Patricia and Cassandra stories (by BettyHT)

Summary:  The Secret Spring — Adam gets involved in an unconventional romance, and he’s in for a bumpy ride.  From the Depths of My Soul — Adam struggles with Patricia’s medical issues and mental health problems, and faces one blow after another. He wonders how he will be able to continue doing all that he is doing especially in caring for their young son. The problems and pressures will cause him to seek help, and he will get more than he bargained for in that too.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  77,859


The Secret Spring

Chapter 1

Sent out in early spring to mend fences, Adam, Hoss, and Joe sat around a campfire the first night.

“Hey, Adam, remember those stories you told us when we were kids? You’d have a book open and act like you was reading. Heck, it wasn’t until you left for college and Little Joe wanted me to read those stories to him that we found out those stories weren’t even in that book. You made em all up.”

“Yeah, those stories were good for us when we were kids. Maybe you should write a book of children’s stories like that. Those were good stories.” Joe leaned back against his saddle with a nostalgic look.

Lounging against a log with his feet warming near the fire, Adam looked over at his brothers. “So you want me to tell you a bedtime story?”

“Nah, nowadays I want the stories to be about getting a gal or at least drinking a barrel of beer. Too bad you don’t know no stories like that.”

“Well, Hoss, perhaps I haven’t lost all my talents for storytelling. How about this one?

Once upon a time not very long ago and not very far away, a handsome, gallant cowboy was as tired as if he had jousted with thirty knights and entertained ten fair maidens, but alas, he was mostly just tired of riding his steed and prodding cattle during a six week cattle drive to feed the hungry living within the city walls. When the quest was over, he headed for home, but could not bear the thought of spending even one more day in the company of men who spent their days swearing and cussing and their nights farting and belching. The stench of their unwashed bodies assaulted his very essence so he decided on a solitary ride to their home hoping to find peace and tranquility along the way.

After a week of meandering through the hills in the general direction of home, he chanced upon a small glade where the heat of a hot spring had warmed the area, and though it was but spring, the plum trees were laden with ripe fruit. He plucked one after another and ate them as the juice of the ripe fruit dribbled down his chin on onto the dirty shirt that covered his manly muscular chest. He could not bear to be so filthy with the beckoning warm waters of the spring awaiting him so he cast his clothing to the grass and slipped into the pool. He submerged himself once, twice, and then three times. As he stood preparing to wash his clothing, he felt warm, gentle, fragile hands encircle him from behind. In his shock, he nearly jumped from the pool.

“Sir, do you not want me? You completed the ritual. You ate the fruit, you undressed, and you submerged in my waters three times. You are filled with the juice of the magic plums, wet from head to toe, and as clean as the day you were born. I am now yours to do with as you will for the next twenty-four hours.”

Our handsome cowboy had grabbed at the grass at the edge of the pool to pull himself out, but hearing that melodious voice and tempting offer, he had to stop and view the fair maiden. Turning toward her, he found her covered only by the water from her waist down and by long, glowing, blonde locks from the waist up. She put her hands out in supplication to him. He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her. She smiled as her hand caressed the damp curly hair on his chest. He kissed her and she responded with ardor. She gasped with the strength of him and caressed the powerful muscles in his sculpted arms.

“Do I please you, my lord?”

“My lady, you please me very much. Now I have the rest of the day and night to be with you?”

So she washed his clothing, prepared him a feast, and as often as he could, he held her and loved her. Alas, after sleeping together with nought between them, it was dawn. Her sad face reminded him that their time together was nearly over.

“My lord, will you return to me? I cannot bear the thought that I shall never see you again.”

“I’ll visit you as often as I am able.”

“Every year at this time, I will await your return.”

“I must wait a year?”

“Alas, this glade is here only in the spring when the plums are ripe and juicy. You may only visit me then and only once.”

Kissing her hand and caressing her, the hero laid the beauty down upon the blankets and made sweet love with her for the last time that year. As they finished, she kissed his lips one more time and then slipped into the pool submerging without nary a ripple. Feeling refreshed and just a bit sad, our stalwart cowboy hero rode to his home with sweet memories and a promise to return to his secret glade in one year.”

“Hey, older brother, that’s a good story, I’m gonna have dreams about that tonight. I guess you haven’t lost your story telling talents at all.”

“Well, thank you, Hoss. And now I want to get some sleep. There are still a lot of fence lines to mend, and I want a good night’s rest.”

Later after both Little Joe and Hoss had checked the horses, they walked to the camp together. Adam appeared to be sleeping already.

“Joe, you don’t suppose that really happened to Adam, do ya?”

“Oh, Hoss, are you joshing me? He was just telling a story to entertain us and it did. I was picturing myself in that scene anyway.”

“Ya, I guess so, but I remember last year that he was over a day behind us getting home and we stopped in Carson and had some fun in the saloons and with the ladies before we came home. And he didn’t even take a bath when he got home neither. He was clean like he already had a bath, and his clothes was clean too.”

Little Joe contemplated that. Everything that Hoss said was true. Was it possible that Adam was telling a true story or a story very close to the truth. “I don’t know, Hoss. But this year, after the drive, if he rides off alone, we’ll be following him.”

“Little brother, that’s a plan.”

And the two brothers slipped into their bedrolls for some sleep. In the darkness, lying quietly wrapped in his blanket, Adam smiled. He looked forward to the surprise they would get if they followed him, although he frowned then worrying that they might also ruin his time in the secret location. Of course, that presupposed that they could find it at all.

The following spring as the roundup was completed and then the cattle drive was nearly over, Hoss brought the hot spring and the beautiful and willing woman up in a discussion with Adam. He wanted to know where it and she were.

“Now, Hoss, I can’t tell you. It’s a secret spring. You have to be chosen by the maiden for a chance at her charms. It would be sacrilege to divulge such information. I’m a bit worried about what could happen to me if I did.”

“Really?” Thinking for a moment, Hoss felt he was being misled. “Nah, you’re just joshing me, but really, where did you go last year?”

“I told you, but you and Joe don’t want to believe me.”

“Well, you planning on going back this year?”

“Haven’t made up my mind on that.”

“You gonna ride home by your lonesome again?”

“Oh, most definitely. It was very relaxing to have time without the smells and the noise, and not having any cattle around was a welcome change too.”

“You don’t have to get so insulting. You don’t smell like no prairie rose either after weeks on the trail.”

“No, I’ll have to find a place to take a nice bath and wash my clothes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make the rounds before I get some sleep. One more day, and I can be off on my own. I’m really looking forward to it.”

As Adam rode off to take a circuit of the herd that they would drive into the stockyards the next day, Joe walked up to Hoss. “Did he tell you anything?”

“Nope, nothing. It’s just like he’s funning with us. He said he’s riding off on his own again though, so you up for following him like we planned?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely. We gotta find out what he’s up to.”

So two days later, Hoss rose at dawn expecting that Adam would be riding out early. He looked out the window to see his brother walking toward the livery stable. “Joe, Joe, get up. He’s leaving. We gotta hurry.” Both brothers rushed to dress, grab their belongings, pay their bill, and rush to the livery stable to get their horses. Riding out of town at a gallop, they looked for Adam’s trail but there wasn’t one. They followed the road instead watching for tracks leading away from it. They found them later that day as Adam veered north of the usual route home. For two more days, they followed him, tracking him and never getting too close although from ridges and hilltops, they often saw him riding up ahead. Finally they got to the mountains after three long days of riding.

“Joe, we gotta get closer to him. It’s too hard to track in these hills, and in the mountains, it can get worse. We need to get our eyes on him to keep up spo he don’t slip away.”

So Hoss and Joe rode closer. Adam was aware they were following and paused on occasion to make sure they could spot him until he reached a long canyon. Then he rode a bit faster, and they wouldn’t ride in too soon because they didn’t want to be spotted not knowing he was already well aware they were there. By the time they decided to enter the canyon, they rode the length of it without seeing Adam at all. When they emerged at the other end of the canyon, he wasn’t there and there were no tracks either. Hoss looked everywhere the thought someone could have left the canyon and found nothing. They decided to ride back to the other end thinking that perhaps Adam had doubled back, and somehow they had missed him. At the other end of the canyon they found his trail in and theirs but nothing else. Then they made another pass through the canyon looking for a place where he could have hidden. Again they found nothing, and it was getting dark so they needed to make camp. They searched again the next day, and then headed to Placerville and the best darn decided to have some fun in that town.

Miles away from the canyon, Adam had ridden up to a small cabin in a glade. He had left the canyon by a narrow s shaped defile that could not be seen unless you were right next to it. From even fifty feet away, the rock wall looked solid. At the cabin, he dismounted and walked to it only to see a shotgun pointed out the door at him.

“So, I’m not welcome this time?”

“Damn you. You bewitched me last fall. I can’t sleep without having dreams about you. The whole winter was unpleasant with you in my dreams and my days all alone. So, you just go on your way.”

Walking to the door with a little smirk, Adam pushed it open. She was tall, blonde, and shapely. He knew every inch of skin under that shirt and skirt for he had explored them thoroughly the previous year. He had seen her the previous fall hunting in the canyon when she seemingly vanished. Not one to allow a mystery to linger, he had investigated until he found the hidden path out of the canyon. He followed her trail easily and arrived at her cabin to find her bathing in a warm spring next to it. She had been shocked when he appeared at her home, and he had undressed and invited himself into the spring. The rest was in the fairy tale he told his brothers. Then after a day, he had told her he had to leave. She wouldn’t go with him so he said he would be back. She had said that if he left, he should not come back.

“I told you I would come back, and I always keep my promises.” Pushing the barrel of the shotgun to the side, Adam touched her cheek. “I missed you too. You were in my dreams.”

Leaning the shotgun against the wall, she sighed deeply. “I can’t say no to you.” He grinned at that, and she melted.

“I need a bath. Let’s go to the spring.” Adam put his hand out for hers, and she took it. At the spring, Adam quickly disrobed and then moved to help her. “Patricia, let me do this.” He finished unbuttoning her shirt and pulled it from her skirt. Undoing the belt of the skirt, he let that drop to the ground and removed her long chemise. He pulled her close, untied the bow of her pantaloons, slipped his hands inside, and pushed them down her hips until they fell to the ground as well. He stepped into the pool leading her by the hand. He continued into the water until they could sit and be mostly submerged. They sat and talked for a time, but desire soon overwhelmed restraint.

Sated temporarily, the two stayed in that position and talked as they gently caressed each other. Finally Patricia said they ought to get out of the spring before they were as wrinkled as prunes. Adam would not let her dress so they carried their clothing back to the cabin. “I want to feast my eyes on you for every second I can. I should shave though.”

“I could shave you.”

“No, I don’t think I want you near me with a razor.”

“I wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Oh, I know that. At least you would never hurt me on purpose, but if you were that close, I would have to touch you, and who knows what you might cut off if I did.” As she laughed, he got his shaving kit. She got some biscuits and preserves out. They ate those when he finished shaving.

“You have some preserves on your chin.” Adam leaned forward and licked and kissed the preserves away. That led to another session of kissing and loving. For two days, they enjoyed each other and spent a lot of time talking until Adam said he had to go. He asked her again to come with him. She refused but with a caveat.

“My research is done and the book is almost finished. Will you visit me when you can? Perhaps we should see how things develop if we spend more time together.”

Kissing her passionately before mounting up on Sport, Adam promised to be back as soon as he could. He rode away looking back to see her standing by her spring, smiling and waving. The ride home seemed to be over in a very short time as he felt so good and his thoughts were so positive. When he arrived at the Ponderosa, Hoss walked out of the stable where he and Joe had been repairing tack. Adam was clean, his clothing was clean, and Sport looked rested.

“Where you been? We followed you and lost you in a long rock canyon. We were kinda worried as to where you got to.”

“Well, Hoss, the gallant knight was riding on his faithful steed through a long rock canyon on a quest to vanquish evil when suddenly, a silver fog raced in from all directions enveloping him so completely that he could see naught. He yelled out, ‘Please, can someone help me? Please, I cannot move for I cannot see. Please, I need help.’ The fog vanished and he was back at the secret spring and the maiden awaited him. ‘My lord, you completed the sacred chant. I am yours for the next two days.’ Not one to challenge fate, the gallant knight did as he was bid.”

Hoss stomped back into the stable. “Dadburnit, Joe, he ain’t gonna tell us nothing again this year. Dang his ornery hide.”

Adam walked into the stable leading Sport. He put him in his stall and removed the saddle after giving him grain and water. “So what did you two do on the way home besides trailing me?”

“We went to Lulu’s. The ladies were happy to see us. I spent all my time with one very pretty little gal. Makes me think marriage wouldn’t be so bad if you can wake up in the morning with a gal beside you. It’s not a bad way to start the day. Hoss, why don’t you tell him what you did?”

“I hardly did nothing, but them gals sure are friendly.”

“C’mon now, Adam. We told you what we did. What about you? What were you doing the last few days?”

“Oh, I met up with a researcher and a writer. We talked. I relaxed. Then I came home.”

“No gals? Dang, and here we thought you was having some fun.”

“Oh, Hoss, I did have fun. What could be more fun that spending a couple of days with a true researcher and writer? I enjoyed my time immensely.” Adam walked to the house then.

Hoss and Joe watched him go. “I swear, Hoss, I never want to be like that when I get old like Adam. He never has a good time.”

“Well, he’ll tell us a fairy tale about his trip ifn we ask. It’s kinda sad that’s all he’s got.”

“Yeah.”

But neither thought to ask how Adam knew they had been following him out of town, and why he had slipped away from them nor did they press the point about how he had done that.

*****

Chapter 2

Over the next few months, Adam left on a few short hunting trips and one trip to restock line shacks that took almost a week longer than normal. He had said he might ride out a bit further to see the researcher and writer he knew so his family did not worry except for all the time he seemed to want to spend alone for he had refused company on each of the hunting trips. Yet he seemed happier and less contrary than usual so it appeared to be good for him. He no longer visited the fancy houses in town and rebuffed the efforts of saloon girls who wanted him to go upstairs with them. Some even offered services free of any charge and yet he continued to refuse. Joe and Hoss were feeling some pity for their older brother and wondered if there was anything they could do. They pressed him to go to a dance where he seemed to have fun dancing with a number of women but never took any one of them outside for a walk in the moonlight. When they rode him, Hoss and Joe exchanged looks. They thought something needed to be done. Soon they would leave on a small drive and wondered what Adam would do at the end of it.

When they were riding home from the end of that drive, Hoss and Joe insisted that Adam had to come with them. They even offered to pay for one of the gals to spend the night with him. At first, he wanted to be angry with them, but they meant so well that he couldn’t be angry. He agreed but had another plan in mind. Hoss and Joe looked so proud of themselves when he picked out a dark haired beauty and went upstairs at Lulu’s with her. Each of them picked a comely woman and headed up to their regular rooms.

“What’s your name?”

“Men seldom need to know my name. It can be anything you want it to be.”

“I would really like to know.”

“All right, my name here is Raven.”

“But?”

“But my given name is Mathilde. You can see why I don’t use that here.”

“All right, Raven, then here’s the plan. You’re already paid for the night. For an extra ten dollars, will you stay here, moan loudly on occasion and call out my name?”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to be here in the first place, but my brothers meant well. I have someplace else I need to be. Will you do it?”

“She must be pretty darn good.”

Startled for a moment, Adam smiled. When she saw that grin and those dimples, she was ready to do whatever he wanted. “Well, then, what’s your name, sweetie?”

“Adam.” Handing over the gold coin, Adam picked up his hat and jacket.

“Adam Cartwright? You’ve got quite a reputation here. I’m sorry I won’t get to find out if it’s all true.”

“Thank you, and thank you. I’ll just slip out the back way. Remember now, relax, and moan and yell out my name often enough so my brothers don’t get suspicious.”

“Good luck with your lady. I hope the two of you have a good time.”

Tipping his hat, Adam quietly left. Raven heard all sorts of noise from the next room and knew that Hoss was definitely enjoying himself. She stood at the window and watched Adam cross the street to the livery and then head to the mercantile. She did as he asked but kept watch at the window. Within an hour, she saw him packing up a mule, and then mounting up to ride out. That’s when she heard Hoss call out his younger brother’s name.

Joe was enjoying some time with a lady and tried to ignore Hoss yelling for him but Hoss was persistent so he finally opened the door to the adjacent room.

“Joe, he done it again, dadburnit.”

“Who did what again?”

“I was coming over here to use the chamberpot when I looked out the window and saw him.”

Just then there were moans from the next room and Raven called out “Adam, oh lord, Adam, that’s so good.”

“Yeah, so who did you see?”

“Adam. I saw him mount up and ride out with a pack-horse. Ornery cuss. We done paid for Raven to spend the whole night with him.”

“Well it sounds like she is.”

“Let’s go see then, cause I can bet you that he ain’t in there.”

When they pushed Raven’s door open, she was sitting in a chair watching out the window. She turned in alarm until she saw Joe and Hoss standing there. She held up the gold coin. “He paid me more than you did.”

“Darn. Well, Hoss, it’s going to be dark in an hour. I don’t want to follow him and just end up camping an hour from town. Let’s have some fun and follow him tomorrow.”

Reluctantly Hoss agreed. In the morning, Hoss and Joe headed directly to the long stone canyon where they had lost Adam the previous spring. Hoss was determined to find how he had left that canyon without them being able to find him. It took almost until dark and then they found the narrow defile that led out of the canyon. They camped there and hoped to find Adam’s tracks the next morning. As they followed Adam’s tracks, they smelled wood smoke and saw a cabin up ahead so they rode to the hill above the cabin to watch and see what happened. Nothing happened for quite a while and Hoss fell asleep until Joe poked him in the shoulder several times.

“Hoss, Hoss, Adam just walked out of that cabin with a woman. She’s tall and blonde. So much for the writer and the researcher. He’s been lying to us all along, and he told us he would never lie to us.”

“What? Huh? I don’t see nothing.”

“They went around to the side of the cabin. Let’s move down the ridgeline to your right until we can see where they went.”

By the time they saw Adam again, he was in a pond with the blond woman. Their bare shoulders that showed above the water left no secret as to what they were doing. Joe just stared for a bit until Hoss told him they had to leave because they were invading his privacy.

In the pond, Adam and Patricia were wrapped together in the warm water. He kissed her and said they had to talk. “I brought a pack mule loaded with supplies. If you’re agreeable, I can stay for the winter. I would much rather be trapped here with you than trapped on the Ponderosa. If you say yes, I’ll head back to town to get more supplies and send a telegram to my family. If you’re not agreeable, the supplies are still yours and I can stay for a few days at least.”

Patricia leaned forward and kissed him again. “Send your telegram.”

Later, lounging in bed with Patricia, Adam voiced a concern. “What if you are with child?”

“I know what plants to use. I’ve been researching the plants of the Sierras for over two years now. My book is almost done.”

“You would end it?”

“Yes. I told you from the start. I believe in free love but not in marriage and children. Not for me. I do care for you, and we can continue this relationship as long as you want, but I don’t want a family. I want to work on my next book once this one is done. I already have some ideas.”

“You won’t reconsider?”

“No, it’s my life and my decision how I want to live it.”

“This was a mistake, then, wasn’t it?”

“Not a mistake unless you want it to be. You are welcome to share my life. I love being with you. You make my heart sing. But I won’t be chained down and caged. Isn’t that what you don’t like about your life? Tied to things and forced to accept responsibilities you don’t want when what you would really like would be to make your own mark on the world?”

It was the last they talked about it, but it soured their relationship. A week before Christmas, Adam returned to his home as contrary and ornery as ever. Joe tried to tease him about what he had been doing but nearly ended up in a fight. So Ben told Hoss and Joe to let it alone. It was clear that Adam needed to think something through and that something had happened to upset him. It wasn’t easy to shake his confidence, but someone had done it. Hoss and Joe were sure they knew who it was. It was early March before Adam opened up to Hoss. He knew Hoss would not be judgmental, and at the moment, he couldn’t take anyone judging him. He was doing enough of that for himself.

“You’re leaving, ain’t ya?”

“With the way things are, I don’t feel like I have any choice. You heard what Pa said. It’s his house and his ranch, and he built his dream for us. But apparently I had no part in that so I have no say in its future.”

“Yeah, but sometimes he’s got a worse temper than you and Joe put together especially when somebody challenges his way of thinking. Can ya give it a few more days at least? Maybe ride the fence lines with me one last time if you’re really fixing on leaving?”

“Hoss, he also lectured me on my behavior like I was too young to make my own decisions and live with them. I don’t know how you tolerate being treated like a boy when you’ve been a man and done a man’s work for so long already. I just won’t accept it any more. It eats at me and makes me want to say things I’ll never be able to take back.”

“I know what you mean, but Pa means well. He just can’t seem to get out of that Pa way of thinking.”

Nodding and leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands, Adam was silent. Hoss put a hand on his shoulder, and the two brothers sat communicating silently in the way they had. Neither had to say any more. They knew how the other felt. Eventually, Hoss had a question.

“Ya really loved her, didn’t ya?”

Adam nodded. “Yes, the gallant knight hoped she would be his lady, but she has other plans. She would have him only on her terms, and he cannot give up his code of valor, so the two are tragically never to be united as one. Their love was a tragedy. Love doesn’t ever seem to affect the outcome though, does it? We are just not lucky in that. I think I should look for a lady who can stand to be with me and isn’t too hard on the eyes. Love doesn’t seem as important when you’re alone. I’d like a family. I’d like to have someone to talk with about my thoughts. I’d like to share my time with someone. I’d like to have someone next to me when I wake up in the morning. It’s a very good feeling to have that. For a while there, I thought I had found it.”

“When you gonna go?”

“Soon would be best before any more harsh words are said or feelings hurt. I plan on going to San Francisco to try to find a job first. If that works out, I’ll open my own business eventually. If it doesn’t work out that way, well, the city’s a port so it’s a doorway to anywhere.”

“Pa’s gonna be real upset.”

“He’ll have you and Joe. He doesn’t need me here causing trouble for him. He might be relieved to see me go.”

“You got no call to say that. He loves you even if he don’t say it or sometimes don’t show it like he should.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just the bitterness coming out. Will you visit me when you get a chance?”

“That may be the stupidest dadblamed question you ever asked me.”

“Sorry. And I’ve been saying that a lot lately. It’s just another sign that I need to go.”

“But you’ll be back someday, won’t ya? This is your home?”

Nodding, Adam was quiet again. Hoss sat next to him until it was time for both of them to try to get some sleep. It wasn’t going to be easy. Before dawn, Adam got up and wrote a long letter to his family but especially for his father and Joe. Hoss understood already. He was apologetic for his behavior and accepted the responsibility for the discord between him and his father. He also was clear that he wasn’t running away but to something. He had his own dreams and hoped his father would understand. He didn’t plan to take the coward’s way out and leave without saying goodbye, but he also knew that those circumstances were not conducive to him explaining his actions. He left the letter on his desk, and packed the items he had decided to take with him as well as his suit and other clothing. His valise and saddlebags were full by the time he finished.

The goodbyes were pretty much as he expected. He rode Sport as he planned to keep him in California with him. Ben had expected something like this but had hoped to have time to discuss it and dissuade his son from leaving. He realized though that Adam would have known that too and it was probably one of the reasons for his abrupt departure. He wasn’t going to let guilt hold him on the Ponderosa.

Within a month, Adam had a job with an architectural firm. He had a small one-bedroom apartment and worked there at night. He hoped to make a reputation for himself and then use the money from some of his investments to open his own firm. As he walked home one spring evening in a light rain, he kept his head down and did his best to shield his portfolio of drawings. He had work to do over the weekend. It wasn’t much so he would have time to enjoy some of the city’s amenities as well. He almost didn’t see her, and even when he did, he didn’t recognize her because with his head down, he only saw her from the waist down or rather he saw a skirt and boots. He was opening the door of the apartment house when he whirled around. That skirt was familiar, and he saw Patricia looking up at him.

“I wondered if you didn’t see me or didn’t want to see me.”

“I’m sorry. I was trying to keep my papers dry and my mind was elsewhere too.”

“Are we going to stand out here in the rain, or are you going to invite me in?”

Opening the door and stepping inside, Adam gestured gallantly for her to follow him if she wished. He walked up one flight of stairs and opened his apartment door allowing Patricia to enter first. After setting his portfolio on the desk, he turned to her and stepped close. She didn’t back up so he embraced her and kissed her. Then it seemed that all the pent up emotion of the last four months overwhelmed him. He held her tight and kissed her hard as he pressed his body against hers. He did what he had wanted to do so many times in his dreams. Patricia willingly submitted to his almost ferocious need for her. Then hoarsely and with his eyes closed as he pressed his forehead against hers, he apologized. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I hope I didn’t hurt you.”

Struggling to catch her breath, Patricia soothed his soul. “Cowboy, you can do that to me anytime you want. That was pure visceral desire and nothing makes me feel more like a woman than that. I was worried that you might be angry with me, but that apparently isn’t the case.”

“I was never angry with you. I was hurt because I so wanted you to be with me. When you refused, I had a difficult time accepting that. There are just a couple of differences between us that seem insurmountable, but I love you. I can’t help myself no matter what our differences are.”

Gently disentangling, the two of them straightened up their clothing. Once they were again presentable, Adam smiled and gently touched her cheek. “What I should have said before is what are you doing here?”

“I’ve been here since the spring thaw. I brought my book in to submit it to my publishers. Now I’m waiting for a reply. Then I heard from a mutual acquaintance that Adam Cartwright had left the Ponderosa and struck out on his own. I had to see you.”

“Has anything changed?”

Sighing, Patricia asked if they could sit because for some reason, she suddenly felt exhausted. She smiled when she said it and put her hand in Adam’s. Once seated, she had an answer. “Yes, actually. There’s a letter waiting for you on the Ponderosa. I wrote it last winter but was only able to post it about a month ago. It must have missed you by a few days.”

“What changed?”

“You mean besides you breaking free and setting out to live your own life? Well, I found I couldn’t do it. I had the plants and I mixed the solution, and then I threw it away. I think I must have done that about six or seven times. Finally I decided I was a fool. So I wrote that letter to you then because you had a right to know.”

Processing what she had said, Adam had to ask. “You’re carrying my child?”

“Yes, of course. You don’t think there’s any other man who found my own little Walden Pond, do you and invited himself into my life? Of course it’s yours. Well it’s mine too. It’s ours. It’s taken a while to get used to the idea, but I guess the reality of knowing there’s a child in there is a lot more significant than I ever thought it would be.”

“You’ve changed. What do you want to do now?” Adam was suddenly filled with hope but he had to hear her say it before he could begin to think it might actually come true.

“That’s up to you. I know what I want, but I don’t know if you still want it after the way we parted. Although the way you greeted me leads me to believe you might still want to share my life with me. So what do you say?”

“I’ve started working as an architect. Do you want to share that life with me?”

“I think I can write anywhere. It would of course be preferable if you were there with me.”

Reaching out for Patricia’s hand, Adam had to ask. “Does your plan include marriage or just living with me?”

“Now that there’s a third person in the equation, I think it would be best if I accepted the concept of marriage, but do not for one moment think that I am going to say I will obey you. You know how angry I can get about things and how pigheaded I can be. Sometimes I’m contrary just because things get boring. Are you sure you want to marry me? Can you actually commit to being with someone as difficult as I am for the rest of your life?”

“You just described me. I could ask you the same question. This marriage could be rather contentious, but there’s one thing you always have to remember. I love you.”

“You’re in my heart too. I love you. And I’m guessing our life together will never be boring.”

On Monday, Adam and Patricia went to the courthouse to be married. Adam wrote a letter to his family, and hoped they would understand that he had his reasons for marrying without his family being present. He expected to travel to the Ponderosa in the coming months to introduce them to her but her research and writing as well as his responsibilities in his job meant that might not happen. He did invite them to visit them anytime.

*****

Chapter 3

A week later, Adam got a telegram that his father and brothers were on their way. Smiling, he walked back to his apartment to tell his wife they were going to be having company, and she needed to be sure to be wearing clothing except when they were in bed. She told him that the same was true for him. They were not shy in communicating with each other, and sometimes it was quite blunt. In the less than two weeks that they had been married, there were a lot of adjustments to be made by both, and neither was the type to easily give up habits of a lifetime. Usually there was a bit of surliness followed by some pointed comments until there was a loud confrontation. Then to please the other, one would accept the change. Patricia had to ask one morning after one of their arguments the night before and then the make-up loving that followed if Adam thought other married couples had such an up and down relationship.

“I’m not sure, but I doubt it. My father was like that a bit with Marie, but she always seemed to win in the end. Our arguments go both ways. We’ve both ended up conceding some points. I guess living single for so many years may have affected us too. I’m sure it affected me a lot. If we had married at twenty or so like a lot of people, we probably wouldn’t have developed to be so independent. It’s difficult to hand over decision making to another.”

“Especially as you just tore it out of your father’s hands?”

“That may be part of it too. On that note, have you heard from your parents yet?”

“No, and that has me a little worried too. I know they never approved of my free wheeling lifestyle and my commitment to free love, but at least they could point with pride to the fact that I published books that colleges are using. I was far from home so they could ignore the more unconventional aspects of my life for their friends didn’t know most of what I was doing. Now, I don’t have any idea what they think. I suppose they thought I would eventually settle down and marry a respectable man, and here I eloped with a cowboy after finding out I was with child. I’m concerned about how they’ve reacted to that.”

“I was concerned too about how my father would react, but the speedy response and the fact that he’s on his way here has been reassuring.”

“What about your brothers?”

“They may be a bit jealous when they meet you, but I’m rather sure they think I’ve finally made a good decision in my life.”

“When do we get to have a house? Living in this apartment is stifling my creativity. For the last week or so, I haven’t had the urge to write at all. I can’t do any plant drawings surrounded by walls and the traffic and streets outside. It’s all brick, stone, plaster, and various other things that have no life. I sit at that window and stare out at the street wondering how to escape.”

“Escape me or escape the apartment?”

“Don’t start with me. I want to know when we can get a house. So don’t dodge the question like you are prone to do and just give me an answer.”

“I don’t know. Do you want to buy one and move in, or do you want me to design one for us and have it built?”

“I don’t think I want someone else’s house, but waiting for a house to be built will be too long, I think. Can’t we find a house we like and fix it up the way we want it? That’s what I did with that cabin. It was a prospector’s cabin, but he didn’t find the gold he thought he would so he sold out to me. Then I had it fixed up the way I liked it.”

“You have a mining claim?”

“Yes, and again, don’t change the subject. Can we look for a house to fix up the way we like it? Once we have one chosen, I can do the shopping for things, and you can plan out the changes. Then we get some workmen to do the alterations, and move into our house.”

“We can do that. How about a little tour of the city on tomorrow or Sunday, and we can look for a place? Once that’s done, we can do the rest of your plan.”

“That’s a first.”

“A first of what?”

“We made a decision together, and we didn’t argue about it.”

“Oh, it may be the third one of those or even further down the list. We made some other decisions without arguing. You agreed to marry me without arguing.”

“Except that was about the third time you asked if I would consider marriage. We didn’t agree the first two times at all.”

“Ah, yes, my free love lady, but we did make love without arguing at all.”

“That wasn’t a decision. That was giving in to lust. I couldn’t resist you when you asked if you could bathe in my spring. I just never thought you would take off all your clothing in front of me.”

“You already had all your clothing removed.”

“But I was covered by water. You were in the buff standing there in the sunlight. I couldn’t even think the word ‘no’ much less say it.”

“Well, that does do wonders for my self confidence. Would you like to try for another vision of me without my clothing?”

“I would love to except I think I hear the tread of boots on the stairs so I’m guessing that it’s possible your family has arrived.”

When there was a knock on the door, Adam went to answer and verified Patricia’s guess. It was indeed his father and his brothers. Introductions were made, and then they sat by the small dining table and talked.

“Is it hard gettin used to livin in such a tiny place after living in our big house for so long?”

“Hoss, I’m only here at night and on weekends. It’s not so bad, but we’re planning to get a house soon. This is too confining for Patricia.”

Ben’s face stayed as neutral as he could make it, but he was disappointed. He had hoped to convince Adam to bring Patricia to Virginia City and set up his office and business there. If they got a house in San Francisco, it was unlikely Adam would be coming back to the Ponderosa any time soon. He did ask about Adam’s work though.

“You’re moving up in the firm already then?”

“Yes, at first, they had me redraw plans with corrections that had already been noted. I did mention a few other problems with some of the designs, and they liked my ideas. Soon, I was looking over all the plans that came in, making suggestions for corrections, and then redrawing them. A week ago, they gave me my own project. It’s just a house, but the buyer wants a design with flair and some exotic elements. He wants a house that people will be talking about. I haven’t been drawing up house plans for years so I don’t have preconceived notions of how they ought to be done. Once I have the preliminary work done, I’ll present them and then several other architects will weigh in with any suggestions they have. If they like most of the plan, it will have my name on it when it goes to the buyer. If he likes it, then I’ll get more projects like that. The firm is bidding for the chance to design some new public buildings as well, and if they win those contracts, I’ll be on those teams too.”

“I never pictured you as wanting to work for someone else.”

“Pa, it’s a necessary first step. When I’ve made a name for myself, I want to open my own firm. I already have some people who have said they would like to work with me. I have enough money in investments to do it.”

“And enough for a house?”

Nodding, Adam mentioned that Patricia had money as well as a gold claim. She scowled a little when he mentioned that he had married a prospector. He smiled, and she realized he had purposely goaded her to see her reaction. She smiled and Adam got worried about what she might say in retaliation.

“So, do you think my citified cowboy will pass inspection with my upper crust parents? I’ve been working on his manners, but there’s still a lot to be desired on that score.”

Hoss and Joe grinned at her dig at Adam and waited for his reaction. Adam had seen his father’s reaction and decided to avoid the usual banter with his wife. When he didn’t respond, Patricia wondered why he had become so reticent and correctly surmised it was his father. Instead of instigating any more digs at each other, she asked if they would all like to go to dinner together. Hoss answered first and in the affirmative, which made everyone smile. They made plans to meet at a restaurant an hour later.

With Patricia dressed in one of her better dresses and without an apron over the skirt, it was more clear that she was with child. Adam had mentioned in his letter that they were going to have a child, but apparently Ben had not realized how imminent that was. It was also the main reason for bickering between his oldest son and his wife at the table at dinner. She wanted to eat some spicy dishes and he tried his best to dissuade her but not with much success. It seemed the more he objected, the more she ordered of things he told her not to eat. By the end of the evening, Ben was very concerned about the volatile relationship Adam had with Patricia. He began to worry that his son had married out of duty rather than love. Once back at their hotel, he voiced his concerns when Hoss asked him why he looked so worried.

“Pa, you know Adam’s always does things his way. He wouldn’t have been with her if he didn’t love her. I guess I’m saying you just have to trust that he knew what he was doing when he married her.”

“Oh, I’m sure he did, but I worry about their long term relationship with all the bickering we’ve seen and they’ve only been married for weeks.”

“Pa, Hoss and I saw them together a months ago. We saw them last fall. They’ve known each other quite a while. I don’t think either of them went into this marriage without knowing what the other one was like.”

“You saw them together? When?” And Hoss and Joe had to explain the fairy tale about the secret spring and how it had intrigued them so much they followed Adam and found him at the cabin with Patricia the previous fall. They explained that a lot of those trips he was making to visit with his friend the researcher and writer were trips to see Patricia. “But Adam wouldn’t lie like that.”

“He wasn’t lying, Pa. That’s why she’s got some money of her own. She writes books about plants and stuff and draws the pictures for them and everything. Adam’s been in love with her for a while. He told me that before he left, but he thought she wouldn’t marry him. I guess the baby changed her mind on some things. What did Adam say she was, again, Joe?”

“He said she’s a naturalist and a botanist. She’s mostly self-taught too. She learned a lot of this stuff just by traveling and observing. She’s got a bunch of books with drawings in them and names in Latin and German.”

“Pa, don’t ya think Adam knows what he wants. He loves her, and they don’t seem to have that much trouble with their relationship. He seems happier than I can remember, and she smiles a lot too.”

“Pa, I have to agree with Hoss. She’s not the type of lady I would like, but she’s smart, strong, and very capable as well as ambitious. She seems like another version of Adam. And they do look at each other with a lot of love, don’t you think?”

Ben still wasn’t so sure, and he did wonder why Adam had kept her existence a secret for so long although he had not known that Hoss knew about her. He wondered too about those ‘things’ that Hoss had mentioned and worried that there was something in her past that might create problems for his son. He hoped they would have a chance to talk before he had to return to the Ponderosa.

The next morning, they were all planning to take a tour of the city to look at potential homes for Adam and Patricia. Adam had several neighborhoods in which he thought they could find something suitable. When they arrived at Adam’s apartment building with a rented carriage, they waited but Adam and Patricia did not come outside. Ben volunteered to go up to the second floor flat to see what was keeping them. He knocked and soon after Adam answered the door. He was wearing just his pants and carrying a basin. He told his father to come in but then hurried to the bedroom. Ben walked to the open door to see that Patricia had apparently retched into the chamberpot. Adam closed it, poured some water in the basin, wet a cloth, and gently wiped his wife’s face. He pushed her hair back behind her ears and pulled her head onto his shoulder as he knelt beside her. He softly caressed her back and asked if she could stand. With her nod, he helped her stand and then sit on the bed.

“Lay down, sweetheart. I’ll be right back.” Adam wet the cloth again and laid it on Patricia’s forehead before coming out to talk with his father. “She’s paying the price for all that spicy food last night. I tried to get her to stop.”

“Seems you found yourself quite a stubborn lady.”

“Yes, and sometimes she’s stubborn in ways she shouldn’t be.”

“Adam, lots of ladies have morning sickness. It’s not her fault.”

“She’s at six months, Pa. The doctor says it’s not morning sickness. He said her stomach is touchy and she should avoid foods that upset her stomach. So spicy foods and fried foods have been on the do not eat list but she persists in thinking she can eat them anyway.”

“That’s why you were upset with her last night. You knew she would get sick.”

“I suspected it could happen. I’m sorry. If you could find something to do for an hour or so, we’ll be ready to go.”

“I don’t want to pressure her to do something if she’s not feeling well.”

“It’s not a problem any more. The offending food is gone. I’ll fix her some tea, and she’ll be fine in an hour or so.”

“This has happened before?”

“A couple of times in just the last two weeks. She thinks she has power over her stomach, but so far, I have seen no evidence to support that theory.” Adam smiled a little and headed to his stove to fix some tea.

There was a knock on the door. Ben went to answer it assuming it was Hoss and Joe wondering what was taking them so long. Instead it was a very well dressed couple who demanded to know where Patricia David was. Ben asked who they were.

“I am Thomas David and this is my wife Viola. We’ve come here to rescue our daughter from the clutches of some money grubbing cowboy who has taken control of her. You wouldn’t be that low life, would you?”

“No, that would be me.” Adam walked from the kitchen to the bedroom to hand a cup of tea to a wide-eyed Patricia. Adam closed the door.

“Oh, my God, what are they doing here?”

“If I heard correctly, they plan to save you from me. Now I suggest we get dressed and then go out to talk with them.”

“I demand to see my daughter!”

“I think you can wait until she gets a chance to dress. You are in my son’s home, and you need to remember to show proper respect.”

“I will show respect for my daughter, but I hardly think you qualify to give me advice. Patricia, come out here this instant!”

After about ten minutes, the bedroom door opened, and Adam escorted his wife out. Patricia had a grip on his hand that made his fingers hurt. He stood beside her and waited to see what else her parents had to say. He did hear her mother gasp when she saw the obvious baby bump that was getting more and more noticeable each day.

“Father, you are in our home, and I would hope you would respect that and us. I cannot tolerate you speaking to my husband and his father that way.”

“You call this flea-bitten hovel a home. This is ridiculous. We can get this foolish marriage of yours annulled and take you back home with us where you can marry a proper gentleman and restore your good name. I will not have this backwoods ruffian sully the family honor.” Thomas stepped forward to grab Patricia’s arm to pull her away from Adam. He was used to getting his way and bullying anyone who thought they could stand up to his power and wealth, but he had never met anyone like Adam and his father. Adam grabbed Thomas’ wrist in a vice grip and held it until he released Patricia’s arm.

“Don’t ever touch my wife like that again.”

“I’ll have the law on you for assault.”

“I have a witness that there was no assault. You should leave now. We can meet later to talk at a neutral location. Do not return here unless you’re invited. Where are you staying?”

There was another knock on the door, and Ben answered to find Hoss and Joe had come up to find why there was such a delay. Thomas muttered that they were at the Lick Hotel.

“That’s convenient. My father and brothers are staying there too. We can meet for dinner at about seven. Hoss and Joe, would you please escort Patricia’s parents downstairs and outside. They have to go now.”

Once Thomas and his wife had left, Ben turned to Adam and Patricia and saw that both were angry. He said that he would be back with Hoss and Joe in an hour to see if they still wanted to go look at houses. Adam nodded and Ben took his leave.

*****

Chapter 4

“You were rude to my parents.” Patricia was angry but wasn’t sure where her anger ought to be directed. Unfortunately the only person there was Adam.

