“That shows how intelligent you are, Jon. It isn’t funny, but my brothers don’t know that even if you do.”

“Papa, how do you get brothers? I’d like some too.”

With that, Elaine began giggling on Adam’s shoulder, and even Ben started laughing. It was a great release of tension, but brought more questions from Jon.

“Papa, why is everybody laughing? And what’s funny about me wanting brothers?”

“Jon, you and I will talk about this sometime when there’s no audience.”

“What’s an audience?”

“People who just sit and listen without adding anything to the conversation. Now let’s get up to bed before there’s any more commentary.”

Adam needed to get moving too as his arms were getting tired holding Elaine, and there was no possible way he wanted to admit that. Adam deposited Elaine on the bed in her room before going with Jon to his room. He read a story until Jon’s eyes began to droop. Pulling the blanket up to his son’s chest, Adam kissed him on the cheek and then walked to his room. In passing Elaine’s room, there was no light showing at the bottom of her door. He assumed that she had fallen asleep quickly. In his room, he stripped down and slipped under the covers falling into a restless sleep with dreams about snow and cold.

*****

Chapter 2

“Papa, I’m scared. I thought you were never coming back.”

Waking slowly, Jon’s words slowly permeated Adam’s thought processes. “Why? I’m right here. I haven’t been gone for a very long time.”

“You were gone today and I heard Uncle Hoss tell Grandpa that you might be in a lot of trouble. Then when the storm was over, they all went looking for you, but they wouldn’t let me go too.”

“Jon, I’m fine. I was cold, but I was coming home when they found us. Elaine was very cold, but you saw me walk in the house with her. I was fine.”

“Are you sure? Sometimes people tell me that everything is fine even when it isn’t. Why do people lie to kids like that?”

“We don’t want you to worry too much. Jon, when you get upset like that, you need to tell me or tell Grandpa. We’ll be honest with you. Now, it’s late and tomorrow we have a lot of work to do. Why don’t you crawl in here with me so you can get some sleep.”

“Well, Grandpa says I need to sleep in my own room. He says I’m a big boy now.”

“Well, how about if you sleep here so you can help me sleep? I was having some bad dreams, but I think I won’t have any more if you sleep beside me. I think that would be all right with Grandpa at least this one time.”

“All right. If you need me, I’ll sleep here.” Jon scampered into the bed as soon as Adam threw back the covers. Adam wrapped an arm around his son, and Jon closed his eyes and was soon asleep. With a slight smile, Adam closed his eyes into a much more restful sleep at least for about an hour. Then he felt pressure on the bed beside him and opened his eyes to find Elaine sitting there wrapped in a blanket.

Elaine leaned over to whisper to him. “I thought maybe I could sleep beside you for some comfort. I keep having these awful dreams. But it looks like someone beat me to it.”

“You can stay here too, but you need to lay on top of the covers. I’m not wearing anything. If you need it, there’s another blanket at the foot of the bed.”

“Thank you. For tonight, that would be wonderful.” Elaine lay beside him and rested her head against his shoulder pulling both blankets over her. Relaxing then, she knew that even though she was still a bit chilled and she could hear the wind blowing again outside, she felt safe with Adam. She always felt safe with Adam. Soon she was asleep too but not before Adam had closed his eyes and drifted back into a peaceful sleep. A few times that night, one of them would awake to find comfort in the one next to them and in the warmth of the room as the logs in the fireplace burned down to a bed of hot coals.

In the morning as Ben walked by Adam’s room, he saw the three of them sleeping together because Elaine had not closed the door tightly the night before. At first, a bit surprised, Ben had to smile. The three of them were a family already in many ways. He looked forward to the wedding and having them united in marriage. He suspected they were having a very difficult time waiting until their wedding night and had to give them credit for managing to wait so far, but he wondered if they could manage another two days. It didn’t matter too much any more to Ben knowing that in two days they would be husband and wife. It did matter to Adam though.

Jon woke last and looked up to see his father and Elaine looking at him. He smiled as they smiled before realizing he had a pressing need. “I have to go pee.”

“Then clean up and get dressed. We’ll all be down to breakfast soon or Grandpa will be upset.”

With that, Jon scampered from the bed and out the door closing it behind him as he had been taught to do. Elaine thought to take advantage of the situation and moved her hand under the blanket hoping to try to induce Adam to a romantic morning. She didn’t get the chance as Adam grabbed her wrist and pulled it free of the covers.

“No. I want our wedding night to be special. I want to remember it as the beginning of our lives together. It’s very difficult for me so please don’t make it worse.”

“What about my past?”

“I have a past too. I have done things that now make me cringe. I want to be a better person to be a better husband to you and a better father to Jon. I can’t let the darker side of me take over. It isn’t a pleasant sight.”

“Can you really forgive me for what I did?”

“I didn’t know you then. You hurt yourself and no one else. Yes, of course, I can forgive you that. Can you forgive me then for things I’ve done?”

“I don’t know of anything that needs forgiving, but if you feel you need it, then I forgive you too. I love you.”

“I love you too, but we really do need to get up and get dressed before Pa or someone else sees us together like this.”

“Why? You’re under the covers and I’m on top of the covers.”

“In my bed in my room.”

“Ah, yes, that could be seen as something else, couldn’t it. I’ll go. But, may I have a kiss first, kind sir?”

Grabbing her wrist again, Adam leaned over to kiss her, but had to wait until she finished chuckling. “Adam, you don’t trust me?”

“About almost everything, yes. About that, no.”

With a final chuckle, Elaine left his room to return to her own. She was warm again, happy, and deeply in love. She had the feeling that nothing could ruin her good mood. That only lasted though until they all sat down to breakfast. As they were chatting and enjoying another of Hop Sing’s sumptious meals, there was a knock on the door. Hoss went to answer the door and came back with a telegram for Adam. He opened it, and his whole demeanor changed as he read it.

“Adam, what is it? You’re scaring me by the way you look.”

“It’s from your father. It seems Reverend Cargill has found out you are to marry and is coming here to prevent it. He says you’re not old enough to marry without his permission, and he is not going to grant it.”

“But I’m nineteen.”

“Yes, and that should be good enough, but if he goes to a judge, he could get a hearing and state his objections. He could also talk to the minister and raise objections with him too.”

“But that wouldn’t work, would it?”

“Probably not, but there could be some negative aspects of him trying to stop us.”

“What? Oh.” It only took a few seconds for Elaine to know what that was. Her past of running away with a miner at sixteen, and then working in a brothel for two years would become public knowledge. So far, only a judge and some lawyers were the only ones outside the family who knew. If more people knew, there would likely be some negative reactions. Adam was more concerned about what people might say to Jon than he was worried about anything else. There was no good way to prepare the boy either. Even now, he was looking at his father and at Elaine trying to figure out what was going on.

“What can we do?”

It was only a brief moment until Ben offered a suggestion. “Get married today.”

Adam looked at him initially thinking they would have to say no but finding no good reason that he could state that countered his father’s suggestion. Finally, he looked over at Elaine. “We have your dress, the ring, the pantry has been fully stocked, the weather is fine, and the minister and the guests could be here by late afternoon. I know it’s a surprise, but I can’t see that he can object to a legal marriage that is consummated. I can’t imagine any judge granting him a hearing under those circumstances.”

“What if he tells the judge we did it just because we got that telegram?”

“We’re not doing anything illegal under Nevada law. I can’t see that it would be a problem. The judge is on the list of guests anyway as is the judge from Carson City who heard my case there. We could ask our lawyer to be sure, but I can’t see why it would be a problem. Hard for anyone to argue against something that has already happened.”

Stepping out from the kitchen, Hop Sing surprised no one except Elaine. “You marry. I cook. I bake. Somebody go get cousins to help. We make wedding feast. You do this now and make Hop Sing happy man.”

“All right. I’ll do whatever you all think is the right thing to do.”

Hoss and Joe whooped a little, but Ben said they needed to get busy. Joe was sent to Carson City to deliver the news that the wedding was moved up by two days. Hoss had the same job in Virginia City as well as getting some of Hop Sing’s cousins to come help with the cooking and baking.

The last to understand what was happening was Jon. “Son, Elaine and I are getting married today. Is that all right with you?”

“Do I still get to stand next to you and hold the ring?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do you promise that nobody is going to kiss me in front of all those people?”

“I won’t let anyone kiss you without your permission.”

“All right. What do I have to do?”

“You need to help us get the room ready, help us finish decorating the tree, then you have to clean up and wear your best clothes, and comb your hair.”

“Getting married is sure a lot of work.”

It was a lot of work, and by the time the guests were arriving, all the Cartwrights as well as Hop Sing and the hands who stayed with them for the winter were tired. But they were also very happy because Elaine looked gorgeous as she walked from the guest bedroom to meet Adam at the stairs. The minister stood on the first step so that everyone could see him. Jon asked if he could stand on the steps too so he could see. The minister took his hand and led him up to the second step where he stood beaming as he looked out over the crowd of family friends. Adam leaned over to whisper to his son.

“You keep looking like that and I may not be able to stop all these women from kissing you on the cheek and patting you on the head.”

With a look of fear, Jon became quite somber and stood almost at attention as he listened to the marriage ceremony. He looked away when the minister said to Adam that he could kiss the bride. Once he heard some laughter and then applause, he looked up to see his father with an arm around Elaine as they received the congratulations of the crowd. Adam held up his hand to get attention.

“Now the weather isn’t very conducive to a receiving line outside. Elaine and I will try to greet each of you this afternoon. Meanwhile, Hop Sing has a delicious banquet ready for you, and my father has mixed up some of his famous punch. Ladies please be advised that there is another bowl of punch beside it and that one doesn’t have the same kick. Make sure none of the children have any of the famous Ben Cartwright punch. Please, eat, drink, and be merry. The musicians will start up as soon as we can clear a spot for them.”

By eight, some of the guests had left, but many were still there enjoying a great party. Hoss came up to stand by Adam. “You look a bit grumpy for your wedding day.”

“It’s because I want the day to end so I can enjoy the night.”

“I thought you did that last night.” Adam turned to look at Hoss. “I saw Elaine coming out of your room this morning.”

“Ah, yes. Nothing happened. Hoss, I had Jon on one side of me and Elaine on the other. He was scared and she was cold. Tonight Jon will be sleeping in his room. He’s exhausted. I should probably get him up to bed soon.”

“I’ll take care of that. You might want to get Elaine and stand at the door. That way anyone coming up to you is almost out the door. Ifn you thank them for coming and say you hope they had a good time, maybe you can get the rest to leave.”

“Hoss, you are a wise man in the ways of people. Thank you. I will do just that.”

Soon, there was a caravan of wagons and carriages leaving the Ponderosa. The wagons had lanterns lit and there was a carriage lantern on every carriage. There were even a few riders who thought to take a lantern to help light the way. With the moonlight, the guests could travel home safely. Hop Sing’s cousins were staying to help clean up that night and the next day. There was room in the bunkhouse because they only kept some hands on the payroll for the winter. Others would return in the spring. Finally with Jon tucked into bed, and all the guests gone, Adam took Elaine’s hand to lead her to the stairs. There he picked her up and kissed her before carrying her up the stairs for their wedding night.

*****

Chapter 3

“Adam, don’t you feel the least bit concerned that your whole family knows what we’re doing right now?”

Unbuttoning the back of Elaine’s dress, Adam only had a simple comment. “No.” He nuzzled the back of her neck as he opened more and more of her dress. Slipping it from her shoulders as he finished unbuttoning the back, he kissed her shoulders as he ran his hands down her arms pushing the dress down to her waist. He slid his hands up her stomach caressing her to show his love and his desire for her. Meanwhile he was kissing and nuzzling her neck and shoulders as he pushed her dress down and off. Pulling her light chemise up and off, he next untied her pantaloons and let them drop to the floor.

Shivering slightly, Elaine stepped to the bed pulling the covers back as Adam hurriedly shucked the rest of his clothing. He stepped toward her just as she turned toward him. He slid his arms around her and moved the two of them into the bed where they pulled the covers up to their necks as their hands continued to explore each other’s bodies. Adam kissed her with all of his passion plunging his tongue into her mouth as she did the same to him.

They made love to each other until he had to roll to the side then because he was afraid that otherwise he might collapse on top of her. Elaine pulled him close to her as he wrapped his arms around her. Neither said anything for some time as they lay in quiet comfort with each other. Then Adam moved to slip out of the bed surprising her.

“Where are you going?”

“I have to go get something from your room. I’ll be right back. Keep my place warm.”

Elaine watched as Adam slipped on a robe and left the room. She had to wonder what he was getting and was surprised when he walked back in with the quilt from the bed in the guest room she had been using. He draped it over the headboard before slipping back under the covers with her.

“I had no idea that it would bang into the wall announcing exactly what we were doing.”

“I thought you didn’t mind your family knowing that we were making love up here?”

“In general terms, that’s true, but I don’t want them to know too many details and that headboard banging against the wall was too much. They’re still downstairs, and I heard chuckling amid the conversation. I didn’t hear what they were saying, but I could guess.”

“Well then I guess they can be very happy for us.” With a wicked grin, she had to add more. “And maybe they’re a bit jealous too?”

“Envious would probably be more accurate unless you think that one of my family wants you this way.”

“Oh, no, Adam, I never meant to make you think that.”

“Sweetheart, I know that. I was only teasing you a little. Now how about we snuggle here for a while and see what develops. We didn’t kiss as much as I would have liked. I’m sorry that I was so anxious to have you that I may have neglected kissing you and thanking you for becoming my wife.”

“Handsome, what you did sent that message loud and clear. Now what exactly did you have in mind?”

His voice hoarse and deep with desire, Adam answered. “Oh more loving most definitely. One of my favorite things to do.” Pulling Elaine to him, Adam leaned back into the pillows. He knew what she wanted and kissed and caressed her as gently as he had earlier been passionate. Finally Elaine turned to face him with his left arm still around her.

“That was magnificent, my dark stallion. My wish would be that every night would be like this.” She felt his chuckle as much as she heard it. “Oh, I know we can’t take the time to do this much every night, but I want to feel this loved and desired every night. Can you do that?”

“I can do that. If I ever make you ever feel that I don’t love and desire you as much as I do tonight, then you need to kick me in the behind. I tend to get wrapped up in projects and other things sometimes and forget to tell my loved ones how much I care.”

“I love you so much, but I’m very tired now. Can we sleep for a while?”

“Of course. Let me build up the fire a bit, and then I’ll be right back.” Stoking the fire and adding a large log, Adam returned to the bed. It didn’t take long for the two of them to fall asleep in the comfort of each other’s embrace. In the morning, Adam awoke to soft kisses.

“Good morning, cowboy. I woke up and wanted to let you know I love you. Were you dreaming about me?”

“Sweetheart, I was having such wonderful dreams.”

Chuckling, Adam got out of bed to take care of his needs, and built up the fire again before Elaine got up and went behind a screen to do the same. Adam had put a screen in the room for her knowing that she would be more comfortable if some things were not shared. She did walk out still naked when she had taken care of things, washed, and combed out her hair. Adam felt some stirrings of desire even after all the loving they had already done. He pulled her into an embrace.

“Really? Again?”

“No, we need to get dressed and go down to breakfast or the teasing will be unmerciful. It will probably be bad enough as it is. I’ll want to make love to you every time I kiss you and hold you. It doesn’t mean we have to rush to bed every time although that would be nice to consider.”

“How will I know when you want to go to bed?”

“I have my ways of letting you know. How will I know if you want to?”

“I have my ways, and they’re very direct, but I know we have to get dressed and go down to breakfast instead.”

“I usually don’t enjoy winter because I’m cooped up inside so much, but now I have something to look forward to every day.”

After they were finished dressing, Adam escorted Elaine down to breakfast. Everyone including Jon was at the table so Adam had to assume Hoss had taken care of the boy that morning.

He thanked Hoss, who stammered out that he was welcome. Adam guessed correctly that Hoss had other things he wanted to say but wouldn’t with Jon and Elaine present. He also guessed that he might hear those comments at a later date when Hoss would feel more free to express himself. Ben had a question to try to get his younger sons thinking along less inappropriate lines because he could see that both of them wanted to tease Adam but didn’t know how to do it with Jon and Elaine there.

“Adam, that was quite clever how you got the guests to leave last night. I was beginning to think we were going to be hosting some of them overnight.”

“Wasn’t my idea. Hoss thought of it.”

“Yeah, Pa, you know once you get the lead cow up and moving, the rest of the herd just follows along pretty as you please.”

“Hoss, I don’t know if that is proper to refer to our guests as cattle.”

“I don’t know, Pa. Hoss might have a point. They sure ate like a herd. There wasn’t any cake or cookies left at all, and I was hoping for some of those potatoes for breakfast and they’re all gone too.”

“Joseph, please. You’re only serving to add more insult to our guests. You need to remember that we have some young ears here that have a tendency to repeat what is heard.”

“Grandpa, are you talking about me. Is it because you don’t want me to tell people that Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe think the people at our party were cows?”

Looking rather sheepishly at Ben, Joe was the first to speak. “Point taken, Pa. Sorry about that.” Hoss nodded. “Sorry. Never meant to do that.”

Adam was actually rather pleased. He had food on his plate and had already eaten some, but had not yet had to endure a single comment about his wedding night. He was hoping that would continue. It did but only until Jon excused himself to go to the necessary. After he had gotten his coat on and hurried outside, Joe turned to Adam.

“Hey, Adam, was it too cold in your bedroom last night. Hop Sing asked me this morning to collect the bedding from Elaine’s room so he could send it off to the laundry in town when his cousins go home later this morning, and guess what. There was no quilt on the bed.”

“Now, Joe, it couldna been too cold in their room. I saw Adam hauling some extra wood up there yesterday. I’m guessing he had plenty of wood. Unless maybe the wood was too old and burned up too fast.”

“Nah, Hoss, then he would have just gotten more wood. He probably had plenty of wood even if he had the old stuff. Heck, he probably even had some wood left this morning with that load he was carrying yesterday. I’m guessing there was some other purpose for an extra quilt, or we have quilt thieves, and we’ll have to send out a posse.”

The teasing had Elaine nearly ready to burst out in laughter, but she correctly assumed Adam wouldn’t like that. She took her napkin from her lap and quickly covered her mouth as she closed her eyes and dropped her head. Her reaction had Hoss and Joe worried for they had only meant to tease Adam, and now it looked like Elaine was upset.

“Aww, dagnabit, Sis, I’m sorry. I never meant for you to get upset. I’m sorry. Please say you’ll forgive me?”

Joe was equally apologetic, and although Ben was fairly certain that Elaine was stifling laughter instead of being upset, he used the situation to dress down his younger sons. “Oh, so now you’re sorry and hope that she can forgive you. You should have known what you were doing before you started such a conversation for the second time already. That’s two lessons you should have learned long ago. Now, can we please just have a nice family breakfast without all the inappropriate commentary.” It was phrased as a question but stated as a demand.

Breakfast was pleasant then until Adam noted that it had been quite a while and Jon wasn’t back yet. He hurried to get his coat and go out to find him. Once he was outside, he had a good idea where Jon was. He was pelting snowballs into the chicken coop and laughing at the reaction of the frightened birds. Adam laid a swat on his behind as soon as he reached him. Jon looked up to see an angry father.

“You will go inside and up to your room. You may sit there and think about the consequences of being cruel to animals. Now go.” Marching behind his son, Adam entered the house as everyone turned to look at him and Jon. Jon quickly took off his coat and boots and then nearly ran to the stairs and up to his room. When Adam explained, his father and brothers were in agreement that he had done the correct thing. Elaine wasn’t though, but Adam wouldn’t know that until later.

*****

Chapter 4

“Are you going to town because you think my father may be there?” Adam had announced that he had some errands in town and would be gone for much of the day. Adam’s reluctance to answer was all that Elaine needed. “I should go with you to see him.”

Seeing potentially difficult situations, Ben interceded. “I already asked Hoss to go with Adam. We need some things here, and Hoss can get those while Adam runs his errands. And you, my dear, were caught out in the cold only two days ago. I think you should curtail any outside activities for a few days until we’re sure you’re fully recovered.”

“I know you’re all trying to protect me, but if it is my father, and he’s here to make trouble, I should be the one talking with him. I’m the one who ran away from home and made a mess of things.”

“Sweetheart, we don’t even know if he’s in town yet. I want to see Roy and our family attorney to see if there’s anything he can do legally about our marriage. I don’t think so, but I need to know. You need to know too. If he is in town, I’ll see if I can arrange a time for all of us to meet. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. It’s when we were supposed to be married, but it is hardly the time for a rancorous meeting. If he’s there, I’ll see if he would be willing to meet on the day after Christmas. All right?”

“I still think I should go with you, but your father is probably right, and I should stay here. You need to tell me everything that happens. I want to know everything that happens. Promise me that there will be no secrets.”

“I can promise you that. Hoss will be in town too so he can tell you anything he learns.”

“I thought your father had errands for him too.”

“I think the number one errand might be keeping me out of trouble.”

Looking over at her father-in-law, Elaine could see the sheepish look he had because Adam had seen through his guile so easily. She nodded then. “Good. I like the way your father thinks.”

Hoss chuckled as Joe commented. “Aha, older brother, you better watch out now. The two of them are ganging up on you.”

Adam shook his head at Joe’s comment. “Let Jon come down for lunch. Then he can stay down here with you until I get home and have a talk with him. Take care, sweetheart.” Adam kissed Elaine softly mistaking her worried look as being because her father might be in town and not realizing that to her his promise of a talk with Jon sounded like more of a threat than anything else.

As Adam and Hoss walked to the stable, Hoss commented on the weather. “Gonna be a real cold Christmas this year. I guess it was a good idea that you had your wedding earlier than tomorrow and not just because of her father. This kind of cold will probably mean some icy roads. Are you sure we need to make this trip?”

“You don’t need to come along, but I need to talk with Roy and with a lawyer.”

“I thought you was gonna talk to the family lawyer.”

“I will, but I also want to talk with that new lawyer in town. He used to practice in California so he will know more about the laws there.”

“Ah, so you can be ready for anything. Good thinking.” It looked like Hoss had something more to say so Adam asked him to just spit it out. “Well, when you said you spanked Jon and when you said you was gonna have a talk with him later, Elaine looked kinda worried. Maybe she thinks those weren’t very good ideas.”

“Maybe, but I’m Jon’s father and I have a lot more experience as a parent than she does. She’ll have to accept my decisions on that for now.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right on that one. Now let’s get going. It’s gonna be a slow trip, and I want to be home for dinner. Hop Sing always makes lots of good stuff about this time of year. It just gets better and better until Christmas dinner. Then afterwards, it’s all them sweet leftovers when he goes off to visit with his cousins for a while. Hey, Adam, you think all those cousins of his are really cousins?”

“No, a lot of them are paper cousins.”

“Hah, what?”

“They sign papers when they come into the country saying that they are related to someone already here. It’s getting harder and harder for them. Most now claim to be sons of a father already here. Otherwise, they can get rejected and sent back home. It’s like how most of the time the women have to be married or they can’t come into the country. It’s getting real mean in California right about now. Even here, I’ve heard talk about driving out the Chinese miners.”

“Well, that’s crazy talk. The Chinese miners only work claims that have been abandoned. We wouldn’t have any laundry services and not near enough bathhouses if the Chinese left. Hey, if the Chinese left, would Hop Sing leave?”

“Hard to say, but it would be difficult for him to stay without someone with whom to celebrate his holidays and play the games he knows.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be hard on him to stay, but it would be darned hard on him to leave too. It’d be hard on me too.”

“Then I guess we ought to start thinking of ways to settle down all the talk about forcing the Chinese out of Virginia City.”

“All right. I’ll back any play you got on that one.”

After a slow ride because the roads were a bit difficult for travel, Adam and Hoss arrived in town and went to the family lawyer first. He had reasonably good news even when Adam mentioned the telegram.

“The telegram warning that he did not give consent to a marriage that was legal under the laws here has no bearing on the situation. If he could have gotten here before the marriage, he might have been able to delay the ceremony but not prevent it. Elaine is six years older than necessary for the age of consent in Nevada. There are some who would like to see it raised to sixteen, but even then, she is three years older than necessary. There was no deception, no fraud, and no one filed any legal objection to the marriage. He will not be able to get it annulled. If he tries, the judge will dismiss it as soon as we show up with the information I just mentioned. Unless there is something else I don’t know, that’s how it stands.”

“What if she ran away from home to marry a miner in California but was abandoned by him after only three weeks?”

“If they had remained together and set up a domicile together acting as husband and wife even without a ceremony, then there could be a claim of common law marriage. It’s not viable though if they were only together for three weeks. There was no ceremony?”

“It was in a miners’ camp. They called them married and had some drinks. That was it.”

“Without a proper official to sanction the marriage, it never occurred. We may need Elaine to testify to all of that, but probably not. We can explain those details to the judge and I doubt he would see a need to have a formal hearing when the outcome was already obvious.”

“There’s a new lawyer in town from California. I was thinking of talking to him about California laws.”

“That’s not necessary, Adam. You and your family as well as a number of other businesses here do so much business in California that I have become well versed in California law and have a set of their state laws on my shelves. I’ll look through them to see if I have missed anything, but that’s unlikely.”

“Thank you. We’re heading over to talk with Roy now to alert him to the situation. I’d also like to talk with him about the concerns here about the Chinese miners.”

“Watch out on that one, my friend. There’s been a lot of violence in some of the mining camps and some towns out here. Don’t let yourself get caught in the middle of it. You have a wife and son to worry about now.”

“I know. I’ll be careful. Besides, I got Hoss here to watch my back.”

“It may take more than Hoss if you get yourself between the Chinese miners and the white miners. It’s going to be uglier before it gets any better, I’m afraid.”

“I hope it doesn’t, but I’m worried that you might be correct in that assumption. Maybe we can start some talking to calm things down before it gets that far.”

“I know I wouldn’t mind talking to some of them miners about the Chinese workers. It ain’t their fault ifn some of them big mines done shut down for a while cause the price of silver dropped.”

Adam and the lawyer agreed that Hoss would be a good candidate to speak to the miners and try to find out their exact grievances and to see if there was some resolution that could be reached before the violence that had touched other towns and camps hit Virginia City. That conversation concluded, Adam and Hoss headed over to see Roy. The stage was late, and they found Roy chatting with the station manager.

“That was a right fine wedding you had out to the ranch yesterday, Adam. You got yourself a pretty darn near perfect wife for you.”

“Well, Roy, that’s some of what I want to talk with you about. Can we go to your office?”

“Soon as that stage gets here. I like to see who’s getting on and off.”

“I may have an idea of one passenger. Elaine’s father may be coming to town.”

“Well, Adam you don’t look none too happy about that, and I’m guessing it ain’t no ordinary father-in-law problem.”

“Yes, but I would rather discuss this in private if you don’t mind.”

“You and Hoss go on over to my office and wait. Shouldn’t be too long now. The stage is already an hour overdue, and it usually is never much more than that.”

Hoss and Adam agreed to wait for Roy at his office, but Adam watched out the window until he saw the stage arrive. A man with a minister’s collar and all black clothing stepped from the stage and immediately approached Roy. Adam watched as they had an animated conversation and then headed in the direction of Roy’s office.

“Looks like trouble heading this way, Hoss. If I’m correct, Roy’s going to be here soon with Elaine’s father, and I doubt that he is fond of me at all.”

“Like you said before, I got your back.”

Boots on the sidewalk outside the door announced the arrival of Roy and Reverend Cargill. He shot dark looks at both Hoss and Adam before resting his gaze on Adam alone once Roy had made the introductions. Roy then got to the heart of the matter as he saw it. “Adam, Reverend Cargill has leveled some charges at you, but unless Elaine is a sight younger than she looks, I don’t see nothing to back them up. He says you married Elaine without his consent and that he sent a telegram telling you that he would not consent to her marrying you.”

“He did sent such a telegram, but Elaine is nineteen years old.”

“Well that about takes care of it then.” Turning to the Reverend Cargill, Roy held out his hands. “Now in Nevada and in California, the age of consent is thirteen. There’s been talk of raising it to sixteen or even eighteen although I doubt that will ever happen. It don’t matter none though. Elaine doesn’t need your permission to marry.”

“What if she’s already married? She ran away with a miner and set up house with him. That’s a common law marriage.”

Getting angry, Adam answered that before Roy could even ask. “She was never legally married to him and he abandoned her after three weeks. That is not enough time for a common law marriage to exist, and even if it did, he abandoned her over three years ago. That would be enough to nullify such a so-called marriage regardless.”

“And now you’re a lawyer. You’re a common cowboy living out here in the godforsaken wilderness where there is no respect for God’s law nor man’s. How could you know anything about the law?”

That made Roy angry. He didn’t like the insults about the city, but the insults to Adam were infuriating. “Now see her, Reverend Cargill. Adam is a respected member of this community. I won’t stand by and let you insult him like this. You need to keep a civil tongue here in my office.”

“He cannot be such an upright citizen if he married my daughter who is a harlot, a whore, and a jezebel.”

Hoss had moved up to stand by Adam’s shoulder as the conversation had escalated. It was very lucky that he had because he was able to grab Adam and prevent him from assaulting Elaine’s father. Roy stepped between the two men as well.

“Hoss let me go. He can’t say that and get away with it.”

“Adam, I ain’t gonna go home and tell Elaine that you beat her father to death. Now you just settle down.” Adam continued to struggle in Hoss’ grip and Hoss had to use all his strength to hang onto him. “As for you, Reverend, you better hightail it outta here cause I can’t hold him forever. I’m gonna count to ten and then let him go. You better be long gone by then.”

“I’m not gonna be run out of here by some half-wit cowboy.”

“One.”

“Sheriff, do something.”

“Two.”

“You can’t let them threaten me like this.”

“Three.”

“It isn’t civilized.”

“Four.”

“You better go. Hoss doesn’t lie, and no judge and no jury in this godforsaken wilderness would ever have Adam found guilty for beating you for insulting his wife like that.”

“Five.”

“A quite a few men hereabouts would like as not be willing to help him do it.”

Reverend Cargill made a hasty retreat with his valise before Hoss could finish saying six. He counted out the rest. “Adam, kin I let ya go now, and ya won’t do anything stupid cause my arms are getting mighty tired holding you like this?”

Roy moved between Adam and the door before Hoss released him. Then Adam stood there fuming and breathing hard until he slowly regained control of his temper. “Adam, it would be best if you just headed on home now. I’ll talk to the Reverend later and try to talk some sense into him. You best stay away from him. I know no jury would ever convict you for beating him, but I’m afraid you’re so mad, you might up and kill him. That I can’t allow. Hoss, get him out of town, please. You know you can’t let him go see Cargill now, not the way he is.”

“I’m right here. You can talk to me. I won’t kill him, Roy, but make sure he knows he is not welcome on the Ponderosa. I can’t be held responsible if he trespasses.”

