The Trapper John series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Trapper John — Hoss meets a man in the mountains whose life intersects with the Cartwrights a number of times.  Suspicion — Adam’s relationship with Delphine and the disastrous turn of events with Ross led to his leaving, but he meets someone important in France, and on his return, he meets Trapper John.  Belladonna — Murder and what to do about the murderer are at the center of the story. A threat to Adam’s family brings the situation to a crisis.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  60,463


Trapper John

Chapter 1

Prologue

In 1828, a group of white trappers worked their way into the mountains of Nevada. With them was a young man, John McCoy, indentured to them by his father. John did all the camp chores, the cooking, the laundry, and any other duties the men deemed were his to do. Generally they treated him fairly though because they didn’t want to lose his services by working him to death or by making him ill. John didn’t like being ordered around by these men but did enjoy finally being free of the drunken tirades and the beatings he regularly had received from his father. Only sixteen years old, he was thin but strong and wiry, able to do what he had to do. That all changed after a severe thunderstorm raged through the mountains for several days. Going to get firewood, he walked on a slope that gave way sending him tumbling down a steep slope. He ended up alive but battered at the bottom of the hill on which they were camped. The men slowly made their way down to him where he writhed in pain from a severely broken leg. They set it not expecting him to survive. He did, but they knew he wouldn’t be able to walk for months and wouldn’t be able to work at all. They left him at the camp with adequate food, firewood, and only a short hop to a stream for water as they continued on their way collecting furs. They promised to come back for him thinking they would return the way they had come. However, they had no experience with the heavy snows of the high southern Sierra Nevada mountains. They found it impossible to return for the boy. In spring, they returned expecting the worst but found nothing. There was no sign that a camp had ever existed.

After the trappers had abandoned the boy that spring riding away leading their packhorses loaded with furs, Paiute who had been watching them all the while they had been there came into the camp. John had only a knife to defend himself and didn’t even try when he saw the half dozen Paiute men standing in his camp that morning. He expected to die and stared at them with defiance planning to die at least with as much dignity as one could laying on a bedroll with one leg heavily splinted. One of the men picked up his sack of food and another picked up his iron kettle. John waited for the others to notch arrows into their bows and finish him off. Instead, they reached down and picked him up carrying him by his bedroll. He didn’t know what they planned to do with him, but at that point, he was beginning to be more curious than afraid. A few hours later, they set him down next to a wickiup and several women came over to him and offered him water to drink and some food. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it was better than being shot with arrows so he ate it and he drank the water. Then he thanked them and smiled. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled his knife that seemed to frighten them for a moment, but he turned it around to offer it butt end first to one of the men who had carried him. The man looked at him for only a moment and then accepted the steel knife. A lifelong alliance was born.

For more than twenty years, John didn’t speak with another white man except to trade his furs for goods, firearms, and ammunition. He lived a solitary life as a trapper, but he regularly gave extra meat, supplies, and occasionally special items such as iron pots, mirrors, steel knives, and other items to the Paiute. He had a severe limp and a misshapen leg, but he had his life that he would not have had without their intervention. He knew that, and he knew their language and culture. He couldn’t adapt to living with them, and he couldn’t find it in his heart to go back to the white culture which had treated him so badly. There were things he missed, but he preferred what he had to living with others so he tolerated those losses.

Then one day, he saw a large young man or boy who had been riding on a big dark horse freeing a fawn from some brush. It was an amazing thing to behold, and he moved closer because he could hear him talking and wanted to know what he was saying.

*****

The Meeting

“Now, I’m plumb sorry I startled ya like that. I didn’t mean ya no harm. Ifn ya would settle down some, I’d get ya outta these here brambles and such and you kin go off and find your mama. Now, how’d that be?” Working as carefully as he could, Hoss Cartwright worked the brambles away from the fragile legs of the young fawn. He guessed she couldn’t be more than a week old. It had been entirely accidental that he had ridden right across where her mother had hidden her away while she went to eat. Even now, the mother might be close and so worried about her offspring. Hoss hoped to free her quickly before the mother panicked and perhaps didn’t come back soon enough. The little one looked well fed and her ears were plump indicating she had been fed well enough recently. Finally, he had her free and lifted her carefully away from all the brambles and then set her on the ground. “Now you go off and find your mama. I’ll make sure nothing gets to ya until you do.”

Staggering a little, the fawn slowly made its way up the hill and into heavier cover. Hoss could only assume that its mother was up there somewhere. At least, he hoped she was. He sighed deeply knowing that his promise was one he couldn’t keep. “I sure hope you find your mama. I really am sorry I scared ya like that.”

“You must be a different kind of white man.”

Hoss nearly stumbled and fell after jumping at John’s statement for he had no idea there was anyone anywhere near him. Whirling around, he was going to draw his pistol until he saw the bemused expression on the other man’s face.

“If I had wanted to kill you or harm you, that would already be done, son. I thought you were older. You’re a big one.”

“Yeah, everybody says that.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m sixteen.”

“What you doing way up here?”

“I brought up some beef for the Paiute from our ranch. We bring some every year.”

“You one of them Cartwrights then that they talk about?”

“Yeah, I’m Hoss Cartwright.”

“I used to see a skinnier darker boy doing that. Haven’t seen him in a while. I know the Paiute liked him. He and Young Wolf hunted together some.”

“That was my brother, Adam. He left.”

“Left?”

“He’s away at college. Pa let me bring some beef up this year. Adam’s supposed to come back in a year or less. I miss him a lot.”

Looking thoughtful, John had a question. “Say, you let that fawn go, so does that mean you got meat for your supper already?”

Looking a little sheepish, Hoss kicked at the dirt. “Nah, but I couldn’t rightly eat one of those. Wouldn’t be able to swallow anything like that. Nope, gonna hafta cook up some beans and be satisfied with that.”

“Y’all can come eat with me. I got lots of meat cooking at my place up the hill a piece. Been making stew for twenty years now. I don’t like to brag, but it’s pretty good.”

“Stew’s better’n beans any day. I’ll take ya up on that offer.”

Hoss grabbed the reins of his horse that he had tied off to a sapling and followed John up the hill to the camp well camouflaged so that one would have to be led to it or trail John to it. It would never be spotted by anyone riding by. Of course, Hoss had questions. John expected that. He tried at first to put him off, but found that he liked talking with Hoss, and as they ate, he told more and more of his story starting with why his leg was the way it was bent to one side, and how he was a friend to the Paiute.

“Adam used to wonder about that and ask Pa about it. Pa could never answer the questions Adam had neither.”

“What questions?”

“Adam would ask how the Paiute up here kept getting new stuff. Like every time he visited, he would notice new pots or mirrors or someone would have a new rifle. They’d never say how they got nothing. It was all a big mystery, but now I know the answer. Is it all right ifn I tell Adam when he gets back. I know he probably still wonders about it. He’s like that. He gnaws on a question ’til he gets himself an answer.”

“He must be a real smart one to have noticed those things. I only ever give ’em one or two things at a time, and he didn’t visit that much.”

“Yeah, he’s real smart about stuff like that.”

“Well, you can tell him if you can trust him with the answer.”

“Oh, I can trust him. You could trust him too. He won’t give away no secrets. He’s better with secrets than I am. I won’t tell my little brother though. He ain’t so good with secrets. I kin tell my Pa too. He’s real good with secrets too. And I kin tell Hop Sing. He’s the best with secrets that there is.”

“Hold on there. Who’s Hop Sing?”

So Hoss told the story of his family and how they got their ranch and about all three wives his father had lost, about Hop Sing, and about anything else he thought was pertinent. Finally he had a question for John. “You got anybody?”

“Nope.” Hoss looked so sad on hearing that news that John felt compelled to tell his story so he did for the first time to a white man, or boy. He explained what had happened to him from when his father had indentured him until he ended up with a broken leg and was rescued by the Paiute.

“John, not all white men are like your pa and those trappers.”

“Maybe in your experience but not in mine. Listen, you can spend the night here, and you’re welcome to visit any time you want. Just come close and holler.”

“Thank you. I will.”

Hoss spent the night in the warm and cozy cabin. The next morning after a filling breakfast, he saddled his horse and was ready to ride home. “John, you’re more than welcome to visit the Ponderosa any time. I’ll offer you the same as you gave me, a warm place to sleep and good food. There’s one more thing I can offer. We have trouble up on this end of the Ponderosa. Sometimes, folks come in and think it’s all right to help themselves to some of our cattle. Now ifn they’re hungry and take one, we’re not gonna go chasin’ off after ’em. But some like to take more and sell ’em. Ifn you was to let us know about any of those rustlers, there’d be a reward. You and the Paiute could use it any way you saw fit.”

John nodded in agreement thinking that Adam wasn’t the only smart Cartwright. Hoss had appealed to him in the one way that he knew would make John agree. If he helped catch rustlers, he could help the Paiute more. Hoss smiled at him then because he knew too what he had done. John shook his head and laughed as Hoss turned to ride to his home. Some day he thought he might like to meet the rest of these Cartwrights.

*****

Chapter 2

Although Ben wanted to know all about John, Hoss had little to tell him. John wasn’t living on the Ponderosa although he was close to its borders. He had agreed to watch for rustlers and Ben liked that although he wondered if John took beef too. Hoss doubted that because he saw all the furs that John had and assured his father that John had plenty of meat without taking any Ponderosa beef.

“And you say he’s the one who’s been helping Winnemucca’s tribe all these years?”

“Yes, he’s the one.”

“Why wouldn’t Chief Winnemucca tell us? We’re friends. Surely he would know we wouldn’t mean any harm to this John.”

“Pa, he knows John don’t wanna see any whites after what happened to him. Now I invited him down here, but I don’t know ifn he’s gonna ever come. He don’t trust whites.”

“But he’s white and he should be with his own people. It’s too sad to think of him living alone like that ever since he was only a boy really.”

“Pa, he doesn’t seem too unhappy. He’s made his choices. I done told him he’s welcome down here. I guess it’s up to him now ifn he wants to come see us. He told me I’m welcome to visit him any time. I jest got to go up there near to where he is and holler.” Hoss had a grin then. It felt good to him to have someone who had accepted him so completely. As he had grown so big, not everyone was so willing to accept him. John had noted his imposing size, and then moved on as if once noted, it no longer merited any further mention. He had cleared an extra large space in front of his fireplace for Hoss to lay down his bedroll without comment too that night in his small cabin moving a few things out of the way so that Hoss could stretch out comfortably. John used words like skinnier, taller, and bigger as simple descriptors with no judgment attached. Hoss liked that. In his mind, he was thinking about what he could take up to John’s place the next time he visited. He didn’t pay as much attention to what he was doing though.

“Hoss, watch where you’re going. You could have killed your brother with that!”

Suddenly paying close attention, Hoss realized that he could have decapitated Little Joe with the scythe he had turned to fling into the back of a wagon. He was heading out to clear some weeds and brush that day in preparation for building a new corral and had been loading the tools he needed. “Sorry, Pa. Sorry, Little Joe. Guess I was thinking and not paying attention.”

“Thinking about what?” Little Joe at ten was always curious.

“More like who. Your brother was telling me more about this trapper named John that he met up in the mountains near where the Paiute camp is.”

“Can I go with you when you go to see him, Hoss?”

“It’s an overnight trip, and you know Pa don’t let you go on none of those yet, Little Joe. You can help me with clearing this brush and such today so we can start putting up the corral fence tomorrow.”

Little Joe looked less than pleased with that suggestion especially because it was offered in front of their father. He had a good idea of what would come next and it did.

“That’s a wonderful idea. Little Joe, you help your brother today. I have a lot of work to do, and Hop Sing does too. Then starting tomorrow, you can help him put in that corral fence. Good thinking, Hoss. Little Joe can be a good helper for you.”

With a gulp because he saw how Little Joe looked, Hoss agreed. However he feared that Little Joe might be a problem for the rest of the day unless he could come up with something to make him agreeable to helping out so he had to quickly formulate a plan. When their father walked back to the house, he was ready. “I’m thinking that today, I ought to tell you a little bit more about John. Maybe I could tell you about his leg.”

“What about his leg? Does Trapper John have a wooden leg? I heard Pa talk about sailors who ended up with wooden legs. It would be so much fun to meet someone who really had one. Does he have one?”

And Hoss decided right there that Adam wasn’t going to be the only one who told tall tales to entertain their younger brother. “Yes, yes, he does. And when we get out to where we’re going to build this here new corral, I’ll tell you how he got it.”

To that extent, Hoss’ plan worked. Little Joe helped him get the wagon loaded, filled several canteens with water for them, and hopped up on the wagon seat without dragging his feet with innumerable excuses. Soon they were on their way enjoying the day and each other’s company. At the corral site soon, they unloaded the wagon, and Hoss got to work. Little Joe waited patiently or what to his mind was patiently but then wanted his story. Hoss began to tell snippets of it between swings of the scythe as he cut down some tall grass and scrub brush.

“Well, John come out here with Lewis and Clark when they was exploring the west trying to find a way to the ocean over here on this side. He and some of the others got lost and never found their way back to the main group. So they decided, what the heck, we’ll start fur trapping to make us some money so we can live. You see, the French was already buying up these furs from the tribes out here. Pretty soon, the French decided to send some of their people out here to get furs too and so did a lot of other people. So John and the people he was with decided to move further south and ended up here in the mountains. Well you know how bad the storms can be around here. One of them storms blew John right down the side of the mountain and took his leg clean off.” Hoss paused to wipe his brow then and take a good look at Little Joe. He had him mesmerized with the story especially that last part as Little Joe imagined what it would be like to have a leg torn clean away. Of course, Hoss didn’t anticipate the questions that came next and had to quickly think of an answer.

“Did it tear it away here or here?” Little Joe pointed to his knee and to his hip as he asked.

Thinking quickly, Hoss knew it had to be the knee. “Well, of course it was the knee. Ifn it was the hip, he woulda died.”

“Why?”

“He woulda been bleeding too much. You remember when we had that hand who got cut real bad in that knife fight. He got stabbed high up above the knee. We couldn’t stop the bleeding. He died.”

“Oh, yeah. That was awful. That’s when Pa put in that rule that the men can’t drink in the bunkhouse. He said they wouldn’t have had that fight if the two of them hadn’t been drinking.”

“Yeah, we lost two hands over that. We had to take the other one over to Genoa and they decided he had to go on trial.”

“What happened to him anyway?”

“They found him guilty of something but it wasn’t murder cause they was both fighting. He pulled a knife though and the other man didn’t have one so they decided he had to be punished, but there’s no prison around here. The judge said ifn he signed up for the Army, he would let him go. The Army really needed some men so the man signed on. Don’t know what happened to him after that.”

“Oh. So now tell me more about John’s leg.”

“Well, he was a laying at the bottom of that mountain and all he had left was a knife.”

“What about his friends?”

“Ah, the storm blew them clear across to the next mountain. They didn’t know where John ended up.”

“Oh. So what did John do?”

“Well, he used that knife to carve himself a wooden leg. That is, he did once he bandaged up where he was bleeding and all. He measured out how long it had to be and carved it just so. But you know that nothing grows straight way up high on those mountains, so his wooden leg is crooked. He used the leather from his vest to make straps to tie the wooden leg to what was left of his leg and that was that. He walked for a piece until he found a Paiute camp. They took him in for the winter, and he was so grateful that he’s been helping ’em out ever since.”

“Wow, I can’t wait to see that wooden leg. I bet it’s something to see, isn’t it, Hoss?”

“Well, Little Joe, I ain’t never seen it. It ain’t polite to ask to see someone’s wooden leg.”

“But Pa says he’s seen them.”

“Well, I guess sailors don’t wear long pants that cover ’em up. But up there in the mountains, ya gotta wear a lot to stay warm, and John’s leg is all covered up. Can’t see a bit of it, but you can see it’s crooked and you can see how he limps ’cause of it.”

By the time that Hoss took Little Joe back to the house for lunch, Ben was suitably impressed at Little Joe’s good mood and willingness to go back out to work with Hoss. “I’m not sure what you’ve done, Hoss, but you have found a way to work with your younger brother. I have to commend you.”

“Huh?”

“You’re doing a fine job working with Little Joe. Thank you.”

“You know, Pa, I finally figured out why Adam used to tell us all those stories while we was working. I thought he jest liked having us there to laugh at his stories and such. Now I think it was ’cause he knew we’d work better ifn he was telling them there stories.”

Smiling not only because he now knew how Hoss had kept Little Joe working and in a good mood but because Hoss was gaining some of the wisdom of an adult, Ben wrapped an arm around his middle son’s shoulders although he already had to reach up to do it. “Son, I am very proud of you at this moment. You are becoming a very wise young man.”

Hoss got one of those aw shucks looks of his, but it was clear that he was pleased. Things progressed well for the next several days as the area was cleared and the posts for the new corral fences were set. Hoss spent some time each night before falling asleep thinking of stories to tell Little Joe and trying to remember some of the stories that Adam had told him when they were younger. Each night, he and Little Joe played checkers before the fireplace as their father enjoyed his pipe and sometimes a brandy as he read. On one of those early evenings, there was a knock at the door. Ben motioned to Little Joe to go answer it. When he did, he came back looking a little bit shaken.

“Pa, Hoss, there’s a huge pile of furs at the door and it says he wants to see Hoss.”

Hoss jumped up with enthusiasm while Ben followed more cautiously with Little Joe hovering carefully behind him.

“John, you came!”

“You said if I saw anybody taking your cattle, I was to come tell you and there’d be a reward. Well, some men took some of your cattle. I can show you where they took ’em.”

Instantly on alert, Ben wanted to know more. “How many men and how many cattle?”

“Two men and about twenty cattle. They weren’t very good at it and lost a few of the cattle. I herded those four back to your land. They still got about sixteen unless they’ve lost more of them. They were moving slowly toward the town you call Eagle Station.”

“Well, you can stay here tonight. It’s too dark now to do anything about it.”

“It’s not too dark. I could lead you, and we could get ahead of them. They’re moving slowly and I don’t think there is a chance that they are moving at night. They have enough trouble moving in the daylight. I ride through the dark all the time. The Paiute travel at night frequently. You have to be careful, but you can do it.”

“Pa, I think we ought to do it.”

Looking at Hoss, Ben evaluated all that he knew. If John meant any harm, he had already had ample opportunity to do it and had not. He had helped instead. Ben nodded. They would trust him. “Hoss, go get a few of the men. I’ll tell Hop Sing we’re going. Little Joe, you’ll stay here and obey Hop Sing. No questions and no complaints.” Ben’s tone indicated that Little Joe wasn’t to argue. He didn’t. Ben turned back to John. “Thank you. We’ll be ready as quickly as we can.”

In less than an hour, John was leading Ben, Hoss, and three hands in a single file on a course to intercept the rustlers who were going to get a big surprise early the next morning when they started to move those cattle toward Eagle Station.

*****

Chapter 3

Travel was slow and when it got cloudy, John called a halt because even he didn’t think it was safe to travel then. He told Ben that they could all try to get a few hours sleep. “We’ll still be able to cut them off. We can ride faster than they can and we made good progress already. Soon as I can see enough, I’ll wake y’all and lead you on outta here.”

There was only the faintest hint that dawn was near when John woke them to tell them he was ready to move out because he could see enough to lead them. They again proceeded single file following the path John set for them. As the sun rose, their speed increased and they could fan out to move faster. It was midday before Hoss spotted movement up ahead. John was impressed with the young man’s eyesight. He told the others to hang back as he and Ben went ahead to be sure these were the ones they were after. From about a half-mile ahead, John and Ben signaled for the others to come up to where they were. From above, they had a good view of the two men attempting to herd the cattle down the slope. As John had said, they weren’t very good at it and the cattle seemed to know it trying to get away at every chance they got. Despite everything that was serious about the situation, the men from the ranch had to smile. Then they got down to the serious business of apprehending the two rustlers. It was decided that John and Hoss would stay to the rear in case they tried to retreat, Ben and one hand would ride to the right, and the two hands would ride to the left. Once the two men saw that there were six arrayed against them, they hoped they would give up without a fight but knew too that desperate men couldn’t be counted on to do the smart, logical thing. Thankfully, this time, the two were so inept that they were nearly surrounded before they realized they were caught. With six guns pointed at them, they did give up. Once they were disarmed, Ben sent them with two of the hands to Eagle Station where they could decide what to do with them. He and the others herded the cattle back to the ranch. Once they got there, Ben asked John what a proper reward would be for his help.

“I know Hoss promised you a reward, but he never specified what it would be. I don’t know what you need or want, so I don’t know what to offer.”

“Well, Hoss brought some beef up recently or I’d say that would be what I would like. Maybe if you had some nice blankets though. With the cold weather, some nice blankets would be nice.”

“We just got a wide bolt of cotton muslin to make sheets. We have extra wool blankets too. We could cut some cotton muslin because that would be nice for them to use for babies and the children, and we could throw in a few wool blankets too for warmth. We bought a supply of tin cups for the bunkhouse and could spare a few of those too. Does that sound fair to you?”

“I think that’s a good deal if you would add a bit of sugar to the list. I’ve had trouble finding any honey lately and some sugar would be nice to have.”

Offering his hand then, Ben sealed the deal with John. “You see any more sign of rustlers or trespassers up your way, you let us know. Hoss’ offer is still good. Not only did we stop those two today, but word will get out that they got caught, and that will make others think twice before they try anything like that.”

“I like you Cartwrights. I kind of thought you would shoot those two. You had every right to do it, but you gave them a chance to live. You kept your word too on the reward and treated me fair and square. You’re white men who keep your word and have honor. I haven’t met that many like you.”

“It’s how I was taught to live my life, and it’s how I’m teaching my sons. Now, you’re welcome to stay at our ranch today, have dinner, and head back tomorrow. It will be late before we get this all squared away.”

“Naw, I’d like to be on my way as soon as I can. I’m not that comfortable around a lot of folk, but I thank you for the offer. I do have one question though, and I hope you ain’t offended by it.”

“No, I won’t be offended by a question. What is it?”

“Is your younger one all right in the head? Ever since we got back here, he’s been circling around me and staring at my legs. It’s kind of strange like he ain’t seen legs before.”

With that, Hoss turned red and coughed to get his father’s attention. Using his head to indicate direction, he got Ben to move away a bit and whispered in his father’s ear. It was somewhat difficult to determine whether Ben was more amused or perturbed at that point, but at least he understood what had happened. He moved back to John.

“Ah, it seems that Hoss was doing some fancy storytelling, and he told his younger brother about your wooden leg, you know, the one you carved for yourself after yours got ripped off in a storm. Little Joe has been trying to catch a glimpse of it ever since you got back here.”

Confused at first but quickly catching on to what had happened, John began to chuckle. “Naw, I don’t let anybody see my wooden leg. It’s all moss covered and dirty after so many years. I ought to carve a new one but this one is attached to me so well, I hate to give it up.”

“I can understand that. A man is entitled to his privacy. Little Joe, I hope you heard that. It’s not polite to try to see his wooden leg after he told you he wants to keep it under wraps.”

“Huh?”

“He wants to keep it covered so it’s under his leathers and furs and he doesn’t want anyone to see it.”

“Oh.” A lot of disappointment was conveyed in that one word.

After sending Little Joe to the kitchen to get some sugar for John, the three men shared a good laugh, and then got the supplies Ben had promised to John. When Little Joe returned with the sugar, John carefully packed the precious commodity before heading back up the mountain to his home. It was the beginning of a productive and rewarding partnership between John and the Cartwrights. Trespassers and would-be rustlers in the high country of the Ponderosa never did learn how they were always found out so quickly. Each time, John and the Paiute benefited from their efforts to violate the law and the property rights of the Ponderosa. Hoss enjoyed his friendship with John and those trips he made up to the high country to visit with him though they were infrequent. When Adam returned from his four years away at college, one of the topics of conversation was Trapper John.

“That name sounds so familiar like I should know it.”

“But you never met him, Adam?”

“No, Hoss, I never did. Maybe someday I will. It was certainly a good thing you met him. It’s done a lot of good for the Ponderosa and for the Paiute. You should be proud of yourself because I sure am proud of you.”

That was something that made Hoss feel good. He had learned something about the Paiute that Adam had not known, and he had done something in the high country that Adam had not done. When you have an older brother, it’s difficult because they always do things first. Finally, Hoss got to do something first. It did make him proud, and that Adam thought it was quite an accomplishment made it even better. On his next trip up to see John, Hoss asked if he wanted to meet Adam. John declined. He was in one of his moods when he was down on whites again. He had heard about some of the things that had happened to some of the Paiute women and what had happened to some of the tribes further east and north. Rape, war, enslavement, and disease were destroying the native populations. It made him angry and sullen. He was still as warm as ever to Hoss, but less than welcoming to the idea of meeting any other whites. Hoss tried to tell him that he and Adam were of a like mind on those topics, but there was no talking to John when he was in that kind of mood so Adam didn’t meet John.

There were times that Hoss talked to Adam about John, and sometimes Ben and Adam talked about John and used words like transcendentalism and things like that. Over the years, they talked about writers like Emerson and self-reliance and how John exemplified some of the things he talked about, but Adam would bring up another man named Thoreau and a pond he had. Hoss never cared much for those conversations. He wanted John to be happy, and what he thought was that John was lonely no matter that John said he wasn’t. John would talk wistfully of Paiute women he had been with but who would not take him as a husband. Hoss told him he ought to come down and live and work on the Ponderosa, but John would never even consider the idea. He said he was happy where he was, but Hoss didn’t think that was entirely true. So for years, he kept on asking, and John kept on saying no, but Hoss kept visiting because he wanted to help John as much as he could. Then one day he rode up to see John, and John knew he had to help Hoss.

“Something is bothering you a lot. Why don’t you spit it out.”

Dropping down heavily next to the fire on the big chair that John had made especially for Hoss from furs, leather, and cedar he had brought up the mountain, Hoss expelled a deep sigh. “He left, and I ain’t rightly sure he’s gonna come back even if he said he would.”

“Who left?”

“Adam.”

“He left again?”

“Yeah, I always figured he would. He’s got that kind of thing in him that makes him want to move on all the time. He can’t sit still in one place like regular folks. He’s curious about things and wants to see for himself what other people have seen. Reading about stuff or seeing pictures ain’t good enough for him.”

“So why are you so upset? You knew it was coming.”

“He’s my brother. I’m gonna miss him.”

“You got another brother.”
“Yeah, but that don’t mean I won’t miss the one that’s gone.”

“Why don’t you think he’s coming back if he said he’s coming back. He came back last time. He a liar kind of man?”

“No, he always keeps his promises. Well, he does ifn he kin, but he’ll be all alone out there. He won’t have nobody to help him. If something bad happens, he’ll be all alone.”

“Wasn’t he all alone the last time?”

“Nah, he had his grandpa, his mother’s father. He had people that Pa knew when he lived out there, but they’re all gone now, and besides, he ain’t going to Boston. He’s going to be going all over. He don’t even know all the places he’s gonna be going. How can he be safe?”

“You believe in God?”

Startled by the change in direction of the conversation and especially into an area that they had never discussed, Hoss didn’t answer at first. John gestured impatiently. “Yeah, I do.”

“Then pray, trust, and have faith.”

“That’s what Pa said.”

“He’s a smart man.”

“You’re a smart man too, Trapper John. Thank you. I guess I needed somebody other than my Pa to say that to me. I do feel better about it now.”

It was 1866. There were going to be other reasons to pray too mostly for the Paiute but eventually John had problems too when he tried to help the Cartwrights and got in over his head by trying to do too much.

*****

Chapter 4

“I need help.” John stood at the door of the Ponderosa surprising Hoss.

“You sick or hurt?”

“It’s not me. It’s the Paiute. Some of them were down trading with some whites on some of them small ranches and such. Now there’s measles in the camp. Only some are sick so far, but both you and me know what’s gonna happen next. We have get ready for an epidemic.”

Hoss had never seen John look so worried. Usually the man was as calm as anyone Hoss had ever met taking everything as it came to him. He was a small man by Hoss’ standards but Hoss still compared his demeanor to that of a grizzly bear who cocked his head at any new thing and acted as if it couldn’t hurt him as he thought about how he would deal with it. However this new threat had unnerved the man and the feeling was contagious. Hoss told John to follow him to the kitchen where he asked Hop Sing for the best way to deal with measles. John listened carefully too as Hop Sing first asked why but then very quickly laid out what the two must do for their patients even as he gathered things from his kitchen that they could use. Then he sent them to get cotton cloths to use to help cool the fevers their patients would have and told them to take extra tin cups and canteens so that they could carry in lots of clean water to use. He knew it would be very difficult to accomplish but wanted them to separate the sick from the healthy. While they gathered what they needed, Hop Sing packed up food for them and for the Paiute who would be too ill to forage and gather what they needed. It took quite a while to get what they needed and then load it all on packhorses as well as saddle up Chubb. John got more and more agitated the longer it took.

“John, an hour or two ain’t gonna make much difference, but these things we’re bringing will make a difference so ya gotta settle on down. Ya know I mean to help much as you do.”

“I wish we had more help.”

“I do too, but Pa’s away on a business trip to Sacramento, and Joe’s out working getting ready for the drive. I was about to head out to help him. Ifn I could, I’d pull some more to go help, but I don’t know who I could get right now. It would take too much time. I left word with Hop Sing. They’ll send folks on up to help us soon as they can.”

“I guess that’s better than using up any more time.”

“Shur is. Now, let’s ride, but remember, we gotta take it easy on these animals. It’s a long ride, and it won’t do those people no good ifn we was to ride these animals into the ground. I got two extra horses, but that’s all the extra we got right now.”

They did manage to turn a two-day trip into a day and a half. Even that had John frustrated and anxious. When they finally rode into the encampment, the situation was much worse than what John had left less than four days earlier. It was clearly now a camp in which many were ill. They were met by a number of men but both John and Hoss noted that there were few of the older men in the throng. They dismounted and asked what the count was of those already sick. It was disheartening, but they immediately explained what Hop Sing had told them they had to do. Hoss spoke first with John at his side.

“We need to separate the camp into two. We need the healthy ones to go set up a new camp. We’ll stay here and take care of those who are already sick. If anyone in the new camp gets sick, they’ll have to come back here so we can take care of them.”

“No, we are one people. We stay one people.” One spoke but the others nodded in agreement.

John stepped forward. “You know me. You know I have spent many years doing all I could to show my thanks for what was done for me. Now I ask you to do this so I can help save lives as you saved mine. If you stay here, you will get sick. Everyone who stays here will get sick.”

“How can you stay here and Hoss stay here then?” The men were skeptical but at least were listening.

“We have had this disease before. Once you have it and live, you cannot get it again.” Neither Hoss nor John mentioned that most whites survived such a disease although it could kill.

“The women will not leave their children.”

Hoss and John knew then that they were making progress but that was a tough argument to counter. However one of the older men, probably one of the council, stepped forward then, and he addressed not only the young men but the women and some youngsters who had gathered to listen.

