Troian series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Three stories.  Troian A secret love affair that Adam has leads to an awful complication and begins a chain of events that spirals into a dark chapter for the family.  Dark Water — In his new home and in a new job, Adam tries to build a life free of the consequences of the one action he will always regret but can never change.  Tides — the truth has to come out, but there are other concerns as well involving Joe’s wife and a happier one with Hoss’ romance.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  74,674


Troian

Prologue

As Adam climbed the steps to the second floor apartment in the fashionable building recently constructed in San Francisco, he had to smile. His ‘Helen’ certainly seemed to always be in on the latest trends. Her message to him that she had found a nicer place was certainly correct. He wondered what the neighbors thought of the dusty cowboy dressed all in black trudging up the steps with his rifle in one hand and his saddlebags in the other with that pistol rig still prominently displayed strapped to his thigh. At least Hoss had taken Sport for him to the livery stable so he didn’t have to worry about the saddle and other gear. Hoss had slapped him on the shoulder on the sidewalk down below only a moment earlier, grinned, and left him to his couple of days of pleasure. Hoss undoubtedly was headed to a big meal and then to satisfy other big appetites he might have. They planned to meet in three days in the morning to head back home. After trading a few earthy comments about exchanging riding of one kind for riding of another altogether, Hoss had laughed the big belly laugh of his and then gone on his way. After a long cattle drive, the two brothers were ready for some time off and some pleasure to make all the aches and pains of weeks of driving cattle fade from their memories.

At the door, Adam didn’t have to knock for she had been waiting for him. The door swung open and he was pulled into the apartment and into a passionate kiss with no concern on her part for the smell of horses, trail drives, or the stubble on his face or dust on his clothing. His clothing didn’t matter long because she helped him out of those right there by the front door. Their lovemaking took place furiously on her new rug. Afterwards, she leaned on his chest catching her breath, and sighed deeply.

“I suppose I should have let you have a bath first, but I missed you so much.”

“Lady, you can greet me at the door like that anytime. You never have to regret that. However if there is the offer of a bath in there now, I would appreciate one.”

There was a bath, and dinner, and more passionate lovemaking that night. For the rest of the short stay, Adam had all the pleasures he wanted. They went to restaurants, to the theater, and when they went to her apartment, they made love as often as possible. He was reluctant to leave at the end of the three days, but knew he had to go. Life was not a pleasure palace. There were duties and responsibilities. There was only one serious time when he was with her. She asked him about an investment about which she had been approached. He told her it was a scam and to stay away from it.

“You don’t know who you’re dealing with. Those men have fleeced any number of investors who are far more experienced in such things than you are.”

“But they have made some major business ventures too.”

“They have, but those are ones from which they are the ones who profit. They use those to entice others to invest in their risky or downright foolish schemes and then walk away with the excess money when the whole thing falls apart. Only a fool would risk investing with them.”

Although he thought he had convinced her, what Adam didn’t know was that he had convinced her to try to prove him wrong for she had been insulted by his insinuation that she was foolish, inexperienced, and in effect, ignorant. By the next time she saw him, she was going to show him that she had made a sizeable profit. At least, that was the plan.

At the livery stable, when Adam met Hoss, he got some light ribbing from his middle brother. When he didn’t respond in kind, Hoss asked what was wrong.

“She’s a lot of fun to be with, but there’s no future there for me except for that. She tells me that I’m the only one, but as easily as she’s fallen on her back for me, I can’t believe that. If there’s no trust, how can there be love. She told me this time that she loves me. I know she was disappointed that I didn’t say the same to her, but I couldn’t.”

“Cause ya don’t or ’cause ya didn’t want to say it?”

Clearly Adam didn’t want to say what he had to admit then. “I don’t love her, not the way I need to love her to plan a future with her. What I need to do now is find a way to end it without hurting her. I don’t want to hurt her. She’s done nothing to deserve that.”

“How long ya gonna wait to do that and string her along?”

That made him defensive. “I didn’t string her along. Until now, I wasn’t sure that I couldn’t love her. For a long time, I thought it would develop. We have a lot in common.”

“But it didn’t work out?”

“No, it didn’t. She doesn’t expect to see me for another three months at least until I’m back here for the meetings in the fall with the railroad companies over the timber contracts. I’ll have to take care of it then.”

*****

Chapter 1

Sitting in his hotel room in San Francisco, Ben was a bit perturbed with his eldest son but knew he had no reason for it. It was illogical. There was no way that Adam could control the weather and the delay in the meetings in Denver. He couldn’t have foreseen that the track would need to be repaired and his train would be delayed. Adam had offered to try to make stage connections to get to these darn meetings with the railroads over the timber contracts, but Ben had known that he might not make it. Therefore he had magnanimously wired Adam that he would handle the negotiations himself and Adam could get himself home to take care of the ledgers and other paperwork that Ben would have to forego in order to get to San Francisco in time for the meetings. However, he had forgotten how exhausting those meetings could be with the endless numbers and board feet and miles and gradients and on and on. Adam seemed never to get bored with numbers and calculations, but his father didn’t have the same patience. Now all he wanted was a nice relaxing evening and a good dinner, but he had no one with whom to dine so it was going to be a lonely evening. He didn’t have the social contacts in the city that he once did and that Adam cultivated for himself. Resigned to a lonely dinner, a boring evening, and then endless talk at those meetings the next day, Ben heaved himself from his chair to dress for dinner. There was a knock on his door though that startled him a bit because as far as he knew, no one knew he was in the city except his business rivals and the representatives of the railroads that might want his timber. He opened the door to find a somewhat distraught but thoroughly beautiful young woman standing there. She seemed surprised to see him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought when they said that Mister Cartwright was here that it was Adam. You must be his father. I can see the resemblance. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m sorry. I should go.”

“No, no, you’re clearly upset, and you must be a friend of Adam’s or you wouldn’t be here. Come in.”

“All right. My name is Troian. Surely Adam must have mentioned me by now.”

“Ah, no, but my son doesn’t share too much of his private life with the rest of us. He likes to keep things quiet until he’s ready to tell us something and often that’s only a very little unless he gets very upset. I know that he has many friends and acquaintances in San Francisco and elsewhere but there are few he mentions to us other than in general terms unless they visit or we meet them here or there.”

Quite surprised by that, Troian managed to keep her surprise mostly hidden but Ben did detect that she was uneasy about something although he misinterpreted what that was. She wasn’t sure how much to tell him, but her fear made her want to tell him everything, or at least as much as she could tell him and still expect him to help her. She did wait though until he insisted that she divulge what was bothering her so much.

“I don’t know if I should tell you. I’m in danger, and if I tell you, then perhaps you would be in danger too. I don’t think that Adam would like that.”

“If you’re in danger, why don’t you go to the authorities?”

“The men who have threatened me control the authorities.” She named them then and Ben understood her predicament.

“Why don’t you tell me what the problem is and about the threat. I could see what I could do to help you.”

“It’s a rather long and involved story of a mess I got myself into over the last three months.”

“I’ll order dinner to be brought up here. You can tell me over dinner if that’s all right with you. I haven’t eaten yet, and after today, I need a good meal.”

“I can see where Adam gets his gentlemanly traits. You, sir, are the most cultured gentleman I think that I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Yes, I would be most grateful for dinner and a chance to lighten my burden by telling someone. I’m not sure how you could help, but perhaps you could give me some idea of what my next step could be.”

Leaving for a few minutes then, Ben ordered dinner. When he returned, he found Troian sitting in a chair away from the window.

“Do you think you’ve been followed?”

“I think it’s possible. I’m trying to be careful.”

“You have a very unusual name.”

“My father loved the classics of Greece and Rome. He wanted to name a son Troy but never had a son. He had to settle for a female version after all the daughters he had. I’m the youngest and sole surviving daughter.”

“But you’re so young to have lost all your family already.”

“My oldest sister was lost at sea with her husband and family. They took a ship from New Orleans to Nicaragua. They didn’t arrive. A hurricane came ashore days later. We can only assume their ship was caught in it and went under. My second sister died in childbirth. It’s not something one is supposed to talk about in polite company, but that’s what happened. My third sister came west with her husband and children well before I did. Their wagon train was dogged with cholera outbreaks and she and her children succumbed to one of those. When I came out here with my husband, we managed to survive all such calamities and then he slipped in the street one day five years ago and was run over by a hansom.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It was, but at least he had made some sound investments, and I was left to live a comfortable life although a rather lonely one.”

“But you have made friends such as my son, Adam.”