“He insulted my father. He insulted me, and he treated you like property. How exactly was I the one who was rude?”

“Oh, damn it, I don’t know. I’m unhappy, I guess, and I need somebody to blame. This wasn’t at all like I wanted the meeting with my parents to go. I wanted them to see you all dressed up and looking sophisticated. Instead you were bare-chested and barefoot. How can I convince them that I made a good decision when they think I married a barbarian and you’re half –dressed the first time they see you?”

“They barged in on a Saturday morning with no warning. You were sick, and I would have been wearing a shirt except the one I had on smelled pretty bad after you lost some of last night’s dinner on me before I could get you to the chamberpot. Maybe if you would have listened to me last night, you wouldn’t have been sick, and then I would have been wearing a shirt when they arrived. And how is any of this my fault?”

Patricia started crying then, and Adam was immediately contrite about yelling. He wrapped his arms around her and softly tried to soothe her. He worried that she might choose her father over him in a dispute. After all, their relationship was so new compared to her bonds with her father. He had raised her to be his daughter. The worry for Adam was whether love so new could trump that.

“Sweetheart, what do you want? I’ll try to make it happen but tell me what you want.”

“I want you and my parents to get along. I want to feel as if I’m part of your family and you’re part of mine.” Adam frowned and Patricia worried about what he was thinking. “Please try? You said you would try.”

“We’ll meet your parents for dinner at the Lick at seven. Hopefully by then tempers will have cooled, and we can have a rational and logical discussion.”

“I would like that. My father is very smart. I think we can come to an understanding.”

“Just know that I will not tolerate him treating you like he owns you. You said you married me because I treat you as an equal. Well your father certainly didn’t give either one of us that respect. If he’s more civil and respectful at dinner, we can talk.”

“Adam, please try to control your temper.”

Nodding, Adam was quiet. He had met people like her father when he was in college. He suspected that her father was not going to be any more agreeable at dinner, but he might change his approach and appear to be friendly. Adam knew how well some of the upper class could act as if they were showing respect but were in fact seeking a way to use or undermine you. He wanted to be ready for whatever tactic or strategy was going to be employed to destroy his marriage because he had no doubt that was what was going to happen.

Adam dressed in his best suit and Patricia wore the dress he had bought for her on the day they married. They had gone to dinner that evening to celebrate their nuptials. Now they wore the same clothing but not with as much joy as they had originally. Both were tense as they hailed a hansom to take them to the Lick for dinner. Adam had asked Ben to make the reservations and could tell he wasn’t looking forward to more confrontation either. When they arrived, Thomas and Viola were not yet downstairs but Ben, Hoss, and Joe were waiting.

Upstairs, Viola was listening as Thomas explained what he was planning. But as Viola listened, all she could do was stare at the white rolls of flesh on her husbands substantial frame and the paunch that hung over his belt and needed a vest with reinforced buttons to hold back. She remembered the muscular frame of her daughter’s husband and the curly hair on his chest that accentuated the masculinity of him. His voice even when angry had the smooth tones that made her want to hear him talk. If he could sing, she thought she would never tire of hearing that voice. Her husband’s tinny tones droned on and on with his silly complaints and monumental plans, and she could not care less. Finally he asked her rather abruptly if she was listening. She made her usual response that it was all too much for her brain to understand. Her mother had told her that men preferred women who didn’t think too much. Vi had never been able to do that but was masterful at concealing her thoughts. She began to formulate her own plans as she listened to Thomas. Finally she smiled that demure smile he liked for he thought it meant she agreed with him. He handed her a shawl, and opened the door for her. They proceeded together down the one flight of stairs to meet with their daughter and the husband whom Thomas hoped to remove from their family, but Vi suspected that Thomas had met his match in that powerful, intimidating man.

Dinner proceeded very smoothly with Thomas being gracious and Adam being gallant. It would have taken a keen observer to note the slightly elevated tension at the table. Patricia was charming, and Ben was able to appreciate the qualities that must have attracted Adam to her. When it was nearly time for dessert to be served, Vi and Patricia excused themselves. Ben, Hoss, and Joe bid goodnight for they were leaving early in the morning and needed to pack and get a good night’s sleep. That left Thomas and Adam alone at the table. Thomas didn’t take long to make his pitch.

“I’ll give you one hundred thousand dollars to let go of my daughter.”

“Well, you are direct. I’ll give you that, but my marriage to your daughter is a life long commitment and no amount of money will suffice to make me give that up.”

“You’re an ambitious man. I can appreciate that. I can increase my offer up to two hundred and fifty thousand. You could have any woman you want with that kind of money.”

“I already am married to the woman I want. Do you think of her as only chattel? She’s your daughter. I would think you would be more concerned for her happiness than anything else.”

“I am concerned for her happiness and her well-being. Oh, you dress up fine for a dinner, but you’re a cowboy. You work with your hands. Patricia has been brought up to appreciate the finer things in life, and I want to give her the opportunity to enjoy them again. There are men of station who would be willing to marry her even in the condition she is in at present, but I cannot delay much longer. She cannot continue living in that hovel, and I will not have an illegitimate grandchild.”

“No, your grandchild will be legitimate and born to two parents who will love that baby and not worry about social standing.”

“You may love her, and she may think she loves you, but what will she think when she learns all about your past. I will expose everything you’ve ever done. I will destroy you unless you concede.”

“You may find that more difficult than you think.”

As the two ladies approached the table, Adam and Thomas suspended their conversation, and made small talk to round out the evening. Thomas wanted Patricia to come to their suite, and Adam headed to his father’s room because he had the feeling all night that his father wanted to talk with him. Adam was correct.

“Adam, do you need help with this? I can stay longer because Hoss and Joe can go home to take care of things.”

“I think we’ll be fine. If anything, I may come to you. He tried to buy me off tonight, and then he threatened to destroy me. It may get a bit hot around here before this gets resolved.”

“You have really gotten yourself into a mess. I’m not comfortable hearing some of the views that Patricia expressed either. Are you sure she can make a long-term commitment to you with her belief in free love? A lot of those women don’t believe in being in a relationship with only one man.”

“Patricia believes in free choice more than anything. She chose me and she chose to have our baby. It’s all I need to know. I love her, Pa. I won’t let anyone or anything take her away from me. I’ll fight with everything I have to protect my family.”

“Adam, I won’t be one of those obstacles. I’ll help you any way I can. Don’t interpret my worries as disapproval. She loves you. I can tell by the way she looks at you, but he’s been her father for much longer than she has known you. You have to be prepared for her to be torn in this. She’s going to have a difficult time, and with her being so far along with child, it’s going to be even more difficult for her.”

“I know, and at this point, I don’t have a plan for helping her get through this. I need to think about everything that’s happened but it’s been so much in such a short time. I’ll try to get here in the morning to say goodbye. Right now I need to retrieve my wife before her parents have her packed in a trunk to be shipped back to New York.”

“I’m not sure it’s both parents you have to worry about. Her mother had quite a different demeanor than her husband. She looked at you like she liked what she saw. Maybe you have an ally in her. But no matter what you do, Adam, remember that new love is fragile. You need to keep that in mind, and a woman with child can be especially emotional, and sometimes they can be very illogical and irrational. I know. I’ve experienced it. You have a very difficult time ahead of you. Don’t hesitate to call on me. Meanwhile, I’ll be saying a prayer that this works out all right.”

“I can only hope. Now, I have to bid you good night.”

When Adam got to the David suite, he heard Thomas talking rather forcefully again. He knocked which stopped that conversation. He insisted that Patricia needed to go for she needed her rest. They bid a huffy Thomas and a smiling Vi a good evening and left.

“Your mother looked happy about something.” Adam was worried about what that might have been.

“You made a good impression on Mother. She thinks you’re quite attractive, and she said you’re strong enough to stand up to Father. I told her that you went to college and that you’re working as an architect here hoping to have your own business soon. She was very impressed. I’m hoping she’ll talk to Father and try to change his mind about you.”

“Your father offered me a quarter of a million dollars to let you go.”

“No, he wouldn’t do that. You must have misunderstood. Perhaps he meant that as a help to us to get us started out right. He was just talking now about how happy he is that he will finally have a grandchild. He was so pleasant at dinner.” Reading Adam’s demeanor correctly as she spoke, Patricia’s temper rose. “You could be mistaken, you know. You don’t know everything, and you only met my parents today.”

“Let’s not argue. We’ll go to church tomorrow, and then see if we can have a pleasant day.”

“Does a pleasant day include visiting with my parents and with your father and brothers?”

“My family had to leave. It’s a very busy time of year. We’ve been invited to visit whenever we can. As to spending time with your parents, it really has more to do with them than with me. Will they be civil as they were through most of dinner? I could tolerate that.”

“Oh, you could tolerate that, could you? Well maybe you don’t need to be with us at all with that attitude. Father and Mother were on their best behavior tonight. I think you could consider doing the same.”

Wisely, Adam chose to simply say he would. Once they returned to their apartment, he offered to rub oil on Patricia’s stomach. He had seen her rubbing it and assumed it was itching. She said she could do it herself, but he insisted on doing it for her. Her icy demeanor softened as he rubbed circles around her stomach. She wasn’t that large yet but the bump was noticeable, and the stretching skin bothered her. The doctor had suggested the oil would help, and it did especially if applied at night. The gentle rubbing soothed Patricia, and she thought the baby probably liked it too.

“I’m sorry if I upset you. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Your father has shown some animosity to me, and it got my back up. I will be as pleasant as I can be for the remainder of their visit.”

“Thank you. After church services tomorrow, we can visit and hopefully, my father will begin to understand why I love you so much.”

The next day did go rather well. They had lunch together, and talked for most of the afternoon in a park with a garden like setting. It was very calm day for such a busy city. Most of the conversation was Thomas and Vi telling Patricia all about what was happening socially among their family and friends back in New York, and Patricia describing the book she had written and submitted for publication. Thomas asked nothing about Adam’s life, but Vi did her best to give Adam a chance to talk about his college years, his work as an architect, and his investments. Vi was pleasantly surprised to find that her daughter’s husband seemed well informed about business and banking. She hoped that at least would impress her husband.

By the end of the day, the two women thought progress had been made, but Adam thought he had simply been providing information that would somehow be used against him. He was correct. Thomas had a fantastic memory and planned to spend Monday exploiting all that he had learned. They did part on a friendly note, and Patricia was in a gay mood when they returned to their apartment and began talking again about having a home with a garden by the time the baby was born. Adam smiled and nodded, but he was worried. He found it difficult to sleep that night because of the fear of the unknown. He knew little about Thomas and his business dealings. He resolved to remedy that lack of information the next day hoping that it would give him some insight into what he was facing.

Some of Adam’s fears were alleviated the next morning when Vi and Thomas were there smiling in the morning to give him a ride to work and to offer to spend the day with their daughter and learn about the city. Patricia kissed him goodbye outside the building where he worked and climbed back into the carriage with a big grin for him. Adam walked inside not realizing how difficult his day was going to be.

When Adam walked in the office, he wondered what was wrong. The clerk at the front desk turned away, and when he went up to the room where he usually worked, there was a message for him to go to the main offices one flight up. When he got there, he had a sense that something had gone terribly wrong. He thought back on all the work he had done and wondered if there was an error in one of his designs that had caused something awful to happen. When he did find out what was wrong, he was furious for he was sure he knew the source of the problem. He was addressed by the senior partner in the firm.

“Adam, I’m very sorry but we have to let you go. I hate to do it, but we’re heavily leveraged right now with a number of projects, and the bank said they would call our loans if you continued to work here after today. We’ll pay you for all the work you’ve done, but I’m sorry that’s all we can do. If this settles out, we would be very happy to hire you back. I don’t know who you have angered in the banking community, but someone is out to ruin you professionally. I sent a message to one of our competitors telling him of your skills, and he said he had already received a warning not to hire you. I would assume all the firms have been contacted. I’m afraid you’ve been effectively blackballed as an architect in this city.”

Handing over the drawings he had worked on at home, Adam turned and left without a word after being handed a large sum of cash for his work. He realized they didn’t even dare hand him a check or draft. They had collected cash so that no one could prove that they had paid him. He made a few stops before returning home. He hoped to have more information soon to help him in this battle. He wondered where Patricia had gone with her parents, and then he began to fear that she was already gone. When he heard steps on the stairs and a key in the lock, he was noticeably relieved.

“Oh, you startled me. I never expected you to be home already. I was thinking I could freshen up. My parents have invited us to dinner this evening. I hope you’ll say yes.” Seeing the stone faced look from Adam, Patricia started to worry. “What’s wrong, and why are you home so early?”

“I was let go today. The firm was warned that if I wasn’t fired immediately, their loans would be called. Someone in the banking community has set out to ruin me professionally. Now, who do we know who could pull strings like that in the banking community?”

“Adam, my father was in a rare mood today. He was laughing and enjoying our time together immensely. He said he wanted to have a wonderful time before, before, … oh, damn.”

“What?”

“I just realized that when he said ‘we’ were going back to New York and smiled at me, he probably thought that it included me. Oh, Adam, I am so sorry. My father can be ruthless. I know that. I remember stories about him when I was growing up. People were afraid of him. They respected him but not for what he was but for what he could do to them if they didn’t. What are we going to do?”

“Where did he say he wanted to go to dinner tonight?”

“He said he heard that there’s a wonderful restaurant in an old ship that has been converted. He said we could take a tour of one of the tall ships after dinner.”

“So that may be his plan.”

“What plan? Oh, no, you don’t really think he would do that, do you?”

“I don’t know what he is capable of doing, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. Send a message that we cannot attend dinner tonight because you’re not feeling well again. Tell them we’ll meet for lunch tomorrow at the Lick. It’s a nice neutral place and too big for him to try anything.”

Patricia wrote her note, and Adam had it delivered.

*****

Chapter 5

The next morning, Adam contacted the men who had said they wanted to work with him but found they had been scared off by the campaign against him. In a dark mood, he returned to the apartment, and he and Patricia left to keep their luncheon date. While at lunch, Adam received a message that a man wanted to see him in the lobby. He excused himself but made sure his pocket pistol was handy, except that wasn’t necessary. The detectives he had hired the day before had no information yet on Thomas David but did have other useful information.

“Both of you are being followed. We’ve seen teams of men following you switching off after several blocks so that you won’t realize it.”

After giving the detectives more instructions, Adam returned to the dining room to find Patricia had gone very pale. Her mother looked worried, but her father looked triumphant. Adam was getting very concerned because Patricia was six months pregnant and the stress might be adversely affecting her and their baby. During Adam’s absence from the table, Patricia’s father had talkws to her, and then she knew then that all of Adam’s concerns and fears were legitimate as her father had set out to destroy him. He told her if she would get the marriage annulled, they could all travel back east and nothing more would be done to Adam.

“He’s young enough. He could rebuild his reputation or go back to working on that ranch his father owns. You however would be back where you belong.”

Saying only that she would think about it, Patricia waited for Adam to return. Then she said she again was not feeling well and asked Adam to take her home. Vi watched them leave and wondered what she could do. In her entire life, she had never stood up to a man. She had been taught that it was her place to obey and serve first her father and then her husband. But Thomas was hurting their daughter and might do worse so she began to try to think of what she could do.

As Adam and Patricia rode back to their apartment, she expressed her fear that her father might have her kidnapped if she didn’t do as he requested. “Adam, the city is a major port, and my father has lots of money. I could be on a ship and headed out of here before you even knew I was gone. We’re smart people. We need to come up with a plan to stop any of his plans from being successful because I know if he has one plan, he has others for unforeseen contingencies. We need to be ready for almost anything.”

So Adam told her of his plan and asked if she thought they should do it. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her for a kiss. He took that as a yes and began his preparations. He sent messages to people he had contacted the day before. The two of them spent the rest of the day packing all of their belongings. Adam left money to pay off his lease, and wrote a letter to Hoss and another more generic one to his father. That night after midnight, he and Patricia left San Francisco. The detectives he had hired came to their building and parked in the alleyway at the back. Once the carriage was packed and Sport tied to the back of it, Adam snapped the reins to take them out of the city and away from her father.

Five days later, his letters reached Virginia City. When Hoss was in town getting the mail, he picked up a letter addressed to him and one addressed to his father. Both had been opened. Hoss wondered who would have done that. He read his and smiled. He knew what it meant. Riding home as quickly as possible, he handed the other letter to his father. Ben read it and frowned. Adam had said that he had lost his job and explained the reason why without naming names. He said he had no place in the city any more, and had headed out to property a family member owned.

“Are they coming here? If they are, they should be here today or tomorrow. I’m surprised he even wrote a letter because they would travel at about the same speed.”

“No, Pa, they’re not coming here. I think I know where they’re going. Here, read the letter I got from Adam.”

The gallant knight has taken his steed and his lady in her carriage and struck out for their golden glade for the dragon is breathing fire. To escape the dragon’s claws and his horrible breath of destruction, the love struck pair seek a golden glade far from the dragon’s lair. Its location in secret can only be reached by pulling down the sheer granite walls with three trills of the whippoorwill and two calls of the woodland deer in love. They shall rest there in their sanctuary under the pink moon and several fortnights more until the arrival of the foretold. Her lady in waiting attends her until that time shall arrive.

Listening intently, Joe whooped and hollered. “That’s the best one yet. He’s really good at that story telling.”

“What in tarnation are the two of you smiling about, and what is that ridiculous letter got to do with anything?” So Hoss and Joe told their father all about the fairy tales and where Adam likely had gone to escape Patricia’s father. “Well, why didn’t he just come here?”

“Pa, that’s exactly what her father would think they would do. He’ll probably be here soon trying to put pressure on us to give her up, only we can’t cause she ain’t here. She’s in a pretty little place where she can get ready to have that baby, and Adam gave us a signal to let him know it’s us coming in when we get there. I suppose we’ll have to wait until her father gets here, and then once we send him on his way, we can go see Adam and Patricia.”

“One of you should go now. You know where it is, and you know the signal. I would feel better if one of you was there and made sure they were all right.”

It didn’t take long for Hoss to volunteer and head out with supplies and things he thought the couple might need or want. He reached the canyon in two days of hard riding, and signaled as instructed. Adam met him as he came out of the narrow defile. The two brothers grinned as Hoss dismounted.

“You seem right happy now.”

“Hoss, I am happy. So far we’ve eluded Thomas, and Patricia has relaxed and is feeling so much better. There’s no spicy food here to make her sick, and she gets to write or draw or just take a nap if she wants to. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, and that’s what she needed.”

Hoss saw the truth of that as soon as he saw Patricia. She had good color and smiled brightly. He also had a question. “I saw the carriage camouflaged out there. You want me to take it home until you need it again. Either that or I can pull it to the end of the canyon and hide it better up in that grove of trees.”

“I’d rather have it close if we need it, but if you could take it to the end of the canyon, that would be great. Now come on inside. We’re about to have lunch.”

Wondering how that could be because both Adam and Patricia were outside, Hoss got another surprise. Adam had arranged for one of Hop Sing’s cousins to travel with them to help Patricia and to do the cooking and cleaning. She knew very little English but was learning. She was a superb cook though, and Adam and Patricia were treated to some great meals. The cabin was small, so there wasn’t much cleaning to do, and with only the three of them, there wasn’t much laundry either. Bao Yu was very happy to have this work, and when they moved to the Ponderosa, she looked forward to meeting Hop Sing and the other members of the Chinese community there.

“I was in town two days ago. Thomas is on his way to Virginia City. The detectives I hired are keeping tabs on him for me. It would be helpful if they could contact you. I don’t want to go to town any more. I’m worried that he’s hired more people, and one of them might spot me.”

“Sure, I can do that. Send the info to me, and I’ll get here with it whenever there’s something important.”

Inside the small cabin, Hoss enjoyed a delicious meal. Adam had done some hunting and they had fresh meat. Bao Yu made noodles and served vegetables, noodles, and meat at almost every meal. Hoss brought in the canned goods that Hop Sing had sent along as well as tea and coffee. He got a short list from Adam of things he would like someone to bring. He was hoping his father would come visit for he believed that his father and Patricia would like each other a lot if they got to spend some time together. After a day, Hoss left moving the carriage to the end of the canyon and camouflaging it well. Then he headed home, and that was the same direction that Thomas was headed.

When Thomas had found out that Adam and Patricia had slipped away at night, he was furious. The detectives he had hired were supposed to be watching and reporting all movements. No one had anticipated that they would leave so soon and in the middle of the night as if they knew they were being watched.

“Now he’s dragged her off into the wilderness somewhere. I would guess he’s gone running home to that ranch his father owns. Well, I won’t let a little inconvenience stop me. I’m going there to get her back before it’s too late.”

“Thomas, do you have any idea how big that ranch is? They are wealthy people out here, and he seems to have a lot of important friends.”

“Viola, the only important people out here live in this city. No backwoods ruffian is going to steal my daughter and get away with it. What’s he going to do for money anyway now that he’s lost his job?”

“Thomas, he didn’t need that job for money. He was building his dream, and you destroyed it. I fear you may have made a very dangerous enemy.”

“Him? You must be daft. I already showed him what kind of power I have, and he went running away like a dog with his tail between his legs. He’s a coward, and he’s on the run from me now. My men got a look at the letters he sent. He didn’t say much of anything to his father. He must be ashamed of what he’s done. He wrote some fairy tale gibberish to his brother.”

“Perhaps, he made a strategic withdrawal to protect our daughter and their baby from all the turmoil? Have you thought that perhaps the gibberish might have been a code?”

“Don’t endow him with intelligence like that. The man has shown nothing to indicate strength and resourcefulness. This will all be over soon.”

Thomas immediately traveled to Virginia City and the Ponderosa demanding to see his daughter and threatening to have Adam charged with kidnapping. Ben let him have it when he showed up.

“No court and no sheriff in this whole country is going to charge a man with kidnapping because he traveled somewhere with his wife. I have to tell you this. If anything happens to them because of what you’ve done, I will use every penny I have and every contact I have to ruin you. You have systematically worked to destroy my son because he loves your daughter. They are legally married, and they are having our grandchild. I would think that you would prefer that to the lifestyle she was living before. Oh, I bet the papers out east would love to read about that. Your friends would love to read about your daughter’s life before she met Adam. I know some people in the newspaper business. Perhaps I ought to grant one of them an exclusive interview. Maybe our friend Mark Twain would like a go at this story.”

The mention of Mark Twain was the first hint that Thomas had gotten that got through his snobbery and connected in his temporal lobes. He had a typical easterner’s disdain for anything from the west. Suddenly he wasn’t as sure of himself as he had been. Ben told him to leave the Ponderosa or be charged with trespassing, and he had little choice but to comply. He wasn’t used to being ordered about, but in this case, when Joe mentioned that trespassers could legally be shot, he decided it was best if he left.

When Thomas returned to San Francisco, he hired more detectives to locate his daughter. They made little progress until one thought to check property records in California. A mining claim was found in the name of Patricia David. However, it was in a remote area, and Thomas had to hire men to lead him there. The men were from San Francisco though without experience traveling in the mountains. They could not find the property. Thomas tried to hire a guide in Placerville but apparently there were none for hire because no one there wanted to work for him and against the Cartwrights. Thomas was frustrated. However his men questioned people and did find that Adam and Patricia had been seen together traveling through town, and Adam had been back once for supplies. They decided to wait for him to return again so that they could follow him to the property where they assumed he and Patricia had been staying. Very quickly it seemed, over two months had gone by, and Thomas assumed his daughter was getting close to giving birth. Once she and Adam had that child, he knew it would be impossible to separate her from him. He was getting desperate. He was also getting lonely. He sent for Vi to join him in Placerville.

By then, on the Ponderosa, Ben and Hoss were readying a wagon load of supplies to take to Adam and Patricia. They visited there at least every two weeks. Adam had asked for some lumber, and they were bringing that as well as tar paper, nails, and paint. They planned to help Adam add a room to the cabin. It was not a long-term solution, but it would make a nice getaway or hunting cabin once they were settled in the home Adam was designing. He and Patricia had decided to relocate to the Ponderosa once the baby was born, but wanted their own home. Adam planned to start an architectural firm on a small scale in Virginia City.

“Joe sent a telegram from Placerville. Thomas is still at the hotel, but now Vi has joined him. It must be quite lonely for an eastern snob among the ordinary hard working people of Placerville.”

“When’s Joe coming back? I’m getting tired of doing all the chores myself.”

“Once the baby is born, Adam and Patricia want to come here. I assume that at some point, Thomas will give up. He is a stubborn man though so I hope Patricia is right and he’ll give up once the baby is born.” Ben and Adam had decided that sending Joe to keep an eye on Thomas was a good idea. Thomas was unlikely to recognize Joe who was told to keep a low profile as he watched over Thomas and monitored what he was doing. Thomas never noticed him, but Vi was more observant and saw Adam’s younger brother several times. She assumed he was watching her husband so they could be ready if Thomas decided to take some action.

Early one morning, Joe was awakened by a knock on his door. He grabbed a pistol and asked who it was. “Joseph, it’s Viola David. May I come in?” So Joe opened the door and gestured for her to enter.

“I won’t help you find my brother.”

“I was hoping you would do exactly that. I want to be with my daughter when she has that baby. I gave my husband an emetic this morning in his breakfast. He is very ill. I went to get the doctor and asked if he could give my husband a sedative so that he could sleep because he’s been throwing up so much. He’s sleeping now, and the doctor left another dose for him for later. Now that he’s out of the way, can we go see my daughter and her husband?”

“I’ll have to check out your story first.”

“Of course. We can go as soon as you’re fully dressed.” Vi waited until Joe buttoned his shirt and pulled on his boots. Then they walked across the street to the best hotel in Placerville. Joe could smell the truth of her story as soon as she opened the door to their room. Thomas was asleep in the bed. Joe called his name a few times and there was no movement.

“What about the detectives he has working for him?”

“I paid them off this morning. My husband had plenty of cash in his wallet. I even paid them a handsome bonus. I told them that we had given up and would be returning home. Now, did I take care of everything?”

“You certainly did. Can you ride?”

“I’m afraid I only know how to ride sidesaddle. Is there a chance that I could find such a saddle here?”

“We’ll manage. Now pack up whatever clothing you want. Make sure to bring a jacket or coat. In the mountains, it can get very cool.”

Within an hour, Vi was on her way to see her daughter. She had a huge grin. For the first time in her life, she had defied a man in her family. She felt liberated and decided to worry about the consequences of her actions later.

In the cabin in the glade with the secret spring, Adam was still in bed when Joe and Vi began their trek from Placerville. Normally he was up and dressed as the sun came up, but the previous night and that morning, Patricia had wanted to make love. Adam knew that the doctor had told them that having relations in the last month could cause labor and an early delivery. They thought they might have two weeks to go yet, but they couldn’t be sure. Adam had been unable to resist her for they had not had relations in a month. When she made her advances, he succumbed. Then early that morning, she had awakened him with a touch and seduced him again. Adam rested on his side as Patricia spooned into him. He caressed her stomach and she smiled. She had asked him often if he still found her desirable even with her huge swollen stomach. His attention to her and his obvious enjoyment of their time together was more reassuring than any words he had. She felt loved, and that was what was most important to her. The doctor had told her that this could start labor. She had felt some discomfort the previous day, and Bao Yu in her broken English had told her that it would be soon. She had decided to hurry it along a bit if she could.

Finally Adam got out of bed and dressed. Patricia said she wanted to stay in bed and rest a bit after the exercise and grinned at him. So Adam went outside to do chores and chop wood as he usually did every morning. He was expecting his father and Hoss, and wanted to be sure everything looked good. He finished clearing the area where the new room would go and cut an opening for the door and installed it. He set some cornerstones, and everything was ready for building. Patricia sat on the porch. Adam was a little concerned with how pale she was, but she assured him that everything was fine. Late that afternoon, when he heard the whippoorwill trills and the call of a mating elk, he assumed it was his father and Hoss arriving. He walked to the trail to help because they would have to unload the wagon and carry everything in. He was shocked to see his brother Joe and Patricia’s mother ride through the opening instead.

“Hey, older brother. It seems you’ve won over half of Patricia’s parents.”

*****

Chapter 6

“Mother, you didn’t?” Patricia was shocked at hearing that her mother had given her father an emetic and then had the doctor give him a sedative.

“Oh, yes, I did. He’s been needing a good cleaning and a rest for some time now.”

“What did you use?”

“Well, I was reading in one of your books about medicinal properties of plants so I went to the Chinese shops and asked for something to use and how much to use. They were very helpful. I told them my husband needed a good cleaning out so they said they added something to help him with the other form of elimination as well.” Vi had the good grace to blush at her audacity at this point, and Adam broke out in laughter.

The sound of whippoorwills and elk mating calls sent Adam and Joe to the trail to greet Hoss and their father. Adam was surprised to see Hop Sing with them but Ben said he insisted on coming with them. They spent the next hour hauling food, lumber, and building supplies in. While it was still light, they framed up the new room and put in a floor. Inside the house, Hop Sing and Bao Yu prepared a lavish dinner. After dinner, Adam and Joe got busy and roofed the new room. The next day, they would add the siding and put in the interior walls. Then they would put in the bed that Adam had constructed. By the end of the next day, the cabin would have a spacious new bedroom for Adam and Patricia and their baby.

“It’s going to be a bit crowded here tonight. Pa, you can use the small bedroom. Bao Yu and Viola will bed down in the main room by the fireplace using the mattress for the new bed. Hop Sing, Hoss, and Joe, I’m sorry but all that’s left is the new room or the loft in the stable.”

“I reckon we can lay our bedrolls in the new room. It’s got a roof in case it rains, and we’ll be close by as soon as breakfast is cooking.”

“Hoss, are you always hungry?”

“Joe, I ain’t always hungry, but I worked hard today, and I gotta rebuild my energy.”

Adam had a suggestion. “How about popcorn? We can pop some in the fireplace.”

So there was popcorn and singing. Adam shared some remarkable good news with everyone. With not enough work to do, Adam had busied himself with exploring the canyon. On one such hike, Adam found a vein of gold in the canyon, and in talking with Patricia, found she owned about a one square mile section that included that spot. Adam had done more exploring of her property then and had located other likely spots for mining. Adam discussed with Ben and the others what they could do to take advantage of the find and keep the property as a getaway. That conversation continued until it was time for everyone to get some sleep. In the middle of the night, Patricia poked Adam several times to wake him. When he finally awakened, he was still groggy until he heard the word ‘baby’ and then he was wide-awake.

“Now? The baby is coming now?”

“Yes, and if you could get out of bed, I could use some help here.” Realizing that sounded a bit harsh, she softened her approach. “If you could tell Bao Yu and my mother, I would appreciate that very much.”

“But the baby isn’t supposed to come for two more weeks.”

“The baby has decided that now is the right time. I felt things changing over the last two days so I’m not surprised. Bao Yu has acted as a midwife many times she said, and she told me two days ago that it was close. Now go tell them.” And then Patricia curled up in a fetal position as another contraction hit and for the first time was very painful.

Adam jumped out of bed and pulled on his pants buttoning them up as he left the bedroom and moved to wake the two ladies. Hop Sing was already up and filling a kettle with water. Somehow he always knew these things and Adam had given up trying to figure out how he did it. Looking at Adam, Hop Sing had a few words to say.

“I come with Mister Ben because I know I needed. Now you get on shirt and help Missy. She need you now more. You sit. Talk. Hold hand. We do all other things.”

With all the commotion, Ben was soon awake. When he came out to see Hop Sing boiling water as well as washing a scissors and some string, he knew what had happened. Vi came out to get some towels and went back into the bedroom telling Ben that everything was going very well but that his son was a nervous wreck.

“His mother died soon after he was born. I thought he would be more worried with only two weeks to go, but he was keeping it under control very well. He was probably trying to spare Patricia any additional stress. Now he’s got no reason to hide it.”

“It’s rather unconventional but Patricia wants him there for the birth. Of course that girl seldom has done anything the way it’s expected so I’m not that surprised. She said he put it in there so he could just as well watch it come out. Only she didn’t say it anywhere near that politely. Adam tolerates an awful lot from my daughter.”

“He loves her.”

Smiling, Vi nodded. “Yes. Yes, he does, and she loves him just as deeply. They are two very lucky people to have found that much love to share. Now I need to get back in there before our two ‘doctors’ scold me for delaying.”

“How is it going for Patricia?”

“Very well, I think. The baby may be a bit small according to Mr. Hop, but that will make the delivery somewhat easier. I think that we have just a couple of hours to wait.”

A scream made Vi hurry back into the bedroom, and awakened Hoss and Joe who made their way into the house wondering what was happening. Ben told them that Patricia was having the baby, and they asked where Adam was. Ben said he was with Patricia.

“Ain’t the father supposed to wait out here?”

“Hoss, your brother and his wife do not do things as expected.”

Inside the bedroom, Bao Yu wanted Patricia in more of an upright position. She had Adam sit on the bed behind her and hold her against him. Patricia leaned back into him between contractions. Bao Yu and Hop Sing were very encouraging telling her that the baby was getting close and a few more pushes would deliver the precious infant. The pain made time seem to take so much longer but suddenly the last contraction ended with relief. Patricia looked down to see a baby in Bao Yu’s hands. Hop Sing moved in with a receiving blanket and wrapped it loosely about the baby before placing the child against Patricia’s chest.

“You hold tight. Almost done. Baby good, very good.”

Patricia was worried though. “I thought babies were supposed to cry when they’re born?”

“Not all babies cry. You got nice quiet one.”

The baby was squirming and pursing his lips, but there was no cry. The silence from the room unnerved everyone waiting outside until Hop Sing left with the afterbirth and soiled linens.

“Baby boy. He healthy. Mother and father good.”

Ben pushed the door open more. “Is it all right if we come in?” He had tears in his eyes seeing Adam sitting against the headboard with an arm wrapped around his wife who was holding their baby. With his other hand, Adam was caressing his baby’s back.

“Come in. Everyone can come in for a minute to meet Christopher David Cartwright.”

After everyone got a good look at the baby and congratulated the parents, Vi made them leave saying that mother and child needed to be cleaned up. An hour later, Adam came out to see his father and brothers. He had a big grin. “Sorry if we don’t have any cigars or champagne, but how about some coffee and biscuits to celebrate?”

Hoss liked the idea. “Now that’s my way to celebrate!”

As Vi helped Patricia with the baby, the men ate breakfast. Then Adam brought a tray of food to his wife. Hop Sing and Bao Yu had prepared some soft scrambled eggs with a biscuit laden with preserves and a cup of tea. When Adam opened the door, he nearly cried to see his son suckling. It was a sight that he found never grew old. He looked on it each time as a magnificent event. Vi left to have breakfast as Patricia handed over the baby who was soon asleep in his father’s arms. Patricia felt such pride in her family then, but a shadow passed over her face when she thought of her father. Adam guessed that the sad look was because of Thomas but wisely said nothing about him.

Over the next two days, the new room was finished and the bed installed. All of Adam and Patricia’s things were moved in there. Plans were made for moving Adam and his family to the Ponderosa, and Ben made sure that Vi knew that she was welcome to stay there as a guest as well. Soon, there was a lot of packing and planning. Life seemed so good except no one could forget that Thomas was still out there, and now they had no one watching him so they had no idea what he was doing.

“Well, the boys and I can head on home. We do still have a ranch to run. Bao Yu, you’re welcome to come with us to the Ponderosa.” Hop Sing explained it to her, and she smiled and nodded. “That way, Viola can use the small bedroom, and Adam and Patricia and the baby can use the new room. We’ll be back in a few days to help get Patricia and the baby to the Ponderosa.”

“Pa, I was planning to come too if you don’t mind.” Adam was amused at his father taking charge of his grandson and daughter-in-law.

“Well, of course you will. I was just trying to work out the logistics of travel.” At first, Ben had thought Adam was perturbed but that hint of a grin he had indicated otherwise. He was enjoying all of this.

Within weeks, the Ponderosa was bustling with activity. Adam had moved back into his old room, but now had Patricia and Chris with him. Vi was staying in a guest room. Bao Yu, who was learning about American cooking and baking from Hop Sing, occupied the downstairs guest room. The two of them were not actually related. Adam explained it to his wife and her mother.

“It is easier for Chinese to enter the country if they have a relative here already. So there are many paper sons and paper cousins. The only connection they have is a piece of paper that says they are related. They can buy those for a fee before they ever leave China. Hop Sing’s family has been instrumental in getting people into this country claiming to be relatives of his so he has hundreds of ‘cousins’ here. None are actually his cousins even though he has become close to some of them. Bao Yu entered the country posing as a boy because females are not allowed to enter unless they are married to a merchant or other wealthy Chinese. The leaders of the Chinese community in San Francisco were happy that we were willing to hire her as a cook and housekeeper because they were afraid what unscrupulous men might do with her in the city. Because of Hop Sing, they trust us.”

Noticing how close Hop Sing and Bao Yu were getting and the looks they exchanged when they thought no one was looking, Adam mentioned that he thought he should build his house closer than he originally intended. “If I don’t, one of us is likely to lose a cook and housekeeper.” For just a moment, Ben wondered what Adam meant but then smiled. He was happy that his long time friend seemed to have found someone who might like to share his life.

The tranquility of a happy but busy family was interrupted by the arrival of Thomas David. He had found that his wife was on the Ponderosa and had come to get her. At least this time he had the law on his side. Once he was at the ranch house, he first confronted his wife.

“I can’t believe you left me there alone when I was so ill. I know you love your daughter, but that was not acceptable. I could have died.”

Patricia was going to say something, but Adam pinched her arm just enough to get her attention. She looked at him in annoyance, but he just shook his head at her and told her not to say anything. What her father said next explained why Adam had acted that way.

“I have no idea what made me so sick. The doctor said I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me. I couldn’t leave that room for two days, and by then, those men I hired had left town. I had no idea where you were but assumed you had gone after Patricia. Now that we’ve found her, perhaps we can work out a satisfactory solution to this mess.”

Adam picked up the other side of the conversation there. “There is no mess. I have a wife and son, you have a grandson, and that’s all there is to it. We will live here, and I will take care of my family.”

“You are an upstart, and you will not speak so disrespectfully to me. I run one of the largest banks in the country. You work on a ranch. There is hardly a comparison in status to be made there, so you ought to be more cognizant of your place. I know I cannot get my daughter to leave you now that you have that baby together, but do not cross me. I still can ruin you, and then how long will she stay with you?”

“I don’t think you’ll ruin me. I have a lot of friends and family to help me. However you might want to head home while you still have a bank to run. It seems that some friends of mine are interested in your bank and especially in your depositors.”

“Who could you possibly know who would have any interest in my profession or the ability to do anything about it?”

“Oh, did I mention that while I was in college I needed jobs during the summer to help pay for my education. I spent one summer in Hartford tutoring a young boy. John needed some help with math concepts that his teachers weren’t equipped to handle. John, or JP as he is called, has a very talented mind. He’s working his way into the family business today. I sent him a telegram and asked him about bank takeovers and mentioned a bank whose principal officer has been away for months and spending money with abandon. His father, Mr. Morgan, liked me and appreciated what I did for his son. He always said I could call on him if I needed help. Meanwhile, Patricia has set up a deposit of the money she’s going to be earning from her gold claim into one of JP’s family-owned banks. That made him quite happy too. In San Francisco, Mr. Crocker however isn’t too happy with you and your activities. I was working on a house design for him when I was fired. He liked the preliminary work, but now I’m not there to finish the plans. Mr. Crocker isn’t someone you would like as an enemy.”

Turning more and more pale with each revelation, Thomas had nothing left to say at first. His wife had been correct. He had unleashed a powerful adversary and had not realized the dangers of his chosen strategy. Ben sat silently in his chair on the porch and listened. He understood now that the explosion he had expected when Adam and Thomas met again wasn’t going to happen. Adam had defeated Thomas, at least for the time being, with the same type of style he used in chess. He worked hard to set up an elaborate plan, and often by the time you realized it, all there was left to do was concede or wait for the last move and hear a soft ‘checkmate’ from Adam. While he kept you occupied with small moves near your pieces even losing some of his, he would set up a long-range ambush with no escape. While Thomas had focused on attacking Adam locally and trying to get his daughter away from him, Adam had pulled in help from a number of sources far away mindful of the whole board and not just the locality where he was being attacked. Thomas really had no choice but to concede at this point. He would be ruined if he didn’t.

“This isn’t over. No one treats me like that and gets away with it.”

“Please, no more threats. If you want to see your daughter and grandson, you need to improve your manners and behavior.”

“I will not be lectured by a wilderness ruffian no matter how many people you have fooled into thinking you somehow belong to the right class. I will ruin you no matter what it takes.”

“Should you succeed, you would also be ruining your daughter’s life and that of your grandson. Is it really that important to you?”

“Viola, get your things. We’re leaving.”

Hesitant at first, Vi was emboldened by the looks of the Cartwrights who all hoped she could make progress where Adam had failed. “No, Thomas, I will not go with you under these circumstances. You may divorce me if you wish, but I want you to remember that then I will have no reason to keep your secrets.”

Thomas was utterly and thoroughly defeated, but he didn’t know how to react. That had never happened to him before. He had always had means, legal or otherwise, to defeat an opponent no matter how strong they appeared to be, but too many things were stacked against him in this situation. He could not win, and yet did not know how to concede. Ben stepped in to help assuming that a member of the eastern social elite would know how to play chess.