“Let the grandmothers care for the children, and let the young women go with their husbands and care for them. I will stay here too and help.”

Everyone there knew what he meant. One of the young men however was realistic.

“Some of the young women will not go. They have babies at their breast.”

“I know. I know too that what Hoss and John say is true. I have seen the sickness before with other tribes and most die. Here we can try to save many. Let us do as they say.”

To be cautious, Hoss warned that those leaving should not take any furs or blankets that any of the sick had used. They should only use those they had used themselves. In a short time, quite a few had left the camp amid much sorrow but no tears. They knew it had to be done. Then Hoss and John began working with those who were left to brew the teas that Hop Sing had sent to ease the discomfort, and they began pulling people out of dark, hot wickiups so that they could be cooled with compresses and hopefully have their fevers reduced. It went against what the people thought so some resisted at first, but gradually as some seemed so much more comfortable without the heavy furs covering them and cool compresses soothing the eruptions, others acquiesced to the treatment.

Despite their best efforts, some of the very young died as did some of the elderly. A few women who had recently given birth died as did their infants. Some who were young and who appeared robust and healthy overall succumbed too for reasons no one could explain. After a few weeks, twenty-seven had died but there were no more new cases and everyone else was recovering. One of those recovering was John. Midway through their work, Hoss had noted John working only in his shirt which was drenched in sweat. That made him suspicious, and when he got a chance, he took a good look at his friend.

“John, you got it!”

“I know.”

“But I thought people couldn’t get it again ifn they already had it.”

“I never had the measles. I lied. I couldn’t let these people die without helping.”

“Ya durn fool!”

Luckily, one of the older hands on the Ponderosa who no longer went on drives had come up to help so Hoss still had assistance. Some of the Paiute who had recovered also were able by then to help out with those who were still ill. They were weak but could sit by the side of those still afflicted and apply cool compresses and help them drink fluids. The men from the other camp brought meat for stews and soups to feed those who couldn’t fend for themselves. When it appeared that it was safe, Hoss told the two camps it was time for them to reunite. A month had passed and so had the epidemic. John was still weak though so Hoss took him to his cabin and sent the extra horses back to the Ponderosa with the hand who had come to help.

“Tell Pa I’ll be back in a week as soon as I know John is all right.”

“Hoss, I’m all right, and I can take care of myself.”

“Well, I done learned that ya don’t always tell the truth ’bout things like that. Now, I got an older brother used ta do that too. Always said he was ‘fine’ when sometimes he wasn’t. Well, I learned with him. I’ll decide for myself when you’re all right and can take care of yourself.”

“Can’t take care of Adam so you’re gonna take care of me, is that it?”

“Maybe. You’re my friend and I can take care of you, so I’m gonna. Can’t take care of my older brother.”

“Hear from him?”

“Some. Not enough by my reckoning. We never know ifn it’s because his letters get lost on the way here or ifn he ain’t writing. Sometimes we get a letter and he talks about things we don’t know about but he writes like we already know. Makes us think he wrote, but we never got the letter. With all the traveling he does, I guess that could happen. Makes it hard though.”

“I bet it does. Must be very hard on your father too not knowing what’s happening with his son.”

“Yeah, it does. John, you think your father ever wonders what happened to you. I mean, did you ever write to your family to let them know you was alive or anything?”

With a shrug, John let Hoss know that he never had. They were silent on the issue for a time until Hoss asked John later if he had anybody in this world to call family any more.

“Nope. I fancied a few of them Paiute women. I think I told you that a time or two before, but none of them fancied me for a husband. I like them, but I couldn’t live the way they live, and none like me enough to live the way I live. So here I am, fifty-six years old, and alone. I’ll die alone up here like as not. I’m darn lucky these here measles didn’t do me in.”

There wasn’t much more for Hoss to say to that. John had made his choices and wasn’t likely to change his mind on any of them. He had asked Hoss a few years earlier for some books and recently had asked if there was a spare Bible he could start reading. He had learned to read as a youngster taught by his mother before she died from what he called the ‘milk fever’ that neither he nor Hoss understood. John said that’s what his father called it and he had no idea what it was. Hoss said they had a lot of extra books because Adam had left so many behind so he brought those up one or two at a time on his visits, and John slowly worked his way through them improving his reading skills as he remembered and as he read more and more. Then John started to want to have conversations about some of the books, but Hoss hadn’t read most of them. He started to read them so he could talk about them with John. Both Ben and Joe were amused on many evenings to see Hoss sprawled in the blue chair by the fireplace reading one of Adam’s books. They didn’t know why he did it and thought it was because he missed his brother. He did, but he read the books because when he discussed them with John, they spoke the same kind of language, and he felt like he was talking to an equal so he was more willing to read and explore new ideas.

After the measles epidemic, John and Hoss had a long philosophical discussion on why God let terrible things like that happen. Hoss talked about his mother dying and about Marie dying. They talked about other things too such as the Civil War that had nearly destroyed the country and whose wounds were still raw. They weren’t able to resolve any of their questions on those issues but found it refreshing to be able to talk to someone about them, express doubts, and not hear any condemnation for anything they said. They had that kind of relationship. It was close enough that John could even tease Hoss about why he wasn’t married yet. He loved the way Hoss stammered and stuttered through that answer each time. Then they would laugh. They laughed a lot. John relished those visits from Hoss and began to wonder if he had made the right choice in cutting himself off from the world.

*****

Chapter 5

Explosions shook the earth and rocked John to wakefulness a few years later on a cool early morning. The vibrations were mild at his cabin, but the sounds echoed up and down the valley. He quickly got his rifle and moved off toward where the sounds had originated even though there were no more. As he got closer, he got down low and eventually crawled on his belly up to a ridgeline and peaked over wondering what he would see. What he found was a scene of devastation where the stream had been blasted into a muddy mess. Several men were working their way through the sand and gravel picking up what appeared to be gold nuggets. His conclusion was bolstered by the fact that they shouted with glee with each find. The land they had blasted away was on the Ponderosa and the water they had fouled flowed down into the high pasture used by the ranch for summer grazing. What they were doing would hurt hunting and fishing for him and for the Paiute too. Their survival depended on stopping what these men were intent on doing.

As John watched, two more men came from upstream carrying buckets and shovels apparently intent on digging through what had been blasted to look for more. He slid back down the slope out of sight to think about what to do. It would take two days to ride to the Ponderosa and then two days back. They could do a lot of irreparable damage in four days. Some hard riding could reduce it to three days, but that was still unacceptable. He had to come up with a better plan than that so he made his way to his cabin, saddled up, and headed to the Paiute camp where they were already aware of what had happened.

“Go to the Ponderosa. Alert the Cartwrights. They can bring enough men to stop these men from doing what they are doing.”

“John, you know too that will take many days. They will do much damage before the Cartwrights can get here.”

“I think I can stop them from that. I’m going to sneak into their camp and steal some of their supplies so they can’t blast any more or it will be very difficult to blast, very dangerous for them.”

“How long will that stop them?”

“As long as it takes them to get to a town to get more supplies. I figure about three days and by then, the Cartwrights ought to be here or close if you’ll send some of your men to tell them what has happened.”

Without saying a word, signals were given and several men left and soon were seen riding away to alert the Cartwrights. John knew they would ride hard. It would be three days though before that help would arrive unless they happened to be lucky enough to find some men in a pasture or some place closer who had the initiative to come up here without waiting for Ben Cartwright to give them the order. He hoped that might be true.

“Now, do you know where their camp is?” John guessed that they did, and it would save time if he didn’t have to scout it out. He was thinking that he was fifty-seven years old and getting tired of these kinds of things. They told him where the camp was, and he mounted up on his horse and rode in that direction. Their camp wasn’t very far from his cabin by the directions he had been given so he left his horse at his cabin to set out on foot for their camp. He left his rifle behind and carried only two pistols and two knives as well as a large empty knapsack on his back. As he got close to their camp, he moved very slowly careful not to make a sound in case there was someone in the camp. He need not have worried. They had gold fever. Every one of them was at the blast area looking for gold leaving their supplies vulnerable. He found what he was looking for rather quickly and loaded his knapsack with all the primer cord and blasting caps that it would hold. Then he emptied a sack of beans and used that sack to take the rest. When he was done, he did his best to scratch out his tracks and headed back to his cabin. John had never been a fugitive, had never been hunted. He didn’t do a very good job of covering his tracks because the brush marks were all too obvious. If it had rained or if there had been a strong wind, he might have been all right, but Providence did not bless him with either of those.

When the gold seekers returned to their camp and found that an intruder had stolen their important supplies, they were furious. By then, it was too late to do anything about it as darkness was descending rapidly. In the mountains, when the sun set, it got very dark very fast. They planned to track the thief in the morning. John lay in his cabin having hidden the cord and caps away very well. He didn’t sleep well though wondering what would happen next. The next morning, he heard them before he saw them. He hurried from his cabin and didn’t even have time to get to his horse because those men were that close. He moved into the trees and began to climb. They heard him and pursued him firing shots after him even as several men began to search his property looking for the stolen items.

Miles away, Hoss and Candy heard the shots and guessed that there was trouble that might need their intervention. They had some hands with them and began a hard ride toward the sound of gunfire. Providence had smiled on John in an unexpected way. The Paiute had found Hoss and Candy moving a herd up to the upper pasture. After hearing what was happening, they left the cattle and rode as fast and hard as they could until darkness stopped them. Then early that morning, they had broken camp as early as they could and rode out as soon as there was enough light to see the trail so they could ride safely. Hoss had sent the Paiute back to the tribe not wanting them involved because of the danger to their tribe if whites were killed.

Higher up on the mountain, John’s weak leg gave out and he fell. He pulled himself into the best cover he could find but knew that the men following him could easily flank him and take him that way. All he could hope to do was as much damage as possible before the inevitable happened. Then he looked further down the slope and smiled for there was no mistaking the size of that man on the big black horse. All he had to do was to hang on long enough for his friend to get to him. That turned out to be difficult enough.

Down below, Hoss led Candy and the others up the slope toward the gunfire riding at a breakneck pace because he knew that it was in the direction of John’s cabin. As they got to John’s cabin, they encountered two men tearing through John’s things. Hoss challenged them and they decided to fight thinking their friends would come back to help them and not knowing that Hoss had more men coming up behind him. It was a fierce gun battle but lasted only about thirty seconds before the two men were shot down although by then Hoss had a wound in his left arm. Candy wanted him to stay put, but Hoss doggedly mounted back up on Chubb because there was still gunfire from higher up the slope. He knew that John still had to be in trouble and wasn’t going to quit until he was all right.

That took a lot more shooting and more wounds as well as more dead gold seekers before it was all over. John was wounded but not seriously.

“Even skinny and scrawny as I am, I couldn’t hide all of me behind these trees and rocks enough. They done managed to crease my hide a bit.”

“Mine too.” Hoss sat down heavily next to John.

“Don’t you go passing out on us. Ain’t near enough of us hear can carry you down this here mountain.”

Candy was there with his bandana to wrap around Hoss’ arm and echoed John’s sentiments exactly trying to keep it light but knowing Hoss needed to get down to that cabin and a cot soon too. He told the men to help John and Hoss to stand and to guide them back down the mountain. “Neither of them is fit to ride so it’ll be a walk. We’ll come back for these others once we get our men taken care of. Hoss, why do you reckon they kept on fighting when they had to know it was hopeless. It was just like those two back at the cabin. I could see why they drew down on the two of us, but when the rest of the men rode in behind us, they should have seen that they had no chance, but they kept on shooting.”

“Gold fever does crazy things to a man. I was here when the Comstock had the first run of men in here. Crazy things happened. Common sense ain’t so common when there’s gold or silver involved.”

There wasn’t much more to say about it after that. There would have to be an accounting to the sheriff in town, burials on boot hill, and probably a small story in the paper about how trespassers on the Ponderosa had chosen to shoot it out instead of leaving. There would be nothing said about gold. The hands who had come up with Hoss and Candy had been around long enough to know that they were better off with the Carwrights than following some gold fever. Hoss promised them a bonus and Candy said he would make sure that Ben and Joe knew what had been promised. The men knew they were true to their word. Once Hoss and John were settled back in the cabin and things were straightened up, Candy left with the hands to clean up the mess as much as they could. By the end of the day, Candy had sent the bodies to town with some, supplies of food as well as blankets, pots, and anything useful like that to the Paiute camp. The rest including the dynamite was loaded into the gold seekers’ wagon and driven back to the Ponderosa. Candy spent the night to make sure that both Hoss and John were going to be able to fend for themselves.

“Candy, we don’t need no nursemaid. All we got are some little scratches. Don’t amount to nothing at all.”

“Hoss, your pa would have my hide if I left you here without being sure you were all right, and don’t even think to argue with me on that point. If you’re both all right in the morning with no fever, I’ll leave you here to recover on your own. Fair enough?”

Again, there was no choice in the matter. As expected, the next morning, Hoss and John were stiff and sore, but both were recovering as well as expected. Candy left to give a full and favorable report to Ben although he suspected he’d be sent back with food from Hop Sing’s kitchen and probably also to check on Hoss’ progress because he doubted Ben could wait a full week without knowing. It happened very much as he suspected. As soon as he was back, Ben sent him on a return trip loaded with concoctions from Hop Sing to speed healing as well as a number of Hoss’ favorite foods and some clean clothing. He made the deliveries and turned around to head back to Ben with another even more favorable report having found that Hoss and John were enjoying their mini-vacation as they recovered from their minor wounds.

“How come he come on up here to check on you for your pa? I woulda thought that would be your younger brother’s kind of responsibility.”

“Nah, Joe don’t like to come up here. He’s kinda embarrassed every time he sees you. Reminds him how silly he was when he was younger ‘specially all those years he thought you was walking ’round on a mossy, dirty ole wooden leg.”

“Oh, yeah, I do remember the day he found out when we was fishing, and I done pulled my boots off to soak my feet in the water. I thought his eyes was gonna bug right on out of his head.”

They laughed a lot about that and about the stories that Hoss got to tell about his family which entertained John as he recovered from his wounds. Hoss told him about Old Sheba as well as when he and Joe decided to raise rabbits. Those stories got the biggest laughs, but John liked hearing the story about how Adam almost ended up marrying Abigail Jones because of Joe’s scheme to help Hank, and that led Hoss into explaining all about Clementine Hawkins and how she chased after his father. He told the story of how Adam had mimicked her accent and asked about where the barbells were going to be hung at the Ponderosa. John loved hearing the stories and it made him feel as if he was part of a real family again, but he knew too how important it was for Hoss to be able to talk about his older brother who was absent. It made it seem like he was there, and that was important to the big man. Apparently Ben and Joe didn’t talk about Adam much finding that talking about him made his absence hurt more. For Hoss, it was the opposite so John was an important outlet for him.

*****

Chapter 6

From the his vantage point up the slope by his cabin, John watched three men trailing another man dressed all in black. John assumed the three were a posse and that the bearded man they were following was an outlaw. The longer he watched them though, the more he wondered about those conclusions. The single man seemed not to be aware he was being followed and rode more as if he was lost in thought or distracted by something else entirely. It was a dangerous way to travel even without a posse closing in on you. Slowly though, the man in black seemed to get a bit edgy noticing perhaps that it was abnormally quiet where he was. There should have been birds singing and small animals moving about. John watched as he first looked all around for signs of movement and saw none as the three men in pursuit weren’t close enough yet to be seen so easily. Then he watched as the man surveyed the sky perhaps looking to see if there was a hawk or eagle that had frightened the smaller creatures. Seeing none, he settled back into his saddle and then startled John far more by calling out a friendly greeting in Paiute perhaps wondering if there were some members of the tribe near who were unsure of his intent. There was no answer of course and the man looked decidedly worried then loosening his pistol in its holster and then checking to see that his rifle would pull free easily if needed. Moving forward more cautiously then and checking around for signs of danger, he caused the three who were following him to fan out to come at him from three sides if they could. The drama was too good to miss so John too his horse and began to move along the ridgeline keeping all four in sight as much as he could while keeping himself in cover. When the confrontation came, it was a shock.

The three charged in at the man in black as John expected catching him by surprise as much as they could. The man was a good shot, but on horseback in the trees, it was difficult, and then his horse shied with the gunfire, stumbled, and threw him. He fell awkwardly and the three were on him before he had a chance to do anything to protect himself any further. John expected an arrest. Instead, they took everything of value the man had including his coat and boots. He heard the man complain.

“If you leave me here like this, I’ll die. That’s not just robbery. That’s murder.”

“It won’t matter. Nobody is ever gonna know. A bear or wolves or a mountain lion maybe likely to get your body and have a feast. Nobody is gonna find you nohow cause all they’ll find bones scattered about. Maybe if they find you soon enough, there’ll be some stinking flesh attached. They’ll feel a bit sorry for ya, but not too much thinking you musta been kind of stupid to get caught by a bear or whatever.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“Maybe we have and maybe we ain’t. It’s not your concern. Now shut up.”

For good measure, one of the men swung the butt of his rifle up to hit the taller man on the back of the head stunning him and dropping him to his knees. It wasn’t enough for them though. They each slammed their rifle butts into him and kicked him until he was unconscious and still on the ground. Laughing, they mounted up and leading the extra horse, headed back the way they had come.

Sighing, John knew what he had to do. He rode down the slope to where the man lay and after some effort, managed to get him up and across his saddle. He tied him in place so he wouldn’t slide off and then headed back up the slope to his cabin. It was a long slow walk with his bad leg, and he wasn’t even sure the man would be alive by the time they got to the cabin, but he had to try. At the cabin, he was exhausted but relieved to find the tall man was still breathing. He untied him and slid him from the horse and dragged him into the cabin. He was glad he had that extra cot that Hoss used when he visited because it was handy at that moment. He wasn’t used to lifting a man into the cot though and it took some time to get him in there. When he finally did and got him resting on his back with a blanket stretched over him, he wondered what he could do for him. He had head injuries. John could do nothing for that. He decided about all he could do was to keep the man comfortable, give him water and food if he woke, and keep him warm. If he survived, then John would learn more about his story and what he ought to do with him next.

Then the oddest thing happened and made John begin to think really hard. The man was sleeping on the cot Hoss slept on, using the blanket Hoss used, and resting his head on the pillow Hoss rested his head on. The injured man woke slightly at one point and John did his best to give him some water. The man lay back then and whispered only one word. “Hoss.” He said it softly but so clearly as if he thought it was Hoss Cartwright who had helped him. John sat there and wondered how the man could possibly think that. How could he know Hoss? How could he realize perhaps that he was in Hoss’ bed or the one Hoss used on occasion? After a lot of thought, John decided he better let Hoss know but he couldn’t let this man alone for days. He walked outside and fired off several shots to try to summon some of the Paiute to come to his place. He figured they’d be curious and want to know why there was shooting over to his place. They were. A short time later, he walked out and hollered in Paiute for them to come in cause he needed to talk to them. Several came to his cabin then and he explained the whole story to them. Two agreed that they would summon Hoss for him. He thanked them and told them he had to get back to his patient but that they were welcome to the deer he had hanging in the tree.

“I won’t be able to get at it to make jerky ’cause I got that sick man inside to take care of. Cut me a good piece for making stew and take the rest with ya.”

When John got back inside, he found the man trying to sit up.

“Now you lay back. You ain’t fit to be getting up at all. What you want anyhow?”

The man resisted a little or as much as he could in the condition he was in. In a soft voice, he did explain the reason he wanted to get up. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need a basin or a bucket. If not now, soon.”

Understanding, John told him to lay on his side and he would take care of it. As quickly as he could, he got a large bowl and put some wood shavings in it from his carving. He set it beside the low bed. “Now I got it right here and it’s ready for ya. I’ll stay right here. I know ya probably are gonna need it real soon ifn ya don’t fall back asleep. Nobody ever retches out when they’re sleeping so I’ll wait to see which it’s gonna be.” John watched as the man lay there in obvious distress until he raised his head and leaned to the side. Quickly John was there to help him to make sure he didn’t fall and to hold the bowl for him as he did retch out the little that was in his stomach. Exhausted then, the man lay with his eyes closed. John moved the bowl away and gave him a cup of water. “Here, take some in your mouth and swish it around and spit it back out into the cup. It’ll make ya feel a bit better.” Once that was accomplished, John eased him back to rest again on the pillow and pulled the blanket across him before going to the kitchen to brew some weak broth. He brought it back and spooned just a little into the man’s mouth telling him he needed that to ease his mouth and throat after what he’d done. “All right, now you need to sleep. I’ll be here if ya need anything more.” John had a suspicion as to the identity of the man he had rescued and was anxious for Hoss to arrive to confirm or deny that conclusion. The man himself was seldom awake and then John concentrated on the things that needed to be done. Those tasks usually exhausted the man enough that he fell back asleep. He seemed to spend most of his time sleeping.

Therefore, when John heard Hoss’ voice, he couldn’t help grinning especially when that voice also made the man on the cot stir and open his eyes too. Just that was enough for John to know he had to be correct. John flung the door open and Hoss filled the entrance darkening the space within until he entered fully. One look over at the cot, and Hoss’ mouth dropped open as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He moved closer to get a good look.

“Dagnabit, I would never have believed it ifn I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”

“Good to see you too, brother.”

“What you doing up here, Adam?”

It was clear it was difficult, but Adam did his best to talk. “I thought I’d come across the mountains and have some time to think.”

“Why d’ya do a fool thing like that ridin’ through such rough country all alone?”

“I’ve done it before.”

“Yeah, before. Should I remind you about Eskith and Danny and Kane and a few other times you had some close calls ’cause you was alone? Damn, you’re a stubborn man. For a man likes schooling, ya don’t learn too well.”

Sitting back, John was amused by the two brothers. Even as Hoss was admonishing Adam for what he had done, he was gently checking him over and pulling the blanket up to his chin to make sure he was warm enough, and all the while keeping one hand on Adam’s arm to reassure him that he was there for him no matter what.

“Hoss, I lost her. I got married, and we were coming back, but we had a terrible fight. It seems we often have fights, but this one made her walk out on me. I looked for her everywhere and then I found that she booked passage on a ship. She left me.”

“Nah, she didn’t.”

“Hoss, she’s gone.”

“Nope, she’s been at the Ponderosa for nigh onto two weeks now. We been wondering where you were. She thought you woulda come straight here. We had no idea you was gonna do something stupid like ride through the mountains.”

“She’s at the Ponderosa?”

“I said that already. That bump on the head affect your hearing too? She said you and her are a lot alike. Course she’s got that French accent that makes things sound real purtty when she says ’em and sometimes I’m not so sure what she’s saying but it’s still real purty to hear. Anyway, she says you’re both stubborn and got hot tempers and she figures that you’ll both be better off here with family to help ya settle things. She said it would be better for the baby if you had a place that you could call home instead of wandring all over creation.”

“What baby?”

“You been married and I know you been with women before so you ought to know aobut babies and how they’re made or that knock on the head did a lot more damage than we thought.”

“She didn’t tell me we were going to have a baby.”

“Well she is.”

“I need to get there.”

“You’re not going anywhere for a bit. You rest easy there. I’ll have to ride home or send somebody to get a wagon to get you home. You can’t ride like you are. I can tell just be seeing how your eyes are that you shouldn’t be on a horse and I only got one here anyway. So lay back and get some rest while John and I figure on what we’re gonna do next.”

“Is Eve with her?”

When Hoss said she was, Adam groaned. “Why don’t you like her? I like her a lot.”

Looking up hopefully, Adam checked out Hoss’ expression. “A lot? Like in you’d like to kiss her?” Seeing Hoss blush, Adam had to grin. “You already kissed her, didn’t you? Hoss, please, please romance her and take her away from Corinne. I love Corinne, but you don’t know what it’s like when the two of them gang up on me. Corinne doesn’t need to have a lady servant out here. Please?”

“I don’t know if a French lady would be interested in a cowboy like me.”

“Oh, please, she’s not French. All that ‘madame’ and such is an act. She’s a cockney from England who needed a job and didn’t care how much it paid as long as it got her out of the pubs. Get her to drink a few glasses of wine and you’ll meet the real Eve.”

The brothers talked more after Adam got some sleep, and it was decided that Hoss would go back to the Ponderosa to get a wagon and Corinne. Adam would be transported back to the Ponderosa, and he and Corinne would make plans for their future. When Hoss returned to do that, he turned to John before leaving with Adam and Corinne.

“John, we’ll be sending the usual payment for services to the Ponderosa. Pa will likely want to send a bonus for this one.”

“Nope, Hoss, this one’s on me. I done it as a friend.”

Hoss shook John’s hand. “Yep, we’re friends. Now, Sunday, Hop Sing is fixing an extra special meal. I expect to see you there. I reckon we’ll be eating about five.”

“I’ll be there.”

Hoss could not have had a bigger grin. Or maybe he could have. While he was gone to get the wagon, John and Adam had two days to talk. Adam said he wanted to build his own house and would need someone to take care of the stable and the stock because he planned to open an office in town. John said he’d be interested and Adam had hired him. When John came down on Sunday, it was going to be a permanent move. He was going back to white society by making a move to the Ponderosa. He would see a lot of his friend Hoss and he wouldn’t be lonely any more.

*****

 

Suspicion

PART I

Chapter 1

The sun warmed his skin where she wasn’t resting on it. He couldn’t have been more content at that moment as he stroked her back and gazed down at the blond hair splayed over his chest and tangled in his chest hair. He hoped, no, he knew it was the first of many times he would enjoy this sensation. When she had come up to him after church and told him so boldly that she wanted him and not Ross and to meet her in an hour for a ride to the lake, he had almost not complied. What a foolish decision that would have been. Delphine had been quiet at first as he helped her into the carriage but as they rode to the lake, she had leaned against him and they talked. At the lake, as he helped her from the carriage, they had the first kiss they had shared in over two months. It had started a bit tentatively but was soon overwhelming in intensity. With almost no conversation, they had grabbed the blanket from the carriage and moved to the lakeshore. Delphine made her intentions very clear by unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it from his trousers as they hugged and kissed.

“Are you sure, Del? Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Adam, I have never been more sure of anything in my life.”

Not needing any more invitation than that, Adam had helped her undress savoring every inch of her that was revealed kissing and touching until their passion couldn’t be restrained. He had made love to women before but it had never been with a woman who loved him and whom he loved as well. He moved then to roll her to the side so he could kiss her and was surprised to find tears had streaked her cheeks.

“Del, I’m sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t want to hurt you. You should have said something.”

“You didn’t hurt me, but I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.”

“Hurt me? How could you hurt me? You’ve made me so happy. Del, I love you. I want to be with you like this forever.”

“Adam, I love you too, but I’m afraid this is the only time we will ever be together. Ross has asked me to marry him. I’m going to tell him that I will marry him, the next time I see him.”

“Del, I thought you must have called it quits with him. I didn’t think you would betray him like this. Oh, Del, what have you done? What have you made me do?”

“Adam, I only went with Ross to make you jealous. Ross was so eager to take me places. You were so reluctant to make a commitment to me that I thought I could make you jealous and you would be more willing. But Ross was forceful too. Adam, he isn’t gentle like you. I wanted one time with you to have forever, but I have to marry Ross.”

“No. Why do you have to marry Ross if you love me?”

“Because I’m carrying his child.”

At that point, Adam was speechless. The woman he loved and to whom he had finally admitted his love was going to marry his best friend because she was carrying his child but not because she loved him. Instead, she had just made love to him giving him what he had waited so long to have. It was all very painful to contemplate. He pulled her into an embrace, kissed her deeply, and released her. Moving away from her, he stood and began to dress.

“Adam, you don’t hate me now, do you?”

“Del, I could never hate you. I will love you, but you know that we can never be anything more than friends now. Anything else is impossible. I’ll give you a ride back to town. I’ll be at your wedding, and I’ll wish you well.”

Del nodded with tears in her eyes. She knew what she had done and would live with her choices. Adam had tears in his heart but couldn’t show them. All she saw was a mask. True to his word, Adam was best man at their wedding and toasted the couple smiling for the entire day until they parted that evening. His father and Hoss wondered at the two whiskeys he drank one after another before going up to bed that night. He wasn’t usually one to drink whiskey. It was something he drank when he was upset or troubled and rarely did he have two. Neither of them ever knew why he had two that night after having a few drinks earlier that evening. They didn’t give him a hard time the next day when he had the obvious result of that overindulgence either. Something was bothering him and they hoped he would talk about it at some point. He never did.

Over the years, Adam was a good friend to Ross whom he often called Skinny. He was there to offer support when Ross and Delphine lost their baby. He was there to help when Ross’ parents died and Ross had to take over running the ranch on his own because his younger brother Dave had gone to the east to pursue other interests. Adam suffered terribly when Ross passed through that dark gate of mental illness, turned to outlawing, and ended up killing his wife and trying to kill him. Adam killed his best friend. It was a terrible burden to carry, but none knew the extra weight he carried. It was at every wedding he attended though. Every one made him remember Ross and Delphine’s wedding and the loss that he had borne for so many years because of it.

As Adam stood and watched his youngest brother say his wedding vows, he remembered Delphine saying those words with Ross and how each word had been like a stake in his heart knowing she was forever lost to him because of them. Hoss nudged him in the side after the two were pronounced man and wife.

“Ya could smile a bit for our younger brother’s sake. Ya don’t always hafta have that look at a wedding like somebody up and died. I swear, you must be the most scared of weddings of any man I know.”

“I’m not afraid of weddings.”

“You look like you are, and you drink more at weddings than you do any other days of the years. Why is that?”

“Maybe because I get harassed more at weddings than I do any other days of the year.”

About that time, a wedding guest tossed out the usual refrain about how it was supposed to be the oldest who got married first, not the youngest.

“Oh, yeah, there is some of that. But I get it too, and I don’t drink more at weddings.”

“It’s because you drink so much all the time, you couldn’t drink more at a wedding.”

Hoss laughed heartily at his brother’s jibe thinking that Adam was being Adam. It seemed fairly normal to him so he went on about the day as if nothing more needed to be said. Even Joe ribbed Adam a little about needing a wife but told him not to look at his.

“Don’t worry, Joe. I’m not interested in married women.”

That got a laugh from Joe and from others nearby, even as Adam danced with a number of women many of whom were married. He danced with quite a few single women too. As the day progressed, Ben noted that Adam had that serious introspective look every time he finished a conversation with someone and didn’t need to keep an appropriate stage face. He watched all afternoon and noted that same reaction again and again. Even during the dancing, Adam was all smiles as he danced with one woman after another, but in between, the smiles were gone replaced by that same melancholy look. Adam had that look more and more these days, and Ben worried about what it could mean. Paul noticed Ben observing Adam at one point.

“Are you worried about melancholy?”

“I’m not sure if that’s it. Adam is prone to some dark moods. I wonder why weddings seem to bring that out in him.”

“Weddings?”

“Yes, I’ve noticed over the years that it is often weddings that cause some of these moods of his. He doesn’t talk about it, and it will pass in a few days.”