“Yes, I have.” Troian had to wonder what he would think if he knew the rest of that story, but for the time being, she needed his help and the rest of the story would only make that more difficult. “He told me not to make this investment, but I thought I knew more than he did. After all, I live here and thought I knew more about these businessmen than he did.” Ben couldn’t control a smirk at that. She noticed but continued because she deserved at least that and probably more. “I invested, and as he had warned me, it was a scam. I lost everything that I invested, but the worst part was how they had set it up. They sued me for losses and my personal wealth was also at risk and I lost everything else. It still wasn’t enough for them.”

“But it has to be enough. They can’t take more than bankrupting a person.”

“Oh, but you see that’s the mess I’m in. They have an older gentleman they want me to marry. They say he’s worth a lot of money and I can marry him and then they can get the money from me because I’ll be wealthy again. Oh, Mister Cartwright, I believe they mean great harm to that man and then to me.”

“Why would you think that? So far all they have shown is immense greed.”

“Because they have threatened my life if I refuse to do as they say.” She paused to see if he would believe her. It was the truth, but she knew it sounded outlandish. She was afraid he would think she was exaggerating or even worse, lying. He didn’t think either though.

“I’ll help you. First, we need to find you a safe place to stay. It wouldn’t be proper for you to stay in my room here, but I can get you a room here at the hotel without putting your name in the register. You stay right here and I’ll go take care of that immediately.”

With Ben’s gentlemanly instincts to protect a lady kicked into full operation, there was no stopping him. Troian had a room that night and until the issues were settled, a meeting with Ben’s lawyers the next day to find a way out of her dilemma, and then a meeting with the lawyers and the men to whom she owed money to settle everything above board and finally. The men had been willing to try to use her in a scheme but not willing to take on the establishment of the city nor a man as formidable as Ben Cartwright with the resources upon which he could call. Soon Troian was in the clear. Ben helped her recover some of her assets as well although the money invested was mostly lost, but he also made sure she kept her decent apartment.

Overall, Troian was lucky not to have lost far more but knew too that it was going to be difficult to explain all of this to Adam. Ben made her an offer to visit him on the Ponderosa and she agreed to do that soon because she wanted to see Adam. So engrossed in her own problems, she didn’t see that Ben was becoming interested in her romantically and that the invitation was to see if she would reciprocate. Things were going to get even more complicated, but all Troian could feel was relief at that point that Ben had helped her out of her dire straits. She planned to worry about the other issues later, and it was only after he had left that she began to think about some of the things he had said and wonder about his feelings. He had called her ‘My dear’ most of the time especially over the past few days they had been together. He had made a point of taking her arm and guiding her steps when they walked. He liked to place his hand over her hand when they sat and talked. Grateful for his support and encouragement, she wondered now if there was more to it. If there was, she made an assumption that he and Adam would discuss what had happened, and that Ben would realize that he couldn’t have feelings for a woman for whom his son had feelings. She didn’t understand Ben well enough at all nor his son.

*****

Chapter 2

The more that Troian thought about the situation, the more she wanted to speak with Adam and as soon as she could especially with new developments. She decided to write him a long letter explaining what she thought about what had happened with his father and asked him to explain to his father that he loved her so that his father would know to step aside especially as his interest in her was so new. She also told him though that she was going to take up his father’s invitation to visit because she wished to speak with Adam not knowing that he had every intention of ending their relationship. Then without considering how slow mail delivery could be and that Adam might not even be there to receive her letter in a timely fashion, Troian packed her things and set out for the Ponderosa more concerned with her issues than what issues she might create by arriving on the ranch unannounced or with little advance notice. She hadn’t been out of the city in years and had never thought she would want to leave it and had told Adam that. However, as she traveled and got away from the crowds, the smells, and the general unclean nature of the city, she began to appreciate the tranquil beauty of mountains, green grass, and rolling hills. She definitely appreciated the clean air free of the many smells that assaulted one in the cities. One night, unable to sleep, she stepped out onto her hotel balcony in the town where they had stopped and noticed how quiet it was and that one could see the stars so easily. She smiled and thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad living in Nevada and visiting the cities as Adam did having the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately for Troian, she assumed that Adam’s unwillingness to profess his love for her was based on her oft repeated claim that she never wanted to move from the city to what she had called the wilderness. She had disdainfully referred to Nevada that way often enough that he didn’t talk about his home after a while. Regretting that immensely, she made a resolution to make amends for that now that she realized how much in error she was on that count. However she didn’t know that Adam didn’t trust her love for him and that he didn’t trust that he was the only one for her either. That she had so easily drawn the romantic interest of his father was going to reinforce those doubts for him. She traveled along blissfully unaware of the mess which she was going to create and then into which she was going to thrust herself and enmesh two men for whom she cared a great deal, one she loved with all her being and for the other, she felt great gratitude and respect.

On the ranch, Ben had little chance to talk with Adam. There was some quick business talk as Adam went over the accounts and all that he had done while his father was gone and Ben went through the contracts he had brought back. However there was a problem at the timber camps and Adam was going there to work on those issues and wasn’t planning to be back for at least a week. The few gentle probes that Ben made to see if Adam knew Troian got nowhere because Ben didn’t name her only asking Adam about any friends to whom he had given advice on financial matters recently in San Francisco. Adam couldn’t recall any offhand and let the conversation drop. His mind was on the problems at the timber camps and he never even thought of the brief conversation with Troian about the investment that he had told her to avoid. To him that wasn’t investment advice but a warning about a scam. He never guessed at what his father was hinting and let more pressing matters have his attention. Ben probed a bit too about Adam’s friend Helen who had been mentioned briefly in the past but got nothing on that either as it was clear Adam didn’t want to talk about her. He rarely wanted to talk about women he was seeing so that wasn’t unusual but there was an edge to his comment so Ben assumed things were not going well in that relationship and sighed in resignation. Someday he wanted to see Adam find a woman he could love but each promising one ended like this with his son grouchy about her and then it was over.

That night, Adam was engrossed in studying maps of their timberlands as well as the requirements for the contracts they had to meet. He studied all of those for a few hours making copious notes until he bid the others good night and headed up to bed early. Ben watched him go and wondered if he had purposely tried to avoid talking to him about his friends in San Francisco for some reason. It was never easy with Adam to know what he was thinking. In this case, Adam wasn’t thinking about San Francisco at all, but Ben was obsessed with thoughts of the young woman who had so enchanted him. He hadn’t heard anything from her but still hoped she would come to visit so that he would have a chance to see if a relationship could develop between the two of them.

Ben never got a chance to discuss Troian with Adam but he did end up discussing her in general terms with Hoss and Joe as they worked that next day. Both were surprised and had questions about her. Ben told them how she had come to him thinking that he was Adam but how he had helped her.

“And she didn’t try to get no money from ya or nothing?”

“No, Hoss, she wasn’t trying to get money from me. She knew Adam and thought he might be able to help her with these men because he had been the one to warn her about them. Not once did she ever ask me for money. I did help her get her money back from them or as much of it as could be retrieved. She did take a substantial loss with the investment that she made, but luckily her husband left her a good amount when he passed. She’ll be fine as long as she doesn’t do anything foolish like that again.”

“Is she pretty, Pa?” To Joe, of course, that was one of the most important things.

“Joe, there are more important things than that with a woman, but, yes, she is very pretty. She has brown hair with lots of curls, deep green eyes, and a wonderful smile. Her voice is deeper than that of most women but sounds like she’s singing when she speaks. She is thoroughly enchanting.”

“Gosh, Pa, it sounds like you really fell for this one. I’m surprised you didn’t bring her home and tell Hoss and Adam and me that you were married, for real this time.”

“Joseph, I am not an impulsive schoolboy. I did invite her to come for a visit though.”

“I don’t know, Pa. That sounds at least a little bit impulsive.”

Joe giggled then but Hoss was looking worried. Of the women Adam knew in San Francisco, there was only one Hoss knew who fit that description, and if it was the same one, then there was likely going to be a problem and most likely a big problem because it sounded like their Pa was falling in love with the woman that Adam had been seeing for quite some time. But Adam had made up his mind to end that relationship and she didn’t know that yet. If his father had invited her to the Ponderosa, there was going to one big mess if she showed up. He didn’t say much but mostly smiled and acted as if he was amused at his father and younger brother trading quips about the situation even if he was anything but amused. He wished that he could talk with Adam. Four days later, he wished that even more.