Roy shook his head. “Just go home, boys. I’ll be out to see you if I can talk some sense into Cargill.” Roy’s failure to refer to Elaine’s father as a minister was evidence enough of his feelings about the man, but he wanted to protect Adam so he finally ordered him to go home. Within a short time, Adam and Hoss rode out of town. Up in his hotel room, Cargill had dropped his bag on the bed and watched the sheriff’s office. He watched Adam and Hoss ride out as he began to wonder what he could do now that his initial plan had been thwarted. Despite his insult about Adam’s legal knowledge, he knew that the man was correct, and he had no legal recourse now that they were already married. He knew that there had been little he could do about the marriage anyway, but he had hoped to humiliate his daughter and the man she had married. Elaine had humiliated him and ruined his reputation by running off with that miner. Then word had filtered back about what had happened between the two of them and what she had turned to in order to survive. His humiliation and embarrassment were complete. He wouldn’t stop until he had his revenge on her and her husband.

*****

Chapter 5

“What happened? I can tell by the look of you two that something unpleasant happened so you may as well tell me.” Adam’s temper had not improved on the ride home, and it was apparent in his scowl and his stiff walk. He motioned for her to follow him upstairs. In their bedroom, he explained what had happened in town including the visit with the lawyer and the advice he had given before he explained what had happened with her father.

“He made me so angry that Hoss had to hang onto me so I didn’t smash that nasty face of his. He isn’t very forgiving for being a minister. In fact, I can hardly think of him as a minister with all the hate he spews.”

“Adam, I told you that my father was a fire and brimstone kind of preacher. Did you expect someone kind and thoughtful? He has no caring for anyone who doesn’t buckle down to the rules as he sees them. He believes that only a small number of people will ever get to heaven and assumes the rest will be damned for all eternity.”

“Why does he care about what you’re doing then if he already sees you condemned forever for what you did?”

“I’m sure he believes that what I did reflects on him and may ruin his chances for salvation. The only way to right the wrong will be for him to punish me and probably as publicly as he can.”

“So he would see his own daughter stoned so that his reputation would be untarnished?”

“That’s about it.”

“I won’t let him harm you or any member of my family.”

“Adam, please promise me that you won’t go after him? Please, if you kill him, then he will get his wish for my life would be ruined if you went to the gallows for killing him.”

After pausing to think that through, Adam had his answer. “I promise I won’t go after him, but if he threatens anyone in this family, I will defend them against him using every means I have available.”

Thinking that was about the best she could hope to get in cooperation from Adam, Elaine wanted to bring up another topic. “You said you wanted to talk with Jon when you got home. Don’t you think he’s been punished enough? He’s been worried and sad ever since it happened.”

“Do you know what he was doing?”

“Yes, he told me. He didn’t realize that he was doing harm. He only saw their antics as they tried to dodge the snowballs, and he thought it was funny.”

“The next time he thinks it’s funny to torture an animal, maybe he’ll think back to this lesson. I will talk with him, but he knows he’s getting a spanking too. One swat will hardly be enough for him to remember this.”

“I think it’s enough. I already told him that he needs to apologize to Hop Sing and offer to help feed and care for the chickens for the next week. Your father was there and thought it was appropriate.”

“You what?” Adam was still on edge from his confrontation with Reverend Cargill and didn’t want to say some things he might regret. “This isn’t over yet. We’ll talk later, and that talk you’re not avoiding.”

“Adam, please don’t be angry with me. I couldn’t bear to see Jon suffer so.”

“All right, if you want to do this now. You usurped my role with my son. I have far more experience with him than you do, and I expect my decisions on his care to be seen as my responsibility and you need to understand that.”

“So I have no say in his care?”

“Just because we’re married, it doesn’t mean you’re his mother.” Seeing the devastated look in Elaine’s eyes, Adam relented. “I’m sorry. I should never have said that. I’m still angry about your father, and I didn’t want to have this discussion now for that reason. Please don’t push me any more right now. I am sorry. You are his mother now, but remember that I’m his father, and you can’t undermine my authority with him.”

“So spanking him is that important to you?”

“Please, no more. Let’s go downstairs. We can talk later when things have calmed down.”

The tension between them was significant but both did realize that talking at this point would likely be more arguing with the potential for being insulting. Neither wanted that so there was an uneasy truce. They headed down the stairs and Hoss assumed that Elaine’s demeanor was because of what her father had said. Ben suspected more because of the way the two of them moved away from each other at the bottom of the stairs. He had expected Adam to be hovering near Elaine offering comfort. He thought he probably knew what the issue was but refrained from saying anything. He knew the two of them needed to work out their relationship together with no interference from him. He had seen how well Elaine had dealt with Jon’s misbehavior but had also known that Adam would likely not see it as acceptable. Ben knew that he had used physical punishment too much with Adam. By the time he was parenting Joe, he knew better. Adam would have to learn how to be a parent to an inquisitive and rambunctious boy who was also very sensitive and intelligent much as Adam had been when he was young. To some extent, the difficult childhood and the threat of physical punishment had wiped out a lot of the fun-loving side of Adam’s personality. Some of it had re-emerged with Jon’s antics. Ben could only hope that it was still there although quite clearly in need of nurturing.

Elaine was young and not jaded despite what she had done to survive for two years before meeting Adam and escaping that life. Ben had some knowledge of the behavior of brothel owners and knew they protected their youngest ladies from the harsher elements. A beautiful, well-spoken young woman like Elaine was probably treated well and kept from the seedier elements. Although there was a significant age gap between Elaine and Adam, Ben had accepted it. Adam could help her grow and mature, and she could help him find joy in life again. That both of them loved Jon would help cement their relationship if they could just get by these early hurdles. Ben didn’t do much except walk over to Adam and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Hoss told us what happened. A short version when we sent Jon to the kitchen for cookies and milk. That boy is smart. He knows that every time that happens, we’re talking about things we don’t want him to hear so he was back out here as fast as he could gobble down a cookie and a glass of milk. We’re going to have to start sending him out to the kitchen to eat a ham sandwich.” That elicited a small smile from Adam. “Hoss took Jon out to the stable with him to take care of the horses. Now go to your wife and offer her the comfort she needs so badly. Anything else the two of you can talk over later.” Adam looked at his father wondering how much he had guessed, and then supposed it was probably everything. He nodded and moved to sit beside Elaine on the settee. She looked at him with a bit of apprehension, but when he smiled softly and reached for her hand, the tears came. Adam pulled her into an embrace and let her cry on his shoulder. He looked behind the settee at his father and mouthed a thank you. Ben smiled and went back to his desk.

When Jon came in from the stable with Hoss and Joe, he looked a bit scared when he saw that Elaine had been crying. He moved to her and took her hand. “Did Papa yell at you and spank you too?”

“No, Jon, it’s something else. My father is in town, and he’s very upset with me. Your Papa saw him and he said some bad things about me.”

“What about your mother?”

“My Mama died a long time ago. I can hardly remember what she looked like.”

“My Mama died a long time ago too. I don’t remember what she looked like except in that picture I have. Papa says she loved me very much. I love you very much too, Miss Lainy. Are you going to be my new mama?”

Elaine looked at Adam who had tears in his eyes. He nodded and gave her an encouraging smile. “Yes, I would like that if you want me to be your new mama. Perhaps you could call me Mama Lainy so your mother will always be your Mama.”

“I like that, Mama Lainy.” Jon was a little hesitant with the new terminology but his father’s encouraging look helped.

That evening after Jon went to bed, the family sat together wondering what Elaine’s father might do next. She told them more about him and his ministry that would have made the Puritan fathers cringe at his righteousness. “Reverend Cargill is never wrong. Sinners are going to hell and can never expect to see heaven. In his way of thinking, they have lost any chance at redemption.”

Hoss was surprised that a minister could think that way. “Heck, Heaven’s a real big place. If God could make the universe and everything in it in only six days, he must be able to make Heaven as big as it needs to be.”

“Reverend Cargill believes that one hundred and forty-four thousand is the limit. He aims to be one of them, and he thinks I am the one thing that will stop him from gaining entrance. I’m absolutely certain that he believes I need to be severely punished and by his hand to right the wrong.”

“Ifn he was so upset about it all, why didn’t he come get you when he found out what you was doing?”

“Hoss, he did. I told Adam. He came to get me and said I needed to be publicly whipped for my sins. I wouldn’t go with him, and the men there wouldn’t let him take me. That only made him angrier. I’m sure when he found out I left with Adam, he was furious. I still don’t know how he tracked me down here.”

“Our engagement was announced in the Territorial Enterprise. He must have gotten a copy or someone told him. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I never thought that something so simple could lead to this, although I don’t know that we could have stopped the paper from putting in that small article.”

Ben had had enough of the troubling conversation. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We have a lot to celebrate this year. Tomorrow night just a few of our closest friends will be here, and then on Christmas Day, we will celebrate all the good news and the holy day commemorating Christ’s birth. So, let’s all relax and try to forget all about this turmoil. He won’t be able to do anything for the next two days anyway. I, for one, am going to bed. Tomorrow night will be a late one, and if Jon is anything like Joe was at that age, we’ll be up early on Christmas morning.”

Hoss was grinning. “At that age, Pa? Joe’s still likely to be the first one up even if he wakes up Jon as his cover story for going downstairs making all sorts of racket to wake us all up.”

“Jon as a cover story? When did I ever do that?”

“Last year, little brother. I heard you telling him to whoop and holler when you got down by the tree and saw all the presents so everybody would wake up.”

“Dang, why do you have to have the bedroom at the top of the stairs. It’d be a heck more convenient if that was mine.”

By then, the mood was more upbeat. Adam and Hoss took care of locking doors and turning the lamps down until only one dimly lit their way up the stairs. When Adam entered the bedroom, Elaine was sitting on the side of the bed in her new lacy gown. Adam smiled in appreciation, but his smile faded as he saw her downcast look.

“What’s wrong?”

“You said we would talk later. I thought that was what would happen next.”

“I’ve calmed down and seen reason. I am sorry for how I acted earlier. It’s how I get sometimes when I’m on edge. It’s best to avoid me when I’m like that.” He sat beside her and kissed her on the cheek. “I am very sorry.”

“So you aren’t going to spank me?”

“No, of course not. Why would I spank you?”

“The head of the family has the right to do that when he’s angry with a member of the family.”

“No. No one has the right to spank someone simply because they’re angry. I admit I was angry with Jon when I saw what he was doing, but the swat I gave him was to reinforce the message that he is not to torture animals for his pleasure. When I truly listened to how you had handled it, I realized you had done it well. I was too upset to admit it, but he won’t forget this lesson. I guess I was tanned for misbehavior when I was young so that it’s the first thing I think to do.” Looking thoughtful as he wrapped an arm around Elaine, Adam had to ask. “Did your father spank you a lot?”

Realizing she should have known he would guess that, Elaine nodded. “I was spanked almost every day for doing one thing or another. He made me kneel down afterwards and pray for forgiveness. There were times when he spanked me because he said he didn’t find anything wrong that I had done, and that deceit was even worse than wrong acts. I would beg him not to telling him that he didn’t find any wrongdoing because I was trying so hard to be good, but he never believed me. Those spankings were some of the worst.”

“But you said that sometimes men spanked you when you were working at the brothel.”

“Yes, but they weren’t angry, and it never really hurt. Most of them just liked slapping my bare skin. It didn’t bother me, and often sometimes I didn’t have to do anything else so that was good.”

“Sweetheart, I will never spank you. I love you, and I never want to cause you any kind of pain.”

“Except when you’re an angry puss and say mean things?”

“I am sorry about that. It may be my greatest failing as a person. When I get upset, I say things that I don’t mean. I know they hurt, and that I can’t take them back, but how I wish I could.”

“I forgive you. Now can we have some making up sex?”

“What?”

“Peg, one of the girls that I worked with, had a regular who was kinda like her man and sometimes they would argue. Afterwards, she said he was always sorry, and then he would have great sex with her to make up for being crabby with her. He would do everything he could to please her. So, can we do that?”

Grinning, Adam leaned down to kiss her. “How was that for a start?”

“There’s going to be more, isn’t there?”

He stood and removed all of this clothing and then reached for her and pulled her up to him. Sliding his hands down her body, he slipped them under her gown and pulled it up and over her head tossing it across the room. “You never have to wear those for me.” Bending down he kissed her neck behind the ear and then worked his way around to the other ear kissing each inch of skin as he did so. Next he kissed back to the center of her throat and down to her chest kissing and licking her skin until she had goosebumps. She shivered, but he didn’t stop. He did everything he knew how to do to make her enjoy her time with him. When their lovemaking was done, he lay by her side.

“As soon as I catch my breath, I’m going to tell you how wonderful that was.” Elaine kissed his chest causing him to shiver a bit too. Smiling she snuggled into his embrace and didn’t even remember closing her eyes. When she awakened, she was sleeping beside Adam and dawn was breaking. She felt warm and very loved.

*****

Chapter 6

The next morning, Adam made sure that Jon remembered to help feed the chickens and clean up the coop as well as provide a fresh dish of water inside the coop. Hop Sing was stern with the boy but smiled when he finished. “Boy do good work today. Chickens lay eggs again and Mister Hoss happy.”

“If you scare them, they don’t lay eggs?”

“Lay eggs but not enough. Need many eggs here with family and cowboys. Need many more when winter done.”

“Do they lay more eggs if you feed them?”

“Feed good get better bigger eggs. Do not feed too much. Wasted. Carry eggs to house now. No run.”

That warning lasted until Jon saw Adam open the kitchen door. He started to run toward his father, but a barked warning stopped him in his tracks. “Jon, don’t run.” Adam was upset again, and Jon’s lip started to quiver. “Walk to the house with the basket of eggs so you don’t break any.”

Instead, Jon set the basket down. “No. Everybody wants to tell me what to do.”

“Jon, pick up that basket right now and march into this house, or you and I will have that necessary talking to that I mentioned yesterday.”

“No. Mama Lainy won’t let you.”

“Oh, yes, I will.” Elaine had come up behind Adam and was shocked by what she heard from Jon. “I won’t spank you, but for that, I think it might be appropriate for your father to let you know you can’t talk like that to him or anyone else.”

Surprised and a bit confused, Jon simply stood there. Hop Sing came up behind him and landed three hard swats on his behind before he had a chance to react. “I tell boy no run. Boy not listen. Boy get this.”

“Papa, can he do that?”

“Yes, and now that I know he told you not to run, you will apologize too.”

His rebellion cracked and broken, Jon turned to Hop Sing. “I’m sorry I ran. I know I wasn’t supposed to.”

“Now tell father very sorry for running mouth.”

Jon turned to his father. “Papa, I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Jon picked up the eggs and walked to the house worried about what might happen next. He hadn’t been spanked since his mother had been killed, and now in two days had been swatted twice, once by his father and once by Hop Sing. Inside the house, Jon turned to his father. “Do I still get a necessary talking to from you, Papa?”

“No, this time Hop Sing handled it.”

“He can spank me?”

“Any grownup in this family can discipline you if you choose to break the rules.”

“But everybody’s grown up except me. Does that mean that all of them can spank me?”

“Yes, so that means you need to do what you’re told and keep a respectful voice while you do it.”

“But sometimes you yell at Uncle Joe and even at Grandpa. Do they get to spank you?”

“No, but sometimes I bet they wish they could although Uncle Joe would probably get more than me if that was the case. There are lots of ways to discipline a boy though, and spanking is only one of them. I wasn’t planning on spanking you, but I did have in mind that you needed a serious talking to and some punishment for your behavior.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that everyone always is telling me what to do. Sometimes I would like to do what I want to do all by myself.”

“Oh, what would you like to do?”

Looking up sideways at his father, wondering if there was some trick in that question, Jon finally answered. “I wanted to make a snow fort, but everyone says I can’t be outside alone, but nobody wants to be outside with me to make a snow fort.”

“You can make a snow fort if you do it right outside the dining room window. I want to be able to see you as I sit at the table having some coffee.”

“Thank you, Papa, thank you.”

At the dining table with his father and brothers, Adam explained all that had happened. Ben nodded, but Elaine was a bit troubled. She listened as Ben talked before she said anything.

Ben was philosophical about what had happened. “It was probably just a matter of time until it happened. We’ve all sheltered and protected Jon since Barbara was killed and you were gone for all those months until you were cleared of those charges. He’s had to make the move to living here with all of us, and then Elaine came into his life, and now is his new mother. He’s probably a bit confused about all of that and straining against all the smothering too.”

“Yes, I’m thinking it’s time to set some chores for him to do on a regular basis. He’s five so he’s quite capable of having some responsibility. It will give him a feeling of pride and accomplishment too when he’s able to take charge of something. I’ve been treating him too much like a helpless child.”

Elaine had to say something then. “Adam, I’m so sorry I interfered yesterday before I talked it over with you. When I heard Jon say that this morning, I realized what a big mistake it was. He thought he could use me to get his way with you and avoid punishment. I promise to always talk things over with you when we disagree about Jon.”

Turning to Elaine, Adam took her hand before he said anything. “It may not always be possible, but thank you for understanding that. I know it’s a lot for you to have to do, but you had his best interests at heart, and that’s what matters most to me. Everyone in this family has been doing a great job helping with Jon, but now I think he needs to know that there are some limits I won’t let him cross.”

“Oh-oh.” Elaine was watching out the window as the wall Jon had built fell over. They all saw him standing and staring at the fallen chunks of snow. Then he pushed several aside and started to build two walls working out from the corner so that each helped stabilize the other. Ben smiled as did the others when they realized what he was doing. Elaine looked over to Adam to see the proud look on his face. “He is definitely his father’s son. You don’t suppose he would mind some help, do you? I haven’t played in the snow in ages.”

Looking at his father and brothers, Adam waited for what they had to say. Hoss responded first. “Heck, all the chores are done, and now we ain’t having the big party cause we already did, so I wouldn’t mind building a snow fort. Might even have time for a snowball fight if everyone is willing.”

Ben declined an invitation, but soon all the other members of the family were donning their winter coats and scarves and heading out to play in the snow. Jon was delighted to have playtime companions and had never had a snowball fight. He was quite willing to give it a try though. After a couple of hours, snow covered Hoss, Joe, and Elaine trudged back into the house laughing and looking forward to some hot drinks. Ben asked where Adam and Jon were, and Elaine explained they were using the remnants of two snow forts to sculpt a snowman.

“Remnants of two snow forts?”

“Yes, Hoss slipped and fell on theirs knocking most of it down, and Joe did a suicide charge against ours after Hoss did that and knocked out their defenses. He breached the walls of our fort even with all three of us firing at him. It was fun.”

Within a half hour, a shivering Jon was brought inside by Adam. Jon had insisted he wasn’t really cold, but Adam wasn’t buying it. Instead, he had Jon go put on dry clothing and told him to wear a sweater until he was warmer. When Jon came downstairs, he asked Ben to go to the window to see their snowman. After all the appropriate praise of the tall snowman, the whole family sat down to lunch with all the worries pushed effectively into the background. Jon’s desire for a snow fort had let the whole family blow off some energy and have fun at the same time. It put them in the best mood for the holiday, and all looked forward to guests arriving in the afternoon.

Soon after lunch, Paul, Roy, Julia, and Clementine arrived on the Ponderosa. The afternoon was spent in song, stories, and friendly chatter. Jon was the center of attention and loved that. He and his father sang some songs together for the group, and then Adam led everyone in singing Christmas carols. By late afternoon, Hop Sing had a banquet served. The guests couldn’t stay after dinner because of the cold that made the roads tend to be icy in spots. The group had traveled out together in a covered carriage and needed to head back early before the roads became too treacherous. Roy walked out with Adam and Hoss when they went to hitch up the team to the carriage.

“These horses ain’t none too happy to be dragged out of our warm stable for a cold ride back to town. Now, Roy, you got enough blankets and such in the carriage?”

“I’m sure we do, Hoss. Doc don’t go nowhere without lots of blankets and such. Heck, I bet he’s got candles, food, and who knows what else packed in the boot of this carriage.”

“Roy, I have a feeling you didn’t come out here to talk about that, though, did you?”

“No, sorry, Adam, that ain’t the case. I come to warn you about that Reverend Cargill. He’s spreading some stories in town about you and about Elaine. Now I can’t stop him cause what he’s saying is the truth even if he’s leaving out a lot of stuff that would put you and your wife in a better light. But I would surely like to send him packing. Next time you or you and Elaine come to town, there could be some ugliness. At least all this trouble with the miners settled down this week.”

“Yes, Pa thought the gift of some beef might help. He had Hoss and Candy drive in enough cattle to feed a lot of families for the next month. Hopefully by then, the mines will begin hiring again. Usually they do more mining in the winter months because ice is a lot easier to get.”

“Your Pa is a generous man.”

“Roy, you know we lose some cattle every winter. We culled out the thinner ones and older ones thinking we might lose em anyway. It was Adam’s idea, and Pa liked it a lot. Well, we all did really. Ifn we might lose em anyway, why not get some good out of em by helping out people who need em.”

“You know I might just have a talk with a few of the other ranchers. Everybody must have a few like that. Ifn they know they’ll probably lose em anyway, maybe they’d be a mind to donate em to the hungry folks in town. Sure would make em happy and make my job a heck of a lot easier. I sure don’t cotton to have to use force on good folks who are just upset cause they can’t feed their families.”

“Do you think that the mines will be rehiring soon?”

“I’d say so. They’re letting the miners stay in the tent camps at no charge, and they gave the ones who are renting places a month’s free rent. Seems like they want em to stay. We all know silver prices drop through the basement and then a month or two later, shoot up again. I’m thinking they’ll want a supply of silver on hand when that price jumps up. We just gotta get through the next month without any trouble. So far there’s no one pushing for a fight so I’m hoping it stays that way.”

“I guess we all do. Thanks for the warning. I’ll talk with Elaine. She knew that sooner or later people would find out about her past. Now that we’re married and that’s all well in her past, maybe people will be tolerant. I’m hoping that’s true.”

“I’m guessing we all do, Adam. Now, I need to get back. It’s been wonderful celebrating the holiday with your family. You be sure to give that present to Jon in the morning and tell him it came from Santa.”

“Roy, I’ll tell him, but that gift might be the one to get him questioning whether there is a Santa or not.”

“Just tell him what you used to tell Joe when he was little.”

Hoss didn’t remember that so had to ask. “What was that?”

“Your older brother told Little Joe that if he didn’t believe, Santa wouldn’t come. I think Joe mighta been ten or twelve before he was willing to say there was no Santa. Adam was away at school yet so there was no one to remind him that he was supposed to believe.”

The three men chuckled as they led the team to the house. Ben and Joe escorted the ladies and Doctor Martin to the carriage. Once everyone was bundled in, Adam and Hoss lit the carriage lanterns to give them some light for travel. It was still light but that would disappear soon as the sun dropped below the mountains. The night was clear though and with a full moon, they should be able to travel safely. Waving goodbye, the men then hurried into the warmth of the house. Adam decided to wait until the day after Christmas to talk with Elaine about what her father was doing. Instead, he decided to ask Hoss about Julia.

“Adam, I just don’t know. I been seeing her for two years steady like. And I saw her on and off for a couple years before that. She’s friendly and all, but it seems like she don’t have the feelings for me that I have for her. I’m thinking I’ll give it a bit more time, but if something don’t change soon, I ought to be looking elsewhere.”

“Hoss, I thought you weren’t that fond of the idea of getting married?”

“Well, I seen what you had and what you got, and I’m liking the idea more and more all the time. I wouldn’t mind a woman who’d like a passel of kids too.”

“Finally. I was beginning to wonder if only one of my sons had any interest in getting married.” Ben took his pipe and sat in the red leather chair. He relaxed a bit because he knew that soon his family would be insisting it was time for him to read the annual Christmas stories from literature and from the Bible. A few years earlier, he had thought to pass that job on to Adam, but he and the rest of the family said the tradition should always be the oldest Cartwright, and as long as he was there, they expected him to read the story. Elaine didn’t know the tradition, and Ben heard Adam explaining it to her before they sat on the settee with Jon snuggled between them. Hoss and Joe took seats too and waited for Ben to start reading. The anticipation and the waiting were part of the tradition too. Finally, Ben smiled, stood and tamped his pipe on the andiron nearest him, picked up the first of the books before sitting down to begin the reading.

Coffee, hot chocolate, and gingerbread cookies finished the evening. Then lamps were turned down, the fireplace screen was put in place, and doors were checked to be sure they were locked. Adam carried Jon upstairs to his bed and only removed his boots and sweater before pulling the covers over him. He added some wood to the stove in his room before going to the bedroom he now shared with Elaine. She had already snuggled into the bed after putting wood in the fireplace. Adam stripped down as he always did and she watched him in the dim light. When he slipped into bed beside her, he pulled her into an embrace, kissed her, and then said goodnight before laying back on his pillow with his eyes closed.

“That’s it? We’re still on our honeymoon. This is only our third night together.”

“Well we did have all those nights together when we were traveling to meet my family.”

“But you weren’t in love with me then, and we didn’t do anything but sleep.”

“You want to do more than that now?”

But even in the dim light, Elaine could see the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. She punched him lightly on the shoulder making him grin and grab her, and she knew he wanted her as much as she wanted him. “You’re a tease. I should teach you a lesson and not do anything with you tonight.” He caressed her and kissed the back of her neck before she turned into his embrace letting him know that those were empty words. They kissed passionately and lovingly touched each other until Adam moved to make love to her. It didn’t take long for both of them to reach the peak of ecstasy.

Afterwards, Elaine lay back against him feeling his warm breath on her neck and cheek. They lay that way for some time talking about what the next day would bring. Adam told her about the gift that Roy had brought for Jon and whether he should say, as Roy wanted, that it was a gift from Santa. She thought he ought to do what Roy wanted and see what happened. Finally they heard the clock downstairs chime midnight.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

“Merry Christmas, my love.”

*****

Chapter 7

As expected, Joe and Jon made enough noise the next morning to wake everyone. Adam and Elaine were the last to walk down the stairs. Joe questioned whether they needed breakfast before they opened gifts and Jon supported him in that, but Ben said that traditionally they ate breakfast first, and Hop Sing would be quite angry if they changed that without telling him.

As soon as breakfast was completed, Hop Sing was leaving for town. The family gave him Christmas as a holiday and snacked on sandwiches and leftovers for the rest of the day. It didn’t take long for Hop Sing to have breakfast served, and then Ben presented him with his annual Christmas present of a month’s pay as a bonus. Adam, Hoss, and Joe always threw in extra so that the total present was two months’ wages. They knew Hop Sing would probably distribute much of the cash among the cousins he had in town as well as help to pay for a feast for all of them. With laundries and other businesses closed for the holiday, it was the only day of the year that most of them could celebrate with the rest of the families.

As Joe and Elaine entertained Jon, Ben delivered cash to the hands who stayed for the winter, and Adam brought them a bottle of whisky and some chocolates from San Francisco while Hoss brought in new decks of cards and a new checkerboard. When all of that was done and wishes for a happy holiday were completed, it was time to open gifts. Most of the gifts were those that were expected. Elaine was amazed at the number of gifts she got. The two gifts that were surprises were a matched set of bracelet and necklace made of jade that Adam gave to his wife. He had asked Hop Sing to have it made. She kissed him on the lips in front of everyone which pleased him a great deal but embarrassed her a little when she realized what she had done. He simply pulled her down beside him on the settee as he picked up Roy’s gift for Jon. It was a small light gift and Adam had guessed what it was. Jon’s joy when he opened it was delightful to see. Roy had gotten him a small deputy badge. It was shiny and especially impressive to a five-year old.

“Did Santa really give me this? Am I a deputy now? Do I get a gun?”

“Read the note.”

Taking his time and sounding out a few words, Jon looked up at last with a puzzled look. “It says that Santa has made me the deputy in charge of the chickens. I’m supposed to protect them from all dangers. It says it’s good practice for when I get older so I can be just like my father. Papa that sounds just like something that Sheriff Roy said yesterday. Do you think he knows Santa?”

With a gentle smile, Adam looked at his son. He was relieved that the gift had not brought up the question he feared. “Yes, I’m sure that he’s run into Santa a time or two. Yes, you are a deputy here, but no gun. Not for a lot of years.” Elaine was hoping it would be never as she heard Adam say that. As she contemplated being a mother, she knew that all she wanted was for Jon to grow up safely and be a good man. Adam must have sensed what she was feeling because she felt his arm wrap around her and a light squeeze from his hand on her shoulder. He looked down at her as she looked up.

“He’ll be fine. We are all here to help him and protect him.”

“I know, but it’s a big responsibility.”

Nodding, Adam hugged her tighter. It was the way he felt about his family all the time. He would do anything to protect them, but it was a big responsibility. The day was relaxing though as Adam and Elaine started reading one of his new books together sitting next to each other on the settee with the book held so both could read. Occasionally they would discuss a page before turning to the next one. Hoss and Joe were playing checkers as Jon played with his new toy soldiers on the table in front of the fireplace. Ben waited for the winner of the checkers match because he had pledged to play the winner of the best of three contest between his two youngest sons.

The peacefulness of the day was shattered by a knock on the door. Ben went to answer as the others all went on alert. It was very unusual to have anyone at their door on Christmas day. Ben moved to the credenza and pulled his pistol from his holster before pulling the door open. It was Clem which was an even bigger surprise than having a knock on the door.

“I’m real sorry to bother you on this day, but Roy said you’d want to know. Your cook, Hop Sing has been hurt. He’s at Doctor Martin’s right now, and it doesn’t look good.”

Shocked, Ben could only ask one thing. “What happened?”

“Somebody bushwhacked him at the edge of town. With it being the holiday and all, there weren’t any witnesses. They beat him badly. We figure he has relatives in the Chinese part of town, but we thought you would have a better idea of who to tell there than we would.”

As they talked, Adam was already telling Elaine that he had to go to town. “Why you?”

“I’ve been to Hop Sing’s cousin’s house. He’s the one who made the jewelry for you. I can find it and tell them what’s happened.”

“What if this is a ploy to get you and Pa into town? Maybe I should go.” Joe was suspicious especially after knowing the talk that Reverend Cargill was spreading in town and that he must be very angry with the Cartwrights in general and Adam specifically for thwarting his plans.

“Then maybe I oughta go with ya.” Hoss couldn’t bear to see his family riding into potential danger.

“No, we need to keep someone here with Elaine and Jon. What if this is a ploy to get us away from her? Adam is right. He needs to go tell Hop Sing’s friends and relatives. I’ll go see how Hop Sing is doing. Joe can ride with us to back us up, and Hoss, why don’t you ask Candy to come in the house with you. He’s like a member of the family and a good man to have if you need him.”

In just a short time, Ben was leaving with Adam and Joe. As Adam walked out, Candy slapped him on the shoulder. “Hoss and I’ll take good care of them. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Maybe you could play Jon in a chess match. If Elaine helps him a little, he might give you a good one.” Candy smiled, and as Adam pulled the door closed, he heard the foreman challenge Jon to a match. Adam was relieved when he heard Jon’s enthusiastic agreement to that. It would help keep all of their minds off the trouble in Virginia City. Then Adam remembered that he had not told Elaine what her father had been doing. He had hoped to put that off until the day after Christmas but now realized he would need to do that when he got home. The Christmas holiday joy was shattered beyond repair.

In town, Adam stopped at the doctor’s office to get a quick report before going to see Hop Sing’s relatives. The news from Doctor Martin was ominous.

“He’s bruised and battered all over his body, but what worries me the most are the head injuries. He took at least two hard blows to the head. He isn’t communicating at all even though he occasionally is conscious or at least his eyes are open. He can’t keep anything down. Even sips of water make him nauseated, and the retching is very bad for the head injuries. So for now, I’m not giving him anything. The next day or two are crucial. I think he has bleeding in his brain. If that doesn’t stop, I may have to operate to relieve the pressure. I’ll know more by tonight when I see how his symptoms change.”