“I saw him take a drink from a flask earlier. Didn’t seem like the kind of thing Adam would likely do.”

“It isn’t except when he gets like this.”

“Would you like me to talk to him?”

“No, he would resent that we’ve been talking about him. No, but I think I need to have a try at talking to him again. I think he needs to talk this out whatever it is.”

“Good luck with that.” Paul moved off. He knew as well as anyone that no one got Adam to talk about anything he didn’t want to discuss.

That night, when all the guests were gone, and the newlyweds had departed, Adam was going to pour himself a stiff drink when his father interrupted him.

“Perhaps we could talk about why you think you need that drink.”

“Maybe I just want a drink. Lots of people have a few drinks when there’s a wedding.”

“You have more than a few, and usually you have no more than one. What’s bothering you so much, Adam. I’ve noticed this before, and I want to help, but I can’t help if you won’t talk to me.”

Downing the drink to buy some time and to think, Adam decided to discuss something important enough that his father would accept it as the cause and perhaps not pursue this any further. His father could be as persistent as he was if he thought there was something that needed to be done.

“Pa, do you think there’s love at first sight or do you have to find someone who can be your friend first and let the love grow?”

“I guess I believe either could be true, but perhaps the path of love is a bit of both. You find someone that you find attractive, who seems to be the one who could be a good match, and then you work at winning that one.” Pausing for a short time in thought, Ben had another thought. “Is that it? You wonder why you haven’t found someone yet as so many others have and your younger brother has too?”

“The thought has crossed my mind.” A master at understatement, Adam knew that would get his father’s attention and amuse him as well. It did.

Ben shook his head even as a small smile emerged to break the worry lines that had creased his face earlier. “Adam, you’ve had some bad luck in that. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find someone to love and to marry.”

“I don’t know, Pa. At this point, I think I’d be happy if a comely, intelligent woman came up to me and said she’d be willing to be my wife and live with me. I think I’d take her up on the offer if it was made. It would be better than being alone.”

“Son, don’t give up on love. I think that you’ll find someone. Look at all those women who wanted to dance with you today.”

“Pa, most of those women were married. They wanted to dance with me because I was willing and their husbands don’t like to dance. Now that they have a wife, they don’t think they need to do anything to keep her so they don’t. I like to dance, so I accommodate the ladies who seem to appreciate the effort I’m willing to make. It’s hardly a way to find a wife. I won’t have anything to do with a married woman.”

“I know you wouldn’t, but some of the women weren’t married.”

“Pa, I did say I wanted a comely and intelligent woman. Far too many of those women find the weather, their dresses, the food, and various other simple things to be the best they can do for conversation. That’s all right for the duration of a dance, but for a relationship, I need more.”

Nodding in appreciation of that sentiment, Ben had to agree. “Is there a comely and intelligent woman who might hold your interest? Is there any woman here who could get you to take a chance on love?”

“I hope so, but if so, I haven’t met her yet. Well, it’s been good talking to you, Pa, but I think I need some sleep. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.”

Ben shared the same sentiment. The two men locked up the house, banked the fire, and set the fire screen before heading up to their bedrooms. Both were tired by the events of the day, but only one would find sleep quickly. For hours, Adam stared into the darkness trying to will himself to forget the things that haunted him. He couldn’t and fell asleep only when exhaustion claimed him.

*****

Chapter 2

The next morning at breakfast, Adam’s eyes were red rimmed with dark rings underneath. He didn’t eat much and mostly pushed the food around on his plate as his father and Hoss talked. He didn’t pay much attention until he heard his name and the Marquette name in the same sentence. Then he picked up his head and stared at his father.

“What?”

“I was wondering when you would join us. You’ve been here but not here. Yesterday, Dave Marquette said he could use some help at his place. He asked if you could go over there to help out. He said he fell behind in some projects when he broke his leg and still can’t do them. He was hoping you could.”

“Why can’t his hands take care of things?”

“He only has two men working for him so they’re busy with the cattle. And it’s the stable that needs repairs as well as the roof of the house. Neither of those men apparently has any experience in doing those kind of things, and everyone knows how good you are at those kinds of things.”

“Hoss could go.”

“He could, but he has other things to do, and why should he go instead of you?”

Of course Adam didn’t want to say why he didn’t like to go over to the Marquette ranch and hadn’t been there any more than necessary since both Delphine and Ross had been buried there. He had helped take care of the place until Dave and his wife had returned to assume ownership and hadn’t been back since. Now, it seemed he was being forced into a situation in which he had to go there. Hoss seemed to understand somewhat even if his father didn’t.

“I kin go over there in a few days, Adam, ifn you don’t want ta do it.”

“Adam?” Ben waited for an answer when Adam didn’t immediately reply to Hoss’ offer.

Knowing his father would want an explanation if he accepted Hoss’ offer though, Adam felt caught. He still carried so much pain and guilt associated with the Marquettes, both Ross and Delphine, and yet he couldn’t talk about it. It seemed that every time he tried, his throat tightened up so much no words would come out. He nodded. “I’ll go over there. Thanks, Hoss, but I can do it.” He didn’t dare look at his father at that point. All he could do was try to eat some of the food on his plate. It was a herculean task, but he managed to chew and swallow most of what was there before he finally was able to excuse himself to go outside to the stable to saddle his horse for the ride he didn’t want to make. Hoss followed him out there. Nothing was said for quite a while until Hoss put a hand on his shoulder.

“Something been bothering you for a long time. Ya know I’ll listen anytime you want to lay that burden down or let somebody else help ya carry it.”

All Adam could do was nod again. Hoss seemed to understand as he always did. He turned and led his horse from the stable even as Adam packed some tools and nails into his saddlebags. He wasn’t sure what he would need but thought some light supplies at least would be in order. He rode over to the Marquette place slowly knowing he would not get a good reception from Dave. Although the man had requested his assistance, any interactions they had had were of a noticeably cool type. It was entirely understandable considering that Adam had killed Ross even if Ross had been trying to kill him at the time. Many also thought that Adam was responsible for Delphine’s death by interfering in their marriage bringing her to the Ponderosa when she and Ross had been at odds. Many did not condone that kind of interference in a relationship between a husband and a wife and it made people wonder what else had been going on. He had heard the talk and knew what was being said and what was being implied as well. It wasn’t true, but that seldom mattered to gossips who enjoyed a juicy salacious story no matter who was hurt by it. All he could do was try to wait it out and hope that time would heal any wounds and that stories would lose their interest with nothing more to feed them. Without any more details to add and no more drama, he assumed there soon would be nothing more about which they could talk.

Pulling up when he saw the ranch house down below, Adam took a deep breath before riding down to greet the Marquettes. He could tell by how quiet it was that the two ranch hands were probably not there. The stable doors were closed and there was no smoke coming from the small bunkhouse. He tied his horse by the house and went to the front door and knocked. He waited for quite a while before the door was opened by Dave’s wife, Rebecca, a voluptuous woman with a flirtatious smile. Her dress did little to hide her curves and was probably too small for her, but she had squeezed into it anyway probably knowing the effect it would have on any man who saw her.

“Dave is still sleeping this morning. It was a long day for him yesterday trying so hard to walk with that cane and not appear to be limited. You know how men are about things like that. Well, he’s paying the price now. He should have spent some time sitting and resting.”

“Perhaps I should come back another day.”

“No, Dave told me he asked your father if he could send you over to help. I know he should have asked you directly, but you know he has trouble with that. But we know you’re the best when it comes to fixing things and he knows that too. I can show you what needs to be done.” Pulling the door closed behind her, Rebecca took his arm as if he had no say in the matter. “Let’s go to the stable first. My, you are a strong one. I can feel the muscles in your arm.” Reaching up with her other hand, Rebecca placed a hand on Adam’s bicep. “Yes, you are a very strong one. My Dave isn’t so muscular as this. I wish he was. I do like a man with muscles.” She ran her hand up and down his upper arm to emphasize her point more thoroughly as if he didn’t already know what she meant.

Uncomfortable with the attention, Adam couldn’t dislodge her from his arm without seeming a bit uncouth. She dropped her hand from his bicep which was a relief but kept one arm entwined with his as they walked to the stable. Even there, she didn’t release him but held on as she asked him to open the stable door. As it swung open, it canted quite a lot to one side.

“There’s one of the problems. I can’t open the door by myself usually and I can’t close it ever. Inside, you’ll see that the stalls need new boards in places, and the stall for the newborn colts and fillies is all broken down. That’s a job that can be done anytime, but there’s a stack of shingles in here too. Dave was meaning to fix up the roof on the house. We have a few places where we have a little bit of leaking in if it rains hard with a strong wind. He thinks new shingles will take care of it. It’s quite hot today though so perhaps you wouldn’t want to do that. You might get so hot you’ll have to take off your shirt. I could bring some cool water to you or we could have some cool lemonade in the shade if you get too hot.”

Clearly, Rebecca was flirting with Adam and making him decidedly uncomfortable. All he could think to do was to get to work on something that would require her to let go of his arm. “Perhaps I should get a ladder and take a look at that roof. Do you have one here?”

“Oh, there’s a ladder up in the loft.”

She looked disappointed at having to say that because she would have to release Adam, but he was relieved. Free of her, Adam climbed up into the loft to retrieve the ladder. Unfortunately, she did not return to the house but waited for him down below. He slid the ladder down and then climbed back down to carry it to the house. When he picked it up, she slid her hands up his back.

“My, I can’t get over how strong you are. Your muscles just ripple under that shirt.”

“Perhaps, you could carry a few of the shingles to the house while I carry the ladder?”

With that, Adam exited the stable even as Rebecca had a huge grin. Things were working out quite well she thought. As she carried a few shingles up to the house, she saw Dave looking out from the upstairs bedroom window. She dropped the shingles at the base of the ladder that Adam was already climbing to the roof, and she trudged inside to talk to Dave. She was disappointed because she had been having so much fun. She hoped she might have quite a bit more fun before Adam left that day, but she did know there was enough work that he would be back the next day. There would definitely be more opportunities for her.

For most of the day, Adam worked on the roof. Although he did get very hot, he resisted any temptation to remove his shirt or even to unbutton any buttons. He stayed as far away from Rebecca as he could getting water from the bucket at the well telling her when she offered that he wasn’t thirsty. When Rebecca called up to him saying she had lunch ready, he declined saying he wasn’t hungry and had had a big breakfast. He could see she was disappointed but was worried by her earlier behavior and didn’t want to take a chance on a repeat performance. By late afternoon, he thought that he had managed to find all the weak spots in the roof and repair them. He walked all around and it seemed that there were no soft spots and no places that looked like they could be a problem. He climbed down glad that he had brought nails enough for the job, and carried the ladder back to the stable leaning it against the loft but not pushing it up there. There was always the chance he might have to do a few more repairs. He took a good look at the stalls and the stable door before he got his horse, tightened the cinch, and mounted up. He rode to the house hoping that either Dave or Rebecca would come outside. When neither did, he reluctantly dismounted and walked up to the front door again, knocked, and waited. This time Dave answered.

“I thank you for the work you’ve done, but not for upsetting my wife. She said she was trying to be friendly to you today, and all you did was be unfriendly to her. Now why would you treat her so badly? What has she ever done to you?”

Shocked, Adam didn’t know what to say at first and could only defend himself. He didn’t want to accuse her of flirting with him. That wasn’t something you said to a woman’s husband especially when he was already upset. “I didn’t treat her badly. I simply got to the work and worked as hard as I could. I’m sorry if she thought that was unfriendly. When I work, I focus on my work. It’s the way I am. If you don’t want me here doing the work, just say so.”

“No, you know I need the work done, and I don’t want your father to think I’m not grateful. But please be kind to my wife. She doesn’t get to see many people out here, and she’s very sensitive.”

“All right. I’ll try to be kind.”

“Thank you. It’s all I ask.”

Masking his frustration as well as he could, Adam turned and went back to Sport to ride home. As he rode away, Rebecca walked out onto the porch and put her arm through Dave’s arm. The two smiled at each other. Dave outlined what had happened and what was going to happen.

“He doesn’t know what to think. We’ve got him right where we want him. Tomorrow, you get to do the rest of it. We’ll have him caught right in the crosshairs then. One way or another, he’s going to pay. ”

“Money, his life, or his reputation, or some combination: you don’t really care what it is as long as he suffers, do you?” Rebecca looked up at her husband with admiration. Ever since he had rescued her from a life as a soiled dove and given her love and respect, she would do anything he asked. She adored him.

“No, we’ve got contingency plans for whatever happens. I’ve had years to set this up. I’m ready for anything. He will suffer, and suffer a lot if I have anything to do with it, and I plan to have a lot to do with it. He has a lot to answer for, and no one here will make him pay so I will be the sword of justice.”

*****

Chapter 3

If Ben thought that Adam was in a bad mood that morning, he wasn’t at all prepared for how he was when he returned. Angry and frustrated, he was taking it out on anyone who got near him. After tolerating his behavior through dinner, Ben was frustrated and asked Hoss to follow him when he stalked outside after they finished eating.

“Try to find out what’s wrong. You’re usually better at getting him to calm down without lighting his fuse.”

“I’ll do what I can, but I ain’t seen him this riled in a long time.” Hoss walked outside then not seeing Adam but guessed where he would be. He found him in the stable grooming Sport. He knew his older brother often found comfort by giving it to another. Sport was often the lucky recipient. He settled on a bench and waited knowing Adam would grow frustrated with his silence and say something. What he said would help Hoss know what to say next. It didn’t take long.

“I should have taken you up on your offer.”

“What offer was that?”

Adam waited because he knew Hoss was only trying to get him to talk more. He knew what offer Adam had meant. The two of them had done this dance often enough that they recognized the moves easily enough. Hoss had waited for him to talk first. He had, but he wasn’t going to blurt everything out. It wasn’t his way, and Hoss knew that. He would only say what he was comfortable saying and that had a lot to do with what Hoss said next.

“I know why you don’t like going over there cause it’s still gotta hurt to be there where Ross and Del are buried. But it seems that you’re more angry than hurting tonight so something else musta happened. Ya care ta tell me or ya jest gonna take it out on us even though we weren’t the ones who done whatever it was that was done to ya?”

Walking around to the other side of Sport to finish his grooming but also to avoid direct eye contact with Hoss, Adam decided he could tell Hoss what happened and perhaps get a second opinion on it. It was possible that Hoss knew more about the situation than he did because he did spend more time in the saloons and talking with the hands from other ranches.

“I got myself as ready as I could to deal with those feelings about Ross and Del before I rode over there. I’ve been carrying a load for along time about them that I can’t seem to put down.”

“I know you have. Someday, I wish you could talk to me about that.”

“I wish I could too, but not now. Anyway, I thought it wouldn’t be too bad, but Rebecca Marquette was flirting with me from the moment I got there.”

That got Hoss’ attention. “Flirting like in saying stuff or flirting in like doing more?”

“Yes, as in doing more. She said a lot, but she kept touching me when she said things. Without seeming like a complete jackass, I couldn’t push her away, but it made me uncomfortable. Her husband was right there in the house, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. At first, all she did was take my arm and not let it go, but then she touched me more, and said things a wife shouldn’t say to a man who isn’t her husband.”

“What’d you do?”

“I decided that fixing the roof was the best bet for staying away from her. I got the ladder from the hayloft and spent the day on the roof. It was damn hot too, but I didn’t dare take off my shirt or even open it up a little. I didn’t want to do anything to encourage her.”

“What happened when it was time for lunch?”

“I said I wasn’t hungry and kept on working. When she wasn’t around, I slid down the ladder as fast as I could and got water from the well or got more shingles. I was thirsty and hungry when I got home, but then at dinner, as soon as I ate some, my stomach turned on me as I thought about going back there tomorrow.”

“Mebbe you shouldn’t. I mean, in a coupla days, I could head on over there and finish up whatever else needs to be done. You finished with the roof?”

“I think so. It looked good when I got done. Unless we have a rain and they say there’s still a leak somewhere, I think it’s repaired.”

“Well, that oughta be good enough. I kin do any other kind of repairs good as you probably ‘specially ifn ya was ta tell me what needed ta be done.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. As I was grooming Sport, I had an idea. All the repairs that are left are in the stable. I’ll go early and take down the stable door that needs to be fixed and lay it across the opening against some supports to block the entrance. Then I’ll work in the stable cutting wood pieces for the door and the stalls. She won’t be able to get in except to pick up that door and move it.”

Grinning, Hoss nodded. “You are one sneaky brother. I always tell Joe that. Yeah, that oughta work fine. Good, then ya gonna sleep better tonight, ya think?”

“I think so. Thanks, Hoss. It helps to have you here to talk things through. Pa send you out?”

Shrugging, Hoss couldn’t deny it. “He figured I might get you to talk without making you madder. I guess it worked. Pa’s pretty smart that way.”

“Yeah, he is. Let’s go inside so I can show him how smart he was again, and he can sleep better tonight too.”

As planned, the next morning, Adam headed out early to try to get his plan in motion before Rebecca even knew he was there. It worked in that he had the stable door down and across the opening effectively blocking access to the stable and had set up a support for it before he ever heard her voice.

“Now, Adam, this is a silly place to lean this door. You can’t come in or out. You can’t even get any water or lunch with this blocking the way.”

“That’s all right. I have a canteen with me. I’ll be fine. I should be finished by early afternoon so I won’t be needing any lunch. I’ll head on home when I’m done. Thank you, anyway. It was very considerate of you to think of me.”

“Adam, why don’t you like me? What have I done to make you not like me?”

“Rebecca, I like you just fine, but I have a lot of work to do. I’m sure Dave would like your attention today while I work. Later, the two of you can come out here and inspect what I’ve done to see if there’s more that needs to be done.”

“All right, but I’m sad now.”

With an uneasy feeling, Adam looked around and made sure there was no other access to the stable. He had a feeling that Rebecca didn’t give up easily when she wanted something. He got to work then and worked for several hours with no interruptions. The stalls were repaired and then he set to work on fixing the stable door. He knew that was going to be the only difficult time because once the door itself was fixed, he would have to set it upright and work on the rail from which it hung that needed to be leveled and nailed back into place. He thought it probably would need some grease on the rails as well. All of that would likely take him most of an hour giving Rebecca plenty of time to accost him again, but at least it would have to be in plain view. He hoped that would be enough to dissuade her from anything too obvious especially when he saw Dave sitting on the porch when he pushed the stable door into position. He was relieved that he was not bothered by Rebecca at all while he set the rail and then hung the stable door after greasing the rail. He pushed the door back and forth several times to be sure it moved easily. Satisfied with his work, he went into the stable to retrieve his tools so that he could leave. That was his one mistake and it proved costly. When he turned to leave, Rebecca was there.

“Now, you have no excuse. There’s no work to do and you can do with me whatever you want. No one can see us in here.”

“Rebecca, I’m sorry, but you’re a married woman. You shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Adam, Dave won’t mind. He never minds. I’ve seen you looking at me plenty of times so I know you want me. You want this.” Rebecca began to unbutton her dress and it was clear that she had little on underneath it. Adam backed up and tried to move around her, but that only made her bolder. She pulled at the buttons so hard that a few popped off and her breasts were free.

“Rebecca, I don’t want to do anything with you. Please, cover yourself.”

Instead, Rebecca rushed into Adam’s arms propelling him backwards with the force of her advance. Adam dropped the tools he was carrying and staggered back. He put his hands on her shoulders to push her away. At that point, Dave bellowed from the stable door.

“Get your hands off my wife, you animal. I should have brought a shotgun out here. Get away from her, you beast. I should have known what you would do. Ross told me about you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I was trying to get her away from me.”

“Dave, he ripped my dress. See?” Rebecca turned to Dave with her breasts exposed and the front of her dress opened wide with several buttons missing.

“Get out of here. I’ll have the sheriff on you. Get out.”

“Dave, I’m sorry, but she tore her dress open like that. She approached me.”

“Of course. You want me to believe my wife tore her own dress open like that and exposed herself to you. You must think me as big a fool as Ross was. I told you to leave. Go before I go to the house and get that shotgun. It would only be what you deserve.”

By then, Rebecca had pulled her dress together over her chest and begun sobbing. The tears were as fake as everything else about her, but there was no possible way for Adam to convince Dave of that. He walked from the stable, mounted up on Sport, and rode for home wondering what he was going to say to his father and Hoss and how he was going to try to explain this to Roy when he showed up because he had little doubt that Dave and Rebecca were going to summon him. When he arrived home, his ashen face and shell shocked look were enough for his father to be immediately concerned. Adam had little choice but to tell him the whole story including everything that had happened the day before including more details than he had confided in Hoss. When Hoss returned from work later, Adam told him all of it with his father listening in again saying what he had said the first time.

“Adam, why would she do that? Why would she want to do something like that? And why would Dave talk to you like that and bring up Ross and say Ross was a fool? What does he mean by that?”

Adam was as mystified as his father and brother though as to why it had happened. That is, he was until the next morning. Shortly after breakfast, Dave Marquette was there at the Ponderosa in a carriage. He refused to get out and asked that Adam come out to speak with him. Adam should have brought a witness.

“What you did was reprehensible. But, Rebecca and I have been talking. You have a reputation to protect and a life here that’s important to you. We want to keep our ranch and it’s been hard. We’re willing to forget what happened if you’re willing to pay compensation for what happened. We won’t go to the sheriff and we won’t ever tell anyone what you did.”

“I told you I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, you can keep telling that story for the rest of your life if you pay us fifty thousand dollars.”

“What?”

“Oh, I think you heard me well enough. It should be worth it to you to protect your precious reputation and the life you have here. It should be worth that much at least to you. You pay that to us and we forget anything that happened. In fact, we’ll be willing to sell our ranch to you or to your father too. You can be rid of us for good and no one needs to know anything. That’s the deal or we go to the sheriff later today. You’ve got a few hours to let us know your answer. At one today if we don’t hear from you, we take this carriage to town and file a complaint with the sheriff.”

“So first your wife sets me up and lies about it, and now it’s blackmail.”

“You can call it what you will. You know the deal now. We’ll be waiting for your answer.”

“I can give you the answer now. I will not be blackmailed. I did nothing wrong. I won’t pay you not to tell lies.”

“All right, but you’ll be sorry. I can promise you that.”

*****

Chapter 4

When Adam went back into the house, Ben and Hoss wanted to know what Dave had wanted and were shocked not only by what Adam told them of what Dave had wanted but that Adam had already denied the demand.

“Adam, you sure you wanta do that? I mean, ya ain’t got nobody to back you up. You could be in some serious trouble ifn they do file a complaint with the sheriff.”

“They have no proof that I did anything either. She’s going to say I did, and I’m going to say I didn’t. It’s not going to go anywhere.”

“Son, it may not go anywhere legally, but this could hurt you in a lot of ways. People are going to talk and some are going to remember this for a long time.”

“Listen, if they believe it, they were never friends of mine to begin with, and if they’re friends, they aren’t going to believe it.”

“Adam, that’s all very idealistic, and in a perfect world, perhaps it would work that way, but doubts are going to be sown about you. Your reputation may never recover from this. We can recover that money.”

“So we should let them get away with this? You want to let them blackmail me after setting me up so perfectly? It was a well-planned crime. They’re the ones who ought to be reported to the sheriff. I only wish I had some way to prove it. Unfortunately, it works the same both ways. It would be my word against theirs. There’s no way to prove anything.”

The three men sat quietly for a short time until Hoss had a suggestion. “Maybe you ought to go talk to Roy first. Tell him what happened. I’ll go with ya and tell him what you told me yesterday. I can back up that part of your story that you told me that yesterday already and didn’t want to go back there and that you had a plan for today to keep her away from ya. Then you kin tell him the rest and about the blackmail. That way when they come in to make a complaint to Roy, he’ll already know the story.”

Standing, Adam had the hint of a wry smile. “Hoss, you may be the only bright spot in this whole thing. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Let’s go. That’s a great idea.”

As could be expected, Roy was shocked by the story he heard, but he believed Adam especially with Hoss telling what he had heard from Adam the day before it happened and the plan that Adam had for keeping her away from him. Then Adam told his story of what happened that day. Roy asked him as Ben had if he was sure he didn’t want to pay the money to protect his reputation. Adam was as adamant then as he had been with his father. He wasn’t going to succumb to blackmail. Roy told him he admired that in him but also told him he didn’t think he was being realistic in evaluating the cost of this story getting out with the damage it was going to do to him. No matter what Roy said though playing devil’s advocate, Adam stuck to his original decision. Hoss shrugged and looked to Roy.

“You know how he is when he thinks he’s in the right. We ain’t likely to move him off that spot he’s decided to take and hold.”

“I only hope it’s worth it to you in the long run. I’ll do what I can with the two of them when they come in, but with folks like that, it ain’t likely I’ll be able to get ’em to back off entirely. Like you said, no blackmail charge will stick but I can say if they file assault on you, you’re gonna insist that I file blackmail on them. That only stops the legal processes. It won’t stop ’em from talking. Nothing I can do ’bout that. Nothing you can do ’bout it neither.”

“I know. Things could get unpleasant for me for a while.”

“Might be best if you was to be scarce for a bit around town.”

“Roy, doesn’t that make me look guilty?”

“As I see it, if folks think you’re guilty, won’t matter whether they see you or not. They think you’ve been set up, same thing. What a lot of folks is gonna think is that you’re smart for staying away from likely trouble though by staying away from town ’cause I got a feeling that Dave there is gonna try to stir things up against ya. It won’t last though if you’re not around.”

“He won’t be around for a bit now will ya, Adam?” Hoss put a hand on Adam’s shoulder feeling the tension in his brother. He knew Adam didn’t want to concede that point because of his pride. He hoped his intelligence and common sense would win out if given enough encouragement. They did.

“All right. You two win. I’ll make myself scarce for a while until things calm down. Good enough?”

“Thank you, Adam. I’m thinking that’ll make my job a heck of a lot easier.”

“All right, Roy. We’ll be heading on back to the ranch, now, right, Adam?” Hoss could tell that Adam was itching for a fight. He wanted so much to strike out at those who were attacking him that it was communicating itself to Hoss, but Hoss knew his brother well. “We don’t want to make no trouble for Roy, now, do we, ‘specially after he listened to us and he’s gonna help us as much as he kin, now, right?”

“Right.”

“And by now, Pa’s probably worried himself nearly sick. Sooner we get home and tell him what’s going on, the better it will be for him too. So, let’s get on outta here for anything else happens.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Adam followed Hoss’ advice and they were well on their way back to the ranch before Dave and Rebecca climbed into their carriage to go see Roy and file charges against Adam. They were sorely disappointed though when they walked into Roy’s office and were met with a hostile stare and some pointedly hostile questioning. Less than a half hour later, they left, angry and frustrated. Their carefully laid plans were in shambles. Dave was furious. Rebecca was quiet for part of the trip back until she felt she had to say something.

“People said he was really smart. I guess we didn’t think he was as smart as he is. Now what do we do?”

“We go ahead with the other plan.”

“Dave, I thought that was only if all else failed. Surely we have other options before we do that?”

“I don’t think we do. He’s onto us now and he’s informed the sheriff. My guess is that Coffee might start doing some checking if he thinks about this for very long. We probably don’t have a lot of time to do what we came here to do. We’re not going to get the money we hoped to get out of this, but I want the revenge at least.”

“Do you think we’re ready to go ahead with that plan?”

“You don’t think I’ve been playing cards and drinking with those men for fun, do you? It was because I thought I might need them at some point. Well, now I need them. They’ll be happy to help out. They’re that kind. By the time I’m done telling stories in town and sharing my best whisky with those five when they come to play cards, they’ll do it and be smiling the whole time.”

“I’ll get the cellar ready in case we need it.”

“Our man on the Ponderosa better keep a close watch on him. We’ll need to know every move he’s making soon. I’ll make sure our two men have the rendezvous spots worked out so that we get good communication. Within a week, it should all start falling into place.”

“I’ve got the drugs ready incase we need them too.”

“You seem to be looking forward to that possibility. It may not happen, you know. We might be able to do this and get him jailed and hanging on that gallows without ever having to hide him in that cellar. That’s only if he tries to leave.”

“I know. But after the way he tried to push me away, I want the chance to hurt him a little in a more personal way. I hope he does try to go away so we can lock him in that cellar. I really want that to happen.”

“Well, my love, then I hope it happens too because I want you to be happy. Now, let’s get home and get this plan of action started.”

While Dave and Rebecca were plotting, Adam and Hoss were discussing things with their father. It was decided that Adam would work around the Ponderosa doing his usual types of activities. They didn’t think there was any reason to believe he was in any danger as long as he was on the ranch.

“But Adam, Roy’s right. If Dave starts spreading stories in town, you don’t know what might happen if you go to town. You don’t know who might believe him. People get very upset when someone treats a woman badly, and there could be some very angry responses.”

“I know. Roy already warned me off enough, and Hoss has been hammering it home too. I’ll do what I said I would do. I’ll stay away from town and trouble. You know I won’t go off half-cocked. If I say I’ll stay out of trouble, I will.”

Still feeling ill at ease about the whole situation, Ben didn’t know that there was anything more that could be done. “What will you tell the hands?”

“Hoss suggested and I agree that we ought to tell them what we told Roy. Tell them what happened. If they trust me, they’ll believe me. If not, there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“All right. I suppose that makes the most sense. This may be a tempest when Joe arrives back here tomorrow. Hoss, maybe you ought to spend the day in town to be sure to be there when they arrive and get them on their way back here as quickly as you can.”

“They’ll probably want to stop at her folks’ house.”

“That’s fine, but you stay with them, and make sure that nothing happens. Keep that visit as short as possible. The sooner they’re back here, the better I’m going to feel about that. They’re supposed to be on the afternoon stage but you never know so I think it might be a good idea if you were there when the morning stage arrives too. You know how Joe is. He can change plans without much thought. We told him we would have a carriage in town for him, but I think you in that carriage would be an even better idea.”

“Pa, you expecting that much trouble?”

“You remember what happened to that man who assaulted that saloon girl last year, don’t you. I mean, she was a saloon girl and they nearly killed him. For a ranch owner’s wife, I don’t know how some will react, but it will likely be with at least that much anger and I fear it could be a lot worse.”

All Adam could do was hope that it wouldn’t be trouble for his younger brother and that things would blow over relatively quickly. When Hoss came back the next day with bruised knuckles, and both he and Joe had all the signs of having been in a fight, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. Joe’s bride stomped up the stairs to their room as Joe sighed deeply and looked at Adam.

“What did you do while I was gone to stir up the whole town against you? The things they were saying were too much for me. I had to say something, and that led to more and Hoss had to haul my sorry butt out of there before I ended up in jail or worse. Now Angela is about as upset with me as you can imagine, and we stopped at her parents’ house, and they’re not so sure any more that it was a good idea for her to marry into our family. What the heck happened?”

“Maybe it would be a good idea if you could ask Angela to come down here, and I can explain all of it to both of you at the same time. It’s a mess.”