Two days after Ben had talked to his sons about Troian, her letter to Adam arrived. However, without a return address, no one there knew who the letter was from. They put the letter in Adam’s room and assumed it was nothing too important. As Troian rode to the Ponderosa in her rented carriage, she was wondering how Adam had reacted to her letter though of course not realizing he had never received it and that he and his father had never discussed her. When she pulled into the yard of the Ponderosa, Ben came out of the house to see who had arrived. He was overjoyed to see Troian. She was shocked at his response to her as he helped her from the carriage and wrapped his arms around her in a hug that lasted far too long for a friendly greeting and his arms pressed the two of them together far too closely for being only friends. Once they parted, Troian smiled and tried to offset her surprise at his greeting by being lighthearted about it.

“Ben, I see you do mean it when you tell someone they’re welcome to visit.”

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see you here.” Hoss and Joe came out of the house then. “Let me introduce you to two of my sons. This is my youngest son, Joe, and this is my middle son, Hoss. We were having lunch. Would you like to join us?”

“That would be nice. It was a long ride out here. I got directions in town but more than once, I thought I must have taken a wrong turn or two because it took so long. I had no idea the Ponderosa was so far from town.”

“It isn’t actually so far. You were on the Ponderosa for at least half of the trip. It’s a big ranch. Now, come inside. You must be warm, tired, and hungry. Hoss, could you get her bag, please.” With a proprietary arm around her waist, Ben escorted a disconcerted Troian into the house with Joe grinning in appreciation and Hoss looking worried. Joe noticed.

“What’s wrong? She’s pretty, Pa likes her, and she’s not after his money.”

“She’s ah, a friend of Adam’s. He might find this a bit, ah, uncomfortable.” Hoss already did feel ill at ease having seen Adam kiss the woman on occasion and knowing what likely went on in private between her and Adam. Now seeing his father with her made him decidedly uncomfortable the more that he thought about it especially the way his father acted with her.

“Ah, heck, Adam has a lot of friends. It shouldn’t make a difference. He should be happy for Pa too. We should all be happy for Pa.”

Joe turned to head into the house then as if anything more that Hoss might say wasn’t important. Hoss had nothing left to say to him anyway so it didn’t matter, but he definitely wished he could talk to Adam, and he did know that he needed to talk to Adam soon and before he got home to walk into this situation. That night at dinner, Hoss brought up what he thought might be a solution for him.

“Pa, I was thinking that it might be nice ifn I went up to the timber camps to help out ole Adam so he could get done faster and maybe get on home a bit sooner seeing as how we got a friend of his here now.”

“Hoss, that sounds like a wonderful idea, but what about the work you have to do here?”

Looking over at Joe, Hoss raised his eyebrows as if to ask. Joe looked disgusted but nodded. “All right, I’ll make sure everything gets done.”

“Thanks, little brother. It’s good to know your brothers can count on you when they need ya.”

“Well, keep on calling me little brother and that’s not going to last.”

“Now, you two, let’s keep this polite. We have a guest.”

The rest of the dinner conversation was light. After dinner, Ben asked Troian if she wanted to take a walk to see the Ponderosa outside. Earlier, she had spent her time getting settled in her room and had taken a nap after her trip. Then with Hoss and Joe there, she and Ben hadn’t had any time to speak privately. Ben hoped to remedy that with a walk outside. Joe smirked at the offer his father made and wondered at the very serious expression Hoss had. After Ben and Troian left the house, Joe asked Hoss about why he looked that way.

“I’m still worried about how Adam is going to react to all of this.”

“Well, he better be happy for Pa because anything else is only going to make trouble.”

“Mebbe so, but he’ll do what’s he’s gonna do.”

“You make that sound like Adam isn’t going to like Pa and Troian together. There’s isn’t anything else that I ought to know, is there?”

“If there’s more to tell, Adam will be the one to tell. Troian is his friend.”

Outside, Ben walked with Troian until he had made a full circuit of the grounds, and then he pulled her to a stop in the garden behind the house. “Troian, I have to tell you something. I know you’re probably not ready to respond, and you don’t have to. I understand, but I want you to know that I think I’m falling in love with you. I thought you should know that.”

Hearing the words she longed to hear from Adam coming from his father instead shocked Troian so much she couldn’t respond. She wouldn’t have been able to find words to express what she was feeling at that moment and couldn’t have said anything to hurt Ben after all he had done for her. Tears came to her eyes though. He saw that, and interpreted it to mean a depth of emotion on her part for him that wasn’t there. She couldn’t know that either. The complex mess had fully engulfed both of them. Both were emotionally charged as they returned to the house, but Troian was nearly distraught although hiding it well while Ben was overjoyed and trying not to be obvious about it. Once inside, Troian asked to be excused for an early bedtime claiming exhaustion from all the travel. She was exhausted but not for that reason. Ben got some teasing from Joe but parried it well. He did notice how quiet Hoss was and wondered at that.

*****

Chapter 3

Dropping his long handled hatchet and nearly injuring his foot in the process, Adam turned to Hoss and shouted. “She what?” He had been marking trees for cutting when Hoss had come up to him to tell him that he had something that he needed to know. Now Hoss had to repeat it as soon as Adam regained his balance and stood glaring at his middle brother challenging him to repeat what he had said.

“Troian came to the house. Pa invited her.”

“Why the hell would Pa invite her to the house?”

“It’s a long story, and before you hurt yourself, maybe you oughta sit on down and let me tell it to ya. It’s why I’m here. I came up here to tell ya what’s going on. I told Pa I was coming up here to help you so you could come home early. I figured you might want to when I told you everything that’s been going on or at least as much as what I know.” So Hoss told the whole story as he knew it, which was primarily from their father’s point of view, and told him too what Hoss knew and had observed at the house.

When Hoss finished, Adam had a few questions but had already surmised the answers. He wanted confirmation though. “You think Pa is falling in love with her and she’s not telling him no. Meanwhile, she’s waiting for me to come home so she can talk to me, but she doesn’t know what I’m going to tell her. So she’s playing both of us and hoping to land one?”

“I dunno. It could be that. Or maybe she didn’t know Pa was feeling what he was feeling ’cause she looked right surprised at how he was acting. When she got there and he looked like a puppy in love, she seemed kinda surprised. She don’t seem to be encouraging him ifn you know what I mean. It’s more like she ain’t saying anything to be mean to him to discourage him. Oh, I know it sounds almost the same, but dadburnit, it ain’t. It’s like she don’t know what to do about him.”

“Maybe she thinks I’ll come home and take care of it for her.”

“Yeah, I was thinking that too.”

“That she was thinking that or that I should take care of it?”

“Well, kinda both of them things, I guess. This is kind of a tough spot for Pa not knowing that the two of you are, well, you know.”

“Were, not are. It’s over. This only makes that definite. I can’t believe she did this especially without telling me first.”

“I was thinking on that too when I was riding up here. There’s a letter waiting on you at home. We picked it up in town a couple of days before she got here, and it coulda been there a bit until we got it. It looks like it mighta been written by a woman by the way the name’s written out. Maybe that letter is from her and she might be wonderin’ why you ain’t there to talk with her ifn she did write to you.”

“That’s a lot of ifs.”

“It’s why I come up here. I figure to help you get this all done so you can come on back home and try to clean up this whole mess before Pa gets himself even more tied up with her. You’re the one with a lot more of the answers than we got.”

With a few expletives, Adam grabbed his hatchet again and began attacking the trees as if he meant them harm. Hoss followed along behind for a short time until Adam burned out the worst of his temper. Then the two worked in tandem for the rest of the day until it was too dark to continue but they did get most of the trees marked. They guessed they could finish the next morning if started at first light, and if they then rode hard enough, they could get home by the following evening. Under the circumstances, both were willing to do that. Neither slept that well that night though despite the physical exertion of the day. The work, the ride, and the lack of sleep were a bad combination and certainly didn’t do any good for Adam’s temperament to arrive home exhausted by the combination of all three. When he saw Troian as she came out of the house with Ben and Joe to greet them, about all he could do was snarl a greeting before saying he needed to take care of his horse and then get cleaned up. He could see that his father was upset by his attitude, but frankly, he didn’t care much at that point. He had seen the way his father stood close by Troian in an obvious proprietary stance, and it had irritated him almost as much as her being on the Ponderosa in the first place. Hoss sighed and his shoulders slumped in defeat as he realized that it was too late to prevent the trouble he had hoped to avoid. He knew there was going to be some kind of turmoil in his family and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He had to hope it was a thunderstorm and not a tornado. At dinner, the conversation only reinforced the conclusion he had drawn that it was more likely going to be the devastation of a tornado and tear them apart.

“So, Adam, I was surprised that you weren’t here when I arrived.”

“I might have been if I have known you were coming or I might have been hundreds of miles away too.”

Taken aback by that response, at first, Troian said nothing. Ben was about to say something about his son’s sarcastic response but was forestalled by Troian’s answer. “I sent a letter to let you know what had happened and that I was accepting your father’s invitation to visit. I thought you would be pleased.”