“Thomas, if you were in a chess match, and the opponent’s queen and bishop had the angle on your king, and you can’t back up because a rook is there to take the king from the corner nor can you go forward because there is a knight ready to pounce, what would you do?”

“Well, of course, I would concede. There is no other option.” Everyone waited as Thomas mind swirled with all that had happened. “I concede.”

Adam was gracious. “You can come inside then to see your grandson then. He’s sleeping so you won’t be able to hold him.”

“I wasn’t planning on holding him. I’ve never held a baby in my life.”

“You never held your daughter?” Ben was astounded. Holding his precious gifts for the first time were some of his most fond memories. He could not imagine never having held them.

“That’s women’s work. That’s what I was taught. My father never touched any of us, and so of course, I followed his example with my daughter.”

Joe had to pipe in then. “There were a few touches I could have done without, but Pa’s hand on my shoulder when I need it is one of the best things in the world.”

“Perhaps if I had had a son, it could have been different.”

Vi stepped to her husband’s side. “You have a son now. He’s really quite a remarkable man. You should get to know him.”

Taking a deep breath and expelling it forcefully, Thomas looked at his wife. “How can I ever look at him as a son. He’s ruined me financially. We’ll have to sell the house. I don’t know who will hire me once the Morgans have taken control of our bank. We should leave now.”

“Yes, but first I need to get my things. And don’t you want to at least look at your grandson?”

“I’ll look, but don’t expect that it will make any difference. He’s won this round, but this fight isn’t over yet. He should not underestimate me.”

“Thomas, you have to promise that you will not instigate any trouble. I won’t go with you unless you promise.”

Regarding his wife with a critical eye, Thomas nodded for he could see how serious she was about that threat. He wasn’t sure what he would do, but a little lie such as the one he had just told his wife was a minor thing to him requiring no significant thought. In business, little lies were told often and big lies were told when necessary. For now, he would play along. He would have to rebuild his reputation and his power. When he did, he planned to give Adam Cartwright a lesson in humility after he reminded his wife to keep her proper place.

Inside the house, Ben stood at Adam’s side and they talked quietly. “He’s not done with you yet.”

“I know. I can only hope that a continent between us will be enough.”

*****

Chapter 7

“You named him Christopher David Cartwright? You included our family name?” Thomas stood looking down at his grandson.

“Yes, of course. He’s part of two families now as I am.” Patricia smiled and hoped her father’s heart could melt a little. He could be a ruthless man, but his efforts to bring her back home had convinced her that he did care even if it was a bit convoluted. He cared and wanted the best for her, but also wanted to preserve the family status by ensuring that. He had thought that Adam did not fit the requirements for a suitable husband for his daughter, but Patricia hoped he would reconsider after all that he had learned.

“Isn’t he rather small?”

“All babies are small. He was rather small at birth, but he’s been growing fast. He’s seems to get longer almost every day. Would you like to hold your grandson?”

“I thought you said I couldn’t hold him because he was sleeping?”

“We can make an exception. You may not see him again for a while, and I would like you to have held him at least once.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“I can show you. I’ve learned a lot about babies in the last month. Now sit in that chair and put your arms out like this.” Patricia showed him what she wanted. “Now you have to make sure to support his head at all times so I’m going to settle him in your arms with his head resting in the crook of your arm. Ready?”

At Thomas’ nod, Patricia gently lifted her baby and made sure he was wrapped tightly in his blanket. She settled him in Thomas arms and waited for the reaction. Standing at the door, Adam and Vi held their breath. They weren’t at all sure of what Thomas would do or say. What he did surprised them all. In a gentle whisper, he addressed the sleeping infant.

“Hello, Christopher David. You’re going to have the best of both worlds if I have any say in the matter. When you’re ready for school and travel, I’ll be there with whatever you need.”

Adam had left, and Vi and Patricia wondered where he had gone, but he was back quickly with a sketch book in hand. As Thomas sat in the chair holding his grandson, Adam quickly sketched the scene. He didn’t add much detail thinking he could do that later. While she watched him draw, Patricia was thinking that if he could stencil a canvas for her, she could paint the scene too. She usually drew and painted plants but was willing to try painting a portrait of her father and her son. Adam nudged Vi to go stand by her husband, and she quickly moved understanding what Adam wanted her to do. He had left a space in his sketch and now added Vi to the scene. Patricia felt a tear slip down her cheek as she watched. Thomas felt his heart softening and didn’t like the feeling. He had always gotten what he wanted with power and influence. He wasn’t about to let a eight pound human being get the best of him.

“Well, there, now I’ve done it. Patricia, you may have him back. Viola, we need to get going. I want to make travel arrangements, and we’ll have to go to San Francisco first and get our things there.”

“You were staying at the Lick. I’m sure they would crate your things and ship them here if you just send a telegram.” Adam knew that Patricia wanted more time to work on her father. Thomas knew it too, but he hoped to work on a few business matters while in the city so he declined. Vi shrugged and followed him out. Patricia caught up to her after handing the baby off to Adam.

“Mother, you could stay if Father has to come back this way anyhow.”

“Patricia, dear, I think it best if I go with him. I can try to keep an eye on him. Now that I’ve asserted myself a bit, I may need to do more so that he doesn’t think he can regain control of me.” At Patricia disbelieving look, Vi added an amendment to her statement. “I won’t put anything in his food again, but having him worry about that a bit could be useful too.”

As Vi went to pack, Patricia went back to the bedroom because she could hear Chris mewling a bit. She found that Adam had changed his diaper. Handing Chris to Patricia, Adam smiled down at their son.

“I don’t think I can do anything else about what he needs. He seems hungry again.” Closing the door, Adam lounged on the bed and watched Patricia nurse their baby. He loved watching this, but it was getting to be almost more than he could handle watching her bare her breasts for their son. It had been a month. He watched her, and when she finished, she carefully laid Chris in his cradle and covered him before buttoning up her dress.

“He always wants to sleep after he nurses. I wonder if that’s normal.”

“I don’t know if it’s normal, but it is certainly convenient.” Adam had stepped close to Patricia and when she turned toward him, they were inches apart. Adam began unbuttoning the shirtwaist dress that she had just buttoned. “”It’s been four weeks. Perhaps you would be willing to offer some succor to your husband who has been waiting patiently for a chance to show his wife how much he loves her?” He slipped his hands inside her dress and pulled her close for a kiss. She was more than willing to give lovemaking a try. With all the pent up passion, it didn’t take long. They were wrapped in each other’s arms and Adam was promising a more sensuous session that night when a knock at the door let them know that Patricia’s parents were about to leave. They hurriedly straightened their clothing and headed downstairs fooling no one.

As Adam walked down the stairs with Patricia, Ben and Thomas were frowning, but Vi smiled at her daughter and Adam. She was so happy that her daughter had found such a loving man. Now she would have to work on Thomas. Seeing him hold Chris had let her know there was some warmth in the man. She had to find a way to get him to let it out. She wondered at making love in the middle of the day. It made her daughter glow and Adam looked quite relaxed. Perhaps she could induce Thomas to try that sometime instead of a quick release for him and then having him roll over to snore. Now that she was thinking more like her daughter, all sorts of possibilities seemed to be popping into her head. She was thinking that life could be far more interesting than it had been for her. Before packing her things, Vi had freshened up and changed into clothing more suitable and comfortable for travel in the west. Her daughter had helped her pick out a few new items of clothing. When Thomas saw her in the western style shirtwaist dress, his eyebrows went up in disapproval but she had noted too that he kept looking at her and seemed to appreciate what he saw. Without all the extra petticoats, the hoop, the bustle, and a jacket, her natural charms were far less camouflaged.

That night as Thomas and Vi took a hotel room in Reno, she suggested they might like to take a bath and have dinner in their room. Thomas was agreeable to the bath but shocked when Vi suggested they bathe together. However he did manage to get over the surprise and enjoyed that adventure. Vi and Patricia had talked and Patricia had mentioned once how much she liked to bathe with Adam. Vi had been a bit scandalized to hear her daughter talk that way until Patricia laughed and said she wouldn’t talk about all the other things they did. That got Vi wondering, and one night there was a book on her bedside table when she retired for the evening. She opened it and closed it quickly seeing some artwork that had never been talked about at her finishing school nor had she seen anything like it on her grand tour. She couldn’t help herself though and opened the book several times but closed it every time the images got her heart racing. She had never heard of men and women doing these things, but if the artists had created such works, it must happen. When she packed to leave, she made sure to leave the book on the bedside table just as she had found it even though she had studied some of those images every night becoming more and more comfortable with the practices depicted. If she was going to get her husband to change his ways, she thought being a bit more adventurous with him might help.

On the Ponderosa, life returned to a more normal routine although having a lady and a baby in the house meant that there was a new normal. Ben loved it. He got to hold his grandson at least once a day and often got to hold him far more than that. Chris seemed to sleep a lot, but Doctor Martin said he was growing very fast and needed his sleep. He said some babies naturally sleep more than others. Almost every morning, Adam walked down the stairs with Chris and deposited him into his grandfather’s arms. Dry, clean, fed, and well rested, the mornings were the best time. Chris was beginning to notice people and smile. A few weeks later, Ben’s heart felt like it was going to burst the first time Chris smiled up at him.

“It could be gas, Pa. He smiles a lot when he’s farting.”

“No, son, that smile was just for me. My grandson knows that his grandfather loves him very much.”

“I wish we could say the same about his other grandfather.”

“Have you heard from them at all?”

“Nothing, and that makes me nervous. I don’t know what he could be up to, but I’m worried about what he could be planning. I thought they would already be headed back east, but it’s been weeks and there’s no word of anything. I would feel a lot more comfortable with him in New York and the width of a continent away from us.”

“Will they stop here on the way?”

“Again, I don’t know. I would hope they would, but Thomas made no promises. He did seem anxious to get to San Francisco and not just to pick up his belongings. He had something on his mind.”

“I had that same impression.” The conversation ended at that point as Patricia came down the stairs, and Hoss and Joe came inside from doing chores.

Moving to the fireplace to warm up, Hoss mentioned the weather situation. “It’s mighty cold out there for a fall day. I’m thinking there might be an early snowstorm building up in the mountains. Probably gonna catch some travelers unawares.”

“Yeah, Pa, we better hurry up and move the rest of the cattle from the high pastures down to the lower ones before any of them get stranded up there.” Joe had joined Hoss in front of the fire and stoked it up a bit.

Thinking about what he had heard, Adam laid out a plan. “If Hoss and Joe can take a crew to the northeast hills, I can take another one to the northwest. We should be able to move the cattle that are still up there down in just a couple of days. Then I’d like to ride to Patricia’s property to see how the mining is going and board up the cabin for the winter. With the weather like it is, we probably won’t get there again until spring.” Hoss and Joe nodded. That would work for them too. Ben had one more suggestion though.

“I’ll ride with you, Adam. I’d like to get out of the house one last time before the snows hit too. I’d like to see how you set up those open stope mines too.”

“They’re nothing too elaborate, but you’re welcome to come with me and take a look. It doesn’t require much engineering to do one of those. As long as the men are careful with the dynamiting, it’s easy pickings. They haul the ore out in wagons. When they’ve finished with each vein, there will be three wide openings into our canyon. I was thinking of putting a fence across each opening to keep our horses from wandering out, but it will mean more game can get in too. We’ll be able to drive a wagon in there which will make things a lot more convenient.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to a hunting trip where we got a nice cabin and soft beds to come back to every night.” Hoss had a dreamy look on his face with that thought.

“Well, let’s get started with the cattle today. If snow is building in the mountains, we could have a problem within a couple of days. Let’s get some breakfast and then get organized.”

Patricia looked worried. Adam reassured her that he would be back in a week, and that Hoss and Joe would be back within two days probably and no more than three days. “Hop Sing is here and there will be a few hands around too. You stayed in that cabin of yours mostly all alone for two years. Surely a week won’t be that hard for you.”

“I didn’t have a baby then.”

“You’ll be fine. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I finished that sketch on canvas you wanted. You could work on that.”

Grateful to have something to do that would keep her busy, Patricia smiled a little. She knew that she would have to get used to Adam being gone sometimes, but this was the first time it had happened. She hoped nothing would go wrong while he was away. After breakfast, she helped Hop Sing pack up food packs for them, and she slipped a little note in Adam’s saddlebags. She kissed him goodbye, and he leaned down and kissed his son on the forehead.

“Sweetheart, in a week, we have a date.” Grinning, Adam mounted up on Sport and wheeled his horse to ride out after his father and the other men.

*****

Chapter 8

“Do you want to bar the door too?” Ben was hammering in the last of the nails on the boards covering the windows of the cabin at Secret Spring.

“Yes, I have a plank in the stable that should work well for that. I’ll get it, and then we can go.”

“Patricia will be happy to see you a day early. If we leave today, we can be home by late tomorrow. With the way those clouds look, that’s a good idea.”

“I know she was worried about taking care of Chris by herself. I want to get home as soon as I can. The miners are all headed to town, and won’t be back until spring. Most of the best ore is gone so we don’t have to worry about some itinerant outfit moving in here to take over. What’s left won’t take more than a month to get. Patricia made a sound investment when she bought this claim for fifty dollars.”

“She’s a very resourceful woman. She reminds me a lot of Inger except for the more liberal views on men and women that she has. You know, they say that sons marry women like their mothers and daughters marry men like their fathers, but Patricia isn’t like Elizabeth.”

“Oh, and I’m like Thomas?” Ben was concerned until he looked over to see Adam’s small smile.

“Well, you are both rather stubborn and like to get your way. You’re both intelligent and resourceful. Yes, you do have some of the same characteristics, except you are also highly moral and ethical, and Thomas could use quite a few lessons in that regard, I’m afraid.”

Thinking for a time, Adam had a theory. He leaned against a porch support. “I never knew my mother. Perhaps that’s why my wife resembles the mother I remember. Ma came into our family when I was still very young. Almost from the moment I met her, I loved her with all my heart. She was destined to be a mother. She was strong, capable, and determined. She ran that store very well if I remember correctly. She loved nature. I remember her standing in a meadow carpeted with new blooms. She stood with her eyes closed as she breathed in the heavenly smell of fresh flowers. She taught me to appreciate the natural beauty all around me. I do remember her going toe-to-toe with you a few times too.”

“Yes, Inger was never shy about sharing her thoughts with me. Your mother was like that too except she had a much more subtle way of communicating any displeasure. She held a lot back until sometimes I had to drag it out of her. You’re like that too. You have a lot of qualities like your mother, but you’re right in comparing Patricia to Inger. They are a lot alike. Now if you go get that plank, we can be on our way.”

Grinning, Adam went to get the plank, and once it was secured across the door, father and son headed home. They got to the far western line shack that night and woke in the morning to snow covering the ground. After a hasty breakfast, they packed up and headed home hoping that the snow would remain light. It didn’t and as they rode, Adam eventually suggested a rope between them so the wouldn’t get separated. Adam had to yell to be heard above the wind that was whistling through the trees.

“I’ve given Sport the lead. I’m sure he knows where home is. I can’t see anything familiar. We’ve got hours left to go though. Grab this rope. We’ll stay closer together this way. If you slow down for any reason, I’ll know right away.”

Nodding was about all that Ben could do. The heavy wet snow and the cold wind had sapped a lot of his energy. He handed over the lead to Adam and Sport without any qualms. He knew his son would get them home.

On the Ponderosa, Patricia paced around the house for most of the day. She had finished her painting and Chris still slept a lot which gave her far too much time to worry. The letter from her mother had unnerved her a bit, and she wanted to talk with Adam about it. Now the snow was swirling around the house, and Hoss had let slip that travel in such weather could be treacherous. He had hastily amended his statement to say that his father and older brother knew how to handle themselves in such conditions, but Patricia had sensed his concern as well as Joe’s even though he said nothing about it. They had strung a rope line from the house to the stable and helped Hop Sing get the chickens into coops in the stable as well. A few chickens had ended up in the kitchen for tonight’s dinner because Hop Sing said they didn’t give enough eggs to justify the feed they would eat over the winter months. Except he had been far more colorful in his description and Patricia smiled as she remembered that scene. Hoss noticed.

“Did you remember something funny?”

“Yes, I was thinking about Hop Sing chasing down a few of those chickens. ‘Eat much and little eggs. Bad chicken! Only good for eating.’ That was funny to hear him talking to the chickens as if they needed to understand what he was doing and why.”

“It’s funny, but animals may not understand your words, but they seem to understand your meaning. Those other chickens were a lot easier to catch and put in coops than them ones he was intending to fix for dinner.”

“Do you talk to animals too?”

“Course I do. We all do. Course Adam is just as likely to sing to em as talk to em, but I’ve heard a few colorful conversations he’s had with animals. I talk to Chubb all the time. He even seems to understand me sometimes.”

“Yeah, remember when Buck kicked him in the leg when he was shoeing him. Adam let loose with some colorful language that time. Buck never fights him now though when he needs a new shoe. I think hearing that once from Adam was enough.”

Seeing how the anecdotes were helping Patricia relax, Hoss and Joe started telling as many stories as they could remember about Adam’s exploits. Patricia was laughing and enjoying hearing all of those tales. She planned to have a lot to tease Adam about when he got back. That thought made her worry again though. Hoss saw the change in her expression.

“What ya thinking now?”

“I was thinking of how much fun it will be to tease Adam about these things, but then I remembered that he has to get home in this snowstorm first.”

“They mighta stayed at Secret Spring instead or stopped at a line shack. They might not be home for days.”

“Oh, Hoss, I’m going to worry until I see him walk through that door. I do hope and pray that they’re safe no matter where they are.”

Hoss wrapped an arm around Patricia’s shoulders, and she leaned into the big man grateful for the support. Hop Sing yelled then that dinner was ready. The three went to the table and were surprised to see five place settings instead of three. Joe shrugged when he looked at Hoss. They sat down as Hop Sing brought out platters of chicken, biscuits, and roasted potatoes and vegetables. He set a bowl of preserves by the plate Adam would use if he were there. A tear slid down Patricia’s cheek when she saw that. As they began to eat, the front door crashed open and the wind blew snow into the house.

“Dadburnit, now how did that happen?”

Hoss stood to go to the door to close it, and what he saw caused him to yell for Joe and Patricia. Adam was struggling to help Ben into the house. Hoss took his father’s arm and draped it over his shoulder relieving Adam of his burden. Adam slumped to the floor in exhaustion. Patricia dropped to her knees beside him to hug and kiss him despite the wet coat and hat as well as several days’ growth of whiskers.

“Oh, my God, I was so worried about you. What happened to your father?”

“We’ve been in the saddle about thirteen hours. We didn’t dare stop. Even when we gave the horses a break, we stayed in the saddle. I tried to help as much as I could, but that weather out there was wicked. A couple of the hands saw us ride in and took care of the horses so all I had left to do was get Pa in the house.”

“You need to get into some warm and dry clothing.”

As Patricia helped Adam get his wet clothing and boots off, Joe and Hoss helped Ben. Hop Sing was there with blankets in which to wrap them then. Patricia went upstairs to grab their robes and slippers as both men shucked their wet undergarments. By the time she returned, they were both sitting in front of the fire wrapped in blankets and sipping hot coffee. She handed them their robes and went to help Hop Sing. Hoss helped Ben and Joe helped Adam as the two men donned their robes and then wrapped themselves in the blankets again. Soon, Hop Sing and Patricia were there with more hot coffee and plates of food. The others grabbed their plates and cups, and soon all were by the fireplace having dinner.

Safely home, Adam sat by Patricia but noticed that she still seemed tense and worried. He wrapped an arm around her when they finished dinner and felt a bit of resistance before she snuggled into his side resting her head on his shoulder.

“You aren’t still upset that I was gone for nearly a week, are you?”

“No, I just have to talk with you about something. I don’t want to do it now. Chris will be awake soon.” A little cry from upstairs that was soon followed by a wail announced that Chris indeed was awake. Patricia smiled and went upstairs to get him. She knew he would put a smile on his father’s face as well as his grandfather’s. She quickly changed him and got him into a dry gown before carrying him downstairs. As expected, Adam smiled and took his son holding him close and kissing the top of his head before letting him lay back against his crossed leg. Chris looked up at him and smiled.

“There you go. Smiling for Papa.”

Ben had to interject. “Ah, Adam, remember what you said about his smiling.”

“Oh, but, Pa, I can tell the difference in his smiles.” And Adam grinned, except he could still feel the tension in Patricia as she sat next to him. More than anything, he wanted to go to sleep, but he suspected there was an important reason why he should put that off and talk with his wife. He was correct in that assumption. When they got to their bedroom later and after Chris was placed in his cradle, Adam asked Patricia what was wrong. She went to her dresser and pulled out a letter from her mother and handed it to Adam. He read and looked more and more worried as he did so.

“He’s really doing this? He’s not just going after me, he’s going after my whole family.”

“I didn’t know what the importance of each of those things she mentioned but I knew they had to be bad. Who’s Barney Fuller?”

“He’s our main competitor for lumber and timber contracts. If this happens, we won’t win another bid from the railroads. It will be even tougher to get loans too, and this is the time of year when we often need those. We don’t have cash coming in, but we still have expenses through the winter and into spring. In order to hire more men in spring for roundup and the spring drive, we often take a short-term loan for payroll and other expenses. Once the drive is over, we usually have enough working capital for the rest of the year because other contracts start bringing in cash too. It can be a delicate balancing act to take money from one enterprise to pay for another, but Pa has made it work for over twenty years. If we can’t get those loans in spring, then the whole thing could come crashing down.”

“So when Father made a deal with Barney Fuller to loan him all the money he needs to expand his operations, he’ll be too big for you to compete with him?”

“That’s about it on that front.”

“And by bad mouthing the Ponderosa and saying that a number of bad business decisions had been made, then the banks would be unlikely to grant you the loans you need?”

“Yes, that’s the other part of the equation. Your father certainly paid attention. He hit us in the two spots where we’re most vulnerable. I’ll have to talk with Pa and my brothers tomorrow. We may have to go to San Francisco and try to undo the damage. There’s nothing we can do about Barney though. It’s underhanded but probably completely legal.”

“I’m so sorry to have brought all this trouble down on you and your family.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about. You’re part of this family too. We’ll talk tomorrow and we’ll figure something out. Now if I recall, though, we had a date when I left. That date is tonight. Why don’t you show me how much you missed me?”

After lovemaking, both of them slept well and later than usual the next morning. Chris’ mewling cry woke them finally. By the time they got downstairs, the others had finished breakfast. As Adam and Patricia ate, they explained to the others about the contents of Vi’s letter. The men all had the same worries that Adam had expressed the night before. Patricia finally interjected what she thought all of them were ignoring.

“I could loan you the money you need. In fact, I could just give you the money.” Patricia had been listening to Adam talking with his family about what Vi had told them in the letter and what they could do about it. “If you do everything you set out to do next year, then the banks will be reassured and you should be able to deal with them as you normally would.”

Taken aback, Ben responded. “Patricia, dear, we can’t take your money. You earned all of that outside the Ponderosa. It’s your money.”

“Adam said I was a part of this family. Am I or not? If you won’t take my money, that’s the same as telling me I don’t belong here.”

“No, that’s not it at all. It’s just that, it’s your money. Don’t you want to keep it for your son?”

“So he’s not part of the Ponderosa either? I thought I would be keeping it for my son by investing it into this ranch or is that another mistake I made?”

Ben looked over at Adam. “She is a lot like Inger, isn’t she?”

Hoss and Joe frowned not knowing what that meant, but Adam smiled. “So what would you do, Pa, if that was Inger talking to you like that?”

“What I always did.” Looking at Patricia, Ben smiled. “Of course, Patricia, it would be wonderful if you would do that. You’re right on all counts too.”

“Pa, that takes care of our cash on hand issues, but what can we do about Barney?” Joe was concerned because the lumber and timber operations were the ones that were always profitable and funded improvements in other areas of the ranch such as horse breeding that could take years to show a profit. Hoss had the same concern because he and Ben had talked about bringing in more bulls to improve their stock, but those came at a high price because demand was so high for them.

Adam had a suggestion. “Let’s not worry about the railroad contracts. Let’s concentrate on what the mines need. If we mill our wood into eighteen by eighteen timbers, it saves us money at the lumber mill because it’s less labor, and the mines seem to have a constant demand for them. It would mean a smaller operation but it should be just as profitable. If Barney can’t handle all the railroad business, we could always ramp up our production to fill any contracts he can’t.”

Ben nodded and looked around the room. Hoss and Joe nodded as well. They had a plan and Patricia was a big part of it. “Patricia, what will your father do when he finds out you’ve sided with us against his plans?”

“I’m sure he’ll be angry, and probably frustrated. He’ll try to think of something else. Mother is trying to get him to open his heart to us, but she said she hasn’t had much luck even with her new book of tricks.”

Ben looked like he was going to ask what that meant, but Adam advised him not to do that. With the grin that Adam had though, the others thought it might be interesting at some point to find out what that book of tricks was especially when they saw Patricia blush. She didn’t blush easily so they assumed correctly that it had to be quite a good story and probably a bit scandalous too. Adam wanted to go to town to start the paperwork on putting Patricia’s money into the Ponderosa accounts. The sooner that the banks realized that the Ponderosa was completely solvent, the sooner the banks would be willing to extend them credit if they needed it.

However the weather delayed them doing that for two more days. Finally the sun came out, the snow melted, and it was a nice fall day. They waited one more day for the muddy roads to dry, and then Adam packed up his wife and son to head to town. The work with the lawyer and the bank went well, but Adam got a telegram that had been waiting for him for several days. He read it and stuffed it into his pocket before going back to get Patricia who was sitting in the minister’s parlor after nursing Chris. Adam had thought that would be the best place for her to have some privacy. When Adam knocked and entered the minister’s home, Patricia thought he looked troubled, but he smiled as soon as he saw them. After visiting with the minister and his wife for a short time, they headed home.

“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”

Adam sighed. She was getting very good at reading him. He put the reins in one hand and pulled the telegram from his pocket handing it to Patricia. She read it and looked up at him with alarm.

“What can we do?”

“Probably nothing. Unless the snow delayed their trip, based on what your mother said in her letter, they’re already probably at Salt Lake City and well on their way back home. I don’t know of any way to catch up to them. I’m not even sure I want to catch up to them.”

“Adam, it is my father and the grandfather of our son. We have to try to help.”

“I can probably send some telegrams to people I know on their likely route home to see if they can intercept them. It’s a long shot though. I’ll talk to Pa and see if he has any other ideas. Granted he may not be in the mood to call in favors to help your father.”

“But he’ll go to prison if we don’t help him. He has no idea what he’s going to be facing once he gets home. My mother will be so upset. You can’t let this happen to her. She’s done everything she could to help us.”

“We’ll see what we can do.”

When Adam and Patricia arrived at the ranch, his father and brothers were all outside. They greeted him and wondered at the somewhat sour expressions the couple had. Ben had to ask.

“Did everything go all right at the bank and with the lawyer?”

“Everything went very well. I have some papers for you to sign and keep in the safe. No, what’s bothering us is that I got a telegram from JP. It’s probably been sitting in town for days. No one realized how urgent the news was. Thomas’ bank has undergone an audit to check its solvency before being purchased by the Morgan Bank. Pa, they found that a lot of money has been embezzled. With Thomas gone, there’s no way to determine if he did it or if someone took the opportunity of his absence to do it. Either way, as president of that bank, he’s going to be held accountable. The books probably show he got the money. He’ll likely go to prison.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”

“Hoss, that’s no way to talk about Patricia’s father. Adam, do you think we can do anything to help him?”

“Pa, the only thing I can think of to do is to wire people we know along his likely route to see if we can intercept him. I can send a message through the railroad too, but I doubt he’ll respond to me. He’ll probably think it’s a trick. It’s a lot like something he might pull.”

“We can go in first thing tomorrow. We won’t be able to get there now before the telegraph office closes. We can come up with a list of people to contact tonight, and write out a carefully worded message for them.”

The next day, Ben and Adam went to town to send telegrams. It added up to quite a bit of money, but they had to do it for Patricia’s sake. They heard nothing in response to any of the messages. Three weeks later as they were sitting down to dinner, they heard a carriage in the yard. Joe went to see who it was. He walked in a moment later, smiling, and with Vi on his arm.

“Look who’s back!”

*****

Chapter 9

“Mother, thank God, one of our messages got to you. But where’s Father?”

After taking a deep breath, Vi launched into her story. “We got your message in St. Louis. In fact, we got two of them there: one from a good friend of yours and another through the rail line. Thomas refused to believe them. He said it was a trick because you had found out what he had done. I told him to trust all of you for you weren’t devious and underhanded. He said anyone in business is, so I was naive to think that you were not. I guess he has changed his opinion of all of you. However that isn’t going to do him much good when he gets to New York. He said he never embezzled any money and he can prove it. I doubt that very much if those jackals had all these months to prepare incriminating documents. He told me if I left to come back here that I could expect divorce papers to follow. He said he knew what I had done in Placerville but had been willing to forgive it because of all the bad publicity that would come from a divorce but that he saw no other recourse if I deserted him. I think I realized right then and there that I do not love him and never have. I was with him out of loyalty and duty. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get him to change. I couldn’t get him to open his heart.”

“Mother, I’m so sorry.”

“Well, I’m very sorry too that your father is such an ass, excuse my language, but I don’t know any better word to describe him. However, I arrive here quite destitute. Any property I had is in Thomas’ name because of the marriage. I traded in my ticket to New York to get a ticket to return. It’s all I had except for my jewelry I took on the trip.”

Ben stepped forward. “You are welcome to stay here as long as needed. Adam’s home will be finished in spring, and he and Patricia will be moving there with Chris and Bao Yu. That means there’ll be plenty of room for you here should you choose to stay.”

“Or you would be welcome to live with us. I designed the home with four bedrooms, so there will be one for you if you want.”

Patricia could not have loved her husband and father-in-law any more than she did at that moment. She hugged her mother who had started to cry. “Mother, we have dinner on the table. Won’t you join us? I know you love Hop Sing’s cooking and Bao Yu has added some of her favorite dishes to the menu here as Hop Sing has been teaching her about American cooking and baking.”

Gratefully, Vi sank onto a dining chair in the house that would be her home for the next few months at least.

Getting snowed in for a few months in winter was going to be far more interesting than it had been in decades on the Ponderosa with four new people in the house. Bao Yu and Hop Sing were getting along very well and often played Chinese games in the evening when the work was done. Hop Sing relaxed a lot having someone with whom to converse in his native tongue. They attended some of the events in Chinatown together and got tongues wagging there.

Patricia decided that she and her mother could sew curtains for the new house because Adam gave them the dimensions of every window in his plan. Ben asked if they had time to put some new curtains in the dining room too. After a trip to town and the purchase of a stack of fabric as well as thread, needles, and other sundries, they had their winter project ready to go.

With stacks of cured wood in the shed, Adam was ready for his winter project of crafting some furniture for his new home. Hoss volunteered to carve scenes into the pieces and Patricia sketched out some patterns for him to use. Not wanting to be left out, Joe asked what he could do, and Adam offered the jobs of sanding and helping him finish the pieces once Hoss was done carving. Ben said he would help whenever they wanted, but mostly he wanted to be there to see his sons working together harmoniously.

Divorce papers arrived only one week before the news that Thomas had been arrested and was set to go on trial for embezzlement and forgery. He had sold the house to get money for lawyers, but in his letter to Patricia, he sounded like he was defeated. He said he was sorry he had not trusted Adam, and that he had been a fool. He rued his lack of foresight and said that had been his ruination. Patricia cried when she read it, but there was nothing they could do. All they could hope for was that his sentence would not be too harsh. The divorce papers were sent back to New York to be filed with the proper authorities. There was a little gossip in town about the divorced woman living on the Ponderosa, but as Vi began to take part in the women’s groups in town making many friends, the talk died down.

As expected, Thomas was convicted. Men who were as ruthless in business as he had been seldom had any help when they got in serious trouble. He may not have been guilty of embezzlement and forgery, but he certainly had not followed the law in all of his dealings. His sentence of ten years was as good as a life sentence. He was soft and overweight so that the work required of him exhausted him. That and the poor food, the cold nights, and the stress took their toll. Word of Thomas poor health reached them in early April with the official divorce decree. His shadow had been over everything that had happened in the preceding months, and mother and daughter were sad but had been expecting this bad news for some time. What was not expected was the word that Thomas had transferred the remainder of his estate to Vi. It was clear that he never expected to survive his prison term. Apparently some goodness did exist in him. However Chris would likely know that grandfather only in the sketch that Adam had made and in the painting that Patricia had done based on that sketch.

As soon as the snow began to melt, Adam was back at work on his house. He wanted to move into it before he left on the spring drive. He had finished the furniture he wanted for the home and had ordered other pieces that he expected would be delivered as soon as the passes to California opened again. Patricia brought Chris with her and worked beside Adam on the finishing as soon as he had the fireplaces working and the stoves installed so that their son would stay warm. Chris was doing a crawl of sorts but would not venture out onto the unfinished wood floors so they laid a big rug in the middle of the main room, and he spent his time there crawling around and chewing on wooden blocks Hoss had carved for him.

“He’s getting teeth. I can feel them when I’m nursing him. I can’t imagine what that’s going to feel like when they break through. I cringe when I think of those tiny sharp teeth.”

“You could start weaning him. He eats a lot of solid food already. It probably wouldn’t be that hard to wean him off some of the nursing.”

“I don’t know how to do that. I’ll ask Mother to help. She’s been great with all of her advice for me, although she does seem to enjoy your father’s company quite a lot too. I asked her if she wanted to come along today, but she said ‘Ben is going to give me a tour of the ranch’ so I came over without her. You don’t think anything is going on with them, do you?”

“Sweetheart, I don’t think so, but I have no idea what the future may bring. Pa’s been alone for a long time. Each time I think he might be interested in someone, nothing has happened. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. It could be that they will just be the best of friends. They would both enjoy that, I think.”

“It would be funny, wouldn’t it, if my mother and your father got together. It’s kinda creepy to think about too.”

“It would probably be best then if you don’t think about it.” Adam grinned, and Patricia slapped him on the shoulder. He grabbed her for that, and within a minute, they were wrestling on the rug where Chris was. Chris thought it was great fun and crawled to them. Soon Adam was on his back with Chris up on his knees leaning on his father’s chest, and Patricia sitting on the other side of him doing the same. “All right, you two, you win.” Patricia leaned down to kiss him.

“I don’t think you’re going to get this house done before the spring drive like that.”

Adam turned his head to see his father and Vi standing just inside the front door he had recently installed. “I guess I oiled those hinges well enough. I never heard you come in.”

Chris put up his arms to be picked up by either his grandmother or his grandfather. He loved them both. Ben picked him up and balanced him on his hip. “We thought we would stop by and see how you were doing.” So Ben and Vi got the grand tour before all of them headed back to the main house which was only ten minutes away although through some trees so that one house could not be seen from the other.

The big move to the new house took place even before it was finished. Adam thought it would be easier to finish the last rooms if he were living there so he would be able to work on it whenever he had any spare time. However, he didn’t have much spare time. In addition to finishing the house, he was finishing up house plans for Crocker who had sought him out and got his old firm to hire him as a consultant so he could finish the drawings Crocker wanted. After the spring roundup and drive, he would have to go to San Francisco to work preparing the site and then getting the construction started. He also was supposed to order fixtures and any other furnishings that the house itself would need and with water closets for every bedroom and another large one on the main floor as well as fireplaces and the kitchen, there was a lot of ordering to be done. However once completed, Adam would have made a name for himself as an architect and would be able to take jobs as he wanted. He had an office in his new home except like the extra bedrooms, it wasn’t finished yet. Two bedrooms, the kitchen and washroom, as well as the main room were mostly completed and only needed a few small touches. The office, the other bedrooms, the dining area, and the water closets were not complete. Bao Yu said she didn’t mind as it was still much nicer than the home she had left behind in China. She looked forward to having her own kitchen although she knew she would miss spending all that time with Hop Sing.

Once Adam left on the cattle drive, Patricia realized that the move into the new house had been a great idea. She had so much to do she didn’t have time during the day to be lonely. Her mother sometimes accompanied by Ben came over to the house often. She took Chris to the main house for dinner almost every day. She did start weaning Chris but she missed the nursing more than he did so she put off weaning him entirely. He was growing fast but was mostly longer. Ben said that was how Adam grew as a lean youngster no matter how much he ate. The nights were the most difficult for Patricia. In just over a year, she had gotten so used to having Adam pressed up against her as she slept, that she found it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep with the empty spot next to her reminding her that he was gone. When the cattle drive ended, Hoss and Joe came home but Adam had stayed in California to finish his work for Crocker. It was another two weeks before he returned home. He looked tired and drawn. He had a slight cough, and the lovemaking that Patricia expected to be passionate was more perfunctory. As she lay next to him as he slept, she could hear his breathing much more than usual. By the next day when Adam dressed and was going to get to work, she tried to stop him.

“You’re exhausted. You need to rest more than anything.”

“I’ve been tired before. It’s nothing unusual. Once I get my work done, I can rest.”

“You’re going to make yourself sick.”

“No, I won’t because I’m already sick. It’s just a cold. I’ll be fine.” Two days later, Adam had to be seen by Doctor Martin who delivered his diagnosis to Patricia and Ben.

“He should have been in bed days ago. Letting this develop this much has made him really sick. But I know Adam, and I’m sure he told everyone he was ‘fine’ except he most certainly wasn’t. He thinks he can control everything by strength of will, but pneumonia isn’t so easily defeated.” Doctor Martin was ready for the gasp from Patricia and was sorry to have upset her, but she needed to know the truth. “He’s been sick before, and luckily he is a very strong man, but he needs to stay in that bed now for the next week at least. Hop Sing and Bao Yu know what to do. Between the two of them, they’ll ease his breathing and prepare the right kinds of food for him. Lots of liquids too. I’ll be back in a couple of days unless he gets worse and you notify me.”

As Ben walked Paul out, Patricia went to their bedroom. Hop Sing and Bao Yu had the room warm and steamy. Adam lay propped up on a stack of pillows. His breathing sounded better than it had earlier that morning. He had been home only two days but his health had deteriorated rapidly which had caused Patricia to send Bao Yu to the main house to get someone to ride for the doctor early that morning. Her mother and Ben had been there soon after, and Hop Sing arrived a short time after that with herbs and broth. As Patricia entered the room, Hop Sing handed her a cup of broth.

“You make him drink. He bad patient. You make him do right thing.”

As Patricia sat on the bed and held the cup to Adam’s lips, he tried to push it away.

“You muleheaded fool. You will drink this or I will get a funnel and pour it down your throat. If you don’t think so, just try me.”

The two locked angry gazes for a moment before Adam conceded. He knew he should. He had known that he should have listened to his wife on the day he arrived home, but he hated letting an illness put him down. It made him feel weak, and he hated feeling weak. Of course he hated being fussed over and tended to, but had now consigned himself to that as well.

After a few days, Adam was feeling better but Patricia insisted he stay in bed. He grumbled a lot, but he had made her life very difficult recently so felt he had to give in on that point at least until the week the doctor had ordered was up. Ben arrived with good news and was happy to hear that Adam was feeling better.

“Is he awake? I have some news that will likely cheer him up.”

“Yes, and he better still be in that bed when we go up there.” Patricia preceded Ben up the stairs and opened the door to their bedroom. Adam was leaning back against the pillows and reading.

“Well, you look and sound a lot better than a few days ago and better even than you sounded last night. I brought good news to cheer you up. Barney Fuller stopped over today.”

“Barney? I hardly think that would usually fit in the category of good news.”

“Oh, but it does. He ordered equipment and accepted contracts based on the promise of loans and investment from Thomas. He’s now so overextended that he can’t fulfill the contracts and that means he can’t make payments on the equipment and horses he ordered. If he can’t make those payments, he will lose everything.”

“I never liked Barney, but I don’t think Barney being ruined is anything to celebrate either.”

“Oh, that’s not the good part. He’s offered to let us partner on the contracts. I said I would but would not assume any of the penalties if the contracts are not completed on time. In addition, I’m buying some of the equipment he ordered but can’t pay for.”

“You would do that for him after everything he’s done to us?”

“I’m paying fifty cents on the dollar. He’ll have to get loans to pay for the rest to keep his reputation intact. Otherwise he’ll be ruined.”

“You are an old pirate at heart.” Adam started laughing then and that caused him to start coughing, but with Patricia thumping his back, he was able to get control of it quickly. “I swear, woman, my back is going to be black and blue if you keep doing that every time I cough.”

“Doctor Martin said to do that every time to loosen what’s in your lungs, or would you rather spend another week in bed.”

Adam’s glower got a chuckle from Ben then. “He’s always done that. I remember when he was young and got sick. That glower from the bed is classic.”

“I’m so glad I can provide amusement for you two.”

“Well, I have another idea. Vi and I will take care of Chris for a week if you would like to have a proper honeymoon. You never did have one, and it seems now would be a good time. As soon as you’re out of bed, you could go. Vi suggested that your Secret Spring cabin would make a nice honeymoon place. Now that the mining is completed, it should be tranquil there, and you can both get the rest you need.”