“Change?”

“For better or for worse, Ben. The next twelve hours or so are crucial.”

Roy was listening too hoping for a clue to help him in his investigation. “Ben, do you got any idea why they would beat Hop Sing other than this trouble in town about the Chinese miners?”

“He was carrying quite a bit of money. We pay Hop Sing sixty dollars a month, and at Christmas, he gets a month’s salary as a gift. My sons usually give another sixty so Hop Sing was carrying at least one hundred and eighty dollars when he left the Ponderosa today.”

Doctor Martin interjected that no money was found when Hop Sing was undresses for care in the surgery. Then he went back in to see to his patient.

“Would anyone likely have known that?”

“I can’t see how. Anyone who knew was on the ranch and didn’t leave today. Some of his relatives might have known because he gets that amount every year at this time.”

“So there might be others who know too if that’s the pattern?”

Suddenly, all of them knew that Roy was correct. If anyone were asking around, it would be common knowledge that the Cartwrights paid bonuses on Christmas to their employees as well as giving them their month’s salary a week early. As was often the case, being too open with such information could lead to a serious consequence as this probably had. With a somber look, Adam left to inform Hop Sing’s relatives of what had happened. Ben and Joe went in to see Hop Sing.

As Adam rode down the street, Reverend Cargill watched from his hotel window. Things must have happened as he had wished. He had spent the last few days spreading as much damaging information as he could about his daughter and her husband, but he had also asked a lot of questions and gotten quite a lot of information. He had done what he could to increase the tension among the miners by repeatedly referring to the Chinese who took their jobs. Then just the night before as he harangued some men about drinking, he mentioned that if they were sober hardworking men that one of them could get the salary and bonuses that the Cartwrights paid out on Christmas day. His racist rant took their interest as much as his complaints about their drinking did not.

“Even that heathen cook of theirs gets that kind of money. He won’t be celebrating the Lord’s birth like the rest of us. He’ll be taking his money and going into that Chinatown to pay for all sorts of vile things that those yellow heathens do. Just you wait and see at the edge of town tomorrow morning. You’ll see him coming into town like he will own the place soon. He and his kind are taking over. Just wait and see what awful plans they have for you in the new year.”

As expected, there were men in that group smart enough to get all the hints he dropped into his spiel. In his mind it was good that now that heathen cook was no longer in the house with whites. He could not tolerate the thought that they could live under the same roof. He took his Bible and sat in the easy chair in the room as he contemplated other ways that he could be the avenging sword of righteousness. His next campaign would be to discredit a doctor who would treat a Chinese in the same office where good white people came for treatment. Then he planned to find a way to meet Jon Cartwright’s Aunt Julia. It seemed they might have some common interest if his information was correct.

Before leaving town, Adam escorted two of Hop Sing’s cousins to the doctor’s office. Ben told Adam that he and Joe would be staying in town until Hop Sing recovered enough to be moved. Joe had already gotten a room for them at the hotel, and both of them had anticipated that and packed extra clothing. Adam went in to say a few words to Hop Sing. He wasn’t sure he could hear him but had to say it.

“Hop Sing, you have been my friend for thirty years. Please don’t leave our family yet. We need you, and we love you. I love you like a father. Please be well again.” With tears in his eyes then, Adam turned and left without saying anything else to anyone. It was very difficult for him to say such things in front of others, but Hop Sing was so important to him that it overwhelmed his natural reticence. Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes after hearing his heartfelt plea. During the first part of the ride home, Adam thought only of his worry, but then he began to wonder who could have been behind such a vicious attack. It was as if lightning struck when Reverend’s Cargill’s countenance appeared in his mind. It had to be. Adam had no evidence and no proof, but somehow he knew that the racist, vile man who claimed to be a man of God was instead likely the instrument of the devil who had orchestrated this. Adam knew he needed to tell Elaine what her father had been doing, and then question her more about her father. He needed to understand his foe.

*****

Chapter 8

“Adam, you sure about all this?” Hoss trusted Adam with his life, but every now and then, Adam had these theories that seemed to be out on the edge of nowhere. Hoss remembered though how he had accused Bill Enders, and he as well as others wondered how Adam could be so sure he was right. In the end, though, he was right. He had been right about Sam Bryant too, and Hoss still felt guilty about not backing him up that time. He simply wanted reassurance that Adam felt as strongly as he needed to feel.

“Yes and no. No, because I have no evidence. I couldn’t prove even one tiny part of this, but yes, because in my heart, I know it. He’s coming after us, and this was his opening gambit. It will likely get worse after this.”

Sitting on the settee in front of the festive tree and all the other decorations, Elaine felt like she was in another world listening to Adam tell her about her father’s activities and what he suspected her father had done to bring about the attack on Hop Sing. She hated to think it was true, but in her heart, she believed it too. “Hoss, I think Adam is right. My father will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. To him, the end always justifies the means.”

“Huh?”

“He’ll do anything he can to get what he wants.”

“But he’s supposed to be a man of God?”

“Hoss, my father’s God is a mean, nasty God who will take only one hundred and forty-four thousand white people into Heaven. The rest of us will spend eternity in Hell. That’s how he sees the world with mostly evil people, and he hopes that somehow God will notice that he is not with the great majority. It drives him.”

“Only white people?”

“He believes that God has set a hierarchy of people with whites on the top. The ones going to Heaven will be chosen from that group. No one who is not white can go to Heaven by his beliefs no matter what they do.”

“But that’s crazy. Hop Sing is one of the nicest people you would ever meet, and Sarah Winnemucca is just as nice. I met a lot of people who aren’t white and I expect to see a lot of them in Heaven someday.”

“So you are planning to make it to Heaven?”

“I rightly am, Adam, but sometimes I’m not so sure about you.”

The jest and the laughter got them to relax just a bit which was exactly what Adam had been hoping to do. He grinned at Hoss for playing along. Elaine was almost too upset to sleep, but at least that had broken the tension for a bit. They went to bed then as each thought about what kind of thing Cargill could do next to make their lives miserable. It was difficult to think about what he actually wanted to do. He was well on his way to ruining Elaine’s reputation. It would likely take months or even years for people to forget some of the stories he had been telling. They couldn’t challenge him on what he was saying because anyone who checked would find it was the truth. They could claim she was young and desperate, but their friends would already know that was likely the case. Adam hoped that by avoiding town for a while until things calmed down, Elaine might be spared some ugly incidents.

That night as Adam lay in bed next to Elaine, they didn’t make love. They took comfort in the kisses and the caresses, but neither was in the mood to do anything more. Adam pulled Elaine to him and soothed her by rubbing her back softly until he felt her soft breathing on his chest slow into a slow steady rhythm that indicated she was asleep. He was awake for another hour or so thinking about Cargill and what might be done about his activities. Without any plan or even the seed of a plan, Adam fell into a restless sleep.

In town, Ben sat with Hop Sing. He thought it rather warm in the room, and frequently got up to get a drink of water. Finally, one of Hop Sing’s cousins insisted he leave the room and go get some rest. They worried that his constant movement might disturb their cousin’s rest. Once Ben left the room, they discussed the situation in very soft voices wondering if they should say something to the doctor when he next stopped in to check on his patient.

In the morning, they didn’t have to say anything. Joe was there very early asking the doctor to go with him to check on Ben who was feverish and coughing. Doctor Martin had a good idea what it was even before he got in the room to do a quick exam of Ben. It confirmed his suspicions.

“Joe, I have bad news. I think your father has influenza. I’ve had a few cases around town. It’s not too bad this time as everyone seems to recover fully, but it will likely be at least a week before he’s feeling better. It seems to take a week for the disease to run its course.

“Can’t you do anything for him?”

“You’re the one who can do that. He needs lots of cool water for this first day. I’ll have the general store send over some lemon drop candy. They seem to help soothe the throat.”

“I should go over to sit with Hop Sing too.”

“That’s not a good idea. You’ve spent the most time with your father in the last day. I’m afraid you’re going to have to be the one to care for him, and you need to limit your exposure to other people as well. The two of you are quarantined to the hotel, and Ben has to stay in that room. You can go out to use the washroom, but otherwise, I’ll have meals sent up to you. Anything you need, just write a note and leave it outside the door. The hotel staff can bring it to you.”

“We’ll need some clothing and our shaving kits too.”

“I’m certain one of your family will be in town today. They can get you anything that you need. Now I need to get back to Hop Sing. He seemed better this morning, and I’m hoping he’ll be conscious.” Seeing Joe’s look, Paul had to be reassuring. “I’m sure your father will be fine. Hop Sing is a strong man. I’m sure he will be fine too. I’ll send word of any change in his condition.”

Resigned then to being stuck in the hotel but also glad that he would be able to care for his father, Joe began writing a few notes. One was a list of things he thought he would need from home as well as a detailed explanation of everything Doctor Martin had told him. That one he addressed to Hoss or Adam Cartwright. Then he made a list of things he would like from the general store with a note to put it on the Ponderosa tab. Then he wrote a note to Hoss explaining that Reverend Cargill had been seen having dinner and then lunch with Julia. They seemed to be involved in a very serious conversation according to the desk clerk who had given him that information the day before. Joe had wanted to go see Julia to find out what was going on, but now he knew Hoss would have to do it. Because Adam had been in town the day before, Joe assumed Hoss would be the one in town that day. He wished he could tell him in person so he could offer some solace to what would be a troubling revelation for his big brother, but he had to stay at his father’s side. He knew how much his brothers would be upset at not being able to see their father, but he had reassured them as well as he could that Doctor Martin expected him to make a full recovery even if it took a week or more for him to improve markedly.

The weather had warmed significantly melting all the snow that had fallen in the week before Christmas. Instead of icy roads, Hoss had to contend with muddy ones. The trip into town took far longer than usual as a result. When Hoss got all the news about his father and then read the note from Joe about Julia meeting with Reverend Cargill, he didn’t know what to do next. He went to the saloon to grab a beer and think a bit. While he was there, he learned more disturbing news. Reverend Cargill was organizing a miners’ association to oppose all nonwhite miners in Nevada. He also wanted them to push for only whites having the right to own property in the state. The last provision was against all forms of miscegenation. Hoss wondered what that was, but Cosmo told him when he asked.

“It means no white can marry anyone who isn’t white.”

“Well that’s just crazy talk. There are a lot of white men who married Indian women. What would happen to them?”

“Some men asked Cargill that, and he said that the marriages would be dissolved.”

“Well, that’s even crazier. Lots of those folks already got kids. Heck, some of em even got grandkids already.”

“Cargill said it was the only chance those white men had of getting into Heaven. He said they needed to walk away from their heathen wives and their heathen children. I hope you know I was using his words and not mine. I can’t stand the sight of the man and all the hate he spews. Hoss, I’m worried. He’s really getting these men riled up. Now I heard the mines will be hiring again by mid-January, but a lot could happen before they do.”

“Thanks, Cosmo. For the beer and the information. I got some thinking to do, and I gotta go see Hop Sing.”

“Hoss, while you’re out there, if you see Roy, send him here.”

“Why? You got trouble here?”

“No, but I got a few customers that I know are out of work, but they’ve been buying whisky and playing cards yesterday and this morning. I heard one of them paid his tab at Cass’ store too.”

Angry, Hoss leaned over the bar. “Who are they, Cosmo? Which ones are they?”

“Hoss, I’m not going to tell you. It’s Roy’s job. Now send him over here, please. I don’t want to see you get in trouble. Those men belong in jail though. Now calm down and go get Roy.”

It took a moment as Hoss gradually calmed and heard what Cosmo had said as it filtered through his brain. Once he accepted that Cosmo was correct, he turned and surveyed the saloon. He saw a few men looking nervously at him. He looked back and Cosmo nodded.

“Now go get Roy. They won’t be going anywhere when you leave.” Cosmo showed Hoss that he had his shotgun in his hands. Hoss had a grim smile then before he left to find Roy. By the time he and Roy returned, Cosmo was holding his shotgun on three men. “Those are the three, Roy. They’ve been spending a lot of money for unemployed miners. They all wanted to leave as soon as Hoss did. I persuaded them to stay to talk with you.”

“You boys got anything to say?”

Two were somewhat defiant, but the third was a young miner with a pregnant wife. “It wasn’t my idea, Sheriff. They talked me into it. They said it wasn’t right for the Chinaman to have all that money, and we had none. I held the horse. I never touched him. They beat him. There was another one too but he left town with his share of the money.”

“Thank you for the information, but I’m afraid you’re going to jail just like the rest of em.”

“But Sheriff, I only held the horse. They dragged him outta the carriage and beat him.”

“Son, an accomplice is as guilty as the ones who done it. You’re the accomplice. You made a real bad decision. Now boys, we’re a gonna walk on over to the jail. You can make a statement there.”

“How can you charge us with beating a Chinaman? He don’t belong here anyway.”

“Well, now, you see, the law don’t say that. And you didn’t just beat him. You stole his money. That amount could get you a prison term. The law especially don’t cotton to men who commit robbery. Now come along peaceable like so I don’t have to add any more charges.”

When the three men were securely locked up, Hoss went to check on Hop Sing. He could at least visit him to see how he was doing. When he walked into the doctor’s office, he was surprised to hear talking. It was in Chinese, but he was sure he heard Hop Sing’s voice. On entering the room where Paul was treating Hop Sing, Hoss had to grin. His friend was awake and conversing with his cousins. His voice was weak, and he noticeably grimaced as Doctor Martin tightened bandages, but he was going to be all right even if he looked awful with bruises covering his face. He looked up when Hoss entered and did his best to smile with his swollen lips.

“Dadburnit, Hop Sing, you look a sight for sore eyes even if you are a sight.”

“So sorry. Not be there to cook dinner for honorable Hoss who most enjoy my cooking.”

“Now, don’t you worry about that. We still got leftovers. We’ll manage somehow when those are gone. You need to take care of yourself.”

“How your honorable father?”

“Doc could tell you better than me, but Joe says he’s gonna be fine although he’s a mite miserable right now.”

“Please let cousins help you. They send someone to cook and bring laundry to town.”

“Hop Sing, three of the men who did this to you are in jail, and we would be honored to accept your cousins’ help. Now, I want to go to the bank and replace the money you lost.”

“No, I lose money. My fault.”

“That’s not how I see it, and you ain’t in no shape to stop me doing what I think is right. You know my whole family would do the same ifn they could. Now you rest easy. I’ll get some money and be right back.” By the time Hoss returned, he had a grim expression. On the way to the bank and then back, he had endured taunts about his sister-in-law and about Hop Sing. He knew then that Cosmo was correct. Cargill had riled up the miners and they were in a nasty mood. He saw Roy before he left town.

“Roy, I’m worried about what’s gonna happen next. As soon as I can, I’m gonna pick up Hop Sing and bring him back to the ranch. You gonna need any help here?”

“I hope not, Hoss, but I know what you mean. The town is like a powder keg now, and we’re only hoping no one lights the fuse.”

“Except we both know there’s one man who would only be too happy to light that fuse.”

“Yes, and I wish I had some reason to send him packing, but I don’t.”

“Too bad it ain’t against the law to be a miserable lowdown cur.”

Cargill was walking toward them at that point, and Hoss talked loud enough for the Reverend to hear. “Ah, as the brother of the man who took a whore into the family, I could see how you must be upset by all that is happening. Your family is bringing a lot of trouble down on itself. If you would just see the light, all could be well with you and yours. Just send that whore packing, and hire only honest white folks.”

A small crowd had gathered waiting to see what would happen in this confrontation. They were disappointed when Roy encouraged Hoss to leave without saying or doing anything. As Hoss rode out of town, the crowd would have dispersed except now Reverend Cargill had an audience. He craved audiences and began to regale them with stories about cowardice from the Bible as he understood it. No one had thought Hoss Cartwright a coward, but they had just seen him ride away from Cargill’s challenge. It made them wonder. Soon Cargill had exaggerated tales of how his speech had sent Hoss Cartwright running back home. Cargill had a talent for drawing and soon had a caricature of Hoss riding away from his heroic figure as he lambasted whores, sinners, and cowards. He had similar drawings of Adam as a runaway from the law and his daughter as a painted lady. He posted them in saloons all over town. The respectable establishments removed them as soon as he walked out the doors, but the seedier places left them in place noticing how some of their patrons seemed drawn to them. Anything that increased business was a boon so they left them hanging.

*****

Chapter 9

“I tell ya, Adam, I wanted to kill him right there. I don’t think I ever had to hold myself back as much as I did today. First there were those three who done beat on Hop Sing and stole his money. Then that Cargill insulting Elaine and just being downright nasty.”

“But Pa’s going to be all right?”

“Yeah, Doc Martin says a week for the worst of it and then maybe two or three weeks of taking it easy until he gets his strength back. Dadburnit, Adam, I wanted to see if we could take Pa home here, but Doc says not for a while yet, maybe a week even. We can bring Hop Sing home though tomorrow if he keeps doing all right.”

“The carriage ride wouldn’t be too much for him?”

“Doc said to bring a wagon and put a mattress in the back for him so he can lay out flat. Said he’d be more comfortable that way. Two of his cousins would come with him. That way they can do the cooking and such but still have time to take care of Hop Sing. Oh, and I went to the bank and replaced the money that they stole from him.”

“Thank you. I was thinking we should do that, so I’m glad you did. Now, if you’re ready, we’ve got more bad news. The thaw softened the slope up at the timber camp and a pile of logs crashed into the flume. I’ve got to go up there and help. I might be gone for a few days until I get everything ready to go again. At least that’s one we know Cargill didn’t do unless he can control the weather.”

“Something else musta gone wrong. When I got back, I saw Candy and some of the men coming in looking all muddy.”

“Yes, the thaw broke some of the ice on the creek in the lower pasture. It made an ice dam and flooded the area. A bunch of cows got caught in the mess, and Candy led a group out there to get them out of the mud. He said the water is flowing around the ice jam now so it won’t get any worse for the time being. Whenever it freezes up again, I’ll go set some charges and blow it apart so it doesn’t create a problem with the next thaw.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t head up to the timber camp already.”

“I would have, but with Pa in town, I had some contracts to read over and sign. They’re on the desk. I’ll need you to post them tomorrow. Hopefully, you can bring Hop Sing back here because that would help. Joe was supposed to be in Carson City on Friday to finish up a horse contract. I’ll have to do that too, so I’ll go there directly from the timber camp. You and Candy will have to handle things here.”

Dinner was fairly quiet. They had to explain to Jon that Grandpa was sick and had to stay in town until he felt better. They already told him the day before that Hop Sing had gotten hurt and would have to stay in town until he felt better. Jon asked about Uncle Joe and was told he was taking care of his grandfather.

“Papa, I don’t think you should go to town. People go to town and don’t come home again. I want you to come home.”

“Well, I won’t be going to town. I have to go up to the timber camp to help fix a flume.”

“What’s a flume?”

Explaining what a flume was and how it worked got Jon’s mind off of the trouble the family was experiencing. He still didn’t know that his other grandfather was in town and making trouble. He knew there was more going on because he got sent from the room fairly frequently lately or he noticed the adults talking in whispers so that he wouldn’t hear the conversation. He was getting fairly worried about his family.

“Dadburnit, I forgot I got a list from Joe of things he wanted from home here. I got the list of stuff he wanted from Cass’ store sent over to him, but I plumb forgot about this list til now. Oh heck, I wasn’t gonna be able to bring it to him before tomorrow anyway.” As Hoss unfolded the list, the note to him from Joe fell to the floor. He picked it up and read it before turning to Adam. “Now what do you suppose he’s up to? Joe says Cargill had lunch and dinner with Julia, and they seemed real friendly.”

“Uncle Hoss, I thought you said that Miss Julia was your gal?”

“I thought so too, little man. I thought so too.”

Realizing that Jon was getting too involved in the family discussion of problems with Cargill, Adam had to distract him. “Jon, I’m going to be gone for a few days so how about a game of chess tonight and some reading. I have to do enough to take care of the nights I’ll be gone.”

“Aw, you just done that so you don’t have to help clean up and do the dishes.”

“Well, I am the older, smarter brother.”

“You keep talking like that, and I may have to take you outside and dunk you in a horse trough.”

“You’d have to catch me first.”

“Won’t be too hard with that big head of yours.”

Jon was laughing because he could tell they were teasing each other. Their grins belied their taunts and threats. Soon he and his father were setting up the chessboard. Adam looked up over Jon’s head to see Elaine smiling at him. He nodded and smiled back. By the time Jon went to bed, Adam assumed he had forgotten all about the problems that had been plaguing the family. He saw how forlorn Hoss looked though and motioned to the stairs with his head. Elaine understood that he wanted a moment alone with his brother, and she headed up to their bedroom. She hoped it wouldn’t take too long because she wanted some of Adam’s time as well. With Ben sick in town and Joe there to care for him, a lot had been thrust on Adam’s shoulders. She wondered what he wanted to say to Hoss but knew Adam would tell her when he got to their room.

“Hoss, I’m sorry this mess had grabbed you too. Maybe Julia’s meeting with Cargill is only social. She is a nice woman and perhaps wanted to be kindly toward him.”

“Thanks for trying, Adam, but we both know that the two of them together isn’t good. She’s fallen under his spell or she’s helping him with something, or maybe he’s helping her. Don’t matter that much, I guess. It’s probably all over between us. I knew something was wrong all along. All this time and she never seems to want to talk about the future. I’m wondering now if she was dragging me along for some reason only she knows.”

Remembering then what Barbara had often said about her sister being single-minded in pursuit of whatever she wanted, Adam was worried too. The only connection he could see was Jon. He wondered if Julia had stuck it out with Hoss to make sure she always had access to Jon. He knew they would know soon enough. “If she’s joined forces with Cargill, we’ll know soon enough. He isn’t known for subtlety. He’ll wallop us again with something.”

“We can’t do anything about it tonight. Let’s get some sleep. We got a lot to do tomorrow. I got all that stuff to bring to Joe, and I’m gonna stop in to see Julia too. I want to know exactly where I stand with her, and I want to know what she and Cargill have been discussing.”

“Don’t push too hard, Hoss. Cargill is up to enough without egging him on.”

“I know. He’s just crazy mad at you and Elaine. Ever wonder what makes him that way?”

“He’s a fanatic. Fanatics get so wrapped up in what their goal is that they forget about everything else. He’s trying so hard to get to Heaven that he forgot the only way to get there. His behavior is anything but what would get him a place he so desperately wants. He should show his faith by following God’s rules instead of trying to get other people to follow his rules.”

“His rules seem to be that everybody ought to do what he says.”

“Yes, fanaticism and that kind of desire for absolute power do seem to go together. Crazy or not, though, he’s dangerous. We all need to be on alert.”

“Yeah, I was thinking that with both of us gone tomorrow, I’d ask Candy to hang around here with one of the hands. Can’t hurt to be careful.”

With that, the two brothers finished securing the house for the night and headed up to bed. Hoss dropped into a troubled sleep, but Adam had someone to offer comfort to him. He slipped into bed in the darkened room thinking that Elaine had gone to sleep but instead found that she had been waiting for him.

“You’re going to be gone for a few days. I was wondering if you needed your sleep or if you thought perhaps a little cuddling and snuggling were in order?”

Pressing his body into hers, Adam loved the feel of her soft warmth against his hard body. She enjoyed the same sensation. “Sweetheart, if we snuggle and cuddle like this, there’s going to be a whole lot more happening that just that.”

“I was counting on that, cowboy. Like I said, you’re going to be gone for a few nights. You told Jon you had to do enough to hold him through the nights you were going to be gone. I could say the same except I’m not interested in chess or reading a book right about now.”

As Elaine had talked, Adam’s hands had been roaming and his lips had been moving across her neck and to her upper chest. When she finished her request for attention, he moved closer to her. “Now, no more talking.” Elaine kissed him then plunging her tongue into his mouth surprising him at first, but soon their tongues were dueling as his hand continued to caress her. When they finished their lovemaking, he slipped from the bed making her wonder what was wrong. She didn’t have to worry for long. She heard water splashing into the basin and he was back. Adam pulled the covers from her and began bathing her. When she felt he had done enough of that, she reached for the cloth and dipped it in the basin of water on the table next to the bed. She washed him then gently.

“Sweetheart, if you do any more of that, we’re going to have to have another session of loving.” Elaine smiled and tossed the cloth into the basin. “We can sleep now. You need your rest.”

Slipping into bed then, Adam pulled the covers up to their shoulders as Elaine spooned into him. They snuggled down into the warmth of the bed and were just falling asleep when Jon’s screams woke them. Adam quickly grabbed his robe and rushed to his son’s room next door. Jon was sitting up in bed staring wild-eyed at the darkness. Adam sat beside him and embraced him as he soothed him by rubbing his back and talking softly to him. Gradually Jon relaxed. Hoss and Elaine were standing in the doorway by then.

“It’s all right. He had a bad dream. Elaine, you can go back to bed. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Hoss, it’s all right.”

“Papa, I dreamed you were hurt really bad and Mama was hurt real bad too. You won’t leave me, will you? I dreamed I was all alone because everybody left.”

“I won’t leave you like that. You’ll always have me. Now, how about if you lie down and try to sleep again? I’ll stay her with you.”

“Don’t leave me, Papa, please?”

“I won’t leave you. Now try to sleep, please?” Adam, with an arm wrapped around Jon, guided them both down to the pillow. After pulling a blanket up over Jon, Adam stayed there until he heard Jon’s breathing soften and become steady. He thought he ought to stay just a bit longer to make sure Jon was in a deep and restful sleep. That’s how Elaine found them the next morning. She had to awaken Adam because he needed to get up to the timber camp. Jon awakened too and was surprised to see his father next to him.

“Did you sleep with me all night?”

“Yes, I guess so. I slept well. How about you?”

“Me too, Papa. I slept well. Thank you, Papa.”

“Now I do need to get going. I’ll see you at the breakfast table. That is, if we have any breakfast.” Looking hopefully at Elaine, Adam saw her smile.

“It’s pretty basic. I made scrambled eggs, biscuits, and bacon. There’s coffee too, but it might be a bit bitter. I don’t know how Hop Sing makes such delicious coffee.”

“Thank you. I’ll be down as soon as I shave.”

Within an hour, Adam and Hoss were on their way. Adam was thinking about what Cargill might do next, and Hoss went to town and found out. Hoss made a quick trip to the hotel to check on his father. Joe looked exhausted when he opened the door to the room.

“Sorry, Hoss, Doc says I can’t let anybody in because if they’re exposed, they have to stay here too.”

“How’s Pa?” But the coughing that came from the room was answer enough.

“The fever is up but not too bad. He coughs like that constantly if I don’t keep him sipping some hot tea. Neither of us is getting much rest. Doc says another day of this and he should start improving although it will be slow. He thinks Pa won’t be ready to go home for a week.”

“You need anything else?”

“Just some help, and nobody can do that. Thanks for all the stuff you had sent over here. You got my note?”

“Yeah, and Adam and me talked about it some. I’m gonna go talk to her about it, but now I ought to leave you alone. I got more errands to run.”

“Bye Hoss. Tell everyone at home that things seem to be all right here. Nothing more to worry about.”

Hoss nodded without telling Joe about the trouble with the timber camp. Next he stopped at Doctor Martin’s where he was relieved to find out that Hop Sing was ready to go home. With the cousins’ help, Hoss got Hop Sing into the wagon, and then headed to the general store to pick up supplies. He had left a list with them. On the way to town, he had decided that he didn’t have time that day to talk with Julia. He planned to be back in town the next day when he hoped to confront her and find out what was going on. He didn’t have to wait that long. Roy stopped him as he was about to drive the wagon out of town.

*****

Chapter 10

“Hoss, is Adam at home?”

“No, he isn’t Roy. What’s up?”

“I got a notice of a legal action that I have to get to Adam. Where is he?”

“He went up to the timber camp. A flume got busted, and he needs to get it fixed before the ground freezes up again. What kind of legal action?”

“Well, you ain’t a gonna like this, but Julia is petitioning for custody of Jonathan. She says that Adam isn’t a fit parent.”

“Well, that’s just crazy talk. Adam’s the best father any boy could have. Besides now that he married Elaine, Jon’s got a new mama too.”

“That’s part of her complaint. She says Adam showed a pattern of behavior with ladies in fancy houses, and now he brought one into his house exposing his young son to that too.”

“Oh, Roy, that’s a bunch of malarkey. Who’d believe any of that anyway?”

“Now you know I don’t, and none of your friends do, but Hoss, this town is getting more stirred up all the time. Who knows what would happen if this got to a judge? Lots of people are mad at the Cartwrights now. They think you are all on the Chinese side in this dispute. Seeing you giving a ride to three Chinese out to your place is only gonna make that talk even stronger. That’s another part of the complaint. It says that Jonathan’s mother was a good Christian, and now he’s exposed to heathen influences because Hop Sing is your cook.”

“Roy, you know who put her up to this filling her head with all this nonsense. I ain’t got time now, but I’m coming back into town tomorrow to have a talk with her. When is this hearing supposed to be?”

“As soon as the circuit judge makes his stop here. He’s in Carson now, so I expect him this week.”

“Dadburnit, I’ll have to send somebody up to the timber camp to tell Adam. He was supposed to go to Carson when he finished there so I guess I’ll have to do that. This is just such a bad time with Pa sick, Joe quarantined with him, and then this had to happen to Hop Sing.”

“Hoss, I got more bad news. The three who were charged with that got bailed out this morning by Reverend Cargill. He hired a lawyer to defend them too.”

“That’s just great. Roy, I knew I shoulda pounded their heads together yesterday. They might get away with this now.”

“I think they’ll probably leave town. They rent their homes and all three are out of work. My guess is they’ll head to another mining town.”

“Well, I got enough of a load to carry now. I’ll be heading home. I’m purty darn sure Adam will be in to see you in a couple of days. Could you hand over any legal papers on this to our lawyer? I’ll stop in and see him tomorrow.”

“I can do that, Hoss, and I’m real sorry to have to add to the problems all of you got right now.” With that, Roy raised his hand in farewell as Hoss drove the wagon from town. Hop Sing and his cousins had heard it all, and soon were talking in Chinese wondering if there was anything that they could do.

From his hotel window, Joe watched. At first, he had been quite relieved to see Hop Sing in the wagon and presumably headed home. Then he saw Roy hail Hoss and talk with him. Even from the distance of the hotel across the street, Joe could see how angry Hoss got as Roy talked with him. It was very difficult sitting in this hotel room knowing his family was facing lots of trouble and not being able to do anything about it. Then Ben coughed, and Joe had to go to him to give him sips of water to soothe his throat. He knew that soon there would be another pot of tea or cup of broth outside the door for him. There would be a knock, and when he opened the door, it would be there. He hadn’t seen anyone else except Hoss at the door and the doctor. With cases of influenza showing up all over the city, there weren’t many visits by the doctor either who had to deal with patients in a lot worse shape than his father who actually seemed a bit better even though the fever was up. His cough was productive now instead of the dry hacking cough that had caused him so much pain. Joe sat at the side of the bed and held a spoonful of water to his father’s lips. As Ben realized it was there, he opened his mouth without opening his eyes. It took too much effort to do both. Joe spooned in nearly half of the cup of water before his father shook his head slightly and opened his eyes. In a terribly hoarse and scratchy voice, he asked Joe what was happening with the family. Joe had no answers and told him why. They had done this several times that day already. His father’s fever made it too difficult for him to think and remember from one period of wakefulness to the next. Ben remembered that Cargill was there telling tales about Elaine and that Hop Sing had been hurt, but he didn’t know all the things that had happened since then.