“I saw a letter on my bureau when I was getting clean clothing. I didn’t have a chance to read it. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference. It didn’t arrive soon enough for me to send you a message telling you not to come.”

“Adam, that’s enough. I invited Troian to come here, and I expect you to treat her with respect. If you do not wish her to be here, that’s your choice, but she is my guest, and you will treat her with all the courtesy that is extended to anyone that is a guest here. Is that clear?”

Staring defiantly at his father for a moment, Adam left no question that he was going to comply under protest. “Very well. And how long is your guest going to be here?”

Reaching over to place his hand over Troian’s, Ben got a steely look from Adam. Hoss did his best not to react, but Joe was smiling. “How long Troian will be a guest here hasn’t been determined yet. We will discuss that and let all of you know when we know. That will have to be good enough for now.”

For her part, Troian was staring at Adam pleading with her eyes for him to explain to his father about them. She didn’t react at all to Ben’s hand covering hers. Hoss wondered if she was even aware that his father had done that. She stared at Adam a moment longer until Adam abruptly stood announcing that he was tired and was going to his room. He asked to be excused but turned and left before anyone had a chance to respond. All four of them watched in silence as Adam climbed the stairs and disappeared around the corner at the top.

“Damn, he got ornery up at that timber camp.”

“Joseph, watch your language. We have a lady at the table.”

“Uh, sorry, I guess I forget that when I’m thinking about Adam being such a jackass.”

“Joseph!”

“Uh, sorry, again, and for the same reason. I won’t say anything more right now.”

“That’s good because you have said quite enough already.” Turning his attention to Troian, Ben asked her to walk with him again to talk. “After Adam’s poor reaction, I think there are some things we should discuss.” Although Troian wasn’t in full agreement on that, she was polite and agreed to walk with Ben. Once outside though, Ben had his speech ready. “I’m afraid that my son might be jealous. He knows me well, and he’s probably already guessed what I am about to admit to you. Troian, I don’t only think I’m falling in love with you. I am already in love with you. I want you to know that.” Shocked, Troian didn’t respond at all. “I know that may be a surprise to you. I haven’t been clear in my intentions, but I want to remedy that now. You don’t need to respond. You have all the time you need to think about this, but please consider the possibility. We get on well together. I think you could be happy here, and I think we could do well together. For now, all I ask is that you don’t reject the idea outright. Can you give me that, please?”

Nodding in agreement and speechless, Troian was more determined than ever to speak to Adam. He needed to speak to his father soon in her estimation for it seemed that things were getting way out of control because after all that Ben had done for her, she couldn’t hurt him and she did care for him. She guessed that she could manage to speak to Adam during the night for she doubted very much that he would be sleeping soundly after all that had happened while the others would likely be sleeping well. Then she thought about Hoss whom she had met previously and thought that he too might be having a somewhat restless night wondering what was happening within his family. She didn’t know why Adam had not spoken to his father to clear up this mess but hoped she could get that answer and his agreement to do so by the next day hopefully. She knew Ben was talking a bit more but only parts of it were registering. He must have noticed because he finally told her that he knew that he had shaken her up with his pronouncement and would let her have the rest of the evening to herself. She was profoundly grateful for that and that he didn’t attempt to kiss her or do anything else that would have led to an awkward situation or truly to make an awkward situation worse. She had known that he seemed a bit infatuated with her, but she had not taken his romantic interest seriously thinking it only a harmless dalliance on his part. Suddenly she realized how naïve she had been about that and how she had created a terrible mess. Worried now more than before, she could see why Adam was so angry with her if he had recognized that in his father and thought that she had encouraged it. She knew she would have to admit her failure to him and that would be humiliating especially to see that damn smirk of his, but she already knew she was going to see that because of the investment she had made against his advice. She sighed as she walked to her bedroom knowing what she faced later yet not knowing.

At about eleven, Troian put on her robe, carefully opened her door, and walked down the hall to Adam’s room. She knew which room was his because the door had been open in his absence and given her the opportunity to explore the room to see the kind of man he was in his most private space. She knew he probably wouldn’t like that she had done that, but curiosity had driven her. She opened the door and wasn’t at all surprised to be greeted immediately.

“I thought you would be here sooner.”

“I wanted to be sure everyone was sleeping. We need to talk.”

“We certainly do. What the hell are you doing here?”

“By now, you must have read my letter. You know what I did and what I went through. Your father saved me from a terrible decision. He invited me to come here. I came because I thought you would be willing to talk with me. I know I was foolish. You can smirk all you want. I deserve it, but what I don’t understand is why you haven’t told your father about us. He thinks we’re nothing more than acquaintances.”

“And what are you trying to do with my father?”

“Nothing. I’m trying to be polite and wait until you tell him about us so that he stops pursuing me. After he was so nice to me, I can’t hurt him.”

“Have you kissed him yet, or fallen on your back for him?” Near the bed by then, Troian lashed out at Adam but he sensed as much as saw her hand coming for his face and grabbed her arm before she made contact. “You should go back to your room. We’ll talk tomorrow when I’m ready.”

“Joe was right. You are being a jackass. I want to talk with you though and I hope you’re in a better mood by tomorrow. We do need to talk. It can’t wait because your father told me tonight that he loved me.” The force with which he had grabbed her had caused her to fall against him. She reached for him and he gasped as her free hand touched him. “You still want me. Even angry as you are, you still want me.” Quietly then, Troian pulled from his grasp and slipped from his room and back to hers before the tears came.

In his bed, Adam seethed with anger and with desire for her. He knew she was correct. He did want her physically, but wondered if that was enough especially now that his father wanted her too. He hardly slept at all the rest of the night as he wrestled with his own thoughts and arguments unable to reach any satisfactory conclusion. Every scenario he imagined led to his father being hurt. He couldn’t find a way to avoid that except in one way and that way would hurt him too but in a way that would preserve his pride at least. He knew he would have to think about this a lot more and wouldn’t be able to avoid thinking about it anyway with Troian in the house. After the way he had spoken to her and made it clear he didn’t want to see her, Adam wondered at her fairly calm response and that she still insisted that they should talk. Angry, he had to admit that it intrigued him too.

*****

Chapter 4

There wasn’t much sleep for the rest of the night for Troian either. She wondered how Adam would react to what she had said and done. She was surprised at breakfast to learn that Adam had asked his father if he thought it was all right if he took Troian on a ride around the Ponderosa to see some of the sights. Although Ben had told Troian that he thought Adam was jealous, Ben felt that well up in him as soon as Adam made the request. He could hardly refuse it though because Adam and Troian had known each other longer than Ben had known her. He was as gracious as he could force himself to be because he had been hoping to take Troian on such a ride and perhaps a picnic if she was willing. Now with Adam in the picture, Ben was getting worried that her attention might shift to his son and he might lose his chance to court her which is what he wanted to do. If Adam hadn’t been so concerned by the whole situation, he would have been amused by his father’s reaction and obvious reluctance. Instead, he was very concerned by how Ben looked when he asked and what it meant. Adam was carefully neutral when he informed Troian about what he had done but was a bit dismayed that she was so obviously pleased that he had done so. He saw the look his father gave him because of that. He went to get the carriage ready and had to deal with Joe again who objected to what Adam was going to do. Adam only said that he was a friend of hers and making a simple offer that he would make to a guest for after all their father had instructed him to treat her as a guest. Joe had no answer to that but was still clearly displeased. Hoss intervened and took Joe off to do some work even as he shook his head at Adam knowing he was playing with dynamite.

After a short time in the carriage and some banal talk to pass the time until they were far from the house with no chance of being overheard nor observed, he addressed that issue first.

“My father is clearly smitten with you. Why haven’t you told him no?”

“I wouldn’t have to tell him anything if you would tell him about us.”

The two of them sat staring at each other for some time until Adam decided that the only way to do this was to be honest. “There was something that I was going to tell you the next time I saw you. It wasn’t something that I thought should be sent in a letter especially after the relationship we had.”

The use of the word ‘had’ cut into Troian like a hot knife. She understood then almost immediately why Adam had said nothing to his father about them. He planned to end their relationship. By the stricken look on her face, Adam too knew that his choice of words had telegraphed his message far in advance of the words he had intended to use to deliver it. He had not meant for it to be given in such a shocking way.

“I’m sorry. It’s that, for me, the relationship wasn’t working out.”

“It seemed to be ‘working out’ just fine the last time you were with me or did all those times we were together mean nothing to you other than you taking your pleasure because you could? Are you that selfish?”