A week later, when Adam was strong enough, they asked Ben and Vi if their offer still held. Of course it did, and when Adam mentioned that they would pack up supplies the next day, Ben told them they didn’t have to do that.

“Hoss and Joe were there already. They opened it up and aired it out. They brought all the supplies you’ll need including grain for the horses.”

Patricia hugged Ben then, and Adam put a hand on his father’s shoulder when he thanked him. Then he thanked Hoss and Joe as well. His big grin let them know how much he appreciated all that they had done. Once the couple arrived at the cabin, they put the horses out to graze, and Adam suggested they head to the warm spring. There they disrobed and slipped into the soothing waters. Adam pulled Patricia into a warm embrace.

“I believe I know what to do next, milady. Would you be willing to make love to your gallant knight here in the secret spring where the tale began?”

Patricia’s kiss let him know that answer. The secret spring worked its magic once more.

*****

 

From the Depths of My Soul

Chapter 1

“What will you tell him when he asks a more pointed question?”

“Pa, Chris is only four. I have a few years yet to worry about that. For now, he knows there’s a baby in his mother’s tummy, and that baby will soon be here. That’s all he needs to know.”

Chuckling a little at how nervous Adam seemed to be with Chris’ question and now his own, Ben had to add just a little. “I would love for Patricia to be there when you have to tell him. Inger listened when I explained a few things to you after Hoss was born. I was nervous and trying to do things just right, and she was sitting in the wagon with the baby and laughing. That certainly didn’t help. By the way, how is Patricia feeling? She looked so pale at dinner Sunday.”

“She says she’s fine, but Doctor Martin thinks that being with child is sapping her energy this time. He doesn’t know why. He thinks that the baby isn’t growing as fast as he should. By our best calculations, she’s in her seventh month.” Adam delivered the news almost in a monotone.

It was Ben’s turn to be uncomfortable. Elizabeth had been like that. She had grown weaker when she was carrying Adam who had been born small. Of course, Chris had been small at birth too and showed no ill effects from it. He was a healthy growing child who looked a lot like Adam had at that age for he had gotten a lot of the characteristics of his father with darker skin and dark hair. His eyes were a lighter color like his mother’s though. However he had apparently inherited Adam’s questioning nature and asked ‘why’ more often than anyone could have imagined. It was probably because they were settled now and his question was almost always answered. On the trail, Adam often had to wait for an answer because there was so much to do.

“What are you thinking, Pa? You seem to be off in another world.”

“I was just remembering that Chris was small too when he was born, but he’s fine now.”

“And you weren’t thinking about my mother and that I was small at birth, and then my mother died.” Ben tried to avoid eye contact at that point, and Adam had his answer. “You’ve told me a number of times that she wasn’t in good health and got weaker and weaker. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’m worried, Pa.”

“But Patricia is a strong woman. She should be fine.”

“Pa, there have been some things I haven’t told you. Paul said it could be because of carrying the baby, but Pa, Patricia has been saying and doing some strange things lately.”

That Ben had known far too well. He as well as Hoss and Joe had noticed Patricia saying some odd things. Two weeks earlier, Hoss had been upset and wanted to tell Adam something that Ben had advised him not to divulge. He remembered that conversation that had occurred when Adam had been in San Francisco.

“Pa, she kissed me.”

“Who kissed you?” Obviously upset, Hoss had turned away so that Ben almost didn’t hear what he said, and even though he did, he hadn’t wanted to believe it. “Hoss, you can tell me. Who kissed you?”

“Patricia kissed me, Pa. I swear, Pa, I didn’t do anything to make her do that, but she said she could tell I wanted her. Pa, I would never ever do anything like that. She’s a pretty woman, but she’s Adam’s wife.”

Ben had been carrying the burden of his own secret. “Hoss, I know that. There’s something I should tell you too. Patricia didn’t kiss me, but she asked me to spend the night with her.”

With eyes opened wide in shock, Hoss turned to his father. “What did you say?”

“Of course, I said no. She said she was lonely with Adam gone and that I must be very lonely after all these years alone. She said we could comfort each other. Hoss, I thought perhaps it was that she was with child and acting a bit irrationally, but she has hinted since that the invitation is still open.”

“Pa, what’re we gonna do?”

“Hoss, I don’t know what we can do. You know how angry and upset Adam will be if we say anything. Perhaps we need to let this ride for a time until the baby is born. Maybe that’s all it is, and she may even be embarrassed about her behavior.”

That conversation seemed to be indelibly etched in his mind, and now Ben listened as his son also expressed concerns about his wife’s behavior.

“Pa, I came home two days ago, and Patricia was so proud. She said she had managed to weed the whole vegetable garden so I wouldn’t have to do it. When we went out to look at it later, all the plants were gone. She pulled everything. It was just bare dirt. She looked at me like she was so proud, but I asked where the vegetable plants were. She broke down in tears because I wasn’t happy with what she had done. Then when we were together as a family, Chris wouldn’t go anywhere near her. He wanted to hide behind Bao Yu’s skirts or be with me. I tried to get Patricia to tell me why. I asked if he had done something wrong and been punished. She said no that Chris just didn’t like being near her any more. I know she did something, but Chris can’t express himself well enough to tell me, and she won’t. He spends all of his time with Bao Yu when I’m not there.”

“Is there something else? When you look away from me as you’re talking, I always suspect there’s something more and perhaps worse that you don’t want to say.” Ben had noticed that Adam was losing weight and often had circles under his eyes. However he often saw him with Chris and Adam was always happy then. Now Ben knew though that his son was deeply troubled. He thought Adam needed to get it out because it was eating away at him.

Adam took a deep breath and expelled it and that let Ben know that he had hit the mark with his question. Adam had something to say but didn’t want to say it and didn’t know how. There was an uncomfortable silence for a minute although it seemed more like an hour had passed. Finally Adam choked it out. “Patricia told me that you and Hoss have tried to seduce her. She said she did everything to discourage you that she could but that you wouldn’t stop. Pa, I know it’s not true, but why would she tell me that? Why would she want to hurt me like that?”

Suffering because of the pain his son was enduring, Ben offered what little advice he could devise in such an unusual situation. “Perhaps when it’s just the two of you having some quiet time together, you could try to talk with her.”

Dropping his head, Adam closed his eyes and struggled to tell his father the rest. He had never found it easy to tell his father his troubles. He always felt that he had failed somehow when things didn’t go well or go the way his father would like them to go. This was especially difficult because it involved the other person that Adam loved as deeply as his soul. “Pa, we don’t have much quiet time together. Ever since Patricia’s mother died, she doesn’t want to be with me. It’s rare for us to be close enough to touch each other. She pulls away at almost any attempt I make to be close to her. It’s a miracle she ever got with child anyway.”

Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed. If it had been Joe, Ben would have hugged him and let him cry it out, but Adam was more reserved and wouldn’t have appreciated too much contact at this point. Ben always suspected that Adam shed his tears in private most of the time because such a passionate man would not be able to hold it all in forever.

Ben tried to be comforting. “Perhaps when she delivers this child, things will get better. Her mother’s death and then to be carrying a child is a terrible strain on a woman.”

“I don’t think it’s being with child that has caused this. I’ve talked with Paul and he said maybe, but I don’t think he believes that either. I think it started sooner than that.” Knowing how difficult it must be for Adam to tell him these things, Ben was nevertheless shocked at his next statement. “I think Patricia helped her mother die.”

“What?” Knowing that his father had liked Vi very much and had been almost as heartbroken as Adam and Patricia at her death ten months earlier from the flu, Adam knew that revelation would be the most shocking. “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because she’s been dropping hints about how her mother was suffering so much, and no one would do anything to help her so she had to do something. Then she asked me if I knew that there are plants that speed up the heart rate, and if you have too much, your heart stops. I remembered that Paul said he was surprised when Vi died because he didn’t think her flu was that bad but that her heart had been unable to keep up with the strain. Now I have to wonder what really happened.”

“Have you talked to Paul about it?”

“Yes, and I talked to doctors in San Francisco while I was there. They’re all baffled. No one has an answer. Paul said he was researching some things and would tell me if he found anything. That’s where I sit. I feel so helpless.”

“All you can do is love her and do your best. From the sound of it, perhaps it might be good if Chris stays over here when you’re gone.”

“Pa, that’s what I was hoping you would say. I didn’t know if that would be too much of an imposition, but I’m afraid for him now.” Ben understood then why Adam had opened up to him. He was afraid for his son.

“Go home and get him. I’ll watch him today, and we’ll work something out for the rest of the time. I love that little guy so much, I can’t bear the thought of something happening to him.”

Adam shrugged in near defeat. His father was as worried about Patricia doing something to Chris as he was. It wasn’t overreacting then, and that scared him more than anything. His marriage and his wife were spiraling out of control, and he didn’t know what to do about it. It made him feel less than adequate, but at least he could do something to keep his son safe.

*****

Chapter 2

“Adam, you know how Joe is. He’s heard us say a few things that made him wonder, and now he’s asking all sorts of questions. He ain’t gonna let it go.”

“Tell him then. I just don’t have the energy for another talk like that. If I find out she’s been trying to seduce my little brother, it could make just lose whatever control I still have. I’m trying so hard to keep things as normal as I can for Chris, but it’s just so hard.”

Hoss put his hand on Adam’s shoulder as his older brother dropped his head. They had been doing herd counts, but the day was beastly hot so they had stopped in the shade of a grove of trees. It was cooler there and both men and horses were grateful for the relief except Hoss wondered if Adam ever really got relief these days. He looked so haunted most of the time although his face brightened every time he saw his son. Hoss was thinking that a mental illness like Patricia’s was harder on the family than on her. According to Adam, she seemed completely unaware that life had changed so dramatically. Adam was still trying to run his own business part-time, do his part on the Ponderosa, be a father to Chris, and care for his wife. Hoss thought that was an awful lot and probably too much for one man to bear.

“You know I’ll help you with anything I can. Pa and Joe too.”

“I know, and I thank you, but I can’t get any answers from anyone on what to do. I feel so helpless sometimes with no idea how to proceed. If there was just a diagnosis so we could work on a treatment. Even Hop Sing doesn’t have a tea or a salve for this.”

“Maybe it’ll get more clear once she has the baby. Maybe loving that little thing will bring her heart and her mind back to what’s important.”

“Hoss, we can pray that’s true, but I think that’s never going to happen, and I have no idea what I’m going to do about that. How can I care for an infant and do everything else too?”

“You lean on us, older brother, you lean on us.”

Adam could only nod, and they mounted up to finish the day’s work so Adam could go home. Every day, he would pick up Chris at the main house when he finished working on the ranch and then head for his house clearly worried about what he would find when he got there. In the evenings, he frequently worked in his office and Chris would stay there with him. At night, he slept in the upstairs guest room after trying to visit with his wife, and talking with her for a time when she was in an agreeable mood.

Every day including Sundays for the next month, Adam and Chris visited with his father and brothers. Patricia seldom accompanied them. Adam said she had retreated to her bedroom and rarely came out. She persisted in her stories about Ben and Hoss claiming their unwanted attentions explained her need to hide in her bedroom. Adam was glad he had confided in his father, and later had the same kind of talk with Hoss who also told Joe what was happening. Now they could speak freely with each other and that eased the tension somewhat for Adam when he wasn’t at home.

At his home, either Bao Yu or Adam brought meals on a tray to Patricia. Sometimes she ate and sometimes she threw the tray against the wall. Paul lectured Patricia on eating better for the baby’s sake, and she always cried then and promised she would. The promises didn’t last. As she entered the last month of her pregnancy, she looked like she was only about two-thirds of the way. The baby was obviously very small and Paul feared for the baby’s health for that reason as well as others. What he suspected as the cause of much of the trouble could only be confirmed with the birth of the child. Paul feared that his suspicions were true as Patricia’s dementia increased far beyond anything he had seen with a pregnancy. He didn’t have too long to wait.

Patricia went into early labor. Paul had warned Adam it could happen but had not told him why. Adam thought that Paul had a theory, and that Paul had not shared it frightened him badly, but he prayed that there would be some kind of successful resolution of Patricia’s struggles. He was awakened in the middle of the night by Patricia’s screams. When he entered their bedroom, he found her standing next to the bed. Her water had broken, but she had no idea what was wrong. He tried to be soothing but found it impossible to get her to lie back in the bed after he helped her into a dry gown.

“You just want to use me. That’s all you ever want. I won’t get in that bed so you can just forget it. Go away. Now! Go away! I don’t want you!”

“Sweetheart, you’re having the baby. You need to rest in the bed. This is going to be very difficult, and you need to get in the bed.” Adam stepped closer to her and took her arm but she fought him as he tried to maneuver her back into the bed. “Where do you want to be?” Patricia settled in the rocking chair where she had nursed Chris years before. When Bao Yu came to the door, Adam told her to sit with Patricia. He walked into Chris’ room and rolled his small son into a blanket.

“Papa, it’s dark. I’m tired.”

“I know, but it’s all right, Chris. I have to go to Grandpa’s house, and I need you to sleep over there for the rest of the night. Can you do that for papa?”

“I don’t want to.”

“Please, Chris, please help your papa. I need you to do this.”

“All right, Papa.

As swiftly as he could, Adam carried Chris to the stable, saddled his horse, and then rode to the main house. It was very dark and there was no moon, so the ten-minute ride took more than twice that amount of time. Adam knocked on the door and was relieved when Hop Sing was quickly there to answer it.

“Patricia is having the baby early. Can you wake Pa while I get Chris settled in the room down here?”

Hop Sing hurried away, and Adam pushed open the door to the downstairs guest room. Chris cried that he wanted to sleep in the room upstairs where he always slept.

“Grandpa is coming with me to our house. You need to sleep here because Hop Sing will hear you if you need anything. Upstairs, no one might hear you.”

“Uncle Hoss or Uncle Joe would hear me.”

“Uncle Hoss snores very loudly and wouldn’t hear you, I’m afraid. Uncle Joe will be riding to town to get the doctor. Now this is another thing that you have to do to help your papa. Please?”

Too tired to argue any more and not understanding the import of what his Uncle Joe would be doing, Chris let Adam tuck him into the bed. Adam lit a lamp and turned it down to it’s lowest point with just enough light that Chris could see where he was if he awakened before dawn. That was still a few hours away. When Adam left the bedroom, his father was there, dressed, and ready to go.

“I already woke Joe and told him to ride for the doctor.”

“It’s very dark tonight because there’s no moon. Tell him to take it easy. I don’t want him getting hurt.”

“You can tell me yourself. I’ll be careful, but if Patricia needs the doctor, I’ll go as fast as I can.” Joe was walking down the stairs with his boots in his hand.

“Do you need Hop Sing to come with us?” Ben thought he might be able to help.

“Bao Yu has been a midwife for a lot of births. I think she’ll manage just fine until Paul can get there. Pa, Patricia didn’t even know what it meant when her water broke.”

Shaking his head in understanding and sympathy, Ben grabbed his hat and holster. Let’s get going then. Bao Yu is probably wondering where we are.”

As they walked to the stable, Joe put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. The unanticipated gesture made Adam have to choke down a sob. Tears escaped his eyes no matter how hard he tried to control them. Joe and Ben said nothing. Like Hoss, both had suspected for a long time that Adam was holding too much in and trying to do too much. It was threatening to overwhelm him, and neither Ben nor Joe had any good idea of what to do to take any of the pressure from him. In silence, Ben and Joe saddled their horses with Adam helping as much as he could. Within minutes, all three mounted up to head out.

Nearly an hour had passed since Adam had left Bao Yu sitting with Patricia who had started labor. As Adam and Ben neared the home, they could hear screaming. Adam raced to his home and upstairs. He found Bao Yu struggling to restrain Patricia who was trying to take some laudanum. Bao Yu was trying to tell her it would harm the baby, but Patricia didn’t seem to understand. Adam grabbed the envelope of powder away from her and that caused her to scream at him.

“You’re hateful. You hurt me all the time, and now she won’t let me take anything for the pain. I hate her. I hate you, too. Leave me alone. Everyone just leave me alone.”

“Patricia, sweetheart, you’re having your baby. You need to lie down.”

Another contraction hit causing Patricia to double up with the pain. Adam used the opportunity to pick her up and carry her to the bed. She tried to fight him scratching his neck and face before he was able to grab her hands. That’s how they were sitting when Doctor Martin arrived two hours later. Adam held Patricia’s arms keeping her in bed and preventing her from hurting him or herself. Bao Yu did what she could to ease the delivery. Ben had come in and cleaned the blood from Adam’s face and neck and found some salve for the scratches. Then he did what he could offering sips of water to Patricia. Ben boiled water and got scissors, string, blankets, and towels as requested. When Joe returned, he helped carry things to the bedroom. All was ready for the baby to arrive. Soon after Paul’s arrival, the baby crowned and was quickly delivered. Patricia collapsed in relief, but Adam, Paul, and Bao Yu were deeply worried.

*****

Chapter 3

“Adam, all you can do is hold her and soothe her. She won’t last long.”

Not hearing clearly what Paul had said and perhaps unwilling to accept it even if he had, Adam responded. “Paul, we have to feed her. She’ll die otherwise.”

“Adam, if you feed her, it will only prolong her suffering. She is in pain. She’s writhing like that because of severe discomfort. She doesn’t even have the strength to cry. The most humane thing to do is hold her, keep her as warm and comfortable as you can, and let her go. I’ve sedated Patricia now. She wouldn’t likely nurse the baby anyway. She doesn’t even seem to know she had a baby. She told me you were hurting her until I came, and she wants me to keep you away from her.”

Holding his precious daughter to his chest, Adam’s face was contorted with agony and the tears he was trying so desperately to hold back. He could only choke out a few words. “Paul, there’s no hope for my daughter?” Paul shook his head. He was almost in tears himself. “Can you do anything for her?”

“I could put some laudanum under her tongue. It would take away any pain she is feeling, but in her condition, it could bring the end closer too.”

“Help her, Paul. I can’t bear to have her suffer if she won’t get better.”

Opening his bag, Paul took out some tincture of laudanum and had Adam tip his daughter back. Opening her mouth, he placed a small amount under her tongue.” She’ll swallow it now slowly. It should relieve any pain she is feeling and put her into a deep sleep.”

“Paul, what about Patricia? Will she get better now?”

There was the question Paul dreaded answering. Adam was avoiding looking at him and kept his eyes only on the bundle in his arms, but Ben saw Paul’s look and knew the news was only going to get worse for his son. “Adam, Patricia will never get better. She’s going to get much worse before the end.”

With that, Adam did look up but with disbelief written in his features. “The end? Are you saying she’s dying?”

Paul could only nod. He had not wanted to have this conversation so soon after the emotional trauma that Adam had already suffered and that which he would have to endure in the next day, but he should have known Adam would ask those questions.

“Why? Isn’t there anything you can do? Surely there must be something that can be done?”

“If the disease had been caught early, perhaps then it could have been cured. There have been some remarkable results using a treatment a potassium tartrate of iron on the sore or sores when they first appear. But I’ve researched and read everything I could find and consulted with every doctor I know who might have an answer. No one has heard of any treatment of this disease when it has progressed this far.”

“When it first appeared? Paul, what does she have?”

“Adam, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but I think that Patricia has the pox. From the little I know of her past and her belief in free love, she was probably infected during that time.”

For a moment, Adam was deep in thought and looked intensely worried too. “Are you sure?”

“As sure as I can be. All of her symptoms are consistent with that diagnosis. The early arrival of your daughter and her low weight, her lack of color, and her lethargy also support that diagnosis.”

“But then she must have had it when I married her.” Realization of another fact made Adam flinch as if in pain. He struggled to ask the next question. “Is Chris infected? He was small at birth and arrived early too.”

“Chris is not infected. Babies who are born with it look like your daughter. If they survive and are delivered, they’re weak, listless, gaunt, have poor color, and usually don’t even cry. Most often, thank God, they are stillborn. Chris would have exhibited symptoms like that at birth if he was infected, and if I recall correctly, he could wail as loud as any baby ever could. He has grown normally and is even brighter than a normal child. That would not have happened if he was infected.”

However Ben was even more worried. “Paul, what about Adam?”

“I’m sorry but I can’t tell. He may have had the sore or sores and thought it was something else. He could have it or not. At this point, I’m thinking he probably doesn’t because Chris doesn’t. Patricia was likely in a dormant stage of the disease. It is most infectious in the early stage. It’s unlikely she has transmitted it lately except to her daughter who shared her internal fluids when the disease flared.”

Adam was suddenly grateful that Patricia had spurned almost all of his advances in the previous year and especially because they had not been intimate at all since she had discovered she was carrying another baby. Ben was thinking the same thing because Adam had told him that the two of them had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for many months.

“Adam, she scratched you rather badly. If any of those don’t heal or if you see a sore anywhere else on your body, you need to come to me immediately. I can treat it. I ordered what I would need just in case. I’ve left extra laudanum for Patricia. It might be best if you keep her sedated for the next few days until she can recover from the delivery. She’s not going to understand why she hurts so much.”

Adam had sat down in a chair with his daughter resting against his chest. He felt like he was in the midst of a nightmare and couldn’t wake up. Ben answered Paul when he realized that Adam probably didn’t even hear him. “We’ll take care of them, Paul. Do you want one of us to drive the carriage for you? You haven’t had any sleep.”

“None of you have been sleeping either.”

“I’m sure that Hoss is well rested and would do that for you. He can tie Chubb to the back of the carriage and ride back when you’re safely home.” Ben suspected that Paul was suffering emotionally as well. Paul’s next words confirmed for Ben how tired the doctor must be.

“Thank you, Ben. I would appreciate that.”

The two men walked outside as Joe looked at them. Ben nodded toward Adam, and Joe understood. He would stay by his brother’s side to help if needed. After about an hour, Adam looked up to see Joe sitting and staring at the cold fireplace. “Joe, why don’t you go see if Bao Yu has made breakfast. I could use a cup of coffee if she has. Thank her for me please for all the help she gave us last night.”

Breakfast was almost ready. Bao Yu asked if she should take something to Patricia, and Adam told her that she was probably sleeping yet. He asked Joe to check and that was what he found. “Joe, she’ll need a dose of laudanum in about an hour. If I go up there, she’s going to scream and rant. She could get violent again. Would you go up to give her something to drink? Bao Yu can put the laudanum in it.”

“I can do that for you. Pa should be back soon. I’m sure he’ll help.”

“Where did he go? I don’t remember him or Paul leaving.”

“He went to get Hoss to drive Paul back to town. He was going to stay with Chris until Hoss got back. We’ll take turns with Chris to keep him busy so he doesn’t worry about what’s happening here. I’ll pack some things for him when Pa gets here so he has what he needs over at the house. He can stay there until things are, uh, well, until you’re, ah, ready to have him back.”

Adam knew exactly why Joe couldn’t say what he was thinking. He would be ready to take care of Chris when his daughter died and was buried. If Paul was correct, it could be less than a day. His daughter lay cradled against his chest. His hands nearly covered her tiny body. He could barely tell that she was still alive and knew it wouldn’t be much longer. He sipped the coffee that Bao Yu had brought to him. He needed to stay awake until this was over no matter how long it took. He had to take care of his wife and take care of Chris, but for the time being, he would let others help with that. He would take care of his daughter. When Ben returned, he did help Joe give a drink laced with laudanum to Patricia. They told her it would ease her pain, and she eagerly drank it sinking back down into sleep within an hour. Joe headed back to the main house then, and Hoss arrived a short time later. He didn’t know what to say so he simply put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and then sat in a chair and waited with him. Ben took another chair and sipped coffee too. He would not sleep while his son suffered so. He would be there for him as Adam was there for his daughter.

“What is her name?”

Startled after the long silence, Adam took some time to process what had been asked. “We were going to call her Violet, Violet Elizabeth Cartwright. I guess that’s her name then.”

“That’s a right purty name, Adam.” Hoss knew what he wanted to say next but wasn’t sure if he should or not. Ben guessed what he might be thinking and nodded to let him know he should say it. “I could carve a marker for her with that name, ifn you want me to.”

Adam choked out a thank you and then dropped his chin to his chest as the tears came. He couldn’t stop them any more. His face contorted in emotional pain, Adam’s tears flowed freely. He got control back slowly. When he looked up, he could see that his father and Hoss had shed tears with him. He still had Violet pressed tightly to his chest but his hand could no longer feel that tiny heartbeat or the air moving in and out of those damaged lungs. He lowered his arm and held her in the crook of his elbow as he checked. There was no heartbeat and no breathing. His little angel had quietly slipped away and gone to heaven.

[The Pox was an eighteenth century term for syphilis. By the mid1850s, there were reports in magazines like The Lancet about the successful treatment and cure of primary syphilis using various compounds of iron. No ones seems to have reported even a treatment of the disease if it had progressed beyond the initial infection.]

*****

Chapter 4

As Adam stood with the body of his daughter in his arms, Ben offered to help him build a coffin for her. “No, I gave her life, and now I’ll give her rest. I need to do this for her. There’s nothing else I can do for her.” Silently, Hoss followed Adam out of the house. Soon Ben heard the sound of a saw and later, a hammer. Hoss came in later to tell Ben that Adam was carrying the tiny coffin to a spot he had chosen for his daughter’s resting place. Ben grabbed a Bible that sat on Adam’s desk in his office, and the two of them went out to help Adam bury his second child. It was getting dark so the two of them carried lanterns with them. They found Adam under a tree up the slope from his house.

“I’ll build a small picket fence to put around this spot. Hopefully there won’t be any more residents for a long time.”

That was all Adam could say. He knew as they did that Patricia would likely join her daughter there within a short time as the disease ravaged her body as well as her mind. It didn’t take long to finish digging the grave. Then the three men lowered the tiny coffin to Adam who placed it at the bottom of the grave. He climbed out. Hoss had picked up the shovel and began dropping dirt in the hole. Adam stood and found his mind was blank. He had no ideas and could think of nothing to say. His father began to read passages from the Bible, and a few of the words filtered through but mostly it was his father’s warm tones that helped and made it seem like a fitting ceremony for Violet who had lived less than a day. After filling the grave, Hoss used the shovel to pound in the marker.

“I’m gonna carve a better one for her. This one will do until then. All right, Adam?”

Nodding because it was all he could manage to do, Adam turned to walk back to the house. Hoss stepped up beside him on one side and his father on the other. The three returned to the house. Adam went up to see about Patricia and found her still sleeping. He left instructions with Bao Yu to give her another dose of laudanum if she awakened, and then left with Ben and Hoss to go see Chris who would stay at the main house for a few days until Adam could come up with a plan of how to handle everything he needed to do. He was barely able to function at the moment. He did his best to reassure Chris that all would be well for him.

“Your Mama is sick. She needs to rest and have lots of peace and quiet. The baby isn’t with her any more. She went up to heaven to be with the angels instead.”

Ben had to choke back his tears with Chris’ question and wondered how Adam could keep any composure at all. “Papa, she went all alone? Won’t she be scared?”

“The angels in heaven will care for her. My mother is in heaven with my stepmothers. They can help take care of your little sister.”

“I had a sister?”

“Yes, her name is Violet.”

“Papa, don’t let the angels take me, all right? I don’t want to go to heaven. I want to stay right here with you and Mama.”

“Heaven is a good place, but you and I are staying right here for now. The two of us can handle anything, right?”

“Right! Papa, can I sleep here at Grandpa’s house? I like staying here. I wish you could stay here with me.”

“At the moment, I would like nothing better, but Mama is sick, and I have to go take care of her. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning to see you. Now, you mind Grandpa and your uncles and do whatever they tell you to do. I don’t want to hear that you gave anyone any trouble.”

“Yes, Papa, I’ll be good. Will you read me a story or sing me a song before you leave?”

“How about if we sit on the porch and look at the stars? The night is clear, and maybe we’ll see your sister’s star up there.”

“Really? Let’s go.”

So they went out and sat on the edge of the porch. When Adam was able to get Chris to see the Big Dipper, he told him that was where his mother and stepmothers were, and now Violet was with them. “That’s our constellation, son. Whenever you need some help, look to those stars and say a prayer. Maybe they can get some angels to come help you.”

“Papa, you’re the only angel I need. I’ll ask you if I need help.”

Sitting at his desk unable to concentrate on any of the work that lay there, Ben heard the conversation. Tears flowed freely when he heard Chris say that to his father because Ben knew just how much more trouble Adam and Chris faced. Adam was going to have to draw on every last reserve of strength he had, and Ben could only hope it would be enough.

“Now I need to get home. I’ll tuck you into bed before I go though. Would you like that?” Chris didn’t need any encouragement for that one. He rushed inside to change for bed so that Adam would tuck him in. Ben waited until Adam was done and then asked if he needed some help with anything.

“Pa, I need so much help now that I don’t even know what to ask for.”

“You need some sleep. I’ll be over first thing in the morning. We can talk then when you’ve had some rest.”

Thanking his father and brothers for all their help, Adam left. Hoss and Joe were as concerned as Ben with Adam’s state of mind.

“Pa, you think one of us oughta go stay over there tonight. You know, just in case?”

“Hoss, that’s probably a good idea, but Adam didn’t ask. I don’t want to push him too much. Maybe, though, if you rode over and offered, he might say yes.”

Not needing any more encouragement than that, Hoss grabbed his hat and holster and left the house. Joe looked at his father.

“How long do you think this will take?”

Ben knew what he meant. He had wondered the same thing but had no experience with something like it. “I don’t know, Joe. Maybe tomorrow we can find more out from Paul. He’s been researching this for quite some time apparently.”

“Why didn’t he tell us before?”

“He wasn’t sure until he saw Violet. Then he knew because that confirmed his suspicions. There’s no treatment, and no way of knowing what else will go wrong before the end. This is so hard for Adam. He lost his daughter, and he’s already lost his wife. Anything he knew of her and loved is gone, but he has to take care of her physically until she passes.”

“It’s kinda like our neighbor, Tom Dardanelle. When his wife died, people wondered why he didn’t seem sad. He said he had mourned her loss when her mind left her. He said it was more of a relief than anything when her body followed. Some said he was hard-hearted to think that way, but now I really understand what he meant.”

“But you know your brother. He may likely find some way to blame himself for what happened and then have guilt too about how he feels toward her now. Mourning two losses, blaming himself, and feeling guilty. I’m worried what will happen to him.”

“Adam’s pretty strong, Pa. He’s been through a lot, and he’s still here.”

“Yes, but all of that adversity changed him. He got that standoffish attitude and sometimes he’s surly. You know how he can be. I have to wonder what he would be like if he hadn’t suffered through so much especially when he was so young. I think he would be more like Chris. A loving, curious boy who trusts his family implicitly and is secure in their love for him.”

Joe had a difficult time thinking of Adam as insecure. He always seemed so confident and sure of himself. What he had seen that day though made him wonder if his father was correct. Perhaps Adam was driven by a need to prove himself worthy of love and needed those around him as much as anyone else. Maybe he wasn’t so independent and cocksure of himself as Joe had thought for he had seen vulnerability in his brother that he had never known existed.

At Adam’s house, Hoss found Adam in the stable rubbing down Sport. “Did I forget to do something?”

“Nah, I just came over to see if you needed help. I’m the only one who got a full night’s sleep last night. I can finish taking care of your horse and do any other chores you need doing. I’ll stay the night ifn you want me to.”

On the verge of declining, Adam instead welcomed his brother to his home. “Thank you. I don’t know that there’s anything else to do, but I’ll rest easier knowing there’s someone here to help me if I need it. I’ll sleep in Chris’ room and you can have the guest room.”

When Hoss came inside and went up to the guest room, he heard Adam telling Patricia about the baby. Hoss left the guest room door open so Adam could say something if he wanted to when he finally got to turn in for the night. About an hour later, Adam stood in that doorway.

“She wondered where the baby was. She said she remembers carrying a baby but now she isn’t. I tried to tell her what happened as briefly as I could, but I don’t think she understands any of it. She’s sleeping again with the help of some laudanum, and I’m going to try to sleep too.”

After bidding his brother good night, Adam removed his pants and shirt before falling across Chris’ bed. Tears flowed again, and for the first time since he was a child, he cried himself to sleep. He was awakened hours later from a deep sleep by a blow to his chest and some pain. It wasn’t a lot but enough to wake him. In the dim moonlight that lit the room, he saw a reflection from a blade as it was descending and turned to his side as rapidly as he could to try to escape. He felt a searing pain across his back, but his assailant fell across him too because of his move. Adam fought the pain and grabbed his assailant only to find it was Patricia.

“You hurt me and took my baby. You killed my baby, and you sent Chris away. You’re evil.”

Some of the rest that she said was undecipherable but loud enough to wake Hoss who appeared in the doorway with a lamp. What he saw shocked him for there seemed to be a lot of blood on the bed, on Adam, and on Patricia. Adam was struggling to hold Patricia so Hoss grabbed her from behind and pulled her away from the bed.

“Lordy, Adam, there’s a lot of blood. Where’s she hurt?”

Falling back on the bed, Adam choked out a response. “The blood is all mine. She’s not hurt. Please, Hoss, I need help.”

By then, Bao Yu was at the door. Hoss told her to go get some rope. He knew that he needed to restrain Patricia so they could help Adam. Once Hoss had wrestled Patricia back to her bed, he and Bao Yu restrained her there, and then Hoss rushed back to see to Adam. For the second night in a row, Bao Yu was sent outside with a pistol and told to fire three shots in the air. Adam needed help again, and Joe would once more have to ride for the doctor.

At the main house, Joe told his father he would go find out what was needed. Ben stayed at the house with Chris who luckily slept very soundly and never heard the gunshots and the commotion. Hop Sing did though, and volunteered to go to Adam’s house for he feared that he might be needed. Ben left his bedroom door open and lay back staring at the ceiling. His son’s nightmare seemed to get worse and worse.

*****

Chapter 5

“He’s going to be fine, Ben. The blow to his chest wasn’t strong enough to penetrate. She hit a rib up high, and luckily she was too weak to drive the blade in any further. That wound is painful but not serious. He has a long gash across his back from her second try. I had to put twenty stitches in to close that one. He lost quite a bit of blood and was already weak from everything else he’s had to endure. I’m prescribing a week of bed rest so try to get him to stay in that bed for at least a day or two.”

“What about Patricia?”

“I’ll see her next. Ben, I brought some restraints with me. I could use some help putting them on her.”

“Is that necessary, Paul?”

Paul only needed to look at Ben to give him an answer, but he explained further. “She is delusional, and she has proven that she will act on those delusions. Now if she was rational, we might be able to predict what she would do next, but unfortunately there’s no way to understand what’s in her mind now. She is unpredictable and dangerous. I’m afraid that her disease has progressed far more than I thought.”

“How long?”

Shrugging, Paul had no firm answer. “People have lived for years in this condition and others have died within weeks. It could be anything. Ben, you should get Adam to consider putting her in an institution. I know the idea is horrible to contemplate, but he has a son to consider. How can he raise Chris with Patricia like this?”

“He’ll never do it.”

“He might now that she has attacked him. She could do the same to Chris, and he’s too young and small to fight her off. She will likely lash out at Chris verbally as well. From what you and Adam have told me, she probably already did that and that’s why Chris doesn’t want to be with her.”

“What else can happen to her?”

“Her internal organs are probably damaged. If her heart is damaged, she could die any time. Her liver and kidneys could be damaged. If not, she could live for quite a while. Her eyes could be affected. She could lose her sight. Some are paralyzed in the late stages or lose so much coordination that they can’t walk or do anything for themselves. It’s a horrible way to die when it gets this severe.”

“So it’s restraints or laudanum. Those options are pretty horrible to consider too.”

“You should see if Adam would consider the laudanum. She will become addicted and need more and more, but it will relieve her pain and make her more manageable. It would be a comfort to both of them, and make it possible for Chris to be here.”

“I’ll talk with Adam when he’s feeling better. Can I see him now?”

“Yes, he refused the laudanum so he’s probably still awake. He needs to sleep though so don’t talk too long or about any of his troubles.”

Nodding, Ben walked to the guest bedroom where Adam was resting. Bao Yu had not had time yet to change linens in Chris’ room and wash up the blood that had spattered when Adam was struggling with Patricia. When Ben entered the room, Adam looked up at him. He was resting on his right side because of the wounds to his front and back. “I just came to see if you needed anything. I’m staying here, and I’ll help with anything.”

“I could use a glass of water. Whenever I try to sit up to get some, I get too dizzy.”

After Ben poured a glass of water from the pitcher, he held it for Adam to drink. Adam drained the glass and then lay back and closed his eyes. Ben put his hand on his son’s arm. “Go to sleep. You don’t have anything else to do for a while.” He got a small nod from Adam, and soon heard the soft steady breathing that indicated that his son had fallen asleep. He had to be exhausted so Ben hoped he might sleep until the next morning. He walked down the hall and checked in on Patricia who appeared to be sleeping peacefully as well. Paul had been waiting for Ben to arrive. He motioned for Ben to come in and they attached the restraints to Patricia’s arms and then to the corners of the bed. She could move them enough to eat but wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone nor harm herself in any serious way.

“She may react rather violently when she wakes and finds them on her, but sometimes patients actually seem to find the restraints comforting. It’s something solid they can count on. There’s no way of knowing how she will see them. With the laudanum, she may not even be that aware. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll talk with Adam to see what he wants to do from here on out.”

“Thank you, Paul. Bao Yu has fixed some sandwiches if you’d like something to eat.”

“I think I will take one with me if that’s all right. I still have some other patients I need to see today. Then I’m hoping it’s quiet. I really could use a good night’s sleep.”

When Paul left, Ben offered to help Bao Yu with cleaning up Chris’ bedroom. Hop Sing was helping her try to restore order in the house and get some food prepared. Then he would have to head back to the main house and help get everything there done. They were grateful that Ben was willing to help and handed him a bucket of warm soapy water. Ben went up to the bedroom, and again had to pause to collect himself when he saw all the brown stains. He stripped the bed first, and then began systematically cleaning his son’s blood from the bed frame, the wall, and the floor. He found the bloody knife that Patricia had used. It was from the kitchen. She had had the wherewithal to retrieve the knife and attack Adam despite her physical ailments from giving birth and the disease that was ravaging her. Paul had explained that for brief bursts of time, her delusional mind could ignore her physical ailments. That would be true until the damage progressed more. He had said that she had no signs of kidney or liver failure, and her heartbeat was strong. Sadly the damage was most severe in her brain. She had left them without being able to say goodbye. Paul had also said that she might have brief periods of lucidity but there had been no evidence of that yet. Perhaps when she recovered from the effects of the delivery, that could still happen. Ben prayed it would so that Adam could have some peace by being able to say things he needed to say to his wife before she died.

The next morning, Ben awakened from sleeping on the couch downstairs. He was momentarily disoriented but then remembered where he was. He wondered what had awakened him until he saw Adam working his way down the stairs.

“Son, you should still be in bed.”

“Pa, I can’t. I promise I will take it as easy as I can, but I can’t lie there. I have to move. I looked in on Patricia. She’s still sleeping, but what are those shackles doing on her?”

“They’re not shackles. They’re restraints. Paul brought them so that she can’t hurt herself or others. She can still sit up. She can feed herself, but she can’t get out of the bed and she likely won’t be able to harm herself. When she needs to use the commode, we can lengthen the strap on one to let her move to the side of the bed. Son, it’s very sad but necessary.”

Walking to the chair opposite Ben in front of the fireplace, Adam sat and dropped his forehead into his right hand. “I suppose she’s dosed with laudanum too?”

“Yes. Paul is going to be back today so he can talk to you about things like that. You’ll need to make some decisions about Patricia’s care.”

Suspecting correctly what was likely to be recommended, Adam shook his head. “I won’t put her in an institution. People are treated like animals there.”

“I told Paul that you wouldn’t. But then we need to discuss the alternatives especially if you want Chris to live here with you and be safe.”

“I do, but you’re right. He’s not safe here now. I dread to think of what would have happened if she had gone after Chris for any reason. I still don’t know how she had the strength to attack me.”

So Ben spent the next hour explaining things that Paul had told him the day before and discussing with Adam some possibilities for Patricia’s care. Bao Yu brought out coffee and asked if they wanted breakfast. She brought plates to them as they talked. Adam found that he was ravenous and asked for more food. It was at that point that he realized he had not eaten in over a day. He asked if Patricia had been given food. Bao Yu said she was drinking broth and eating soft foods at every meal so Adam was relieved about that. By the time Paul arrived, Adam was ready to make some decisions. Paul was upset to see Adam out of bed, but Adam told Paul the same thing he had told his father.

“I’m going to hold you to that, Adam. You need to take it easy for the next week. If you want to take care of your son and your wife, you need to take care of yourself first. Now you said you had made some decisions. Care to share those with me?”