“I saw Hoss, Pa. He’s taking Hop Sing home. He’s going to be all right. I saw two of his cousins in the wagon too so I’m guessing they’ll be helping out.”

“Good. Good. I’m so tired, Joe. I think I’ll sleep a little.”

After pulling the covers up to his father’s shoulders, Joe touched him and realized that he was sweating a great deal. He assumed that was a good sign and meant that the fever was breaking. He sat back in the chair by the window to watch the world go by. He had a lot of questions but no one was there to answer any of them.

Up at the timber camp, Adam had found more problems than he had anticipated. The loggers had heard rumors that the Cartwrights were in financial trouble and couldn’t pay salaries as promised. “Jake, we’ve been through this before. The only reason we wouldn’t be able to pay salaries is if the men stop working. Then we wouldn’t meet our contracts, which would create a financial problem. Even then, you know we would pay in scrip which would be good at every store and other establishment in town because everyone of them would know it was only a temporary problem.”

“I know that, Adam, but you need to convince the men of that, and you know there’s really only one way.”

“Yeah, I know. Who’s the biggest mouth on this one?”

“Timber Jack.”

Groaning, Adam looked over at Jake who had a slight grin. “You don’t have to be so amused that the biggest man in camp is the one I have to tackle.”

“Just know that he only swings with his right. He’s never learned to fight proper cause he’s so big. He’s got no footwork at all and leaves himself wide open. Usually he wins because he can just toss the other guy around. Don’t let him grab you though. He might break a rib if he gets his arms around you.”

“Thanks. You’re always such a big help. I’m wondering why we keep you on as the boss up here.”

“Cause anybody else woulda just let you go into it blind and get your sorry butt whupped proper. Now go out there and straighten this mess out like a bull of the woods ought to.”

After some yelling and hollering, there was a fight that left both men sore, but Timber Jack’s sore spot was going to last a lot longer than any that Adam had. Adam walked over to the man he had defeated and offered him a tin cup. Timber Jack was going to refuse until he got a whiff of it. Then he gratefully accepted the cup and downed it in one gulp.

“That was right mean what you did.”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Guess I shoulda expected it though after I near squeezed the air oughta you.”

“Yeah, you should have.”

“Still, it ain’t that offen that a man wins a fight by kicking back like that right into a man’s privates. Dang, it even hurts to say it.”

“Yeah, that’s true too.”

“Course I woulda probly broke some of your ribs ifn you hadn’t.”

“Yeah, you came close as it was.”

“Nice of you to give me some whiskey to ease the pain.”

“I told Jake you can have another belt with dinner. It ought to help you sleep tonight.”

“I won’t make no more trouble for ya. It was just that I heard that in town when I was getting supplies, and I didn’t have no money for a drink, and I got kinda ornery about it all.”

“We have an allowance in the budget for whiskey.”

“Yeah, but we kinda overdid it on Christmas and none of us was fit to work the next day. Jake was mad, and didn’t put any on the supply list when he sent me to town. I didn’t know it until I was loading up, and there wasn’t none there.”

“I’ll talk to Jake about that. Now, you think you can get up and get some work done today, or do you need the afternoon off?”

“I ain’t no durn girl. Course I can work.” Timber Jack stood then and grimaced. “Course walking might be a might uncomfortable for a while. Dang, you got quite a kick.”

Chuckling then, Adam walked with his former opponent to the site of the flume that needed repair. Inside though, he was fuming. Obviously, Cargill was targeting the whole family and not just his daughter and her husband. Once he got a look at the damaged flume, he knew he wouldn’t be able to head home for at least two days. He started giving instructions to the men on what to do next to get the site ready for the repairs that needed to be done. Then he set some other men on cutting the timbers they would need and barking some logs for supports. He sent a third crew to load a sledge with rocks that they could use to create a foundation for some of the weaker areas of the slope. He planned to set posts down as deep as he could and then pile rocks above and below each bulwark so that the slope would be stabilized. Once that was done, the flume could be rebuilt over the solid foundation. By late in the day, they had begun setting the posts when a rider came in with a message for Adam from Hoss.

“Damn!”

“Trouble, boss?”

“The same man who started the rumors that caused the trouble here has stirred up even more trouble for me. I can’t go take care of it though until I get this mess straightened out.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“He’s stirring up people against the Chinese and got Hop Sing beaten and robbed. Now he’s got Barbara’s sister in court claiming I’m not a fit parent for my son.”

“That’s a shame about Hop Sing. He sent up some nice food for our Christmas. He’s always doing stuff like that.” A little reluctantly, Jake mentioned another thing that they had heard. “Timber Jack said he heard stories about your wife too.”

“They’re true, Jake, but it’s all in her past. Lots of men up here know what it’s like to have a past they’d rather not remember.”

“Yeah, and we’re grateful the Cartwrights never held it against any of us. I’ll let the men know what’s going on. You need any help from us, you know we’ll be there for you.”

“Thanks, Jake, that means a lot, but I don’t know how anyone can help me. Reverend Cargill is Elaine’s father.”

Work progressed as expected, and a very dirty, tired, and sore Adam arrived home very late two days later. Jon was already in bed when Hoss heard a horse ride in. Hoping it was Adam and not more trouble, he went outside and was relieved to see his brother walking into the stable with Sport. Inside the stable, Adam began unsaddling his horse grunting with the pain of every movement. Hoss got there and had to ask what was wrong.

“First of all, I had to be the bull of the woods with Timber Jack.”

“Why? I thought that all got sorted out last time.”

“Well, someone was spreading tales in town that we couldn’t meet our payroll. You can guess who that was, but I think we both know.”

“Well, you must have won that fight, but that was at least two days ago. Why are you still so hurting?”

“My boots were muddy, and when I was up on the flume today finishing up, I fell off. Luckily the ground is still soft but I slid down the slope and tumbled into a tree. Gave the men quite a good laugh after they found out I hadn’t killed myself.”

“Go on inside. I’ll take good care of Sport.”

Adam blew out a breath, which made him grimace, and then nodded. “Thank you.”

By the time he began walking to the house, Elaine had grabbed a shawl and come outside. She stepped up to kiss him, but it was brief. He was scruffy, dirty, and smelled like he had been working without a chance to bathe. He looked down at her and smiled softly.

“I need a bath and a shave. Then I can greet you properly.”

“Go right into the washroom. I’ll get some water heating, and I’ll get towels and your robe. Hop Sing is back, but he’s resting in the guest room. His cousins are handling things, but their English is very limited.”

“Send one into the washroom. I’ll tell him what I need.”

“You can speak Chinese?”

“Enough to tell them the basics. Hop Sing has taught us a few words over the years. There are a few that Pa would rather we not use, but most of them are for things like hot water and such.”

Soon Adam was soaking in a tub of warm water. Elaine had been shocked to see the bruises and abrasions on him. She waited until he was leaning back in the soapy water before she asked him what happened so he told her the whole story. She sighed.

“So my father almost got you killed.”

“Timber Jack wouldn’t have killed me. Well, at least not on purpose. The worst of the bruises and such happened when I fell. I was in a hurry and should have been more careful than I was.”

“And that is my father’s fault. You wouldn’t have been so anxious to get going if he hadn’t gotten Julia to file that petition.”

“Enough of that. I’ve been dreaming about a sweet homecoming with my wife, and I don’t want to talk about your father and ruin that. Now, do you suppose you could help me wash my back and my hair?”

Smiling at that invitation, Elaine grabbed the soap and started lathering up her hands as Adam leaned forward. She gently washed his back and neck before sliding her hands around and down his chest. Then she washed his hair using a pitcher of water to rinse the soap from it. Adam looked up and smiled at her before sinking back down into the warm water. “That was the best bath I’ve ever had.”

Soon after standing and being dried off by his wife, Adam slipped into his robe. In the kitchen, the two grinning cousins had a sandwich and cup of coffee ready for him. Adam gave them his thanks before gulping down the sandwich. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast early that morning. The next morning, he was stiff and sore, but was able to make love with his wife before they had to get up. Jon was thrilled that his father was home, and then dismayed when he found out that Adam and Elaine had to go to town.

“We’ll be back by dinner. Then tonight maybe we can read, or sing, or play chess?”

“Could we do all of those?”

“Maybe, son, maybe. Now give me a hug.” Then Adam and Elaine headed out to Virginia City with Hoss who would be going on to Carson City after they met with Roy and with their attorney.

*****

Chapter 11

“What do you mean you don’t know what’s going on?”

“Pa, I’ve been quarantined here with you. I took care of you since you got sick. I can’t go out and talk to anyone, and nobody can come here and talk with me. I’m in the dark as to what’s going on.”

“But you said you saw Adam and Elaine walking with our attorney?”

“Yes, and it looked like they had some serious talking to do.”

“Did you see Hoss?”

“I saw him walk by earlier. He looked downright angry. I have no idea why. Then I saw him mount up and ride off but not toward home. I haven’t seen Adam or Hoss in a couple of days. Doc said he told Hoss that you were getting better, but it would be two more days before he would release us from quarantine. He still thinks I might get it. Then we’d be here for another week. I don’t know why Adam hasn’t stopped by.”

“Help me get dressed. We’re going out there to find out what’s going on.”

“Pa, we can’t. You could infect people with influenza. Do you really think you would be helping Adam by exposing him to this?”

“Of course I wouldn’t be helping by exposing him, but I could keep my distance.”

“Pa, we don’t even know how it’s spread. All we know is when people have a lot of contact with people who are sick, there’s a good chance they might get sick too. You need to stay here for two more days. I know it’s difficult. I’ve been here with you the whole time. We just have to trust that Adam and Hoss can handle things.”

“But Cargill is trying to make things miserable for Adam.”

“I know that. I’ve been watching him and keeping track of who he’s been meeting, talking to, and walking with. I got a pretty good view of things from the window here, and he doesn’t have any idea he’s being watched. I saw him talking with three guys and then later Roy arrested those three. I have to think they must be the ones who beat up Hop Sing. I saw him meet Julia, and I sent a note to Hoss to tell him that. He’s been meeting with a lot of miners too. I’ve kept track of when and who for each of those that I saw.”

Before he could respond, Ben had another coughing spell. It was what convinced him that his youngest son was correct. He needed to stay in this room, but now he and Joe could work together on this project. He hoped it would help Roy build a case against Cargill for some of the things he had caused to happen or things that would happen because of his activities. There was a knock on the door, and their midday meal was delivered. The two men sat by the window eating their lunch and watching for any sign of Cargill.

Before riding to Carson, Hoss had stopped by to see Julia. It was long overdue in his mind. She didn’t want to let him in the house, but he said if she didn’t, he’d call her out on her porch. Not wanting her neighbors to hear, Julia allowed him to enter.

“Why are you trying to do this to Adam and Jon?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do. My sister would be appalled to know that her son is being raised by a common painted woman. She made her living by being with men, Hoss. How could Adam ever think of being with her. He’s lost whatever little good sense and morality he had. Jon would be much better off with me living in a proper Christian home.”

“When did you decide to sit in judgment of other people? You hardly know Elaine, and you don’t know what she’s been through. After meeting her father, I can see how she ran away from home. She was too young though and got herself in a jam. Happens to lots of folks and then they work their way out sometimes. She did.”

“She can’t change her past. She’s a sinner and shouldn’t be in charge of a young boy.”

“She isn’t. We all are. Adam’s the father, but we all help out. Jon has more attention than most boys his age. He’s got a father and a family who love him dearly and protect him.”

“But who’s protecting his soul?”

“You’ve been talking to Cargill. I know. He’s twisted your thoughts. Ifn you was thinking straight, you’d know better than this.”

“Hoss, I know you want to court me. If I said yes and we got married, we could take care of Jon. You’d make a great father.”

“You think you can bribe me to turn on my brother and my nephew. I thought I knew you, but I guess I didn’t. You’ll see me in court. I’ll be the one standing by Adam and Jon backing up their right to be a family with Elaine too.”

“You don’t want to court me?”

“No, I reckon I don’t. Here all this time I thought I’d be happy if you said I could court you, but all it does now is turn my stomach. I got business to take care of so I’ll be taking my leave. Maybe you ought to go see our minister and ask how God can forgive you for what you’re doing.”

“I’m doing God’s work.”

“You’re doing somebody’s work but it surely ain’t His. I’m thinking you gotta look a heck of a lot lower for the one you’re working for.” Hoss put on his hat and walked out of her house never looking back. He met with Adam and Elaine before heading to Carson City.

Later, in the courthouse, Adam and Elaine met with the judge. Their lawyer was at their side but the judge had asked for an informal conference. He was the same judge who had overturned Adam’s conviction for murder when he had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death only a year earlier.

“You do seem to have a habit of getting yourself into some tight spots. Now I remember both of you well. I saw nothing in that hearing to suggest that you weren’t responsible people, but I have to have a hearing on this petition. Now, it claims some outlandish things in here. It says for one that you are exposing your son to heathen practices.”

“We attend church services here in Virginia City regularly. I can bring in the minister to verify that if I have to. We have a Chinese cook who has been with the family since I was a boy.”

“I assumed as much. Now, it also says that you have continued your less than savory activities involving painted ladies in fancy houses.”

“Your Honor, I think we made it clear what kind of job Elaine took to survive. She left that life to be with me. I love her, and we married a few days before Christmas. She is my wife, and now she’s my son’s stepmother. Nothing immoral has happened.”

“I know this next question is intrusive, but I have to ask. It may come up in the hearing. Were the two of you having marital relations before you married?”

“No, we were not. I’ll swear to that on a Bible.”

“No need. I can tell you’re telling the truth. After all the years I’ve spent in courtrooms, I can usually tell, and I learned a lot about you at our previous meeting. I can’t see any evidence that anything has changed. Now tell me why you think this petition has been filed against you.”

Adam looked over at his lawyer who nodded. He couldn’t see any reason not to tell the judge what had been happening. After about a half hour, Adam and Elaine finished telling the story.

“So, it’s not over yet. If I rule on your behalf, he’ll still be trying to make trouble for you?”

After Adam nodded, the judge shrugged. “Very well. We’ll take things as they come. The formal hearing will be tomorrow morning. Please bring your son here.” He noted Adam’s stiffening and his stony demeanor. “Don’t worry. I won’t let him be exposed to any ugliness, but I should talk with him. He trusts me I think. We need to do this according to the letter of the law. Once I’ve talked with him, he and his stepmother can leave the courtroom and wait for you someplace. There is a place where they could safely go, isn’t there?” The lawyer volunteered the law office, so all was settled in that regard.

As Adam settled legal matters in Virginia City, Hoss saw to another problem in Carson City. He was there to finish up some work on horse contracts that Joe had negotiated, but instead he saw the three men who had beaten Hop Sing. They were sitting at the stage station. Hoss asked someone who said the connecting stage heading to Reno wouldn’t be there until afternoon. He walked rapidly to the sheriff’s office and explained that three men had jumped bail and were apparently fleeing the jurisdiction. With a quick telegram to Virginia City, the sheriff headed over to the stage depot with Hoss and a deputy. The three men knew immediately that they were in more trouble and didn’t even resist. Once they were locked up and the answer to the telegram came from Sheriff Roy Coffee in Virginia City, the sheriff looked over at Hoss as they sat and drank bitter jailhouse coffee that had been heating for hours.

“You know they’re never gonna be convicted for beating a Chinaman?”

“I know. Pretty tough to get a jury of white men to be unanimous on that, but I can hope.”

“Now that robbery charge is likely to stick. Not even the most racist white juror is going to be willing to ignore robbery, I think.”

“What we really need out of those three is for them to tell us who put em up to it. Not one of em seems smart enough to have planned this all out including the running away.”

“Men like that tend to stick together. Going to be difficult to get one to break.”

“How about trying to get them to break together?”

“Now how would we do that?”

“Well, you could tell em that you’ll drop the assault charge and only charge em with robbery if they tell you who put em up to the beating.”

“You know, I heard your Pa was very smart, and I heard your older brother is really smart. I met your younger brother and he’s pretty clever, but you got a great mind on you too. We drop the charge we could never get a conviction on in order to get information on who’s behind the trouble. That’s darn near brilliant. I got to check with the judge on that, but it sounds promising. I’ll send a wire soon as I can.”

“Anything wrong with right now?”

“Someone has to watch the jail with three prisoners in back. My deputies all have duties in the morning and I hold down the office.”

“I could watch the office so you could send that wire.”

Pulling out a drawer and tossing a badge on the desk, the sheriff smiled. “Pin that on, and agree to take those three back to Virginia City for me, and you got a deal.”

“I got some business to do in town later today.”

“Not a problem. As a special deputy, you only have to watch the office for the next few minutes, and then pick those three up tomorrow and head back on the stage with em. The Virginia City stage is an early one.”

Nodding, Hoss picked up the badge and pinned it to his shirt. The sheriff left to send another wire to Virginia City to see if the judge would agree that one charge could be dropped if the accused would give information on who had encouraged them to commit the crimes. The schemes that Cargill had set in motion were beginning to unravel, but he had no idea that it was so. His first big surprise was the next day in court.

That night, after Jon was in bed, Hoss sat talking with Adam and Elaine. He had arrived home only minutes before. He explained he would have been home sooner as signing the contracts had taken only a short time, but then he had to take the three prisoners to Roy before he could come home.

“Boy, they was singing like birds when I left. They couldn’t talk fast enough to tell Roy all that Cargill has been doing. And with the notebook Joe was keeping, Roy thinks he may have enough of a case to at least order him to leave town. He might even be able to have him charged with inciting mayhem. He said he’d talk to the judge tomorrow.”

“Wait a minute, what notebook?”

“Adam, Joe’s been watching out that hotel room window. He has a record of everyone he’s seen with Cargill. The three men who roughed up Hop Sing met with him just before they left town. It backs up their story that Cargill gave em the money and told them what to do.”

Adam was surprised and pleased. “So Joe’s been watching and taking notes. The boy is a natural born detective.”

“He is something, ain’t he? Who’d a thought that would help us out so much? Anyway, now that Pa is feeling a might better, he’s watching out the other window. Nobody can see em or hear em. It’s too cold to have the windows open. They watch and keep track and nobody knows.”

“Pa is feeling better then?”

“Yup, I only saw him for a minute, but he’s up outta bed. He’s still coughing some, but it ain’t bad like it used to be.”

Wrapping an arm around Elaine who sat next to him, Adam blew out his breath. “It certainly would be nice to have this over with. Jon needs some quiet time with family, and I think all of us could use the same. We had a good time tonight. He insisted on singing, reading, and playing chess. It was like he wanted to get as much family time as he could.”

“Well, I’m plumb tuckered out. I’m heading to bed. You two gonna turn in soon? We got a big day tomorrow.”

As soon as Adam checked the doors and turned down the lamps, he headed upstairs. Elaine was in bed, but there was still a lamp lit in their room. At first, he thought she might want some intimacy, but the look on her face belied that.

“Adam, this is all my fault. It’s my mistakes that have brought my father here to cause all this trouble. Poor Jon is being targeted now, so maybe I should go away.”

Shocked, Adam stopped in the midst of undressing. He stared at her and then got a bit angry. “You can’t run away. It doesn’t help. I would think you would know that by now.”

“I’m not running away. But maybe if I left for a bit, it would help. Then they would have no case that you’re an unfit father for bringing a whore into your house.”

“Don’t ever talk like that again. You made mistakes. It doesn’t define who you are. You are what you want to be.”

“But my mistakes as you call them have brought so much misery into your family.”

Getting angrier, Adam snapped back. “It’s not my family, it’s our family. Do you love me?”

That one irritated Elaine. “Of course I love you. How could you even ask that question?”

“Well, I love you and I need you. I want you by my side for the rest of my life. Walking away from me won’t help. It’ll hurt me more than anything else that could happen.”

“But what if you lose Jon because of me?”

“I will not lose Jon because of you. Together, we will defeat your father in all of his schemes. The judge knows the truth. Now, no more talk of doing anything drastic to our family.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I only wanted to help.” Elaine started crying then, and Adam moved to her side and wrapped his arms around her.

“I know. I’m on edge with everything that’s been happening. I shouldn’t have snapped at you that way. I’m sorry. You just scared me so much talking that way. Know that I love Jon with my whole heart and my whole soul. But know too that I love you just as much. I don’t love either of you any more than the other, and I will do everything I can to keep both of you safe from harm of any kind. Now can we get some sleep? It’s been a long day, and we need to be in town early tomorrow. Anyway, I need to relax and try to sleep.”

“I do know a good way to relax and fall asleep.”

“Oh, you do, do you?”

“Yes, it involves removing clothing and some strong exertions, but I always sleep very well afterwards. It doesn’t take too long either especially compared to lying in bed and tossing and turning and not being able to sleep.”

“Perhaps you could teach me this method.”

“Oh, I think you are well versed in it. It starts like this.” Elaine began by passionately kissing her husband as she let her gown slip to the floor. Soon the couple were wrapped in each other’s arms and making love. They indeed did fall asleep after that and slept well until dawn.

*****

Chapter 12

“You get everything worked out last night?”

Adam frowned a bit. Sometimes, it was difficult being married and living with his family. He knew they had probably been loud enough the previous night that Hoss knew they had been arguing but not loud enough that he could understand what had been said. “Yes, we’re good.”

“She’s young, and she’s got a lot to learn yet, but she loves you an awful lot.”

“I know.”

“You ain’t the easiest man to be with, I reckon.”

“She knew that before she married me.”

“She loves Jon like he was born to her.”

“Hoss, what is the point of all this?”

“She’s probably gonna have a rough time of it in town today. People may say things, and she might have to hear some of it in court too.”

“I know, and it makes me so angry that it is her father who is the cause of it all.”

“Like as not, he blames you and her as well as the rest of us instead.”

“I don’t know how someone can claim to be a man of God and then do the things he does. I’d think he was crazy except he works out these devilish plots. I’m worried too about what Jon will have to discuss with the judge. He’s been through a lot in the past year. He lost his mother, I was gone for months, and then I brought Elaine here and soon she was his stepmother. He’s adjusted well, but I don’t know how much more he can take.”

“I know you’re probably thinking on how it was for you when you was his age. But Adam, he’s got the whole family here to love him and care for him. It ain’t like it was for you. He still gets to be a boy and have fun. Lots of people have trouble in their lives. It makes em stronger.”

“If that’s the case, then you and I ought to be able to help Atlas with his job.”

“Huh?”

Walking up behind Adam then as he stood and talked with Hoss, Elaine wrapped an arm around her husband’s waist. “He’s always getting these images of things he’s read. Atlas had to hold up the world so he had to be very strong.” She reached up to touch Adam’s cheek. “Hoss is right. We may be tested today, but it will just prove how strong Cartwrights can be as long as the family is right there behind us.”

“I wish it was the whole family. I haven’t told Pa about all this trouble because he would feel awful sitting in that room unable to do anything, or worse, he would leave his hotel room before he’s completely well.”

Hoss nodded. He hadn’t said anything to Joe or their father for the same reasons Adam had said. They had to handle this without Ben or Joe for the time being. Jon was walking down the stairs by then and rubbing his eyes.

“What’s the matter, punkin, didn’t you sleep well last night?”

“No, Mama and Papa were talking so loud they woke me up, and then this morning there was all sorts of noise and I woke up again. Papa, why do you and Mama make so much noise sometimes? It wakes me up.”

Sipping coffee, Hoss nearly spit out the hot brew when he heard Jon’s answer to his question. He just had to send a little dig to Adam for that one. “Yeah, Adam, why do you two make so much noise? It makes it hard for a man to sleep with all that noise, at night, in the morning, and who knows when else. Huh?”

“Yeah, Papa, huh?”

“Jon, your Uncle Hoss thinks he’s being very funny, but it is just being rude. By following his lead, you’re being rude too. It’s not polite to ask a man about what he does in his bedroom.”

Looking over at his uncle with a scowl, Jon faced him down. “Yeah, it’s not polite. Uncle Hoss, you made me ask a bad thing.”

“I’m sorry as all get out, Jon.” With a wink that belied any apparent sincerity of his words, Hoss addressed his brother. “I’m so sorry, Adam, to have invaded your privacy like that. Just keep in mind, that I had cause to say what I did.” That was enough to make Elaine blush, so Hoss suggested they all sit down to breakfast and talk about more pleasant things.

Looking out the window at the brown landscape, Jon had a question. “Papa, is it ever going to snow again?”

“I’m sure it will. Be thankful for the mild weather though. Without it, we’d be stranded here on the ranch and not able to go to town.” Suddenly aware of how much better that might be, Adam shook his head.

Looking over at Adam, Hoss nodded when he caught Adam’s eye. It would be so much better if everyone were trapped by the weather. It was unfortunate that nature wasn’t helping them out with this problem. After breakfast, they bundled themselves into the carriage and headed to town. The ride to town was pleasant as Adam explained to Jon that he would be expected to talk with the judge again.

“Is it the same one?”

“It’s the same one you talked to a few months ago. Yes, he wants to know about how things are at the Ponderosa now with our family. Your Aunt Julia says that we’re not doing a good job with you, so the judge wants to hear from you about that.”

“Am I supposed to tell him everything?”

“Only what he asks you. Why?”

“Well, you said it was rude to talk about what a man does in his bedroom, so I was wondering if I should say anything about you waking me up last night. Hey, you and Mama weren’t having a fight, were you?”

“No, it wasn’t a fight. We were discussing some things too loudly. We’ll try not to do that any more.”

“What were you discussing?”

“Elaine thought that maybe she should go away for a while so that your Aunt Julia wouldn’t be so upset.”

“No. You can’t go away, Mama. I already had one Mama go away. You have to stay.”

Wrapping an arm around Jon and pulling him close, Adam did his best to reassure him. “Your Mama isn’t going anywhere. That’s why I got a little loud last night. I told her that I needed her, and that she couldn’t go away for any reason. You need her too so she’s staying.”

Looking over at Elaine, Jon had a question. “Why did you want to leave?”

Dropping her head before looking up and straight into Jon’s eyes, Elaine was honest. “I did some things I shouldn’t have done when I was younger. They were bad things. I will never do anything like that again, but some people might say something nasty to me because of it. They might even say things to you or to your father. It’s the one big thing that your Aunt Julia holds against your father. She says that he brought a bad woman into the family, and that I shouldn’t be your mother.”

“You are my Mama forever and ever.” Jon pulled away from Adam to hug Elaine and then rest his head against her with his long thin arms wrapped around her. “Please tell me you are never going to leave.”

“I will do everything I can to be able to stay with you and your father. We’re a family now, and no one is going to split us up.”

“And if they try, then we should get Sheriff Roy to throw them in jail.”

Hoss was grinning by then. “Hey, older brother, out of the mouths of babes, huh?”

“Papa, did Uncle Hoss just say I was a baby?”

“No, son, he didn’t. Out of the mouths of babes is just a phrase people use when someone much younger than them is very wise.”

“Oh, good, cause I’m not a baby, dadburnit.”

Hoss nearly fell off the front seat of the carriage with that one, and Adam and Elaine began laughing. As they drove into town, they were all in an upbeat mood. As they passed the hotel, they waved as Hoss slowed the carriage. Very quickly, both sets of curtains were pulled aside, and they got to see Joe and their father standing at the windows smiling down at them. Jon stood and waved again grinning because he was so happy to see his grandfather and his uncle. He had been told that they were all right because he didn’t understand what quarantine meant, and he worried too that he was being told only part of the truth. As he saw them, he was greatly relieved. Soon the group was at the courthouse. Roy was waiting for them and walked in with them.

Inside the courtroom, Julia was waiting but so was Cargill and a number of men from his miners’ association. They were prepared to give a list of reasons why Adam should not be able to keep custody of his son. The judge made all of them wait as he asked Jon to come into his chambers with him. Jon looked back once at Adam who smiled at him and nodded. Bolstered by his father’s confidence, Jon walked with the judge back into his chambers which really was a simple office that he used when he was in town.

In the courtroom, Elaine approached her father. “Father, why are you doing this to hurt a small boy and so many innocent people?”

“It is you who have caused this by your wanton lifestyle and ways.”

“Father, I made a mistake. I was sorry for it right away, but then I had no way out. I wrote to you and asked you to come save me. You never came. Adam was the one who saved me.”

“You cannot be saved after all you have done. Your soul is forever stained and can only be cleansed by the fires of hell itself.”

Adam had wanted to intervene and stop the conversation. Well, actually he wanted to beat the man to a bloody pulp for what he was saying, but Hoss had an iron grip on his arm and wouldn’t let him even stand. Hoss whispered furiously in his ear to keep him quiet too. “Boy, you gotta let this play out. These things needed to be said for a long time now. If Elaine had any doubt that she could be ever make peace with her father, then this is teaching her different. And look at his friends. They’re getting themselves an earful too. Even if Roy don’t arrest him, he’s losing his allies. No real man, no matter how angry he is, wants to follow a loose cannon like him. I got an idea about an offer we can make to these men too to settle things down for a month. You think we can spare about five thousand dollars?”

“You can’t bribe a few hundred men with that amount.”

“You give me the go-ahead, and I think I can. Trust me?”

“You know I trust you with my life, but what do you have in mind?”

“I’ll tell ya later. You need to be ready to give your wife a shoulder to cry on. I’m thinking she’s gonna need one soon. I’ll be back shortly.”

Reverend Cargill had been busy listing all of Elaine’s sins in great detail. Most of the men who had followed him in were slowly leaving the courtroom. He didn’t notice at first until the twenty-five men who had walked in with him had dwindled to about fifteen. He turned and looked at those remaining.

“Your fellow miners do not have enough courage for this fight. Stay here with me to battle sin and corruption.”

One of the miners who had left slipped back in the room and whispered to one of his best friends who asked him if it was true. The man nodded and his friend whispered to another and he to another and soon the whole group had left the courtroom. Only Adam and Elaine were still there sitting across from Reverend Cargill and Julia. None of them had any idea why all the miners had left except that Adam had a sneaking suspicion that Hoss and the money were at the base of it. That was confirmed about a half hour later when Hoss returned. He handed Adam a list of signatures.

“I just paid twenty dollars each to two hundred and fifty miners.”

“Why?” Elaine had no idea what had happened.

“It’s a retainer for their services. I hired them to be ready to go to work in our mine in January or February. They gotta stay out of trouble and not spend the money in a saloon. If they do what I said, I said that then I’d pay em another twenty in February unless they already got a job by then. If they get a job, they can still keep the twenty. I think the new miners association just fell apart.”

Grinning, Adam slapped Hoss on the shoulder. “Now that is five thousand dollars well spent, brother. You sure are a smart one.”

“Aw shucks, Adam, you woulda probably thought of it too except you was so worried about your wife and son. Now you can concentrate on that. I’ll take care of the miners.”

“And Pa when you have to tell him how you just spent our cash reserves for the winter.”

“Dadburnit, Adam, you’ll help me with that, won’t you?”

“Don’t worry. I have some ideas about how we can raise some cash if we need any.”