“No, but after all of that, I should have felt terrible leaving you. I should have wanted to stay there and never leave. I don’t have that feeling. I’m sorry. I can’t make myself feel something that I don’t feel. I don’t know why.”

“I don’t understand. We have so much in common. We like so many of the same things. We have great conversations. We enjoy our time together day and night. You were always so relaxed and happy when you were with me. How can that not mean that you have feelings for me? How can love be missing from that?”

“I don’t know why, but it is. I’ve been with other women between my visits with you. I don’t feel guilty about that. We never said we had an exclusive relationship.”

“It was for me.” From the way Adam looked at her, Troian knew something more. “But you don’t believe me. That’s why you asked me that ugly question last night. You bastard. I gave myself to you because I love you. I wouldn’t do that for any other man because I don’t love any other man.”

“You seemed so free with everything, I thought otherwise.”

“I was married. I knew things. A woman doesn’t forget because her husband is killed. I didn’t know those things because I had a string of men. You’re wrong about me.”

“I’m sorry about those assumptions, but it doesn’t change that I don’t love you. I am sorry about that too.”

“You may say you’re sorry about it, but it doesn’t change how you’re thinking really now does it? You still don’t believe me. You don’t trust me. I don’t know what I did to make you think that way about me.”

“Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s me.”

“Oh, I believe there’s a lot more than a maybe in that. Inside, you don’t really believe that anyone can love you. You look at me and think that I can’t be what I am and choose you so you have to come up with a reason why. Your decision is that I don’t love you and you can’t trust me or love me then. So, it’s over.”

“You may be right about all of that, but it doesn’t change how I feel. Now, what about you? You don’t love my father, so what are you going to do?”

“Apparently there’s only one thing for me to do. I should leave.”

“He may want to follow you. I saw the look in his eyes.”

“I’ll tell him not to follow me. You may have to work on him a bit to stop him if he gets an idea to follow me anyway. Hoss can help.”

“You’re taking this rather calmly. I expected all sorts of histrionics.”

“I’m a mature woman. I make mistakes, but I’m no child. Yes, I defied your advice and made that awful investment and then needed help to get myself out of a terrible predicament. Luckily your father was gracious enough to help. Apparently I made a terrible mistake with you too. I should never have opened my heart to you when you guarded yours so well. I won’t compound my error by trying to make you feel something that is apparently not in you to feel.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You could tell your father about us.”

“At this point, I’m afraid it would only embarrass him.”

Pausing to think about that, Troian snorted in disgust. She agreed. “He is going to be hurt though when I say I’m leaving.”

“He’ll get over it. It’s better now than stringing him along and then telling him, isn’t it?”

Troian agreed to that too. “Was there anything else you had to tell me?”

Startled a little by his insight, Troian managed to mask her true reaction by a show of some false indignation. “No, I don’t need you to resolve every little issue for me. Now that I’ve seen what it’s like to live outside of San Francisco, I’ve decided to move. It won’t be to Nevada because you’re not interested in me, but there are a lot of nice places for people to live.”

“Yes, there are. I would help you if you would let me.”

“No, I think you’ve done quite enough. I’ll do the rest by myself.”

With mostly silence for the return trip to the ranch house, there were no more revelations nor any more understanding of each other’s positions. Troian showed that she had the ability to have a mask in place that was equally as good as the one Adam could employ. He had no clue as to what she was thinking or feeling when they returned. He helped her from the carriage and she walked to house looking as proud and independent as she had always appeared even if inside, she felt as if her world was in shambles. She had tears in her eyes as she entered the house that he had designed expecting that this might be the last day she would ever stay there. She was determined to remember everything she could about it and looked all around as she walked to the stairs and that was her undoing because Ben was at his desk.

“Is there something wrong? You look upset and you’re back earlier than I would have expected.”

All Troian could do at that point was to rush to the stairs and up to her room. She simply didn’t have the strength or the energy to deal with Ben at that point. Hoping that Adam would talk to him, she had a good cry in her room and did nothing else. It had been building for some time and found a release.

Following Troian up the stairs and to her door, Ben heard the sobs. He knocked but guessed that she didn’t hear or didn’t want to hear. He tried the door but it was locked. Upset and angry, he went to find Adam and found him calmly putting away harness in the stable as if it was the most ordinary thing to do. Walking up to him, Ben put a hand on his shoulder to spin him around. With the furious look his father had, Adam knew that it had to be about Troian but had no idea what it was. He put his usual mask in place and waited for his father to reveal the problem. When it came, he was surprised but hid it well.

“I know you knew her first, but if you wanted a relationship with her, you should have done something about it before now. I’m letting you know what you already must have guessed. I’m interested in Troian and your jealous behavior in trying to undermine my chances with her are not going to be tolerated.”

Adam so much wanted to blurt out the truth at that point. It would end any chance of a relationship between Troian and his father, but it would hurt his father by making him feel foolish and embarrassed. His father was clearly far more emotionally involved than he had thought so he decided to tread lightly. As long as Troian was leaving anyway, there was no need to make things any more difficult than they were.

“I have no romantic interest in Troian at this point. We talked and she decided that the best choice for her was to leave. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for her to make, but that’s what it is.”

“Leave? Why would she leave? I don’t want her to leave.”

“She made a decision that she thought was right for her. We talked about it and it did seem to be the best way to go based on what she wanted.”

“What does she want that would make her leave? I need to talk to her about this.”

“Pa, her decision is made. Can’t you let it rest? It was difficult for her, and questioning her on it is only going to cause more difficulty for her.”

“If she wants to leave, I want her to tell me that not you.” Ben strode from the stable with purpose and more anger than when he had entered for now he was sure that Adam had talked Troian into leaving. He meant to talk her into staying.

Working nearby, Joe and Hoss had witnessed the entire exchange which hadn’t lasted long. Hoss had feared such a confrontation was coming, but Joe was shocked and then angry too.

“Adam, what did you do? Pa was so happy before you came home.”

“Happy or deluding himself?”

“He was happy, and now it’s a mess. Why would you want to mess this up for Pa? He’s got a chance to be happy again for the first time in a very long time. He’s been lonely. Anybody could see that, but she could be the answer for that.”

“Not Troian. He should look for someone else.”

“What gives you the right to decide who Pa can see and who he can’t?”

“I don’t have that right, but I do know that it shouldn’t be Troian.”

“It’s not up to you.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s Troian’s decision, and she decided her best course of action was to leave so that’s what she plans to do.”

Frustrated, Joe stomped from the stable and headed to the house. Watching him go, Hoss sighed deeply and audibly but said nothing.

Exhausted by the nearly constant emotional pressure, Adam had hoped for some support from Hoss. “I thought you would say something.”

“It was about what I expected, but why didn’t you tell Pa the truth. He gave you a big enough opening there.”

“What was the point? She’s leaving so there’s no need to tell him and make him feel the fool. Pa doesn’t do well in those situations. There’s no need to do that to him. She’ll be gone tomorrow, and he’ll get over it with time.”

“But what about the two of you? He thinks you’re jealous of him and Troian.”

“He knows I don’t lie about things like that. He’ll remember that when he calms down.”

“Not gonna be easy gettin’ him ta calm down about her. He’s really feeling for her.”

“I know. I could see that, and I wish I had been here sooner. But she’ll be gone tomorrow and that should let us start getting back to normal.”

“We can hope that’s true, but Pa’s gonna try to change her mind, and you know he can be damn convincing when he wants something.”

“Damn.”

*****

Chapter 5

In the house, Ben went upstairs to Troian’s room and knocked. He didn’t hear any crying this time but again, there was no answer from her. After what Adam had said she planned to do, Ben wasn’t going to give up as easily though.

“Open the door, Troian, please. We need to talk. I don’t know what kind of conversation you had with Adam, but you shouldn’t make a decision to leave so abruptly without talking about it and considering all your options.”

For a time, Ben thought that there would still be no response until he heard the lock click. The door opened a moment later and Troian looked at him but with her eyes downcast. Even then he could see how miserable she must be feeling. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke.

“I have considered my options. I’m leaving, and I’m going to find a nice place to live away from cities and people who can be so cruel.”

“Can’t you consider this as one of those places where you could live?”

“Oh, Ben, you don’t understand. You wouldn’t ask me to stay here if you knew everything.” Troian turned back to the room and was going to push the door closed.

“Perhaps you should tell me. I’ve helped you once. You trusted me then and hardly knew me. Surely now you must trust me enough to know that you could tell me anything and I would keep your confidence and help you if I could.”

“I’m afraid this is something that you couldn’t help me with. The only man who could help me with this isn’t interested in helping me. He doesn’t care about me at all. I should never have come here. I should have faced this problem head-on, made my decision, and carried through. That’s what I plan to do now.”