So Adam explained that he wanted to hire a caregiver for Patricia who could also help with Chris. Paul had someone in mind for the job so Adam told him to go ahead and send her to the house. For the next few weeks, one of the Ponderosa hands would also live in the tack room in the stable that would be converted into a room. With a cot, lamp, and dresser, it would work well. Adam already had put a small stove in there so he would be able to work there during cold weather. Chris would come home once the two helpers were working. They would use the restraints on Patricia and give her low doses of laudanum to ease any discomfort she had. Her caregiver would use the guest bedroom upstairs and Adam would sleep on a cot in his office. Paul was impressed because it seemed all contingencies had been covered. Then he had Adam remove his shirt and he changed the bandages noting that the wounds were healing normally with little sign of infection. He cleaned up small amounts of drainage and left instructions that Bao Yu or Hop Sing was to do the same every day for the next week until the stitches could be removed.

“I’ll send Mrs. Devry over here as soon as I get to town. She lost her husband in a mine accident over two months ago and needs the work. She’s worked as a nurse a number of times. She’s a strong woman. Now she does tend to speak her mind with no thought to diplomacy, but just remember she means well, and you’ll always know where you stand with her. She’s as honest a person as I have ever met. Too honest for some people, but I find her candor refreshing.” With that assessment, all three expected that Adam would have some confrontations with her, but he tended toward brutal honesty himself at times, and Paul hoped she would respect that.

For the next two days, Adam, Bao Yu, and Mrs. Devry had to learn to adjust to each other and Mrs. Devry had to get used to her duties with Patricia. Chris was not going to come home until the household was quiet and running smoothly. Mrs. Devry did not invite anyone to call her by her given name as she thought a professional relationship should be maintained. She didn’t like Adam much but she needed the job. She found him dour and stubborn at his best, and ornery and mule-headed at his worst. With her experience in nursing terminal patients, she didn’t expect to have this job long enough for any true animosity to develop. Despite what the doctor had said, she thought that Patricia’s downward spiral was continuing unabated. Her patient was listless most days and cooperative in her care needs. She ate when food was given to her, and allowed herself to be bathed and assisted to the commode as necessary.

Once the routine was established, Chris came home, and for the first time, Mrs. Devry saw Adam have an expression other than a frown. She still didn’t care for him, but saw him as more human when he was with his son. Then she got an eye opener when Patricia finally allowed Adam into their bedroom for a visit. Patricia had yelled at him each time she saw him but after a few days, she asked whom he was when he stopped at the doorway to see how she was doing. He came inside and sat by the bed taking Patricia’s hand in his.

“You’re very handsome. I have a husband, Adam. He’s very handsome too. Have you seen him? He hasn’t been here for days.”

“I see him every morning when he shaves. He misses you very much. He loves you like no other.”

“Oh, did he tell you that? That’s wonderful. I wish he would come see me though. I miss him so much. We’re going to get married soon. He said that as soon as the city offices opened on Monday, we’re getting married.”

“That’s wonderful. I know you’re going to be very happy.”

“Yes, I’m sure of that too. I’m tired now. Will you tell Adam to come see me when he can please? I know he works so hard, but he needs to rest some time too.”

“I’ll tell him. He’ll come see you soon, I’m sure.”

As Patricia lay back against the pillows and closed her eyes, Adam bent down and kissed the back of her hand before laying it gently on the bed. He stood and left the room, and Mrs. Devry was sure she saw tears on his cheeks. She was amazed at this side of her employer and wondered if what she had seen previously was his way of trying to protect himself from more hurt or even letting some of the hurt out in the only way he knew how to do it.

Each morning and afternoon, Adam’s father or a brother would visit. Gradually Mrs. Devry got to know them. She especially enjoyed Hoss’ visits. His gentle support of his brother was touching. Often in just a few words, he was able to boost Adam’s spirit. Chris enjoyed all of the visits by his extended family, and within days, Mrs. Devry adored him. She had never met such a charming and curious boy. The two of them talked, read, drew, and did various other activities when Patricia was sleeping or resting. Ben arrived one day when the two of them were eating cookies and drinking milk at the small table near the fireplace, and Adam was putting a picket fence around the plot that contained his daughter’s grave. As usual, Chris was asking questions, and Mrs. Devry was doing her best to answer them. Ben could only smile.

“He’s exactly like his father. Adam was just like that as a boy. He was curious about everything and enjoyed hearing the answers. And when he wanted to and could overcome his shyness, he could charm anyone into getting what he wanted.”

Surprised to hear Adam described that way, Mrs. Devry had only one question. “What happened to him?”

“Life. Life threw a lot of terrible things at him. He’s had a lot to bear.” So Ben spent that visit talking about his son as a youth and young man, and then spent some time talking about Adam and Patricia. Mrs. Devry and Chris sat spellbound by the story that seemed to be more like a novel than a real person’s life. Chris had a lot of questions ready for his father after that session.

*****

Chapter 6

“Papa, do you bust horses?”

“Bust horses?”

“Grandpa told me you ride horses and bust them.”

“Break them?” At Chris’ nod, Adam had to smile. “It’s taming them so they can be ridden by others. I don’t do much of that any more. Your Uncle Joe still does a lot of it.”

“When you do it again, can I watch?”

“May I watch?”

“Oh, Papa, I don’t do that yet. I want to watch you do it.”

Grinning at his failed attempt to correct his son’s grammar, Adam scooped him up and deposited him on his lap. “Yes, son, the next time I do that, you may watch.” He realized then that it had not hurt to pick up his son and also realized he probably shouldn’t have done that when he still had stitches in. But Paul had said he was going to remove them the next day, so he wasn’t too worried.

“Papa, where were you when Grandpa was here?”

“I was putting up a little fence around where Violet is. It looks nicer there now. Would you like to help me plant some flowers there tomorrow?” Chris nodded in response. “I’ve got a small bench I want to move there too so it’s easier to go visit.”

“Papa, is Violet down there in the ground?”

“Yes, that’s what happens when someone goes to heaven. The person’s heart and soul go to heaven, and we have to put their body to rest in the earth.”

“I don’t want to go there. I want to go up in the sky to the Big Dipper.”

“Son, you don’t have to worry about that for a long time.”

“But what about Mama? She’s real sick, you said. Is she going to have to go in the ground too? I don’t want her to.”

“Mama will leave us, son. She is very sick, and she won’t get better.”

“Why don’t you do something? When I was sick, you sat with me and gave me stuff, so I got better. Can’t you make Mama better?”

Adam had to choke back his tears. He had to stay strong for his son. “I can’t. Mama is too sick. All we can do is visit her when she wants, and try to keep her comfortable.”

Chris seemed to sense his father’s sorrow, and he wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and hugged as tight as he could. And Adam began visiting with Patricia frequently and keeping Chris on his lap when he did so. Patricia was becoming lethargic and Adam asked Mrs. Devry if she thought the restraints were necessary. They agreed that during the day, they would remove them. That way, Chris no longer saw his mother in the restraints. Sometimes Patricia knew who Adam and Chris were but didn’t recognize the two in front of her as that husband and son. Other times she asked questions as if her husband and child were strangers. Adam hurt deeply with each of those visits as the pain cut into his heart, but he kept the conversation light and airy for his son’s benefit and because he didn’t want to upset Patricia by trying to get her to remember things she no longer knew. The times when she knew that she had a husband and son grew to be less and less often until she no longer knew and spoke like a child when they visited. She was becoming quite thin, and one morning only about a month and a half after Mrs. Devry arrived to begin caring for Patricia, she appeared at Adam’s office door one morning with bad news.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, Mr. Cartwright, but there are signs that your wife’s kidneys and liver are not functioning well. I think it would be prudent for you to ask Doctor Martin to see her.”

Adam asked and Mrs. Devry explained. Adam went up to see his wife, and realized that in the morning light, he could see the signs of mild jaundice too. He accepted that the other things Mrs. Devry said were also true. He kissed his wife on the forehead as she slept before he left to get the doctor. Paul was busy with several patients and said he would get out to the house as soon as he could. Paul knew that whether he hurried or not, the result was going to be the same. Once he arrived at Adam’s house, he confirmed Mrs. Devry’s evaluation. Patricia’s kidneys and liver were failing. She probably had only a few days to live. Mrs. Devry and Adam took turns sitting with Patricia who looked like she was sleeping but had fallen into a coma and was not likely to regain consciousness. Paul told them that she might be able to hear them if they talked, but that she was unlikely to be able to respond.

One night as Mrs. Devry kept watch over her patient, she heard someone leave the house and looking out the window, she saw Adam walk up the hill to his daughter’s gravesite. He had his pants and boots on but carried his shirt. When he reached the white picket fence, he dropped to the ground, and she couldn’t tell what he was doing in the shade of that tree in the moonlight, but she could guess. He was probably grieving and possibly crying, and he was also probably asking for forgiveness. She knew now that he blamed himself for what had happened to his daughter and for not realizing that his wife was so ill. There was no reason for him to feel guilty, but Hoss had told her that he did because Adam always felt guilty when those close to him suffered. He always thought he should have foreseen what was coming and done something to prevent it. Mrs. Devry thought it was a case of Adam thinking far too much of himself, but Hoss told her it was because ever since he was about six years old, he had to care for his younger brothers, first Hoss and later Joe too.

That night she watched until she saw Adam return to the house. He didn’t come inside, and she guessed he was sitting on the porch looking at the stars. He did that quite often. She went back and sat in the chair by the bed. She didn’t hear any of the softly rasping breaths that had become the norm over the past few days. She reached out her hand and placed it over Patricia’s heart. Her heartbeat was extremely slow. Mrs. Devry hurried down the stairs to tell her employer that his wife was nearly gone. Adam reached the bedroom as fast as he could. He did as Mrs. Devry had done, and at first, he felt no heart beat at all. Then he felt one, then two, and that was it. She was warm, but that would soon be gone as well. He dropped his head into his hands and wept for all the dreams that died with his wife.

In the morning, he had to tell Chris that his mother had died. He didn’t want Chris to see her and have that as his last memory of what his mother looked. Instead, he got a portrait miniature of Patricia and sat with that as he explained to Chris what would happen. Then he rode to tell his family the sad news and to discuss with them who should be notified. The day was relatively calm. When it grew dark that night, Adam and Chris sat on the porch so Adam could show Chris the Big Dipper and tell him which star was his mother.

The next day there was a small private wake and burial. Only the closest friends of the family were invited to attend. There was so much gossip in town about Adam and Patricia that Adam didn’t want to give them any more ammunition. He wanted to give whatever peace to his wife that he could. He stood at the grave as the dirt was shoveled in with Chris’ hand held tightly in his. Then he laid flowers over the top and handed some to Chris to do the same. Next he hammered in the marker that Hoss had carved to match the one he had carved for Violet. Someday, Adam planned on stone markers, but those carved by his brother were more meaningful so he wanted them to be there as long as possible. He held the hammer and asked Chris to help with the last few hits. Finally, father and son walked hand-in-hand to the house leading the other mourners.

In the house, there was a buffet for those attending. Bao Yu and Hop Sing had gone all out to prepare dishes that they knew Patricia had liked so they could share them. Adam was quiet and withdrawn as was his son. Ben worried as much about him now as he had when they had first found out that Patricia would die. Adam had a tendency to keep too much inside, and Ben had to wonder what he was thinking and planning. He hoped he wouldn’t leave but knew he might want to escape all the reminders. Finally he got beside his son and asked.

“Don’t worry, Pa. I’m staying right here. I’ve still got a business to run, and I’ve neglected my duties on the Ponderosa long enough. Chris needs the stability of the ranch, his home, and his family.”

“Do you need help with anything?”

“I don’t know. I’ve asked Mrs. Devry to stay on to be a nanny to Chris. She hasn’t given me an answer. I don’t think she likes me much, but I thought that she liked Chris well enough to take the job. If she doesn’t, I’ll need some help with Chris until I can make other arrangements.”

“You should ask Hoss to see if he can convince her.”

“Hoss?”

“You probably haven’t noticed because you’ve had so much to worry about, but Hoss and Kay have become very close.”
“Kay?”

“Yes, her name is Kathleen, but her friends call her Kay.”

“I guess I’m not a friend then.”

“You’re her employer. She doesn’t want to be too familiar. She would be a good friend if you let her though.”

Not acknowledging that, Adam said he would talk to Hoss to see if he would help. It would be much easier if Mrs. Devry would agree to stay on. Hoss asked Mrs. Devry to walk with him so they could talk.

“Kay, Adam said he asked you to stay on to care for Chris. I wish you’d consider saying yes.”

“Oh, Hoss, I have, but he’s a difficult man to work for. He’s so dark and brooding, it can be quite depressing being here.”

“Yeah, I know. He handles things that way. It ain’t necessarily the best way, but it’s his way. He’ll be fine once he thinks it all through and gets it all straight in his head. But until then, don’t you think it would be best for Chris to have someone there, you know, to be the other way?”

“Hoss, is there any other reason you’re asking me to stay on here?”

Hoss had to turn away with that question. She had surprised him and hit upon the truth. She took his hand in hers, and he turned back to her. “Kay, I really like ya. It’s been very enjoyable to spend time with ya even with all the sadness around here. I figure things are bound to start looking up now, and I was hoping you and me could spend more time together especially seeing as how Adam’s house is only ten minutes from the main house.”

“Hoss, I’m still in mourning for my husband, but when that six months or so is up, I would be pleased to keep company with you.”

“How long then?”

“Only about two months. It wouldn’t be seemly for me to be seen with anyone any sooner than that. Of course, if you wanted to visit your brother or your nephew, I guess no one could misconstrue that.” Hoss was a bit perplexed and not so sure he understood. She saw his look and smiled. “Yes, I’ll stay on to be Chris’ nanny, and I wouldn’t mind at all if you came to visit at the house now and again.”

“So no handholding or kissing for two months?”

With a coy look, Kay answered. “Well certainly not where anyone could see us.”

Looking back toward the house, Hoss realized that some trees shielded them from observation. He looked down at Kay and reached for her hands. Standing close to her, he asked if he could kiss her. She agreed, and they shared a soft gentle kiss for their first one. Then Kay suggested they needed to walk back before anyone suspected anything and told Hoss he shouldn’t grin that much or they would know what had just happened. At the house, she gave her answer to Adam who looked visibly relieved. He thanked her, and asked if the salary she was receiving was adequate. Kay was surprised because she thought that as her duties would decrease so would her salary so she said she was quite pleased with the amount she was receiving.

Weeks later at the branding area, though, Hoss wasn’t pleased with Adam and blew up at him.

“Dadburnit, Adam, watch what you’re doing. You almost burned me with that thing.”

“I’m sorry, Hoss. I’ll pay better attention. My mind just wandered a bit as we were waiting.”

A hot branding iron had come within inches of Hoss’ face when he held a calf for branding. Adam’s wandering mind had almost left Hoss with a nasty burn to the face. That kind of thing seemed to be happening a lot. Adam had trouble concentrating on any task, and often forgot to do things that normally he would never forget. Hoss had worried and asked his father if he thought Adam was sick. The whole family worried that he had contracted the pox, and these mental lapses were of deep concern to Hoss. Ben had reassured him.

“No, Hoss, I don’t think he’s sick, at least not physically. I went through this a few times too. When you’re grieving like Adam, it wears on your mind. It’s difficult to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. And I never grieved the loss of a child. To me, that has to be even worse. A child should never die before the parent. It just isn’t natural.”

“You think he’s gonna get better then?”

“Of course he will. He needs time. A few weeks aren’t enough time to get through the healing he needs. As the months go by, he’ll be better. Until then, we have to be patient. Adam carried a lot of the load for me when Marie died. I went through a time much like Adam is suffering now. It will pass, but it wouldn’t hurt to show some support for him and say a prayer for him now and then.”

“It don’t look like he’s sleeping much. He’s got those dark circles under his eyes and walks like he’s all worn out.”

“He’s trying to do it all. It’s too much for him, but he can’t bear the thought of not having something to do. Quiet time is time when the sad memories can come in and weigh you down so much, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to get back up. It’s the same problem when you lie down to sleep. If you’re not exhausted, the memories pour in and you can’t sleep at all.”

“You talking from personal experience?” Ben didn’t even have to answer that one. So despite the difficulties of working with Adam, Hoss and Joe did their best not to lose their tempers with him and tried to be understanding.

Over the next two months, Adam’s business wasn’t faring well for the same reasons Hoss and Joe got upset when they worked with him on the ranch. His lack of concentration led him to make some errors. He lost one contract because he missed the deadlines for submission. He was in danger of losing another, and still had a set of plans to draw for Mr. Crocker. He struggled to work in his office at night but found his mind wandered at the slightest hint of a memory of his wife. He removed everything he could from his office that stimulated those memories but even the books on the shelves opened his heart to the memories of his wife. He moved into the guest bedroom, and turned his old bedroom over to Mrs. Devry. He couldn’t bear sleeping in the room where his wife had died, and Mrs. Devry was understanding enough to help him make that switch. She found him one day struggling to carry his drafting table up the stairs.

“Where are you going with that?”

“I’m going to put it in my bedroom. It’s got a lot of natural light, and no distractions.”

Mrs. Devry suspected that he couldn’t escape his memories with all the reminders of his wife. However she also worried that he might never sleep if he had that drafting table in his bedroom. She could see how exhausted he was and suspected he never got a full night of sleep. “Why don’t you set it in the dining room instead? There’s plenty of room there if we take a leaf from the table. It’s only the three of us and we’ll fit quite nicely at a smaller table. You would have plenty of natural light with all the windows there.”

On the stairs, Adam paused and wondered why he hadn’t thought of that. He backed down the stairs and moved the table to the dining room. When he went to his office to get his drafting tools and supplies, Mrs Devry muttered ‘You’re welcome’ which he heard but didn’t acknowledge. He didn’t want to have any kind of confrontation with her. He wrote her a thank you note and put it in an envelope with a gold coin. He left it on the dining table with her name on it. She found it when she went in to dinner. She opened it and said a simple thank you to her employer, but for a change, the smile she gave him was heartfelt. He had been through so much, and yet he treated her with respect and did his best to be a good employer.

More and more, she realized he did his best in everything he did, but at the moment he had too much to do. She suggested that perhaps the sewing room could be turned into a library so that his office would have more room for him to work. She thought that if he could make his office a place for only his things, then he would be better able to concentrate there. After a few weeks, Adam told her that he was going to do what she had suggested. With Chris’ help, they began carrying books and artwork to the sewing room. Then over the next few days, Adam moved most of the bookshelves from his office to the sewing room. He took a couple of the pretty stuffed chairs and a small table from that room and put them in Mrs. Devry’s bedroom creating a nice sitting area for her. With the addition of a couple of leather chairs and an ottoman, the library looked like Adam’s room and not the room where Patricia had done most of her drawing. Bit by bit, Adam was moving on with his life.

*****

Chapter 7

The following month, Adam got a letter from Crocker. He expected that he was being informed that his services were no longer needed. Instead, Crocker expressed his condolences and said he understood. He also wanted those plans drawn and informed Adam that he was sending someone to help him with the task. He was told to expect that Crocker’s representative would arrive on Friday of that week. Adam was told that he would still receive the agreed upon fee for the work. He relaxed a little after reading that. At least he still was respected for his ideas even if his ability to deliver was being questioned. He wasn’t sure whether to be angry or relieved that he would soon have a helper.

On Friday morning, Adam asked Chris if he would like to spend the day in town with his father. He did of course, so Adam asked Mrs. Devry if she would like to spend the day in town or stay on the ranch. She preferred the ranch and asked Adam if she could use the carriage. He needed the carriage but offered to give her a ride to the main house before they left. She was a bit embarrassed that he had read her so well and surprised too to see him grin. It was the first time in months that she had seen that. She accepted his offer. As long as everyone was going to be gone, Adam made the same offer to Bao Yu and she wanted to do the same as Mrs. Devry. When the four arrived at the main house, Ben came outside and Adam explained why he had to go to town. It had taken him a couple of days to decide that having an assistant for the project would be a good thing.

Adam planned to put a cot in the library, and let the assistant sleep in his bedroom. He had moved his drafting table back into the office a week earlier. As Adam chatted with Ben, Hoss came out after finishing his breakfast and had a big smile when he realized whom Adam was dropping off at the house. He had thought when he heard his father talking with Adam that Chris would be spending the day with them. It was even better to know it would be Kay who would have the whole day. Hoss helped Kay out of the carriage and then helped Bao Yu as well. Bao Yu went to the kitchen, and Hoss and Kay walked toward the stable to see the latest litter of kittens. Adam watched them leave.

“Apparently I make a good matchmaker without even trying.”

“Yes, you did a fine job with those two. If you have time, could you hire another woman? Joseph needs a good stabilizing influence in his life too.”

Ben chuckled and Adam smiled. That small smile was very reassuring to Ben who felt Adam was coming out of his depression. He saw how happy Chris was to be accompanying his father to town. Ben knew that Adam had done his best not to let his grief affect his relationship with his son. He had used all the inner strength he had to offer all the emotional support his son needed. Chris had lost his mother, but with the long slow decline Patricia had suffered, the resilient youngster had adapted quite well. Bidding his father goodbye, Adam snapped the reins and headed toward town. After doing some shopping, he and Chris had lunch before taking a walk to the sheriff’s office to see Roy.

“Now is this an official visit or a social call, Adam, cause I see ya brought in a scary looking hombre?”

“Social call this time. Chris is here to make sure I don’t get in any trouble in town. He’s got my back.” Chris grinned and stood a little taller with the description his father gave Roy.

The three visited until Roy said he wanted to go meet the stage to see who might be arriving. Adam told him they were meeting the stage as well so the three walked together to the stage depot where they talked again for nearly an hour until the stage arrived. A dusty cowboy climbed out and the driver tossed down his saddle and saddlebags. An older woman climbed down and was met by her husband. A young woman stepped down from the stage and asked the driver to hand her valise to her. Adam waited and no one else got off the stage. The driver looked at Adam.

“You expecting someone, Adam?”

“Yeah, I was supposed to meet someone sent by Mr. Crocker. There were no other passengers?”

“Nope, none.” Anything more the driver was going to say was cut off by the young woman. “I’m Miss Harding. I was sent by Mr. Crocker to meet an Adam Cartwright and assist him with plans Mr. Crocker has ordered. Can I assume that you are Mr. Cartwright?”

Roy could tell how nonplussed Adam was by this development. He was now going to have another single woman living at his house. There were already rumors about him and Mrs. Devry even though Hoss was the only one seen escorting her to places. This woman was very attractive and Roy assumed correctly that there would be even more gossip.

“I didn’t expect a woman.”

“I can tell that by your expression. However I can assure you that I have years of experience drawing plans. My father was a builder and architect as well, and I worked with him since I was ten years old.”

“Was?”

“He died in the collapse of a building he was inspecting four years ago. The contractor had used inferior materials. Mr. Crocker made sure the man was prosecuted so that there would be justice for my father. I have worked for Mr. Crocker ever since that time. Now I was told your office was in your home. Will I be staying in your home or in a hotel?”

“My home is an hour from town. It would be most convenient if you agreed to stay in my home until the work is completed. Then you can take the plans to Mr. Crocker.”

“Mr. Crocker did say that you had to finish another project before completing his plans and wanted me to assist you with that as well.”

“Let’s just get going. My carriage is right here. This is my son, Chris, and this is Sheriff Roy Coffee; Roy, Miss Harding. She’ll be working with me for a short time.” Miss Harding greeted each of them with a friendly smile. Then she picked up her own valise and walked to the carriage depositing it in the boot before climbing aboard.

Chris looked up at his father. “Papa, why don’t you like her?”

Roy chuckled a little. “Ah, he reminds me of you as a boy more and more all the time. See ya soon, Adam. You take care now.”

Adam lifted Chris into the carriage and then climbed in himself. The ride back seemed to be over more quickly than the hour it took because Chris and Miss Harding chatted almost nonstop. Adam didn’t know why but it irritated him that Chris so obviously liked her. He was trying to think of ways not to accept her help while she was ingratiating herself with his son and ignoring him. When they arrived at his house, Adam told Chris to show Miss Harding up to his bedroom. She looked at Adam in alarm, and he took a bit of pleasure in that before informing her that he would be sleeping in his library. She looked quite relieved, and Adam again was irritated that she looked that relieved. He couldn’t even explain to himself why he was so perturbed with her behavior. As he groomed the carriage horse, he tried to make sense of it, but it was as murky when he started as when he finished. What bothered him even more was the physical attraction he felt to her. He knew it was going to be difficult on many levels to be working side-by-side with her. The troubles between the two of them escalated as they moved from the first project to the plans for Mr. Crocker’s palatial home that was to be a gift to his wife for their anniversary the following year.

“That’s ridiculous. You can’t have a wall move!”

“You can if it’s designed like this. Besides, aren’t you supposed to be drawing the plans instead of coming up with the ideas?”

“I’m supposed to assist you, and that means with everything. If you have some cockamamie ideas for Mr. Crocker’s house, then it is my responsibility to him to make sure they aren’t in the plans.”

“That is not a cockamamie idea. They entertain a lot and need big spaces, but when they’re home by themselves, the place will look more like museum than a home. If these moveable walls are put in, then the rooms can be more intimate and feel more like a home when they are not entertaining.”

“Well, show me how they would work then.”

“I don’t know why I have to explain and justify everything to you.”

“I need to know so I can draw the blueprints properly, and so I can explain your cockamamie ideas to Mr. Crocker and to the contractor.”

Hoss was visiting with Kay and they could hear the argument. Every time Hoss was at Adam’s house, it seemed the two of them were arguing like that. He asked Kay if that was all they did.

“No, when they aren’t working, they hardly talk at all. He glares at her and she ignores him. It is a very strange partnership. The only time you see either of them smile is when they are with Chris. He brings out the best in the both of them.”

Adam stepped out then to ask Bao Yu to bring some coffee to the office. Hoss had one piece of advice. “Older brother, you can catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Adam scowled as only he could do. “I can catch a whole lot more flies with horseshit. What’s your point?”

Hoss shrugged and Adam went back into his office. “Kay, let’s take a walk outside. They may think this beautiful Saturday is made for work, but I think it’s made for a walk.”

“We can’t go too far though. Chris will wake up from his nap soon. I need to be close by.”

Bao Yu had delivered the coffee. “I watch Chris. He like doughnuts I make. He fine. You go walk.”

Hoss thanked the cook profusely and reminded her to save some doughnuts for him and then extended his hand to Kay. Hoss had a small box in his pocket and hoped to ask her a question soon. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to do it today, but as soon as he could, he was going to ask her. As it turned out, Hoss wasn’t able to bring himself to ask her. Then he remembered that the Harvest Dance was coming up in two weeks. He was determined to ask her then. So to get ready, he asked her to accompany him to the dance and to have dinner with him before the dance. She accepted on the condition that Adam would give her the night off. Normally she could only expect to have Sunday off so she had to ask. Hoss was sure his brother wouldn’t mind.

When Hoss was leaving, he reminded Kay that everyone was invited to Sunday dinner. He didn’t have to remind her. Every Sunday evening, everyone got together for dinner. Bao Yu would assist Hop Sing, and the resulting dinner was always fabulous. Hop Sing was waiting to ask the same question that Hoss wanted to ask. Soon there could be two weddings.

On Sunday at dinner, Cassandra charmed all of them as she usually did. Only Adam didn’t seem to be affected by her charismatic presence. He did his best to try to ignore all of her charms and was failing miserably although no one knew it but him. Joe surprised him when he asked Cassandra to accompany him to the Harvest Dance in less than two weeks. She graciously accepted and surreptitiously watched Adam to see his reaction. He didn’t react at all and sat with a stone face as the rest of them enjoyed after dinner brandy as they sat in front of the fireplace. Cassandra was disappointed and couldn’t understand why. She had hoped to see some kind of reaction, and her spirit dropped when Adam did not respond at all. Then she was mad at him and at herself. She was mad because he didn’t seem to care, and then she was mad at herself because that bothered her. Joe didn’t notice how either of them were acting because he was so happy to have her acceptance of his invitation. But Hoss and Kay noticed and both wondered at the reactions of the two. Later when they took a short walk in the cool evening, they talked about it.

“He looked like he didn’t give a darn that Joe asked her to the dance. Now that is mighty strange. I thought he would have some comment to her or to Joe, but he didn’t say nothing.”

“Yes, I thought it quite strange. She always reacts to things he says, and he knew he could get a rise out of her and Joe but said nothing. Hoss, do you think it’s possible that the two of them actually do care for each other?”

“I don’t know. She looked over at him like she expected him to be jealous or somethin. I was real surprised. It’s only been about four months since Patricia died. Maybe he thinks it’s too soon to be looking.”

“Maybe but she was gone a long time before she died. I think he’s gotten through the worst of his mourning. He looks at Cassandra sometimes like he appreciates what he sees. I was thinking I wasn’t seeing that right, but now I think I was.”

“Maybe that look that showed nothing was him hiding his feelings again. He’s real good at that. We gotta get him to go to that dance. Maybe if he sees her that way, he might just open his eyes. He needs to get out a bit anyway.”

“Hoss, I don’t think it’s his eyes that needs opening. I think it’s his heart and his mind that are closed. The more I get to know him, the more I feel sorry for him. He hurts so deeply, but he doesn’t let anybody see it most of the time. He needs to open up and grab hold of life.”

“I thought he had. He’s got a business, a son, his own house, and he still has the Ponderosa with the rest of us. He’s got almost as much money as Pa. What’s he got left to grab?”

“The things that will make him happy. He’s not a happy man even though he has so much.”

“And you think that she will make him happier?”

“Well, no, not exactly. But if he was to open himself up so he could be happy, then she might want to be with him, I think. He’s still grieving his losses. He tries to act like he isn’t but take one look at him and you can see. He needs to start looking forward and not so much behind.”

“I know that he’s still hurting. You can see it in his eyes. They’re always kinda tight like he’s in pain. I just don’t see that Cassandra is right for him though. They fight all the time.”

“No they argue until they work it out. They’ve really improved their relationship over the past week or so. You’re not there usually when they finally settle on something now. Then they’re all agreeable as they work and talk until the next thing they argue about. You know the finest steel comes from the hottest fire, right?”

“So do you think we oughta argue some?” Hoss had a bit of a grin with that one.

“No, of course not. We’re not like them. We’re more like trees that grow and get better and better over time. Adam is steel although sometimes he reminds me more of barbed wire. That Cassandra is one strong woman too in some ways, but I got a feeling she’s hiding her real self a bit too like she’s afraid to relax. So he’s poking at her and she’s poking back. Maybe they’re both barbed wire.”

Hoss started laughing then, and the two of them were still chuckling when they got back to the porch as Adam walked out carrying Chris who was asleep. It was time to head back to Adam’s house. Adam put Chris in the back, and Kay climbed up beside him and pulled the carriage blanket over him. That left only the front seat for Cassandra who walked out talking with Joe. She frowned a bit when she realized she would have to ride next to Adam on the return trip. As they drove away, Joe mentioned that Cassandra really didn’t seem to like Adam at all. Hoss smiled broadly when their father said that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Ben noticed and smiled at Hoss. They had both seen the same signs and strongly suspected that Adam was definitely interested in Cassandra and she in him.

When they reached Adam’s house, Chris awakened but was very drowsy. Kay walked with him into the house and said she would get him to bed. Cassandra offered to help Adam with the carriage and the horse. He told her it wasn’t necessary, but she said she wanted to help. He had her hold a lantern as he put the harness away, and then groomed, fed, and watered the horse. He made sure Sport had enough water, and then turned to leave.

“We can go now.” As Cassandra backed out of the stable with the lantern, Adam pulled the doors closed and put the bar across them.

“I’ve never ridden a horse. Do you have to do that with a horse after you ride them too?”

“Yes, if you want them to have a smooth coat and not develop sores and such. If you want, I could get a gentle horse from the other stable and teach you to ride.”

“If we have time, I would like to try it. It looks like fun.”

“All right, we can take a break each afternoon and have you learn how to ride.” The two walked in companionable silence up to the house where Cassandra bid goodnight to Adam. He went into his library to think about all that was happening. He stretched out in one of the leather chairs with his feet on the ottoman and fell asleep. For the first time in many months, he slept until the sun was rising. He was stiff because he hadn’t moved all night, but felt more rested than he had in a long time. He smelled coffee and went out to grab a cup. Before he was able to get some clothing to go to the washroom, Cassandra was coming down the stairs. She looked tired and was. She had not slept well wondering if it had been a good idea to accept Joe’s invitation and wondering about her hasty decision to let Adam teach her to ride. She was never comfortable making decisions about her life and now she had made two impulsive decisions in one evening. She saw Adam wearing the same clothing he had worn the night before. He hadn’t shaved yet, but somehow he looked better than he had in some time. He nodded in her direction and headed to the washroom. A few minutes later they could hear that he was whistling a tune in the washroom. Kay had come downstairs by then too lured by the smell of coffee. She heard the whistling and noticed that Bao Yu was smiling. Kay smiled too, but noticed the troubled expression Cassandra had. She shook her head. One got better and the other got worse. She was thinking that these two were going to be a work in progress for quite a while.

*****

Chapter 8

For the next two weeks, Hoss badgered Adam until he agreed to go to the Harvest Dance. It would be the first social event he had attended in well over a year. Hoss said people missed him, and he would have many opportunities to visit with old friends. He did miss talking with other people and agreed to go, but thought he would do his best to avoid seeing Joe and Cassandra together. They were nearly done with the plans for Mr. Crocker’s residence so she would be leaving soon. Adam knew she would probably still be in his dreams, but she wouldn’t be troubling his mind all day long every day though. He was as wrong about that as he was wrong about how he thought she saw him.

Adam’s first clue that Cassandra might have some feelings for him was after her fifth riding lesson. The lady was getting braver and braver about riding and wanted to go faster. He told her she had to learn how to handle the horse before she could learn to gallop, although he could picture her wavy brown hair blowing in the wind as she galloped across the meadows. She was only going to be there two more weeks though so it was unlikely she would learn to ride that well. She was strong despite her petite build and barely came up to his shoulder when they stood side by side. She would need to learn a lot before she could handle any horse on her own. But he gave in to her pleading and took the horse out of the small corral he had and led her around the yard using a long lead rope. The horse was a calm, gentle animal so Adam had little concern that anything bad could happen but had not considered his son in that equation. Chris came running from the house after his nap because he was so excited to see Cassandra riding. His waving arms and screeching voice startled the horse who shied away suddenly pulling the lead rope from Adam’s hand. Cassandra did remember her lessons and was able to ride the horse to the stable and duck down as she entered. Adam ran after her and found her sitting on the horse trembling.

“Thank God, you’re all right. Old Betsy here never does anything like that. I’m sorry that Chris startled her so.”

“Can you just help me down? I think if I try it on my own, I’ll fall flat on my face.”

Adam helped her down by reaching for her and letting her almost fall into his arms. He set her on the floor and kept his hands around her waist until he was sure she was steady on her feet. She made no effort to move from his hold and looked up at him with an unreadable look in her dark green eyes. Adam wondered later if she had expected him to kiss her. He had thought about it when he saw those soft full lips so close to his own, but then Chris had run into the stable.

“Papa, Cassandra rides really well.”

“Very well.”

“Yep, that’s jist what I was a thinking.”

Adam chuckled and Cassandra laughed. As Adam stepped away from Cassandra and looked down at his son, he tousled his hair. “You need to spend less time with your Uncle Hoss, I think. Soon you’ll be talking like one of the hands.” It was back to business then, and there were no more incidents like that one.

At the dance, Cassandra looked around a number of times and only saw Adam a few times as he danced with a lady who had to be his father’s age or sat with the men talking. They had all arrived together, and that had been the most she had seen of him. She did see Hoss and Adam talking together quietly at one point and Adam had slapped Hoss on the shoulder and smiled before Hoss lightly punched Adam in the shoulder. She wondered what good news Hoss had confided in him and thought perhaps it was that Kay had agreed to marry him. She knew everyone was speculating as to when Hoss and Kay would agree to marry.

When the two brothers were talking, Adam had acted cross about Hoss stealing away his nanny until Hoss realized he was kidding and punched him in the shoulder. Then Adam confided that Hop Sing had asked Bao Yu to marry him, but Hop Sing didn’t know how to broach the subject with their father. Hoss kidded Adam that he was losing both his cook and his nanny then.

About ten, Cassandra saw Adam exit the dance hall alone. She wondered why, and while Joe was standing in line getting punch for them, she stepped outside but couldn’t see him. She was startled to hear his voice from the shadows.

“Are you looking for me or trying to escape Joe? Your toes must be bruised by now with as many times as he has probably stepped on them.”

“Your brother is a fine dancer. I just wanted some fresh air.”

“Uh hmm. You should probably go back in before he comes looking for you. He won’t like finding you talking with me.”

“I don’t belong to him. I can talk with whomever I wish, and you could leave too if you’re so worried about how he will react.”

“Need I remind you that I was here first?”

“Yes, and why are you hiding out here in the dark? You could be inside dancing with your lady friend.”

Adam smiled. “That’s why I’m out here. Mrs. Daly knows I came alone, and her husband never dances. I looked inside to see if there was any lady I knew who was alone, but they all seem to have someone. I thought I would wait out here until everyone was ready to go.”

“I’ll dance with you if you want.”

“I don’t think that’s wise, but I thank you for the offer. Joe has a tendency to be a bit jealous, and his temper has a very short fuse where I’m concerned.”

“I think you judge him too harshly. He has only had nice things to say about you.”

Adam had stepped up to converse with Cassandra without everyone nearby being able to hear what was being said. “You can think that if you will, but if you wait out here with me, you may see a demonstration of what I meant.”

It didn’t take long. “Adam, what’s going on here?”

“Nothing, Joe. We were just talking.” Adam quirked an eyebrow up at Cassandra.

“I go to get some punch, and you spirit my date out here. I don’t think that’s nothing.”

That got a rise out of Cassandra. “Joe, we were just talking, and I walked out here on my own to get some fresh air. Now I believe you have some punch for me.”

Adam leaned back against the wall as Joe escorted Cassandra back into the dance. Joe threw a look to Adam that was anything but friendly. Adam smirked to himself as he waited. He expected they would be heading home soon. He also thought there was a good chance that Joe was going to get lambasted. Cassandra would never tolerate being treated as if she was property. Joe laying claim to her as he had was probably causing her to stew and soon she would blow. He was correct on all counts. He walked to get Sport from the livery as he heard Cassandra and Joe arguing in low voices that grew louder as they moved away from the dance. By the time they got to the stable, neither Joe nor Cassandra was talking. She threw a nasty look at Adam too when she saw his smirk. He guessed he would hear about that too, but still felt it was worth it. The ride to his home was very quiet. When he went to the stable to put Sport away, he heard Joe trying to apologize for his behavior. Adam smiled again. He loved being right, and then he realized this had been the most fun he had had in a long time. He decided to thank Hoss for pushing him to go, and he did when he saw him next.

However when he tried to talk with Cassandra about what had happened, they argued.

“You don’t have to be such a pompous behind about everything. Just because you guessed right once doesn’t make you an expert on people.”

“Trust me, I don’t say anything unless I’m reasonably sure of it. I have a lot more experience with Joe than you do. I thought I heard you tell Joe that you didn’t think the two of you were compatible?”

“Well, I thought he needed to know what I was thinking.”

“And now he will blame me. He thinks I spoke against him with you because you got angry with him after you were talking with me. Did you tell him why you were upset with him?”

“No, I thought that was clear enough. Mr. Crocker’s plans are almost finished. I can’t wait to get away from you crazy men.”

Adam didn’t like hearing that and wondered if he could extend her stay just a bit. “Hoss is getting married in two weeks. He doesn’t want to wait any longer. Will you stay for the wedding? I think he and Mrs. Devry would like it.”

“Why don’t you call her Kay like everyone else does?”

“She hasn’t given me permission to call her by her given name. I’ll respect her wishes.”

Cassandra was beginning to understand this complex man. She had never known anyone like him. He was light and dark and shades of gray. Life was more interesting with him in it. He could be unpredictably delightful, tantalizing, and so appealing as well as sometimes infuriating and pigheaded. He was never boring. He showed her respect and argued with her as he would with any male colleague. He didn’t show her any deference for her sex when they were discussing work, but when they had meals together or relaxed in the evening, he treated her very much as a lady. She began to wonder what it would be like to kiss him. She tried not to think of him that way, but she couldn’t help herself. He was still grieving his lost wife and had to support his son who missed his mother yet. She did agree to stay until Hoss’ wedding. That would give them time to finish the plans for Mr. Crocker as well as time to evaluate them to see if they needed to tweak any of the things they had done. She was sure her employer was going to be thrilled with the plans for a house that was classically styled on the outside but included all the latest conveniences inside as well as some innovative design elements. She thought it was too bad that she would not get to collaborate on any more building plans with Adam because together, they made quite a team.

Chris was still over at Grandpa’s house the day after the dance so Adam went to retrieve him. Hoss met him outside. “Ya probably don’t want to go in there unless you’re ready to deal with Joe’s temper.”

“He’s upset about Cassandra not wanting to see him any more.”

“Oh ya. He blames you.”

“It wasn’t anything I did. She was upset that he was so jealous and acted like he owned her. That’s not a type of behavior she’ll tolerate.”

“You can try telling him that. He’s in there now moping around just waiting for somebody to say something or do something so he can take it out on em.”

“Would you get Chris? I’ll go talk with him.”