“That much I got. I’ll get her.”

So Adam had to go through the story with Joe and Angela to explain how the whole town had seemingly turned against him.

“I assume that not everyone is against me, but enough probably are upset and those would be the ones you saw. I’m staying away from town, and from the looks of things, I suppose it would be a good idea if the whole family stayed out of town for a while.”

“I don’t understand, Adam. Why does Dave Marquette have it in for you so bad? Is it still about what happened to Ross even after a couple of years?”

“I don’t know what else it could be. He’s got to be nursing that grudge.”

“I hope what happened to Ross doesn’t happen to him or that it hasn’t already happened to him.”

That was something that made all of them worry even more.

*****

Chapter 5

“All right, the coward’s hiding out on the Ponderosa, but we’ve got our friend there and he knows where he’s going to be working every day. We can get him when he’s alone and we can make him pay.”

“You want us to kill him?”

“No, if you do that, the law will make you pay. The Cartwrights too will come after you and nothing will save you. No, I was thinking that hurting him would be enough. Give him a good thrashing and make sure it hurts good. That would be the best don’t you think.”

“Yeah, Dave, I kinda like the idea of laying a good hurt on a Cartwright.” Davis Lord liked to hurt people. He especially liked to get even with those who were wealthier than he was and that was almost every rancher in the area. He was jealous by nature and relished the chance to act on that jealousy.

Ike Mattis, another friend of Dave’s agreed too. He too thought it would be fun to take down one of the Cartwrights. He relished power and having complete power over another human being was something he craved.

“Now, I don’t think I can go with you. I still can’t ride a horse and a carriage would be too obvious. But, the five of you ought to be able to take care of things. He’s only one man. Now the plan is, don’t hit him in the head. I want him to be able to remember what happened to him and who did it.”

“What?”

“Yes, Ike and Davis, I want the two of you to do it so he can identify you. You can wear a mask but not enough so that he can’t tell who it is.”

“That’s crazy. Why would we want to do that?” Ike asked but Davis showed full agreement with the sentiment.

“Because he’s going to say you did it, but then me and the other three are going to be your alibi along with Rebecca and maybe we can get somebody else. He’ll look like he’s lying again and trying to get us in trouble. I want one of you others to use one of my canes and limp a little. You can even wear my hat. He’ll likely say I was there too. I think maybe I’ll be in town when it happens and then I’ll join you all at one of your houses and we’ll be playing cards when the sheriff shows up. We’ll have all these witnesses to say we’ve been there the whole time playing cards so how could we have been anywhere else doing anything else?”

“Dave, that’s great. We get to pound on him, and then we got an alibi for it too. Perfect.”

Again, Ike spoke but Davis agreed. All was falling into place for Dave’s plan. Dave even decided the perfect person for him to see in town was Roy. He could imagine the look on Adam’s face when he told Roy that Dave had been one of his attackers and then Roy told him that Dave was sitting in his office when the attack occurred. Oh, Dave was enjoying the whole thing already and it hadn’t even happened yet. They began to work then on the logistics of it and how to coordinate all aspects of the plan. It was going to be tricky, but if they waited for just the right opportunity, then it would work. Dave cautioned them that they had to be patient if they wanted to get away with it. Their opportunity came about two weeks later when they got the word that the next day, Adam was planning to do a herd count in the southeast pasture while most of the hands would be in another area of the ranch altogether. It was time. Dave headed to town in his carriage smiling as he drove assuming that the other five could get the job done without him. He had drilled them and drilled them on what they had to do. He was to join them at Ike’s house later for a card game. Ike’s family would be additional witnesses who would swear that all of the others had been there all day except for the Ponderosa hand of course who would go back to work as if nothing at all had happened.

Riding through the southeast pasture that morning, Adam was relaxed. Talk in town had been dying down according to what he had been told by hands who had continued to go into town on Saturdays. His family had gotten used to the idea and there wasn’t so much talk about it any more. Even Angela had calmed about the situation and had talked with her family about it settling their concerns as well which had calmed the situation with Joe too. He had kept a low profile as he had promised and planned to do so for a while yet not wanting to stir up any kind of trouble for his family and friends especially Roy who had been out to talk with them once to encourage him more than anyone to keep on doing what they had been doing. He worked for the morning, had his lunch, and was going to finish the count in the early afternoon before heading back to the house. Intent on his work, he paid little attention to riders coming up behind him thinking it was probably hands from the Ponderosa. It was only when the rope settled around him that he knew he was in trouble, and by then, it was far too late. He was dragged from his horse and across the pasture a short distance to some trees where no one would see what was going to happen to him. Someone led his horse into another copse of trees and hid him there. His boots were pulled from his feet, and then Adam was stripped of his hat and gunbelt.

“What do you want?”

There was no answer to his question as he was manhandled to his feet and shoved further into the trees to be sure that no one would witness what was going to happen to him. When the men were sure that they were deep enough into cover to be safe from detection, Ike delivered the first blow striking Adam in the abdomen and dropping him to his knees with the force of the blow. Adam looked up at him and the pain he felt was obvious. Ike liked that. He liked inflicting pain and liked seeing the impact it had. He wanted to see fear though and there wasn’t any.

“There’s a lot worse coming your way, Cartwright for what you done to Becky Marquette. That was only the first one. You got any prayers to say, you better say ’em now.”

“You ought to say a few too, Ike Mattis. Yes, I know it’s you. That mask doesn’t hide enough. And I see Davis there behind you, and that must be Dave himself watching over there.”

Identifying those men seemed to be a signal to the men who moved in to hit and kick Adam, and then stomp him when he fell to the ground as a result of all the blows he was taking. Unable to defend himself, with the rope still around him pinning his arms to his side, he was powerless to protect himself at all. There were no blows to his head although a few boot heels connected with his face as they pulled back from kicking him. When he lay motionless, Davis called a halt.

“That’s enough. Remember, we don’t want to kill him. Well, we do after what he done, but we know what would happen if we did. This way, folks are gonna understand why it happened and figure he deserved it. He won’t get no sympathy. Now, Artie, you head back to work. The rest of us are heading to Ike’s place for that card game and some of Dave’s fine whisky like he promised us.”

“What do we do with his gun, hat, and boot?”

“Toss ’em deeper in the trees. If he comes to, let him stagger home on his own.”

The men rode for Ike’s place then. At the same time, Dave Marquette was leaving Roy’s office after having complained one more time that nothing had been done about Adam. He had known Roy would tell him that nothing could be done because Adam had claimed he was blackmailing him. He professed his innocence to that once more, and then asked if Roy thought there was any solution to the dilemma. Roy said some platitudes that Dave didn’t really care about at all, and then Dave had thanked him and left but made sure to look back to see that Roy noticed that he was there in a carriage. He was grinning by the time he was on the road to Ike’s place. When he got there and found out how well things had gone, he almost regretted the next part of his plan, but he knew he would do it anyway.

In the trees at the edge of the southeast pasture of the Ponderosa, Adam struggled to his feet time after time but each time fell to the ground stunning himself with the pain of the fall and the impact of that on all the injuries he had sustained. After trying that six or seven times, he had no energy left to try again. He leaned against a tree and closed his eyes hoping that with some rest, he might be able to do better. Pain seemed to radiate up and down his body so that he wasn’t even sure what hurt the most except that he knew he needed help. He had no strength to even call out and knew it wouldn’t do any good anyway because no one was near. He was clearheaded enough to know that eventually they would come looking for him. By then, he needed to be able to get out of these trees or they wouldn’t see him dressed as he was in his usual black clothing. So that became his goal. He would rest and then crawl or walk as far as he could and then rest again until he managed to get out of the trees and into the open pasture. He nearly made it before twilight and the voices of a search party echoed around him. He struggled to his feet and used what little reserves of strength he had left and forced himself to stagger to the edge of the tree line but couldn’t go any further. The effort cost him everything and he fell to the ground unconscious.

“Hoss, did you see something over there?”

“Over there, by those trees, I thought I saw something move.”

“Joe, mebbe your eyes are playing tricks on ya ’cause ya want to find ‘im.”

“I do, and I’m not going to ignore anything.” Wheeling his horse around, Joe rode to where he thought he had seen something. They had agreed only a moment before that it was getting too dark to see anything and they were going to have to call it quits and look again in the morning. They almost didn’t see him even with Joe leading them to the spot where he had fallen with the darkness, but then Hoss did spot him and dismounted to run to him. One of the men lit a match and that revealed the state he was in.

“Lordy, he’s hurt real bad. We need to get ‘im to the house. Joe, why don’t ya get up on Chubb, and I’ll hand him up to ya. Can ya hang onto him ifn we lead Chubb?”

Without answering, Joe pulled Chubb close and climbed into the saddle putting his arms out to grab his oldest brother. Hoss and one of the other men carefully lifted Adam and put him in Joe’s arms. It was awkward, but they didn’t have far to go. Hoss sent one of the other men to town to get the doctor and then sent another to the house to warn them. Then as carefully as possible, they proceeded to the house with Adam who was quiet for the trip except for occasional moans or whimpers with the jostling of the ride.

Many hours later, Doctor Martin came down the stairs at the Ponderosa with the news. “He’s got broken ribs that luckily are not displaced, bruised kidneys, multiple severe bruises some of which are quite severe especially at his knees and hips. He has some severe swelling in his, ah, groin. There are some broken bones in his left hand and some severe swelling in his right hand but no breaks that I can detect. I have splinted both hands though to help them heal. From what I can tell, they didn’t want to kill him. They set out to hurt him as much as possible without killing him.”

Everyone there knew why too. In their estimation, these were probably men who had set out to exact revenge for Rebecca Marquette because they believed the stories that Dave had been telling. They would have to wait for Adam to awaken before they could find out if he knew who had done it. Paul told them they didn’t have to wait because Adam was awake and asking for them and had refused any medication for the pain. Ben, Hoss, and Joe rushed up the stairs. Hop Sing had been waiting for them and left the room when they arrived. Adam looked awful and it was clear he was in severe pain. Sitting in the chair that Hop Sing had vacated, Ben told Adam he didn’t have to talk when it was clear that Adam was struggling to do just that.

“No, I want to tell you who was there. It was five men on horseback. I saw Davis Lord and Ike Mattis. I think that Dave was there too.”

“Dave Marquette?”

“I think so. One of the masked men was leaning on a cane and had a hat like Dave’s.”

“The men were wearing masks?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know that Davis and Ike were there then?”

“Their masks weren’t as good and both of them talked. I heard their voices. It was them.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.” Surprised, the men turned to the doorway to see Sheriff Roy Coffee standing there. “I heard what happened and come out here to see ifn I could find out who done it. I’ll be going to see some of those men. Now I know it wasn’t Dave because he was in town seeing me this afternoon and he was in his carriage as usual. I ain’t surprised at them other two though. They’re thick as thieves with Dave. Adam, I’m sorry this happened to ya, but we’ll get justice for ya. You can count on it.”

Ben turned back to Adam to find that he had closed his eyes and was asleep. It was the beginning of a long and painful recovery. It was made all the more painful when Roy came back the next day to say that both Ike and Davis had ironclad alibis sworn to by five other people that they were at Ike’s place playing cards and drinking whisky on the afternoon when Adam was attacked. It was further damage to Adam’s reputation when word of that got around, and Dave made sure that the news got around.

Then about the time that Adam was slowly getting back into work on the ranch and feeling better, Roy showed up on the ranch one morning as they were finishing breakfast. Angela went to answer the door and ushered Roy to the table.

“I got some bad news for you folks. Ike Mattis was murdered last night. I got a posse this morning to trail the man who done it, and the tracks led straight to the Ponderosa.”

“You don’t think I did it.”

“Course I don’t Adam, and we lost the tracks in the tracks of a bunch of cattle so they never come up here, but you know what people are gonna be saying now, dontcha?”

*****

Chapter 6

Every night, Adam went to his room or walked outside by himself leaving his family to do whatever they would do without him. After a number of days of that, Ben walked outside to find him. It took some time until he found Adam sitting behind the house on the bench where they had all carved their names many years earlier. Adam was leaning back and staring at the stars.

“Can you still name all those constellations?”

“I can. Would you like to test me as you did twenty-five years ago?”

“No, I know I can take your word for it.”

“I wish more people had that attitude.”

Knowing what he meant, Ben chose not to go that way with the conversation. “We miss you, you know. It’s difficult to have a good time as a family when your chair sits empty and your guitar is leaning up against the fireplace there by your chair.”

“I thought my presence would be more of a damper than my absence.” Quiet for a moment longer, Adam continued. “This should be such a happy time for Joe and Angela. This should be a time of fun and promise. Instead, there isn’t much time for laughter. So many conversations have to do with me and my problems. For months now, that’s been dominating the family time. I wish now that I had paid the blackmail.”

“You know that wouldn’t have worked. It would simply have led to him doing something else. We don’t know what it would have been, but something else. Adam, he hates you. We know that he killed Mattis so that he could blame you. It takes a terrible hatred to set something like that up. He wanted you to identify Mattis and then he made sure Mattis had an alibi.

“Yes, so I would look like a liar, and now I look like a murderer. Pa, what’s he going to do next? He’s good at making me look bad, but at some point, we know he’ll want to do more. I’ve been trying to think about what it could be, and try as much as I can, I can’t think like that.”

“I am glad that my son can’t think like a villain. However much I wish we knew what he would do next, I feel good that you have such a good heart and good soul that you can’t think like that evil man.”

“So far, I’ve been lucky that he doesn’t know the difference between knowing something and proving something. He’s got a lot of people thinking they know something about me, but there’s no evidence that I did any of the things they think I did. What worries me is that at some point, he may figure out that he needs to manufacture some evidence. When he does that, I’m worried about what he may do. I worry about everyone here. I don’t want any of my family hurt because of me.”

“Adam, none of this is because of you.”

“Isn’t it? This is all about me and Ross and Delphine, isn’t it? That’s where it all started.”

“You couldn’t help what happened to Ross, and you certainly aren’t responsible for what he did. No one can be held responsible for someone who crosses that dark gate as Paul called it.”

“I wonder about that. Could our actions help push someone across that line?”

“Perhaps if we did something terrible to someone who was already troubled, then it could, but you didn’t do anything terrible. All you did was try to help him and help Delphine. It was Ross who didn’t understand and took terrible measures as a result.”

“Yes, but by bringing her here to try to help her, I incited his rage and he killed her for it. He wanted to kill me for it. I never meant for that to be a reason for him to hurt anyone, but that doesn’t change the fact that my actions led directly to her death and then to my having to kill him. So I do feel responsible for their deaths. I do feel that it was my fault.”

“Son, have you been carrying that guilt all this time? You shouldn’t. What happened couldn’t be helped. Any man would have done what you did in that circumstance. I would have done the same. I wouldn’t have left her there seeing her bruised and battered and knowing he would do that more if I left her there alone with him. Adam, you did what you had to do.”

“Thanks, Pa, that does help.”

“Will you come inside now?”

“In a few minutes. I need a little time to collect myself. Talking about this always makes me a bit unsettled.”

“I understand. Don’t take too long though or I’ll send Hoss out here for another talking to for you.”

“All right, all right. Only a few minutes.”

“And perhaps we can have some singing tonight. We’ve all missed that.”

“Yes, some singing would be nice.”

Standing then, Ben smiled at his son and headed back into the house to let the others know that Adam would be joining them. That brought some smiles and a sense of relief. However after a half hour when Adam didn’t come in, Ben told Hoss to go get him. Hoss came back in to say he couldn’t find him anywhere and that Sport was gone.

“What? I never heard a horse ride out.”

“Well, I checked, and he’s gone.”

“What in tarnation does Adam think he’s doing?”

None of them had any idea that Adam had thought Hoss had come out to get him much earlier only to have a chemical soaked cloth slapped over his mouth and nose even as arms held him until he succumbed. He awakened many hours later to find himself in a very dark, damp space. He reached up to find a boarded ceiling only a few feet above his head when he was seated and found that the entire space was no more than about six feet wide and eight feet deep. It was about the size of a typical root cellar except it was better constructed than most. He found the door but it was sturdy and locked. There were two buckets by the door. One was half filled with water and the other was empty. The more he moved about, the more he guessed he was going to need the empty one so he lugged it with him back to the blanket on which he had awakened and wrapped himself in it. He was cold because all of his clothes had been taken from him. He was cold, completely in the dark, and nauseated. He retched into the bucket and lost what was left of his dinner. That told him he hadn’t been out very long so he had to be fairly close to home. But where he was, he didn’t know except he had a very strong suspicion. Wrapped in the blanket, he made his way back to the door with the bucket with the offending material and set it there taking a long drink from the bucket with the water. It was only after about ten minutes that he realized he shouldn’t have done that because the water was drugged too. He fell on his back. He whispered a fervent prayer before he lost consciousness.

“Oh, God, please help me. Nobody else can.”

The next morning, Sheriff Roy Coffee was back at the Ponderosa and it was clear that he was very upset. “Ben, I need to speak with Adam.”

“He’s not here.”

“Where is he?”

“I wish I knew. He left last night without saying anything. It’s all very strange.” Seeing how Roy looked, Ben was getting very worried. “Why do you need to speak with him, Roy? Has something else happened?” Roy’s demeanor made Ben sick at heart. He knew it was very bad.

“Ben, I hate to be the one to tell ya this, but Davis Lord was shot down last night in his yard at his house. He was walking from his stable to his house and a rider came up and shot him at point blank range. His family saw it happen.”

“You may as well tell me the rest of the bad news.”

“Ben, they say it was Adam. They say he was dressed all in black and riding Adam’s horse. Now that chestnut is a pretty distinctive horse, and Adam dressed all in black with that hat with the silver band on it is too. Hard to make a mistake on that even if it was getting pretty dark then.”

“So they couldn’t see his face?”

“No, they didn’t see his face, but you say he left here last night, and this happened last night, and they say it was him. Ben, I gotta take him in. If you know where he is, you have to tell me.”

“I wish to God I did know so we could get this all straightened out, but I don’t know where he is.”

“Roy, Adam would never shoot nobody down like that. You know that.” Hoss couldn’t believe that Roy seemed to accept what the Lord family members had told him.

“I know what I believe, Hoss, but I have to follow the law, and when witnesses come forward and swear they saw something, I have to arrest the man they swear did it.”

“Roy, that’s ridiculous if you know he’s innocent.” Joe was incensed.

Suddenly, Ben recalled the conversation with Adam the night before and how Dave had been creating suspicion but not evidence. Ben began to wonder if he had somehow managed to make that step. “Roy, what if someone got Adam’s clothing and his horse. That would explain what the witnesses saw, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, of course, it could, but who would do such a thing?” Then Roy understood too. “Ben, if that’s true, where could Adam be?”

“I don’t know, but wherever it is, he’s in great danger. You have to do what you have to do, but we’re going to be looking for Adam too.”

Hoss was curious. “Pa, what you talking about?”

“Adam and I had this conversation last night. Dave is very good about sowing suspicion, but he hadn’t had any evidence to back anything up so Roy couldn’t arrest Adam and nothing more than Adam’s reputation was damaged even when Ike was killed. But what if Dave has now figured out a way to provide the evidence too?”

Joe knew too then. “So you think he had Adam kidnapped, took his clothes and horse, and then killed Davis? But with that bad leg, he can’t ride.”

“Do we know that for a fact? It’s been a long time since he broke it and many months since the splints came off. Maybe he’s using that cane and using a carriage to make us think he can’t ride.”

“Ben, there’s a lot of ifs in all of that. Meanwhile, I gotta go on the evidence, and I got witnesses say they saw Adam Cartwright shoot down Davis Lord in his yard last night. Unless I can get them to back off on that some, I gotta arrest Adam and he’s gonna be charged with murder.”

“Roy, we need to find Adam first. We don’t know where he is, and if he isn’t in town, then I have no idea where he is.”

“Yeah, Pa, I think ya do. We oughta go on over to that Marquette place and tear it apart ’til we find Adam and get to the bottom of all of this.”

“Now, Hoss, you stay away from Dave Marquette. You can’t go off half-cocked like that. Ben, you and your boys stay away from the Marquettes. Now, I’ll go on over there and talk to him and see what I can figure out. I’ll go back and talk to the Lords again, but as you can imagine, they’re mighty upset so don’t expect nothing too soon. Ifn your boy comes home here, you best let me know. Safest place for him right now is in my jail. You hear me now, Ben?”

“I hear you, Roy, I hear you. But we won’t be sitting home here either. We’re going to be looking for Adam, and if the trail leads to the Marquettes, we’re going to follow that trail.”

“Ben, you be careful, you hear. I’m not above putting you in jail too if I have to do it.” With a shake of his head showing his overall frustration, Roy left then riding out without a wave or a backwards glance.

“Pa, what we gonna do first?”

“Last night, we thought Adam left on his own. Now, we’re going to the back of the house to find the trail of whomever took him and we’re going to follow it wherever it leads us. Joe, why don’t you go saddle up our horses while Hoss and I take a look for whatever we can find.”

Knowing it was an order not a question, Joe moved to the stable as Hoss and Ben went to the back of the house. It didn’t take too long to find a small piece of cloth that shouldn’t have been there. It had obviously been dropped in the darkness and not noticed. Hoss picked it up and sniffed it before handing it to his father. The chemical odor was faint after so many hours but it was still there.

“That about says it all now don’t it. They took him.”

The anger in Hoss’ voice was unmistakable but Ben knew that some of it was anger at himself as well at those who had perpetrated the kidnapping. He felt the same way. All of them had jumped to a conclusion which had allowed the kidnappers valuable time to get Adam away from the ranch. They might have managed it anyway, but they had so much more time to cover their tracks this way. Hoss found the signs of the horses about a hundred yards further away. He saw that their hooves had been wrapped to muffle the sound.

“Probably had muzzles on ’em too to keep ’em quiet. I bet they walked ’em in here. Then with Adam slung over one of ’em, they probably walked ’em out.”

Head down, Hoss kept searching until he found the disturbed vegetation and slight marks that showed him the trail of the three men who had kidnapped Adam. He followed it on foot for quite a while with Joe coming up behind them with horses eventually. Hoss kept walking and looking carefully until he announced that they had mounted up at a point about a quarter mile from the house.

“They took no chances that they could be seen. Nobody from the house or bunkhouse could see to here. They had this worked out well or somebody told them where to go.”

“Somebody told them? Hoss, what are you thinking?”

“Pa, they knew right when and where to find Adam to beat him up. That wasn’t easy considering he never left the ranch and we never announced what work was gonna be done by anybody till the right before it was done. Then this. Somebody knew right where to stash the horses and seemed to know that Adam was outside at night quite a lot. Who knows that better than somebody who’s on the ranch?”

“We’ve got a spy. If I get my hands on him, I’ll …”

“Do nothing.” Ben finished Joe’s statement for him. “Whoever it is may be our best chance to find Adam and then to clear him of all these ridiculous accusations. If you kill him or scare him away, then we lose that chance. Better that he thinks he’s safe and we don’t know we have a spy in our midst.”

“Pa, how we gonna figure out who it is?”

“Hoss, we know who we can trust absolutely. We start talking to those men and find out if they have any idea of anyone who might be the spy and get them to be our eyes and ears. Maybe they can ferret out the little weasel.”

They were going to need that too. Within an hour, they lost the trail on the road with no idea where it led. Adam had been taken. They knew that much, but where he had been taken, they didn’t know, and wouldn’t know unless they could actually see something incriminating. Joe thought they should spy on the Marquette place, but Ben was worried that could mean they might kill Adam. Hoss thought so too.

“Joe, they killed two already. So far, it looks like they want Adam arrested and hanged, but who’s to say they won’t kill him if they think that won’t work. We gotta be real careful about this. Pa, you should go to town with what we found so far and let Roy know.”

“Not yet. Let’s see what he can find out first. Meanwhile, let’s see what we can find out back on the ranch.”

*****

Chapter 7

Unfortunately for Adam, Dave Marquette enjoyed having him as his captive and he had a plan that took some additional time to complete too. He had sent his two hands up to Reno to carry out another part of his plan and they had to do it without being seen on the way so it took longer as they had to stay away from the main road on the way there and back. For Adam, it was a miserable week in that cellar alternately drugged and then being sick. He tried not drinking at all but after a full day of that, he knew he would die if he didn’t drink the water. It wasn’t enough as it was, and with the retching he did, he was still dehydrated, but if he drank nothing, he wouldn’t last more than a couple of days. He guessed his captors weren’t that interested in whether he lived or died so the choice was more his than theirs. He drank the water knowing he would be sick and also knowing that things happened to him when he was drugged that he preferred not to think about at all. Several times when he awakened, he found himself fully exposed with the blanket thrown back. On those occasions, he also found sores on his privates and around his groin. He didn’t know why but someone obviously was upset with him. He could do nothing about the sores and they festered becoming more and more painful as the days went on. On one day when he was in less of a drug stupor than usual, he thought he heard a woman tell a man not to burn him with a cigar.

“You’re not going to burn him again, are you? You shouldn’t. You’ve done that enough already.”

“Why not. I like to do it. He can’t feel it when I do it anyway.”

Dave drew deeply on his cigar several times and then knocked the ash away to reveal the glowing red tip. That time when he pressed it against Adam, Adam groaned in pain. Rather than discouraging Dave, it seemed to make him even more enthusiastic as he moved up to Adam’s chest and burned him there several times until Rebecca pulled him away.

“That’s it. No more. We have to let him go in a few days and he can’t be covered in burns like that.”

“No man is going to show another man burn marks in places like that.”

“If he does, it will back up his story that he was held somewhere. We’re going to have to hold him longer to let those heal now.”

“I told you he won’t show another man his privates to show him burn marks. It would make him look weak.”

“I don’t know. We’ve underestimated him before. Let’s leave him alone until we have to let him go.”

“All right. I suppose I’ve had enough fun with him. We’ll let him lay in his own mess for a while and see how he likes that.”

For another week, Adam was given only small amounts of food and that bucket of drugged water every day. He knew he was growing very weak, and could barely even do the things he needed to do each day by the end of that second week. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could last with the regimen he was forced to endure.

Meanwhile the two hands returned from their errand to Reno. One of them dressed as Adam Cartwright and riding Sport into town had withdrawn a large sum of money. Then he had ridden out of town as if he was traveling to California. Instead, once out of sight, he had doubled back, met up with his partner, changed back into his clothing, and leading Sport, they returned as stealthily as they had gotten to Reno. When they returned, Dave gave them the money as a reward and said that they might want to leave as things might be coming to a head soon and they would want to be gone. Both agreed and wished him well with getting justice. Neither had any idea that Adam was innocent and that Dave and Rebecca had committed the murders for which Adam was accused. They thought they had acted on the side of justice. Dave trailed them when they left. That night as they camped many miles from the ranch, he killed both of them, took the money, and left everything else riding back home with a smile. He enjoyed cleaning up loose ends. The next night, he was at the Mattis home watching the house burn to the ground and making sure none of the family escaped. The house went up very fast with the coal oil he had spread around the base of the house. He was sure he would see if anyone tried to leave. No one did. Again, with a smile, he rode home. The following day, he and Rebecca decided it would be a good time to release Adam to face his future, which they were sure included a trial for murder and the gallows. Rebecca had anticipated that decision and given Adam an especially heavy dose of drugs in his water the evening before to make sure he was senseless yet in the morning.

However, things were not going exactly as planned outside the Marquette ranch despite appearances. As he had to do, Roy had issued a warrant for Adam’s arrest. However, the posters had not gone beyond Virginia City. After Ben brought in the cloth with the chemical residue which Paul identified and Ben told Roy of the trail of the horses with the muffled hooves, Roy went to a judge and talked about the whole case laying out what he thought might be happening. He asked for some broad powers which the judge was reluctant to grant, but Roy reminded him of Ben’s significant political influence and how a wrongful action against his son could affect the future of Nevada.

“I’m not asking to exonerate his son. I’m only asking that you give me the chance to find out what’s really going on here.”

The judge gave him time to do that. When the bank in Reno was asked to send an exact description of the man who had said he was Adam Cartwright, it checked out for the shirt, pants, and horse, but the height was listed at about five feet eight inches and the weight at about one hundred sixty pounds. Roy looked at that information and knew too that there was something going on that needed even more investigation, but he had more questions than answers.

Meanwhile, Ben and his younger sons were increasingly frustrated and worried. They couldn’t sleep at night and during the day, tried to think of things to do to help Adam and rarely could come up with anything. Ben did let Joe slip over to watch the Marquette place on a number of occasions. He saw nothing incriminating. He saw them take buckets of water and feed to the chickens, pigs, and other animals next to the stable. He couldn’t see the cellar because it was blocked from his view by those buildings. It was why Dave had selected that place as the location to lock Adam away. Unless one was twenty feet away, you couldn’t see it. It was basically hidden in plain sight. They could look like they were carrying on ordinary chores and go to the cellar any time they wanted.

Hoss worked with the hands to try to identify whom the spy was on the Ponderosa, and they came up with several names but no one did anything to warrant additional suspicion. They watched but nothing happened. Arty knew they were watching so he didn’t go to meet Dave for his payment for services thinking it was better not to be found out. He decided to give up that money. He didn’t realize that decision saved his life although it wouldn’t save his freedom once it was found out that he had been part of the conspiracy and had participated in the assault on Adam. Like the two hands on the Marquette ranch, Arty still thought that Adam was guilty of assault on Rebecca and the murder of his two friends. He had been thoroughly fooled.

It was on the morning after the Mattis home burned, that the Cartwrights got their first big break. The two Mattis daughters showed up that morning bedraggled and exhausted and not at all sure that they were doing the right thing, but their mother had told them to do it so they were doing it. Each had their small child clinging to them. Ben was shocked to see them when Hop Sing told him that they had come to the kitchen door. He had let them in and given them food which they were feeding to their children first. When Ben came into the kitchen, the two young women, only in their teens really, were noticeably frightened.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m just very surprised to see you here. Of course, we will offer you any help we can. Hop Sing has given you food. There’s more if you want it.”

Both women nodded, and Hop Sing immediately got more biscuits, preserves, and milk and put it on the table for them. They looked rather shyly at the abundance.

“Please, go ahead and eat if you’re hungry. We never turn away anyone who’s hungry. I suppose things have been difficult since your father was killed.”

Again the young women got that frightened look.

“I’m sorry once more. I shouldn’t have brought up such a difficult thing. It must be very painful for you.”

“Not so painful. We’re glad he’s dead.” The older of the two girls seemed to have found some courage and spoke. Speaking like that seemed to embolden her more. “Ma said if anything happened, we was to come to you. So, we’re here.”

“Can I ask what happened?”

“You don’t know?”

“I’m sorry, but other than your father being killed, I don’t know.”