All three were ignoring Reverend Cargill who sat sullenly with Julia. She too was wondering what was happening, but Cargill whispered to her and she looked more resolute. Hoss noticed and was glad he found out how easily she could be swayed against him to get what she wanted. In his heart, he wished her well, but at the same time, hoped that she would get some consequences for what she was doing. The judge walked back into the courtroom at that time with Jon.

“This is quite a remarkable boy. I thought so when I interviewed him last time, but if anything, he is more impressive now. He has a wonderful understanding of what a family is, and he has done well coping with the loss of his mother and the upheavals in his life over the past year. Now, is there someplace safe he could go while I question the other parties in this case?”

“Your Honor, he can come with me to the jail.”

“Yes, as I understand it, he is a deputy in charge of a Mr. Hop’s chickens. I believe that you meeting with your deputy in your office would be quite acceptable. We should be done here soon.”

After looking to his father and getting reassurance that leaving with Sheriff Coffee was all right with him, Jon took Roy’s hand as they left the courtroom together. The judge waited until the door closed behind them.

“Now, Jon and I had quite a conversation. Although it seems that his parents could work at being a little more circumspect in their activities at night, nothing seems amiss in this family. Mrs. Cartwright, I was well aware of your former occupation. Have you engaged in any such activities since you left that mining camp?” A bit embarrassed, Elaine said no. “Now, you are a very young woman to be parenting a five-year-old except there are many hundreds of women in Nevada who are probably doing the same. Have you felt that you have made the adjustments necessary to being a mother?”

“Yes, Your Honor. It has been difficult, and I made a few mistakes, but I’ve learned to follow my husband’s lead in that, and we make parenting decisions together. I love Jon, and I only want the best for him.”

“What if I told you that the best place for him was with his Aunt Julia?”

“Then my husband and I would have our attorneys do whatever they could to stop you, and I’m sure my father-in-law would be speaking to the state’s governor about stopping that from ever happening.”

“Do not fear, Mrs. Cartwright. I would never do that, but I had to test your commitment to being Jon’s mother. I know how his father feels, but you were not Mrs. Cartwright when last we met in a courtroom. Now, I’m ready to rule. I see no merit in this petition, and I’m dismissing it. Furthermore, I am ruling that any similar petition be summarily rejected in the future. It is a waste of my time, a waste of your time, and a waste of the sheriff’s time. Should any such petition be brought forward in the future, the offending parties will be considered in contempt of court and will receive an immediate sixty-day jail sentence to be served immediately. Do I make myself clear?”

Looking pointedly at Reverend Cargill and Julia, the judge got their affirmative answers before wishing Adam and Elaine well and telling them to take their son home. As the five exited the courtroom, Reverend Cargill stopped and addressed Adam and Elaine.

“This isn’t over. You cannot humiliate me like this and get away with it.”

“You’re the one who did this. Leave us alone. I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect my family.” With that Adam and Elaine left the courthouse and headed to the sheriff’s office to get their son. Hoss followed behind them with an occasional backwards glance to be sure nothing drastic was going to be done by Cargill.

*****

Chapter 13

“Skies are starting to look right ugly. I’m betting we’re gonna get hit with a lot of snow over the next few days.”

Adam and Hoss were harnessing up the carriage. It was the day that Ben was released from his quarantine, but Doctor Martin did not want him riding Buck to get home. The plan was that Joe would bring Buck home, and Adam and Hoss would bring their father home in the carriage. They packed extra blankets, some food, and candles, matches, and an empty can. With the skies looking threatening, they wanted to be ready for anything. Hoss put a small shovel in the boot of the carriage before he and Adam climbed in for the ride to town. Hop Sing’s cousins were in the back. Hop Sing had declared that they were no longer needed and that he was once again the master of the kitchen. No one argued with the cook when he talked like that. Adam dropped the two men off at the Chinese section of town handing each of them an envelope with their salary and a bonus. When Adam and Hoss got to the hotel, they were surprised to see their father already in the lobby. It was still early.

“Pa, didn’t Doc Martin tell ya to sleep in today so you’d be rested for the trip home?”

“I did, Hoss, as well as I could. You can ask Joe. I stayed in bed while he dressed and packed, but I couldn’t sleep any more. I want to get home, and one look at those skies and we knew we should hurry.” Ben smiled as he saw Hoss look longingly at the dining room. “I had them pack some doughnuts and some hotcakes with applesauce wrapped inside. Joe has the basket. Now, can we get going?”

As Hoss and Ben talked, Adam walked in carrying coats for Ben and Joe. It had been a milder day when they had first ridden to town, and they would need the warmer clothing for the trip back.

“Thank you for the coat, older brother. Did you think to bring my gloves?”

“In the pocket, little brother. Now, we really need to get going. I have a son who is very anxious to see his grandpa and his fun uncle.”

“Oh-oh.”

Hoss was the first to see Sheriff Roy Coffee headed their way. He was walking with that deliberate stride he only had when he was on business. Otherwise he would have sauntered up to them as if he hadn’t been looking for them in order to greet them and see them on their way. Roy had news.

“Adam, I got some good news and some bad news. I did order that Reverend Cargill to leave town. The judge didn’t think the word of three criminals was enough to get a conviction for conspiracy especially as Cargill claimed he had only been speaking in possibilities and not encouraging them to do anything in particular. When I talked to them three, I knew they would never be good enough as witnesses. It would have been one of those reasonable doubt cases.”

“So is that the good news or the bad?” Adam was a bit short with Roy but all of them knew why. His frustration level and his anger with what the Reverend had done so far had him on edge.

“Well, yes it is. He’s left town. The sorry thing is, I don’t know how or when that happened. He checked out of the hotel but I can’t figure as how he left town. He didn’t take the stage or the train, and at the livery stables, they’re claiming he didn’t rent nor buy a horse.”

“Well he didn’t just walk out of town!”

“I know that, son, but that means he’s still got somebody helping him. Somebody must a given him a ride out of town. I’d feel a whole sight better ifn I knew where he was.”

Nodding because he would have liked to know the whereabouts of his adversary, Adam thanked Roy for his efforts and climbed into the carriage to drive as Hoss sat in back with their father. Hoss was enjoying the treats his father had thought to provide for him, but Ben had a question.

“Is anyone going to tell me what’s been going on around here with Cargill and the others?” After nearly an hour, Hoss and Adam finished telling the story including as much detail as they could remember. “Why didn’t anyone tell me anything about this before?”

“Pa, you know why. Ifn we had, you woulda come out of your bed and infected lots of people and maybe some of your own family. It woulda been bad for you, and me and Adam handled things.”

“Yes, you and Adam handled things for five thousand dollars.”

“Pa, that wasn’t just for us. Hoss had a great idea. It’s calmed down the whole community. The miners’ association that was pushing to kick the Chinese out of town has disbanded. There’s a lot less anger fueling any more foolish action. Besides, after I talked to them, some of the Chinese have been giving away some of the sweet candies to soothe the throat and some of that thick spicy tea they use. With all the influenza cases in town, that’s been a real blessing to a lot of people.”

“I could have used some of those sweet lozenges.”

“We sent over your favorite hard candies. It was a couple of days before the Chinese were giving away the throat lozenges. You were already getting better by then.”

“Adam, on another note, how is Jon handling all of this?”

With a deep sigh that communicated his worry as well as any words could have, Adam thought a moment before responding. “Better than I expected. He hasn’t had any nightmares. He has been getting up early and knocking on our door. I think he wants to make sure we’re both still here.”

“Why would he worry about that?”

So then Adam had to explain about Elaine’s offer to leave in order to keep Jon safe from anything Reverend Cargill might try to do.

“That must be the greatest fear he has then. Barbara went away, and then you were gone for months, which must have seemed like an eternity to Jon as young as he was. I could understand why he was worried. I suppose that Joe and I being gone was a concern for him as well?”

“Yes, a couple of days ago when we had the hearing, he was so thrilled to see you at the window waving. It reinforced what we had said about you getting better but having to stay at the hotel because of a quarantine order. He still has trouble understanding the idea of quarantine. Hopefully, he won’t ever have to worry about that again.”

“What we got to worry about is this snow, Pa. It’s getting heavier. Maybe I ought to ride Buck in?”

Knowing the carriage would move faster without the extra weight, and that Joe would have an easier ride without having to lead Buck, Adam stopped the carriage almost immediately to let Hoss get out. The wind was rising rapidly too causing a delay in explaining to Joe that Hoss would ride Buck the rest of the way. Ben wanted to help, but Adam told him the biggest help he could be would be to stay bundled up in the back so that Adam could concentrate on the driving. Ben was irritated at the tone of his son’s voice, but did realize circumstances had Adam on edge. He settled back into the seat and pulled the blankets up to his neck shivering a little in the unaccustomed chill. The team was struggling with the slippery road, and Adam had a daunting job keeping the carriage on the track that was rapidly filling with snow. Hoss and Joe rode to the front of the carriage to use their horses to help guide the team. Finally Hoss called a stop and looped a rope around the collar of one horse as Joe did the same on the other side. They would lead the team back to the ranch. It kept all of them together too. Buck and Cochise broke a trail through the deepening snow making the carriage track better on the snow filled road. Visibility had decreased dramatically but is was easier for Hoss and Joe to see the road from their vantage point in front than it would be for Adam from the seat of the carriage. The last part of the trip, which should have taken fifteen minutes, took nearly an hour with heavier and heavier snowfall, rising winds, and plummeting temperatures. Once they reached the yard of the Ponderosa, Hoss and Joe led the carriage as close to the front door as they could. As Adam helped Ben out of the carriage, Hoss and Joe unhitched the team and led them and their mounts to the stable.

As Ben and Adam entered the house, they were met by Elaine and Hop Sing who looked extremely worried. Adam wrapped a snowy arm around Elaine. “It’s all right, sweetheart, we’re all home safe and sound.”

“Adam, Jon’s missing!”

“What?”

“When it started to snow, I asked Jon if he had fed the chickens today. With all of the excitement and anticipation of his grandfather coming home, he had forgotten. He put on his hat and coat. I tied a rope around his waist like you said to do if it was snowing hard. It wasn’t snowing that much, but I wanted to be careful. I watched him from the kitchen door. He fed the chickens and gathered eggs. When he was walking back to the house, I turned around to tell Hop Sing it looked like he had a full basket of eggs. When I looked back, he was gone.”

“How could he be gone?”

“The rope was loose and the egg basket was on the ground. The eggs were smashed like the basket had been thrown down. Candy and the men are out looking for him. Oh, Adam, I’m so scared and so sorry.”

As Adam turned to leave, Ben asked where he was going. He said he was going to get Hoss and look for Jon. Ben turned to Elaine then and wrapped an arm around her. “He’s as scared as you are. Don’t worry, Adam and Hoss are two of the best trackers in all of Nevada.”

“But with the snow, how will they ever find any tracks?”

“If there are any out there, they’ll find them.”

Outside the wind tore at Adam as he made his way to the stable. Once inside, he gathered up a large coil of rope as he explained to Hoss and Joe what he knew. Hoss grabbed rope too and the brothers quickly headed to the area of the chicken coop. They tied one rope to a tree there and began heading out in the most likely direction anyone would have gone if they wanted to leave that part of the property. Reaching the end of the first rope, they tied the second rope to it and moved to the grove of trees behind the house where they walked slowly looking for any sign of Jon. Adam’s heart nearly pounded out of his chest when he found Jon’s deputy badge lying up against a tree. Even as Adam tried to surreptitiously wipe tears from his eyes, Hoss continued to search under the trees where the snow had barely filtered through the heavy branches. He found footprints of at least two individuals who were not wearing cowboy boots. He followed them to the edge of the grove where they disappeared into the snow. Adam was by his side then.

“Adam, we know now that it was people who took him and not a cougar or some other wild critter. I was worried about that most. We’ll get him back, brother, we’ll get him back.”

“Hoss, we know who it is. Now we need to know where he is and what he wants with my son.”

Almost like a snowy mirage, four men materialized out of the snowstorm. Candy and three of the hands had followed a trail as far as they could. When they saw Adam and Hoss, the men dismounted. Candy moved to them and reported what they had found. “I figured you’d get this far. We followed wagon tracks as far as we could. Once they got to the road, we knew where they were headed, but then we couldn’t find them. They must have turned off somewhere. With all this snow, it was impossible to tell. We had some trouble finding our way back here. We missed the turnoff and we thought we were hopelessly lost until we smelled wood smoke. The wind was whipping it around pretty well but it was enough of a clue to get us back.”

Speechless with worry, Adam stood stiffly not knowing what he should do. The pain of not knowing where Jon was had him frozen to the spot where he had found the deputy badge his son treasured. Hoss took his arm. “Let’s go back to the house and figure out what we’re gonna do next.”

*****

Chapter 14

It was so cold. Adam didn’t think he could ever be warm again. The trip from town and the search outside had chilled his extremities but it was the loss of his son that had frozen his heart and soul. Hoss had physically restrained him twice when he wanted to leave to search for his son in the midst of a severe Sierra snowstorm.

“Adam, it ain’t gonna do no good for Jon. When we find him, how we gonna tell him his father is frozen somewhere out there and we’ll find him in spring. I know it’s hard, but we gotta wait for a break in the weather. We’re all set to go as soon as that happens. You know we’re all going with you, dontcha?”

Each time, Adam had heard the sound of Hoss’ voice but the meaning in his words took a long time to penetrate his consciousness. Then he had nodded and stood by the fire again trying to get warm but that was an impossible task as long as his son was missing. It was dark before there was a break in the storm. Elaine was sitting by Adam’s side as he numbly stared into the fire. They had talked earlier and neither was satisfied with the results.

“You blame me for Jon being gone.”

“I don’t blame you. I know who took him.”

“You say you don’t, but you do. Why don’t you just admit it and get it out.”

“All right, I can’t help it. I left him in your care and he’s missing. I know it’s not fair, and it’s unreasonable, but it’s how I feel. My head is telling me I’m all wrong, but my heart is hurting so much that it doesn’t accept reason. There, is that good enough for you?”

“I feel the same way. It’s my fault.”

“Damn, it isn’t.” Elaine’s tears moved Adam. He wrapped an arm around her and then his own tears couldn’t be held back. His father and brothers had wanted to intervene, but they knew this was something that had to be worked out between husband and wife, father and mother to a missing son. As Adam and Elaine consoled each other, Ben whispered to Hoss.

“Saddle the horses. It sounds like the wind is dying down.”

“Pa, you can’t come with us. Paul said you had to take it easy for the next few weeks.”

“Hoss, my grandson is missing and some fanatic has most likely taken him. I will not sit here and wait for news.”

Joe stepped forward. “If you go, you could slow us down. If we have to take the time to bring you back here because you’re coughing so hard you can’t sit your horse, then we lose what little time we may have.” Joe had spent the previous week tending to his father during his illness. He, better than anyone, knew that Ben wasn’t ready for this quest.

Ben looked at Joe and Hoss knowing he would have to stay home. “I’ll have lanterns lit and placed along the road to guide you back.”

Hoss walked out to the stable to saddle horses as Joe went to get extra blanket rolls and canteens of hot coffee. Within a short time, Hoss was back and walked to Adam. With a hand on Adam’s shoulder, he got his attention. “It’s time to go. We got a break in the storm, but it may not last long. It’s all we got. Candy and two of the hands are going with us to show us how far they tracked that wagon before they lost the trail. Pa and the other hands are gonna light this place up and put lanterns along the road so we can get back home when we find Jon.”

Standing, Adam kissed Elaine softly. “I’ll bring our boy back home. Keep the place warm and have a warm bath ready. He may need it.” Elaine nodded even as her lip quivered. She had dealt with many difficult situations in her life, but this was by far the most painful thing she could imagine.

The weather was better than when it had been storming but there was at least six inches of snow that had fallen and blown into large drifts in some places. The low hanging clouds were enough evidence that the storm wasn’t over even if its fury had abated temporarily. The men talked little as they worked their way to the spot where Candy and the others had lost the wagon tracks earlier. “They got to the road about here. We followed for about two miles and then suddenly there were no tracks. With the snow, we missed them turning off. By then the storm was too much for us to find anything so we turned back. That’s it.”

Hoss and Adam took the lead then and after two miles, they had seen nothing. “Adam, there ain’t no likely place to turn off for most of this stretch.”

“I was thinking the same thing. We need to look for a place where they may have lost control and run off the road. Anyone unfamiliar with this stretch of road could easily do that.”

Hearing what the brothers had said, the group split up to ride the side of the road and down below the road as well. After they had gone about a half-mile back, they heard a gunshot. Looking down the hill, Adam saw Hoss signaling them to come down the hill. His heart pounding in his chest, he circled around some boulders and began the descent. What he saw made his heart pound almost painfully. Hoss and two others were pulling snow away from an overturned wagon. As Adam got there, they pulled Julia’s body away from the broken buckboard. It appeared her neck was broken. Next, Hoss reached under and pulled out a bundle. Adam dropped from his horse and ran to Hoss just as he turned and smiled.

“He’s cold as can be, but he’s alive.”

Hoss handed Jon over to Adam who pulled him into his arms. He quickly determined that Jon was unable to move or respond much because of the cold. He unbuttoned his coat and pulled his son inside his coat before buttoning it up again. He had lost weight with all the stresses of the previous year, and his son was still thin enough so that he could fit inside. Adam walked to his horse and got help from Joe in mounting up. Joe took a bedroll and unrolled it wrapping it around his brother and his precious cargo. Hoss yelled over that they should ride for home, and he would get Cargill out. As he said it, snow began to fall in earnest again as the wind picked up. Cargill was cold as well but otherwise appeared uninjured. Hoss unhitched the surviving horse from the wagon and told Cargill to mount up as best he could.

“Follow us. We have to get back to the ranch before this gets any worse.”

Hoss mounted up then and waved for the other men to do the same. Cargill was on his own as far as Hoss was concerned. No one there was going to risk his life to ensure Cargill’s safety. As they rode, they caught up with Adam and Joe who had to ride more slowly because Adam was holding Jon up against his body trying to warm him. Hoss reached for Adam’s reins.

“Let us lead Sport. You hang onto Jon and stay in the saddle. We’ll get you both home.”

Then with Hoss leading Sport, Joe rode to one side and Candy to the other shielding Adam and Jon from the worst of the winds and allowing Adam to keep the blanket more tightly wrapped around the two of them. When they reached the yard of the Ponderosa, Hoss led Sport as close to the front door as he could. Then Joe and Candy helped Adam slide from the saddle with Jon. As Adam walked into the house with the snow crusted blanket around him, Ben and Elaine gasped thinking he had returned without Jon. Adam dropped the blanket though as soon as the door was closed so they could see Jon’s pants and boots dangling beneath Adam’s coat.

“He’s very cold, and he hasn’t said a word since we found him.”

Elaine was at their side immediately. “Hop Sing has a warm bath ready. He said if not for Jon, then the searchers would like it.”

“Help me. I can barely feel my fingers.”

Ben helped Adam unbutton his coat and drop it to the floor. Jon wouldn’t let go though. He had his arms around his father and wouldn’t relinquish his grip. Adam walked to the washroom carrying his son. Once there, he sat on a bench.

“Jon, we have to get you in the bath to warm you up.”

“No, stay with you.” They were the first words spoken by the boy, and they indicated that he understood what was happening around him. That was a good sign, but they needed to get him in the bathtub.

“Adam, remember how you got Little Joe to take baths when he was about this age?”

Smiling as he remembered, Adam was grateful for the reminder. “Jon if you get in the bathtub, we can play with those sailing boats I have in my room. Would you like that?”

As Jon nodded enthusiastically, Adam asked Elaine to go get the boats. “Aren’t they rather expensive to use like this?”

“No cost is too great to help our son.”

Smiling, Elaine left the washroom to go get the boats. When she returned a short time later, Adam had gotten Jon undressed and into the tub. Ben had helped a lot because Adam’s fingers were still stiff from the cold. Adam told Jon to submerge everything but his head. Then he put the two boats in the water. Ben nodded and left as Elaine brought in tea and small sandwiches that Hop Sing had prepared. Jon had said nothing more which Adam found odd, but he wasn’t going to pressure him at this point. Instead he asked for another kettle of hot water to warm the bath. He relaxed as he saw Jon’s cheeks becoming a healthy shade of pink. After about an hour, he asked Jon if he was ready to get out of the bath. Jon was tired by then and said he was ready to get out. Hoss and Joe had both stopped in to see how he was doing and grinned broadly to see that he had no apparent ill effects from being trapped under the buckboard for hours in the storm. Apparently the snow had insulated the space under the overturned wagon, and body heat from Cargill had helped keep Jon alive. Adam could almost have been grateful for that except that Cargill was the cause of Jon being in the precarious predicament. After pulling a nightshirt over Jon and wrapping a robe around him, Adam was going to lead him out to the main room.

“No, I want you to hold me.”

At first thinking that Jon was a bit old for that, Adam relented almost immediately picking Jon up in his arms. Jon wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck and his legs around his waist. That’s how they walked out and sat on the settee in front of the fireplace. Elaine brought a warm blanket and draped over the two of them before sitting beside them. There were smiles all around until Adam asked a question.

“Where’s Cargill?”

Hoss shrugged and Joe looked away. “We don’t know. Joe and me were mostly interested in getting you and Jon home. I unhitched the one horse from the wagon team that was still alive. I told Cargill to ride it and follow us back here. When we finally looked for him, he wasn’t there.”

“Where did he go?”

“Adam, we been talking about it. He knew he was in a lot of trouble after this. We think he tried to get away.”

“You don’t think he made it.”

“Adam, how could he? The snow was falling hard, and the wind picked up. He was already cold from the hours they spent out there.”

“Hoss, all I know is that he’s been able to do an awful lot. I won’t rest easy until I know what became of him.”

“He did a bad thing to Aunt Julia.” Jon had turned his head toward Elaine. He spoke softly but it was loud enough for all to hear him.

Adam squeezed his son a bit tighter but had to ask. “Jon, what did he do to Aunt Julia?”

“When we fell off the road, she said we should go back here. She said it wasn’t right to risk my life to prove something. He got real mad at her, and they started yelling at each other. He grabbed her then. She tried to get away. He shook her real hard. Then she fell down and didn’t move. He said she was dead. He said we would be too if we didn’t get under the wagon while it snowed. He had some blankets there that he had used to hold me until we fell off the road. He lit a candle too, but it disappeared after a while.”

“Well, older brother, I don’t suppose the Reverend Cargill was willing to come back here to face what he done.”

“When the storm runs its course, we should go out to get Julia’s body. She should get a proper burial even after what she did. I think she was under the influence of Cargill and thought she was doing the right thing.” Ben was being as generous as he could be. He was greatly relieved that his whole family was together and safe. It was very late, and everyone was exhausted. Ben suggested they all head up to bed. No one was going to be able to do anything to them while the storm raged outside the walls of their home.

Adam tried to get Jon to sleep in his bedroom, but the trauma was too fresh. He wouldn’t allow his father out of his sight. Somewhat apologetically, Adam told Elaine that there would be three of them in the bed that night. She agreed it was the best solution for one night but told Adam he needed to wear a nightshirt. Then she grinned and told him that longjohns were an even better idea. With a wry grin because he had a very good idea of what she was thinking, Adam agreed. He lay in the middle of the bed with an arm around Jon who snuggled up to him and rested his head on Adam’s shoulder. Elaine lay on Adam’s other side. He kissed Elaine, and then kissed Jon on the forehead before closing his eyes and relaxing. Sleep came quickly for all of them then.

*****

Epilogue

Reverend Cargill’s body was never found. On the very slim chance that the man had survived, Sheriff Roy Coffee issued some wanted posters for Reverend David Cargill for murder and kidnapping. That spring, it was found too that someone had lived in Julia’s house for several months at least. When Adam and Hoss went to the house to prepare it for sale, they found the evidence that someone had inhabited the house for the winter months and removed anything of value in the house when they left. The house and other property were sold and the proceeds went into investments for Jon. On a business trip to San Francisco, Adam hired a detective agency to see if they could find Cargill. He got a letter from them in the middle of the summer. Much to his father’s displeasure and to his wife’s confusion, Adam announced suddenly that he had business in Bend, Oregon. Hoss walked up behind Adam and said he had business there too.

“What business do you have up in Bend?”

“Same as you, older brother, and I aim to see you follow all the rules in taking care of it too.” Hoss had been in town when Adam received the letter from the detective agency. Hoss had seen the return address, and he had seen the look on Adam’s face when he read the letter.

However, their enigmatic conversation left everyone else in the family wondering what was happening. Jon asked his father how long he would be gone. Adam told him no more than two weeks, and Jon relaxed. He had come out of his traumatic experience with little aftereffects, but he didn’t like the idea of his father being gone even for a few hours. He was sleeping in his own room again, although on occasion, he had a nightmare. Doctor Martin said that with the love and attention of his family, those nightmares would diminish and end over time. Adam asked Elaine and his father to help Jon until he could return. They agreed of course knowing that when Adam was like this, no one could pry anything out of him.

The next morning, Adam and Hoss rode out heading north. Two weeks later, looking like saddle tramps seeking work, they returned home. Adam announced that they had successfully concluded their business and wouldn’t be talking about it. About a week later, a newspaper from Portland, Oregon was delivered to the offices of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. In a front-page story, it was reported that Reverend David Cargill, under the alias of David Meyer, had been living and working in Bend. He had apparently committed suicide south of that city. The Reverend’s gun was in his hand with one bullet fired, and he had a large hole in the middle of his face. The story went on to say that wanted posters with his face, the charges against him, and the reward for his capture were strewn on the ground around him. The newspaper version of events was that he had found that the authorities were closing in and had shot himself in the head. No one questioned that telling of the story even as thousands read it. Dan DeQuille read that story and waited for the Cartwrights to visit town so he could get a reaction from them on the story. Remarkably none of them seemed surprised, and none had any comment either. Dan watched Adam walk away with his wife by his side and his son walking in front of them. Dan decided that justice had probably been done and in a fitting manner. Hoss looked back as Dan watched the family walk away. Hoss nodded, and Dan knew. No one should ever threaten or harm a member of the Cartwright family. They protected their own.

*****

 

On Top of the Mountain

Chapter 1

“Hoss, did Adam kill my father?”

“Have you asked Adam?”

“Yes, but he evades better than you do.”

“Little Sis, why are you asking that question?”

“My father would never kill himself. He was so sure he was one of the chosen who would go to Heaven, and he knew that suicide would knock him out of that group. Someone killed him, and I want to know if it was Adam.”

Walking up behind Hoss and Elaine, Adam surprised both of them. “Elaine, we should talk, but not here. Let’s go for a walk.”

As they walked away from the house, Hoss could be heard muttering. Adam smiled.

“What is he saying?”

“Dadburnit, he’s gotta be part Paiute sneaking up on a man like that all the time.”

“You enjoy that, don’t you? Being able to sneak up on him like that?”

“We’ve played that game for a lot of years. It’s comforting to have some things that never change. Now, why are you badgering Hoss with a question that you know I don’t want to answer?”

“Don’t you think I have a right to know? He was my father, even if he was a terrible person. I asked him to rescue me from that mining camp and he wouldn’t. He only wanted me whipped. When I begged him to save me, he said I couldn’t be saved, only punished. Then he came here to try to ruin our family. He kidnapped Jon. He killed Julia. I’m sure there are many more sins that could be pinned on him, but he was still my father, and I think I have a right to know what happened to him.”

“I don’t want this to come between us.”

“Adam, I know you didn’t, but you could have shot him down in cold blood, and I wouldn’t blame you. I just need a conclusion on that part of my family history. I need to know the ending.”

Pausing, Adam weighed his options and then spoke. “I shot him. I didn’t murder him. Hoss was there to make sure I didn’t. He knew how much I wanted to do just that. Hoss wanted justice, and he made sure I remembered that was what I should want too. I goaded your father, and I pushed him until he couldn’t back down. I threw those wanted posters at his feet, and I told him I would post them all over town and all over the west. I said I would hound him until he was arrested, tried, and hanged. I don’t think he could take that, and he drew. I was ready and I shot him. He fired a shot in the air as he fell.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that right away?”

“I thought I did. I told you that your father would never hurt any of us again. There’s only one thing that could have let me say something so absolute.”

“If it was self-defense, why didn’t you stay and tell them what happened? Why did you leave his body there to be found and let people think he killed himself?”

“He never had a chance, and I’ve had problems with the system of justice before. People could see it any way they want. Think about it. He had mistreated my wife, made some men hurt my friend, and he kidnapped my son. Don’t you see how the authorities might not trust my account especially in Bend where no one knows me? I didn’t break any laws, of men or of God. I followed the letter of the law. Hoss saw to that. Justice was done even if not by the proper authorities. Now you know.”

“I suppose letting his death be seen as a suicide might help some people who thought he had brought the truth to them. If they question him, then perhaps they will question his hateful beliefs. Maybe some good can come from it.”

“Why do you need to know now? You didn’t question me so thoroughly when we got back.”

“I’d like to go to the dance in town. Then two weeks after that, there’s that big party out here. I didn’t want to find out anything at those events. People sometimes say things. I wanted to be ready.”

“Are you still having problems with some of those women in town?”

“It’s not so much problems as they way they act when I’m around. If they could get rid of me somehow, I think they would. It seems that there may be some resentment that you married me instead of one of them especially with my background, and I’m so much younger than you too.”

“Well, at the dance and at the party, I’ll make sure they know that you are the love of my life and that no one better ever make you feel badly.”

“Or you’ll shoot them?” The twinkle in her eye belied the words of her question. Adam laughed and nodded before he picked her up in his arms. “Where are we going?”

“It’s a very warm fall day. I thought perhaps I would take you to the riverbank and have my way with you.”

“Well, it better just be kisses and hugs. Hop Sing said that lunch is almost ready, and I do not want to upset him.”

“You are the only one he doesn’t get upset at no matter how late you are. I guess chivalry is important in China too.”

“I know he is so extra nice to me. I don’t want to take advantage of it.”

Setting Elaine down then next to a tree, Adam pulled her close to him and kissed her passionately. “That’s just a promise of what’s to come later.” Then he kissed her again and longer.

Hoss walked around the corner of the house wondering what he would find because he was worried that his brother might be upset with his wife. What he saw made him smile. He enjoyed that the two of them got along so well. He yelled that lunch was ready, and he smiled again as Adam raised his hand in acknowledgement but never broke the kiss. A short time later, Adam and Elaine entered the house and were the last to arrive at the table. Elaine would have blushed a little assuming that the others knew she had been kissing except she felt the warmth of her cheeks knowing she already was as pink as a blush would have made her. Her lips tended to be fuller after kissing, but it was the rosy cheeks that gave her away more than anything. Adam always seemed to be able to make her feel a lot warmer. Joe wasn’t going to let it pass.

“Unseasonably hot, don’t you think, Hoss. Elaine ought to take it easy out there. Sis, you look like you got too much sun.”

Adam rolled his eyes, and Elaine blushed more if that was possible.

“I don’t know, Joe. I think she thinks she got just the right amount of son. Heck she coulda had Pa’s youngest son, but she picked our older brother instead.”

Almost spitting out his coffee, Joe was quick to respond. “Hoss, I didn’t mean that kind of son. I meant the sun, you know, the one in the sky.”