“You do seem to have more courage than brains sometimes. I’ll go get Chris. Wait a bit until I get Chris out to the stable again.”

Chris was so excited when he came out with Hoss. “Papa, Hoss has little kittens and I get to see them again.” Hoss picked Chris up and swung him up on his shoulders. Watching Hoss carry Chris on his shoulders to the stable, Adam had to smile. Then he took a deep breath, expelled it, and headed inside to confront Joe. He saw his father sitting at the desk and asked if he could speak with Joe privately. Joe objected.

“Anything you have to say can be said in front of Pa unless you’re too ashamed.”

“Joe, I can say it, but are you sure you want me to in front of Pa when you don’t know what I’m going to say?”

“Just say it. I want to hear what kind of story you’re going to spin.”

“No story. I told you the truth last night. Cassandra stepped outside. I was already there. We talked briefly about me dancing with Mrs. Daly as the reason why I wasn’t heading back into the dance. Then you came out and accused me of taking your girl away. That’s what caused the trouble between you. She doesn’t like being treated like property, and she does not find jealousy admirable.”

“So it’s all my fault. You didn’t sweet talk her or kiss her or anything?”

“Joe, I have never sweet talked her, never kissed her, and never hugged her. We have had a professional relationship and nothing more.”

“All this time and you never?”

“Never.”

“But I thought you were after her too. I thought we were competing for her.”

“Younger brother, if she heard you talk like that, she would be just as upset as she was last night. She’s planning to leave soon. I asked her to stay until Hoss’ wedding and she agreed. Now, that’s the whole story.”

“I’m sorry for the things I said, Adam. I didn’t mean any of them. I was just upset. I suppose I’ve ruined any chance I had with her, huh?”

“I don’t know. We talked briefly, and she did say she didn’t think the two of you were compatible.”

“Yeah, she said that to me last night. Well, I still have a few gals who like me. I guess I better find one who’ll agree to be with me for Hoss’ wedding. I’ve got two weeks. It shouldn’t be a problem.” Joe was grinning and it was infectious. Adam and Ben had to smile too. The kid’s spirit was irrepressible.

By the Saturday of Hoss’ wedding, Joe had another love interest making his father shake his head. He waited for the day when Joe would choose a lady based on something more than looks, but this wasn’t the day. Kay was set to arrive with Adam, Chris, and Cassandra so Ben headed upstairs to see how Hoss was doing. He found him swearing softly at his tie. Ben stopped in the doorway.

“Got some trouble there, son?”

“This dadblamed tie is impossible.”

“Oh, the dadblamed tie is impossible, is it? Well let me see if I can tame it for you.” Ben had to smile as Hoss took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Son, it’s natural to be nervous. I got married three times, and I was as nervous as a, well I don’t know what I was as nervous as, but I was nervous. Now you love Kay, and she loves you. The two of you are going to be very happy together. Just try to think a few days down the line and don’t concentrate so much on today and tonight.”

“Oh, tonight! Pa, why did you have to bring that up now? I was nervous enough already. Dadburnit, I didn’t need to start thinking on that.”

“Hoss, take a deep breath. Ok, now another. Now just think about something calm and peaceful.”

Joe flounced into the room then and plopped down on Hoss’ bed. “Hey, Hoss, you all ready for today and especially for tonight?”

“Oh, lordy, Pa, please make him shut up.”

“Hey, I’m your best man. You need to be nice to me if you want me to stand with you.”

“It’s not too late to ask Adam. I know he would ifn I asked him.”

“You know you can’t. It’s too soon after Patricia died. It wouldn’t look right to see him standing up there.”

“I know, I know, but I also know he wouldn’t be torturing me like you are. Now you hush up and go see if Kay is here yet.”

“All right, all right, you don’t have to be so grouchy about it. You’re getting to be worse than Pa.” And Joe ducked out of the room before his father could cuff his ears. They heard him giggling all the way down the stairs.

“Hoss, he means well. Joe just thinks that laughter cures just about anything. You do feel a bit better now though, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I do. Don’t tell that pipsqueak that though or he won’t give me a moment’s peace today.”

“All right, then. I’m heading downstairs to greet our guests. You come down as soon as you’re ready. We’ll get you set, and then Kay can make her grand entrance, and we can get this wedding underway.”

Downstairs, Ben saw Cassandra but not Adam. She motioned to the guest bedroom and said Kay was in there waiting. Bao Yu was with her. “Where are Adam and Chris?”

“Chris is upset about something. Adam is still outside talking with him.”

“Do you know what upset him?”

“I don’t know. We were talking about the wedding and trying to soothe Kay’s nerves. Adam said he wished she and Hoss would have a bunch of children because he thought the two of them would be great parents. Chris didn’t say anything, and then when we got here, he broke down in tears, and Adam took him away to talk with him.”

“I think I probably know what that’s about. We Cartwright men have not been very lucky in our marriages. He’s probably worried about Kay.”

That was exactly it. Adam had walked with Chris to the garden in back of the house where the wedding would take place. He listened as Chris was able to tell him his fear. “You married Mama and she died. You said your mama died. And I know Uncle Hoss’ mama died, and Uncle Joe’s mama died. If Uncle Hoss marries Miss Kay, will she die too cause I don’t want her to die and get put in the ground.”

“Chris, not everyone who gets married dies. Lots of people live a long time together when they get married. I think your Uncle Hoss and Aunt Kay are going to be around for a very long time.”

“Are you ever getting married, Papa? I don’t think you should. I don’t want another mama.”

“Son, I have no plans to get married. I have enough to do taking care of you. We’re a family, and we have Grandpa, and two uncles and soon you will have an aunt.”

“Papa, is Aunt Kay gonna live with us?”

“No, she’ll be living here with your Uncle Hoss.”

“Will Bao Yu stay with us?”

“No, I’m sorry to say, she’ll be moving here to live with Hop Sing after their marriage tomorrow.”

“So it’s just the two of us and Cassandra living in our house?”

“Cassandra is leaving to go back to San Francisco on Monday.”

“Did you make her mad?”

“No, at least I don’t think so. No, that was her plan all along. She came out to help me with some work, and then she was going back home.”

“Why don’t you tell her to stay? I like her. She can have Aunt Kay’s room. It’s a real nice lady room.”

“I can ask her, but I think her mind’s made up.”

“Do you want her to stay?”

“Yes, I do, but I want her to do what makes her happy too. If going back to San Francisco is what she wants, then that’s what she ought to do.”

At the corner of the house, Cassandra turned to go back inside to tell Ben that Adam was still talking to Chris who seemed to be all right. She had not meant to eavesdrop, but she had. Her mind was in turmoil once again. She knew she should leave, but there was that niggling doubt that somehow she was passing up some wonderful opportunities. She had never been one to make decisions like that for herself. Her father had guided her until his death, and then the Crockers had taken her in under their wings. She did have two more days to think about it.

*****

Chapter 9

The wedding proceeded quite well. Adam and Ben stood side-by-side watching and Adam whispered that seeing Hoss get married with a backdrop of trees and the mountains seemed perfect. Ben nodded for he had been thinking the same thing. Adam sat in with the musicians for the reception and later for much of the dance. Chris danced, ate, and finally crashed. Ben sat on the porch with him and wedding guests frequently came to sit by him and talk quietly. Cassandra sat there for quite a while watching the band play although Ben suspected that it was one musician in particular that drew her attention.

“He’s had a love of music for a very long time. He badgered me to get him a guitar when he was young, and finally saved up and got one for himself. That one is probably about the third or fourth one he’s owned.”

“He plays well, but he sings even better.”

“Yes, I’ve missed his music around here. I think that may be the first time he’s played that guitar since last Christmas. You should be here at Christmas. It’s beautiful.”

“I wish I could, but I need to go back to San Francisco. I have responsibilities there and it’s my home.”

“I’ve heard many people say that home is where the heart is. Your home can be wherever you feel you belong.”

Cassandra was thinking that it seemed Ben was trying to talk her into staying as well. There was so much to think about that she decided not to think about any of it. She went back to the dance and accepted dance requests from a number of men there. Ben noted that Adam never asked her to dance. He shook his head. Those two were so conflicted that neither was likely to do what was best. As he sat and watched the rest of the evening, he thought they would have to work it out for themselves or not. He hoped they would understand that they best place for each was to be with the other but doubted that would happen. At about ten, Hoss told his father that he and Kay wanted to leave. Toasts were made and advice was given although most of it that was whispered to Hoss could not have been repeated in mixed company. Cassandra stood by Adam’s side as the toasts were made.

“Hoss looks so happy but very nervous, and Kay has never looked more pleased. They complement each other so well.”

“Yes they do. They’re a lot alike, and each has a lot to give the other.” They watched Hoss and Kay drive off in the carriage. They were spending the next two nights in Virginia City and then leaving for San Francisco on Monday. Both Adam and Cassandra had helped them with plans and reservations for their honeymoon. Hoss planned to be back in two weeks. But first all of them were invited to attend Hop Sing’s wedding in Chinatown. Both Kay and Cassandra were looking forward to that because they had never participated in any activities of the Chinese population.

Attending Hop Sing’s wedding the next day, Cartwrights were sure they had never seen Hop Sing grin so broadly for so long. He stood as proud as he could and made Bao Yu his wife. Ben had donated a case of wine for the celebration and it complemented well the rice and noodle dishes that dominated the feast. Much of what was said was incomprehensible to them, but Hop Sing’s smile with each toast and speech let them know it was all good. They cheered and drank their wine with all of the other guests. They towered over almost everyone, and the Chinese population was well aware of the white family in their midst, but smiled and nodded in recognition that these whites accepted them and wished them well. Even those who harbored ill feelings toward the white population who so often treated them badly could not think of a single instance when the Cartwrights had been anything but friendly so they grudgingly accepted their presence. Adam had ordered some Ghirardelli chocolates from San Francisco, which was added to the dessert by the talented bakers who created a magnificent cake to celebrate. Bao Yu was much younger than Hop Sing and many wished him many children. Cassandra noted the tears that threatened to spill from Adam’s eyes at that point. She had thought she had seen them earlier in the day and now was sure she had.

“You loved her very much, didn’t you?”

“Who?”

“Patricia. This must bring back such painful memories for you.”

“Not so painful any more. Many times now I think of all the great times we had together. She was adventurous and creative. She completed me.”

“It’s wonderful that you were together then even if for such a short time.”

“Yes, but we have a son, and I have great memories. I’m afraid that Chris isn’t going to remember much. He’s just turned five a few months ago. We didn’t have much of a celebration, I’m afraid. I’ll do better next year. But he’s the age Joe was when his mother died, and Joe has trouble remembering her. He often asks me or Hoss about her.”

“Then why the tears?”

Adam paused and Cassandra knew there was some hurt he had not yet healed at all. “When I hear them talk of babies, I can’t help remembering my daughter. She never had a chance to live at all.”

“My father grieved like that too. My mother died when I was very young. She was close to delivering my brother when fever swept through the city. She got sick and when she delivered, it was too much for her. My little brother died too with the lack of his mother to nurse him properly. My father and I were not skilled enough and too many other people were sick for us to be able to get help for him. He never had a chance to live either.”

“What’re you two jawing about? You look mighty unhappy being as you’re at a wedding.”

“Sorry, Hoss, your brother and I were sharing some sad parts of our past. We’ll be fine now. I do believe you said you were going to dance with me before the night was done. Now would be an excellent time to do that.”

After Hoss danced with Cassandra, he walked back to talk briefly with Adam. “Thanks for the advice you gave me. Everything went just fine.”

“Be patient, tender, and remember to ask her what she wants?”

“Yep. Worked out real well.”

“So you didn’t do what Joe suggested?”

“Nope, I didn’t think that kissing her and hugging her until she couldn’t think straight so I could have my way with her was the way to go. I’m real glad I talked with you after I talked with Joe. For a best man, he didn’t really have much to offer me in that department.”

They were chuckling as Joe walked up to them. “What’s funny?”

“We were just discussing your advice to Hoss for his wedding night.”

“Oh, yeah, Hoss, how did everything go?”

“Just fine, little brother, just fine.”

“See, I told you. All you had to do was follow my advice and she was gonna melt like butter on toast.”

Hoss was going to explain, but Adam told him not to. “It would be easier to hide Chubb under a walnut shell.”

Hoss laughed again. Joe had a question for Adam. “Why aren’t you dancing with Cassandra? You didn’t dance with her at all yesterday either. You two have a big fight?”

“No, we’re business associates. Nothing more. If she wanted to dance with me, she would be welcome to ask me.”

“Older brother, if that’s how you think, you ain’t never gonna find another gal.” Realizing what he had said and the implications of it, Joe was quick to apologize. “Adam, I’m sorry. I may have had a bit too much wine and my brain isn’t connected to my tongue any more.”

Adam told him it was all right and said he had to collect Chris and get him to bed anyway. The look on his face though said that it wasn’t all right. After Adam picked Chris up and exited to the hotel, Hoss turned on Joe.

“He was doing so much better and you had to say that. Dagnabit, Joe, we’ve talked about this. You gotta be careful what you say around Adam. He’s healing but those wounds are just scabbed over. His heart bleeds a lot yet.”

“I know. I’ll do better. Maybe it’s time for me to head to the hotel too. I want to wake up in time to say goodbye to you and Kay tomorrow morning.”

The whole family was staying in town to give a big sendoff to Hoss and Kay as they left on their honeymoon, and to bid goodbye to Cassandra who was heading back to San Francisco. Soon all of them were back in their rooms, but a couple of them weren’t sleeping. Adam and Cassandra sat at windows in their rooms and stared up at the heavens wondering what to do about the other. Adam wanted her to stay but wasn’t ready to make any kind of promises to her. He thought about how lonely his house would be especially when Chris was asleep. Cassandra wanted to stay but didn’t think Adam was ready to make any kind of commitment to her, and she wasn’t ready to make a commitment to him either. She felt he was still too much in love with his dead wife to fall in love with her. She had never been in a serious relationship with a man and wasn’t sure at all about her feelings. She decided that heading back to San Francisco was the best thing for her to do, and about that same time, Adam decided he would make one last try to convince her to stay even though he had little to offer in the way of a promise yet.

The next morning at breakfast, the conversation was light. When Cassandra said she was going to get her valise and trunk to head to the stage depot, Adam offered to help. Chris was going to go with his father, but Ben caught his arm and asked if he wanted one more doughnut. Adam flashed his father a small smile in thank you. Then he hurried after Cassandra and hoped to talk with her as they walked to the stage depot. Ben crossed his fingers under the table and hoped the two of them could reach some kind of understanding.

Adam broke the silence first. “I think I could be falling in love with you. I want you to stay, please. We can work together. We work well together, and it would give us more time to see how our feelings develop.”

“You have to be a whole person before you can find someone to love. You found Patricia and you said she made you complete. So when you lost her, you lost a part of yourself. Before you go after another woman, take care of yourself. You should offer only your complete self to a woman and not expect her to have to complete you.”

“I was accused once of being a backwoods philosopher. You seem to be doing a bit of that too. I do know that you’re doing something like that to justify running away from me. I’m not that scary so why do you have to leave?”

“I’m not running away from you. I only agreed to come here because Mr. Crocker asked me to help you because he wanted those plans. Now they’re done and there’s no reason for me to stay.” Cassandra picked up her valise and handed it to the driver. She did turn to Adam one last time. “I want to thank you for giving me respect as an architect. I know there probably isn’t another man out here who would have done that. I appreciate very much that you put my name on those plans with yours.”

“We could work together on other projects. We did some very good work together. Weren’t you happy while you were here?”

“Yes, we did good work together, but we have no other projects now, and my home has always been in San Francisco. I work for Mr. Crocker, and he will have other things for me to do. After all, he was the one paying my salary while I was here.” Cassandra ignored the last question Adam had posed.

Nodding, Adam had nothing left to say. He had done what he could to try to convince her to stay, but she seemed determined to leave. He couldn’t offer her anything more than possibilities. He wasn’t sure of his feelings and now felt even less sure of her feelings. Hoss and Kay arrived then with their luggage. Ben and Joe walked with them, and Chris was riding on Joe’s shoulders. Adam joined them in wishing the newlyweds a happy honeymoon. Before they left, Hoss quietly whispered to Adam.

“I’ll watch out for her and make sure she gets safely to San Francisco.”

“Thank you, Hoss.”

“You couldn’t get her to stay?”

Surprised that Hoss had known how much he wanted her to stay, Adam shook his head. “Yes, I told her everything I thought might help convince her to change her mind, but she’s determined to leave.”

“Well, she’s a right nice gal and you could hardly do better, but I guess she really does want to be recognized for herself and not as somebody’s wife.”

“What?”

“She and Kay was talkin at the wedding. That’s what she said.”

“I’ve never even kissed her and we certainly never talked of marriage. Why would she talk like that?”

“Well ifn you don’t know, older brother, then I ain’t the one to try to explain it to ya. Now you think on what you oughta do next while I have myself a great time in California with my wife. My wife! Dadgummit, it sounds good when I get to say that.”

Adam and the others stood watching the stage drive off before they headed home. Ben drove the carriage and Chris rode with him. Adam and Joe rode their horses. It was a beautiful day so they didn’t hurry. Work would be there regardless of when they got home. Joe looked over at Adam and wondered what he was thinking although he had some idea.

“Do you love her?”

Startled because he had been wondering the same thing, Adam took a moment to answer. “Joe, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I know what love is any more. I thought I had it so many times, and it’s never worked out. I’ve jumped into relationships instead of easing into them. I’m sure you know what I mean. I don’t know if what I felt was love.”

“You loved Patricia. I know it. Heck, everybody knows it. You just got a rotten deal there. It doesn’t mean the next time you’re in love, it’s going to be bad.”

“Oh, I know that, but Cassandra talked to me about taking a look at myself and finding out what I want. I really don’t know. I’m just not sure. I don’t know how she feels either.”

“Then maybe you ought to look at yourself because all the rest of us figured out that she’s interested in you.”

“Is that enough because I don’t know if it is? The only time I’m sure of myself is when I’m with Chris. Then I know that being his father is one thing that I want with all my heart. I couldn’t bear to think of living without him.”

“What are you going to do now that Hop Sing and Bao Yu get married? Are you going to hire someone else?”

“No, I’ll bring Chris over to the house when I’m working on the ranch. Kay already said she would help take care of him when she gets back, and with both Hop Sing and Bao Yu, there should be plenty of help to watch over him. The next week will be a problem though until Hop Sing and Bao Yu are back. He’ll have to come with me for some things. When I’m working on plans, he can be in the house with me. Even this winter, it shouldn’t be a problem because we’re not that far away. I don’t have any trips scheduled so that’s the plan for now.”

“No trip to San Francisco?”

“Not unless there’s some Ponderosa business I need to do. I’ve got some commissions for house plans here so I’ve already got plenty to do.”

Ben cut away to Adam’s home to drop off Chris, and ten minutes later, Ben and Joe were home too. Ben noticed that Joe was looking very pensive and asked him what he was thinking.

“Adam isn’t going to go after Cassandra. It sounds like he’s just giving up on the idea. I was thinking it might be a good idea if you can think of some reason to send him to San Francisco.”

“Two weeks ago, you were thinking he wasn’t interested. Now you want them together?”

“Two weeks ago, I heard what he said and believed it. What he never said though was that he cares about her. I’ve been paying attention. He really wanted her to stay.”

“I’m not going to interfere in his life and neither should you. He knows he can go anytime he wants. He needs to want to go. Let’s give him some time to figure it out. He’ll be over for dinner every night this week. We’ll see if he wants to talk about it or not.”

“Who’s cooking?”

“We’ve got leftovers from the wedding for the first couple of days. Adam said he would make a stew on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are up to us. Saturday we’re all going to town for a good dinner. Breakfast will be bacon and eggs I’m afraid with ham sandwiches for lunch. Feel free to jump in and volunteer to cook anything you want. The hands who are left will be handling their own meals until our cooks get back.”

“Will Adam continue to come to dinner then?”

“I expect he will. Chris will be here most days anyway. He’s going to be lonely in that house with just the two of them. It’ll be good for him to be here.”

“Maybe being lonely is what he needs to figure out what he wants.”

*****

Chapter 10

For Adam, being lonely hit hard and fast. He had been living with three women in his house and suddenly it was just his five-year-old son there for company. He missed the wise advice of Kay, and he missed the soothing presence of Bao Yu who never seemed to get upset about things and moved quietly and serenely about the house. But most of all he missed Cassandra. She had stimulated his mind and gotten into his broken heart. He found himself thinking almost as much about her as he did about Patricia, but it was Cassandra who invaded his dreams and made it difficult to sleep. He dreamed of running his fingers through those long wavy locks as she lay beside him and he kissed those full, luscious lips and cradled her petite body next to his. He would wake and put it off to simple lust, but he had to wonder and did why it was always Cassandra and no other woman.

There certainly were other women. As soon as it was clear that there was no other woman vying for his attention, many decided to fill that void. They dropped by the house with the best of their baked goods and preserved fruits and jams. They asked if the seat next to him was taken when he was in church. He was invited by any number of families to dine with them and found usually that there was a spinster, widow, or lonely young woman who had also been invited. He began to find innumerable excuses to evade those invitations, and in church began making sure he and Chris were the middle of the family as they sat so that there would be no empty seat beside him.

Joe began his teasing of Adam as being irresistible to women, and Ben was relieved when Adam played along with mock anger. He was coming to terms with his loss of Patricia. It was his loss of Violet that still hurt him so much and made him feel guilty. On Thanksgiving Day when Hoss let slip that he and Kay would be having a baby, Adam was decidedly low key in his response and quiet for much of the rest of the day. Ben decided there that he needed to find a way to talk with Adam about his losses. Ben thought Chris was becoming too attached to Adam as well. He never wanted to go anywhere without his father, and moped around the house often when Adam was out working on the ranch. Ben knew that over the winter months, Chris and Adam would be spending most of their time together. In Ben’s mind, Chris needed to meet other people and have children with whom to play. Chris could also benefit by having his own activities that were not always dependent on his father. The first talk did not go well.

“Don’t you think perhaps Chris could spend some time with us at the house? You keep him with you so much, we hardly get to see him any more.”

“He prefers staying with me.”

“Or is it you prefer him staying with you, and he has gotten so dependent on you that he can’t accept love and attention from anyone else?”

“Pa, he has one parent. I have to be both his father and his mother. There’s a lot to do raising a boy like Chris alone. I would think you would understand better having done it with me.”

“Yes, that’s why I do understand. You feel guilty that he doesn’t have a mother. What is necessary is having Chris be with other people, play with children, and spend time away from you so he can learn to be independent and learn about others. I’m not trying to be critical of you as a father.”

“Well, I would hate to hear what you have to say when you are being critical then.”

“Adam, I care so much about you and your son. I hate to see the two of you withdrawing from the rest of us and from others. I know you are both still grieving your losses, but now, more than ever, you need people and so does Chris. Please consider what I’ve said. I only mean it to help. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Silence from Adam was the only sign that he had accepted at least some of what his father had said. Ben knew that if he disagreed completely he would have continued arguing. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder and felt the tension but didn’t let that stop him. Adam needed that even if he didn’t know it. He needed to be around others and let them help him heal.

“Will you and Chris be here for dinner at the usual time?”

Nodding, Adam walked to the stable to retrieve his son who spent a lot of time playing with the kittens Hoss had in there. When he got there, he heard Chris talking and took the second emotional blow in only a short time.

“You kitties don’t have a papa, and I don’t have a mama. We’re a lot the same. I’ll be like your papa if you want. I’ll make sure you’re safe. I’ll teach you everything I know. It’s hard with just us. My Papa says we got to be strong. Well, you kitties have to be strong then too. Don’t be crying because it makes your mama sad. I don’t cry because it makes my Papa sad.”

Making a bit of noise before walking any closer, Adam let Chris know he was there so he wouldn’t feel embarrassed. He seemed to have no idea that his father had heard. Adam told him it was time to go. As they rode home, Adam wondered aloud if there weren’t some changes they ought to make at their house.

“Hmm, I wonder if we should get a milk cow and a few chickens. There’s room in the stable. Sport and Rusty would probably like some company. Of course, a pony might make even better company for them. I don’t suppose you would like a pony yet, would you? I mean next year, you’ll be going to school and you won’t be able to ride a lot of the days so the pony could be lonely. And we would need somebody to take care of him, groom him, and feed him and such, and you’ve never done that kind of thing, and I really don’t have time to add that much work to my day.”

“Papa, I could do it. I could take care of all of them. You just show me how, and I’ll do all of it every day.”

“Well, Chris, that would mean getting up with me at dawn and going out to do chores before you even had any breakfast. That’s an awful lot to ask of a five-year-old.”

“I can do it, Papa. I want to do it.”

“Well there would be chores at the end of the day too. The animals have to be fed and watered in the evening too. Then someone has to be sure the stable is locked up tight every night so no animals can get in there.”

“Papa, I will. Honest, I will.”

“All right, then. Tomorrow, we’ll ride over to a couple of the ranches around here that sell ponies and see if they have one suitable for you. Now, don’t be too disappointed if we don’t find one tomorrow. We may have to look around a bit first to find just the right one. We’ll have to get you a saddle too.”

“And a cow and chickens too?”

“The chickens we can get from Hop Sing. He won’t mind giving up just a couple to lay eggs for us. We’ll ask him when we go over to dinner. I’ll build a small coop inside the stable. I think I have all I need for that. We can get more chicken wire when we’re in town next, and I’ll make a small run for them outside too. The milk cow will be just like the pony. We’ll have to look around until we find a good one.”

They were home by then, and when Adam slid off the horse and then reached up for his son, Chris dropped into his arms and hugged him fiercely. “Thank you, Papa, thank you.” He saw that made Adam’s tears flow. “I’m sorry I made you cry, Papa.”

“They’re tears of joy, son. Never worry about tears, Chris. When someone cries, it means they care.”

“All right, Papa.”

The two of them groomed Sport, fed him, and watered him. Adam had some work to do before they headed back to the main house for dinner. He told Chris to play outside if he wanted, but Chris said he would rather be inside with his father. “I can read while you work, Papa. I don’t like being outside alone.”

When Adam finished his work inside, he asked Chris to help him put together a simple chicken coop. He planned to make it larger when he had more material, but it would do for the short term. Later they took the carriage and went to the main house for dinner, and Chris detailed all the things he and his father were going to do. Hoss and Kay sat and listened grinning at how excited Chris was. Ben looked at Adam as Chris ran to tell his Uncle Joe what was planned. “You never do anything small, do you?”

“Were you planning on rescinding any of your advice?”

“No, I like all these ideas. It’s a lot to do though.”

“I have more free time these days. I was thinking of hiring a housekeeper too. If we have these animals to care for, and if Chris wants to be outside more, that would be a good idea.”

“You’ll still be coming over for dinner, though?”

“We’ll still come to dinner just as we have been. Chris loves dinner with the family, and I occasionally don’t mind it either.” Adam was grinning so there was no offense taken. He got smiles back.

The next day, Adam and Chris took the carriage to visit several ranches. They had brought home two chickens and a milk cow from the main Ponderosa compound the night before as well as more grain. His father had said they had less need for milk now that Chris was older. For the day, they planned to look for a pony, and if successful, head to town to get a saddle. At the second ranch they visited, they found the owner ready to sell several ponies. Adam looked them over and made a recommendation to Chris and asked his opinion. All the adults had to hold back snickers as Chris mimicked all the moves Adam had made running his hand along the legs and haunches of the pony and rubbing its neck.

“I think this is a good one, Papa.”

“Good. Now Mr. Darlington says he has a saddle for sale too because his children have outgrown riding ponies. Let’s go see if we want to buy that too.”

Inside the stable were three small saddles. They were all dusty and the Darlington teens went to get rags from the tack room and rubbed them down so that they shone. Adam picked out one and paid the man for the pony and the saddle.

“Say, Adam, if you wanted to give the boy a pet, I got a puppy that needs a home.”

“We just added a cow, two chickens, and a pony. That should be enough for him for a while. I’ve spent a lot on the pony and the saddle so I think we’ll pass on the puppy.”

“Well, you see, this puppy would be free. I saw how gentle your son was with the pony. This puppy needs that. He was the runt of the litter and has a bad leg to boot. He probably won’t be worth much other than as a house pet if you wanted one. I’ll probably have to put him down otherwise. I got too many here to take care of already, and I won’t be able to sell that one.”

Seeing tears already forming in Chris’ eyes, Adam sighed and agreed to take a look. The puppy was a collie. When Adam picked him up, he snuggled against Adam’s shirt collar and wormed his way into his heart almost immediately. Mr. Darlington noticed Adam rubbing the puppy’s back almost without thinking about it.

“So could you take him off my hands. If he doesn’t work out for you, it won’t cost nothing to get rid of him.”

Adam could tell the man wasn’t serious but Chris didn’t know that. “Papa, we hafta take him. He’s gotta come with us.”

“Well, Fred, I can see why you have such a great reputation as a horse trader. You’ve left me no choice. We’ll take him. I don’t suppose you know of a housekeeper I could hire. With all the extra work I just brought down on myself, I could use some help.”

“Well, I do have an idea if you don’t mind. Our neighbor, Mrs. Travis, needs the work and probably a place to live pretty soon. Her husband got caught up in that saloon brawl where the miner got killed. He’s serving a couple of years and she doesn’t have enough money to pay the rent on their place. We’ve been sending over food and such as we can, but we can’t afford to pay her rent too. The place is getting pretty rundown. She’s got a boy not much older than yours. I hate to see them evicted, but I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen. With winter coming on, it would be just a shame.”

“Damn, you are good.”

“Papa, you said a bad word.”

“Sorry, Chris. When you’re older, I’ll tell you about a couple of old pirates I know. They have a tendency to make me use bad language.”

“Is Mr. Darlington a pirate?”

“He could be. He just managed to make me walk the plank twice. All right, we’ll go over to see her and see what she thinks of the idea.”

“You know that boy of hers would probably like to ride too. I could give you a discount on a second pony and another saddle.”

“All right, we’ll see. Chris, let’s get out of here before I have to agree to anything else.”

Laughing, Mr. Darlington loaded the saddle in the back of the carriage, and wrapped the puppy in an old horse blanket. “You can bring the blanket back when you come for the other pony.”

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

“Adam, I got three youngsters to handle and they all think they’re all grown up already. I have to be sure of myself. Just wait until yours is about ten years older. You’ll know what I mean.”

There was a lot to talk about at dinner that evening. Chris was most excited about his puppy, but spent a lot of time talking about his pony as well. Ben liked what he saw. Adam had done a lot in one day to get Chris excited about living again, and although Ben would not have had a dog in the house, he could easily see Adam with one, and Chris would love having the dog as a companion. Chris did not want to visit for very long after dinner because he wanted to get home to his puppy. He invited Hoss to come visit. Adam had mentioned to his father that he was going to see Mrs. Travis to see if she would work for him as a housekeeper. As soon as Adam mentioned that he still intended to join the family for dinner, Ben endorsed the idea. Within a week, Mrs. Travis and her son, Michael, moved into Adam’s home. Mrs. Travis told him that her husband had about two years left on his sentence, and she would be happy to work for Adam until her husband was released. Michael was very quiet, and Adam learned that he was teased a lot because his father was locked up. One visit from Adam to the boys who were doing the teasing when they saw Michael in town, and the teasing stopped. Men were intimidated by a few words from Adam when he was angry. Some six-year-old boys were frightened into good behavior.

Christmas was a joyous occasion, and Mrs. Travis and Michael were included in the celebration with family. She nearly cried when Adam told her that. Adam was teaching the two boys to ride, and Christmas Day was clear and there was no snow on the roads. Adam let the two boys ride the ponies to the main house as he drove Mrs. Travis in the carriage, which also contained all the presents he was bringing for the family and for Mrs. Travis and Michael. Ben noticed that at times Adam looked quite sad even though there was so much good happening around him.

“Still hard to forget all that happened last year?”

“Ah, no, well, yes, but if you’re asking if that’s why I’m a little melancholy, that’s not it. Mostly I miss Cassandra and wish she was here.”

“Have you written to her?”

“Not really. I sent a letter with news of all that’s been happening, and I sent a card for Christmas. I haven’t received a reply.”

“Well, I hope she sends you something soon.”

Nodding, Adam smiled a little smile and got back into the spirit of the season. The snows came heavy and hard starting that night. Adam had a rope strung between the house and the stable but wouldn’t allow the boys to use it. He did all the chores in the stable for most of the next two months. The boys took care of the puppy who grew fast and was house trained rather easily. He slept in Chris’ room at night. Once a week, Chris had to comb his hair. Other than that, he had to be let out to do his business several times a day. In order to keep the boys busy, Adam taught them to do some basic reading and math, and he provided lots of paper for drawing. He had quite a lot of that because Patricia had stocked up and then never used the stack she had. Mrs. Travis was busy cooking and cleaning although Adam insisted that she include Chris when handing out household chores to do. Finally near the end of February, Adam got a Christmas card and letter from Cassandra telling him what she had been doing. The bad weather had delayed the arrival of all mail from California because the passes were snowed shut that year. When Adam told Ben what had arrived, Ben only had one question.

“When are you going to go see her?”

With a tilt of his head, Adam considered what his father had said. “As soon as I can.”

“The mail came through so travel is opening up again. If you go now, you can be back before it gets real busy around here in spring.”

“I’m not sure if I should go though.”

“Now you’re not sure you should go though. Just a minute ago you said you would go as soon as you could. Get home and pack. I’ll give you a ride to town in the morning. I’m tired of seeing you mope around here thinking about her and missing her. Go see her. Find out where you stand one way or another. Then come back here hopefully with her in tow.”

Almost six months after she had left Virginia City, Cassandra was standing and watching guests mingle as another of the Crocker parties when she heard a familiar rich baritone voice say her name. She whirled around.

“What are you doing here?”

“Well, Mr. Crocker must have invited me because they’re checking invitations at the door. You can’t get in without one.”

“No, what are you doing in San Francisco?”

“Well, when we parted, I realized that there was one thing I should have done and didn’t. Can we walk outside on the terrace to talk?”

Nodding and walking briskly outside, she wasted no time. “What should you have done and didn’t?”

“This.” Adam stepped close to her until her body was touching his ever so slightly, and he bent down to kiss her gently.

Her heart was pounding and she felt a bit dizzy. She had to wonder if he had come all this way to kiss her. “I should slap you for taking liberties like that.”

“Yes, you probably should. I didn’t ask first, and I should have.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was afraid you would have said no. I couldn’t bear the thought of coming all this way to kiss you and then not being able to do it. I rode in a stage for twice as long as normal and slept on the floor in a way station for nearly a week because of a blizzard. I was waterlogged by the time I got through all the rain and the flooding in Sacramento. But I had to see you. It took twice as long as usual to make this trip. You may slap me now if you wish.”

“I don’t need your permission to slap you.”

“No, you don’t, but I was letting you know in advance that I would accept it. I hope you don’t mind my making assumptions, but I thought you would like to know that.”

“You are infuriating!”

“Yes, it’s part of who I am. I have lots of other parts. Perhaps there are a few you like?”

“You are also insufferably arrogant and conceited.”

“Yes, guilty there too. More parts of me you obviously don’t like. Aren’t there any parts you would like to mention favorably?”

“Can you dance? You had a lot of opportunities, and you never asked me to dance when I was in Virginia City.”

The music from inside was almost as loud on the patio with the doors to the house open to admit the mild breeze. Cassandra turned to go inside when Adam agreed to dance, but he pulled her hand to stop her. “It’s crowded inside. How about dancing out here?” He extended his arm, and Cassandra agreed. He pulled her to him and they began whirling around the patio. When that dance ended, they waited together for the next and danced again. When the second dance ended, Adam asked permission to kiss her. She smiled and nodded. It was a gentle kiss again. The two of them had a lot of time to determine how they felt about each other, and Adam did not want to rush into anything nor push her for fear she would push away. He would be patient with himself and with her.

Up on the second floor balcony, Mr. and Mrs. Crocker stood arm-in-arm. “Looks like our little fledgling is ready to try her wings. Did you intend this when you sent her out to work with Adam?”

“I thought they would work well together and that would boost her confidence and help him get back on track. That they may have found even more is a wonderful development.” He kissed his wife then. He adored her and hoped that Adam and Cassandra might one day find such happiness and fulfillment. He had done what he could. The rest was up to them.

On the patio, Adam and Cassandra continued to dance for a short time. When they tired, they sat side by side on a bench and talked. Adam laid out his plan for what he wanted her to do, and she listened to his offer of a partnership in his architecture business.

*****

Chapter 11

“Adam, if you would stay here in the city, I could get you a lot of work. Many people are familiar with your work here now, but you would need to be here to supervise the building.”

“Mr. Crocker, I’m an architect, but I’m also a rancher, and I have interests in railroads, timber, and mining as well. I want to do it all. Virginia City is enough for me right now.”

“What about Cassandra?”

“She’s agreed to come back to Virginia City with me and work with me on several projects I have now. I took some only on the contingency that I could get an assistant. She will be very busy, and she will be a full partner in that business.”

“I hate to lose her. You do know that she’s been very sheltered her whole life. If you take her to Virginia City with you, you’ll need to accept responsibility for taking care of her. I would hate for you to hurt her in any way or allow her to be hurt. She has been a valuable employee, and my wife and I have grown very fond of her. She is like a daughter to us.”

Hearing the hint of a threat in there, Adam let himself get a little angry but kept control of it. “Cassandra will stay at my home, and there’s probably no safer place for her than on the Ponderosa.”

“In your home? Isn’t that going to tarnish her reputation, unless you already have plans to marry?”

“No, no plans yet, and I’m not sure if she’s interested in a man who’s nearly forty and has a five-year-old son. But my house is a menagerie. No one is going to think anything improper is going on. I have a housekeeper and her son living there now. In fact, I’ll be sleeping in my library as all four bedrooms are taken.”

“You’re an architect. Why don’t you add on?”

Smiling, Adam looked Mr. Crocker in the eye. “I was thinking that Cassandra would like to have some say in the addition.”

Thoughtfully, Mr. Crocker looked at Adam and gradually understood. “Yes, that’s a good idea. Well, how about a toast to your future and to Cassandra’s. May the fates look upon you kindly.”

Toasting with Mr. Crocker, Adam couldn’t help but worry about pulling Cassandra into his life. He wanted so much to see her be happy and hoped that he would be the reason, but he knew she needed more than that. Her name on their business might be just what she needed. They would be Cartwright and Harding, Architects. He had gone to school to learn the profession and she had interned with her father. They probably had more training between them than many architectural firms had. She was the practical one and he was the innovative one. Their plans for Mr. Crocker were a result of them butting their heads over each and every design element. Adam looked forward to that again. It had been stimulating and invigorating. He hoped she had felt the same and would welcome it as much as he anticipated enjoying it.

Their trip home was without any incident until they were nearing Reno. They had taken the more northerly route as the roads were better in that direction and they could take the train from Reno to Virginia City. At the last way station on the stage line, speculation among the other passengers as to Adam’s relationship with Cassandra led to an ugly encounter. From the moment they boarded the stage in Sacramento, a couple of businessmen traveling with them had speculated on Cassandra’s relationship with Adam. They had concluded that she must be his mistress because she was so much younger than he was, and they heard him talk about his family and his home that clearly were not her family and her home. Finally as they talked on the last night of the journey, they shared a flask of whiskey.

“I’m thinking that if she gives him what he wants for money then she wouldn’t mind a little extra business. When she comes out here to use the necessary, I’m gonna give it to her.”

“What if she doesn’t want it?”

“She’s hardly in a position to say no. She’s just a high priced painted lady. That respectable outfit she’s wearing doesn’t fool anyone. Underneath it all, she’s just a woman like any other who sells herself. Heck she needs to get what she can while she’s still got her looks.”

When Cassandra came out to use the necessary, the man was waiting for her. As she exited the necessary, he grabbed her and pushed her back against the wall of the station house. His hands seemed to be everywhere as she tried to fight him, but she was too small to be effective. She did manage one scream before he clamped one hand over her mouth. Then suddenly Cassandra was thrown to the ground as the man was grabbed and pulled away from her. Adam began hitting the man repeatedly as the man backed up against the wall in a feeble attempt to get away. Cassandra called for Adam to stop and the man’s friend and the driver pulled at Adam’s arms to get him to stop. He brought his knee up as forcefully as he could between the man’s legs. The man fell to the ground retching and spitting blood from his torn lips and his tongue, which he had bitten nearly through. Adam pulled a sobbing Cassandra to him. She was crying as much out of fear as she was in dismay at the fierce anger Adam had displayed. He held her until her tears slowed and she was able to talk again.

“Adam, please take me inside. Please?”

“All right, but I’m getting blood on your dress from my hands.”

“I’ll change. I don’t think I could ever wear this dress again anyway. I’ll burn it.”

Inside, the station manager did what he could to help Adam bandage up his knuckles as Cassandra went into a bedroom and put on a different dress. Soon the other man and the driver came inside.

“You could have killed him.”

“I didn’t, but I should have. Any man who treats a woman like that doesn’t deserve to live.” With Adam’s tone of voice, no one was about to challenge him much but the other man still had to say one last thing.