“You sound a bit like Adam when you talk like that as if you have to do things by yourself and can’t lean on someone else when you need help.”

“Maybe that’s because I don’t have anyone to lean on in this situation. I am all on my own.”

“Perhaps you’re too emotional to make this decision now. You need to give yourself a little time. I’m not sure what Adam said to make you think you had to rush into this decision, but I suspect he said whatever he did because he doesn’t want me to develop any stronger feelings for you. I do feel love for you. I want you to remember that, and I want you to stay here long enough to find out if you can feel something for me. Can you please do that at least? Agree to stay on at least a few more days and give me a chance to convince you to stay longer? It is the one thing that I have asked of you. Please say yes.”

Because he phrased it that way, Troian couldn’t refuse him. He had helped her so much and asked nothing in return. This small request that was as much for her as for him was hardly something she could refuse. She agreed and had to admit that she was pleased at the smile that brought forth from Ben. He was so easy to please. She knew she should stop doing it but was comparing him to Adam. However in this case, Ben came out the winner. Ben left then telling her that he could see that she needed some time to rest before dinner. As usual, he put her needs before what he wanted. Again, she had to give him high marks for that.

Downstairs, Ben confronted Adam as his three sons came in for dinner. He told them that Troian was going to stay for a few more days but his focus and attention were on Adam. He specifically warned Adam that he was not to try to talk her out of that decision.

“What are you afraid of, Pa?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Then you shouldn’t be so worried that a few words from me could make her leave. If you’re that insecure, maybe you ought to reconsider your feelings in this situation. She’s not the right one for you.”

“I will not be lectured by you about anything and certainly not about this.”

“Someone needs to do it.”

Joe decided to step in at that point. “Adam, what have you got against Pa being happy? Why don’t you shut up about it and let Pa and Troian handle things?”

Adam was incensed and would have responded with anger but that made Hoss take part too. “Joe, back off. This ain’t none of your affair.”

“Well, it isn’t any of Adam’s affair either and you aren’t telling him to shut up. Why is that, Hoss? Are you against Pa and Troian too?”

“Joe, just back off.”

“Oh, let him talk. Everyone has an opinion and no one knows what they’re talking about.”

Adam of course could have explained but wouldn’t. Too late Adam realized his error and tried to backtrack by apologizing but failed to defuse the situation with more angry words from his father and then from Joe. Adam was wisely silent then hoping to keep things from getting any worse. When his father and Joe had vented, Adam apologized again and then only asked if they could take some time to think about what had happened and perhaps be willing to consider his point of view. His father turned the same argument back on him and asked him if he could do the same. By his expression, his father got his answer.

“Then you have my answer as well. There will be no more discussion of this. I will make a decision about my future and I will expect my sons to support it. That’s my final decision.”

Looking triumphant, Joe sat down to dinner as his father expected. Hoss looked at Adam hoping that Adam had some kind of plan but could see he didn’t.

“I’m sorry. I’m not hungry right now. I’ll be back later.”

With that, Adam grabbed his hat and coat and left the house. When Troian came to dinner, she found Ben and Joe talking quite animatedly and perhaps too much so and Hoss silent and brooding which she knew was out of character for him. Adam was not there and no one offered an explanation. Troian had hoped that Ben’s offer of an extra day might be enough to make Adam decide to explain things to his father and finally clear up this mess. She even still hoped that he might reconsider his conclusions about the two of them if only to stop his father from being involved with her. She had little left to do to win him back. If she couldn’t, she did have Ben and was beginning to consider that he wasn’t a bad choice either. She did care for him even if she didn’t love him. She knew that there were many marriages that had succeeded quite well based on that measure of attraction. She couldn’t help herself though and asked where Adam was. That opened up a rather heated discussion that upset her. She asked if she could be excused and Ben was apologetic as was Joe. Hoss remained quiet.

In her room, Troian wasn’t quite sure why she had reacted so emotionally. It hadn’t been the surprise because she had more or less expected the answers she got. It wasn’t that the men were upset because she knew all four were upset by the whole situation. Yet, she had nearly been in tears by the reaction to her question. There was a knock on the door, and she knew it was Ben. There was no point ignoring him because he would insist on talking to her no matter what so she told him to come in.

Stepping into the room, Ben surprised her by his demeanor and his words shocked her more. “Are you with child?” She couldn’t answer. For Ben, that was an answer because if he had been wrong, she would have immediately denied it. “I thought there was something familiar about some of the ways you had been acting and the way you talked about the man you said should be helping you. Now, is there any possibility that you can convince the father to marry you?”

She didn’t answer at first and skipped the obvious questions that he had already answered. He waited patiently as she processed what he had asked her and why. “I probably could, but he has coldly told me that he doesn’t love me. He doesn’t know about my condition, but I’m certain that if he did, he would offer to support the child not offer to marry me. He is a responsible man, but he is not one who will be pushed into a marriage, and I’m positive that he would believe that this was a plan on my part to force him to marry me.”

“Certainly he played a part in making this child.”

“He is the only one, but he told me that he doesn’t believe that he is the only one. Because I gave myself to him, he seems to think that indicates my morals would mean that I would give myself to someone else too.”

“Do you love him?”

Squeezing her eyes shut against the tears that would have spilled otherwise, Troian nodded. Ben offered a handkerchief and gave her a moment to get her composure back. When she did, he asked if she could consider another despite that. She shrugged for she didn’t know.

“I don’t think that your love for him will last over time. There’s nothing to nurture that love and keep it alive. I want you to know too that your condition does not change how I feel at all. I love you, and I never expected you to be perfect. I certainly am not. If I want you to consider me as a potential suitor, then I have to admit that I have faults that you would have to overlook and take me as I am. What I would like you to do now is to take a few days and consider what I have offered you. I will love you, support you, and accept your child as my own. I want to marry you. I’ve been lonely for a long time, and I think you’re the one who can change that.”

“You’re telling me that knowing what you know, you want to marry me and raise my child as yours?”

“Yes, your child will be our child when we marry. That’s the law, and morally and legally, I will abide that. You must know that I am a man of my word.”

“But, Ben, I have to be honest. I am not in love with you. I do care for you very much, but I’m not in love with you.”

“Love can grow. Many times a man and a woman marry and find that love grows as long as they like each other and care for each other and want the best for each other. If they respect each other and want the best for each other, then they give love a chance to grow. Can you say that you want those things?”

“Yes, I can.”

Very quickly, Troian worked through possible results of Ben’s proposal. It could work as Ben suggested. She could live with that. Or the proposal could cause Adam to finally step up and tell the truth which could mean that she would end up with Adam which she would prefer. Either she ended up married to the man she loved or to a man for whom she did care very much, and in either case, her child got a secure future with an excellent father. She looked at Ben and sincerely answered.

“Yes, Ben, I will marry you.”

With a grin so wide it almost made his face hurt, Ben was overjoyed and wrapped his arms around Troian. Then she got a surprise because Ben kissed her and it was with passion for he had held back until that moment and had a lot to release. After a short time, he released her. “I’m sorry. That was perhaps quite a lot for a first kiss, but it was also to celebrate that we are now to be married. Under the circumstances, I think we should be married as soon as possible too. I want to marry you on Saturday.”

“Saturday!”

“Yes, there’s no reason to wait, is there?”

“No, no, there’s no reason to wait. Yes, yes, we can marry on Saturday. When will you tell your sons?”

“I’ll tell Hoss and Joe as soon as I get downstairs. Adam isn’t here. I’m not sure he’ll be here tonight. I’ll tell him when he gets back if he’s in a mood to talk civilly to me about this.”

“I don’t want this to come between the two of you.”

“Adam has to accept that I have to make the best decision for my life as he does for his life.”

“Yes, I guess we all do that, don’t we?”

*****

Chapter 6

As expected, Joe was ecstatic about the news. As a romantic soul, he thoroughly enjoyed the whole concept of his father falling in love with the lady he had rescued. Hoss was far more subdued in his congratulations, but Ben attributed that to Hoss worrying about his older brother. In fact, Ben was worried too about how Adam would take the news. Hoss had every intention of staying up late enough to be there when Adam arrived home, but it got so late he fell asleep propped up against the windowsill in his room. Ben fell asleep in his red leather chair downstairs. He too wished to speak with Adam as soon as he arrived home. Adam didn’t want to speak with anyone and tried to get upstairs without waking his father. It didn’t work.

“Adam, wait. Please, wait.” Ben tried to soften his tone because he didn’t want another confrontation with his eldest son.

Not wanting that either, Adam paused on the first few steps of the stairs. “Pa, I don’t want to argue. I’ve had a bit to drink, and this might not be a good time for us to talk.”