“Well ifn you woulda talked more clear I woulda understood ya.”

“I was clear. Wasn’t I clear, Elaine? I mean, you knew what I meant, didn’t you?”

“No, Joe. I was thinking just like Hoss. I got just the right son for me.”

Jon was sitting by his father and getting more and more confused. “Papa, what are they talking about?”

“They both think it’s funny that I was kissing your Mama.”

“Why do you kiss her so much?”

That question by Jon had Ben almost spitting out his coffee too. With wide grins, Hoss and Joe waited for Adam’s answer.

“We kiss because we love each other.”

“Oh, I thought you were kissing so you could get me a brother. In school, Jamie said that his ma and pa are always kissing, and he’s got a whole bunch of brothers. He’s got some sisters too. You don’t need to give me any of those, but I’d like some brothers. How do you get them?”

“Jon, we’ve talked before about how this should be a private conversation.”

“Yes, but you never answer my questions.”

“That’s enough. You will be respectful at all times, and that was not respectful.”

“I’m sorry, Papa.”

Bringing in lunch then, Hop Sing set a glass of milk by Jon and another by Elaine. She looked at Adam wondering if he knew why Hop Sing had been serving her milk lately. He shrugged as he did the other times. He thought that for some reason, Hop Sing must have decided she needed more milk. Ben noticed too and wondered, but because Adam and Elaine looked as mystified as he was, he decided he must be wrong in his assumption. Lunch proceeded smoothly then as Hoss and Joe discussed the upcoming dance and were both very pleased to find that Adam and Elaine would be going to the dance as well. Adam said he would arrange for a sitter and everyone knew what that meant. Once or twice a month, Adam and Elaine spent a Saturday night in town and met the family at the church the next day. No matter how much Adam coveted his privacy and longed to have time with his wife without everyone in the family knowing it, he wouldn’t build a house away from the rest of the family. What had happened to Barbara made him even more protective of his family. Because Elaine was so much younger, Adam’s protective instincts had been great with her from the beginning of their relationship.

“Jon, would you like to ride with me to the lower meadow? I have to do a herd count.”

“Can I ride my own pony?”

“May I?”

“Of course, Papa, you don’t have to ask, but what about me?”

Rolling his eyes and remembering so many similar conversations with Little Joe when he was that age and older, Adam nodded. He took a lead rope along because Jon might get too tired. If he rode on Sport with Adam, then his pony would have to be led home. As the two left, Elaine kissed Adam goodbye and whispered in his ear.

“Now might be a good time to answer some of those questions.”

That got Adam rolling his eyes again, but he knew she was correct. It was time for him to talk to Jon about the birds and the bees, so he nodded and then smiled to reassure her. Ever since Jon had been kidnapped, she worried a lot when either of them left the house. She was especially worried because both were going. Ben knew that and walked out to be with her as she watched her guys head out.

“They’ll be fine. They aren’t leaving the ranch, and there are already some men working down there.”

Down in the meadow later, Adam and Jon were safe but far from fine. Adam had told Jon the basics about the birds and the bees using his experiences on the ranch to illustrate the concepts. He thought it was going well until Jon began asking questions. Each one seemed more and more difficult to answer.

“But how can you use that? That’s what I use to pee. Do you do that with Mama? Did you do that with my first Mama?”

“Yes, Jon to all of that, but usually people don’t ask people if they do that with each other. It is a very private thing between a man and a woman when they get married.”

“So, only married people do that?”

“Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be.” Jon was so engrossed in his own thoughts and concerns that he didn’t notice the evasion. Adam was grateful. He wasn’t sure how he would explain things any further than he had, and wished that somehow he could have avoided this conversation. He supposed his father had had this conversation with him but couldn’t remember the specifics. He knew it was after Inger birthed Hoss leaving him with all sorts of questions as to where Inger had gotten that baby. He took a little perverse pleasure assuming he had asked questions like Jon had done and tormented his father as he was being tormented. He could already see the grin his father would likely have when he told him about this day. Finally Jon seemed to be done with his questions. He had a parting statement though as Adam checked the cinches on their horses before they mounted up to head back home.

“Papa, I’m never going to do that. Never!”

“Well, hold that thought until you get married.”

“Papa, I’m never getting married. If you get married, you have to do that, so I’m not getting married either.”

As they rode toward home, Adam smiled. The thought that his son would never marry made him empathize a bit with his father who must have wondered if Adam would ever marry, and now worried about his two younger sons who seemed to have no desire to marry either or the ladies they picked left one way or another. Hoss was in the stable when they returned, and when Adam finished with Sport, Jon said he wanted to stay in the stable with Hoss who had promised to show him the kittens up in the loft. With a warning to be careful, Adam headed to the house to let Elaine know he had had the birds and the bees talk with Jon. He could anticipate the smiles that would greet his story. Meanwhile, Hoss was getting a dose of Jon’s questions.

“Did anyone ever tell you where mamas get babies?”

“Ah, yes, years ago.”

“Is that why you never got married?”

“Huh?”

“Well, if you get married, you have to do that, so if you don’t get married, you don’t have to do that. I’m never getting married, Uncle Hoss, because I never want to have to do that.”

“Oh, I don’t think doing that is such a problem. Your Mama and Papa seem real happy together. Lots of folks get married and are real happy together, and I have to tell you that they never feel they have to do that. They want to.”

Jon thought about that for a time. His parents did seem very happy together. “Hoss, why don’t you get married then?”

“Ain’t found the gal willing to marry up with me is all. I’m hoping to find that gal any day now.”

“If you marry her, are you gonna do that so you have babies?”

“That would be what I would hope. I really like younguns. I wouldn’t mind a whole lot of em running around the place.”

“Would you live here too even after you got married?”

Hoss had to think about that for a time. The house really wasn’t big enough for three families especially if he wanted a bunch of children. “Well, I guess I might have to build myself a house ifn that happened.”

“My Papa is good at building things. I bet he would help you.”

“Well, now, Jon, I’d be counting on that. You’d be helping too, wouldn’t ya? Always good to have another man to help out.”

And Jon was reminded once again why he loved his Uncle Hoss so much. He smiled and asked if there was anything he could do. The two spent some time straightening up the stable after taking a peek at the sleeping kittens and before going to the house. Jon was reassured about the birds and the bees by Hoss’ matter-of-fact responses. His father had been so nervous talking about it that Jon had thought perhaps there was more to worry about than the strange behavior of a man and a woman in love. He was relaxed by the time he got into the house relieving Adam’s anxiety that he had not done a good job of explaining to his son. Jon was done asking questions on that topic for quite a while. He needed some time to assimilate the information he had received. He couldn’t wait to tell the boys at school who had been as curious as he was as to how babies were made. He began to plan how he was going to tell them.

*****

Chapter 2

By Saturday, Elaine had a new dress all ready for the dance. She packed that and other clothing in a valise with clothing for Adam. She remembered his shaving kit because she had forgotten once, and that had meant some whisker burns. She didn’t want to repeat that experience especially as everyone in the restaurant the next morning probably had a very good idea of what she and Adam had been doing before getting to the restaurant for breakfast. Then in church, she had received more looks and knew that the powder wasn’t doing a very good job of camouflaging her red face. By afternoon, she and Adam would drop Jon off at Mrs. Shaughnessy. The usual routine was that they would pick him up the next morning before going to church. Then they headed for some shopping as Adam said he had a few things to pick up. At the jewelry shop, he was handed a small package and smiled at the proprietor before offering Elaine his arm. They stopped and got some fabric at the dress shop, and then other essentials at the general store. Elaine wanted to make new curtains for their room and for Jon’s as well as sew up some chair pads for the chairs in their bedrooms so that the rooms would seem more like theirs. Then after depositing the purchases in their room at the hotel and dressing in their finest, they headed to their dinner. Elaine couldn’t hold back her curiosity any longer.

“What did you get at the jewelers?”

“Now wouldn’t that spoil the surprise?”

“Is it for me then?”

“Sweetheart, by now you should know I never buy jewelry for anyone else. But, you’ll have to wait until we’re dressing for the dance.”

“I thought we were dressed for the dance.”

“No, I mean afterwards, when we have to dress for the dance again.”

Elaine blushed and hoped that no one near them had heard what he said. “You’re terrible sometimes.”

“I do my best.” With a cheeky grin, Adam raised his wine glass in a toast to his wife. “Now, dig in. You’re going to need some energy for the rest of tonight.”

Elaine shook her head and smiled. She loved this man so much, and now her thoughts were entirely focused on what they would do after dinner. She declined dessert and told Adam it was time to go get ready for the dance. He grinned and offered her his arm escorting her back to their room. Four men saw them walk up the stairs arm-in-arm and began to talk quietly among themselves.

“He sure seems taken with her. Do you think he knows?”

“Course he knows. He’s the one took her away. But it seems a lot of people here don’t know, and I’m wondering how much he’d be willing to pay to keep it that way.”

“There’s sposed to be a big dance in town tonight. That must be why they’re all gussied up. Mebbe we can talk to im there. Ifn he don’t pay us, we could tell everyone there how she made her living afore she come here to married up with a Cartwright.”

“Caleb, course that’s what we’re gonna do. We been talking about it for a half hour. Where’s your mind been anyhow?”

“I was jest remembering being with her. I’d like to try that agin sometime. You two ever with her?”

“Nah, she was too cold for me. I wanted one who was warm and agreeable. She always looked like it was the last place she wanted to be and we were the last people she ever wanted to be with. She had that look about her that said it weren’t gonna be no fun to take her.”

“Let’s head over to the saloon and have a few afore that dance starts up.”

As four men plotted, Adam was in the room with his love and handed her the package he had gotten from the jeweler. She opened it, and her mouth formed a perfect O even if no sound emerged as she stared at the necklace in her hands. She looked up at Adam who was quite bemused at making her speechless. He stepped behind her taking the necklace from her and placing it around her neck and closing the clasp. The metal and the stone were cool against her skin. Adam placed a hand on her shoulder as he nuzzled her neck.

“So you like that?”

“Adam, I always like that.”

“The necklace, sweetheart. Do you like it?”

“Adam, I love it.” Looking in the mirror, Elaine could see Adam kissing her neck and the part of her shoulder that was bare. The necklace hung elegantly around her neck and Adam’s hand moved from her shoulder to hold it to her flesh warming the cool stone as well as the metal. She lifted his hand to admire the emerald pendant at the end of the golden strands. “It’s so beautiful, I hate to take it off.”

“You don’t have to take it off. It’s not in the way. Not like this dress.” Adam began unbuttoning her dress that he had helped her button about an hour earlier. He slid his hands down her arms helping the dress slide to the floor. Soon the rest of their garments joined the dress as they retired to the bed for lovemaking. There was no languorous lounging afterwards though because they didn’t want to be too late to the dance and endure endless teasing by Hoss and Joe.

As they left the lobby of the hotel, the desk clerk called Adam back. “Adam, there were four men here earlier watching you and your wife. I heard them mention your name and hers. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but you need to keep your eyes wide open out there.”

“Thanks, Dave. I’ll be careful. My brothers are going to be at the dance too, so I’ll alert them.”

Later as Roy Coffee made his rounds, the desk clerk told him what he had told Adam. Roy was worried. He thought Elaine was a good match for Adam, and he had never seen the man so happy other than those four years he was married to Barbara, but Roy had thought that her past would intrude on their happiness at some point, and he had a niggling fear that this was that moment. He went looking for Clem so the two of them could head to the dance hopefully to ward off any trouble there.

At the dance, Adam was having a great time. With the first slow dance after they arrived, he bowed to Elaine and proffered his hand as if asking her to indulge him in a dance. She took his hand and he led her onto the dance floor. Never taking his eyes from her, he gracefully guided her as they glided around the room almost as if no one else was there. From the side, Hoss and Joe watched.

“I heard some talk earlier. Seems some of the women here don’t think that Adam married the right woman. One look at em dancing like that oughta shut them old biddies up.”

“Hoss, let’s go find a gal we can look at like that while we’re dancing. I swear our older brother looks like he’s at the top of the mountain with the whole world at his feet when he’s dancing with her.”

Soon both brothers had found willing dance partners and were twirling them about the dance floor. Joe was enthusiastic and Hoss was very considerate. Their partners were very happy with the dance, and consented to dance more with them. Soon the night seemed a lot brighter to all three brothers as they saw each other dancing and smiling. After an hour of dancing, Adam asked Elaine to walk outside with him. He offered her his arm and beamed at her. She smiled back and the two exited the hall without being aware of being followed. With most eyes focused on the couple, no one saw the four men saunter outside except Roy and Clem were watching. Assuming these were the four at the hotel that Dave had said were talking about Adam and Elaine, Roy caught Clem’s attention and tipped his head toward the door. Clem walked out that way as Roy made his way to the back of the dance hall to exit behind the building where most couples walked for fresh air and a little smooching.

Unknown to Roy and Clem, Adam had gone in the opposite direction. He knew there were benches out front and wanted to quietly sit with Elaine for a time. She had said her feet were a bit sore in her new shoes so he was being considerate. He guided her to a bench and sat beside her.

“Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

“Adam, I must say, with you by my side, they seemed almost tolerant of me. I didn’t hear any of those whispers I hear when I go into stores. Maybe those stories my father was telling are finally behind us.”

“They wouldn’t dare bring that up. I would have to have a talk with them.”

“I know. You could give them that look that kills, and they might lose their voice for a week.”

Secretly a little pleased that Elaine thought he could be so intimidating to others, he leaned toward her for a kiss only to be rudely interrupted.

“Ah, lookee here what we got: the little lady we knew so well and her favorite customer. Tell, does she still charge you for climbing in her bed?”

Adam stood to face the four men despite Elaine’s best efforts to keep him seated. He had that look that could kill and she was worried he might do a lot more than that. He had hoped that the stories Reverend Cargill had told would be forgotten but if there were now four men here willing to corroborate them, then they not only would those stories resurge, but they would be believed. “Adam, please ignore them. You knew this could happen one day. Just let it go. We can go to our room. We’ve had a wonderful time already.”

It might have ended there but the four men were not ready to give up so easily. “Now, we was wondering how many people in town knows ya done and married a whore.”

It was only that Elaine still had an arm wrapped around Adam’s that stopped him from charging the man who had spoken. “Don’t you dare say that about my wife. Get out of town before I kill you.”

“Now, for a small payment, we’ll do just that and not tell anybody your big secret.”

“I’m not paying blackmail. You need to leave town.”

“You gonna make us, all four of us?”

“If I have to.”

“You ain’t even wearing a gun. What ya gonna do about it or are ya jest gonna hide behind your whore’s skirt?”

As gently as he could but with enough force so she knew he would not be stopped by her, Adam removed Elaine’s grasp of his arm. Then he stepped forward and hit the man who had spoken last. The two others stepped in to help their friend as one of the men grabbed Elaine to hold her back. That infuriated Adam even more so even though he was taking blows, he was managing to land some powerful hits. One of the men doubled over with a blow to his abdomen as Adam kicked another between the legs dropping him to the ground in a fetal position. The third man used that opportunity with Adam otherwise engaged however to come up behind Adam and land a two fisted blow to his right shoulder temporarily making him lose feeling in his right arm as pain shot down to his wrist and back up to his shoulder. The man spun Adam around landing a series of blows before a shot was fired freezing him in the act of swinging. Adam dropped to his knees.

“Let her go, now. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”

As the fourth man released Elaine, she rushed to Adam’s aid. By then, Hoss and Joe had arrived as well and stood guard lest anyone think to try to hurt him in any way. The two men Adam had downed stood too and moved next to the other two men.

“He hit first. We were only defending ourselves.”

“You want me to believe he hit all three of you before any of you had a chance to hit him so you were each defending yourself? And what about you holding his wife like that? All four of you are heading to the jail with me. Hand over your guns to my deputy there and don’t give me no trouble.”

“We only said the truth. He attacked us for telling the truth. She was a whore at the Amarillo mining camp, and he knows it too. He’s the one took her away from there.”

There were shocked gasps in the crowd at that allegation. Adam was standing with his brothers’ help by then and none of them disputed the claim. It was out now. There was no stopping the story from spreading. Adam and his family had known this would happen at some point but had hoped it wouldn’t be so soon or so prominently released. There was a lot of murmuring from the crowd and a number of people who walked away when they heard that news.

“Boys, get your brother over to the doctor. Adam, I’ll be wanting a statement from you and from your wife. I’ll see you over to Doctor Martin’s office in a bit.”

With help from Hoss and Joe, Adam walked to the doctor’s office. Paul was surprised. After a brawl in a saloon or dancehall, he was usually patching up Joe and occasionally Hoss. Adam was a less frequent visitor on those occasions and hadn’t been in his office for fighting in quite some time.

“Adam, I think the last time I patched you up after a brawl was when Joe and Hoss brought you to town to celebrate before you married Barbara. I hate to ask, but what brought this on?”

His voice a bit muffled because Paul was dabbing at the blood on his cheek, Adam only stated the minimum story. “They said some things about Elaine.”

“What kind of things?”

And all of the Cartwrights knew then that they had to tell Paul. He would be finding out soon enough anyway. Elaine began telling the story even though Adam said she didn’t have to do that. Once she finished, Paul asked if he could talk to Adam and Elaine alone. It was a very clear hint to Hoss and Joe to leave. They stepped out and closed the door to the examination room where Adam sat on a table with his shirt off. As Paul finished bandaging Adam’s ribs that he suspected were bruised only, he talked about his worries because of Elaine’s previous profession.

“I wish I had known sooner, but I would like to examine Elaine to make sure she’s healthy.”

After advising Adam to lay back and rest for a bit, Paul took Elaine to the next room. A half hour later, they returned.

“As far as I can tell, Elaine is very healthy. She’s a lucky one. She said that the two of you are looking forward to having a baby, and there’s no reason that won’t work out just fine.” Paul put a hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed it to reassure him that all was well. He suspected Adam was worried about things a lot more than he let anyone see.

There was a knock on the door then, and Paul answered to find Roy there. After Adam and Elaine explained what had happened, Roy asked what they wanted done. Adam thought that if Roy could just get them to leave town, it would be enough. Roy agreed and left. Hoss and Joe were there to make sure Adam and Elaine got to the hotel safely, and then they rode home. Up in their room, Adam and Elaine were quiet until they were in bed and resting as comfortably as they could. Adam was in physical discomfort, and Elaine was emotionally hurt.

“Adam, I know you told me it was inevitable, but I still feel awful. I don’t know how we can go to church tomorrow. Everyone there will have heard the story by then, and now the women in town have even more reason to treat me like scum.”

“Do not ever refer to yourself like that. I love you, and nothing you ever did can change that. If we have to move, we’ll move, but I want you by my side forever.”

“You would move away from here?”

“If there was enough cause, I would.”

“But it’s your home. It’s the only place Jon has ever known.”

“My home is wherever you and Jon are. My father and brothers would understand that.”

“It would hurt them though.”

There was no response to that. Adam knew she was correct, but after what had happened, he didn’t know how to make sure his wife would be safe. He needed time to think about that, but first he needed some rest. “Let’s try to sleep. We can talk more tomorrow.”

*****

Chapter 3

The next morning, the bruises on Adam’s face made it difficult for him to shave. He managed without making too much noise, and Elaine helped him dress despite his barely polite acquiescence to her assistance. The livery station brought the carriage to the hotel as requested. It was difficult for Adam to get in and out of it, but he managed that as well. When they got to the church, Ben was waiting for them. They assumed that Hoss and Joe had told him what had happened. Ben addressed Adam first.

“Jon is inside with Hoss and Joe. We told him that you had been hurt, and he’s worried. I’ve told him you were only bruised, and I’m hoping that’s true. How are you?”

“Stiff and sore but no worse than I would be after breaking about two dozen stubborn mustangs.”

“That will teach you not to take on four men at a time.”

“Only three were swinging.”

“Oh, so only three were swinging. And you think those odds were any better?”

“It worked out all right. I wasn’t going to let them talk that way about Elaine and try to blackmail me.”

“Adam, will you fight everyone who brings that up? You need to come to terms with it. You knew this would happen sooner or later. It could have all been out much sooner if people had believed Cargill. He was so obviously trying to hurt you and Elaine that people didn’t accept his tales as true, but we know they are.”

Elaine interrupted them because she worried that with Adam as tense as he was, there might be harsh words. “I’ve been telling him that too. He may be a bit irritable about it hearing it so much especially the way he’s feeling this morning. Perhaps we could go inside, and talk about this at a later date?”

In church, Jon was worried about his father’s face, and Adam had a lot of explaining to do after church services to make Jon understand that although fighting wasn’t a good thing, sometimes a man had to decide it was time to fight if he was defending family. As a father, Adam could only hope that those words didn’t come back to bite him.

For the next two weeks, Adam and Elaine avoided social events although they did attend church services holding their heads high to show they were not ashamed of anything. The minister did what he could in his sermons by including the stories of sinners who came to follow Jesus. Friends of the family also came forward to say that nothing in the past mattered. They also talked a lot and Adam conceded that it was unlikely that this would make him move away from the Ponderosa because the same news would follow them anywhere. There was coolness between the two of them though as they adjusted to the fact that now everyone in town knew Elaine’s background. It was a very difficult two weeks for Elaine not knowing how she could make things better, and following Adam’s lead for she had no other idea of what to do. Adam tried to accept the truth and move on.

“Elaine, I have regrets and mistakes in his life. I can’t undo those actions either. All I can do is to try to do better in the future. It’s all anyone can do.”

“Yes, the minister told me that if I am remorseful and doing my best now and being faithful to the teachings of Jesus, that my past doesn’t matter. Except it does, doesn’t it? I made some terrible mistakes and you can’t see me without thinking about those.”

“I’m trying. I will. I know I told you that it didn’t matter, but of course it does. I have to work it all out in my own mind.”

“And in your heart?”

Adam didn’t answer which was answer enough. They didn’t argue. They didn’t fight, but the coolness persisted. What made it even more difficult was that twice in those two weeks, Adam was summoned into the schoolhouse when he arrived to pick up his son. The reason for the first visit provided much entertainment for his brothers. The first time as he was unsaddling Sport, Hoss asked why he looked so upset. Adam told him.

“He what?” Hoss was as shocked as he was bemused.

“According to the teacher, he told all the youngest boys about what a man and a woman do to make a baby. He told them about the differences in anatomy that allow it to happen too. Then some of the boys told some of the girls and asked them if they could see how girls were different. I’m guessing a lot of parents would rather that Jon and I stay away from that school for quite some time.”

“You’re not gonna keep him outta school, are ya?”

“No, but it’s tempting. He’s too smart to keep out of school, but being smart doesn’t mean he has even a thimbleful of common sense.”

“Remind you of anyone?”

“Yes, it does, but Jon is my son, and Barbara had great sense about things, and now he has Elaine and she has pretty good common sense too.”

“I remember that penis story though.”

“Barbara took that in stride too. She got quite a chuckle out of telling the ladies in her quilting group that story.”

“What penis story?” Elaine had come out to see Adam. Jon had come in the house very sheepishly and gone up to his room. When asked, he had only said that his father had told him to do that.

Hoss grinned. “Should I tell her?”

“Go ahead. You’re the one who brought it up.”

Trying to avoid laughing, Hoss told how Jon had just turned four years old, and Adam had thought it was about time he started using the correct terms for the parts of his body. So he named them all for the little boy including his penis. One day soon after that conversation, Jon was looking for his mother and walked into the washroom as she stepped from the bathtub. Both froze in dismay, I think Adam called it, but Jon, just as quick as could be, turned and ran from the room, all the while screaming as loud as he could.”

“Why would he be screaming?”

“It’s what he saw that shocked him. He ran yelling to Adam. ‘Mama doesn’t have a penis.’ It was so funny. He wondered how his mother could do her necessary business. Adam had a lot more explaining to do.”

“Yes, his curiosity is endless, but his common sense hasn’t yet developed at all.” Then Adam had to explain to Elaine about what had happened at school.

“You’re not going to punish him for telling the truth, are you?”

“No, I’m going to punish him for disobeying me. He was told repeatedly that those things we discussed were very private and were not to be discussed with anyone else. Until today, I thought he understood that.”

“Uh, Adam.”

“Yes, Hoss, I will punish him. He has to learn to listen to everything I tell him not just the parts he wants to know and do.”

“Uh, no, it’s not that you see. It’s just that he talked to me about it too, and I think he might have talked to Joe too.” It was clear that made Adam angry. “I woulda told you, Adam, except I didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to talk to anybody about it.”

“It’s all right, Hoss. I’m not mad at you. I just have a son about to turn six who thinks he’s about sixteen.” With that, Adam left the stable to go talk with Jon. That night at dinner, Jon was quiet and also very still sitting on his chair. It was if he didn’t want to move once he forced himself to sit down. Everyone at the table knew why. Over the next few days, as Adam dropped Jon off at school or picked him up, he apologized to other parents until he thought he had thoroughly humiliated himself. He worried too that somehow people would connect Jon’s innocent mistake with Elaine’s previous profession and spread even more gossip. He didn’t have long to wait for that. Only a week later, he was summoned into school again. Jon wasn’t waiting outside as he usually was. When Adam got inside, he saw why. Jon was holding a cold cloth to his cheek and nose. Adam pulled the cloth away to see what the damage was before he turned to the teacher for what he assumed was going to be a lecture on teaching his son not to fight.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright. I tried to stop the fight, but your son was so upset, he started swinging before I could do anything. I heard what the other boys were saying, and I rushed to get to them before there was any problem. The other boys are being sent home with notes. I hope that their parents discipline them appropriately.”

“I don’t understand. Why would Jon start a fight?”

“Well those things he told some of the younger boys last week, well some of the older boys made some comments that his stepmother used to do that with all sorts of men to make money. He got very upset and lashed out. I don’t accept anyone fighting, and normally anyone starting a fight like that would be suspended from school attendance, but he is very young and that must have been a terrible shock to him. I’ll let you handle it any way that you see fit. I hope that there will be no more of this talk in my school, and I will be sure to let the students understand that tomorrow. I’m sorry about what happened. I’ll do what I can to help, but your son needs you to talk with him. You may take him home now. If you would like to keep him home for a few days, I understand. I have given him a list of things to do if he is not able to attend school.”

Pausing to get control of his thoughts and emotions, Adam finally answered very simply with a thank you before gathering Jon in his arms and walking out. He set his son on his saddle and then mounted up behind him picking Jon up and sliding into the saddle before pulling him into his arms. They rode that way all the way home. When they got home, Hoss was in the yard. He helped Adam by taking Jon in his arms until Adam dismounted. Seeing that Jon was injured, Hoss volunteered to take care of Sport. Adam walked into the house and up the stairs asking Elaine to bring some cold water and cloth for compresses. No one saw any of them until dinner when Elaine came down to request a tray for their room. It was obvious that she had been crying. When Ben asked her what had happened, she started crying again. He stood and wrapped his arms around her as she told them what had happened. Then Hop Sing brought her a tray with food, plates, and utensils. She thanked him and headed back up the stairs.

“Pa, ya think that Adam ever expected to have this much trouble on account of what Elaine used to do?”

“Hoss, in his mind, I think he knew there would be trouble, but in reality, it hurts a lot more when it’s your wife and your child who are hurt.”

“So you’re thinking that Adam figured he’d be the one insulted, and he’d deal with it?” Ben nodded to Hoss’ query. “I wish there was something we could do to help.”

“Yeah, and he probably never figured on having to talk to Jon about all this when he was still so young. I know I would have been thrown as hard as a mustang could throw me if I had to deal with something like that when I was his age.” Then Joe remembered. “He lost his mother just like I did. He knew her just a little, and she was gone just like mine. I hope this doesn’t ruin his chances of having a mother to take care of him.”

“Joe, Elaine won’t leave. She and Adam had that worked out before.” Ben knew that Elaine had once offered to leave to spare her new family heartache. Adam had let her know he wanted her there forever regardless of what happened.

“Yes, but will Jon be able to trust her and love her like he did before he knew her past?”

“I think so. You boys have forgiven me for all the mistakes I made in raising you. Everyone makes mistakes, even our parents. Jon has to learn that.”

“Pa, do ya think we oughta cancel the party?” In just two days, the Ponderosa was hosting the annual harvest party. Their friends looked forward to this last big get together before the cold winds of winter started to make any outdoor event impossible.

“Hoss, we have this party every year. I won’t let what some gossips have done ruin that. The people who would spread these stories are not our friends and won’t be at the party. This party might be just what we all need to put the past to rest and look to the future.”

The next morning, Adam sat with Elaine and Jon at the breakfast table with the rest of the family. Nothing was said about what had happened the day before even though all three of them looked like they hadn’t had enough sleep, and of course, Jon had some bruises on his face especially on his chin. Hop Sing brought out platters of food for breakfast and refrained from any commentary. It was if he knew, as the others did, that all three needed some time to adjust to the new circumstances. Now everyone knew and had to learn to accept the information and move on. Ben thought that his oldest son ought to consider the same idea when thinking about the fact that Elaine’s background was now known to anyone in Virginia City who paid attention. He didn’t know how to broach the subject knowing how touchy his son was at that point in time. The opportunity presented itself at the annual party the family gave in the fall.

*****

Chapter 4

At the party, Ben asked Elaine to dance but she declined. She also declined when anyone else asked her to dance. She stayed near Adam all the time or went into the house to help with serving. Ben walked up beside Adam as he was tuning his guitar in preparation for sitting in with the band for a time.

“Is Elaine feeling all right? I know she’s been quiet since the trouble in town and then the big problem at school with Jon, but she wouldn’t even dance with me or your brothers.”

“Jon has been a little standoffish with her. We talked and decided that it would be best if she only spends time with me or other women. Jon is looking at any man with suspicion right now. He doesn’t understand what happened.”

“He’s trying though. I heard him tell Hoss that he wished we could have a happy house again, and Hoss told him that it was up to everybody to make that true. Jon told him he would do his best to make people smile.”

“I guess I have been too serious. It’s just that I feel like a mountain fell on me.”

“I’ve noticed. Adam, you’ve lost that look of love.” Adam looked up at his father wondering what he meant by that. “Whenever you looked at Elaine in the past, your love for her was in your look. Now you look at her as if you are feeling pain. You need to let go of the past and embrace the present. The good news is that’s it. Nothing more can come up. It’s all out in the open now. Remember what we heard in church on Sunday. The message was that God forgives so how can we hold actions against someone who is truly sorry.”

“I don’t hold it against Elaine. She only did what she had to do in order to survive. I’ve done things too that I thought were necessary and regretted them afterwards thinking I should have found a better way.”

“Do you think Elaine should have found a better way?”

Rather sheepishly Adam had to admit he thought about that sometimes. “But then I realize that for a girl in a mining camp, there weren’t any other ways especially when her father wouldn’t help her. She must have been so scared, and she was so young.”

“She’s still very young and probably still scared about a lot of things. You married a very young woman, and surely you knew that sometimes that meant you would have to carry more of the responsibility in the marriage. Until she gets a bit older, it’s not going to be an equal partnership.”

“Yes, I know. She did tell Jon about how terrified she was when she was abandoned in that mining camp and how terrible she felt about doing things she believed were wrong. She said she still feels terrible about the things she did. He said he understood, but I don’t think he actually does. He’s trying though. This morning, he asked if he could do anything to help her. She couldn’t think of anything but thanked him.”