“Last night our house burned down. Ma musta thought that was gonna happen. Ever since Mister Lord got himself killed, she’s been telling us at night to take the babies and go sleep in the hayloft. We fixed it up real nice up there so the babies would be real comfortable and warm. We didn’t exactly know why Ma wanted us to do that. She said not to use any lantern or nothing but to keep it dark in there. We did like she said. Ma was smart. She kept lights on in the house until nine or so and then she’d turn them out and go to bed herself. That’s when it happened. The light of the fire and the noise woke us up. The whole house was roaring, the fire was so loud. I didn’t know a fire could make noise like that. We kept quiet cause Ma had said no matter what happens, keep quiet so us and the babies will be safe.”

“You mother died in the house?” Ben was shaken by the news. He couldn’t imagine what these young women, girls really, had gone through in such a short time.

“Yeah, he killed her like he killed our Pa. We didn’t mind him killing our Pa. He needed killing and we couldn’t do it. But he was probably afraid of what we might say afterwards so he meant to kill us all. Can you protect us from him?”

Ben shook his head a little because there were things there he didn’t understand. “Who is the man we need to protect you from, and why did your father need killing? It seems a strange thing for a daughter to say.”

“Our babies, they’re our brother and sister too.”

Ben’s mouth dropped open, but Hop Sing seemed to have figured it out already. He didn’t seem surprised at all.

“Mister Marquette is the one who wants us dead. Pa had us lie for him and for all the others. Mister Marquette asked him to do it and he did. Pa hurt your son with them others and then they come to our place and started drinking and playing cards. Mister Marquette came there later and asked them to tell him all about it. Then the sheriff came and they all said they’d been there all day, and Ma and us, we had to say they was or they woulda hurt us terrible.”

“Will you tell all of this to the sheriff?”

“If you protect us and take care of us and the babies, you bet we will. We ain’t gonna be safe until somebody takes care of that Mister Marquette.”

“We’ll take care of you, and we’ll take care of Mister Marquette too. Hop Sing, would you take good care of these young ladies and their children, please? I’m going to get Hoss and Joe and tell them what they’ve told me. You can give them the downstairs guest room for now. They look exhausted. I’ll have a mattress brought in from the bunkhouse so you can fix up a sleeping pallet for the babies too. Is there anything else you ladies need right away?”

“No, food and a place to sleep sounds right good about now. We won’t be needing that extra mattress though. Our babies like to sleep right beside us yet.”

Hoss and Joe were thrilled to finally have a breakthrough in the case. Ben sent both of them to town to let Roy know that they had grounds now to arrest Dave Marquette and they could search his property too. Even though Ben wanted to go with them, he had made a promise to the Mattis ladies and intended to keep it. They were the key to clearing Adam, and he wanted to make sure they stayed safe. Suddenly Ben realized he had forgotten to ask an important question and rushed back into the house somewhat startling the young ladies.

“I apologize again, but I forgot to ask which Ponderosa hand was involved in all of this.”

“I heard them call him something like Marty or Arty or something like that.”

Hoss and Joe overheard and were on their way to apprehend Arty before Ben even turned around to tell them who it was. When they rode to town, it was with a trussed up Arty riding between them. He had already told them quite a bit and promised he would tell the sheriff all of it too if they wouldn’t kill him. Joe let him think that they might otherwise, and Hoss said if Arty talked, he would be sure to stop Joe from killing him. When Arty started telling everything, Hoss and Joe made eye contact and nodded ever so slightly. Finally, they had made another breakthrough. Now they had to find Adam. It turned out not to be as hard as they thought to find him. It was keeping him alive that was the hard part.

*****

Chapter 8

Pulling Adam’s clothing from the closet where the items were hidden, Rebecca stopped to ask her husband a question. “Where should we leave him?”

“Originally I thought we would drop him where we beat him up, but now I’m worried about being seen there. Instead, let’s keep him in the back of the wagon under wraps until we get near town. You lead the horse away from the road so that no one sees you. I’ll drive the wagon. When we get near town, I’ll pull off the road and dump him out. Then you lead his horse out and leave him near him and then ride home. I’ll go to town like I’m getting supplies, and I’ll wait to see him arrested before I come home to give you the good news.”

Rebecca smiled. She liked it when Dave seemed to have everything lined up and orderly. It worried her when he seemed to be slipping into strange behavior. This was more like what she wanted to see, the avenging sword of justice kind of man. She smiled and agreed to the plan. Soon they had Adam out of the cellar and dressed again in his black clothing. It was fairly easy to slip the clothing onto him because he was thinner than when he had arrived. They put his boots on him and his hat and then pulled him into the back of the wagon. It was more difficult than expected to move him with only the two of them, but they managed. With a tarp thrown over him, it didn’t look at all suspicious. Dressed for riding, Rebecca saddled her horse and Sport and began the ride through the terrain beside the road watching for when her husband would pull off to dump Adam from the wagon. She thought he was remarkably close to town before he finally did it. She rode from the trees, tied Sport’s reins to a short tree, and rode back quickly so that no one would see her. Then she rode for home never seeing Hoss and Joe riding to town with Arty between them. Dave had continued on to town and didn’t see them either. Hoss and Joe rode past where Adam was not seeing him partly because of the terrain but also because they were intent on getting to town with Arty. They never expected to find their brother lying out in the field outside of town. Sport wasn’t easily visible tied to a small tree, which mostly blocked the horse from view of anyone on the road.

By the time Dave had pushed Adam from the wagon, Adam was already partially conscious and the thump on the ground helped shake him to fuller consciousness. He looked around and saw Sport nearby. He had tried to stand to walk to him but couldn’t so he crawled over to him in increments resting every few yards laying sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes until he had the strength to continue. When he got to his horse, he wasn’t at all sure he was going to be able to get into the saddle. Grabbing a stirrup, he pulled himself up laboriously and then stood shaking and shivering leaning against his horse.

“You have to help me here, Sport. Don’t shy away, please. I don’t know if I can do this, and if you shy away, I’m likely to fall flat on my face.”

Reaching up, Adam grasped the saddle horn. He pulled up a little and did his best to get his foot in the stirrup. Sport shifted only a little causing Adam to have to hop a little. He talked to Sport trying to calm and quiet him and then used what strength he could muster to pull himself up into the saddle. He managed to get his body across the saddle and lay across it for several minutes before attempting to swing his leg across the cantle and down to the other side. He worried that if he didn’t do it correctly, he was going to fall off and didn’t know if he had the strength to try again. It worked and he sat there a moment leaning forward as far as he could trying to fight off the dizziness that assailed him. Then he kicked Sport ever so lightly to let him know he could start the slow ride into town which Adam could see was near. He had to stop once to retch, and probably could have done that more except there was nothing left in his stomach to spew out. As he rode into town, he was mostly in a daze hearing his name and not recognizing the danger in the way it was being said. Until hands grabbed him and dragged him from the saddle, he didn’t realize that he was again in danger. Shouting and threats to hang him penetrated but there was nothing he could do or say to influence what was happening. He was too weak and dazed to have an impact on the mob that had him as they dragged him toward a tree.

Watching from the sidelines, Dave was pleased. He hadn’t anticipated this and hoped to watch Adam swinging from a rope before he left town. What happened next was a complete shock to him. First, Hoss and Joe Cartwright showed up with their guns out but Sheriff Coffee and Deputy Clem Foster as well as several others with weapons were there and the judge. They forced the mob to hand Adam over to his brothers who hauled him off toward the doctor’s office. Dave was going to object to that when the sheriff turned on him and ordered Foster to arrest him. He stood in shock not understanding what had happened. He didn’t hear the sheriff explaining the situation to the crowd because Foster and the other deputies hustled him off to the jail. When he got to the jail and saw Arty sitting in a cell, he got a better idea of what had happened. He swore at Arty, but Foster told him he had done it to himself.

“You killed Missus Mattis last night. However, you didn’t make sure the girls were in the house. They’re safe and telling everything so we have witnesses who will see that you hang for what you did. What they said matches with what we got from Arty. Now that Adam is safe, we’ll get the rest from him. We’ll send a few deputies to your house to arrest your wife. It’s all over. What I don’t understand is why you killed Lord. I know what Mattis did but what did Lord ever do to deserve dying?”

Dave smiled like a cat playing with his prey. “Lord was rustling for years. He took a few here and a few there to keep his ranch going. He was a complete failure as a rancher, but with taking two or three cows from every ranch around him every year, and he made enough to get by. He was a thief, and he stole from me like he stole from everybody else. He didn’t know that I knew, but I did.”

Dave spoke calmly and quietly as if he wasn’t upset. It was part of his plan to lull Clem into relaxing so he could make his next move. When he thought that Clem and the other deputy were off guard, he lunged for Clem and tried to get his gun. Clem was an experienced deputy and wasn’t as unprepared as Dave had thought though Dave fought like a wild man and wouldn’t stop lunging for the weapon again and again scratching Clem’s face and gouging at his eyes. He continued struggling with the deputy until he got his other hand on the grip of Clem’s pistol and tried to pull it from the holster. At that point, the other deputy was taking no chances and shot Dave at point blank range as soon as he was sure that the bullet posed no risk to Clem. The bullet entered Dave’s back severing his spine. He died almost instantly.

Hearing a gunshot from his office, Roy rushed back. Clem stepped outside with blood on his face from the scratches inflicted by Dave.

“He went wild after he saw Arty and I told him the Mattis girls were alive. At first I thought he was going to be all right, but then he went completely wild. He tried to get my pistol. Max had to shoot him. He’s dead.”

“Well, you get yourself on over to the doc’s. I’ll take care of things here and send somebody to the Marquette place. I’ll be over there soon as I can.”

At the doctor’s office, Hoss was the one who took care of Clem because the doctor was busy with Adam. Doctor Martin had asked Adam if he wanted his brothers in the room and he had said no so they were in the waiting area when Clem came in. Hoss was grateful to have something to do. After he finished with Clem, he talked with Joe and they decided that Joe ought to go home to tell their Pa that Adam was found and about what else had happened. Then they could bring the Mattis girls to town to tell their story to Roy to wrap everything up.

In the examining room, Paul was shocked at Adam’s condition and especially at the burns he had received. Those wounds had festered and Paul had to clean each one and apply salve to each one. He knew that they had to be especially painful but Adam stayed stoically silent during his treatment. Adam was also noticeably thinner and Paul asked about his treatment which Adam described very much in a neutral tone of voice. Paul knew he had to be masking a lot of pain. Adam needed to be cleaned up, and Paul did that too. Adam’s clothes were dirty, but Adam insisted that he wanted to be dressed in them. Paul didn’t know the significance of clothing for Adam at that point, but he allowed him to keep his clothing. He could see that Adam was exhausted and wouldn’t give in on one point: he told Adam he wasn’t going anywhere until he got some sleep.

“I won’t release you, and I’ll tell Hoss why. You’ll stay here then because Hoss won’t let you go riding around the country if I tell him you shouldn’t.”

So Adam conceded and lay down on the bed. It seemed he was asleep within seconds although it may have been a full minute. When Paul was sure he was sleeping soundly by the way his breathing slowed and became steady, he moved out to the waiting area to speak to Hoss and Joe. Only Hoss was there at the time so he got the report.

“Your brother has been drugged. He has burns in some very sensitive areas that look like they were made with a cigar. He won’t like it that I told you that so you may want to keep that to yourself. He is very thin. I suspect it is because he was drugged and also because he was not fed very well for two weeks. He may have a difficult time for the next few days or weeks because he won’t have any more of that drug. He is very thirsty and the same was probably true about water for him. I would like him to stay here, but he insists he wants to go home. I did insist he sleep for a few hours at least because he’s exhausted. He agreed to that. If you would like to sit with him, you can.”

That’s where Hoss was when Ben and Joe arrived later. Adam was still in a deep sleep. Stepping out of the room, Hoss told them what Doctor Martin had told him. Both were very quiet on hearing that news. The long nightmare wasn’t over yet. Adam still had a long recovery to face, and they wondered if he would recover fully from what had been done to him. They still didn’t know about the cellar and the conditions of that. Later more news arrived when Roy came to see them.

“Rebecca is dead too. When the deputies got there and told her what had happened and that she was under arrest, she asked if she could go in her house to get a wrap. They said yes, and she came out soon after. While they was getting the carriage ready for her, she started staggering around and then she collapsed. She was dead before they got her to town.”

“She took some of her own drugs.”

“Probably. We want the doc to take a look at her, but we’re thinking that was probably it. How’s Adam doing?”

“Sleeping right now.”

“I’ll need to talk to him at some point, but there’s no rush. I got to go talk to the Mattis girls now. Ben, what do you want me to do with ’em after I get their statements?”

“You can get them a hotel room and put it on the Ponderosa account. We’ll have to see what they want to do after that. Their house if burned down. They’ve got nothing.”

“I’ll ask ’em what they want to do and let you know.” Roy left then to try to settle some of the paperwork but satisfied that the case was over. There were many people who pestered him for the story as he walked to his office. He finally gave them a short version of it and told them they owed some big apologies to Adam Cartwright but to leave the man alone for a while because first he had to recover from all that had been done to him.

*****

Chapter 9

Over the next month, the Marquette ranch was sold to the Cartwrights and the proceeds went to the Mattis girls who used the money to move to live with relatives in the east. It was a lot more difficult time for Adam who, as Doctor Martin predicted, had a very difficult recovery from being drugged for two weeks. As he had demanded, he went home with his family to the Ponderosa, but from that first night, he suffered and his family suffered with him. His body craved the drug with which he had been dosed so much, and he sweated and alternately suffered from chills and shaking. He had terrible headaches and couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time. Many times when he tried to eat or drink, he became nauseated and retched. The physical symptoms gradually subsided and he was exhausted sleeping an inordinate amount of time it seemed. Even that slowly diminished until it seemed normal, but there was a somberness about him that didn’t diminish. He didn’t smile at anything it seemed. Roy came out to the ranch and got his statement. There wasn’t much more Adam could add because he was drugged so much of the time that he was gone but he could confirm that he had been kidnapped from the Ponderosa, held in a cellar, and then released near town.

The cellar was located on the Marquette ranch with the blanket and buckets still inside. It matched the description of what Adam said his imprisonment had been. Ben and his younger sons stood silently behind Roy as he opened that door and examined the interior to confirm what they had all suspected. None of them said much of anything as they rode away, but each was thinking that they wished they could have had a chance at Dave. The whole sordid story of Dave and Rebecca and what they had attempted to do to Adam was published. Some people felt very guilty over how they had acted. There were probably still some who doubted Adam’s innocence in the whole affair.

There were some things that Adam never told them. He didn’t tell them that he was without his clothing while he was in that cellar. He didn’t tell them any of the dark thoughts he had, and he didn’t tell them the guilt he carried. Some of that changed one night as he sat outside staring at the stars. His father came out as he often did to check on him. His worry was clear. He sat down beside his oldest son expecting the silence that was usual but was surprised instead that Adam was ready to talk. Adam talked softly and his voice had a bit of a quaver in it, but he didn’t stop.

“Pa, I know that it’s been difficult for everyone. I don’t want to make it any more difficult, but I’ve been wrestling with some demons and it’s taking some time to gain the upper hand and decide what to do next.”

“What demons? You were not responsible for what happened. Two evil people came into our lives and tried to destroy you. They did their best but failed.” Ben wanted to offer support to his son, but Adam wasn’t having any of it.

“Pa, I’ve thought a lot about it, and about a few of the things I heard while I was locked away over there. I wasn’t always drugged into insensibility. There were things I heard. I heard Dave talk about some of the things Ross said to him. He swore at me and ranted at me about things he thought I’d done because Ross had told him stories. It’s taken some time, but I’ve pieced together what I think happened. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Ben waited knowing that Adam was going to tell him something that was difficult to say so he needed time to compose how he was going to say it. What he said shocked Ben who had to fight his urge to respond immediately.

“Delphine and I were intimate. Pa, it happened before she was married to Ross. At the time, I didn’t know she was going to marry Ross. I told her I loved her. She told me she loved me. I thought we were going to be together. Afterwards, she told me she was going to marry Ross. I couldn’t believe what she said, but she told me she was carrying Ross’ child and had to marry him. I wanted to know why she laid with me then, and she said it was because she loved me and wanted that one time. I told her I would always love her, but that we could be nothing more than friends. That was it, Pa. I never did anything with her ever again. After that, all we were, and all that we could be, were friends. I was a friend to Ross too in every way I could be a friend. I helped him in every way I could. I never betrayed him except that one time that I didn’t know I was.”

Dismayed, Ben took some time before he said anything because he didn’t want to say something that would make Adam stop talking now that he was opening up, but yet he knew that Adam wanted his response too. He had to be careful about how he phrased things. “I would never have thought Del would have done something like that. I suppose being so young and feeling trapped, she must have thought she would grab at one thing she wanted before she lost it forever, but she must not have thought how it would affect you.”

Dropping his head, Adam was very quiet and Ben knew he must have hit the truth or very close to it. “We talked about that eventually, and she apologized. I never told her though how it made it hard for me to trust a woman, and that without trust, it’s hard to love completely.”

“She never thought about what any of the consequences would be. You were together only once, but it was a fateful time.”

“Yes, because somehow, Ross found out about it. I don’t know if he spied on us or if he guessed or even if Del told him, but he knew somehow. Apparently when they lost the baby, he thought it was my baby. Whenever he saw me touch her, you know, in a friendly way, take her by the arm, or give her a hug in greeting, or anything like that, he thought it was just signs of our continuing relationship. He thought we were lovers the whole time he was married to her. He told his brother that. Then he beat her and she admitted that it was true confirming in his mind that he had been right all along. At that point, he must have decided to kill us both or at least thought about it. Then what did I do? I took Del to my home. That must have been what pushed him the rest of the way over the edge.”

Silence reigned for some time before Ben knew he could speak because Adam was done. “Son, it wasn’t your fault. You were a pawn in that whole scenario.”

With that wry smile that said he didn’t quite accept what was said, Adam waited a short time while he thought of what he wanted to say. “I laid with Del and I wasn’t married to her. There are consequences for choices made. You say that all the time. You can’t back out on it now to make me feel better. I made one choice, and it had some terrible consequences.” There was silence again for a time. “Pa, I’ve made another choice. I’ve been thinking a lot, and I know you’ve expected this for some time. We’ve talked about it many times before, but I think now is the right time. The atmosphere around here right now is toxic for me. I feel that I can’t breathe sometimes. I don’t feel free to move around, to talk, to do much of anything. Pa, it is time for me to follow my dreams. I’m leaving.”

Not shocked because he has suspected this might be coming, Ben had only one question. “We did talk about this and that you should leave because you were pulled to something and not because you felt pushed out.”

“I know. It’s a little of both I think, and maybe that’s the way it should be naturally.”

“Where will you go?”

“First, I want to go to France. I’ve wanted to see some of the places there for a long time. I’ve got some contacts in England and I’d like to see if I can get some work there. I’d like to live there for a while too. After that, I don’t know.”

“You’ll come back?”

“I’ll come back. I can’t say when because I can’t be sure what I’ll be doing or where I’m going, but I can promise I’ll come back.”

“When will you tell your brothers?”

“Right now if you think you can give me some help with that. Hoss is probably ready for it too, but Joe is going to be very upset. At least he and Angela will have some peace and quiet now for their marriage. She’s had a tough introduction to being a Cartwright.”

“All right, let’s go inside.”

As expected, Hoss was more or less ready for what Adam told him. He had been ready to hear something like it but was disheartened to learn how far away and how long Adam intended to be gone. He wished his brother well and made sure he knew what would happen if he didn’t keep that promise to come back home. Joe didn’t understand nor appreciate Adam’s reasons for leaving. He did in time come to accept that Adam believed he had good reasons to go, and like Hoss, made sure he knew that he better come home as promised. All three men insisted that he better write and let them know what was happening in his life. He got hugs from all three men when he was ready to go as all three ignored his preference for avoiding public displays of affection. In his heart, Adam was glad they did. He carried that memory like a precious gem with him as he traveled. The family got letters from him letting them know he reached New York, then England, that he had arranged for a job in England, that he was taking a trip to France first, and so on. Then the letters came less often and with less detail about the woman that he had met. They had questions but didn’t get much in the way of answers. Those would come much later.

*****

PART II

Chapter 10

Sitting on a bench looking at the River Seine, he saw a beautiful woman stop, take a look at him, and then look out over the river. She seemed lost in thought for a time before she turned and looked directly at him and then came to sit on the opposite end of the bench. She said the river was beautiful in flawless English with a lovely French accent. He responded with a simple response.

“Yes, beautiful.”

Then he looked back to the river. She said nothing for a time until she startled him.

“I like you.”

“You like me? We have exchanged a few words, but you like me?”

“Yes, you saw me standing over there and you looked me over rather well, I think. When I came to sit down though, you looked me in the eyes acknowledging me as a person. You said ‘beautiful’ and let me decide how to take it, and then you looked away letting me decide too if I wanted to talk to you or if we would remain strangers on a bench. Many men do not show such respect to a woman especially English men to French women.”

“I’m not English. I’m American.”

“Ah, I have not met any American men before today. Are all American men gentlemen?”

Adam grinned, and she decided that she liked that grin too. “No, not all American men are gentlemen, but my father taught me to show respect to women. My father is always a gentleman. I guess enough rubbed off to allow me to fool you.”

“What is this ‘rubbed off’ and why do you think you have fooled me?”

“It means to have gotten some of the characteristics of someone by being with them long enough. And I do not always think of myself as a gentleman. I have failed in that regard often enough.”

“I like you more and more. You are open and honest too. You are not so puffed up as some men are. It is nearly time for lunch. Are you hungry?”

“I could be persuaded to have lunch, but I have only recently arrived and don’t know my way around here yet. I don’t know where to go for a good lunch.”

“I can show you a place. You can buy. I didn’t bring enough money because I didn’t know I would be going to lunch. I shall buy dinner. Is that fair?”

“More than fair.” Adam thought that even if that was a scam, he was going to enjoy his first lunch in the city, and if he got to have dinner with her, it would be even better. “If we’re going to have lunch, we should know each other a bit better. My name is Adam.”

“I like your name, Adam. I am Corinne. Now, let us go to lunch. I think we shall have many things to discuss.”

They had many lunches and dinners together, attended plays and went to museums and art galleries. Adam was introduced to her family. They did not approve of her keeping company with him. That pleased her but concerned him.

“I don’t want to be the cause of a rift in your family.”

“You are not. It is my family who are the cause of any problem.”

“You oversimplify the matter.”

“You are too serious.”

“I’m going to be gone at some point, but your family will still be here. It is not too serious to be concerned.”

“It is my family not yours. You should not be interfering. It is not your concern.”

“You have made it my concern.”

They argued a lot like that. Sometimes their arguing became very heated and led to even angrier responses yet the following day, Adam always found he wanted to see her again. He would apologize and she would apologize and they would do what they did every day seeing things that were beautiful and interesting until the day he had to admit he was running low on funds and would soon have to leave.

“But why?”

“I have a job waiting for me in England. It will pay very well, and then I will have money enough to live and eventually to go back home. Right now, I have enough to pay my rent to the end of the month and passage to England. That is about all.”

“I could pay for your meals and your rent and you could stay here.”

“I will not allow that.”

“But you would do it for me, I think, if I needed it.”

“I might if I could, but would you accept it?”

“I would if it meant that we could be together.”

“We’re friends only. Why would you do that?”

“Because I think that I have fallen in love with you. I do not want you to go.”

“I have to go.”

“Then I should go with you. Perhaps I should marry you and be your wife so that I could go with you, no?”

Transported back many months to a conversation he had had with his father, Adam recalled those words he had said to his father. At this point, I think I’d be happy if a comely, intelligent woman came up to me and said she’d be willing to be my wife and live with me. I think I’d take her up on the offer if it was made. It would be better than being alone. Now it had happened, and he wondered what he should do. His father had counseled him not to give up on love so he thought about that too. He wondered if the feelings he had for Corinne were love. He liked being with her. He enjoyed hearing her talk and laugh, liked feeling her arm in his, and especially enjoyed the feeling of her leaning against him in the theater with her shoulder against his and her hip against his. There were many times he had to work to control the urges he had to kiss her or do more when she was that close. He enjoyed their conversations and that they appreciated so many of the same things. He knew he was going to be leaving and had not wanted to be the kind of cad who loved them and left them. But now, he was being offered an entirely different possibility. He was so lost in thought, he didn’t see how Corinne was reacting. She thought he was rejecting her and that upset her after she had bared her soul so much to him. She turned to walk away. Suddenly aware that she was no longer there, Adam turned and ran to catch up to her taking her arm and turning her to him.

“Don’t leave. I’m sorry. I was thinking. Sometimes I think too much. It’s just like the times I talk too much.”

“Sometimes you don’t talk enough.” Corinne’s voice nearly broke as she was that close to crying.

“Yes, let’s get married and go to England together. Will you be happy in England? There are a lot of English men there.” Adam put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to look at him as he smiled a little hoping to get the same from her.

“I don’t know if I can marry you really. We have not even kissed. What if you are a terrible lover? I would be so unhappy.”

Disappointed, Adam’s shoulders sagged. “Are you taking back your offer?”

“No, I’m asking you to kiss me. Sometimes you are as dense the stones in those buildings you admire so much.”

“Maybe you should know more about me before you marry me. Perhaps you won’t want to marry me if you know more about me.”

“Now, are you doing this taking back of the offer? It sounds that way to me. You don’t want to kiss me?”

“Yes, I want to kiss you, but I don’t know if that will be enough for you to have an answer for me.”

“You should kiss me first, and then you can talk to me.”

Stepping close to her, Adam wrapped an arm around her waist to pull her close as he gently cupped her face with his other hand. Leaning down, he kissed her softly until she yielded to a more passionate kiss and he increased his pressure on her lips and pressed his body to hers until they were molded tightly together. When he released her, she gasped for air and smiled at him.

“Yes, I will marry you. You need me.” Then louder in French, she said several times that she would marry him. People there applauded and smiled at the couple that they thought seemed so obviously in love. Adam had to grin at her. She made him angry sometimes; she made him laugh other times. She made him feel alive. Perhaps she was right and he needed her, but first he needed to explain some things. She needed to know more about him so he told her that.

“We need to go somewhere private and talk.”

“We could go to your apartment.”

“That wouldn’t be proper.”

“You have kissed me so hard that you practically were making love to me here on the street, and everyone here heard that you are going to marry me. I think it will be all right this time. Now let us go to your apartment so we can get this out of the way. You will tell me these dark secrets and I will tell you it does not matter.”

“Perhaps it will matter.”

“You are not a murderer or a thief or anything like that so I do not think that it will matter, but yes, we shall see. Let us go and talk.”

So they went to Adam’s apartment and he told her about Del and Ross and all that had happened because of that. She listened attentively and then told him what she thought. Pointing at his head first and then his heart, she made her point.

“You live too much in the past up here and give yourself too much credit and too much guilt. If you build a house for a man and put his bedroom on the second floor and lightning strikes the house starting it on fire and he cannot escape because he is on the second floor, is it your fault that he died? No, you built the house and you put the bedroom on the second floor, but none of that is why he died. He died because lightning started the house on fire. No one could ever know that would happen. No one would ever have a house if they thought every house would burn down and kill them. But they don’t. How could you know that anything that you did could lead to terrible things? You could not. You did what you did with a good heart. That is all that anyone can do. You need to stop living up there in your head and in the past and live here in your heart and live now. You cannot change what was. You can only change what is now and what will be and that is by doing the best you can do.”

“We have to learn from the past.” Adam was somewhat angry to have his concerns so summarily dismissed.

“Learn what? Did you learn not to love? Did you learn not to have friends? What is it that you learned?”

“You don’t understand.” Adam turned from her then in his anger.

Coming up behind him, Corinne reached around to touch his chest again above his heart and caressed him even as she unbuttoned his shirt further. He was still angry and wanted to push her hands away, but the touching was so nice and he craved the attention so much that he couldn’t. She moved around until she faced him and had his shirt open all the way pulling it from his trousers and then pushing it up and off his shoulders until it fell to the floor. There was no stopping them then. He helped her undress too and they moved to the bed and made love for the first time. It was going to be the first of many arguments that they had, but somehow they always came back together loving each other and ready to face the future together. When friends they made wondered at their relationship, Adam told them it was complicated. That wasn’t the word that the friends would use but it seemed to be a marriage that satisfied something that both Adam and Corinne needed although her family wasn’t at all happy about it. That was another problem. It took quite a lot of histrionics on Corinne’s part and persuasion by Adam before they agreed to the marriage albeit reluctantly.

A few months later, Adam was in England and their second major argument ensued when Corinne saw the small cottage in which they were to live. She found it wholly unacceptable and wanted Adam to find something larger. He didn’t have the money for something larger so she wanted to ask her family for money. He had absolutely forbidden that. They had another row that was settled when he agreed to plant a garden for her, add a room to the cottage if the owner agreed, and build an arbor too so that she could entertain in the garden too as the house was much too small for that purpose. It meant that Adam had to work especially long hours but he had never complained about working hard and there were certainly some wonderful fringe benefits in being married to Corinne.

After a few months of hard work, Adam had a new room added to the house and began work on the garden and the arbor. He had talked to the owner and gotten permission to make the improvements getting an agreement from the man that he wouldn’t raise the rent when the property was larger and improved. The owner had smiled as if the thought had never crossed his mind, but of course he was thoroughly disappointed that Adam had thought of that. However the American had said he would be leaving within a few years and had only signed a lease for two years with an option for two more. When that time was up, the owner could lease the place for quite a bit more money without having had to invest a single pence himself. It was quite a coup he thought and bragged about it to his wife who thought him a blowhard but appreciated too that they had a property that was now worth more and in a few years would be bringing in a bigger income as she began to plan on how they could spend the extra.

However the extra room that Adam envisioned as a parlor or sitting room wasn’t seen as that by Corinne. Adam arrived home after several days on a trip for his job to find men carrying a bed into his home. He followed them in questioning what they were doing only to be stopped by Corinne.

“It’s for the new bedroom you built.”

“I didn’t build a new bedroom. We don’t need a new bedroom. It was supposed to be a sitting room or parlor to make our lives more comfortable. How is an extra bedroom going to do that?”

“Did I tell you that my parents are coming for a visit?”

“Surely you don’t think they will be happy staying in that small room, and the bed I saw is much too small for two people.”

“No, of course it is not for them. They will be staying at the inn. It is for my lady.”

“Your lady?”

“Yes, I need someone to help me and I have hired one and she needs a place to sleep. So I have made the new room her bedroom.”

There were so many things in that to which Adam wanted to object that he didn’t know where to start so he simply began yelling in general and then yelled about all of it over and over again, and Corinne yelled back until he stormed out and went to the pub. It was there that he learned whom Corinne had hired. He didn’t even have time to order a beer before he was harangued by the locals.

“You certainly know how to shake up a quiet peaceful little town. First you bring that Frenchwoman in here, and now she hires away the best barmaid we’ve had in a long time. Eve made this place a fun place to be, and now she’s gone, thanks to you.”