“I have to admit I had a couple of brandies too earlier. Surely the ride from town has given you time to get your thoughts together. I know you don’t drink to excess no matter the cause. Can we talk?”

“Will it do any good?”

“I would like to hope so. Son, we’ve always been able to talk. Please, let’s try.”

Reluctantly, Adam came down the few steps and walked to the fireplace standing there and staring at the flames in the fire that was slowly dying out. His father asked him to sit but he declined preferring to be able to leave quickly if this discussion turned sour for he feared it might.

“Son, I want you to understand my position. Then I would like to understand why you are so opposed to what I want to do. First, I have been very lonely for twenty years. I know I haven’t complained, but there it is. I’m admitting that to you. I wanted someone by my side but there was no one there. Now, I have found someone who is willing to take that spot and who I think will fill that spot admirably. I know she’s young. I know that we haven’t known each other for very long, but we get on well.” Ben could see by Adam’s stiff posture and the set of his shoulders that he had some objections that hadn’t yet been addressed. He decided to play the most important cards of all. “She has admitted that she doesn’t love me.” Adam almost jerked around at that statement because he was so surprised. “I thought you might react that way. No, she isn’t fooling me. She has been very honest with me and I with her. She told me that she likes me, respects me, and does care for me. I told her that love can grow and asked her if she was willing to take that chance with me.”

“And she was?”

“Yes. You seem so surprised. Adam, is there something that I should know? You seem to have some strong feelings about Troian and me. I attributed it to jealousy. I know that perhaps it was jealousy on my part instead. However, whatever you think it is that I should know, I think now would be a good time to tell me. We should clear the air between us. This may be my chance at happiness with a woman, but I would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant I would lose a son because of it.”

Until his father said that last part, Adam was getting ready to unburden himself and tell the whole story. His father wanted the truth and he was going to tell him. Then his father said all of that. He had that last chance at happiness but would give it up for him. Adam couldn’t bear that burden. He preferred the one he already had. He squeezed his eyes shut and kept silent for a moment before he spoke. “No, Pa, there’s nothing I have to tell you. You know what you need to know to be happy.” Before he might slip and say something more, Adam turned to go upstairs. He really did need to get some sleep and hoped he would be able to sleep. What his father said next though meant that wasn’t likely. He knew that he should have been honest with his father at the start. By trying to prevent his father from being hurt, he had made sure that he would be hurt. He had dug himself into a hole so big he couldn’t see a way out, but what his father said next made that hole seem so big it swallowed him up and took the light from the world.

“I’ve asked Troian to marry me next Saturday and she has agreed. I hope you can be happy for us and celebrate with us that day.”

Not trusting himself to turn around and face his father with his answer, Adam said his answer as he walked up the stairs as if it didn’t mean as much as it did. “Of course, Pa.” His heart was pounding so hard, he wasn’t sure that his father couldn’t hear it. He actually felt a bit faint and knew it wasn’t just the alcohol. He knew he couldn’t celebrate with his father in a week. He had thought he would have more time to get used to the idea and even entertained the thought briefly that the whole engagement would end before it could proceed to marriage. Things were moving so fast that he couldn’t react in any natural way. He got to his room, closed the door, and stood there leaning against the door with sweat pouring down his face and neck. He had no idea how he could possibly maintain his façade of accepting this marriage when he had only a short time earlier schooled his emotions to accept that his father wanted to have a relationship with Troian. He knew too that his reactions to all of this turmoil were going to be especially difficult if he was exhausted but he still couldn’t get himself to fall asleep with all the thoughts roiling his mind.

The next morning at breakfast, both Joe and Troian kept stealing glances at Adam wondering if he would say anything. Joe was ready to challenge him, but Troian had heard from Ben that he had told Adam about their upcoming marital plans. She hoped that it would spur Adam to action yet he said nothing. He kept his eyes mostly on his plate, spooned eggs onto his plate, took some bacon from a platter that Hoss passed to him, and took biscuits from the basket Hop Sing put on the table. Hoss could see how stressed Adam looked no matter how much he tried to act like everything was fine. As soon as Adam could politely do so, he excused himself to get to work. Hoss followed as quickly as he could without arousing any concern. He sought out Adam to ask him about the night before and how things had gone with their father because it was clear that something had happened between them. Adam recounted the whole conversation to Hoss.

“Hoss, I don’t know if I can be here for the wedding. How can I stand there and congratulate my father on marrying her?”

“Why didn’t you tell him the truth then?”

“I couldn’t. Did you hear what he said to me? How could I deny him the last chance at happiness as he sees it? How could I do less for him than he would do for me? I just don’t understand why it has to be so fast. I thought it might take a bit longer. I hoped that perhaps it would fall apart without me doing anything. Now that is not going to happen. Not in a week.”

“Can you try?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I should leave. That would simplify things. If I stay, I may say something that will let Pa know what I’ve done.”

“Leaving’s a cowardly thing to consider and would hurt Pa. How can you even consider doing that?” Joe had come up behind Hoss and Adam without either of them hearing him approach. He was incensed at hearing what Adam had said. “Pa was telling us inside that you were finally supporting him and then I hear this. You’re a jackass and a two-faced liar too.”

Without warning, Joe swung before Adam or Hoss could react to stop him. Adam did his best to defend himself without retaliating, but Joe was unleashing his fury and defense alone wasn’t enough. Hoss finally managed to grab his younger brother’s arms and pull him back. Adam’s face was bloodied from blows that had caused a nosebleed and split his upper lip. Ben walked in at that point and was furious with his sons.

“What in tarnation is going on here? I finally think I have some happiness here and then I find this. What’s going on here?”

“Why don’t you ask him? He’s a liar.” Joe spit out the words to his father but was looking at Adam the whole time he said them.

Ben asked Hoss and Joe to leave then so that he could speak with Adam. Adam had pulled a handkerchief and was holding it to his lip and nose trying to stop the bleeding.

“So, it’s not settled, is it? Adam, what will it take to get you to accept this?”

“Joe jumped to conclusions. Hoss and I were talking and he heard only one part of it. It’s not too much for us to be concerned that the marriage is happening rather fast, is it?”

“No, perhaps not, but that is for me and for Troian to decide. Please respect our wishes. Now, it would be best probably if you keep your thoughts on this to yourself and try to keep peace in this family. It should be a joyous occasion.” With that, Ben turned and left.

Dropping onto a pile of hay, Adam was emotionally spent. He didn’t know how he could possibly manage one more day much less the rest of the week. He felt a hand on his shoulder then and nearly groaned for he knew who it had to be.

“We should talk.”

“No, we shouldn’t. There’s nothing left to say. You’re marrying my father on Saturday. You have effectively insinuated yourself into this family and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“There is something.”

“Tell everything and make my father out to be a fool, break his heart, and rob him of his hope. No, I won’t do it. He said you told him that you will try to be a faithful wife and that you like, respect, and care for him. Well, a lot of women would find that a damn good deal.”

“I had been hoping for more. Isn’t there any hope for more?”

Standing then, Adam threw off her hand and stomped from the stable intent on getting as far from her as he could. Hoss came over to her then from where he had been waiting and listening after seeing her slip out the back door of the house and furtively move toward the stable.

“You made a choice. I think ya oughta decide to follow through on it or leave. Torturing my brother and trying to force him to do what you want him to do ain’t gonna work. You do any more of it, and I’ll tell Pa the whole damn story. You won’t have either one of ’em.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“I may not be the smartest man around, but I kin see what you’re trying to do. I know how to stop you, so yah, I will. Don’t push me any further.”

It worked. It was the last time that Troian tried to force Adam to tell his father the truth. However Hoss would regret not telling Adam what he had said to Troian. Two nights later, Adam packed his things, slipped quietly from the house, saddled up Sport, and rode from the Ponderosa. He wouldn’t be back for a very long time. The next morning, his father and brothers found letters from him. He promised to be in touch and not to be too far away, but said he couldn’t be there for the wedding. He made excuses and gave them a plausible story to tell the other guests to explain his absence. It was a very subdued group of men at breakfast when Troian arrived there. She asked what had happened and did note that there was no place setting at Adam’s usual spot at the table.

“Where’s Adam?”

“Gone. He won’t be at the wedding.”

The way Ben said it told her that it wasn’t something that anyone wanted to discuss. It wasn’t. The story Adam had given to explain his absence was the only thing that was discussed and then nothing more was said. Troian sat in shock. She had been nurturing the hope that the upcoming wedding would make Adam reconsider and make him tell his father the truth. She had still held hope that Adam would come to her and she could tell him the whole truth about why the wedding was occurring so soon. Now though, he was gone and none of that was going to happen. She was going to be married to Ben Cartwright. She steeled herself to accept that and smiled at her husband-to-be. His answering smile was as forced as hers but for a different reason of course.