“I get it. She’s your mistress, but you shouldn’t begrudge another man a little honey.”

Within seconds, Adam had the man backed up against a wall. “She is no one’s mistress. She is an honorable, decent young woman, and you have no call to say such filthy things about her.” Adam felt a light touch on his arm.

“Adam, please. That’s enough. Let’s just try to forget this ever happened.”

Releasing the man, Adam was still furious, but he couldn’t deny Cassandra what she asked. He moved to the other side of the room with her and sat glowering at the other man. Finally the driver came into the station.

“I got him settled in the tack room in the stable.” Looking pointedly at the other businessman, he made a strong suggestion. “Someone ought to sit with him for the night. Then the two of you can take the next stage out of here in the morning.”

“Wait a minute. That ruffian gets to ride out of here in the morning, but we have to wait?”

“Well. I’m looking at who started the trouble not who ended it. If the two of you jaspers hadn’t been drinking and talking stupid, would any of this have happened?” When the man dropped his head, the driver told him to get out to the stable. “I’ll bring you some blankets and some coffee. Don’t come anywhere near the station tonight, or I might get an itchy trigger finger wondering who’s skulking about. Is that clear?” Once the man left the station, the driver looked over at Cassandra and the developing bruises on her face and neck. “Ma’am, you can press charges in Reno, if you’ve a mind to.”

“No, no, I just want to keep moving. I want to get to the Ponderosa as soon as we can.”

“The Ponderosa? Then you must be Adam Cartwright. I heard her call you Adam, but I didn’t catch the last name. Reckon those two had no idea who they were messing with. You look a lot different with that city slicker suit on and such.”

Nodding, Adam asked Cassandra if she was ready to sleep. She said she didn’t want to be alone, so he said he would sleep in the rocker that was in the bedroom, and that they would keep the door open so no one could say anything improper happened. It took some time, but both calmed down and slept eventually. The driver slept on a cot in the main room with his pistol by his side because he didn’t trust the two men he had left in the stable. The station manager left his bedroom door open for the same reason, but nothing happened and the night passed peacefully. The next day Adam dressed in his black clothes and wore his gunbelt. There was no doubt looking at him that he was dangerous to anyone who threatened Cassandra, and that was exactly what he intended.

In Reno, Adam bought a couple of high-necked dresses for Cassandra. She told him not to, but he said he felt he owed her that at least. With some light powder, no one would know except by close inspection, that Cassandra’s lips and face had been bruised. The rest of the trip was uneventful, but there was less talk between the two. Cassandra didn’t know how to bring up Adam’s dark anger and the violence of which he was capable, and he thought she was upset with him for failing to protect her. They were nearly in Virginia City before they broached the painful subjects.

“I’m sorry I failed you. I should have escorted you outside. Mr. Crocker would not be happy with me knowing that you had only been with me for a week before you got hurt.”

“Adam, that wasn’t your fault. I should have known better than to go outside on my own. I’m not a match for any man physically and I know it. I was overconfident.”

“Then why have you been so quiet since then?”

“Your anger scared me. I had never seen that in you, and had no idea you could be so violent. I heard the stories, but I guess I never really understood what they meant.”

“I’m sorry about that too. I just can’t stop myself when someone I love is being hurt.”

About to say more, Cassandra had to pause. “You said you love me?”

“I do. I know it now. I had enough time this winter to sort out my feelings. You were in my thoughts and in my dreams. I missed you terribly. I know you think I’m still in love with Patricia, and I have to admit, I am. I’ll always love her, but she’s gone, and I love you here and now. You’re a different kind of person than she was, but I love you as much as I loved her. I didn’t mean to declare it so soon, because I didn’t want to scare you away. I know I’m not that much of a prize. I’m almost forty, and I have a five-year old son, as well as a lot of history of failed relationships. I hoped that if we were working together, you could sort out your feelings and see if there was a chance for us. Now, you need to understand that I do respect your skills as an architect and think they complement my own. No matter what happens, the offer of a business partnership is there. If I can only know you as a friend and business partner, I’ll accept that. It’s your decision.”

“Wow, I don’t think I ever heard you talk so much. I’m not sure. I do love you, Adam, but I’ve never even been in a romance before. I don’t know how much love is enough. If you’re willing to wait, I’ll do my best to figure out what I want. I do want to work with you or I wouldn’t have come with you. I trust you. I love you. I don’t know if what I feel is enough.”

“You have time. I won’t rush you into making a decision. We’ll see each other every day. We’ll do some great work together. We’ll see.” Adam smiled and pulled her close for a gentle kiss. He held his passion in check because he knew he had been correct in thinking he shouldn’t do too much and scare her away. He decided he would continue to be patient. She had said she loved him. That was a first so he would wait for more. “I should probably get you ready for a few changes that have happened at my house. I have a housekeeper, Mrs. Travis, and her son, Michael, lives there too. He’s very shy and quiet. I got a puppy for Chris, and he lives in the house too. I think you’re going to like Lucky very much. He’s quite affectionate and likes nothing better than to sit by someone’s side and let them pet him. I have two ponies, a milk cow, and two chickens in the stable as well as Sport and Rusty. Now that you’re back, I can get a horse for you to ride too. The boys like to ride down to the lake. Mrs. Travis refuses to get on a horse although some of it is probably because the house is a lot quieter when we go for rides. Gives her a little peace and quiet.”

Cassandra smiled as Adam talked. She could hear the joy in his voice. She had never heard it before so clearly. He was enjoying life again, and he had said he loved her. She had not meant to tell him so soon that she loved him, but now she was happy she had. She did trust him, and his offer to let her decide in her own time was very reassuring to her. She did have trouble making decisions because she was always so worried she would make a poor decision. She missed not having her father or the Crockers there for advice. She sighed deeply. It was going to be very interesting getting used to everything and making up her mind.

Adam had sent a wire from Reno as to their expected arrival time. He was surprised to find that it was one of the hands who was there to greet them. “Sorry, Adam, but Mr. Cartwright has a guest, and Joe and Hoss were already up working on the spring round-up.”

“Thanks for being here, Dan. We’ll get our bags and be with you shortly.”

Wondering who the guest could be, Adam got their bags from the stage and stowed them in the back of the carriage. He asked the depot manager to check and see if any of Cassandra’s trunks had arrived. There was one so they loaded that too. Adam asked if they would deliver any others as they came in because they were expecting three more. The station manager agreed, and they headed home. The carriage had hardly stopped before Chris came running from the house with Lucky bounding after him. He leaped into his father’s arms for a hug but soon turned to Cassandra.

“Cassandra, I’m so glad you came back. I have so much to tell you and show you. When do you think you want to go see my pony?”

“Well, I guess I could do that right now while your father takes my things inside.”

Another young boy was hanging back near the porch. Adam signaled for him to come over. “Michael, this is Cassandra. She’s going to be staying here too. Would you like to show her your pony because Chris is going to show her his pony?” Michael nodded and followed the pair as Chris was chatting away. Adam watched them go and smiled. He was thinking that perhaps this was going to be easier than he had thought. Chris was genuinely happy to see her here although he had pleaded with his father not to leave a month earlier when Adam had explained what he wanted to do.

After carrying Cassandra’s trunk and valise into the house and up to his bedroom, Adam told Mrs. Travis that Cassandra would be staying in his room. She looked shocked and then Adam realized she didn’t know he would be sleeping in the library so he told her.

“Well, sir, I didn’t think you were that kind of man, but you had me going there for a bit. I’ll be sure to tell Michael that he can’t go in there whenever he wants any more.”

“Michael goes in the library?”

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I hope you don’t mind. He likes to look at the books in there and try to read some of em. He and Chris have been trying to read one about living under the sea. I been trying to help them with reading it, but some of them words is more than I can handle.”

Assuring her that he would take over that duty, Adam went down to the stable. The boys were showing off the ponies. Adam asked them what they had named them because they had been changing their ideas of what to name them all winter long. Chris had decided to name his Neptune and Michael had named his Jules. Adam had a very good idea where those names had originated and was pleased that Cassandra was familiar with the book too. It would be an activity they could all enjoy in the evenings when the work was done.

“How about a ride over to see Grandpa?”

The boys eagerly agreed, but Cassandra said she didn’t have a horse to ride and wasn’t dressed for it. “Go get dressed for it then. You can ride with me over there and ride your own horse back. I’ll see if I can get the same one you learned on last fall.” With the boys encouraging her too, Cassandra agreed. Adam and the boys saddled up Sport and the two ponies and waited for her return. Inside the house, Cassandra realized that the blouse she had to wear with her riding skirt showed the bruises on her neck. She was attempting to tie a scarf to cover them but couldn’t see well enough to tie it to be sure they were covered. She went to ask Mrs. Travis for a little help so the boys wouldn’t see the bruises and ask any questions.

“My Lord, the mister didn’t do that, now did he?”

“No, of course not, oh no. However he beat the heck out of the man who did it. He’s got quite a temper when somebody hurts someone close to him. It was rather frightening to see. I just don’t want anyone to see and ask any questions. If you could help me tie it so the bruises don’t show, I would appreciate that so much.”

“Mister Adam does have a reputation of being pretty fierce when somebody does something to his family.” Within a minute, Mrs. Travis had tied the scarf to cover the bruises.

Once Cassandra got out to the stable, it didn’t take long to mount up. Lucky wanted to come along and Adam said they would go slowly for the benefit of Lucky and for Cassandra who was sitting behind him on Sport. She had her arms around him and was hanging as if her life depended on it. Adam smiled as he enjoyed the hug regardless of the reason he was getting it. He figured that at a brisk walk, he had about a fifteen-minute hug coming up. Somehow she knew he was smiling although it could have been because of Chris’ comment.

“Boy, Papa, you seem real happy to be home too. You look as happy as I feel.”

Adam had to grin more with Michael’s comment.

“Mr. Cartwright, your lady friend looks real scared. She could ride Jules if that would help?”

“No, I’m sure she’s fine sitting behind me. It won’t take that long to get to the house.”

Once they arrived at the house, Ben heard the commotion and came outside. His house-guest came with him. She was a little dismayed to see a woman riding with Adam, but was a bit reassured by his greeting and then his introduction of the three with him. “Beatrice, how good to see you. I would like to introduce you. Lady Dunsford, this is Cassandra Harding. She has agreed to be my partner in my architecture business. This is Michael who is my housekeeper’s son, and this is my son, Chris.”

After Adam expressed his condolences on the passing of Marion from a heart attack the year before, Beatrice came up and gave Adam a hug and a quick kiss in greeting. Then she said hello to each of the others, but Cassandra detected a coolness in the greeting she received. Lady Dunsford’s next move reinforced that impression. Beatrice slipped her arm through Adam’s elbow and steered him toward the house. Adam glanced back with a sheepish look and shrugged. Cassandra saw Ben raise his eyebrows, and then he offered his arm to Cassandra. The boys trooped in after them.

In the house on the table near the gun case were several rifles. Adam walked over to them immediately. Beatrice reached for the best of the lot and handed it to Adam.

“I’m personally delivering some items my husband bequeathed to friends. He wanted you to have his prized hunting rifles. He said he had never met a man who could use a weapon better.” Beatrice handed another one of the rifles to Adam then, and Cassandra noted how her hand rested on Adam’s as he held the weapon. “Marion would have been so happy to see how much you value what he had.”

*****

Chapter 12

Even though Adam insisted that he needed to pick out a horse for Cassandra and get it back to his house, Ben asked that they all stay for dinner. Ben sent Dan to tell Mrs. Travis not to expect them until after dinner. Ben had been trying to entertain Beatrice for two days as they waited for Adam’s return. Kay was there but didn’t know Beatrice and had not warmed up to her either. Beatrice had not made much of a secret of the fact that she wanted to see Adam very much, and that had irritated Kay a great deal. Beatrice had mentioned to Ben that she was only two years older than Adam, and that they both loved to travel and hunt. Ben had tried to tell her that Adam was interested in someone else, but Beatrice had only smiled at that when she heard how young Cassandra was. When she saw her the first time, she was momentarily shaken a little in her confidence because of the youthful beauty of the young woman, but wondered how she could make that work to her advantage.

After dinner, Beatrice asked Adam to please stay. He declined saying that Cassandra was new to riding and he needed to escort the boys home as well. She again slipped her arm through his and announced she would walk to the stable with him. Although Adam smiled, the tightening around his eyes and his stiff posture let his father know that he was not happy at all. Adam managed to get free from Beatrice long enough to get a horse from the corral for Cassandra to ride. He saddled it up, but had Beatrice by his side with everything he did. Cassandra stood by the boys who had gotten their ponies ready to go and had tightened the cinches with Ben’s help. Adam walked to Cassandra and helped her mount up on her horse. He turned to grab Sport’s reins and Beatrice was right there to give him a big kiss on the lips and wish him well. She asked him to come over the next day to collect the hunting rifles, and he said he would.

The boys were excited on the ride home because they were always excited to be riding, but Adam was very quiet. When they got back, Adam said he would take care of the horses and the ponies. Cassandra walked with the boys to the house wondering why he wanted to be alone. She knew Beatrice had thrown herself at Adam, and she wondered what he was thinking. She didn’t get any answers that night. Adam was quiet and did the most talking when he began reading the Verne book to the boys who told him it made a lot more sense when he read it.

“Papa, we read so slow and then we have to ask Mrs. Travis about some of the words. By the time we finish a part, we have lots of trouble remembering what happened.”

“Well, one of you can sit on each side of me and I’ll run my finger along as I read. You can follow that way and learn more words as well as hear the story. How’s that?”

There was no verbal answer but Adam soon had a boy tucked up against each side of him as he read. Cassandra sat in another chair and listened to the story. She was thinking that told in that voice of his, any story would be a pleasure to hear. She was tired though and went to bed before the boys did. Adam had not retrieved any of his clothing from his bedroom nor had he set up the cot in his library, so he ended up sleeping in his clothing in the chair with his feet up on the ottoman. His thoughts were troubled though so he didn’t sleep well. In the morning, he was grouchy when it was time to go to work with Cassandra.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, of course not. Why?”

“Because you’re barking at me like I did something wrong, and if this is how a partnership with you works, I think I made the wrong decision.”

Adam stood up from where he had been leaning over the drafting table. His first inclination was to get angry and storm out of the room. Luckily he held back from doing that. Instead, he simply said he was sorry and wouldn’t do that any more. “Please, can we get back to work? I need to go over to the main house. I want to get the preliminary work done here because my brothers will be expecting my help with the roundup.”

“Of course, you need to go over to the main house.” Cassandra was a bit peeved when she remembered those kisses Lady Dunsford had laid on Adam, and the way she was so familiar with him and hanging on his arm whenever she could.

Taking a moment to review what he had heard, Adam stepped to Cassandra’s side of the table. He lifted her chin with one finger. Leaning in very close, he had a question. “You’re not jealous, are you?”

Her answer came too fast. “Of course not!” And it came out a little too vehemently. Adam knew then that she was jealous.

“You are first in my heart. There is no room for another woman. Beatrice tried to use me to make her husband jealous when she was here last. It didn’t work. I was attracted to her, but nothing happened. I think she plans to use her wiles on me, but she will fail. You are the one I love.” Adam leaned down and kissed Cassandra softly. “You said you trusted me. Well, trust me now that I am concerned about Beatrice, but only because I do not want to hurt her. I like her, and I feel sorrow for her. She has lost the only family she had.”

“Well you didn’t have to let her kiss you.”

Leaning down, Adam softly kissed her. “Did you see me kissing back?”

“No, but couldn’t you push her away or something?” That brought a laugh from Adam, which irritated Cassandra even more. “I’m serious. I don’t like seeing another woman kissing you.”

“Sweetheart, I have other friends who are women. Some of them may come up to me and give me a hug or even a kiss. Are you going to be jealous every time?”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? You said you love me but you let other women kiss you.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It looked the same to me.”

“That’s only because I’ve been holding back with you. I didn’t want to pressure you into more than you were ready to accept.”

“I don’t even know what you mean by that.”

So Adam wrapped his arms around Cassandra and drew her in tightly to him. He leaned down and kissed her but didn’t let go. He brushed his lips back and forth over hers and used his tongue to tease her lips apart. She was unsure of what he wanted but yielded to the pressure. When he put his tongue in her mouth as one hand cupped one of her buttocks and pressed her body tightly against his, she had feelings that she had never experienced before. She didn’t even realize that she had grasped the back of his head with her hand and held him tightly. When he pulled away a little, she was breathless. “That’s what I mean by that. That’s how I want to kiss you all the time, and I want to do so much more. I’ve been holding back because I didn’t want to scare you away by asking too much of you too soon.”

Pausing to catch her breath and to get used to these new feelings, Cassandra said nothing at first. “You never kissed old Lady Dunsford like that?”

“I have never kissed Lady Dunsford at all. She has kissed me and you saw both of them.”

“Will you kiss me like that again?”

“Ever or now?”

“Now would be very nice.”

But Adam never got the chance as Chris could be heard coming near. It was one time that his chatter was very welcome for it was an early warning system for the two. Adam released Cassandra and they were standing by the drafting table when Chris entered. He wanted permission to go into the library to get some of the picture books Adam had in there. Because there were a few books Adam preferred the boys not see until they were older, he went with them and picked out several books he told the boys they could keep in their rooms. The boys were very happy and settled in front of the fireplace to look through the books. That reminded Adam to go get more of his clothing from his bedroom and that he needed to set up the cot in the library as well. By the time he returned to the office, Cassandra was busy making measurements on the site map.

“This afternoon, let’s go look at the site. Then we can write down some preliminary design ideas and you can work on those while I’m helping with the roundup over the next week. I’m heading over to the house now. Do you trust me with Lady Dunsford?”

“I’m sorry I was so jealous.”

“Actually I think it turned out rather well. I should be back by lunch, and we can head to town after that.”

As promised, Adam was back by lunch. He had taken the carriage so that he could collect the rifles that Beatrice had brought for him. He had let his father know his plans, and he managed to dodge Beatrice inviting herself to take a ride on the Ponderosa with him. He said he had to go into town to do a site evaluation, and that as his partner in the business, Cassandra would be going with him. Then he told his father that he would join his brothers on the spring roundup the next day. It was easy to see the conflict Ben was having internally over that. He understood that Adam needed to avoid being with Beatrice, but he also wasn’t thrilled that he would be hosting her, and likely would see Cassandra and Chris for dinner each evening as well. He suspected there was going to be some fireworks sooner or later between the two women. Adam had mentioned quietly to his father that he was already dealing with a jealous woman at his house and didn’t want to have to deal with another who could jeopardize his developing relationship with Cassandra. Beatrice was a determined woman however and managed to give Adam a goodbye kiss that was anything but chaste. She held his arm and made an offer to him as if he would seriously consider her proposal.

“Perhaps you will think fondly of me over the next few days. I’ll be waiting to spend some time with you when you return. The kiss was only a promise of what you could have if you wanted more. I’m not married now and neither are you. We could be quite a match. Your son could be the next Lord Dunsford.”

“Lady Dunsford, I am sorry, but I’m already committed to Cassandra. Perhaps if I wasn’t, then I could consider your proposal, but as it is, I’m sorry that I must decline your offer.”

“Well, you’re not betrothed or I would have heard that, and you’re not even courting her. Surely you could disentangle yourself from her. She’s much too young for you anyway. You need a mature woman who can give you what you want most. I’m sure she hasn’t offered you anything yet. She hardly touches you unless she has to.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to have this conversation with you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment, and I don’t want to be late.”

Cassandra had noted how flushed Adam was on his return. As they drove to town, she had to ask how things had gone. “You know you can tell me anything. I trust you. But I would like to know what got you so upset this morning.” So Adam told her what had happened, but made her promise that there would be no retaliation.

“She’ll get tired of waiting for me. She’s an intelligent woman who is grasping at whatever she thinks she can grab to pull herself out of her sorrow. When she realizes that I can’t be grabbed, she’ll move on.”

“I’m not so sure. You’re quite a prize, and according to Mrs. Travis, there are still a number of women in town hoping to have a chance with you.”

“Well, there’s only one woman I hope to have a chance with, and she’s sitting right beside me. Now is that enough reassurance?”

For an answer, Cassandra slipped her arm through Adam’s as he held the reins, and leaned against him with her head on his shoulder. He smiled. It felt very good to have her there beside him.

Once they got back home, they immediately started discussing the building they were to design. The client was newly wealthy and wanted everyone to know it so Adam explained that the house had to be opulent, but he hoped to do it in good taste so he wouldn’t sour his reputation with other potential clients. The site was steep in front as well so they could create an elegant entrance as requested by using the hill to create a grand staircase from the street. However their client was quite corpulent and Adam wondered how he would like climbing those stairs every day.

“How about if we create a second entrance that is private and for use only by the family? We could make it quite elegant as well but have it enter from the side yard where it levels out. He could be driven up his drive and then walk into his house quite easily from there.”

Adam stopped and stared at Cassandra for a moment making her wonder if he thought her idea preposterous. He didn’t. “That is a fantastic idea. It would be another feature that would make our designs unique. I’ll design a front facade to resemble walking into a Greek temple, and then we can use smaller versions of that to create a private family entrance.” Adam wrapped his arms around her then and kissed her soundly. It wasn’t as passionate as the kiss he had given her that morning, but it was certainly more of a kiss than the gentle ones he had given her before. Chris who chose that moment to enter the office to ask when his father and Cassandra would be finished with their work also witnessed it.

“No, you can’t kiss her. I don’t want you to kiss her.” Then he ran from the room and they heard the door slam as he ran outside.

“I better go talk with him.”

“Yes, you should. I’ll keep working.”

In the stable, Chris was standing and crying. Adam found him there and sat on a bale of hay waiting to see what Chris would say next.

“Mama wouldn’t like you kissing Cassandra!”

“If Mama was here, I wouldn’t be kissing anyone but her. But Mama is in heaven. She would want us to be happy.”

“We are happy. We don’t need anyone else. I don’t want you to have anybody else.”

“Son, I know you’re upset, but I love Cassandra.”

“You can’t love her. You love Mama.”

“Yes, I do. I love Cassandra too.”

“How can you love both of them?”

“A person’s heart can love a lot of people. I love Grandpa. I love Uncle Joe. I love Uncle Hoss and Aunt Kay. I love Hop Sing. I love you, and I have loved you from the moment I knew I was going to have a child.”

“I love all those people too, and I love you, Papa.” Chris came over and sat by Adam on the bale of hay. Adam wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close. The fight had gone out of him. Now he was confused and unsure of himself.

“Do you love Cassandra?”

“I did, but I don’t want to any more.”

“Why?”

“Because, because, she’s going to take you away from me!”

“No, that will never happen. One thing I am absolutely sure of in my life is that being your father is the very best thing that ever happened to me. Loving you is the most important thing in my life. I will always be your father, and you will always be my son. You are more important to me than my life itself.”

“Then if I ask you to make Cassandra go away, you will?”

“Do you want me to do that?”

“Maybe.”

“Son, I won’t do that. Sending Cassandra away will make her very sad and make me very unhappy, but it won’t make life any better for you. Sometimes, you have to realize that other people have needs they have to do something about, and it has nothing to do with you. Loving Cassandra doesn’t mean I love you any less. Making her leave won’t make me love you more.”

“If she went away, would you be very sad like you were when Mama went away?”

“Not as sad because she would still be alive, but I only want her to leave if that’s what it takes for her to be happy. I’m hoping though that staying here with me is what will make her happy.”

“All right. I won’t ask her to leave, but she better be nice to you, or I’ll be mad at her.”

Smiling, Adam hugged his son even closer. “If she’s ever naughty, I’ll tell her you said that.” Adam stood then and offered his hand to his son.

“Papa, could you give me a ride on your shoulders instead?”

So Adam had Chris stand on the bale of hay and then hoisted him up on his shoulders. They walked to the house where Michael was waiting on the porch. He had known something was wrong when Chris bolted from the house and was relieved to see father and son happy again. He didn’t remember his father very well, but he knew he hoped his father would be like Adam when his father finally got out of prison. That night, Adam took his family over to the main house for dinner. He did his best to keep Cassandra at his side so that Beatrice would not have an opening. It worked well, and except for a few rather sharp comments Beatrice made, there was no trouble. Adam was relieved when he could help Cassandra and Chris into the carriage and head home. He thought he would have at least the next four days with no worries from Beatrice.

After getting Chris in bed, Adam went to the office to review the work Cassandra had done. It was precise as he expected. He smiled and walked out to sit by the fireplace and enjoy a brandy. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it and took off his socks too. He put his feet up on the coffee table and smiled as he heard his father’s voice in his head telling him to get his feet off the table.

“What are you smiling about?” Cassandra was walking down the stairs. In the low light of the room, she looked a bit ethereal in her robe. “I couldn’t relax so I thought I would come down here to see if you wanted to talk for a while.”

“I would love to talk for a bit. I do need to try to get a good night’s sleep because I’ll be sleeping on the ground the next four nights.”

Snuggling up next to Adam on the couch, Cassandra found herself staring a bit at Adam. His chest was covered in dark curly hair. She had seen hair like that at his neck but had no idea how much there would be on his chest and abdomen. She draped a hand over his arm even though she actually wanted to run her hand over his chest.

“Where did you get this scar on your arm?”

“I was in a gun fight. I won.”

“And this one?”

“Another gun fight.”

Then she leaned back and began examining him. “What about this scar on your shoulder?”

“My best friend shot me before I had to shoot him. He had lost his mind, and didn’t know what he was doing, but I still couldn’t let him kill me.”

“That’s very sad. You must have loved him very much to feel so badly about it yet.” Cassandra had noted that his eyes were glistening when he explained that one. “Where did you get this scar on your stomach?”

“That one is courtesy of some Apache. Luckily I wasn’t awake for most of that recovery. When I was, that hurt like a red hot poker.”

Cassandra wrapped an arm around him and felt scar tissue on his back. “Where did you get this long scar on your back?”

Adam paused so long before answering that one that Cassandra knew it was more significant somehow than all the others. “That one is from Patricia trying to kill me.”

“She tried to kill you? I never knew that.”

“Patricia’s disease stole her from us long before her body died. In some ways, that helped the grieving because I missed her long before I buried her.” For the first time, Adam told Cassandra all about Patricia. He told her how they had met, how they ended up being married, about Secret Spring and the cabin there, about how he found out she was ill, and the death of little Violet. When he finished talking, she held him. They sat that way for quite a while until Adam shifted so that he could kiss her. This time, Cassandra followed his lead until both of them decided they should each go to their individual bed before things got too heated. Emotionally exhausted but happy that he had been able to tell everything to Cassandra, Adam slept very well. Cassandra did a lot of thinking before she fell asleep.

*****

Chapter 13

In the morning, Cassandra slept later than usual. When she awoke, she panicked because she was worried that Adam might have already left and she needed to tell him something. She dressed as rapidly as she could and raced down the stairs. The boys were finishing their breakfast, and Adam’s place was already cleared. She stopped in the middle of the room and her shoulders slumped until she heard a voice behind her.

“Looking for anyone in particular?”

“Adam, you startled me. I thought you had already left.”

“Not before I saw you. I am ready to go but I was making a few notes about the design we’re working on. Would you like to go into the office to see what I’ve suggested?”

“Yes, there’s something I wanted to tell you too.”

As Adam escorted Cassandra into their office, they could hear snickering from the boys and Michael’s question. “Ya think your pa is gonna kiss her again?” They couldn’t hear Chris’ answer, but more snickering followed it, so Chris probably agreed. Adam pulled Cassandra close to him.

“The boys are very perceptive some times. Now what did you want to talk about?”

“I was thinking a lot last night. Now don’t get that worried frown. It’s all good. I decided that I do love you enough. I thought about it last night and realized no one ever trusted me like you did, and I have never trusted anyone like I trust you. I can’t imagine being anywhere else now. Well I can, but I would be miserable. I want to stay here and work with you, but I want more too. Is that being too forward, because I really don’t know how to do this, and it makes me talk and talk and I’m not sure if I’ve said enough or too much.”

Any further nervous rambling was cut off by the kiss Adam gave her. He pulled her as close as he could and kissed her with passion that he had been holding in. In a moment, she was gasping for breath.

“Oh my, lord, when you told me you were holding back, I had no idea. I’m not sure I’ll get any work done today. I’ll only be thinking about you.”

“I’ll be thinking about you too especially sitting in that saddle. It’s likely to be a bit uncomfortable at first.” That made Cassandra blush. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. I love you, and I’ll be thinking about you a lot until I can come home. It should be in about four days. It usually takes a good week, and Pa said that Hoss and Joe have been up there for a few days already. Now, I do need to get going so how about looking at my list, and then I can go?”

Cassandra did her best to still her racing heart and then picked up his list. “You want a moveable wall between the parlor and the study?”

“Yes, he’ll want that when he knows we put them in Crocker’s house. He’ll have the most unique design in the city. It’ll be something he can show off even if he never uses it as intended. But it does give them a grand room for entertaining if they ever want one. Then we’ll put some louvered doors above the built-in buffet in the dining room so they can open those during a party too.”

“All right, then. I’ll draw the supports and load bearing walls. Will each bedroom have its own water closet?”

“Yes, unless you find a problem in the design because of it. You can have the other bedrooms share a water closet then, but make sure that the master bedroom has its own.”

Confident that she knew what had to be done, Cassandra kissed Adam lightly. “Say hello to your brothers.”

Once Adam had said goodbye to his son and asked him to look out for Cassandra, he left for the roundup. His brothers were glad to see him, but of course, had to rib him about being late just because of a woman. That night around the campfire, he told them about bringing Cassandra home and that the two of them were beginning a romance.

“Thought you was romancing her all along, older brother.”

“I was trying, but now she wants it too. There is one extra complication though.” Then Adam told them about Lady Dunsford and her proposition. That only got Joe going again on Adam being irresistible to women. Hoss had to laugh heartily at that, but Adam could only shake his head. “I don’t know why I try to have a serious conversation with you two. How did I ever get mixed up with the likes of you two anyway?”

“I think Pa had something to do with it. Hey, how is Chris taking this? He must be upset a bit seeing you trying to replace Patricia.”

“Joe, I’m not trying to replace Patricia. I had to talk with Chris about that. I told him I still loved his mother, but she’s in heaven, and Cassandra is here. Now, I need some sleep. I didn’t get enough last night.” After Joe’s snickers got Hoss going too, Adam added an addendum to his previous statement. “We were up late talking.” There were more snickers so Adam simply lay down and rolled on his side leaving his brothers only his back. They soon tired of the teasing when he didn’t respond.

The next morning very early, Beatrice asked Ben if there was a horse she could ride that day. “I would love to ride around to see some of the things I saw the last time I was here. I’ll be careful. I know there are dangers out there. You know I can shoot, so I’ll be safe.”

Agreeing to provide the horse, Ben suggested that if she could wait, he would ride with her. She declined and asked if she could head out immediately. Reluctantly Ben gave in to her request asking her to please not ride too far from the house. Ben waited for some deliveries he had scheduled for that day. Lunchtime came and went with no Beatrice. After lunch, Ben saddled up and headed out in the direction she had left. He was not a tracker like Hoss or Adam, but he was good enough to see that as soon as she was out of sight of the house, Beatrice had turned her horse to head toward the high pastures where the roundup was in progress. Ben shook his head in frustration wondering what kind of trouble she would cause up there but helpless to stop her when she had a five hour head start.

At the roundup, Adam talked with Hoss and Joe what they would do after lunch.

Joe offered a plan. “I’ll take the bottom of the draw with a couple of hands. Hoss you take the top with some men and get them moving. When they come out, I’ll head them toward Adam, and he can turn them downhill. If we get them moving fast, we should have the whole bunch of them headed in the right direction within an hour.”

Both Adam and Hoss liked the plan. Adam mentioned that if everyone rode down behind the cattle they could get them circling and then settle them until the next day. That would give them hours to do a full count. They told the men what they were doing so that as soon as lunch was finished, everyone mounted up and headed to the spot where they were assigned. Adam relaxed where he was but did not dismount. These cattle were edgy, and that made them more dangerous than usual. He didn’t want some ornery steer or cow using him to get revenge from being driven from their favorite grazing grounds. He had been grazed by a horn once when riding to turn a stampeding herd, and it had hurt for a very long time. He had also seen a cowboy gored. That man had died, and it had been a slow agonizing death from infection in his abdomen. Those early experiences had given Adam a healthy respect for the horns on cattle.

Four hours later, Joe rode into the yard at the Ponderosa. Ben came out and Joe told him that Hoss was right behind him with Adam. “Adam got hurt, Pa. I’ll ride for the doctor if you’ll get a bed ready and tell Hop Sing and Bao Yu we’re gonna need a bunch of bandages and such.”

“What happened?”

“Adam got gored in the leg.”

“How?”

“When he mounted up, he was too close to where the cattle were running and one collided with his horse. That’s when he got gored in the leg.”

“What in tarnation was Adam doing dismounting in the middle of cattle during the roundup? He’s known better than that since he was twelve years old.”

“Well, Pa, Lady Dunsford had dismounted and with all the noise, I guess she didn’t hear Adam yelling to her to get back up on her horse, so he charged over there, and grabbed her and got her up on her horse. It was just too late for him to mount up and get out of there safely.”

Looking as fierce as Ben ever looked, he had one more question. “Where is that woman?”

“She’s with Hoss. She was a big help after Adam got hurt. She’s had some experience with wounds. Between her and Hoss, they got most of the bleeding stopped. Pa, I really need to ride for the doctor.”

“All right. I’ll get things ready here.”

Within about fifteen minutes, Hoss arrived with the chuckwagon. Lady Dunsford was in the back with Adam keeping pressure on the wound. Adam was pale and sweating, but he was conscious. He wanted to go to his house, but Ben said they would go get Cassandra and Chris as soon as they got Adam settled in a bed so that Hop Sing and Bao Yu could get to work on him. He was too weak to argue. Hoss and Ben carried him into the house and put him in the downstairs guest room. The bleeding started again because the pressure was removed and they moved him. Hop Sing immediately had them elevate his leg and pressed a large bandage over the wound. They wouldn’t do much of anything else until the heavy bleeding subsided. Hoss left with the wagon to get Chris and Cassandra. Lady Dunsford offered to help, but Ben ordered her from the room. She could tell how angry he was with her so she offered no resistance. When Cassandra and Chris arrived, it was all to clear to Lady Dunsford that Hoss had told them what had happened. Ben met Cassandra at the door to the bedroom.

“He wants to see you, but I don’t think Chris should go in there now.”

“Ben, I think it’s important that Chris goes in with me. He needs to see his father side-by-side with me.”

Understanding that there was a lot more at stake here than Chris being frightened because of the blood, Ben nodded and pushed the door open behind him. He pulled it closed as Cassandra and Chris went inside. Then he marched over to the chair where Lady Dunsford was sitting. “What in tarnation did you think you were doing?”

“I wanted to see Adam to talk to him about a proposal I made. I had no idea cattle here were so dangerous. At home we have cattle and they are quite docile.”

“And do you have men at home who would abandon a woman they love in order to accept the proposal of a near stranger who appears in their midst?”

“Adam and I are not strangers.”

“You know nothing of his life. You don’ know about all the things he has endured over the past year and a half. He was just getting back to being himself, and you showed up. That woman in there loves him, and he loves her. All you have done is to make life more difficult for them. Do you really think he would give up the woman he loves to travel with you and enjoy your wealth? If you do, you don’t know Adam at all. You are, in fact, strangers to each other.”

“I never meant any harm.”

“You didn’t mean any harm the last time when you so brazenly flirted with Adam in order to make your husband jealous. I think it would be a good idea for you to think about leaving and soon.”

Because Ben was so angry, he almost didn’t hear Cassandra’s statement to him. “Ben, Adam wants to see Lady Dunsford.”

“Now?”

“Yes, he wants to talk with her for a bit. He’s doing all right.”

Beatrice walked to the guest bedroom with trepidation. Inside, she saw Chris sitting at the head of the bed with his hand on his father’s shoulder. Hop Sing was still holding a bandage to the wound, but Bao Yu had draped a sheet over Adam’s leg and the pillows that were supporting it so that there was nothing to see that could upset a young boy. Beatrice thought that Adam would ask the others to leave when he talked with her, but he didn’t.

“Lady Dunsford, I tried to tell you that I was not interested in a relationship with you. I feel sorrow for your loss, and I wish there was something I could do for you, but you are the only one who can help you now. Please, let this be the last conversation we have. I forgive you for what you’ve done or tried to do, but it has to end now. You need to move forward instead of trying to capture something you thought you might have had in the past.”

“You haven’t lost your talent as a backwoods philosopher. I’ll be leaving in the morning. Marion did want you to have those rifles. He made a list of bequests when he knew his heart was failing. I guess I best get on with the rest of those deliveries.”

“Where will you go next?”

“San Francisco, and then a ship to India, I think.”

“I do envy that, but I have all that I need right here.”

Cassandra was sitting by his side holding his hand, his son was at his shoulder, and she knew his father and brothers loved him deeply. She smiled and said a simple goodbye before exiting the room. Soon after, Joe rode in with the doctor. He did make Chris and Cassandra leave the room as he got to work. Sitting out in the great room as Adam moaned and occasionally yelled was torturous for his family and Cassandra. Hoss took Chris out to the stable almost as soon as the doctor had gone in to the room to work on Adam. Kay sat beside Cassandra and held her hand doing her best to try to ease her torment. Finally the sounds ceased and Hop Sing came out with soiled cloths followed by Bao Yu who was carrying a basin of discolored water and who knew what else. The doctor came out and told Cassandra and Ben they could come on in. Joe and Kay stayed by the door as the doctor talked.

“I’ve seen a lot worse with you Cartwrights. The horn caught him right in the muscle but luckily didn’t tear anything away from the bone. I cleaned the wound and stitched it up. That bandage needs to be tight and his leg must be elevated at all times. I don’t want him out of this bed for two days at least for anything. Even then, he needs to keep the leg elevated. So two days in bed and not getting up for any reason. Then he can get up for limited times to do what he must, but at all other times, the leg stays elevated. He needs to use crutches to walk and not put any weight on that leg for at least a week. It might be longer. I’ll be back in two or three days to check on it unless there’s a problem. Then call me, but I have two people in my office recuperating from wounds so I’ll be there most of the time.”

“Doctor, did you mean not even to do his, ah, business?”

“Yes, Ben, not even for that. That leg needs to stay where it is for the next two days. I know he won’t like it, but he’ll like it a lot less if he loses that leg. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. There’s a lot of damage. I think it will all heal, but for now, that leg is going to be prone to swelling. If it swells up, it’s going to be very difficult to get it drained and there will be a significant chance of infection and tissue loss.”

The doctor handed Ben several envelopes of laudanum powder. He knew that Ben and Hop Sing knew what to do with it. Ben knew they had a urinal from when Joe had been confined to bed with a broken leg. Adam was likely to hate using it, but it was only for two days. By then, Chris and Hoss were back, so Ben explained that Adam had to stay in that bed for two days. Chris was disappointed that his father would not be coming home, but they were only ten minutes away so they could easily spend the day with Adam and sleep in their own beds at night. Cassandra and Chris stayed with him until dusk. Ben and Hop Sing said that they would sit with Adam that night. He slept most of the time.

The next morning when Beatrice left, only Ben said goodbye. Cassandra and Chris were sitting with Adam and Beatrice thought it best if she didn’t interrupt their family time. Hoss and Joe had gone back to the roundup, and Kay was helping in the kitchen as Hop Sing readied a tray for Adam’s breakfast. A hand drove Beatrice to town so that she could get a ticket for the train.

*****

Chapter 14

“Did you just call me a turd?”

“Yes, I did. You are an ungrateful turd! Everyone has been doing everything they can to help you, and all you do is bellow and complain when you’re not pouting.”

“I do not pout.”

“Well, what are you doing right now then if it’s not pouting?”

Sitting in the great room, Ben and Kay had to hold back snickers as they listened to Cassandra and Adam argue. It had been two days of almost unrelenting ill humor from Adam. He hated being a patient. He was humiliated by the things that had to be done for him, frustrated at not being able to do anything except lie in bed all day and all night, and in pain all the time because he refused the laudanum which he said just made him nauseated anyway. The combination had made him more ornery than usual while recuperating. Ben expected the doctor to arrive to check on him, and felt almost sorry for anyone who had to go in that room. Well, Chris got the best behavior out of Adam. Ben wondered aloud if perhaps they ought to have Chris stay over to keep Adam on his best invalid behavior. Although if the doctor endorsed him using crutches, then things would definitely improve. Everyone visibly sighed with relief when the doctor did okay limited movement with crutches as long as he kept his leg elevated most of the time. That also meant that Adam could move back to his house simplifying life for everyone as well.

Being limited in movement and in what he could do, Adam was also forced to slow down his romantic pursuit of Cassandra. They were able to work together as Adam managed with a large board across his leather chair and his leg up on the ottoman. He found it difficult to draw accurately sitting like that but could review the drawings and made sketches of how the house would look on the site and of how the rooms would look inside. Working hard on the plans, both were surprised when their client came for a visit. Cassandra showed him into the library where Adam worked and slept.