Echoing sentiments were sent his way letting Adam know he was no longer welcome in that establishment. He headed out not knowing where to go and ended up simply walking in a wide semicircle before going home because he had no other options. By then, he was cold, hungry, and footsore. None of that had improved his mood. Corinne tried to explain again.

“My parents thought that you were beneath me when we married. If they come here finding me living in this peasant’s cottage, they will be aghast. However, if I can show them that at least I have been living in decent style, then they will be at least willing to give it a chance.”

“Or what? They’ll take you home with them?”

“They might try.”

“So what else have you planned that you never discussed with me?”

“I did purchase a few dresses.”

“A few?”

“Well, Eve needed proper dresses so I gave her some of my old ones and then I needed new ones to replace those so that’s how many I needed.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam waited for an answer. He knew he wasn’t going to like it. She finally told him and he didn’t like it. “Twelve? You bought twelve new dresses? I’ll have to get a second job to support the two of you if you think you can keep spending like that.”

“No, don’t do that. I’ll ask Papa for some money.”

And that led to the second argument of the night.

*****

Chapter 11

Resting comfortably in the crook of Adam’s arm on her side with her hand idly playing with the curls of hair on his chest, Corinne had a question for her husband of nearly four years. “Adam, have you told your family about me yet?”

As usual, Adam was a bit uncomfortable with that question. He wasn’t completely sure why, but he had never come right out and stated to his family that he had married Corinne. He talked about her in his letters so they must know that she was important in his life, but the words married or wife had never appeared in any of the letters he had written. “In general terms, I have.”

“What does that mean? Does it mean that you still have not told them that we are married? You said you would.”

“And you said that you would be married to me until death do us part yet you’ve left me twice already.”

“Only to visit my parents.”

“The last time you were gone for six months and you never told me you were going. There was no talk of a visit. We had a fight and when I got home from work, all of your things were gone, and you and Eve were gone. I had to assume you had gone to France, but until I checked and found where you had boarded the ship, I wasn’t sure.”

“You never came for me.”

“Sweetheart, you know that I’m doing work for the English government right now. Going to France would have been extremely dangerous in the current mood they’re in. I could have lost my head, and I had no idea if you would even consent to return to me. The way your family thinks about me, I wasn’t sure that they would let me see you. They would have probably turned me over to government agents.”

“All right, I forgive you.”

“You forgive me? You were the one who walked out.”

“All right, I’m sorry for that. Will you forgive me too?”

“I think I already have. I wouldn’t have been so loving to you and taken you to my bed for these last months if I hadn’t forgiven you. I know how hard it must be to live with me and my moods and my temper. I’m sorry that it is so difficult for you. I try to change, but then we have a disagreement, and it all happens again.”

“I think we are a lot alike. I am stubborn like you and I like to have my way too and then I lose my temper too. I know I can be difficult to be with too, but our life is never boring, no?”

“No, our life is not boring, that is certain. On another note, I have noticed that Eve is doing much better at acting the role of a French lady. Being in France seems to have taken off some of the rough edges.”

“Rough edges? Is that another of your American sayings that I do not yet know?”

“Some of the ways that made it obvious that she didn’t yet fit in to the role you had chosen for her and yes.”

“Oh, and yes, then. Mama thought she should spend time with her staff, and they taught her a great deal about how to act as well as a better way of speaking around her employer. She even learned a little French although she has quite an atrocious accent.”

“Worse than mine.”

“Oh, my, much worse than yours. I found yours very nice. I knew it was foreign but it was pleasant. Hers isn’t pleasant so we won’t ask her to speak any French. Her English with a French accent is much more pleasant to hear, and she likes doing that. She said it makes her feel like a real lady. I told her she is real so why would that make a difference, but she couldn’t explain.”

“Men can treat barmaids as if they aren’t worthy of respect as a woman. Remember what you said once of how Englishmen sometimes acted toward French women and you didn’t like it. Think of it that way only much worse. Here she is finally beginning to know what it is like to live with respect as a person.”

“Yes, like you should give to me and tell your family that we are married.” Corinne paused briefly. “I know how we should do it too. Your job is almost over and our lease expires soon. We can go to America and see this Ponderosa, and we can show your family that we are married, no?”

Thinking about that for only a short time, Adam smiled. He did like the idea of going home. He hadn’t written much lately and part of the reason was that he didn’t know what to say about Corinne. At least if they were in America, she couldn’t leave him to run to her parents in France. Well, she could but it would be much more difficult. “Yes, we can do that. I’d like to go home to see my family. It is only a few months until this job is done, and I can have all the arrangements made and everything packed for us and ready to go by then. I’ll book a cabin for us the next time I’m in London. When we get to New York, I’ll book the rest of the trip. It won’t take long with the railroad building that’s been going on although the last part of the trip may still be difficult.”

“We’ll need two cabins.”

“Why two?” Then Adam had a horrible thought. “No! You don’t plan to take Eve with us? No, please tell me that you don’t want to do that.”

“I need her with me.”

“You won’t need her on the ship, and you definitely won’t need her in Nevada. No, she won’t come with us. That’s a definite no.”

In her bedroom, Eve listened to the noise of the latest argument and correctly guessed that Corinne had probably gotten to the part about her going with them to America. She rolled over and went to sleep. She knew her employer was stubborn enough to win this one by whatever means necessary.

In the morning, relations between Adam and Corinne were still a bit cool. He dressed for work but paused before leaving. “I’m not going to come back to an empty house again, am I? Corinne, if you leave again, that could be it. I can’t keep doing this. Will you promise to stay and work this out? Please promise that you won’t leave again.”

Sitting at the table with a cup of tea cradled in her hands, Corinne didn’t know what to say to that at first. It was a difficult promise for her to make. She paused and knew he wouldn’t leave without an answer so she gave him an honest one. “I promise that I will not leave unless I do not plan to come back. I will not leave today because this is not something that will make me want to leave and not come back, but I do not know about the future. I cannot make that promise for all time.” She saw Adam react as if she had hit him, but she had been honest. It was a trait they shared. They were sometimes brutally honest even when it hurt. Now was one of those times.

As Adam worked that day, he had what felt like a weight in his stomach. He knew that Eve was coming with them to America. He couldn’t fight her on that one. He wondered how many other concessions he was going to have to make. He couldn’t lose her. He knew that. The months that she had been gone had been terrible for him. Letters were no substitute for having your wife beside you in bed at night and walking with you and talking with you. He needed her by his side and knew it. When he went home, he knew he couldn’t concede too easily or she would ask for much more, but it was going to be a game to play, giving in without giving in too much. He wondered if his father had ever had this kind of problem with any of his wives and doubted that he did. Adam would probably have been surprised at the amount of arguing that Ben and Inger did and especially at the number of arguments she won, and although he knew that Ben and Marie argued some, he had no idea of the tempestuous relationship they had for much of it was hidden from children even those in the teen years. Adam was far more like his father than he realized.

Within a few months, Adam, Corinne, and Eve were headed to New York and a journey to the west that would reunite Adam with his father and brothers. He had missed them and letters had been a poor substitute and he knew he hadn’t done a particularly good job with that either. Because of how the rail system was set up, it was cheaper for them to book passage all the way to California than to stop sooner so they did because once Corinne knew she could see San Francisco, she insisted. It was only a delay of a week and after years, that didn’t seem like so much of a sacrifice. At least it didn’t until they got closer to Nevada. Then Adam wanted to change their plans, but Corinne insisted they stick to the original plan. However once in San Francisco, she was the one who wanted to change the plan. She wanted to stay longer once she got a taste of the city life and the possibilities for shopping and entertaining. She and Adam had a huge argument over it with him setting an ultimatum before storming out to the lounge in the hotel for some drinks and to calm himself.

While he was gone, Corinne left. Adam went to his room hours later ready to try to compromise and found it empty. It was too late to try to find her and he assumed she had gone to another room or another hotel. He found she had taken most of their funds with her and used most if not all of the expletives he knew in English and in French. Then he flopped on the bed and tried to sleep although it was fitfully. In the morning, he began searching for her and had no luck at all finding any trace of her. Discouraged, at the end of the day, he stood and watched ships leaving on the high tide when he got a sudden chill and rushed to the docks. He checked with several companies until he found that she had purchased tickets for two on one of the ships which had just left. He knew in his heart that he had lost her, and he couldn’t believe that it was over dresses and going to the theater. He thought that those must be symptoms of underlying problems that he had not seen and began to try to think back over the years to see what it could be but couldn’t find a cause other than what he was. He condemned himself for his loss and resigned himself to going home alone. He took the paddleboat to Sacramento and the stage for some distance after that before buying a horse and heading across the mountains toward the Ponderosa. He wanted to be alone, to think, and to try to come up with a way to explain everything to his family when he saw them.

The smell of pine in the mountains, the crisp air biting at his nostrils in the morning, and the sounds of birds singing made him feel at home, but the pain of his loss burned inside making him careless. He knew it, but found himself time and again riding for miles and then wondering how he had gotten where he was not remembering making the decisions that he must have made. At least he had purchased a good horse for he kept moving in the desired direction as if he knew what was wanted even if Adam wasn’t attentive to the trail as he ought to be. He hadn’t brought much food for himself using what extra weight he could carry in grain for the horse mostly. He hoped to hunt for his food but found he had little interest in it so he ate little as he went. He managed to get enough small game to suffice and that was about it. It was almost two weeks into his trip when he realized he might have made a grave error. He didn’t hear any birds or any small animals. He looked up and there were no raptors in sight. He listened carefully and looked around but he had seen no signs of any bear or large cats in this vicinity. That left only one kind of predator, and it was the most dangerous of all probably: man. He didn’t know if it was one or if it was a group, but he knew he was probably being trailed and because they hadn’t made themselves known, their intent was likely malicious. He had only one hope left. He called out a greeting in Paiute hoping that if it were young warriors who didn’t know him, they would at least recognize that if he knew their language so well, he was no threat. There was no answer of any kind. He loosened his pistol in the holster and made sure that his rifle would slide out easily if he needed it. He wondered now about the horse not having tested it in this kind of situation. How the horse reacted could be crucial to his survival and was an unknown variable. He moved on hoping for the best. It didn’t work out well for him. He heard them as they flanked him and tried to outrun them but that caused them to start shooting. He fired back but on horseback on a mountainside with trees all around, it wasn’t a situation in which he was likely to be successful. He did manage to keep them at bay until his horse jerked to the side and unseated him as he was turning to fire. He fell awkwardly and before he could stand and get to cover, they were on him. There were three of them and he stood no chance so he dropped the pistol hoping they wouldn’t shoot him. They didn’t, but they were rough as they took his pistol and then everything of value that he had including his boots.

“If you leave me here like this, I’ll die. That’s not just robbery. That’s murder.”

“It won’t matter. Nobody is ever gonna know. A bear or wolves or a mountain lion maybe likely to get your body and have a feast. Nobody is gonna find you nohow cause all they’ll find bones scattered about. Maybe if they find you soon enough, there’ll be some stinking flesh attached. They’ll feel a bit sorry for ya, but not too much thinking you musta been kind of stupid to get caught by a bear or whatever.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“Maybe we have and maybe we ain’t. It’s not your concern. Now shut up.”

The first blow to the head, Adam felt as the pain was intense, and he tasted the dirt as he fell face first into it. The rest of the blows were less intense and eventually, he didn’t feel them as he lost consciousness. He noticed some sensations later, and he felt that he was being moved but couldn’t do anything about it. He wanted to say stop because it hurt so much but couldn’t do that either. Then he was laying in a bed, and it smelled like Hoss. He didn’t know how he had gotten home, but he must have. He felt safe and said his brother’s name.

“Hoss.”

Falling back into unconsciousness again, he had given another clue as to his identity to Hoss’ friend who had found him. The man went to the Paiute camp and asked them to go tell the Cartwrights that he thought perhaps the oldest son had come home but was hurt quite badly.

*****

Chapter 12

Laying in bed and becoming conscious for short periods of time, Adam was confused. He thought Hoss was with him sometimes because of the smell that reminded him of Hoss and the gentle touching taking care of him. But the voice he heard wasn’t Hoss and when he opened his eyes, the man he saw was definitely not Hoss. He was more about Joe’s height and probably closer to his Pa’s age. The cabin wasn’t the Ponderosa either. It was small and warm but he couldn’t say much else about it because there were two of everything and nothing seemed to want to stay in one place as things seemed to move around a bit as he looked at them. When he was able to keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes, the man noticed he was awake and moved closer. Adam struggled to speak and the hoarse voice that came from him was barely audible.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to need a basin or a bucket. If not now, soon.”

Feeling very nauseated, Adam wasn’t sure how much he would retch but was certain he would. He had vague memories of spoonfuls of water and broth being given to him. He guessed he was going to lose some of that very soon. The man brought a bowl filled with wood shavings. It came in handy a short time later. He gave Adam a drink of water and let him rinse his mouth and spit that out into the bowl too before he took the whole loathsome mess away. He came back and asked him if he wanted anything to drink. Instead, Adam wanted to sleep.

“You go ahead and sleep then. Nobody ever is sick while they’re sleeping. I let your family know you’re here. They’ll be here soon.”

Adam wondered what he meant by all of that but fell asleep before it made sense to him. It was much later before he found out that the man was a friend of Hoss and that Hoss slept in that very bed when he visited that cabin. It was easier to sleep better knowing that, and when he was sure that Hoss was on his way. He awoke when he heard his brother calling his name and looked up into those big blue eyes for the first time in nearly five years.

“Dagnabit, I would never have believed it ifn I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”

Struggling to speak in a voice that was hoarse from disuse as well as the retching he had done, Adam managed to greet his brother warmly. “Good to see you too, brother.”

“What you doing up here, Adam?”

It was clear it was difficult, but Adam did his best to talk. “I thought I’d come across the mountains and have some time to think.”

Hoss reached out and pulled the blanket up to cover Adam because it had slipped from him as he had slept. Hoss kept his other hand on Adam’s arm almost as a way to reassure himself that Adam was really there and not some crazy dream. He couldn’t help admonishing him though for the choices he had made. “Why d’ya do a fool thing like that ridin’ through such rough country all alone?”

So Adam got defensive. “I’ve done it before.”

“Yeah, before. Should I remind you about Eskith and Danny and Kane and a few other times you had some close calls ’cause you was alone? Damn, you’re a stubborn man. For a man likes schooling, ya don’t learn too well.” Hoss watched then as Adam’s face lost all signs of good cheer and began to look like a man bereaved.

“Hoss, I lost her. I got married, and we were coming back, but we had a terrible fight. It seems we often have fights, but this one made her walk out on me for good. I looked for her everywhere and then I found that she booked passage on a ship. She left me.”

“Nah, she didn’t.” Hoss was grinning even as Adam looked at him in shock wondering how he could take so lightly what was so devastating to him.

“Hoss, she’s gone.”

“Nope, she’s been at the Ponderosa for nigh onto two weeks now. We been wondering where you were. She thought you woulda come straight here. She was in a panic when she found out you left the hotel and then she tracked you down and found out you left the city. She thought you left her. She come to ask you to take her back. We had no idea you was gonna do something stupid like ride through the mountains.”

“She’s at the Ponderosa?”

“I said that already. That bump on the head affect your hearing too? She said you and her are a lot alike. Course she’s got that French accent that makes things sound real purty when she says ’em and sometimes I’m not so sure what she’s saying, but it’s still real purty to hear. Anyway, she says you’re both real stubborn like and got them hot tempers, and she figures that you’ll both be better off here with family to help ya settle things. She said it would be better for the baby if you had a place that you could call home instead of wandring all over creation.”

“What baby?”

“Now you been married for years now even though you ain’t let us know and Pa’s gonna have words with you about that, I know, and I know you been with women before too so you ought to know ’bout babies and how they’re made, or that knock on the head did a lot more damage than we thought.”

“She didn’t tell me we were going to have a baby.”

“Well she is. Not tellin’ you don’t mean it ain’t gonna happen.”

“Is she all right?”

“She is. She said she was acting kinda crazy and she thinks it’s cuz she’s with child. She said she knew she done wrong in San Francisco but when she came back, you was gone. She couldn’t find you so she come to the Ponderosa.”

“I need to get there.” Adam moved to sit up but Hoss’ hand on his chest prevented any movement.

“You’re not going anywhere for a bit. You rest easy there. I’ll have to ride home or send somebody to get a wagon to get you home. You can’t ride like you are. I can tell just by seeing how your eyes are that you shouldn’t be on a horse, and I only got one here anyway. So you lay yourself back and get some rest while John and I figure on what we’re gonna do next.”

“Is Eve with her?”

When Hoss said she was, Adam groaned. “Adam, why don’t you like her? I like her a lot. She’s the one talked your wife into coming out here to the Ponderosa.”

Looking up hopefully, Adam checked out Hoss’ expression. “You like her a lot? How much is a lot? Like in you’d like to kiss her?” Seeing Hoss blush, Adam had to grin. “You already kissed her, didn’t you? Hoss, please, please romance her and take her away from Corinne. I love Corinne, but you don’t know what it’s like when the two of them gang up on me. Corinne doesn’t need to have a lady servant out here. Please?”

Hoss hung his head and got that aw shucks kind of demeanor that Adam knew so well. “I don’t know if a French lady would be interested in a cowboy like me.”

“Oh, please, she’s not French. All that ‘madame’ and such is an act. She’s a cockney from England who needed a job and didn’t care how much it paid as long as it got her out of the pubs. Get her to drink a few glasses of wine and you’ll meet the real Eve.”

The brothers talked more after Adam got some sleep, and it was decided that Hoss would go back to the Ponderosa to get a wagon and Corinne so Adam could be transported back to the Ponderosa, and he and Corinne would make plans for their future. Hoss asked why Corinne needed to come up the mountain, and Adam grinned again.

“Just try to stop her, and you’ll get your answer.”

As it turned out, Hoss didn’t need to go home for the wagon. Both Ben and Corinne were so impatient to see Adam that they arrived the next day. Corinne had camped out with her father-in-law shocking Adam who had no idea she would do that. Hoss had only ridden a few hours down the mountain when he had met them coming up the mountain and guided them to John’s cabin. When they got there, Ben told Corinne to go in first to see her husband. There were some loud voices at first and then silence. Hoss looked at his father.

“Ya think we oughta go in there and make sure they’re all right?”

“Hoss, this would be the worst time to go in there.”

“Huh? Oh.”

After a short time, Corinne opened the door and the others went in and there was a discussion then of how she had come there with Ben.

“I can do many things you do not know I can do, husband of mine. You should not be so surprised.”

“Adam, you got yourself quite a woman here. Too bad we didn’t know about her sooner.”

As Corinne looked at him triumphantly, Adam looked to his father and nodded in silent acceptance of his comeuppance. He knew that he would have to explain more at some point because his father had already put him on notice about that. His father asked him what he planned to do next, and Adam looked at Corinne.

“From what I understand, my wife thinks we should raise our child here. I like that idea. Our child can grow up with Joe’s children. You’ll get to have fun with all your grandchildren, Pa. I think we should build a house on the Ponderosa if that’s all right with you. I’d like to continue doing some of the same work I’ve been doing for the last few years, but I’ll have time to help on the ranch too. I’m a little rusty, but I think it will come back to me.”

Corinne smiled and held Adam’s hand as he talked leaning down to kiss him lightly when he finished talking. Ben liked Adam’s plan too and it had Hoss grinning as well. Ben and Corinne had brought some food from Hop Sing’s kitchen so they had a wonderful meal that evening. Adam’s appetite was improving and Hop Sing’s buttery biscuits were something that he had missed. That night, Corinne slept on a bedroll next to the bed where Adam slept. John gave up his bed to Ben. Hoss and John slept out under the stars with a campfire talking about the future. Hoss was all grins when he found out that Adam had asked John if he was interested in working for him. He said he would build a stable with a room for John if John would take care of the animals, the yard, and keep a watch on the house and his family when Adam wasn’t there. John had agreed to do that. He was rejoining white society and leaving his self-imposed exile as a trapper in the mountains.

“John, we’ll be making the usual payment for services to the Ponderosa. Pa will likely want to give you a bonus for this one.”

“Nope, Hoss, this one’s on me. I done it as a friend.”

Hoss shook John’s hand. “Yep, we’re friends.”

The next day, John packed some furs in the back of the wagon so that Adam would be warm as well as comfortable for the ride. Corinne snuggled in next to him, and Ben took the driver’s seat looking back to smile at his eldest son and his wife. Hoss had a few words for John as they were leaving.

“Now, Sunday, Hop Sing is fixing an extra special meal. I expect to see you there. I reckon we’ll be eating about five.”

“I’ll be there. I figure I can have my stuff packed up and ready to move in a couple of days. Any extra, I’ll be sending over to the Paiute.”

So the family was whole again, and there was hope for the future. All the trouble that had started all those years ago when Delphine was carrying Ross’ baby but decided to lay with Adam was over. Adam sometimes still thought about Del and Ross, but they were no longer dark thoughts. He remembered the goodness in each and the friendship they had had. The Ponderosa owned the Marquette ranch, but the cellar where Adam had been kept was gone as were the small buildings that had camouflaged it. The small stable had been expanded and converted into a hay barn, and the house expanded and remodeled into quarters for married hands on the Ponderosa. It no longer resembled the Marquette ranch that Adam had known although the graves were maintained discreetly behind the house if anyone cared to go look. In town, the scandal had been forgotten, and people were far more interested in where Adam had been, in his French wife, in Hoss’ new romance, and eventually in the new baby on the Ponderosa adding to Ben’s grandchildren.

Ben still worried about Adam and his memories of what had happened at the Marquette ranch and with them until he had some ideas of what he wanted to do with the place and rode there with Adam one fine spring day. Adam had not hesitated to agree to his request to accompany him which had relieved some of his concern, but as Ben outlined what he wanted done and Adam enthusiastically talked about what he could do to make the Marquette place fit better into the Ponderosa, then Ben knew it was over. There were no ghosts haunting his son. Corinne had told him that she had counseled Adam to look to the present and future and not let the past rule him, but Ben had still worried. Seeing his son do as Corinne had said made him more confident that the past was indeed the past. All those suspicions which had driven Ross to do such harm and then had been passed to his brother motivating his evil acts were over. They could move forward. As they left that day, Adam rode first up the hill toward home anxious to return to his wife and son. Ben paused once at the top of the hill to look back and then he too said goodbye to the painful memories and followed his son going forward.

*****

 

Belladonna

Chapter 1

The knife always slid in so easily that it surprised her even though she had done it so many times. She knew the exact place to do it too. The first time, she had tried to stab the man in the back and had found the task very difficult. Getting the knife to go through all that muscle and slide against the bones to hit something to cause death had left her exhausted and covered in blood. She had nearly been caught in that one. She had washed herself and her clothing in a nearby stream and wouldn’t have had a plausible excuse for being all wet and disheveled except for the fortunate fact of the rainstorm that hit as she headed back to that little town. The man’s body hadn’t been found until after the storm and predators had had hours to do their worst to it. No one had ever suspected he had been murdered. The supposition had been that he had somehow had an accident during the storm and been killed. She had killed only two more times in that little town before moving on knowing that too many murders there and people might begin to wonder if there was a killer in their midst even if the men killed were strangers passing through. It was only after working her way into the business in larger towns and cities that she had grown bold enough to kill citizens of the communities in which she lived. Men who insulted her, hurt her, or slighted her became potential targets. She couldn’t kill all the men who hurt her, but she could kill some of them so she did. Her techniques had gotten so good too that she could slip that thin razor sharp blade up into a chest cavity piercing the heart of a man even as he looked into her eyes with lust thinking he was going to get lucky again. There was usually only seconds between the realization of the attack and their death. She could have wished for more time to watch them suffer but knew her freedom depended on a quick, silent kill.

It had all worked so well until that day in Virginia City when she had attempted a kill during the day. Her overconfidence had been her undoing. She had selected her target and walked with him into an alley. He thought he was going to get a little bonus for the event for which he had paid so well the night before, but she had something entirely different in mind. As she asked, he backed up to the wall of the building out of sight of anyone on the street. She told him to close his eyes, and that made him smile as he looked down at the short but beautiful woman smiling up at him. She was petite but curvy in all the right places and had doe eyes and full lips that promised so much.

“Do your best, darling. I’m all yours.”

He thrust his hips forward then in an obvious effort to show he wanted what he thought she was offering. She pulled the knife from its hiding place in her long skirt and slid it up into his heart before he had a chance to say or do anything else. As she pulled it out and wiped it clean on his shirt just before he fell to the ground. Unfortunately for her, he was a big man and fell forward. She wasn’t strong enough to stop him from sprawling where his head and shoulders could be seen from the end of the alley if anyone entered even a few feet. Someone did, and she heard a shout from that direction.

“Hey, what’s wrong with ole Clancy there?”

As she turned to look, a very large man and a much shorter, smaller man in a green jacket were rushing down the alley toward them obviously concerned with the man now sprawled at her feet. There was almost no blood, and he was facedown. Her method of killing was so swift that there usually was little blood, but one look at his chest and they were going to know.

“He’s collapsed. Go get the doctor. I’ll stay with him.”

Again, unfortunately for her, neither man left but the big man pulled his pistol and fired two shots in the air. “That’ll bring help faster than either of us running for it.”

By then, they were at her side. She stepped back and wondered how she could kill both quickly and was about to try when the sheriff and a man dressed all in black entered the alley too. The sheriff asked her what happened, but the other two men had rolled the dead man onto his back, and the man in black drew his pistol which he pointed at her head.

“Drop the weapon, ma’am. Now!”

“Adam, you don’t know she’s the one who done it.”

“Roy, you see anyone else here?”

“No, but that don’t mean she did it.”

“Hoss, Little Joe: did either of you see anyone else here?”

Both men stood and shook their heads as all four men now stared at her. She noted that the eyes of the one dressed in black never left her even if the others looked down at the dead man several times and then back at her. His voice was cold, hard, but relatively soft as he spoke to her. She knew then that there was no way to placate him. It was always those with that kind of voice who were the hardest to defeat.

“I told you to drop the weapon. If necessary, I’ll have Hoss grab one arm and Roy the other, and then I’ll search you until I find it. It’s up to you.”

Slowly, she slid her hand into the hidden pocket in the skirt of her dress and pulled out the knife. “It was self-defense. He tried to force me to do something I didn’t want to do. You can see how much bigger he is than I am. No woman should have to do something like that if she doesn’t want to do it.”

“But, Clancy always . . .”

“Hoss, she’s only setting up her defense. Don’t argue with her. She’s getting ready for the trial and trying out the only story she thinks a jury might accept.”

Roy had picked up the knife and took charge then. “Adam, I’d like your help walking her over to my jail. I don’t know that she doesn’t have another weapon on her. Until I can get that figured out, I’d like another man with a gun on her. Hoss and Joe, can you get poor Clancy on over to the undertaker? Does he have any family I have to inform?”

“He’s got family back east somewhere. We’ll have to go back to the ranch and look through his things to find the address. I know he writes letters to ’em so he must have the address there some place. Me and Joe will take care of letting them know, Roy. He worked for us. We oughta be the ones tellin’ ’em that he died. We’ll send his stuff to ’em too.”

“Thank you, Hoss, Joe. Adam, let’s get her over to the jail now before this crowd gets any bigger.”

Quite a crowd had already gathered and were talking and asking questions. The three or four dozen people were likely to be a hundred or more though if they didn’t get her moved soon. Adam used his pistol to indicate she should move toward the end of the alley. He wasn’t ready yet to get too close to her not knowing if she had another weapon on her. They walked through the crowd ignoring the questions except to say that Roy would come outside and give them a statement after he had things down on paper. Once she was at the jail, Roy put her in a cell and locked the door. He told her he would get a blanket and cover the cell wall to give her some privacy but that she was going to have to undress and put on a dress he would give to her. Looking at Adam, he had a question.

“What woman do you think I can get who might be willing to supervise her undressing and dressing? I can’t rightly have a man do that.”

Thinking for only a moment, Adam had two suggestions. “Bessie Sue could handle her, or you could ask Charlie at the freight office.”

“Adam, most people don’t know Charlie is a woman.”

“Roy, most people here know Charlie is a woman. They simply choose to let her act and live like a man because that’s what she wants, and she does a good job hauling freight. She’s a better driver than most of the men working there.”

“Do you think she would be upset if I asked her?”

“She might be, but I’ll ask her. She and Trapper have become friends and we’ve gotten to know her a bit better because of that. I’ll ask her as a friend, and I think she’ll do it.” Charlie did agree to Adam’s request as he made it discreetly. They made a quick stop at a dress store asking them to send over a plain dress as soon as possible and then headed to the jail where Roy already had a blanket ready to hang on the woman’s cell.

“She won’t give me her name so I had to send a deputy over to one of the houses to ask for some help. Her name is Donna Bella or at least that’s the name she’s using here.”

“Belladonna, or deadly nightshade: now that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?”

“She got here about two months ago.”

“And we’ve had two unexplained deaths of men in that time both killed by knife wounds. That seems highly coincidental.”

“You know, I was thinking along the same lines. As soon as I can get things straightened out here and get things down on paper, I’m gonna be checking out that part of things too.”

“You’ve got a crowd waiting outside.”

“I know. I suppose I ought to go tell ’em the basic story. They’re gonna have a lot of questions I ain’t for answers for yet.”

“You can tell them that.”

“They might bring up them other murders too.”

“It’s probably too late to prove anything.”

“Maybe it is, but I might come up with something a jury would be interested in hearing at least. Well, I thank you for your help. I think we can handle it from here. Would you do me one more favor though? Your brothers are likely to be called as witnesses. Could you ask them not to talk to anyone about what they saw and that includes talking about it at home. Could you do that?”

“I can do that. What about me?”

“What you and I did, we did when there was already folks standing around and watching. I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference if we say we done what we done cause folks are gonna be saying it anyway. But for Hoss and Joe, it’s gonna be her word against theirs so I don’t want there to be any reason for anyone to doubt them. She’s a smart one, I think, and she’s gonna be mighty sympathetic to a jury of men looking at a little thing like her sitting there saying that big Clancy was trying to do something to her. The fact that she didn’t look at all upset, her clothes was in good repair, and she had no injuries are gonna go against her, but I need your brothers to be able to testify to that. This whole thing ain’t gonna be easy.”

Agreeing to what Roy had said, Adam went to find his brothers who were finishing up on getting supplies. He told them what he had done and what Roy had asked. Then he said his goodbyes and headed home to tell his wife and Trapper what had happened. Things were likely to be tense over the next few weeks with a trial and then a possible hanging of a woman because of what had happened so he wanted them to know everything that had occurred in town.

*****

Chapter 2

As expected, the case was difficult to prosecute. Donna was a sympathetic character sitting at the defendant’s table dwarfed by her attorney and every man who came anywhere near her. Her attorney did his best to shake Hoss and Joe when they got on the stand, but both were able to tell consistent and believable accounts of the events of that morning when Clancy had come to town with them to load two wagons with supplies. When his wagon was loaded, they had told him he could go get a beer as a reward before they headed home. When they went to join him, they couldn’t find him.