“Perhaps you could dance with her and show your son that the two of you are all right with each other? That might help Jon to know that his family is all right so he can move forward too. That’s all I had to say. I hope you don’t think I’m interfering, but I thought perhaps I could help.” Ben turned to walk away then knowing that Adam would need time to think it through. After greeting some guests and chatting, he looked back to the porch where the band was playing, and Adam was nowhere in sight. His guitar was sitting in a chair next to the band. Ben smiled. Adam was so smart, it only took a nudge now and then to get him to do the right thing.

In the house, Elaine was talking with several women. One of them, Cora, was the young woman with whom Hoss had danced quite a bit two weeks earlier. Adam heard Elaine encouraging her.

“Hoss is just as sweet as he seems. With Hoss, what you see is what you get. He is very open and honest. I could tell he liked you so all you have to do is let him know you like him too.”

Interrupting at that point by simply calling to Elaine, Adam smiled when she turned to him. “Could I have the pleasure of the next dance or two, Mrs. Cartwright?”

“I thought you were going to play guitar with the band.”
“I was until I had this incredible urge to dance with the most beautiful and charming woman here. Oh, no offense meant, ladies, but when my wife is around I can’t even see other women.” Adam held out his arm and Elaine smiled and slipped her arm through his. She had seen the look that said he loved her still and had forgiven her for all that had happened because of her. Once they were ready to dance, Adam gathered her into his arms and twirled around and around again as if no one else was there. He kept his eyes looking into her eyes making Elaine wonder how he could possibly avoid all those other couples who were dancing. Soon she realized that many of the couples had stopped dancing and were watching them. She smiled and did her best to follow Adam’s lead until the music stopped. There was applause then, which made her blush. They danced the next several dances before both needed a break. Jon came over to them then smiling.

“Papa, Mama, you got your smiles back.”

“Yes, we did. Now would you like to dance a square dance with your Mama? It’s about time I called one.”

“I don’t know how to dance a square dance.”

“Well, it’s about time you learned then. Just listen to the instructions and follow what everyone else is doing.”

Hoss was there with Cora and Joe had found a dance partner too. Several other couples lined up as well when Adam announced he would call a square dance. There were a few near collisions, and more than once, some of the dancers were a bit behind the others in moving to the new call, but all were laughing and having a good time. When Adam called for the ladies to pick up their partners, all of the men especially Hoss looked at Adam as if he was crazy. Elaine picked up Jon with some ease.

“And we have the winners of the square dance, our own Elaine Cartwright and Jon Cartwright.”

Jon was excited. “What’s the prize?”

“You may dance the next five dances with the lady of your choice.”

“Aw, Papa, I don’t want that prize.”

“You can give it away if you wish.”

Looking around, Jon pointed at Hoss and smiled. “Uncle Hoss, you can have my prize.”

“Thank you, Jon. You heard him, Miss Cora. I’m using that prize right now to claim five dances with you.” Hoss and Cora were sporting huge grins as they began the next dance.

Elaine moved beside Adam. “What prize do I win?”

Leaning down so only she could hear, Adam whispered to her. “You may take the man of your choice to your bed tonight and have your way with him.”

“That sounds wonderful. Is it time for all these people to go home now?”

Adam laughed and pulled Elaine into a hug. He leaned down and kissed her softly before leading her out to dance once more. Nearly everyone at the party saw that expression of affection. Although some of the ladies thought it was too much of a public display, every woman who saw it wanted a man to embrace her and hug her that way. There would be plenty of witnesses now who could swear that Adam’s marriage was a sound and beautiful one. It would counteract the gossip and rumors that had been rampant in town for two weeks. As Adam danced with Elaine, he knew in his heart that she loved him. She was even more beautiful with the knowledge that she was desired by her husband and cherished by him. It boosted her already strong confidence making her relax so she could let her inner joy emerge.

Ben was standing with Roy watching his two older sons dance. He especially liked seeing the smile that Hoss was sporting because it was clear he was quite enchanted with the young lady who looked at Hoss with adoring eyes. Ben hoped that maybe finally Hoss would be lucky in love. Adam had been lucky twice that way, but each had led him to heartache as well. It was Adam’s way though. It seemed he seldom took the easy route to anything.

“Ben, it looks like Adam and Elaine done weathered this storm pretty darn well. And that’s real good cause I think on him like a son. I hated it when I knew how all that talk was hurting the two of them.”

“Yes, he and Elaine have managed to rise above it. Anyone talking about them negatively may find that others will not like that.”

“Seeing her with Adam like that and seeing her with Jon earlier, anybody can see she’s a good wife for Adam and a good mother to that boy. I like stories that turn out well.”

“They’ve both been tested by circumstances in their lives, and both have come out of all of it stronger. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to get a last dance or two in before this party’s over.”

“I gotta head back to town. As the sun goes down, the trouble goes up every Saturday. I’ll see you all at church tomorrow morning.”

As Roy left, and Ben danced the last dances of the evening, Adam was putting Jon to bed. He didn’t want to go, but as Adam pointed out that the music had stopped and that there would only be work to do for the next hour, Jon decided that sleeping wasn’t such a bad idea. Adam smiled as he left his son’s room, but he stopped smiling when he saw Elaine looking very tired as she was walking down the hall.

“What’s wrong? Are you sick?”

“No, I’m not sick, but I guess everything caught up with me. I just got so tired.”

“Well, I’ll tuck you in too then, I guess.”

“Adam, I have to help with the cleaning up. I was only going to get an apron to wear.”

“No, you don’t. You need to rest. We have lots of people who can help clean up.” By the time he unbuttoned her dress and helped her slip it off, Adam was wishing he could stay up in their bedroom too. But instead, he helped her slip on a gown before tucking her in.

“Adam, wake me when you come up later.”

“Oh, and why would you want me to do that if you’re so tired?” He had such a cheeky grin that Elaine knew he was well aware of what she wanted. For the previous two weeks, they hadn’t made love much, and it was always with some tension. Both of them needed some loving time together to show the other how much they cared. Lovemaking was when Adam let all the barriers down. It was when he was the most open and vulnerable then allowing Elaine to see more of him than any other person ever would. She wanted and needed that at that time.

“You are such a tease. Now go help with the cleaning up, and wake me when you come up here later.”

Grinning as he left the room, Adam was still worried and the grin vanished as soon as he shut the door. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing another wife. Just the hint that Elaine wasn’t feeling well scared him. He took a deep breath and went down the stairs to help clean up. Joe asked where he had been so he told him. Joe had a grin but Adam told him he had only tucked his wife into bed because she wasn’t feeling well. When Joe realized Adam was worried, he didn’t tease any more. Ben and Hoss had heard the conversation as well.

“You don’t think she’s coming down with anything, do ya?”

“No, Hoss, I think she just did too much. But it has happened several times over the last few weeks and even before all the troubles we had. Sometimes she’s just exhausted and needs to rest. I’m worried that there might be something wrong.”

After Hoss and Joe left the house to go help put away the tables and chairs in the yard, Ben moved to Adam’s side. He was concerned too about Elaine.

“Son, perhaps on Monday, you could persuade her that a visit to Doctor Martin might be in order. I know he saw her only two weeks ago, but it couldn’t hurt to see what he thinks.”

“I’ll see. Is that a woman I hear laughing outside? Did Joe manage to keep one of the ladies from leaving tonight.”

It was Ben’s turn to grin. “No, Cora stayed to help clean up. Hoss volunteered to give her a ride home. Her family said that would be fine. I think they like Hoss too.”

“She seems very nice.”

“Yes, I think so too. Hoss says that she’s spunky, but I have seen no evidence of that. She seems quiet to me, but she seems to think a lot of Hoss so that’s good. She told him that Elaine said he was very sweet and gentle. I guess she was worried because he’s such a big man.”

“I hope that you don’t mind that Elaine was helping with the matchmaking. She loves Hoss like a brother.”

“At this point, anyone can help those two younger sons of mine with making a match. We’re almost done here. Why don’t you go see to your wife. I know you must be worried.”

“Thanks, Pa. I think I’ll do that.” When Adam got to the bedroom, he could hear Elaine’s soft steady breathing and knew she was sleeping. He undressed and then lifted the covers from the bottom of the bed. He massaged one of her feet very thoroughly and then did the other. He heard her breathing change as she awakened. She didn’t say anything letting him soothe the soreness from her feet. Tucking her feet back under the covers, he pulled the covers down to her waist and began massaging her back working from her neck all the way to her buttocks in long strokes putting gentle pressure in each one. He worked the muscles in her neck and shoulder and then made more long strokes down her body.

“That is lovely. You really know how to make a woman feel special.”

“Is there any other area that needs attention?”

“My legs are a bit tired too.”

Covering her back so she wouldn’t get chilled, Adam pulled the covers up again on the lower end of the bed. He slid his hands up her legs from her ankles to her thighs softly kneading the flesh and working out the soreness. He continued to massage her legs until she moved to roll over.

“I can’t do this as well if you roll over.”

“Oh, I think you can. You’re the expert though so I’ll just have to let you work on your techniques with me as your willing subject.”

“Ah, well then, sometimes a subject gets great benefit from a whole body massage.” So Adam slid under the covers with his wife and made sure every part of her was touched lovingly. Both fell asleep later relaxed as any two people could be.

*****

Chapter 5

The next morning, Hoss wasn’t back. Ben told everyone that he had told Hoss to take a room in town if it got too late. It was so much safer than coming home alone when it was so dark. However Ben was actually surprised. Although he often told his sons to do that, and Joe and Adam often did, Hoss usually came home partly because he enjoyed sleeping in his own big bed, but also because he hated to miss Hop Sing’s Sunday breakfast which usually included hotcakes. When they got to town and Hoss didn’t meet them at church, Ben sent Joe to the hotel to get him, but he wasn’t there. Then they began to worry, and that intensified when Adam found that their carriage was not at the livery stable. They were about ready to go into all out search mode when Elaine got Adam’s attention.

“Isn’t that our carriage coming down the road with that other carriage?”

Ben responded first. “Indeed it is, and that’s Cora beside him. He better have a good story for this one.” Ben couldn’t help slipping into his father mode when he saw Hoss driving the carriage with the woman he was supposed to have driven home the night before. Hoss arrived with a big grin. He jumped down from the carriage and rushed to the opposite side to help Cora down. Before Ben could say anything, Cora’s parents arrived in the second carriage.

“Hey, Pa. Cora’s father said there was no reason to get a room in town seeing as how they have an extra bedroom now that her brother got himself married. Cora and her sister shared a room last night so I could have a room. Cora’s mama is one fine cook, let me tell ya. We had stacks of hotcakes and piles of bacon for breakfast. Good thing I had my party duds on when I drove Cora home. Everything all right at home?” Hoss noticed his father’s look but had no idea what might be wrong.

“We checked at the hotel and at the livery stable. For all we knew, you were missing.”

“Well, it took a while to get going this morning, but we still got here before services started. I didn’t think you’d be worrying.”

“Oh, you didn’t think I’d be worrying.”

“Sorry, Pa.”

Then Ben couldn’t hold it in any longer and began laughing. “You boys aren’t the only ones who can play a prank on someone. Now, let’s get inside.”

The large group made quite an entrance and took up both front pews in the church. Adam and Elaine took seats in the second row with Jon between them. Cora’s parents sat with them. In front Ben sat next to Cora with Hoss on her other side. Of course, Joe had volunteered to escort Cora’s sister. Ben shook his head at that, but Joe was irrepressible when it came to women. After services, the women’s group was having a short meeting. Ben suggested that Hoss might like to invite Cora to Sunday dinner, but he didn’t want to go inside to interrupt the ladies. Elaine volunteered to go. As she entered the building, she stood shocked into immobility and silence.

“Well, somebody ought to do something about Cartwright bringing that kind of woman into our church.”

The Elaine heard Cora’s voice. “And what kind of woman is that? A woman who’s a loyal and devoted wife? A woman who is a loving mother to her stepson? I saw them together last night and no one could ask for a nicer woman to have in their family.”

“Well, you’re only saying that because you like that Hoss Cartwright. Now he would never bring such a woman into their family and expect everyone to accept her.”

“Well, I hope he would because I’m not perfect, but I like him very much. I hope he does consider me acceptable to his family because he has one of the most honorable and moral families I know. I would be honored to be accepted by them.”

“Well perhaps you shouldn’t be part of our Christian women’s group if you have such liberal ideas.”

Cora’s mother spoke up then. “My daughter said what I’ve been thinking on for some time now. How can we be a Christian group and listen to this condemnation of people. I think my daughters and I will be leaving now. We’ll have a Christian women’s group forming up at our house next Saturday at noon. Anyone here who believes and practices what Christ taught is welcome to attend. Oh, and by the way, I plan to invite Elaine Cartwright to join us. I got to talking with her a bit last night, and I think she would be a wonderful addition to our group.”

“Well, I never . . .

Cora interrupted her with a laugh. “Oh, yes you have, and so have we all. We’ve all sinned, and we all have our regrets. Thankfully, faith and remorse will take care of that for us. Good day, ladies. We’ll be leaving now.”

Cora, her mother, and her sister stood to leave. Most of the women in the room stood then too except for the leader of the small group and her two close friends. The three of them were the center of most of the gossip in town. Clementine Hawkins was the first of the other women to speak.

“I make some wonderful tea and biscuits although I’m not much for sewing. Would you be willing to let me assist with the refreshments for our meeting at your house on Saturday?”

“Clemmie, I would have been disappointed if you hadn’t volunteered. Thank you.”

Chatting and talking over what would be on the agenda for their meeting, the ladies began to file out of the church. Most were surprised to see Elaine standing in the vestibule.

Elaine stuttered out an apology. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but when I heard my name, I was frozen to this spot.”

“Oh, that’s fine, ducky. Did you hear then that our dear Mildred wants you to join our group? I hope you will.”

“I would be very pleased to join you. Cora, Hoss sent me in here to ask if you would be willing to come to dinner tonight on the Ponderosa. In fact, perhaps your sister and your parents would like to come too?”

“Oh, I can’t. My brother and his wife are coming over to our house this evening. Perhaps Hoss could join us?”

“Why don’t you go ask him? He hasn’t left yet.”

Hoss was pleased to be invited, but told Cora he had to go home and change. “I’ll be there in a shake of a horse’s tail though, ifn you don’t mind. Maybe we could go for a ride this afternoon?”

“Hoss, I would like that. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.”

After Cora left with her parents, Elaine walked up to Hoss. “She’s a keeper, Hoss. You better reel her in as quick as you can. That is definitely one you don’t want to let get away.”

“You like her then?”

“She’s wonderful. I look forward to being her friend, so don’t you mess this up.” Elaine had a mock frown when she said it, but it didn’t fool Hoss in the slightest. He picked her up in a big Hoss hug before he set her down and hurried to drive the carriage home. Elaine walked to the surrey where Adam helped her up into the seat in back with Jon before climbing in himself. Ben and Joe were on the front seat. Joe snapped the reins to follow Hoss home.

All were curious, but Adam asked first. “Now what was that all about?” Elaine explained everything that she had heard and about the plans for the next Saturday. Adam and Ben smiled. Things were definitely looking up, and both were pleased to find out that indeed Cora did have some spunk as Hoss had described it. Jon had listened and had his own question.

“Is anyone going to explain it so I can understand it?”

“Hoss likes Cora and might be seeing a lot of her. He’s going to be at Cora’s home for dinner today. We like Cora too. Elaine and Cora are going to be in a women’s group and do things to help people.”

“So is Uncle Hoss gonna marry Cora?”

“That could happen. We have to wait and see.”

“Why, if he likes her, and you like her, and she likes him, why wait?”

Adam didn’t have an answer for that right away. He looked at his father and at Elaine to see if they were willing to help, but they both had those little smiles that said they enjoyed seeing him in this situation where he had to struggle a bit to come up with the right thing to say. “Remember the first time you ate some of Hop Sing’s peach pie. You thought it was all right. But every time he fixed it, you had a piece and liked it more and more. Now it’s your favorite dessert. It’s that way with people sometimes too. You think they’re all right, but the more time you spend with them, the more you like them. As you learn more about them, they seem better and better to you just like the peach pie did to you. Does that make sense?”

“Sure, Papa, but why didn’t you just say that Uncle Hoss needed to get to know her better before he marries her?”

To laughter all around, Adam nodded. “Yes, that’s what I should have said.”

“It’s nice today. Can we have a picnic?”

“May we have a picnic?”

“I don’t know. Do we have to ask Grandpa?”

Adam shook his head and closed his eyes in exasperation. Some days it seemed that Jon did his best to make conversation difficult. He never grinned when he did it though so Adam didn’t know if he was innocent or a much better actor than his father. Elaine whispered in Jon’s ear.

“Papa, may we have a picnic today? I think Mama wants one too.”

“Well, then perhaps we should. Does everyone want to have a picnic?”

Ben turned back. “I would love to have a picnic today. It’s been a long time since I was on a picnic, and we certainly have a lot of food left from the party so packing a picnic lunch won’t be a problem at all.”

Once they got to the house, changed clothing, and began gathering things for a picnic, Hoss had to ask. “Dadburnit, I want to be on the picnic too.”

“Son, you were going to take Cora for a ride. Bring her down to the lake where we always picnic. You could be there at least for a while. You could even see if her family wanted to come. They could still be back for dinner.”

“Pack enough food then. I’m heading over there as fast as I can go to see if they want to join us.”

By the time that Adam and Ben got the others to the lake, set up the picnic area, and unpacked food and drinks, Hoss was walking down the slope with Cora. Both of them had huge grins because they enjoyed each other’s company so much. Elaine stepped close to Adam.

“Did we ever have grins that big when we were together at first?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Adam saw how disappointed Elaine was with that answer. “Because I was always staring at you and wondering how I could have been so lucky. I expected to be hit with lightning at any moment. It made me too nervous to grin like that.”

Even though Elaine softly punched him in the arm for that, Adam knew she was please with his answer. She smiled and the love was back in her eyes too. Jon wanted to skip stones so they made their way to the shore. Hoss walked down with Cora to participate as Ben sat in the shade of the tree enjoying the view. He wondered where Joe had gone until he heard a yell from up above. Joe had gotten a couple of bigger boulders to the edge of a cliff. He wanted to roll them into the water for a big splash. The first one dropped against some rocks, but the second hit the water creating a small geyser. Jon was impressed and yelled up to his uncle.

“Wow, Uncle Joe, can you do more of those?” Then he turned to his father with a question too. “Can I go up there to help him, Papa?”

“May you go up there to help him?”

“Huh?”

“The word you want to use is may not can. May is asking permission while can refers to your ability to do something.”

Jon thought for a moment. “So that’s why you’ve been repeating my questions all the time. Why didn’t you just tell me the first time?”

Laughing enthusiastically, Elaine had to sit down on a boulder before she collapsed. Adam scowled at her and then at his son. “I thought you understood but didn’t remember to use the correct word.”

“No, I was wondering why you did that. Now I know. May I go up and help Uncle Joe?”

“No, you may not. You can’t go up there without an adult, and I have no interest in scaling rocks right now.”

“If Uncle Hoss or Grandpa goes with me, can I, I mean, may I go up there?”

“Yes, you may if one of them goes with you.”

Jon turned his eyes on Hoss and asked.

“No, punkin, cause I got a guest here, and it would be rude to leave her here while I went with you. I think Grandpa could use a little exercise though. It’s been a while since he did any climbing.” Hoss thought he was setting his father up for a little teasing, but he was surprised when a minute later, Ben was walking with Jon toward the cliff. “Whenever I want something from Pa from now on, I’m sending Jon to ask. Pa sure does like being a grandfather.”

Meanwhile Adam had wrapped his arms around Elaine’s waist as the two prepared to skip some stones. Adam held her so she didn’t slip on the rocks, and Elaine deftly skipped stones over the water’s surface.

“Oh, Hoss, I want to do that.”

Hoss was thinking it would be nice to do it just like Adam was so he wrapped one arm around Cora’s waist after picking up a few small flat stones and handing them to her. “Now, I’ll just hang onto you like Adam is hanging onto Elaine so she don’t fall. I don’t want you to slip on the wet rocks either.” He held her then and couldn’t help but enjoy the warm sensation of her body pressed against his and the smell of her hair just under his chin. He looked over to see Adam grinning at him and had to grin back. Right then he decided that he was going to ask Cora if he could court her. Then they would have to make sure that was all right with her parents. He felt a peace settle over him that he had never felt before and understood for the first time what Adam meant when he had said that being married to the right person completed him.

*****

Chapter 6

The rest of the picnic was relaxing and fun, and as the afternoon grew close to dusk, the carriages were packed up and they headed back home although Hoss was having dinner with Cora’s family first. When he returned to the Ponderosa, he had a strange look as though he was happy and sad at the same time. Ben asked him if anything bad had happened.

“Nah, just some good news that is gonna take a while to happen.”

That confused everyone, but they had to wait until Hoss took off his coat, hat, and gunbelt. Then he seated himself on the settee and stared into the fire. Joe couldn’t wait any longer.

“So what happened? You can’t just stop there.”
“Oh, Cora agreed to me courting her. She’s all right with the idea of us getting hitched and having a passel of kids.”

Joe rushed to Hoss’ side and slapped him on the back. “That’s great news. Just great. We’re gonna have the best wedding anybody ever saw here in Nevada.”

Ben and Adam waited quietly because they knew there was more to Hoss’ story.

“Gonna be a while, Joe.”

“What?”

“Her parents think that we oughta have a long session of courting. Her mama was saying she always dreamed of her daughters having a June wedding like she did when the flowers are in bloom and everything’s so green and purty. I kinda like that picture too, cept it’s nearly eight months away.”

“Son, perhaps her family wants her to be sure. She is rather young, and mothers tend to be very protective of their daughters.”

“Pa, she’s as old as Elaine, and she wants to get married too. Her brother is only a year older, and he’s already married.”

“I’m sorry, but I think you have to accept her parents’ decision. If they want her to wait, then it wouldn’t be proper to rush things.”

“That’s a long time to wait.”

Everyone except Jon understood that it wasn’t the wedding that had Hoss concerned. It was going to be very difficult to be with Cora all that time without any kind of intimacy. Joe, of course, was the only one who said anything about that earning a harsh look from his father before he even finished. “Well, it’s almost winter, Hoss. You’ll be able to roll in the snow to cool yourself down.”

“Joseph, you would be good to remember that there is a lady present and a boy when you decide to speak like that.”

“Sorry, Pa. I was only trying to lighten the mood a bit.”

“So you thought you would lighten the mood a bit with that comment? Perhaps you could consider lightening the mood by some sincere congratulations for your brother, and perhaps we could also discuss where the wedding will be.”

Jon had the best comment. “I don’t know why you want to get married anyway. I know what that means you have to do. Papa told me.”

“Jon, not now.”

“Yes, Papa.” It was time for bed for him anyway so he made a strategic retreat up the stairs. Adam went up a few minutes later to tuck him in. Joe had a comment for that too.

“Isn’t he getting to be a little old for getting tucked in every night?”

“Joe, Pa still tucks you in almost every night. You just don’t know it.”

Looking over at Ben in smirking disbelief, Joe was surprised to see that his father looked a little embarrassed. “Son, a father’s work is never done.”

“You come in every night?”
“You do have a tendency to throw off the covers and leave your window open.”
“No, every morning, it’s closed.” Then Joe halted realizing what he had just said. He looked at his father. “Almost every night? Just me or do you check on Hoss and Adam?”

“Well, I can hear Hoss so I know he’s all right, and Adam was usually up as late or later than I am and now has Elaine to care for him, so yes, I just check on you almost every night.”

“So twenty years from now, Adam will still be checking on Jon every night?”

“Well, I am hoping that Jon will get married at a younger age than his father so Adam won’t have to do that.” That got a chuckle from everyone and did lighten the mood. Then Ben returned to a topic Hoss had introduced and everyone had ignored. “You did say that the two of you want a passel of kids?”

“Shur, Pa, you know I always like having kids around. It would be a hoot to have a bunch of my own. I love Jon, but I want my own.”

“I like the sound of that, son. I like the sound of that a lot. How about some brandy to celebrate this occasion even if you have to wait until June. Maybe as the next month or two pass, her parents might be persuaded to move up the date.”

“I shur would love that, Pa, moving up the date, that is. I wouldn’t mind a bit of brandy too though.”

After sharing brandy with his sons, Ben smiled as he sat in his red leather chair by the fireplace absorbing the warmth of the fire as his heart was warmed by the thought of Hoss being married and having children. Ben longed for more grandchildren, and Hoss’ news couldn’t have been better as far as he was concerned. He sipped a second brandy and relaxed. The morrow could bring no news that could tarnish this moment.

Upstairs, Adam had undressed and slipped into bed waiting for Elaine to finish with her evening ablutions. She liked a bit of privacy when she did that, and as they did not have a water closet for her to use, she was behind the screen in their room. Adam thought she was taking a long time and asked if she needed help with anything. She said no, but her shaky voice told him something else. When she slipped into bed, he reached for her.

“Adam, I’m very tired. I need to sleep.”

“C’mere. I’m not trying to convince you to make love with me. I want you to talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired.”

“I don’t want to go back to this. We spent a couple of weeks not talking. I hated that. We just had a good weekend, and everything seemed better, but now you won’t talk with me again.”

Elaine could hear the hurt in his voice, and she didn’t like not being in his arms either. She snuggled in to his embrace then. “Adam, I am just very tired. Could we talk tomorrow if you still want to?”

“Only if you agree to go see Doctor Martin. I want to know why you’ve been so tired the last few weeks.”

“With everything that happened, I would think that was obvious.”

“It was happening before all the trouble occurred. And it seems to hit you very hard some times. You look pale when you get that tired. I want you to see the doctor.”

“All right, if it happens again when I haven’t a good reason for it, then I’ll go see the doctor. But this was a long day with a lot happening. I guess I’m just not as strong as you are. I need my sleep.”

Adam let her close her eyes and drift into sleep, but he didn’t fall asleep for quite a while. He wondered if there was something seriously wrong, or if she was correct, and she simply needed rest after doing so much. He had felt invigorated after their time at the lake, but perhaps for Elaine, it had been more tiring. He hoped that was true as he closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep. In the morning, Elaine did look much better. She had good color and seemed energetic. Adam thought that at least for the time being, he would accept her explanation of why she had these episodes of being so exhausted. When his father asked if he was taking Elaine to see the doctor, he offered her explanation and could see that his father was skeptical as well. But Elaine ate a good breakfast and began working on new curtains for Ben’s bedroom. The two men watched her work as they sat at Ben’s desk.

“With Hoss getting married and planning on a lot of children, this house isn’t going to be large enough. Have you thought about what you want to do?”

“If you mean do I like living here, the answer is yes. I feel more comfortable knowing that Jon and Elaine are here.”

“And your privacy?”

“That is a bit of a concern, I admit, but a small price to pay for the peace of mind.”

“I have a suggestion.” Adam looked at his father wondering what it could be because he had no idea what it might be. “There’s room at the back of the house for an addition. I thought that if you wanted to, you could design an edition with bedrooms and an office. It could be your wing of the house. You would all have some privacy, but you would still be in the main house sharing the main rooms.”

Adam was thoughtful before answering. “That’s an appealing idea. Elaine would like a water closet. I could build on into the addition.”

“If you did that, I would like one too. Perhaps Jon’s bedroom could be remodeled into one?”

Hearing his name and his bedroom mentioned, Jon looked up from the book he had been reading. It was storming and Adam had told him that he was staying home from school. He hadn’t objected because he didn’t like storms at all. Now though he overheard part of his father’s conversation with his grandfather and wanted to know what they were discussing. “What are you going to do with my room? Where am I going to sleep?”

“You’re way ahead of us on that one, Jon. Grandpa was saying that we could add on to the house. You would have a new bedroom and so would Mama and I. We could have a water closet in the addition, and Grandpa wants one for the upstairs too.”

“What’s a water closet?”

“It’s an indoor necessary, but we would add a bathtub, and a wash basin. You wouldn’t have to use the necessary outside, and we would have no need of chamberpots either.”

“I’d like that!” Elaine joined the conversation as well.

“I’ll have to go to town to order what we need. It likely will be months before the parts for that arrive.”

“If you could design the addition, we could get walls and a roof in place before the snow flies. Then we could work on the rest during the winter months when the walls start to close in on you. It would be an excellent winter project.”

“Pa, what about Hoss? What does he want to do when he gets married?”

“He’s out right now with Joe looking at potential building sites.” Chuckling a little, Ben related some of the conversation he had had with Hoss that morning. “He’s a little concerned about leaving Hop Sing behind. He has not asked Cora if she can cook. He thinks she probably is a good cook because her mother cooks well, but he hasn’t found that out yet.”

Chuckling, Adam leaned back in his chair. “It must be true love then.”

“Yes, it must be true love then. Now, I’m going to town unless you would rather go to drop off these papers for me?” Ben inclined his head toward Elaine wondering if Adam had convinced her to see the doctor.

“No, I think I’ll go do some measurements. Jon can help me. Any other errands I have in town can wait for a week or so.” Adam let his father know that he was still deeply concerned, but that for the time being, it was a wait and see situation.

For the rest of the morning, Adam did some measuring and started to visualize how an addition could be designed. Jon had never seen anything built or at least not that he could remember so Adam had a lot of questions to answer as they walked with a measuring rod, and Adam pounded stakes into the ground. His father had been correct that there was plenty of room for an addition, but with the slope, there were going to be three stories instead of two. Adam liked the idea of having the two top floors, but he would have to talk with his father and brothers about what to do with a lower floor.

“Papa, are you and Mama gonna have a baby?”

“Well, we would like to but God hasn’t blessed us with one yet.”

“Are you trying?”

“Jon, what have I told you about that?”

“Sorry, Papa, but I was thinking I’d really like a brother, and if you had one now, he’d still be way younger than me.”

“I’m six years older than Hoss and we’re good brothers.”

“Yeah, Papa, but you’re both old. I want a young brother, one I can play with, and share things with.”

“You’ll have to include that in your prayers at night and hope God blesses us with one.”

“I will, Papa. I will.”

At lunch with the rest of the family later, Adam discussed options for the lower floor, but none of the ideas were appealing. The final decision was to frame in the lower floor and leave it for future expansion as they saw fit. For the time being, it would be empty. That being decided, Adam asked if they would like him to build a veranda out from the second floor addition.

“Adam, what’s a veranda?”

“Hoss, it’s like a big porch but it’s roofed and has a railing all around. It’s quite popular in Australia right now according to articles I’ve read, and they’ve been a part of New Orleans architecture for a long time.”

As soon as New Orleans was mentioned, Joe agreed that a veranda was a good idea. Ben thought it would make the back of the house as attractive as the front so he agreed as well. Adam mentioned that it could be used as a summer dining area because it would be cooler for eating and won Hoss over to the idea as well.

“Well, then all I need to do is to draw it and come up with a list of supplies that will be needed. We can keep the lumber mill operating until we cut what we need for the beams and the framing. If we get that done before the snow flies, we can work on the rest during the winter. It could be ready by spring or even late winter.”

“Yeah, and then we can build my house. I picked a spot not more than a quarter mile from here. It’s right purty. I want a house with a lot of bedrooms for a passel of kids.”