“Good morning, Mr. Morris. I wasn’t expecting to see you so I’m sorry about the state of this room. It’s where I’ve been confined for most of the time the last two weeks.”

“Well, I heard that news that your were injured. I was coming out to tell you that I may have to hire another architect because I want to be in that new home by winter.”

“Mr. Morris, there’s no need to do that. In fact, because of my injury, we’re almost done with your plans. If you like, I can show you what we’ve done. We were getting ready to make our presentation to you anyway.”

Cassandra went to the office to get the drawings and specifications as Adam opened his portfolio of sketches. Over the next hour, they went through the entire plan including the two separate entrances and the moveable wall similar to what was in Crocker’s new home in San Francisco. Cassandra smiled a bit when she saw the look Morris had when he heard that. Adam had shown a keen understanding of what their client wanted. He gave her credit for the second entrance which Morris liked as well. By the end of their meeting, Mr. Morris told them to go ahead with the blueprints and asked for a recommendation for a builder. Then he opened his wallet and paid them their fee. He left with a big smile, which was mirrored on the two architects who had completed another project successfully. Adam pulled himself up and stood with his crutches.

“Damn, I want to ditch these things so much.”

“The doctor comes out today. Perhaps he will free you from them.”

Tentatively, Adam put weight on his injured leg. It still hurt a lot. Even if the doctor told him he didn’t need the crutches, he was going to be limited in what he could do for some time yet. When the doctor got there, he was a bit surprised when Adam said his leg hurt when he tried to put weight on it.

“What kind of pain are you feeling in that leg?”

“Sometimes not much of anything, but by night, it kind of aches with a dull pain that just doesn’t go away unless I rest that leg for a long time. If I try to stand on it, there’s a sharper pain that seems to shoot up my leg.”

“Let me try something.” The doctor went out to his buggy and brought in some splints. He splinted Adam’s leg from the ankle to just above the knee. Then he asked him to try putting weight on his leg.

“That hardly hurts at all. I won’t need crutches with this.”

“Hold on just a minute. What I think is that you have a broken bone in that leg.” Seeing Adam’s incredulous look, the doctor explained. “If there’s a break that runs vertically in a bone, we can’t see it or feel it. However, I splinted your leg as I would with a break, and that made the pain diminish significantly. That’s the best diagnostic tool I have for this. You, sir, have a broken leg. Now it’s probably the smaller bone in your leg. If it was the larger bone, I would think you would have more pain. Now it shouldn’t hold back the healing if you want to walk on it, but take it easy, and if you have a cane to use to ease some of the strain, that would be a good idea.”

Adam smiled. A cane would be a small inconvenience and he could still do a lot of things. “How long do I have to wear the splint?” He agreed with the doctor’s assessment and thanked him. Once the doctor left though, Adam had a more disappointed look. Cassandra had to ask why because the day had gone so well to that point.

“I already missed most of the roundup, and now I’ll miss the drive. There isn’t much I can do on the ranch at the moment, and I can’t even go for a ride with my son. I feel like I’ve let my family down.”

“Oh, no, I put up with that crabby pouting and then the grouchy invalid. I am not going to put up with the guilt obsessed moron.”

“Did you just call me a moron?”

“Yes, it is moronic to feel guilty over things you cannot control. If you had gotten hurt on purpose, it would be quite different, but this guilt over what did happen is moronic so I will not tolerate it.”

“Oh, and what are you going to do about it?”

Cassandra showed Adam then what she hoped would be a more common occurrence. She reached up to pull his head down to hers and kissed him with all the passion she possessed. He dropped the crutch he had used to stand, and wrapped his arms around her pulling her close.

“Sweetheart, we’re going to need to do something about us before this goes any further.”

“Oh, and what are we supposed to do about this because I like kissing you very much?”

“The question really is do you want to do more than kiss?”

“I do and I don’t. The whole idea is rather frightening to me, but I do trust you. I never want to be anywhere else but in your arms.”

“Then this next part should be a lot easier. Cassandra, I love you from the depths of my soul. I never thought I could love someone as much as I love you. I want you by my side forever. I want you as my partner, as my lover, and as my friend. You helped me find what I had lost. You helped me find hope again. You helped me find my smile again. I have the courage to face anything as long as you are with me. Cassandra, will you consent to be my wife?”

“Oh, yes, Adam, yes.” Cassandra did a repeat of the earlier kiss but with even more enthusiasm. “When do you want to get married?”

“I was thinking today would be good, but I suppose you want time to get ready.”

“I think today is good too, but your father would kill you if he didn’t get to put on a wedding this time. He still seems peeved that you got married to Patricia in San Francisco without him being there.”

“Yes, and I have to tell Chris too. I hope he takes it well.”

“He’s seemed fine with us since the two of you had your talk. He’s been very nice and helped me with chores and such since you were hurt.”

“All right, then, I’ll tell Chris, and if he takes it well, we can all go over to tell my father. We’ll have to wait until my brothers are back from the drive. That’s another month.”

“I want to write to Mr. and Mrs. Crocker to tell them and ask them if they can attend.”

“So, a month from now?”

“How about five weeks to make sure your brothers are back.”

They sealed their agreement with a kiss. Adam picked up one of his crutches then and limped out to find his son. Cassandra picked up the other crutch because they could bring them back to the main house. She had been amazed to find out that they had crutches and a wheelchair in storage there. She assumed they must have a cane as well. She had asked Adam once if his brothers had as many scars as he did, and he had said they each had their fair share. More and more, Adam had been telling her of the family’s history. It was such a fascinating and complex tale especially in contrast to the simple history of her family that she was able to tell him in just one evening. Kidnappings, shootings, stampedes, three wives and three losses for Ben, the three half-brothers, college, investments, travel, and so much more created a huge story. Adam had told her of his failed relationships and his doomed marriage to Patricia. She had told him he ought to write down this family history so it could be told to future generations, and that was when he told her of his journals. He had written most of it already. He wasn’t sure what he would do with the journals, and she had asked to read them. Adam had allowed her to read them. She had spent many evenings reading through the experiences and thoughts of the man she loved. She felt she knew him so much better than she had known anyone including her father. Now she had agreed to give herself completely to him. She was a little frightened at the prospect and wondered if Kay could help her out. She had five weeks to get ready.

Adam found Chris in the stable as expected. There was no problem getting the boys to do chores for they loved being treated like they were grown up, and they also loved their ponies. As usual, Chris was chattering away and Michael was relatively quiet. Michael looked a little worried when Adam asked him to go help his mother so that he and Chris could talk.

“It’s nothing to worry about, but Chris has a right to know before anyone else.” Once Michael left, Chris waited. He knew that it was something serious but also something good because his father had that relaxed look he had when things were going well. “I have some news for you. I hope it will make you happy because it has made me very happy. Cassandra and I are getting married.”

Chris sat on a bale of hay and thought for a moment. “When?”

“In five weeks. That way, Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe can be here too as well as some friends of Cassandra’s from San Francisco.” Adam sat down next to Chris.

“What’s gonna change?”

“Well, not too much I guess. Cassandra and I will share my bedroom. Otherwise, things will pretty much be the same although we may add a room to the house for us.”

“All right.”

Adam wrapped an arm around Chris and pulled him close. “Thank you. It is so wonderful for me to have the two people I love the most as my family.”

“Are you and Cassandra going to have a baby like Uncle Hoss and Aunt Kay are?”

“I would be happy if that happens, but we’ll have to wait and see if God blesses us with a child.”

“How long would it take to grow up?”

Wondering at first what concern Chris had, Adam smiled when he thought he understood. “If we have a child, he or she would always be six years younger than you. They won’t be able to grow up any faster than you did.”

“Well why would they be six years younger because I’m not even six yet?”

“By the time a baby might get here, you’ll be six at least. It takes about nine months for a baby to grow enough to be ready to be born.”

“Is there a baby growing up inside Aunt Kay then? I was wondering why her tummy was getting so round and why Uncle Hoss puts his hand on her tummy and she smiles.”

Adam nodded but cringed inside for he knew what the next question had to be.

“How did the baby get in there?” Thinking only a few seconds more, Chris wondered about something else. “How does it get out?”

So Adam spent the next fifteen minutes explaining the basic birds and the bees to his son. He had not realized how hot it was until he started talking about that. Sweat was beading on his forehead and running down his back before he finished his short talk. Chris looked at him almost in disbelief but remembered what he had seen with the horses on the ranch and knew too that his father would never lie to him about something so serious. It had to be true. He decided he wouldn’t think about that part of life ever again. There was one thing of which he was absolutely sure though. “Papa, I am never going to do that.”

Adam couldn’t help it. He laughed and hugged his son. “Wait about six or seven years. You may begin to change your mind on that.”

“I don’t think so. As long as you’re gonna do that and try to have a baby with Cassandra, could you make it a boy. I want a brother.”

“I’m afraid I have no control over that. We’ll get whatever God decides we should have.”

“Do you think God knows what you’re gonna do with Cassandra?”

Laughing again, Adam relaxed. This was more enjoyable than he ever thought it would be. “I’m sure He does. He’s the one who created us with the parts that fit together so we can do that to make a baby.”

Chris thought about that for a moment and then shook his head. Life’s mysteries were very strange sometimes. Adam told him then that they were all going over to Grandpa’s house to tell him, and gave Chris permission to tell Michael and Mrs. Travis. As Chris was about to run to the house, Adam called him back for a warning.

“Now you can tell them about the wedding plans, but don’t say a word to them about the talk we had about making babies. That is something that a son learns from his father like a daughter learns from her mother. It is not for anyone else to tell Michael.”

Chris was clearly disappointed, and Adam was glad and relieved that he had thought to tell his son that. He turned to try to get the harness for the carriage horse. He was still struggling with it when Cassandra came out to help him. With the two of them working together, they soon were ready to go. Adam was going to call for Chris when he came running out of the house.

“Mrs. Travis is worried that you won’t want her working here any more.”

Adam looked at Cassandra who told Chris to go tell Mrs. Travis that they might need her more than ever. Adam wrapped an arm around her shoulders as Chris ran back to the house. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

“Yes, I think you ought to have more children. You’re a great father, but you do seem awfully warm for just hooking up some harness.”

So Adam told her about the talk he had had with Chris. She enjoyed that immensely and had only one thing to add. “Oh, I wish you had told me you were going to do that. I would love to have listened in.”

Suddenly Adam realized that Cassandra’s mother had probably never been able to have that talk with her daughter. “Did anyone ever have that talk with you?” He could tell by her expression that no one had. She did her best to reassure him though.

“I’m hoping Kay will be willing to talk with me about it. Otherwise, I’ll wait until Mrs. Crocker gets here because I’m sure she has some advice for me.”

Relieved on that score, Adam watched his son run from the house again. He had a lot of energy. He seemed more like Joe in that regard, but he had a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that helped prevent him from rushing into rash decisions and actions. Adam was very grateful for that even as he remembered that Chris was Patricia’s son, and she had been energetic like that. He had written to her father when Vi died and again when Patricia died but had not received a reply either time. He wondered if he should write to him to tell him that Chris was getting a stepmother and decided to leave well enough alone on that count.

As expected, Ben was very happy and had been hoping that he would be hearing an announcement soon. He and Adam went upstairs to find a cane for Adam to use leaving Kay and Cassandra alone as Chris was in the kitchen enjoying a visit with Hop Sing and Bao Yu. They always seemed to have a doughnut or cookie fresh from the oven when he visited. There would also be a glass of milk and some fruit. Kay looked at Cassandra who seemed very nervous and had a fairly good idea why.

“Worried about your wedding night?”

“Oh, Kay, and all the nights after that. I’ve only heard a few things about how it is painful, and nothing about what I’m expected to do.”

“Oh, sweetie, it is so much more than a little pain the first time. It may be uncomfortable sometimes depending on other things, but Adam gave Hoss some great advice so I think he knows how to treat a woman. He told Hoss to be tender, patient, and ask me what I wanted. He’ll help you through everything. He wants you to be happy. You have to be honest with him, and tell him if anything makes you uncomfortable.”

“Isn’t the whole thing rather uncomfortable for a woman?”

“Not at all especially if he’s anything like Hoss, and I know how much Patricia loved Adam so he must be. Adam is so serious so much of the time and ornery sometimes, that I would never be comfortable with him, but I’ve learned to respect him a lot. He would never hurt you.”

“He has a lovely laugh, and I don’t find him to be that serious.”

“I guess it’s because you know how to be with him. I’ve heard some of the things you’ve said to him, and I thought he would get angry, but he doesn’t. I just never felt I could talk to him the way you do. Hoss told me that he respects the truth and likes people being direct with him. Seems odd to me, but he loves you, so I guess it works. Now, about the wedding, what kind of dress do you want? Do you want me to help you make one or are you going to the dressmaker in town?”

“I haven’t a clue about how to sew a dress. I guess I’ll go to the dressmaker.”

“Good, I like that. How about if we go to town tomorrow to get you fitted.”

And the wedding preparations got into full swing. Adam was bemused by the whole thing and let Cassandra and Kay take over the planning. His father advised him it was the smart way to go anyhow. Hop Sing and Bao Yu took over planning for the wedding dinner. Adam asked Mrs. Travis if she wanted to help with that, but she said she would have no idea what should go into a ‘big fancy wedding’ and Adam asked if she would make her sugar cookies for the celebration. She smiled and said she would be pleased to help.

“I want you and Michael to be our guests at the wedding.”

“Oh, Mr. Cartwright, you don’t have to do that, and I don’t have a fancy dress for a wedding anyhows.”

“Kay and Cassandra are going into town tomorrow to shop for more wedding stuff. I want you to go along and get yourself a nice dress. And get some nice clothes for Michael. I want him to feel like he’s part of the celebration too.”

“Oh, sir, I can’t afford nothing like that.”

“You’re going to put it on my account. It’s my treat. You have done so much for us that I want to do something nice for you. Now please say you will accept my gift. It means so much to me.”

“Well as long as you say it like that, yes, I would be pleased to accept.”

And with that, Mrs. Travis got involved in the planning too. It was going to be a great celebration.

*****

Chapter 15

“How about a camping trip? We’re done with the house plans. I can’t ride yet, and you and Chris have never been camping.”

“That’s right, and why would I want to start now?”

“Because I have some property I want to show to Chris and to you. It was Patricia’s and now it will be ours. Someday it will belong to Chris.”

“The Secret Spring cabin you’ve talked about?”

“Yes, it’s very beautiful there. There’s a cabin and a small stable so it will be quite comfortable there. Traveling by wagon, we could be there in two or three days. It’s not too far from the border of the Ponderosa, but it is up in the mountains.”

“I’ll go and I’m sure Chris will agree. Do I dress like I do for riding?”

“Yes, but pack a jacket and warm clothing too. You never know how chilly it can get there especially at night. We’ll pack blankets and bed rolls too. I need to check with Pa and see when the last time was that anyone was there. We’ll bring basic supplies along with us. We can stay there a couple of days and still be home a week before the wedding.”

Adam packed a lot of amenities he wouldn’t have considered if he had been traveling alone or with Joe and Hoss. But he wanted to make sure that this first trip into the mountains was a pleasant one for his future wife. He didn’t think she would likely want to try again if it turned out to be unpleasant so he had lanterns, a canvas tarp, soap, a wash basin, towels, and cans of peaches and other canned goods. The trip was uneventful and as they arrived in the canyon, both Chris and Cassandra were impressed. Cassandra had never expected such a beautiful setting and the cabin was quaint but sturdy and comfortable. Adam and Chris took one bedroom and she had the other. They had to do some dusting and air the place out, but overall, there was little that had to be done. Hoss liked coming to this cabin because of the setting so he frequently was there and made basic repairs as needed. Adam had not been there since he had traveled there with Patricia, and he made a note to thank his brother for all that he had done.

The first excursion out on the property was to show Cassandra and Chris where everything was. Cassandra looked longingly at the spring, but Chris wanted to go see where they had gotten the gold. Adam told him it was all gone but that didn’t lessen his enthusiasm that they owned a gold mine.

“I thought there was supposed to be a gold mine here?”

“There is. What you’re looking at is one of the three places they mined on the property.”

“But there’s no tunnel!”

Adam tried to explain the different types of mining to his son. It wasn’t easy. Even though Chris was very bright and had an excellent vocabulary, the concepts that Adam was trying to explain were too much for him. He finally settled for walking amidst the debris from the mining operation and looking for gold. Adam had an idea then. When they walked back to the cabin, he retrieved the washbasin and headed to the spring. There was a lot of loose gravel near the spring, and he hoped he would get lucky enough to find some flakes or even a small nugget as a souvenir for his son. The washbasin was not the ideal thing to use for panning for gold, but it would have to do. After about an hour, he was about to give up and Chris had already lost hope when he finally got a small nugget. It was tiny but clearly gold. Then Chris wanted him to continue, but he said that they would have lunch first and that Cassandra wanted to wash her hair so she would need the basin.

“Why can’t she wash her hair later?”

“Because then it would be wet when she wants to go to bed. She needs to wash it now so it can dry.”

“Then can we look for gold again?”

Happy with Adam’s assurance that they would look for more gold, Chris headed back to the cabin with his prize. Cassandra had a question for Adam though.

“If you found that nugget so easily, why don’t more people come up here and pan for gold?”

“Well, that tiny nugget isn’t worth that much. If I got one of those every hour or two, I could afford food and supplies and not much else. It just isn’t profitable to pan. Men who do it live very simply.”

After lunch, Adam volunteered to clean up so that Cassandra could wash her hair. She headed toward the spring. A little later, Chris asked if he could go see if she was done, and Adam told him he could but not to pester her. Chris came running back to the cabin and burst in through the door.

“Mama fell in the spring!”

Running as fast as he could, Adam got to the spring to see Cassandra with a grip on the grass at the side of the small pool. She couldn’t touch the bottom, and the grass pulled away in clumps when she tried to pull herself out. Adam reached down and grabbed her wrists.

“Let go, now, sweetheart, and I’ll pull you out.” He pulled her up and out of the spring. She began shivering almost immediately. He picked her up and carried her to the cabin and into her bedroom. There she started to unbutton her dress, but her fingers were so cold, she fumbled with the buttons instead of opening any. Adam pushed her hands gently to the side and unbuttoned her dress for her. He reached behind him and closed the door telling Chris that she would be fine. He helped her out of her wet undergarments as well doing his best not to stare. As soon as all the wet clothing had dropped to the floor, he grabbed the quilt from the bed and wrapped it around her. She was shaking with the cold and the shock.

“Where’s your gown?”

All she could manage was to point to her valise. Adam opened it and pulled out her gown. He wanted to hand the gown to her but her arms were inside the quilt. He turned to the side and reached back with the gown. He heard the soft swish as the quilt fell to the floor, and waited until he heard sounds indicating that she had pulled the gown on. Then he reached down to pick up the quilt and wrapped it around her again. He opened the door to the bedroom to see a pale Chris looking very scared.

“She’s going to be fine. Now, could you put a few more pieces of wood into the fireplace? I’m going to fire up the stove too. We need to get it nice and hot in here.” After restarting the stove that still had coals from lunch preparation, Adam retrieved the towel from the spring and came back to wrap it around Cassandra’s head. Then he picked her up and carried her into the main room sitting on the bench in front of the fireplace. He settled Cassandra on his lap and held her close. “Chris, could you get a pair of my socks from our room?” When Chris returned, Adam helped him put the socks on Cassandra. Chris sat next to Adam then and pulled Cassandra’s feet onto his lap. Adam was rubbing Cassandra’s back through the quilt, so Chris began rubbing her feet. She started to giggle then.

“That tickles.” She smiled then and began to relax as the fear and the cold left her. “I don’t know how to swim.”

“How did you end up in the spring?”

“I was startled when Chris came running, and I jumped. The sides there aren’t as sturdy as I thought, and I fell in.” Seeing how guilty Chris looked, Cassandra was quick to reassure him it wasn’t his fault. “I wasn’t thinking about what was going on around me, and then I was just clumsy.”

“He called you Mama.” Chris looked a little embarrassed, but Adam thought it had been a wonderful development. Cassandra looked quizzical. “When he ran in the house, he said ‘Mama fell in the spring’.”

Cassandra looked at Chris then and smiled. “Oh, Chris, that is such a wonderful gift you have given me. I hoped that someday you might call me that. I never dreamed you would give me something so precious so soon.”

“Well, Uncle Hoss said he had two mamas and that Papa had three so it was all right ifn I was to call you Mama cause it wouldn’t hurt my first Mama to hear it. He said she would be happier than a rooster in a hen house that I had a mama cause she can’t be here for me no more.”

“And why does that sound just like something Hoss told him? I need to work on that or he will sound like one of the hands very soon.”

“Papa, why is a rooster happy in the hen house? What’s a rooster?”

“A rooster is a male chicken.”

Chris thought a while and then gave a sound of disgust before telling them he was going outside because it was getting hot in there. Adam chuckled as he left.

“It is hot in here. At least, I’m very hot. Are you warm enough now?”

“Is it just the temperature that made you hot?”

“You know it isn’t.”

“How much did you see?” Looking askance at her, Adam wondered what she meant exactly because he had seen everything. She saw the look and knew the answer. “You didn’t close your eyes at all, did you?”

“How could I? I was so concerned with your welfare, I didn’t give a thought to anything else.” She saw the grin though and knew he had appreciated what he had seen. “You definitely are not as skinny as I thought you were.” That did it. She pulled her arms free of the quilt and punched him in the arm. “Hey, I’m still recovering from a broken leg. You wouldn’t want to give me a broken arm too, would you? I need it to use my cane.”

“You haven’t used that cane at all since we started on this trip so don’t give me that. And a gentleman would have closed his eyes.”

“Well, then, I guess you are not marrying a gentleman. I did turn away once I had you wrapped up in that quilt.” He couldn’t resist adding a bit more though. “But the vision I had before that is branded on my brain.”

That was it. Cassandra stood and stomped off to the bedroom. Adam asked if he could hang her wet things outside to dry and got a wet bundle thrown at him. He smiled and headed outside. It had all been worth it. By the time they arrived back on the Ponderosa, Hoss and Joe were home, and Chris had to tell that story. There were lots of laughs and raised eyebrows, but Cassandra had decided to take all the teasing in good humor because in a week she was getting married. Chris was excited too but mostly about the tiny gold nuggets he could show everyone.

“I got them from my first Mama’s spring. You know, the one my second Mama fell in. Papa used the washbasin. He said he was panning for gold. It took a lot of time, but now I have my own gold.”

Ben asked him what he was going to do with the gold.

“Papa said I should save them because they kinda came from my first Mama. He said when I’m older, we could have something made with it, and I could wear it. I’m not sure what it will be, but that’s what I’m going to do. I have my first Mama’s books in my room now, and I have her sketchbooks and her stuff for drawing. Papa says I can’t use them yet, but when I’m older and know how to draw, I can use her stuff. He says he’s got some trunks with her clothes and other stuff and that will be mine too.”

“I think that is very wise. Your Papa only has a music box, a book, and a picture from his mother. I should have saved more, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. You will appreciate having all of those things when you get older.”

“Grandpa, I do already. And now I get to have a second Mama. I really like her, you know.”

“Yes, I know, and I like her very much too.”

“Papa said I get to stand right next to him when he gets married. I think I might be a little nervous with all those people looking at me.”

“Oh, I think that most of the people will be looking at your Papa and Cassandra.”

“Really? Why? Oh, because they’re getting married. Papa said he’s getting nervous. Why would he be nervous? Isn’t this what he wants to do?”

“Yes, but love and marriage aren’t always based on logic or common sense. A lot of emotions come into play. Your Papa is probably remembering your mother and everything that happened. So even though everything is just fine now, he’s worried about what could happen. Your father is a worrier.”

Ben sat on a chair and crossed his right leg over his left. Chris sat in another chair and crossed his right leg over his left. Just for fun, Ben bent his right arm on the side of the chair and rested his chin in his hand. Chris did the same. Then Ben used his left hand to scratch his left ear, and Chris did the same but realized the game at almost the same moment. The two of them laughed. Ben was looking forward to more grandchildren because it was so much fun.

On the day of the wedding, Ben stopped in Adam’s old room to see how he and Chris were doing getting ready. Cassandra was in the downstairs guest room with Kay and Mrs. Travis. Adam seemed calm, and Chris was more excited than anything. Soon they would officially be a family. In fall, Chris would start school, and he was thinking it would be nice to have a mama and a papa just like everyone else.

The wedding proceeded as expected except when Chris made believe he had lost the ring. Uncle Joe had told him that the best man had to do that at a wedding and coached him in how to do it. When Chris looked up at his father, opened his empty hands, and shrugged, Joe started giggling so hard that Adam knew who had to be behind that little prank. He shook his head.

“Chris, please ignore anything Uncle Joe told you to do and give me the ring, please.”

Chris did, but he also resolved that he probably shouldn’t take advice from his Uncle Joe. He told his grandfather that after the service because the stunt had embarrassed him more than anything, and he could tell too that his father had not appreciated the stunt.

“Chris that is very good advice. Now if you could just get Uncle Hoss to come to that same conclusion, life would be so much simpler for me. But right now, we have a dance and a dinner to enjoy. Let’s go have some fun.”

The party proceeded as expected with lots of music, good cheer, and great food, but from the trees near the house, a gray man watched the proceedings and waited for his chance. He watched as Adam danced with Cassandra and bent down to whisper something in her ear. She blushed so he could imagine what Adam had said to his bride. It was hardly a year since Patricia had died, and here he was taking up with another woman already and even marrying her. He wondered if Adam had to do the honorable thing as he had done with Patricia. Then he saw Patricia’s son come over when his father called to him. It had to be Patricia’s son. He looked a little like her although his looks favored his father far more. Soon Chris was dancing with the bride to cheers all around from the wedding guests. He looked happy with his new mother too. Soon there were toasts so he knew the bride and groom would be leaving soon. He listened to Ben’s toast.

“Cassandra, for you, this is a first marriage. This is a time of expectations and hope. For Adam, it is a second marriage. Cassandra, you must be especially honored today, because he loves you so much that despite all the difficulties he experienced, he decided to try it again. Cassandra, you may not realize the advantages of marrying a man who already knows the problems that can occur during a marriage. Adam is someone now who does not take anything for granted and who appreciates being given a second chance at happiness. Today your lives were joined as one. From this day forward, may your burdens be lighter, may your joys multiply tenfold, and may your lives be doubly rich because of the commitment you made today.”

There were a few tears glistening in eyes at Ben’s honest and heartfelt toast. Joe and Hoss made more ribald toasts and got everyone laughing and cheering again. Then the couple climbed aboard their carriage for the ride to their home. Chris as well as Mrs. Travis and Michael were staying at the main house for the weekend to give the couple some privacy for a weekend honeymoon. When they got to the house, they were going to find roses, chocolates, and chilled champagne courtesy of the Crockers who were very pleased to see Cassandra so happy. As the couple left, the gray man saw his chance.

*****

Chapter 16

“Wait right here. I want to do this the right way. I will take care of the horse as fast as I can.” Adam set his bride on the porch. He rushed to put Rusty in the stable not bothering to put away the harness or the carriage. Then he nearly sprinted back to his home. Once he got to the porch, he was breathing heavily but grinning. He picked up Cassandra after opening the door and carried her in. She had her arms wrapped around his neck and he could feel her heart beating rapidly as he pressed her against his chest. He turned around to let her see the gifts from the Crockers before setting her on her feet. Pouring a glass of champagne for each of them, Adam passed the glass to her. “This should help. Drink up. To a long and glorious life together.” Adam drained his glass and smiled to see the look on his wife’s face. “Don’t like champagne?”

“No. I guess I would prefer a brandy or a glass of wine if I was going to drink something.”

Moving to the brandy decanter, Adam poured a small glass and handed that to his wife. She drank that down.

“Do I smell chocolate?” She opened the box and selected one that she fed to Adam, and then she took one for herself. As the chocolate was still melting in her mouth, Adam pulled her to him for a kiss. Then he bent down and picked her up again and headed for the stairs. “I’m very glad your leg healed so well. I’m not sure I could even walk at this point much less climb some stairs.”

“How about adding on a bedroom downstairs for us. It could be nice and large with a sitting area and windows on three sides for a great view.”

“I think that would be lovely, but we’ll need nice thick curtains for those windows with two boys running around here.”

“If we build off the back of the house on the slope, it will be about five feet off the ground level. I think we’ll be safe.” By then, Adam had reached his bedroom. He opened the door to find that the room had been transformed. Kay had helped Cassandra pick new bedding and curtains. The room looked like a combination of Adam and Cassandra with the rich wood furnishings and the jade green quilt with matching curtains. There was a new thick cream-colored rug on the floor in front of the fireplace, which caused Adam to grin in a way that she knew what he was thinking.

“Later, cowboy. Tonight I want to be in our bed. That seems so strange to say.”

There was a dressing screen behind which Cassandra stepped to remove her dress and petticoats and put on the gown and robe that Mrs. Crocker had gifted to her upon her arrival a few days earlier. She could hear Adam pouring water into a basin and she assumed he was shaving and freshening up for her. She had to take a couple of deep breaths to try to calm herself. Mrs. Crocker had echoed what Kay had said about it being very pleasant with a man who took his time and wanted the woman to enjoy their joining, but she was still scared. Adam heard her, and began to hum and then sing a soft tune. Once he finished shaving, he sat on the bed in just his trousers and waited. When enough time seemed to have passed for his wife to have removed her dress and put on her gown and robe, he called out to her.

“I am ready. Well I am dressed, but I’m too scared to come out now. What if I’m not what you wanted? What if I don’t measure up?”

“Sweetheart, I love you. I want to be with you. If you’re scared, we’ll take things slowly. We don’t have to do everything tonight. We have the rest of our lives together.”

“Don’t you want to do everything with me tonight?”

“If you would come out here, you would see that I want you very much, but not enough to make you scared.” Adam walked to the dressing screen and moved it aside. He pulled Cassandra into his arms and felt her trembling. He held her for several minutes until he felt her relax. He began running his hands up and down her back then caressing her gently until she turned her face up to him. Then he softly kissed her. It was as soft and sweet as he had been the first time he had kissed her. As then, he waited for her to respond. It didn’t take very long. She kissed him back with more enthusiasm and then passion as she began running her hands through the dark curls on his chest.

“I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time.”

“You can do anything you want with me. I’m all yours.” Adam smiled down at her and brushed a loose tendril of hair from her face. “May I loosen your hair and let it down?” Adam pulled the pins from her hair and then used his fingers to loosen the waves and let the hair drop to her shoulders. Then he opened the button on her gown and pulled it to her sides and let it slide down her arms before he slipped his hands under the straps of her gown and lifted it over her head. She was nude in front of him then and he ran his hands down her body causing her to shiver but at the same time lean toward him. Suddenly his hands were gone and he dropped his trousers to the floor. That made Cassandra start to get nervous again. “Now, sweetheart, we’ve done this before just not at the same time. I’ve seen you and you’ve seen me.” Adam picked her up then and carried her to the bed. Laying her down gently, he lay beside her and pressed his body against hers. They kissed and touched making Cassandra stop worrying about what was going to happen and just start to enjoy what was happening.

Things would likely have proceeded as nature intended except for some loud pounding on their front door. Adam swore softly and got out of bed putting on his trousers before heading down the stairs. He yanked the door open when he saw Joe standing outside. “This better be good.”

“Chris is missing!”

“What? How? We just saw him an hour ago, and he was at the party.”

“Pa decided it was a long enough day for the boys, but we can’t find Chris.”

Leaving Joe standing by the open door, Adam bounded up his stairs. Joe turned to go to the stable to saddle his horse assuming he would need it. When Adam reached the bedroom, Cassandra was already dressing. He shucked off his dress trousers and grabbed his ranch clothing. Within minutes, the two of them were running to the stable. Joe had Sport saddled, and in just a few more minutes, they saddled up Cassandra’s horse too. Then the three rode as rapidly as they could to the main house where all available people were lighting lanterns and preparing to go search. Adam asked if Michael had seen anything. No one had thought to ask him so Adam rushed to the bedroom Michael and Chris were supposed to share for the weekend. Adam knew that Michael was always watching what went on around him.

“Michael, did you see where Chris went?”

“No, but I saw him talking with the gray man.”

“The gray man? Who’s the gray man?”

“I don’t know, but he’s got gray hair, and a gray jacket, and he kinda looks gray all over. Chris was talking to him, and then the gray man hugged him. Chris walked off with him. I thought they knew each other.”

“Which way did they walk?”

“Around back of the house. Chris isn’t in any trouble, is he?”

“I hope not, Michael, I hope not. Thank you.”

Running down the stairs, Adam raced around to the back of the house with his family following him assuming he had gotten a clue from Michael. Chris wasn’t in the garden, but in the grove of trees behind the house, there was the faint glow of one of the paper lanterns that had been part of the outdoor decorations for the dinner and dance. Adam ran there and stopped suddenly when he found Chris sitting and talking with the gray man. The man turned, and Adam nodded. It was one of the possibilities he had considered. “Hello, Thomas. You could have come to the front door instead of leading my son away into the dark.” There was some barely controlled anger in those words, and everyone heard it.

“Papa, it’s my other grandpa.”

“Yes, Chris, I know it is, but you know you shouldn’t have walked away with a strange man without talking to someone in the family about it.”

“But he is family, isn’t he? We’ve been talking about my mother. He told me stories about her when she was young. I told him that I have her books and her sketchbooks, and that you said I could use her drawing stuff when I got older. I told him you have some crates with her stuff packed away for me. I wanted to show him the gold nuggets I got from Secret Spring, but they’re at our house.”

“That’s very good, Chris. Would you stand with your Mama while I talk with Thomas?” Chris stood and went to take Cassandra’s hand.

“I thought you would let him forget Patricia. I wanted to tell him about his mother while I still could. But he told me all about her instead. You’ve done a good job teaching the boy about his mother. He showed me her star.”

“How did you get out?”

“Hardship release. Vi died, Patricia died, and I’m dying. There’s stuff growing inside me and nothing can be done about it. They took pity on me and told me if I left the state, I could go. I used whatever I had to get here.”

Chris cried out then. “No, you can’t be dying. You just got here.”

“I’m sorry, Chris. I was going to tell you, but your father got here first.”

Standing quietly and listening, Ben made a suggestion. “Perhaps we should all go inside. We can bid the rest of our guests a goodbye, and then relax and talk.”

Thomas had trouble standing from his position sitting on the ground. Adam stepped forward and offered a hand. “Know that if you harm my son in any way, you won’t have to wait for the disease to finish you off.”

“You always were a cold-hearted SOB, but you loved my daughter and took good care of her. Chris is the only thing left of Vi and of Patricia. I would never harm him.”

“I’ll take that as a promise. Now, you can lean on me if you have to, and I’ll get you to the house.”

Ben walked up then and offered to assist Thomas so that Adam could walk with his wife and son. Once inside, Thomas had little left to say. Ben offered to let him stay on the Ponderosa, and he accepted for a few days he said. He wanted to talk with Chris a little, but then thought he ought to move on.

“But where would you go?”

“Someplace where I could do some good, I guess. I haven’t much time left probably.”

“If it’s all right with Adam, you could stay here. That way you could visit your grandson and perhaps write some of his mother’s history for him.”

“I would like that. I appreciate your kindness very much.” Thomas looked to Adam who nodded but had one rule he wanted to make sure Thomas understood.

“You aren’t to go anywhere alone with Chris without talking to a member of the family first. He’s not quite six years old yet, and he shouldn’t be making decisions like that without asking.”

“I can do that. I can’t go too far on my own anyway.”

Ben showed Thomas to a guest room as Adam said goodnight to his son and the rest of the family. Ben had a full house for the weekend, and Adam still had a wedding night to enjoy. When Ben came down the stairs, he was surprised to find Adam and Cassandra still there.

“Don’t worry, son. Everything is fine now. I’m so sorry this interrupted your special time together, but you have the rest of the night and the weekend. We’ll see you for dinner on Sunday evening?”

Adam agreed before he and Cassandra left. Once at their home, they took care of the horses, and made sure that all the animals had plenty of feed and water so they wouldn’t have to rush out in the morning to do chores. As they walked to the house, Adam stopped Cassandra and kissed her. Then he did that several more times before they reached the porch.

“You keep doing that and we may never get up to our bedroom.”

That was all he was waiting to hear. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her up the porch steps, into the house kicking the door closed behind him, and then up the stairs to their bedroom.

“I saw you get dressed and I know you’re not wearing much underneath that shirt and skirt. Let me help you get rid of those.”

“Only if I can help you get rid of yours.”

Soon the two were back in bed where they had been hours earlier before being so rudely interrupted. Adam kissed her lips before trailing kisses down her neck and lower until she was shivering with the delight of it all. Adam followed his own advice and was patient, tender, and asked her what she liked although he surprised her with a few things that he was sure she would like. She did. As they lay together later, Cassandra had a few questions.

“Why do you like the lamps lit? I thought people made love in the dark.”

“Not me. I wanted to see you and all your beautiful parts.”

“Will I have a baby now?”

“It’s possible. We’ll have to wait and see.”

“Wait and see? We are going to keep doing this though, aren’t we?”

“Oh yeah! We’ll do this as often as you want me.”

“Would it surprise you if I said I wanted you again now?”

And without saying a word, Adam gave her the answer she wanted. They slept late the next morning, and when Adam got up to shave, Cassandra thought the night was over but he asked her to stay in the bed. He joined her there as soon as his face was smooth again. She smiled to realize he had shaved just for her. It was nearly noon when hunger for food caused them to finally decide to get up and dress. When they went downstairs, Cassandra was very apologetic to Lucky who was laying forlornly in front of the fireplace. Soon Lucky was sharing breakfast with them and was happy again.

“We should probably bring him over for the boys to play with don’t you think?”

“You just want to see Chris and make sure he’s all right, don’t you?”

Smiling at her perception, Adam had to admit it. “That could be part of it. I don’t completely trust Thomas, and I want to make sure everything is going as expected. It won’t take long, and then I thought we might have a picnic at the lake. I’m sure we could get a wonderful picnic basket from Hop Sing and Bao Yu.”

All was well at the main house. Ben and Thomas were sitting on the porch enjoying coffee and talking when they arrived with Lucky. The boys came rushing from the stable happy to see their friend. Soon the three of them were running back to the stable to see more of the critters Hoss had there. Cassandra went in the kitchen to ask for a picnic basket while Adam talked to his father and Thomas.

“Adam, you have done so well. Chris likes Cassandra very much, and talks about her almost as much as he talks about you. It is good to see my grandson is so loved. When my time comes, I can die in peace. I thank you for all you’ve done, and I apologize again for all the trouble I caused you.”

Accepting the apology with the praise, Adam was relieved. When Cassandra lugged a large basket out from the kitchen, Adam rushed to her side to grab it.

“I swear they think Hoss is coming with us. There’s enough food in here for at least four people.”

“Sweetheart, Hop Sing shows his love with food. He loves you very much. Besides, he’s probably hoping you’re eating for two already.” Adam grinned and Cassandra punched him in the arm. Waving goodbye, they headed to the lake. Once there, Adam spread a blanket in the shade of a large tree.

“Aww, why don’t we sit in the sun for a bit? It’s so nice and warm.”

“Because I don’t want you to sunburn your tender parts.”

“But? What? Really? Out here in the open where anyone could see?”

“We’re on the Ponderosa. We let everyone know where we would be. We’re married less than a day so no one is going to come bother us. So, the answer is yes.” As he was talking, Adam had started unbuttoning her shirt. He tugged the shirttails from her skirt and slipped it off her shoulders before kissing each one.

“All right, but now it’s your turn.” And Cassandra unbuttoned his shirt and tugged it from his pants as he smiled at her. She pulled him down for a kiss then.

Next Adam unbuckled the belt that held her skirt up and let it drop to the ground. So Cassandra did the same unbuckling his belt and letting his pants fall to the ground. “Oh, my, don’t you ever wear anything under your pants?”

“Sometimes, especially if it’s cold outside, but today I didn’t think I would need them. Now let me help you with the rest of your things.” Soon they were resting on the blanket and enjoying themselves again.

By Sunday evening, Adam and Cassandra had enjoyed themselves a number of times. When they arrived at the main house for dinner, everyone could see how happy and relaxed the couple was. After dinner, Chris as well as Mrs. Travis, Michael, and Lucky went home with Adam and Cassandra. After Adam took care of the carriage and Rusty, he walked to the house and stood for a moment watching his family and everyone else sitting together and chatting about the weekend. He smiled for he had the family and home he had always wanted. He knew there were likely to be problems ahead as well as joy, but he was prepared to face them all with Cassandra at his side.

***The End***

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2 thoughts on “Patricia and Cassandra stories (by BettyHT)

  1. Two very different women, but just as loved. Thanks for your research into ‘pox’ I never knew it was called that. I did read a bio of Churchill so I knew about his father and the terrible effects. It was nice to have his father-in-law make peace at the end. I love your stories best when Adam is in love and has a child/ren. Thanks for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes, some stories require research and I needed to know some medical terms for this one. Not all readers like these kinds of stories — some won’t read them at all. I’m glad you like them though for I do have him romantic in quite a few and as a father in some.

      Like

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