“Hoss said that Clancy never left a beer unless it was for a woman. That gave me an idea of where he might be.”

“And where would that be, Joe.” Roy let Joe tell the story without much interruption.

“Aw, Roy, you know a lot of men leave that saloon and go down that alley with a, ahem, a lady, to well, you know, do a little something private. Usually it’s at night, but that alley turns at an angle so almost as soon as you walk down a short way, you’re out of sight of people in the street. We headed there thinking to call his name, but then we saw her standing there so we knew nothing was happening.”

“So what did you do then?”

“We walked down there to give Clancy a hard time, but we could see he was on the ground. She yelled that he needed a doctor. Hoss fired off a couple of shots so help would come.”

“Did that work?”

“Yeah, you and Adam were there right away. It was no good though. When we got to Clancy, he was dead. He was stabbed.”

“What happened next?”

“Adam pulled his gun on her and told her to drop her weapon.”

“Objection!”

“That’s all right, Your Honor. I’ll call Adam Cartwright to tell the next part after I call Hoss Cartwright to tell the story up to this point.”

The judge had told him to proceed, and Hoss was called into the courtroom and told his version, which matched Joe’s. Then Roy testified to his part. When he finished, Adam was called and told his part of the story, which matched Roy’s version of events, and people nodded in the courtroom because they had seen that part. Donna had been composed and not at all upset. She sat there and tried to be upset then, but knew she had made a mistake in the alley by not being distraught. Her clothing too had been intact and she had had no injuries of any kind not even a bruise or red mark anywhere. All the witnesses testified to that and her attorney could do nothing about it.

The weapon was introduced into evidence, and Doctor Martin and the undertaker testified verifying that the weapon and the wound matched. The only thing that was lacking was a motive. Roy had tied Donna to the two other men who had been murdered and Doctor Martin verified that they were likely killed by the same weapon, but without a motive or witnesses, that evidence could not be introduced. They knew she had done those murders but couldn’t prove it. However, Roy’s questioning had started the rumor mill running so most people had heard the theory and thought it could be true. Members of the jury of course weren’t immune to the gossip but had said they could give a verdict and ignore what they had heard outside the courtroom.

Donna’s attorney knew he had a tough battle. He put her on the stand to try out the self-defense option. She was small, and Clancy had been a big, powerful man verified by his cross examination of the Cartwrights who agreed that was why they asked him to help them that day. Her attorney thought he was doing a credible job of creating reasonable doubt until her temper flared. It was at that point that he knew his client was guilty and that she was likely to be found guilty too. It started when she was being cross-examined about the weapon and began to complain about her treatment by Adam and then in the jail.

“They made me disrobe in that jail. They had a man, or a woman dressed like a man, there to watch. It was humiliating. Yes, Charlie is a woman. You didn’t know that but she is, and she watched me undress and then every day she came in there and watched me as I undressed and washed myself. I was humiliated every day.”

Trapper John was sitting with Charlie in the courtroom and put a hand on her shoulder, but no one in the courtroom reacted much to Donna’s outburst other than to feel some sympathy for Charlie. They knew how Charlie lived and liked Charlie. Charlie did a good job for the freight company, always treated people well, and helped out whenever asked just like when Roy needed assistance with a dangerous female prisoner. Donna’s assault on Charlie only made her look bad to the jury and the spectators. Charlie had done nothing to her and didn’t deserve the abuse. Too late, Donna realized her mistake. She tried to back off by saying Charlie was hurt by men and had to hide from them just like she had been hurt by men. Then she stopped talking. Adam leaned over the rail and whispered to Roy. Donna saw him and guessed what he said once Roy stood up to cross-examine her.

“You say Charlie’s been hurt by men just like you been hurt. Do you think men been hurting you all these years?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I asked a question. I only wanted a yes or no answer.”

Donna pouted and didn’t answer.

“So you think men hurt you and you wanted to hurt them back. Is that why you kill men?”

“Objection! My client is not on trial for killing men. She is being tried in the death of one man and she claims self-defense in that. I don’t know what the cross-examination is trying to get at with questions like that but it is highly inflammatory and all questions like that should be stricken from the record and the jury told to ignore them.”

“Oh, I think I know exactly why that question was asked and it could have been asked more correctly, but I’ll let it stand if there are no more questions like it. Your client opened the door to that question with her earlier statement.”

Roy nodded. “Your Honor, thank you. I don’t need to ask no more questions. I think my point was made just fine.”

“Objection, Your Honor. Now he’s arguing his case already.”

“You got any more questions for this witness?”

“No, Your Honor.”

“Then it doesn’t matter now, does it? You can both take a few minutes to get ready with your closing statements and then we’ll let the jury decide.”

Closing statements were made and the jury was sent into the jury room to deliberate. No one expected them to take very long to find her guilty. It was a surprise then when the jury continued to deliberate long into the night and were sent home to sleep without rendering a verdict. The judge told them not to discuss the case with anyone including wives or other family members and report again at eight the next morning. They were there and spent the entire day deliberating again. Even the judge was getting completely baffled by what was taking so long. Finally he sent a message to the jury asking if they were having some difficulty in reaching a verdict. The answer he got did not surprise him when he read the note from the jury foreman, and he realized he should have anticipated it. It took another full day before the jury was ready to pronounce their verdict and the judge waited to hear how they had ruled. The judge asked Donna Bella to stand to face the jury. First the jury foreman stood and spoke in a clear voice and with a dead stare at Donna Bella. The judge asked him to state the verdict.

“In the case of the murder of Michael Clancy, we find the defendant guilty.”

The judge then asked if the jury had decided on a sentence. If they had not, then he said he could ask for a retrial, he could sentence her to life in prison, or he could sentence her to hang. The jury foreman looked at the other jurors and looked less sure of himself as he answered affirmatively that they had reached a decision. This time when he spoke, he looked at the judge and not at the defendant.

“We, the jury, recommend the sentence of hanging for the defendant in this case.”

There were gasps around the courtroom. Even though many had no sympathy at all for Donna Bella, the idea of hanging a woman was a shock. Until that moment, most had not understood why the jury had taken so long to reach its conclusion. Now they understood. In a capital case, the sentence had to be decided by the jury. Obviously, they had not had a problem finding her guilty. It must have been difficult for the twelve men to reach a unanimous decision to hang a woman even for such a cold-blooded and heinous crime. Her attorney immediately stood and said that he would be appealing to the governor for clemency and a commutation of the sentence. The judge granted him two weeks to do so. It was a generous time frame and showed the judge’s reluctance too to be the first one to have such an event on his record.

To her credit, Donna did the one thing that could help her case at that point. The courtroom was nearly silent except for the sobbing of the defendant at the defense table as she rested her head on her arms and cried. Her attorney tried to soothe her to no avail. Roy waited patiently for her to compose herself so he could take her back to the jail. He was in a terrible quandary as well. He had thought that she was likely to be sentenced to life in prison. His sister was quite ill, and he had planned to leave to go see her thinking it might be the last chance he would ever have to see her. Now he had this responsibility and didn’t know whom he could get to take over for him. Clem was at home with a broken leg he had gotten trying to break up a barroom brawl only a week earlier. Roy looked around as he waited wondering what man would be responsible, trustworthy, and civic minded enough to help him out under these circumstances. He saw Adam standing with his brothers and father, and he nodded almost to himself. If this didn’t get resolved soon, he knew whom he had to ask.

As the Cartwright group left, they were discussing Roy and the difficulties he was going to have with hanging a woman much as they would if put in a position like that. Trapper and Charlie walked out with them and Trapper disagreed with them that the hanging should be difficult. He said it shouldn’t matter that she was a woman.

“Why shouldn’t it matter, Trapper? She’s a woman, and a little thing at that. I know what she did, but maybe she did feel hurt and threatened in a world of men especially considering how she had to make a living.”

“Joe, she didn’t have to make a living that way. Look at all the women here who make a living without doing that. She wanted the money and went that way.”

“That might be true, but Joe has a point. She’s only a little thing. Seems like locking her up would be enough.” Hoss couldn’t see to hanging a woman, but Trapper was adamant.

“Even a small sidewinder is deadly. They might look cute from a distance, but they crawl in your bedroll, and you might wake up dead. Some things is better not being among folks who wants to keep on living. She’s one of them. She lives, and she’s gonna find a way to make somebody else stop living.”

Adam had been quiet but that comment made him join in. “It’s probably true. We know she’s killed before even if we can’t prove it. Do we want to put others at risk because we can’t see our way to treating her the way we would treat a man who had done the same thing? I know that Corinne is opposed to this and we’ve had this discussion. We’ll probably have it again, but if you want equality than you get it in all its forms.”

“I dunno. I still think a woman’s got to be treated a mite different like.”

The final word though belonged to Ben. “It will be up to the governor and the clemency panel now. It is out of the jury’s hands and the judge’s. The lawyer will make his appeal, and the board will likely ask Roy for all the records, and they will make the decision.”

They all knew it was rare for the panel to commute a sentence, but under these circumstances, that was probably what was going to happen. They thought the most likely result was that the sentence would be reduced to life in prison. Then they wondered if Trapper’s prediction would come true because she would have a chance at freedom then or at least the ability to take a life.

*****

Chapter 3

In Carson City, the governor was unhappy to have the Donna Bella case handed to him, but he knew what he had to do. He convened the clemency panel calling justices of the state supreme court and the attorney general to serve with him. He had the attorney general contact Sheriff Coffee and the trial judge to get all the records in the case delivered to the panel for their review. Then they had to make a very difficult decision and he guessed it would take them nearly the whole two weeks to do it. It wasn’t simply the merits of the case they had to decide but the precedent they would be setting and the will of the citizens when they wrote the state constitution and included capital punishment in it. While they deliberated, the case was the talk of the town in Virginia City especially among those directly involved in it. When the commutation was not decided in the first week, Roy decided it was time to talk to Adam about stepping in for him. He rode out to the Ponderosa to Adam’s house early one morning to talk to him about serving as a temporary sheriff after he got the city council’s approval for the move. When he arrived, he could see that Adam was ill at ease and waited until they had coffee and a chance to speak privately before he asked him why although he phrased it more as a statement than a question knowing how Adam didn’t like divulging personal information.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but things seem a bit on the unhappy side here today.”

“Not only today.”

That kind of statement told a lot. “I suppose it’s been about that trial and such.”

“Yes, we don’t see things the same way. Corinne sees a sad soul, hurt and trying to protect herself.”

“What do you see when you look at Donna?”

“A viper. She’s got the eyes of a snake. No feelings at all. She looks at people like they’re a meal to be consumed for her benefit or not. I don’t think she has any feelings at all except anger, and we can see where that has led her.”

“She’s probably going to get her sentence commuted.”

“Yes, I know, and at some point, she’ll charm someone into helping her, and then someone else will die.”

“You think she’s a cold-blooded killer?”

“Don’t you?”

“I have to say I agree with you. I’ve met a few men in my years in this job who had eyes like hers, kinda dead eyes. They got no feelings inside. Like you said, they either ended up getting killed or they killed others. Seems to be the way with ones like that.”

Sipping his coffee, Adam eyed Roy over the rim of the cup waiting for the reason for the visit. Roy seemed reluctant to offer it so Adam guessed it was something unpleasant and probably that unpleasantness had something to do with a request Roy was going to make of him. He decided to force the issue. “So what task have you come to ask me to do and why do you feel guilty about asking?”

“You know, that’s a habit you have that drives your pa to distraction and me too sometimes. It’s like you know what I’m thinking.” Adam smirked a little knowing Roy was only trying a delaying tactic as he tried to find the best way to broach what was apparently a difficult request. “Now, Adam, I know you’re likely to say no when I ask this of ya, but hear me out. I wouldn’t ask if this wasn’t real important. My sister is real sick. This may be the last time I ever get to see her.”

Adam did what Roy had asked him not to do and interrupted before Roy could finish his request. “Oh, no, you’re not going to ask me to fill in for you! No, and it won’t matter how much I listen and hear you out. I want no part of that job. I have a family to consider, and things are difficult enough right now. No, there must be other men who can do that job.”

“Now, Adam, I did ask you to hear me out. It would only be until the clemency order comes down. Then she’ll be shipped off and be the responsibility of the state of Nevada. Until then though, I need someone who can keep a lid on things in town. People are starting to feel sorry for her sitting in that jail and worrying about the gallows platform in the back there. You know we never took down the main platform from the last one. We’d have to build the top part again, but the main platform with the trap door and the ladder up to it is there. Ifn she stands on her cot and pulls back that wooden shutter we gave her for privacy, she can see it.”

“So now they’ve forgotten what she did and remembering only that she’s a beautiful little woman who might still stand there and have her pretty neck stretched for shoving a knife into Clancy.”

“Well, you know how folks are. They get kind of emotional about how things are especially with a woman involved. Nobody wants Virginia City to be the first to hang a woman.”

“Well, they’re not going to lynch her so all you need is someone to sit at the jail and make sure they don’t let her go. It seems anyone could do that.”

“No, by my reckoning, it’s more than that. Somebody needs to take the mood of the town and make sure no one does anything foolish. You got a way of calming folks down and making ’em see reason. You also scare ’em some. The combination is what I need so I can go see my sister.”

“You should do it. You might find some feeling in your heart for this poor woman.” Corinne had come from putting the baby down for a nap and heard much of the conversation. She looked to Roy. “Adam has no sympathy for how this woman must have been hurt to act the way she acted. He has no understanding of how difficult it is to be a woman, especially a small woman, when strong powerful men want something and you are not strong enough to stop them. He would never hurt a woman so he does not understand the fear that many women live with day after day. It can change a woman, and I think that it happened to this woman. I feel sorrow for her, but my husband has no room in his heart for her.”

“Ma’am, she did kill a man, and probably killed others before she killed him.”

“I am not saying she should not be punished. I am saying we should try to understand how she came to feel so angry at men, how much she must have been hurt by men to feel that way. She could learn to feel remorse in prison, and perhaps some day, she could live free and do good. Killing her is only revenge.”

“Corinne, it is justice, and we would all be safer with people like her removed from our society. You don’t understand how dangerous she is. You have never faced someone like her. I have. I have faced someone who uses a person for his own means and has no regard for that person as a person but uses them as an object to an end.”

“I don’t think that she is like that.”

“You didn’t see her after she killed Clancy. You didn’t see the dead eyes and lack of emotion in her. I’ve seen that before. There’s no soul in people like that.”

“Everyone has a soul. She needs forgiveness and mercy to save her.”

“Sweetheart, you can’t save everyone.”

“I think you’re wrong. Everyone can be saved.”

Roy guessed that he was hearing a small replay of the argument that the two of them had been having since Donna had murdered Clancy. However, there was no answer as the two of them were going to have to work that out for themselves, but Roy had the more immediate problem of needing a temporary replacement. “Adam, your wife has endorsed the idea. Please, can you help me out?”

They all knew he was going to say yes. He had such a sense of duty and civic responsibility that he couldn’t refuse no matter how much he might argue about it or try to find a way to logically find another solution. He nodded with a sigh.

“When do you want me there?”

“I’ll buy my ticket today and leave on the morning stage. If you could be there early in the morning so I can go over everything with you, that would be fine and dandy. Today I’ll write everything down that I can think is important so you have something to go by.”

“I’ll be there by eight. How’s that?”

“That works out fine. By then, Charlie will have Donna all set for the day so you won’t have to worry about anything until evening. She gets a meal at noon, but it’s a cold lunch and you can pass it through the bars. She gets a hot meal for dinner. I’ll go through the rest of the schedule tomorrow when you get there. Thank you, Adam, Corinne.”

After Roy left, Adam went to talk to Trapper about the week because he would be staying in town and therefore Trapper’s duties would be greater as they were every time Adam wasn’t home. His room was in the stable, but when Adam was gone, he took his meals with Corinne and made sure that the house was locked up each evening before he retired to the stable. He also kept a lantern lit on the porch on those nights that Adam was gone so that he could easily see the house and get there quickly if anything unusual happened. If there was a storm, he usually ended up sleeping on the floor next to the fireplace because Corinne was too afraid then to stay alone. That didn’t happen much. The other possibility was that Hoss’ wife, Eve, would come to spend a day and a night with Corinne. However Eve and Hoss hadn’t been married very long and Hoss wasn’t very happy with that kind of arrangement so it didn’t happen often either. As it was, Trapper didn’t think Adam had made a good decision either.

“You walking into that snake’s lair without any protection. She’s deadly.”

“I know, but she’s locked in a cell.”

“And all she’s got is time in there to think of ways to get out and do more evil. What if the governor don’t change her sentence? Then what you gonna do?”

“I think they’ll commute her sentence to life in prison.”

“Yeah, but I’m saying what if they don’t? Then you got the town to deal with on one side, and that little diamondback on the other. You might need some help.”

“If that happens, I’ll be calling for some help too.”

“Might be hard to come by. Not many really want to see that woman hanging. Been talking with your brothers, and they’re not even seeing it that way any more. Seems strange to me seeing as how Clancy worked for you folks and all, but that feeling like men gotta protect women kinda seems to trump other cards in this game.”

“I guess I’ll find out when I go over there. If I hurry, I can still probably catch Joe at the house with Hoss.”

At the house, Adam found that Trapper’s assessment had been correct. His brothers and his father were in favor of the commutation and didn’t want to see Donna hanged. He seemed to be the only one left in the family who still thought that hanging was the proper punishment in this situation even though he still had serious doubts about the morality of capital punishment in general. Even with his doubts about it, there were times that he thought it was probably the best option, and this was one of those times.

“Why, Adam? Why dya think that little gal has to die? I mean, I know what she done, but she could be punished just as well by being in prison.”

“Son, I have to agree with Hoss. I can’t see that there is some benefit to be gained by executing her, and there is a big downside to such a thing.”

“If we let her live, I’m afraid we’re going to be guaranteeing that someone else is going to die, and maybe more than one before she’s done.”

“Aw, c’mon, Adam. She’s locked up and has no weapons. What could she possibly do to anyone now?” Joe joined in the chorus against Adam’s position.

“She’s found a way so far. She’ll find a way again. Give her enough time, and someone else will die.”

Then Adam told them of Roy’s request, and they had the same negative reaction to that as they did to his position on whether Donna should be executed. It was interesting to him that they argued that she shouldn’t hang, but now argued that it was too dangerous for him to take the position of temporary sheriff guarding her. It didn’t matter though because he had already accepted the job and Corinne had told him to do it. He explained all of that and got their grudging acceptance of his reasons and more importantly their offer of help should he need it. It was all that he could expect under the circumstances. He thanked them and got their good wishes before he returned home to complete what work he could do before he packed a bag to spend a week in town.

*****

Chapter 4

The next day as Roy left town on the morning stage, he felt some guilt. He had left a list of instructions for Adam as well as a set of notes about the requirements of the job. There were three deputies assigned to help him, but there was trouble brewing too. There was a petition circulating in town to have conditions in the jail improved for Donna. Adam was going to have to deal with that. The barred walls of her cell were shielded by blankets except for the cell door. A wooden shutter had been built over the window so she could be protected from prying eyes there. She even had a chamber pot, water pitcher, and wash basin in the cell for personal cleanliness as well as a lamp because it was rather dark in there with the blanket wall and the shutter. The church sewing circle had dropped off a small quilt for her so she had that for bedding in addition to the blanket and pillow provided by the jail. However some wanted to do better than that apparently. Adam guessed they were completely unaware of how spartan and stark prison cells were for women. The first day on the job was rather uneventful as Donna seemed to be sizing up her new situation and didn’t have much to say until after dinner. Adam got used to the routine but made one change. When Charlie was going to step into the cell to hand the dinner tray to Donna, he objected.

“No, have Donna stay back seated on her cot. You can set the tray down and come out. Then she can get it.”

“It’s all right, Adam. I’ve handed it to her every day since she’s been in here.”

“Charlie, I would feel better if you would do it my way.”

Donna stood to object and moved to the open cell door as if to take the tray as she had since first being locked in this cell. Adam drew his pistol, pointed it at her, and ordered her to sit down on the cot. She froze as did Charlie who was shocked that Adam would take such an extreme action to Donna simply stepping forward.

“Adam, I don’t think you need to do that.”

“I do until she sits back down.”

His voice as cold, hard, and quiet as she remembered it, Donna knew there was no fooling with him at that point. She sat down, and Charlie set the dinner tray on the small table inside the cell. She stepped out and pushed the cell door closed so Adam could lock it again. Adam knew Charlie didn’t approve of his methods, but after talking with the deputies who spend the night there and with what Roy had told him, he had a suspicion about Donna. He was going to check it out the next morning. After locking the cell, he asked Charlie to come to the office and quietly told her what he suspected and why. Clearly skeptical, Charlie said nothing critical and agreed to do as Adam asked, but said she hoped he would keep a close watch on his temper.

“I wasn’t angry at her there. I was worried about you. We’ll find out in the morning if that worry was justified.” He bid goodnight to Charlie then.

Later, Adam checked on Donna, and she challenged him then clearly wanting to see how he would react.

“You just had to show how big and tough you were, didn’t you? You’re just like all men. You have power and have to show it to hurt others.”

“I didn’t hurt you. I only made sure you couldn’t hurt anyone else. I like Charlie. I did what I did to make sure she was safe.”

“Charlie is twice as big as I am. You think I’m a threat to Charlie?”

“Clancy was twice as big too.” Adam left the rest implied by the silence that followed. She waited to see if he would say anything more until her own nervousness demanded that she say something.

“When do you think the answer will come from the governor to give me a shorter sentence?”

“A shorter sentence? You’re going to get a life sentence instead of the death penalty or that’s what most think will happen.”

“No! My lawyer said they would consider my claim of self-defense and that he was so much bigger and probably give me ten or twenty years. I could do that, but I can’t do life in prison. That’s impossible.”

“That’s unlikely seeing as how you were uninjured, and weren’t even upset when we saw you. It’s all in the statements that they can read as well as anyone.”

“But I don’t want a life sentence. That would be worse than hanging.”

For the first time, Adam considered that perhaps a commutation might be the better alternative, but he still feared that she would gain her freedom somehow and that others would die.

“I want to talk to that governor and whoever else is deciding this. They have no right to make me spend the rest of my life in prison.”

“Oh, they have every right to do it. But if you want to tell them that you don’t want a life sentence, that’s your right. I can give you some paper, and you can send them a letter if you wish. I don’t know if they’re finished with their deliberations or not, but if you write it tonight, then I can send it out on the morning stage and they’ll have it by early afternoon.”

“Well, I want to write and ask for that ten or twenty year sentence not life. Give me the paper. I’ll tell them exactly what I think and what I want.”

“It didn’t work on the jury. It won’t work on the governor.”

“Give me some paper and let me have a chance anyway.”

After getting paper and a couple of pencils for Donna, Adam left her to her writing. He told the deputies who came to watch her for the night not to open the cell door for any reason and made sure she heard him give those instructions. He finished with an emphatic warning and directions.

“If it’s an emergency, get me from the hotel, and I’ll make the decision. Under no circumstances, open that cell door unless I’m here. Is that clear? Your jobs and perhaps your lives depend on that.”

The two deputies agreed although Adam could read the skepticism in their looks. They still didn’t appreciate the danger she represented. He hoped they were at least afraid of him because it might save their lives. He left for the night after reminding them to lock the doors and not to let anyone in unless it was him. He returned in the morning to two deputies upset that they had to deal with Donna’s complaints all night that she needed them to empty her chamber pot, bring her more water, and do various other tasks none of which could be done without opening that cell door. Obviously she had been testing them, and Adam told them as much.

“Go home and get some sleep. She won’t try that again tonight now that she knows it won’t work even after badgering you for eight hours.”

By seven, Charlie was there with breakfast for Donna and to help her clean up her cell for the day. She had brought fresh towels too. Adam told her though that they were going to first complete the task he had outlined the night before. When they got to the cell, he told Donna to come to the door and show him her hands. She held them up.

“No, put them through the bars so I can see them well.”

As Donna thrust her hands through the bars, she complained sarcastically that Adam had little to fear from her small hands. He grabbed them then and put handcuffs on her wrists pressing them together tightly because her wrists were so small. When he was sure she could not slip her hands out of the handcuffs, he unlocked the cell door and swung it open slowly forcing her to walk out of the cell with her hands effectively locked to the door. He nodded his head to Charlie who began to search her for weapons as Adam began to search the cell. It didn’t take long for Charlie to find the sharpened metal slat from the cot hidden in the pocket of Donna’s dress. Adam found where she had removed it from the cot and where she had rubbed it against the cot frame to sharpen it. He took the mattress from the cot and removed the cot from the cell leaving the mattress on the floor. Next, he took out the pitcher and basin replacing them with a simple tin bowl. He pulled down one of the blankets shielding the cell from observation too. The commode was still private but now the rest of the cell was visible from the office door. Adam planned to have someone sitting there from this point on and watching her. He looked at Charlie.

“Find anything else?”

“No, that was it, but it would have been enough. She’s got a handle padded with cloth strips she must have torn from the quilt and her clothing. The blade is sharp enough to penetrate. She could have killed someone with it.”

“I think she had you in mind last night and then you would have been shoved on top of me. At that point, she might have gotten my pistol.”

“So we both would have been dead.”

“That’s probably true. I have a letter she wrote to the governor. I’m sending this weapon and a short report along with it today. They can consider all of it if they haven’t made up their minds yet.”

“I gotta ask. How did you know?”

“I saw it in her eyes.”

“Her eyes?”

“The eyes give it away sometimes. She looked like a snake about to strike. I’ve seen those kinds of eyes before, and I didn’t want to underestimate them again..”

Charlie knew there had to be a heck of a story behind that statement but didn’t ask about that. “That was it?”

“The other thing was that Roy mentioned how she slept a lot during the day and how she looked like an angel as she slept so peacefully. But the deputies said they heard her rocking back and forth in her sleep all night as she was restless because they could hear the squeaking of the cot.”

“And from that you figured out that she had made a weapon?”

“Not right away, but I had all day to think about it. There had to be a reason for it, and when I saw here looking like she was ready to strike, I suddenly knew it had to be that.”

“Well, I’m glad you figured it out.”

“Clean up the cell please, and then I’ll be back to lock it up and unlock the handcuffs. I’ll write up a quick report while you do that.”

Donna was furious, but there was nothing she could do locked to the cell door as she was. “You’re making sure I won’t get a short sentence. If I hang, it will be your fault.”

“Lady, if you hang, it will be because of what you did. After what you did, you probably deserve far worse than hanging, but you’ll get that after the hanging.”

“You’re sure I’m going to hang then?”

“After this, I would think the odds favor it.”

“You’re a cold, cruel man.”

“No, I believe in justice and law. I care for the men you murdered and the families and friends who grieve. You know far more about coldness and cruelty than I could ever begin to imagine.”

Some ladies from the church came in later that morning though and shared some of Donna’s thoughts about Adam when they saw the condition of her cell and the red marks on her wrists from the handcuffs. He told them why she was being treated that way, but again looking at the diminutive woman and the tall man as well as thinking about Charlie, the ladies couldn’t accept the danger that Donna represented. The gossips had plenty to say that day and in the days that followed as more sympathy for Donna grew.

On Saturday, Ben and Trapper arrived with Corinne and the baby so that Adam could visit with his family. Because of Charlie, Trapper knew all that had happened and was aware too of the gossip in town. He had alerted both Corinne and Ben who were there to support Adam knowing how difficult the situation was getting for him.

“Son, when do you think the governor’s office is going to let you know the decision?”

“I don’t know. I thought we would have heard already. There’s only three days left now. I’m beginning to think they’re going to say go ahead with the execution.”

“Because it’s taking so long?”

“Yes, the commutation would be the popular decision. If they say hang her, then there’s going to be an uproar and they know that. Hanging a woman is going to create a major political problem, but if there was ever a woman who deserved it, it’s this one.” Corinne said nothing making Adam frown. He looked at her. “Aren’t you going to argue with me?”

“No, my heart is torn and my mind is all mixed up now. When I heard what she did and knew that you could have been killed by her and Charlie too, then I wondered if maybe you could be right. Now I don’t know.”

“I feel that way most of the time on this. I do think that the state killing people because they kill is barbaric on some levels, but locking someone up for life is barbaric too. Yet, when it is someone like this who will always be a danger to those around her, is it better to end her life or to risk her ending the lives of others?”

“I’m glad we’re not the ones making the decision on this one. But I do wish you weren’t caught in the middle of this. I’m worried about you especially with the mood of the town now. You should be home with your wife and son.”

“Only a few more days hopefully.”

“But what if they say to hang her? Do you have to do that too then?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I told Roy I would take over for him until he got back, and unless they set a date weeks from now for the hanging, I would be the one who would have to be responsible for that too.”

There wasn’t much left to say. It would be Monday before there could be any official communication from the governor’s office. Until then, Donna’s fate remained unknown even as she plotted a new way to get herself out of her predicament.

*****

Chapter 5

On Sunday, the minister’s wife led a delegation into the sheriff’s office to demand that Adam improve the living conditions for Donna.

“She gets three nutritious meals every day, she has a comfortable mattress on which to sleep and a blanket and quilt to stay warm. She gets a clean towel and a clean dress every two days. Now that is a lot better than some women in this town have it.”

“Adam, she has to sleep on the floor. She has no privacy.”

“No, she sleeps on a mattress. She had a cot but used one of the slats to make a weapon so the cot was removed. We took down one of the blankets for that reason too. She has privacy behind that one blanket for what she needs to do.”

“That is hardly sufficient privacy when a man could walk over there and look in at any time.”

“Now you’re not saying that we would do that, are you?”

“Oh, no, of course we wouldn’t ever say that any of you would do that, but you must know that a woman would worry about that.”

“Ladies, you do remember how Donna made a living. I don’t think she has the same sensitivities as you fine ladies do, but we do respect her privacy and always announce when we are approaching her cell.”

Donna decided to seize the moment. “No, they don’t. They come and gawk and stare at me when they know I’m using the chamberpot. I have to do my best to hide myself but they still stare at me and make terrible comments. They laugh and make fun of me all the time. It’s terrible what I have to live with in here.”

“That’s not true.”

“When that awful Charlie man-woman comes here, they stand outside the cell and watch her with me.”

“One of us stands to the side outside the blanket that gives her privacy and we’re only there to protect Charlie.” Adam knew how lame that sounded as soon as he said it. “She had made a weapon once. We don’t want to take chances with anyone’s life.”

“Where is this weapon that you’re so worried about?”

“It was sent to the governor’s office with a report as to what happened that morning.”

“So you don’t have it.”

There was murmuring then, but they were unable to get Adam to concede on any points. He said that he was doing his job, and if they had complaints, they could take them to the city council which was free to replace him.

“Adam, you know no one wants this job. We’re only asking you to be reasonable, and treat her with some respect.”