“And still within range of Hop Sing’s kitchen.”

“Now, Joe, you know I was only thinking of Cora’s safety and how purty that spot is.” Except Hoss’ grin belied his words giving everyone a good chuckle. Adam thought back to how just days before, life had seemed so difficult, and with his family’s help, it was all looking better. That lasted until Elaine excused herself to go up to their bedroom. After agreeing to design a house for Hoss as soon as he could, Adam excused himself and followed her closing the bedroom door when he entered. Elaine was sitting on the bed and looking pale.

“All right. It’s time we talk, and one of the subjects is going to be when you go to see Doctor Martin.”

*****

Chapter 7

“Adam, I don’t need to see Doctor Martin. I just get tired. I’m not sick. I’m not in pain.”

“But you weren’t like this before. For the past month or so, this has happened often. I want you to see the Doctor. Maybe it’s something simple, and he can have you feeling better soon.”

“I doubt he has anything to make me feel better about this. It’s just that so much has happened in the past year. I think it all just caught up with me.”

Sitting next to Elaine on the bed, Adam wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. A few tears coursed down her cheeks. Softly he talked to her. “I love you. I want you to tell me what’s wrong. I know the last couple of weeks were difficult, but I thought we worked that out. I hope I haven’t done anything to make you feel so sad and down. Why the tears?”

“It’s Hoss.”

That shocked Adam. “What could Hoss have done to make you feel badly?”

“It’s not what he’s done. It’s what he says, and he says it a lot. He wants a lot of children, and Adam, we’ve been married almost a year, and with everything we do, I thought for sure there would be a baby on the way by now. But I’m still barren. What if I can’t ever have a baby?”

“I know it’s trite to say this, but it’s still true. What will happen, will happen. We have each other. We have Jon. If that’s all there ever is, we’re very lucky. If you do become with child, I will be very happy, but my life will not be unhappy if you do not bear children. How do you feel about it?”

“I want to have a baby so much. I think I need to have a baby to make me feel like a true wife and a true mother. Every other woman who wants a baby seems to have one.”

“Sweetheart, you are a wonderful wife to me and a wonderful mother to Jon. Is this because of things your father said to you?” At Elaine’s nod, Adam continued. “He was a man who thought he was doing good, but he was doing evil to those around him. Nothing can be more insidious than someone who believes in their heart that they must do things like he did. It’s how I feel about the men who led the South into a war they could not win sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives and damaging our nation nearly beyond repair all for their own selfish ends. Their fanaticism hurt so many. Your father sadly was a fanatic. He’s gone now, but the damage he did may take a long time to repair. Know that I always loved you, admired you, and wanted you by my side even if it took me some time to admit it to myself.”

“You admired me after what I had done?”

“You were sixteen years old and you found a way to survive in a situation in which many would have perished. You were courageous and bold. Who knows what choices a person will make until they are thrust into dire circumstances and have to make quick decisions that may have long-term effects. You did the best you could and kept your spirit at the same time. Of course, I admired your determination in the face of adversity. You are a heroine in my book.”

“I’m in one of your books?”

“Well, I meant that figuratively, but you are in my journals. I struggled a lot with the decision first that I could not pursue a romantic relationship with you, and I struggled with my desires for you despite what my mind was telling me.”

“Do you ever let anyone read your journals?”

Rubbing his cheek as he thought, Adam took some time before answering. “Those are my most private thoughts. If you want to read any of it, you may, but you need to know that you are not to share anything in my journals with anyone else. Those journals should never leave this room. Years ago I hid them from Joe, and they’re still hidden. I don’t always write in them. I only write when I’m troubled and need to express myself. I trust you as my wife so I trust you with my innermost thoughts and feelings.”

“I understand. I don’t think I want to read them now. I was thinking it would be fun to know what you thought, but I guess there would be a lot of doubt and indecision in there too. It’s best if I don’t read our past.”

“Thank you. Now, about the future: I want you to see Doctor Martin this week.”
Nodding, Elaine conceded that point. “After you’re done drawing the addition, you can give me approximate measurements for windows. I want to sew curtains and matching bedcovers for the bedrooms, and sew some curtains for an office for you too. We can go to town to shop for fabric, and then I’ll go see Doctor Martin if you still want me to.”

The week was very busy, and by Friday, it was too late to accomplish that goal, but Elaine had felt well all week without any of those spells when she seemed so exhausted. Adam was relieved of much of his worry and wondered if the spells had been emotional in nature. That Saturday, Cora was coming over to spend the day with Hoss and his family. Her parents insisted that the couple should be chaperoned if they were spending an entire day together, so the whole family were the designated chaperones. Joe was the one who tried to have fun with it pushing between Cora and Hoss whenever he thought they got too close together. After almost two hours of that, Hoss had had enough.

“Joe, you do that one more time, and you’re gonna be breaking that ice in the horse trough with your head. You understand that, little brother?”

“Sure, Hoss. I only meant to have a little fun. I didn’t want to make you mad.”

“Well, mebbe you ought to think on what you’re doing in the future before you get yourself in a lot of trouble. Miss Cora is a guest in our home, and I expect you to be on you best behavior when she’s around.”

“Sorry, Miss Cora. I meant no offense.”

“Yeah, Joe, about time you growed up some so you wouldn’t have to be apologizing to the ladies all the time.”

Unable to hold his mirth inside, Ben took the pipe he had been filling and headed out to the porch. Adam quickly followed him. He didn’t trust himself to speak so he patted Hoss on the shoulder on the way out grabbing his coat and his father’s for Ben had hurried out so fast he neglected to take his coat. Once outside, the two nearly collapsed in laughter. Hearing Hoss sounding like a father and scolding Little Joe had been especially humorous. Inside Jon sat on the settee and leaned in to whisper to Elaine.

“Mama, why did Papa and Grandpa think it was funny that Uncle Hoss was yelling at Uncle Joe and telling him how to behave?”

“Hoss sounded a lot like a father there scolding Joe for his behavior. I guess now that your Uncle Hoss is planning to be married and a father, his attitude has changed.”

“Does that mean I won’t be able to have fun with him any more?”

“Oh, no, you’re a boy so your Uncle Hoss will be happy to have fun with you. He’s always treated you well, and he loves you as much as any man can. He just wants his brother to act more like a man and less like a boy. He doesn’t like all the teasing he’s gotten this morning, and he’s letting your Uncle Joe know that.”

“I didn’t tease him.”

“I know. You have been very nice to Cora, and Uncle Hoss appreciates that. In fact, he told your Uncle Joe just that a minute ago. He said you treated Cora better than Joe did.” That made Jon proud, and he sat up and listened to the rest of the conversation understanding it far better than he had when it began.

The family gathered together for lunch that went well as Cora learned more about the family, and they learned about hers.. After lunch, Adam and Elaine were going to take a ride with Hoss and Cora to the site that Hoss had chosen for their home. If Cora approved, then Hoss and Adam were going to pace off dimensions and set some rocks at corners. That was the plan, but as they arrived at the site, Elaine had another of her spells where she was weak and needed to lie down. Instead of pacing off dimensions and setting the corners, Hoss drove the wagon to town so that Elaine could see Doctor Martin. Adam held Elaine in his embrace as they drove. Cora kept looking back to be sure they didn’t need any more help. The skies turned gray and the clouds loomed lower as bad weather threatened and then hit before they reached town. Hoss had driven carefully so as not to jostle Elaine, but regretted that when cold icy rain pelted them for the last few miles of the trip.

“I’m so sorry. Ifn I’d a known this was gonna happen, I woulda drove faster.”

Adam had removed his coat and wrapped it around Elaine. Hoss handed the reins to Cora for a moment and removed his coat too handing it to Adam. “That’s big enough to go around her once more. Keep her head down and she should be dry enough and warm enough until we get to the Doc’s office.”

Thanking him, Adam took the coat and wrapped it around Elaine. She objected saying Hoss would get too chilled, but Adam gave her the same answer he had given her when she objected to him removing his coat to wrap it around her. “We’ve been through worse, and we’re not sick. You need to stay warm.”

At the doctor’s office, Adam lifted Elaine and handed her off to Hoss who stood at the side of the wagon. He headed into the office before Adam could climb stiffly from the wagon. He helped Cora from the wagon and escorted her inside. Paul took one look at the two men.

“My prescription for you two is to go to the bathhouse for a hot bath, get some dry clothing, and meet me back here in an hour. I’ll have some answers for you by then. Oh don’t look at me like that, Adam Cartwright. You’re not going to do your wife any good by getting sick. There’s nothing the two of you can do here for the next hour except shiver and shake. Now go.”

“Doctor, I could help.”

“Yes, Cora, I think you could. Let’s get Elaine to the examining room.” Paul thought that Cora looked like she knew what was going on. He suspected she might because it had happened to her sister-in-law too.

After a trip to the mercantile for dry clothing and the fastest bath Adam probably ever had, he was back in the doctor’s office. Hoss arrived fifteen minutes later. They drank coffee that had been brewed hours ago and hardly noticed the bitter flavor as they sat and worried.

At about the hour mark, Paul came out as he said he would. He asked Adam to come back with him as Cora came out to sit with Hoss. She whispered to him. “It’s nothing bad.” Cora was smiling so Hoss relaxed. Adam heard but didn’t comprehend what she could mean. His only thoughts were his wife and what might be wrong. Elaine was resting on the bed in the room and looking far better than she had an hour earlier. She had a glass of water in her hand, and Paul told her to keep drinking as he talked with Adam. It took a minute before what Paul was saying penetrated Adam’s consciousness, and even then, he asked him to repeat it.

“The last time I saw Elaine, she said that the two of you were looking forward to having children. I could see that was the case, and I told both of you that I didn’t see any problem. It was only in talking with Elaine that I realized she was speaking of a future possibility, and I was speaking about a present reality. I am sorry for the misunderstanding. I wondered at the time why you didn’t look happier.”

“So we’re going to have a baby? That’s why she’s been feeling that way?”

“Well, it is a bit more complex than that. I knew she was with child, but I had no idea until today that it’s two.”

“We’re going to have twins?”

“As far as I can tell, and that’s part of the reason why she’s been so faint. Having two is harder than one. She’s also had the urge to go to the necessary a lot more often. So when she’s had something to do like be a hostess at a dance or take a wagon ride, she hasn’t been drinking anything so as not to inconvenience anyone else. That is a common problem with ladies in her condition, but having two is a greater strain on a woman’s body. Instead of drinking less, she should be drinking more. I want her to eat better too. She thought she was gaining weight because her dresses were getting tight so she cut back on eating just when she should be eating more. The combination of those factors caused her episodes of being weak and tired or even a bit dizzy.”

“But, how could she be with child?”

Smiling, Paul shook his head. “If you weren’t so worried, I would chide you for that remark.” Adam scowled. “No, I know what you mean. Her flow diminished but didn’t stop. She is at least three months along, and I doubt there’ll be any more of that. That happens fairly often, but Elaine had no way of knowing that. If there is a problem with that, we may have to have her spend more time in bed or resting with her feet up.”

“Can I take her back home?”

“Eventually, you can, but right now, I want her to rest and stay warm. When the weather clears, then you can take her home.”

The rain had stopped, but the sky still looked threatening. After Hoss learned from Cora what she knew about Elaine, he headed to the mercantile to buy two slickers so that he and Cora could return to the Ponderosa. The plan was to have dinner there, and then Hoss would take her home. He suspected that by now, his father was worried that they had not yet returned especially after the storm. He returned to Paul’s office to congratulate his brother and tell him he would be back the next day for him.

“I’ll tell Pa and Jon what’s going on ifn you want.”

“I would like to be the one to tell them, but you should. They’ll be worried, and if they don’t get the whole story, they will continue to worry. We’ll stay in the hotel tonight. We’ll make a trip to the mercantile for the things we need. Thank you, Hoss, and thank you, Cora.”

Adam hugged his brother and then his future sister-in-law. She had never seen him so overwhelmed by emotion. After he returned to the examining room to sit with Elaine while she rested, Cora turned to Hoss.

“I know you said he was very warm and gentle, but I never had seen that in him. I’ve seen him smile that warm smile of his, and I’ve seen how he looks at her and Jon with such love in his eyes. I just never expected to be hugged by him.”

“It made me pretty happy too. I know now that Adam has completely accepted you into the family. If he had any doubts, he wouldn’t have done that.”

“What would he have done?”

“He woulda tried to find out your faults and make sure I didn’t make a terrible mistake.” The Hoss told her about Helen and Regan and the trouble they had caused between him and Adam.

“So he did that to protect you? Is he always like that?”

“Yup, he’d rather have me mad at him or hurtin him instead of me being hurt.”

“You two are a lot alike then.”

Hoss smiled because the lady he loved thought of him as the hero type too. He packed the slickers under the seat before helping Cora into the wagon for the ride home.

*****

Chapter 8

“How do you feel?” Adam was sitting by Elaine’s bedside as she awakened. She hadn’t even realized how tired she was. He had asked her earlier to close her eyes for a bit and relax. Four hours later, she awakened.

“I feel rested. I feel better than I have in days. Doctor Martin made me drink a lot of water, and now I need to do something about that. I think that’s what woke me up.”

After helping her find the chamberpot, Adam stepped from the room to give her privacy and to tell Paul that she was awake. Paul suggested he take her to dinner and then to the hotel for the night. Adam liked the sound of that. They hadn’t done that in a while, and he missed their romantic nights in town. First though, they headed to the mercantile to get things they needed. Adam already had clean clothing, but needed a shaving kit. Elaine needed some clothing and some other things as well. Adam saw a pretty tortoise shell brush and comb set, and when Elaine wasn’t looking, he pointed to it and had it added to their order. With everything packed into a brown paper package, they headed to the hotel to reserve a room. It wasn’t unusual for them to do that so the desk clerk thought nothing of it except that Adam was carrying a brown paper package instead of a small valise.

“Would you like to go to the restaurant or eat here?” Adam was unwrapping the bundle of items they had brought to the room.

“I think a dinner here would be lovely. I want to relax, and we could spend more time together by skipping the restaurant.”

“We would be together at the restaurant.”

“You are such a tease. You know what I mean. Together: literally. Now order that dinner. I’m starved.”

“Yes, my lady, your wish is my command.”

“Always?”

“Well for tonight, and probably for a lot of nights and days while you carry our babies. You have three to care for now, so I’ll do what I can to lighten your burden.”

“Adam, it isn’t a burden. I have to admit I was scared there for a bit, but now, I feel like I’m walking on air. Not only will I give you a baby, I’ll give you two. Do you want boys or girls?”

“Either or both. I’ll be happy to have either, but sometimes twins are one of each. I love Jon, and another son would be wonderful, but it would be very sweet to have a daughter.”

“You miss Peggy, don’t you, even if that was years ago?”

“Yes, she felt like my daughter, and then when things fell apart with Laura, I lost Peggy too.”

“Fell apart is a very polite way of describing what happened.”

“Will saved me from an unhappy marriage, and if Laura would do that to me, what kind of feelings did she have for me anyway? I’ve thought about it for years. I did love her but probably not enough. I have to wonder if she ever loved me, and if she did, how she could turn away from me so easily.”

“She wasn’t a very intelligent woman then. I could never turn away from you. Now how about ordering that dinner? I’m famished and starved for your attentions at the same time. If that food isn’t here soon, dinner might be interrupted.”

“Sweetheart, I never mind that kind of interruption.”

Wasting no more of their precious time together, Adam went downstairs and ordered dinner as well as dessert to be delivered a couple of hours later. By the time he got back to the room, Elaine had shed her clothing and was bathing herself as well as she could with just a basin of cold water. Adam walked behind her and took the cloth from her hand.

“Sit. Let me do this for you. I promise I’ll be gentle.” He washed her back and then her arms before washing her legs and feet. Each area was gently cleansed with the soapy cloth before he used a clean wet cloth to wipe the soap residue away. Finally he gently dried each area before moving on to wash the next. When he finished, he held her robe and helped her tie the sash in front. As she stood before him, he let his hands gently explore the slowly growing baby bump. He had done this before with Barbara when she was carrying Jon. However then, he was still partly afraid that something awful could happen. He had learned that just because his mother had died, most women survived and even grew more beautiful and sensual as the pregnancy progressed. It seemed that was how it was going to be with Elaine. She already looked more voluptuous and definitely had an increased desire for sexual intimacy. He very much appreciated both of those developments. Because dinner would soon arrive, he did nothing more.

“You’re not too disappointed, are you? If you sit back down, I’ll brush out your hair for you too.” Adam retrieved the brush and comb that Elaine had not yet seen and began brushing her hair as soon as she removed all the pins holding it in place.

“I could most certainly get used to this. That’s so relaxing. Wait a minute. Where did you get a brush and comb? I didn’t have one with me.”

Adam handed her the comb as he finished brushing out her long wavy locks. “I bought them for you at the mercantile. It’s a nice set you can use when we travel. They’re pretty and much lighter than the silver set I bought you last Christmas.”

“Oh, you didn’t have to do this. One set was good enough for me.”

“I wanted to do something special for you. Now shush and let me finish.” Adam slowly brushed out her hair then until a knock on the door signaled that their dinner had arrived. Both were very hungry so dinner didn’t last long. Elaine retired to the bed as soon as she could and waited for Adam. She didn’t have to wait long. He joined her there, and they made love sensuously for over an hour. She was almost ready to suggest that she was ready to get some sleep when there was another knock on the door. Adam slipped from the bed and pulled his pants on. Elaine wondered what was happening until she smelled something that made her mouth water.

“They got a late shipment of peaches from California. They put them in a sauce to pour over some shortcake. I thought you and our babies might like it before sleeping tonight.”

“You only got one?”

“It’s supposed to be for two. Here, sit up a bit so I can feed it to you.” Adam scooped up a generous spoonful and held it to her lips. She playfully opened wide and took it all in. She closed her eyes as the wonderful taste of the sweet peaches and the cake enveloped her senses. It tasted and smelled delicious. The dessert was gone very fast.

“Oh, I wonder if we can have some of that for breakfast.”

“It’s already ordered. Breakfast will be served early though, so we need to get some sleep now. I don’t want you starting the day tired. If the weather is nice enough, we’ll go home tomorrow.”

“And if it isn’t?”

“We have this room as long as we need it, but Jon will be missing us so I hope we don’t have to stay in town too long.”

Sunday began much as Saturday afternoon had been with intermittent showers, a cold wind, and occasional lightning and thunder. Adam kept Elaine at the hotel although they did venture into the dining room for lunch and for dinner. He wished he had gotten some books from the mercantile, but they did have editions of the San Francisco newspapers to read. On Monday morning, they did some shopping for fabric before Hoss arrived in town with the carriage to give them a ride home. Elaine was very curious as to how Cora’s visit had gone.

“Well, I just took her home, and she was smiling. Her parents were smiling too so I guess it’s all going real well.”

“Do you mean to say she stayed for the whole weekend?” Elaine was very surprised by that but probably shouldn’t have been.

“Yup, the weather was so bad by Saturday night that Pa said she had to stay. Then you know how bad it was all day yesterday, so I brought her home this morning. Her pa said he knew I would take good care of their daughter so they weren’t too worried. She and Jon talked a lot. He was real surprised at your news, but Cora talked with him about it and talked about how her brother’s wife is expecting twins too and how happy she is for them. That’s why she wasn’t so surprised at your news. She saw how Elaine was which was just like her sister-in-law so she had been wondering about that anyway.”

“Hoss, she was a big help to me when Doctor Martin examined me. She helped me with my dress, and she held my hand the whole time until he said he wanted Adam to come in. She’s a natural healer. The two of you are perfect together.”

As they rode home in the carriage, they talked more. Hoss was deeply in love and falling more and more in love with Cora every day. “I just wish we could get married sooner. It seems a shame to wait when we both know we want to get married.”

“I have an idea about that. I’ll talk with Cora, and we’ll see what we can do.”

“What you gonna talk about?”

“Hoss, don’t even think to get involved in women talk. Trust them. They’ll make this happen if it’s at all possible.”

A week later, Hoss was overjoyed to tell his family that the wedding had been moved up. It would happen just after Christmas. Cora’s family had some relatives who would be visiting then and her mother had decided that would be a good time for the wedding. As Hoss rode to church with Cora on that Sunday, he had to ask her how she had managed to change her mother’s mind.

“On Friday, in town, Elaine and I talked. She asked me some questions and I told her my answers. She told me what questions to ask my mother. I did just what she said, and by last night, Mama and Papa told me they had changed their minds, and I could get married after Christmas.”

“What did you ask her?”

“I said that when you kissed me or put your arm around me, you started to squirm and your voice would get all hoarse, and then you would want to take me home or go outside in the cold air. I asked her if that meant you didn’t really like me. She said it meant you liked me a lot, perhaps too much, and she would be talking with Papa about it. Then they told me we should move up the wedding plans because you were older, and it wouldn’t do to try to make you wait.”

Hoss blushed a little about what Cora described. “Ah, did Elaine explain why I did those things?”

“Yes, and I understand. I feel a bit that way myself when you kiss me, but I never have to do anything because you always back away. Just think, Hoss, in a couple of months, we won’t have to back away from each other.”

“Darling, I am looking forward to that very much, oh so very much.”

If they had been anywhere but on the way to church, Hoss would have pulled the carriage to a stop and kissed her, but his family was likely to be along on this road soon as were others. Adam wasn’t the only one who craved some privacy. Hoss and Cora knew that it would be somewhat difficult to spend their first months of marriage in a house with so many other people but they had a new house to which to look forward and many years together. A couple of months didn’t seem very long in that equation. At church, their engagement was announced so that no one would think something had pushed the marriage up if they suddenly wed just after Christmas.

There was another announcement at church, but that one was unanticipated. As soon as Jon saw Adam and Elaine approaching the church, he ran to them with a big smile. “Are you really going to give me some brothers? Uncle Hoss said you were going to have two. He called them twins. Is that their name or just what you call two?”

It all came out so fast that Adam didn’t have time to tell him that the news wasn’t supposed to be public yet. By the time he talked with Jon, the story was rapidly spreading through the people attending the service. Adam took a deep breath, expelled it, and looked at Elaine. “Well. We’re going to have to talk about this a lot sooner than we expected.”

Most women did their best to camouflage a pregnancy until it was obvious to all around them. Adam had not even known that Inger was expecting Hoss until he was born. No one had thought to explain the birds and the bees to him beforehand. Ben had a lot of explaining to do in a very short time when that happened. When Marie had Little Joe, Adam had suspected but wasn’t sure until the last few weeks. That time, Hoss had been surprised. Adam had intended to follow the tradition of keeping it within the family except that he thought Jon should know and not be surprised. Instead, because of that, everyone would know soon. Elaine shrugged when he waited for her response.

“What’s done is done. We’ve been married for nearly a year now, well for over ten months. It shouldn’t be that shocking and no one will be able to say anything about what we did before we were married.”

“We didn’t do anything before we were married.”

“I know, but you should hear how some of these women talk when someone has a baby nine months or so after a marriage. Well, it doesn’t matter. That isn’t us.”

There were congratulations all around before the church service and after. The weather was still cool but without storms, so Adam and Elaine rode home with Ben and Joe. Hoss went to Cora’s family home to celebrate their engagement. Ben couldn’t contain his joy at the news he had received. He asked Adam how he felt about expecting twins.

“Pa, I feel like I’m on top of the mountain with the world at my feet.”

“Those are the words Joe used to describe you too.”
“I know. He told me just that when he first saw me this morning, and I had to agree that was exactly how I felt. How do you feel about the family growing so quickly?”

“I feel like I’m on top of the mountain with the world at my feet.” Both men laughed then in exuberance. At that moment, it didn’t seem likely that anything could ruin their mood.

*****

Chapter 9

“How are you feeling, my dear?” Ben was sitting at the breakfast table on Monday when Elaine came down the stairs.

“I’m feeling very good. The advice from Doctor Martin seems to be helping a lot. I’ve been drinking more just as he told me to do, and it makes me feel so much better even though I have to make a lot of trips to the necessary.”

“Well, perhaps we can rig up something in the washroom to help you with that.”

“I would appreciate anything you can do especially when it’s cold and windy. I seem to be having more trouble staying warm.”

“Did Doctor Martin have anything to say about that?”

“He thought I needed to eat more meat and probably just eat more in general. He thought I should be gaining weight.” Elaine saw how Ben was looking at her. “I am, I am. I didn’t know I was with child before, and now that I know that I’m with children, I will be sure to eat as well as I can. Now I know why Hop Sing always gave me those glasses of milk with my meals. He wanted me to eat better than I was. I was being vain, and it hurt my health.”

“Where’s Jon, by the way?”

“I saw his room and told him to straighten things up before he comes down for breakfast.”

Adam and his brothers were in from doing chores before Jon got down to the table. They had to wipe up some puddles on the floor before Hop Sing let them sit down. It was storming and cold again. When Jon reached the table, he was in a surly mood. Adam watched him and waited. He knew by the look that there was some opinion he was itching to share, and it didn’t take long. Ben opened that door.

“Jon, did you clean up your room well enough that it’s open for inspection?”

“I don’t know why I have to clean it up anyway. I’m getting a new room.”

“Jon, that is no way to speak to your grandfather. You may be excused and go up to your room to wait for me.”
Once Jon was upstairs, Elaine turned to Adam. “You’re not going to punish him, are you? He just got a lot of news that upset his world.”

“I know. I expected some reaction from him. I won’t punish him except to have him stay in his room this morning, but I do want to talk with him about the changes that are going to happen now. He needs some time to get used to the ideas, and I’ll have him stay in his room to work that out. He tends to lash out at others when he’s upset or confused.” Adam looked over to see his father smirking just a bit. “I know, I know. It’s poetic justice, isn’t it?” With that, Adam excused himself and headed up the stairs as his brothers snickered and even Elaine had a small smile. In Jon’s room, Adam found him sitting on his bed with tears already falling.

“Are you gonna spank me?”

“It’s going to not gonna, and no, I’m not going to spank you unless you speak to me disrespectfully as you did to Grandpa.”

“I only said what I was thinking.”

“But you said it in a tone that was not respectful. Grandpa asked you a simple question. The proper answer would have been to say yes and sir or yes and Grandpa. You chose to be surly instead. Now, you will apologize to your Grandpa later today.”

“What am I going to do now?”

“First, we’re going to talk. I know you must have questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Then you can read in your room or simply sit in your room until lunch at which time you will apologize and all will be back to normal.”

“Thank you for not spanking me.”

“You’re welcome, and that was the proper thing to say too. Are you upset or worried because Mama and I are going to have twins?”

“No, not that, but everybody is talking about Uncle Hoss getting married and about you and Mama having babies, and nobody remembers any more that I’m here. Grandpa only talks about that stuff, and you and Mama only talk about having the babies and what you need for them.”

“You are my son, and you will always be my firstborn son no matter who comes after you. You need to know that I love you very much.”

“Will Mama love me?”

“Of course Mama loves you. Why would you worry about that?” Adam saw the lip quiver and the eyes turn down and suddenly knew. He had had that same worry about Inger. He had worried if she would still love him after she had a baby of her own. Jon was about that same age. “A long time ago, when your Uncle Hoss was born, I worried that Mama Inger wouldn’t love me any more because she would have her own child. She had treated me so well that I forgot until then that she wasn’t my first mother.”

“What happened?”

“I found out that a mother’s love gets bigger when she has babies. She had all that love for me, and when she had Hoss, she had even more love. She never took the love away that she had given to me because she got all new love for her new baby.”

“Really?”

“Yes, now you love me, right?” Jon nodded vigorously. “And you love Mama, and Grandpa too?” Again there was the enthusiastic agreement by Jon to those queries. “You love Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss too?” Jon grinned with that one. He adored his uncles. “Will you be able to love Cora when she marries Hoss?” Jon smiled and nodded. “So you can love all those people and then love another person who joins our family. Our hearts get bigger when we have more people to love. I think that you are going to love the twins when they arrive too and still love all those other people in the family. Right?”

“Right!”

“Now they will be babies and take a lot of our attention. We might have to ask you to help us with their care too. Do you think you’re old enough to be a helper to us when the twins get here?”

“Yes, Papa, I’m six years old. I can be a big helper to you and Mama.”

“Now, pick a book to read and have some quiet time in your room. You may come down in two hours. You will be expected to apologize to Grandpa and then to help Hop Sing with setting the table for lunch. I’m going to work now so don’t give Mama any trouble. She needs to take it easy and relax until her body gets used to having two babies growing inside.”

“Yes, Papa, and thank you for not spanking me. I’m sorry I wasn’t nice in how I talked to Grandpa.”

“Apology accepted.” Adam wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him for a minute before taking his leave to get work done. He needed to go to town to order materials for the addition. With twins on the way, he wanted to get that addition done as quickly as he could. Somehow he was going to get a water closet in the house too. He had already realized he could not put it on the second floor. When he was considering how to add it to the first floor, Hoss had suggested the lower floor. It would be much easier to install a water tank for it as well as to carry away any waste. He was planning one part of it to replace the necessary, and the other half to be a bath. It would be two rooms so that both could be used at the same time. He wanted to install an extra large bathtub and planned to order two so he could put one in Hoss’ new house too. There would be access from the back stairs as well as from the addition. He was enjoying the design challenge and the progress that he could incorporate into the house.

By lunchtime, Adam was back, Jon had done as requested, and Hop Sing was happy to find everyone at the table on time. He brought out food, and the family discussed the plans for the addition as well as Hoss/ wedding.

Over the next few months, those plans fell into place and by spring the addition was finished and work began on the new house for Hoss and Cora. By early May, Adam begged off the trail drive because Elaine was getting close to delivery. He didn’t realize it was even closer than he thought. When she woke him one evening to tell him she thought it was time, he was groggy and talked before he thought.

“It can’t be time. You’re not supposed to deliver the babies for another month.”

“Someone didn’t give the babies calendars then because they’re coming now.”

Quickly pulling on pants and a shirt that he left unbuttoned, Adam woke Cora first to sit with Elaine and help her as needed, woke his father to tell him, and then woke Hop Sing before going to the bunkhouse to see who wanted a few extra dollars to ride for the doctor. Before Paul got there, Emily Elizabeth and Rachel Ingrid were born. Paul walked into the bedroom to find Adam holding one and Elaine holding the other. He did a quick check of each baby and of Elaine.

“Adam, you need to keep this room warm all the time now. Those babies are healthy but small. They could chill very quickly and that could be very bad for them. Hold them close to your chest to share your body heat with them and so they can feel your heartbeat. It will help soothe them. Elaine, has either one of them suckled yet?”

“No, I wasn’t sure how to get them started.”

So for the next hour, Paul worked with her and the babies until they seemed to be catching on. He told them it might take some time for the milk to flow freely and for the little girls to get the hang of suckling. Hop Sing was there to help too making sure that there was a warm bottle to supplement mother’s milk until Elaine could produce more. Even then as the babies grew, she needed to supplement with bottles of warm milk. Within a month, they were growing rapidly and Paul pronounced them strong and healthy.

When Hoss moved into his new home, Ben brought one of his finest bottles of brandy to celebrate the occasion. The three men stood on the porch looking toward the main house. Joe downed his brandy and looked at the other three.

“Now you all look like you’re on the top of the mountain with the world at your feet.”

“That we are, Joseph, that we are.”

***The End***

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