“I am treating her with all the respect I can muster, but I will not risk my life nor put anyone else at risk for her comfort. She has all that she needs, and I won’t do anything more than what is being done now.”

“I thought your father raised you to be more of a Christian man than this.”

“My father raised me to be a Christian man but also one who watches out for those he has a duty to protect and defend. I’m doing my best to do that.”

There was nothing more to be said, but Donna taunted him the rest of the day about what she called his abuse of his power and how he was abusing her. He ignored her and did his best to try to read. His family came in the afternoon so that he could have dinner with all of them. By then, all thoughts of disagreeing with him had vanished, and all the conversation centered on efforts to support him and try to make him feel better about what was happening. There was never anything better for a Cartwright than to have people turn against them or any one of them because then the family formed a solid front against all. Hoss and Joe even volunteered to take time as deputies if that would help. Adam declined, but said if he needed them, he would be sure to call on them and thanked them for the offer. By that night, he felt a lot better, but by the next morning, it vanished with the arrival of the news from the governor’s office. A telegram informed him of the decision that the execution was to take place within three days of the official letter arriving from the governor’s office. He informed Donna of the decision and got the crew working on getting the top part of the gallows constructed. Donna was very quiet that day, but the town wasn’t as the word spread. The next day, the official letter arrived so Thursday was set as the official day for the hanging. When they heard the news, Ben and Corinne came to town again to be with Adam. Ben said they were prepared to spend the night in town so that Adam and Corinne could be together. He said that Hoss and Eve were taking care of the baby.

“It will be good practice for them. They told us today that they’re expecting too.”

Ben hoped that the good news might help offset the heavy load that Adam was carrying. It did help a little as did the fact that Corinne was there to spend the night with him. Adam woke in the morning to find his wife snuggling at his side and could forget for a moment what he had to do in a few days. Adam woke her though because he had to get to the jail soon and wanted to have breakfast with her before he had to start his day. At breakfast, they were joined by Ben and had been made aware too of how much sympathy had built up in town for Donna since word had arrived that she was to be executed. Most people looked at Adam as if he was responsible and there were muttered negative comments. Ben had had enough after about only ten minutes of that.

“I can’t believe you have put up with this. This is unacceptable.”

“Pa, they don’t understand. It will all be over in a few days.”

“That’s not good enough. You’re doing a job none would be willing to do.” Ben stood then and got the attention of everyone there. “My son is doing a job that not one of you would do. He is not responsible for this decision, and it is unfair to blame him for what this woman has done. If she is being hanged, it is for what she has done. She chose to lure a man to his death and then proceeded to murder him in the most cold-blooded way. If you have some complaints, you should voice them to her. Perhaps you would like to ask Clancy’s family what they would like done?” Ben had a voice and a bearing that made people listen. They may not have accepted what he said, but they weren’t about to challenge him either. It got quiet in the restaurant.

“Thanks, Pa. I’ll have a little peace and quiet, it seems.”

After breakfast, Adam bid his wife and father a reluctant goodbye and headed to the sheriff’s office with Charlie who picked up Donna’s breakfast as Adam was leaving the restaurant.

“You’re running a little late this morning.”

“Nope, right on time. I’ve been at the office early the other mornings.” Adam smiled then, and Charlie was glad to see that he had gotten some time to relax at least a little from the pressure of the job he had taken.

When they got to the sheriff’s office, the front door was locked and no one answered when Adam knocked and called out. That was ominous. Adam ran to the back of the jail and found the door open and the two horses usually tied there gone. When he entered, his worst fears were realized. One deputy lay still with eyes wide open and unseeing. He had a bloody deep wound in his belly that hadn’t bled much. He must have died quickly. His pants were missing as were his boots. The other deputy was holding his belly with both hands and a lot of blood had poured from him during the night. It was clear that he had been shot many hours earlier as most of the blood had already congealed on the floor. Adam wondered how he was still alive and knew it wouldn’t be long before he died. In a weak voice not much louder than a whisper, he talked to Adam who knelt at his side and put a hand on his shoulder so he wouldn’t die alone.

“We shoulda done what you said. He opened the cell and she shot him. I didn’t know that was what happened. I didn’t hear the shot. She took his gun and shot me. She put it in the quilt. Tricky of her, wasn’t it, Adam?”

The man never said another word as his eyes lost their light and relaxed for the final time. Adam swore under his breath and heard Charlie do much the same as she entered the jail behind him. He turned and saw the derringer on the floor of the cell as well as the discarded quilt with the powder burns on it. Someone had smuggled a derringer into her somehow. She had used it to kill the first man and then grabbed his pistol, quickly wrapped it in the quilt to shoot the second deputy. She must have been working on this plan for a while to have worked out the details so well. Then she had taken the shorter man’s pants and boots. He went into the office to find that the man’s coat and hat were missing too as was a rifle from the rack. She was in disguise, was well armed, and had two horses and about a seven hour head start. It wasn’t going to be easy to catch her.

“Charlie, could you go get Trapper and Hoss. I’m going to need them.”

One of the deputies was single with no family in town, but the other was from the area and had a family too. It was going to be difficult to have to tell them what had happened. He was going to have to alert nearby towns to watch for her as well as organize a posse or two to start looking for her. His father was there though having been alerted by Charlie before he could leave town. He offered to get Trapper and Hoss so that Charlie could stay and help. He knew she would. That made things a little better for Adam.

By eleven that morning, the worst of those duties were over and two posses were ready to head out. Hoss was leading one and Trapper was leading the other. Adam went with Trapper and Joe went with Hoss. They had word from the stage driver that he had encountered no riders on the road to Carson City so they concentrated their search in the other directions. One posse headed down the road leading away to the south, and the other headed west hoping to find some sign of her. At the end of the long day, they had nothing. At the end of the second day, Adam’s posse turned back and met up with the other posse who also had found nothing. As they sat at the fire that night, the posse members questioned Adam about his thoughts on the woman, and he admitted all of his doubts about what he was doing until he found the two deputies murdered.

“Then why did you do it? You didn’t have to do it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I did have to do it. It was my duty to do it when asked. I would do it again if asked. I hope to God I’m never asked to do something like it again, but if asked, I will.”

One of the older posse members talked then. “I guess that’s what made my boy go off to join the Union Army back when we was farming in Michigan. He didn’t have to go. There was plenty of volunteers where we was so he coulda stayed on our farm, but he went. I guess he felt like you do. I don’t understand it myself. Got my boy kilt. Same kind of thing got you in a heap of troubles. Is it worth it?”

With a small smile, Adam looked at him. “I can look at myself in the morning when I shave. So, yes, it is.”

The man had another question for Adam. “But how did you know she was so bad that she would do what she done? You expected her to kill again. You said it to anyone who’d listen. Most of us didn’t want to believe you.”

“Because I had experience with someone with dead eyes like that. I underestimated him too at first. I thought that no one could treat another person like that, use them like that. I was wrong, and it nearly cost me my life. People like that are rare, but they are to be feared. There’s something wrong, deeply wrong, with them and they have no feelings for other people. No one is safe around them.”

Hoss quietly responded to him. “It was that Kane feller, wasn’t it? That’s the one like her that you knew.”

Adam stared into the darkness in response, but it was enough. Hoss knew the answer. Adam had never talked much about those terrible weeks in the desert, but what he had said matched enough with the comments he had made for Hoss and Joe to know he was talking about Kane. It was still painful for all of them to think about that time although the memories were fading and the pain was less for Adam. He never wanted anyone else to suffer like he had suffered, but with people like that in the world, there were going to be other victims. Joe reached over and put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. There wasn’t much to say in a situation like this, but that contact was more important than Joe probably knew. Adam put his hand on top of Joe’s and nodded slightly when Joe looked at him. Trapper and some of the others were curious as to what the brothers were discussing but knew better than to ask at that moment. They asked later when Adam wasn’t around.

The posse was unhappy with not finding Donna and knew they would have to rely on wanted posters and authorities in other communities who had been alerted to watch for her. They headed back toward home the next day. As they neared Virginia City, they were met by Charlie.

“Adam, I think I know where she is.”

“Where?”

“I think she’s at your house.”

*****

Chapter 6

Hearing those words, the first urge Adam had was to ride for home, but he held his emotions in check because he knew he needed to know more. “Why do you think Donna is at my house?”

“Well, I know that Trapper usually takes care of things when you’re gone, but he went with you. He told me Ben would be taking care of things, but that with Hoss and Joe gone, he’d have three wives to check on and reassure. I said I liked Corinne and could stop on over there to see to her and make sure all was well. When I went over there today, she answered the door but wasn’t friendly. She acted like we hardly knew each other. Said she had to get back inside to the baby or I thought so at first. By the way, what’s a cochon?”

“She said that?”

“Yeah, said she had to take care of the cochon, and I needed to run along. At first I thought she meant the baby, but then I wondered if that was what she meant. I started thinking that maybe she meant something else especially as she was acting so different like she hardly knew me and all.”

“Yeah, Donna is in my house. Cochon means pig or any disgusting person. Corinne called her that when I told her about the weapon she had made and would have used on you. My God, what am I going to do?”

Hoss, Joe, and Trapper were standing with Adam. Joe was the one to answer. “You’ll do what you always do. You’ll come up with a plan. Now let’s ride to your house. We can stop a half mile away. By then, you ought to have a plan ready, and we can talk it out.”

The only answer Joe got was a slap on the shoulder before Adam mounted up to ride toward his house. The others followed. He did as Joe suggested and pulled the whole group to a halt about a half mile from his house, dismounted, and turned waiting for everyone to get within hearing distance.

“I’m going home.”

Expecting disagreement with that, Adam waited for Hoss and Joe especially to voice their displeasure with that statement before explaining.

“She has to be waiting for me. If I show up, then her attention will be on me. I’ll do my best to buy time and that should let a one or two of you hopefully get close enough to help. I built my house to be easily defended, but unfortunately that makes it difficult to approach without being seen in a situation like this. My plan is this. Joe is small enough that he should be able to work his way through that small ditch that drains away from the house.” Seeing the look of dismay on Joe’s face, Adam was quick to reassure him. “It’s been dry lately and unless Corinne has been taking a lot of baths, it should be mostly dry in that ditch. That’s why I suggested you. There’s enough cover for a smaller man to stay hidden and out of the muck at the bottom, I think.”

“Then what?”

“Do you think you can still shimmy up a tree and cross a porch roof in your stocking-feet like you did when you were younger and snuck in through my window so Pa wouldn’t know how late you came home?” Even in that situation, some of the men had to snicker at that. Now they had something to hold over Joe’s head. “That pine at the back corner of the house should be strong enough to hold your weight to get you up on the rear porch roof. From there, you can go in through one of the bedroom windows.”

“I can do that.”

“You know the layout of my house so that puts you upstairs against her. I’ll be downstairs. Anyone have a pocket or boot pistol I can borrow?” One of each was offered up and Adam took both. He knew she would take his pistol rig but doubted she would be brave enough to search him. “The rest of you can make your way on foot to the stable and wait there. There’s a door in back that will get you in without being seen from the house. If you hear a shot, rush the house.”

“Dadburnit, Adam, that could be too late.”

“I know, but if she sees someone approaching the house, she’s liable to shoot me and probably Corinne too.”

Trapper though had an idea. “Adam, I can get close without her seeing. I think I can get one other man there with me. It’s something I showed Hoss how to do when we were hunting.”

“Lordy, I forgot all about that. Yeah, Adam, I’ll go with him and we can be right there, and she’ll never see us. Ifn you give us time, we’ll be up at the house same time you are. Right, Trapper?”

“I reckon we could if he gives us about half an hour or so to cover that distance and a little time to get ready. We’ll wait near the kitchen and go in there when you go in the front door.”

Trapper and Hoss explained then how they were going to get close without being seen. Trapper had learned the technique from the Paiute. He had adapted it, and he and Hoss would use their blankets, cover them with brush and grass and then move slowly along the ground only a few feet or yards at a time. Anyone watching would have to be looking directly at the spot to have a chance of seeing them move. They guessed that with Corinne in the house, Donna wouldn’t be able to keep that close a watch on anyone approaching and would likely be expecting riders or men on foot not two men on their bellies with blankets covering them. Adam agreed and the two men set out ahead of everyone. Joe rode around to the lower end of the property to work his way up to the house via the drainage ditch.

After waiting a half hour to give the three men the head start they needed, Adam headed home at a normal pace. The others were a short distance behind him. Worried to the point of being nauseated with sweat running down the back of his neck because of his fear for his family, Adam had to breathe deeply and do his best to remain calm and act normally. He knew he had to walk through the front door of his house as if he was arriving home without knowing a madwoman was holding his wife and child hostage and wanted to kill him. He rode up to his front porch, tied off Sport to the hitching post there as if he was anxious to see his family and would take care of his horse later. He bounded up the three steps with energy opening the front door as he swept off his hat ready to greet his wife. That is, he was ready to do that until he saw Corinne tied to a chair in front of their fireplace and heard a pistol cock behind him as the door was pushed closed.

“We’ve been waiting for you.”

Startled despite knowing Donna was going to be there, Adam was more affected than he anticipated seeing Corinne tied to one of their dining chairs. It worked to his advantage though in making Donna think that he had had no idea she was in the house before he got there. Her attention was solely on him which meant that Hoss and Trapper could move into the kitchen and Joe could get into the upstairs bedroom. Adam’s job now was to stall for time so the others could get in position to do more to help him and Corinne.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Laughing softly at her special surprise, Donna motioned with her pistol for Adam to move further into the house as she firmly closed the front door. “Drop your gunbelt, and don’t try anything heroic or your wife will pay the price first.”

Reluctantly Adam did as requested hoping he could find a way to get to one of the two pistols he had hidden away. First he wanted to know where his son was so he asked.

“I’ve let your wife take care of him. I have no argument with a baby and it kept him quiet mostly. He’s upstairs now sleeping. That may not last, but that’s all right. It doesn’t matter now if he cries.”

“What do you want?”

“I want you to sit in that chair next to your wife.” She motioned to another dining chair that was next to where Corinne was tied. Apparently Donna had been waiting for him and probably anticipating his arrival knowing that the posses wouldn’t find anything.

Once Adam was tied to the chair with a rope looped around him and the chair, he asked again what Donna wanted.

“Now you see, I thought you were smarter than this. You should know. I want you dead. I also needed a place to stay for a couple of days until the posses gave up. I presume that has now happened. I’ll kill you and then head out with no posse on my trail for probably a full day or more.”

“How are you going to manage that?”

“Well, you see, I’ve always had to kill fast so I wouldn’t get caught. This time, I get to watch you suffer. I’ve decided the best way to do that. When I’m done, I’ll leave and no one will know who did what to whom.”

For the first time, Adam realized that Donna intended to kill Corinne too. “She’s done nothing to you. In fact, she was one of the women arguing against you hanging and one who argued for you to have better conditions in your cell.”

“That doesn’t matter. She’s your wife, and watching her die is going to make you suffer so that’s what matters now. I’ve thought about this a lot the last couple of days, and I think that will make you suffer more than anything. She’ll die before your eyes, and then you can watch your blood leak out. When you’re dead, I’ll set this place on fire and leave. No one is likely to realize for quite a while, if they ever do, that the two of you were murdered. It will take even longer for anyone to figure out it was me, and even then, there won’t be any proof.”

“You would kill my son? He’s done nothing to you or to anyone.”

“He’s your son. That’s all that matters to me. Knowing that he’s gone will hurt you so that’s what’s important.”

“Adam, I’m so sorry. You were right. About everything.” Corinne had to believe that Adam had a plan. He was too calm by her analysis of the situation. The thought of Donna killing his son should have caused a greater reaction in him. He was playing Donna and Corinne decided her best action was to try to help him.

“Right about what?”

“He said you were dead inside and had no feelings for people. He said the only emotion you had was anger. I thought that couldn’t be true. I thought you should be given a chance to change and to get out of prison.”

“And what do you think now?”

“You spent most of two days with me and my son. Yet after that time, you would kill us like we were nothing more than insects. You truly have no feeling inside.”

“You’ll see plenty of feeling when I get busy with you.”

Adam appreciated that Corinne was engaging Donna in conversation. Every bit of talk they could get her to do helped their friends and family get in position to help them. With Joe upstairs, Adam knew their son was safe. How to keep his wife safe though was burning at him. All he could think to do at the moment was to keep Donna talking and decided to appeal to her pride and let her boast. “Is that how you feel something? What did you feel when you killed those two deputies? How did you manage that by the way? I gave them strict orders not to open your cell.”

“It was easy. I had more power over them than you did. I retched up my dinner almost as soon as you left for the night. It wasn’t difficult. I imagined something horribly disgusting and then stuck a finger down my throat until I started gagging and then it all came up. The one asked me then if I was all right and if he should call you to get the doctor. I told him not to bother because I was going to die anyway. Then I lay down and sobbed for a time. I’m sure his heart was breaking listening to that. Then I struggled to my knees and tried to stand up. Somehow, I couldn’t and fell next to my mattress with my hand all tangled in the quilt. I struggled to free myself and then apparently passed out and couldn’t be roused. The fool opened the cell even as the other one ran in and said not to do it because you said not to do it, but he came running too when the first one said I might be dead as he shook my shoulder and tried to wake me. As soon as the second one got close, I pulled that quilt up under the belly of the first one and fired right up into his heart with both barrels. Well I only meant to fire one barrel but those darn derringers have a tendency for one barrel to ignite the other. It shocked the second deputy so much though that he gave me the time I needed. I grabbed the pistol out of the holster of the first one and had it wrapped in the quilt to silence it enough before the man knew enough to draw his. It was too late by then. I shot him. I knew he was going to die slowly. I enjoyed seeing him like that. After I took his pistol away, I took the pants and boots from the first one and went to get his coat and hat. I tucked my skirt up around my waist and tied it up there. I looked like a little fat man probably if anyone was looking. I had to laugh a little thinking about that. It was late though so who was going to be looking? See, I feel things other than anger.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“Oh, you’ll see how disgusting I can be in just a little while. I know you’re just trying to get me to talk more. You’re buying time, but it won’t do you any good in the long run. It just means it will take longer to get to where you die. I don’t mind either. I’ve never had a chance to enjoy any of my kills. This is going to be a lot more fun. I think I’ll use a knife on her. I like them better than anything else. You must have a nice selection in your kitchen. Be right back.”

Donna turned and walked to their kitchen. As she neared the door to the kitchen, Adam whispered furiously to Corinne. “Get ready to knock your chair over sideways away from me. Do your best to break the chair if you can to get free of it. All hell is going to break loose here in seconds.”

*****

Chapter 7

All hell breaking loose was probably an understatement. So much happened so fast and at the same time that all of the survivors had trouble explaining it later except for the part they did. Hoss and then Trapper stepped from the kitchen as Donna approached. She raised her gun but theirs were already up. She turned to retreat and to use Adam and Corinne as hostages and shields, but they had already toppled their chairs. Adam had managed to damage his chair enough to loosen the rope and had the pistol from his pocket out already. Trapper and Hoss couldn’t shoot at Donna with Adam and Corinne in the line of fire, and Adam had the same problem with Hoss and Trapper directly behind Donna. She was moving rapidly and none of them could take a chance on hitting the wrong person. Joe yelled from the stairs for everyone to get down so he could get a shot. That however only distracted them enough that Donna fired a shot at Joe to make him duck, and then she darted for the front door. They couldn’t shoot her in the back so they chased after her instead.

Outside, she saw a large number of men running toward the house from the stable. She untied Sport’s reins from the hitching post and mounted up to ride away realizing that everyone else was on foot. She kicked Sport into a fast getaway, but he balked a little. She wasn’t that good a horsewoman but managed to stay in the saddle and then gave him a gentler kick to get him going. He did then until Adam whistled for him. Abruptly he stopped and whirled to come back to the house. Completely unprepared for such a maneuver, Donna lost her seat and fell. She tried to keep the pistol in her right hand thinking she still had a chance to defend herself. As a result, she fell awkwardly and lay crumpled on the ground. The men approached cautiously knowing what she had done to the deputies in the jail.

“Ya think she’s faking again, Adam?”

“Hoss, I don’t think so. I can see the pistol in her hand.” Reaching down, Adam pulled the pistol from her hand. It was the one she had taken from the deputy in the jail. “She must have stashed those two horses around here somewhere. Why don’t some of you men look for them The way she is, she probably didn’t do anything for them. They’ll be hungry and thirsty.” It was only then that Adam knelt down and turned Donna over onto her back. She groaned in agony as he did so. She was alive, but Adam guessed there were internal injuries. “Where does it hurt the worst?”

“My side is burning. It feels like fire.”

Donna moved both hands to her right side. Adam pushed them aside and probed causing her to cry out. He looked up at Hoss.

“The liver?”

“Looks like about the right place. Long fall from a big horse like Sport for a little gal like her. She mighta torn it up or even got a broken rib in it. Either way, she’s probably bleeding inside pretty bad by the way she’s fretting.”

“We can take her to town but likely won’t do any good.”

“I’ll get the carriage hitched up for ya.”

“Thank you, Hoss. Thank you for everything you did helping me save my family.”

Hoss nodded in acknowledgement before he walked toward the stable with some of the men. Joe asked if there was anything he could do.

“Joe, thank you for all you already did. I’d like to go be with my family if you could take charge here. It’s really my job, but right now, I don’t have the stomach for it.”

“I can do that for you, Adam. Hoss and I can get her to town. From the looks of things, she may not make it there alive anyway.”

“I can hear you, you know.” Donna’s voice was weak and strained but the irritation in it was still clear.

“There’s no reason to keep the truth from you. What you’ve got is probably going to kill you within hours. If you have any conscience or soul in there, you don’t have much time left to pray for forgiveness or spend eternity regretting that you didn’t.”

“I don’t believe in any of that hocus pocus. I prayed for help when I was a little girl. It never came so I don’t believe in any of it.”

“You’ll soon find that it was a mistake to give up so easily. I’m sorry you had a tough childhood, but lots of people do and don’t decide to kill people to make themselves feel better.”

“What do you know about having a tough childhood?”

Adam looked at Joe who smiled at him. “She’ll never understand anyway, Adam. You go on up to your family. I made sure that your son was safe before I did anything else.”

Joe got one of those rare hugs then from Adam, and both had tears in their eyes when it was done. It was something that Donna would never understand. Hoss did though when he saw it because he knew the family was still strong even if they had their disagreements. Their prediction was correct too. Donna died shortly after arriving in town. Doctor Martin said it was a severely lacerated liver and that she had bled to death from internal hemorrhaging. Her belly had been rigid and swollen by the time she arrived at his office. He wouldn’t have been able to do anything for her anyway except give her laudanum. Even that was too late as she had slipped into an unconscious state shortly before arriving in town. There was no longer any sympathy in town for her for her painful death after what she had done to the two deputies. The funerals had been that day, and seeing the widow and her children mourning the loss of the husband and father murdered by her was enough to make everyone realize that Adam had been correct all along. If she had freedom, someone else would die. He had predicted it and that had happened.

The next order of business was finding out who had brought the derringer to the jail. It didn’t take long for Adam to find that out when he got to town later that day. A derringer is usually a woman’s weapon or a dandy’s. He brought the weapon around to the saloons that evening and had the owner identified within an hour. He confronted her soon after that. She looked haggard and ill as if she had been suffering for a few days.

“I know what I did was horrible. It didn’t seem like it at the time. I thought she would use it to get them to unlock the cell and then she could lock them in it and get away. I never thought she would actually kill anyone with it. All I ever had to do was point it at a man and get him to back off. I never hurt anyone with it. I never expected her to do that.”

“But she did and you gave her the means to do it. You know what I have to do, don’t you?”

“I know. I’ll go with you.”

When Roy arrived in town five days later after visiting with his terminally ill sister for a couple of weeks, he went straight to the jail. The news of what had happened was in the papers all over the region so he knew the gist of the story. He wanted to hear the rest from Adam. When he got to the jail, he found Adam wasn’t there. Clem was there on crutches and there were two new deputies who were introduced to Roy before Clem sent them out to do rounds together and warned them not to get lost.

“Both have experience but in smaller towns. They know what they’re doing, but neither one has ever been in a town with more than two streets to it. I can’t go out to show them around so I’ve been trying to teach them the city using maps.”

“Where’s Adam? I thought I left him in charge.”

“You left him in charge of Donna Bella. He took care of that and then took care of the case right after that of the woman who gave her the derringer she used to get out of jail.”

“How’d he take care of that?”

“He took her statement and went to the judge and talked about it. They decided that she never meant for Donna to hurt anyone but only to get out of jail so they charged her with accomplice to jail breaking and gave her the maximum sentence for that with the option of getting out on good behavior, which she’ll probably get. She had to agree to plead guilty for that so that there wouldn’t be accomplice to murder charges and maybe a hanging with the mood of the town now. The judge agreed. I don’t think he wanted to deal with a woman on trial for murder again. She’s over in Carson waiting to be sent to the prison.”

“So things have calmed down around here?”

“They have. Like Adam said, justice shouldn’t be based on the mood of the town. It should be based on the facts of the case. By going with that, he got the emotional part tamped down pretty good. He even got us these two new deputies. He said he knew some people who might know some men who would like to work here, and these two applied after he sent out telegrams. They’ve only been here two days, but I think they’re going to work out very well.”

“How’s Adam doing with everything that happened?”

“Hard to say. I can’t read him. I guess you’ll have to ask him or ask his family. He hasn’t been back to town since he sent those telegrams for me and got the plea agreed with the judge. He came to me then and asked if I could take over again. I’ve had a couple of men who’ve worked for us part-time filling in at night until these two get more settled in, and we still have Slim.”

“Guess I can’t blame Adam at all. He had a heck of a time of it. I never expected the governor to say she was gonna hafta hang anyway, but what she done to them deputies was horrible. Why didn’t she just lock ’em in her cell once she got the drop on ’em? It woulda had the same effect. Nobody woulda come after her for the same length of time and nothing else woulda been different.”

“Roy, all I can think is what Adam said when we talked about it. She liked killing men, and that was an opportunity she wouldn’t pass up.”

“Clem, you know most women take such joy in being able to bring life into the world. To meet a woman who took her joy at ending lives was a big shock. It goes against everything I’ve ever thought about women.”

“It sure does. It makes you wonder how a woman ever got to be like that. I hope I never meet another one like her. Adam went through her things trying to find out what her real name was but there was nothing there to give him any clue. He thought that if we knew her name maybe we could find out what kind of life she had before she got here. I guess we’ll never know why she was that way.”

“She must have had a terrible time of it with some man or men at some point and all she wanted was to get even. She ever say anything to explain it?”

“Adam said she said she prayed for help when she was a little girl and it never came so she gave up on praying and believing in God. Whatever it was, it must have happened a long time ago. Of course with the life she chose, there were probably more things that happened along the way. We know that’s not an easy life.”

“No, it sure isn’t. I wish we didn’t have women who did that, but it’s been around a long time.”

“At least things have been quiet in town now that all of that has been settled. It’s like people have taken some time to take stock of their behavior. I know it won’t last, but I’m grateful for the break.”

On the Ponderosa, things had been quiet too. Adam had spent the previous several days at home with his wife and son. He didn’t want to go anywhere for a while. Ben told Hoss and Joe to let him be and let him have some time to himself knowing that Adam would need that to think through all that had happened and come to terms with it. The deaths of the two deputies were probably weighing heavily on him, but nothing anyone said was going to help much. He needed to work through that first before they discussed it. Corinne was good for him that way knowing when he needed comforting and when he needed to be challenged in his beliefs. Ben knew that Adam had made a good choice in a wife because although Corinne could be quite feisty and argumentative, she was also supportive and as loyal as any wife could be. She loved Adam deeply, and Ben knew she would suffer with Adam as he struggled to come to terms with the losses incurred because of Donna.

The first to venture over to see Adam was Hoss, and he came back with an invitation for all of them to come to dinner on Saturday. “It’s a party. Trapper done asked Charlie to marry up with him. They’re gonna live at Adam’s place when she’s not on the road. She’ll keep working for now at least. Adam said he’ll add a bunkhouse for them and they’ll both stay there. He seems real happy about it too.”

“You think Charlie will wear a dress for the wedding?” Joe snickered but Hoss’ glare and his father’s disapproving look made him stop. “What? I thought that was funny.”

“We need to accept Charlie as she is. Trapper has, and Adam and Corinne have accepted her that way. There’s no reason for us to question her choices. She has been a good friend and she’s a good person. That’s all that should matter.”

“You’re right. Sorry. I won’t make any more comments about how she dresses.”

“Good, now, Hoss, did Adam want us to bring anything on Saturday?”

“He asked if Hop Sing could come over and help Corinne in the kitchen on Saturday. That’s all. He said with the baby and all, she will have a tough time getting everything ready. He can do some things, but we know we don’t want him fixing the food. He’s a good trail cook and not bad at fixing up a breakfast, but I don’t think he’s ready to tackle cooking dinner for twenty.”

“Twenty?”

“Yeah, all of us, Roy, Paul and his wife, and folks from the freight company, so it will be about twenty in all.”

Joe’s next comment mirrored what all of them were thinking. “So Adam must be all right. He’s giving a real party.”

It was a great party too. As the party was winding down, Adam sat on his porch with Hoss, Joe, and his father. The wives and children were in the house with Charlie, and many of the men were passing a jug around down by the stable with Trapper. Hoss broached the subject that had the family worried.

“Adam, are you upset that we didn’t support your ideas about Donna. I mean you was right about her from the start, and we were wrong.”

Pausing only a short time, Adam was ready with his answer because he had thought about it a lot. “No, that doesn’t upset me. It was an opinion. I could have been wrong. What matters is that all of you were there to support me when I needed it. You did it without question and gave me all the support I could have ever expected. I had the advantage of having known someone like her before, but I never talked enough about Kane for you to understand the similarities that I saw. Now that you’ve seen her, you know better what I faced with Kane.” Adam paused then as memories hit him. He shook them off and continued. “If you ever run into someone like either of them, you’ll know like I did, that you can’t trust them for a second. They’re like Trapper said, a diamondback no matter how small or pretty is just as deadly. You can’t give them the opportunity to strike.”

“Sad though that some folks got so much poison in ’em like that.”

“Hoss, she even picked a name that brings up the idea of poison. Donna Bella or belladonna, deadly nightshade. She probably thought of it as her own personal joke on the world.”

Ben puffed on the cigar that Trapper had gifted to all the male guests. “Well, we at least didn’t have to have the notoriety of being the first city to hang a woman. I suppose, sooner or later, there will be another woman with the black soul of the devil in her and the state will have to let a woman hang in Nevada.”

Quietly, all three watched the smoke rings rise as Ben continued to smoke and blow them out.

Note:

In 1889, Elizabeth Potts was convicted of murder and the partial dismemberment of Miles Faucet, and she was hanged in 1890. She was the only woman ever to be legally executed in Nevada. Her husband, Josiah Potts, was executed at the same time because he had been convicted of the same crime.

***The End***

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