Wedding decorations were put up, the place was cleaned up and organized for the ceremony and celebration, and food was prepared. On Saturday, Ben married Troian. Many were surprised if not shocked that Adam wasn’t there. The cover story was given but most were still skeptical. However, even though most suspected there was some kind of trouble within the Cartwright family, none had a clue what it was and knew the family would close ranks and no one would find out either.

Two weeks after the wedding, Ben decided he needed to tell his two younger sons the rest of the story so he told them that Troian was with child. He said he didn’t know who the father was but it didn’t matter because now that he was legally married to her, he was legally the father of any child she bore. He took that very seriously and expected his sons to honor that as well.

“The child will be an equal part of this family. I want you both to know it.” Looking at Hoss, Ben had one more thing to say. “I’m assuming that you will let Adam know. The two of you have always been thick as thieves so you can be the one to tell him. He didn’t have the courtesy of being at my wedding, so I don’t feel the need to be the one to give him this news.”

With a sad smirk, Ben had left then. He was still hurt that Adam had left and didn’t accept the story he had been told that Adam simply wanted to be sure there was no more dissension in the family. He assumed there was more to it and resented that Adam had not been honest with him. He covered it with some bravado and pride in his new wife, but it still hurt. It affected his marriage too because he couldn’t look at his wife without remembering that it was because of her that his eldest son was no longer home. Adam had been the one constant in his life for thirty-six years and was more than a son. He had been a partner, a friend, and an advisor too, and now he was gone. His absence cast a shadow over the marriage.

Joe had been smiling at his father’s news not worried at all about their father’s warning that people would talk because Joe was thinking people would be talking and assuming his father had rushed the intimacy before the marriage. But Hoss was in shock on several levels because he had a very big suspicion as to who the father of that baby might be and knew Adam would likely draw the same conclusion. He decided he better get to writing that letter his father expected him to send. It wasn’t the best way to deliver that kind of information, but there wasn’t a good way to tell someone that kind of thing.

*****

Chapter 7

Seldom did Adam Cartwright have more than one whisky but after that letter from Hoss, he wanted a whole bottle. He didn’t do it though. Instead he went to talk to a friend. Smart and clever, she was a professional woman and Adam had come to know her on several trips to San Francisco. He could tell her anything and she would keep his confidence. He paid her well for her time, and she had gotten used to the dark haired man who wanted the intimacy of conversation about his private life rather than the intimacy of time in bed.

“So you didn’t trust her and intended to end your relationship with her, but you object to her having a relationship with your father instead.”

“I didn’t trust her so I could hardly think that she would be good for my father.”

“And yet you left so that you would not be there to cause a problem with their wedding.”

“They were going to get married at that point regardless of what I did.”

“You’re trying to convince yourself of that, but you know that you could have ended that marriage with only a few sentences or perhaps only one.”

“That would have hurt my father.”

“I don’t know. It seems you trusted her enough to let her marry your father, but not enough for you to love her. You don’t trust easily when it comes to a woman. You seem to trust men more easily and I think it’s because of this.” She pushed her finger against his chest. “You won’t give your heart to a woman without trusting her and you can’t bring yourself to trust a woman. To a man, you are only offering friendship much like you have been with me. You would never love me so you can trust me.”

“I didn’t come here for this.”

“No, you came here troubled because you think your father is now possibly going to be raising your child and you don’t see any way out of that dilemma. I don’t see one either. You threw in your hand and let him take the pot. It’s too late now to ask to replay the hand.”

“It could be some other man’s child.”

“It could be, and then all your guilt can melt away. But if you think the child is yours, then you should have trusted her, and perhaps you need to take a good look at yourself and how you get along with women. Perhaps the next woman will be able to get you to open your heart.”

“My father trusted her.”

“Yes, and now he has what you wanted.”

Sometimes though Ben wasn’t so sure that he had made the correct choice. He did love Troian, but he knew there was a lot of talk in town, and though he had expected it, it bothered him. When they went to church, he saw the looks and the whispered conversations taking place. As she grew wide with child, they didn’t get invited to friends’ homes except for Doctor Martin and his wife and a few others. There were stories about Adam too. Ben wanted to go see him. The letters from his son were so businesslike as to be almost as if they were from a stranger, but at least he knew that Adam was doing well and had established himself in San Francisco with little difficulty. Almost every day, Ben thought about how he had handled the situation with Adam and regretted it knowing that he could have done so much better. He hoped that they would be able to talk and work things out because he wanted Adam to come back home. He wanted his whole family back together again.

Although Ben now had a wife, he found that he was still lonely in a way because now he missed his eldest son. No matter what Hoss and Joe did, they weren’t Adam and couldn’t fill that hole in his heart. Hoss made a suggestion that he wholeheartedly accepted because he had been thinking the same thing.

“I think you oughta go see Adam. Mebbe the two of you could talk things out better ifn you was away from here and away from anyone else who might stir things up between you.” It was clear that Hoss meant Troian but he never mentioned her nor ever said anything against her.

Appreciating Hoss’ diplomacy, Ben nodded. “Yes, once the child is born, I think I will take a trip. There are those meetings in Sacramento and it’s a short trip from there to San Francisco.”

“That’s a good plan. Joe’s still mad at Adam so it might be best ifn he didn’t know you was going to see Adam.”

“Yes, that’s another issue that will have to be addressed at some point, but there’s no need to do that now with Adam gone. If Adam comes back, then it will have to be cleared up. Frankly, I don’t understand why Joe is so upset at Adam.”

“He don’t know everything.”

“Hoss, I don’t think I know everything either.”

Ben waited, but as usual, Hoss said nothing more. By Hoss’ estimation, this was between Adam and his father, and if Adam wanted to divulge anything more, it was up to him. Hoss wasn’t going to break his brother’s confidence except in dire circumstances and nothing like that seemed likely any more. He did worry though about the baby that was due. If that baby resembled Adam, he wondered what his father would do then.

They didn’t have to wait long. As spring arrived, so did Jamie Benjamin Cartwright. He had curly chestnut brown hair like his mother. At first his eyes looked like they might be slightly blue-green but within days, it was clear that his eye color was more hazel than anything and changed color with his mood. His lips were perfectly formed and beautiful for a boy, and the nose was the perfect size for his face. When he smiled for the first time, Joe was the first to exclaim that the baby had dimples. Hoss seemed to be the only one who noticed the strong resemblance to Adam as others said he looked a lot like Ben. He did but only in a more general sense much like Adam resembled his father.

With the spring drive coming up, there wasn’t much time for Hoss and Joe to spend with the baby nor to talk with their father. Ben headed out soon after the baby was born to attend the meetings in Sacramento. Hoss hoped the meetings there went well but prayed the meeting with Adam was amiable. It was. Ben sent a telegram from Sacramento to let Adam know he was coming, and Adam met him at the boat. They embraced so Ben knew there was no underlying animosity.

“You look good, son. You look like you belong here.”

“I’m good at fitting in wherever I am. I have a carriage over here. Let’s go to my place. We can drop your bag off and then get some dinner.”

At dinner, Ben talked briefly about his new son, but when Adam showed little interest, he dropped that subject and turned instead to Adam coming home. However, no matter how many arguments he made, Adam had more counterarguments making it clear that Adam had no intention of returning. Ben switched then to trying to get Adam to come for a visit, but Adam said he was in the midst of several projects that would last through most of the summer.

“Well, in the fall or winter, you could come for a visit.”

“No, I probably won’t be here anymore. I’ve been offered some positions that involve travel to other countries. I’m considering them and I will be going to one of those places.”

“And there won’t even be time for a visit in between the end of your work here and having to leave for this new position?”

“No, it is a continuous operation, I’m afraid. There is no offer of time off involved if I want the position. I am glad you came so that we could say our goodbyes.”

“You will come back though, won’t you?”

“When I can, I will come back, but that could be years in the future, Pa. I’m not making any promises as to when I’ll be back.”

“Adam, it’s not because of Troian, is it?”

“No, it’s not because of Troian.”

“Good, at least I don’t have to feel guilty about that. I thought you left because I married her and you wanted to. Now that I know that isn’t it, I can rest easier. Someday, will you explain to me why you had to leave the way you did?”

“Maybe, Pa, maybe someday, I’ll be able to do that.”

“Meanwhile, will you be able to do the Ponderosa business while you’re here? I can send information to you and let you do your best for us.” Ben was hoping to tie his son to the ranch if only by this tenuous string. He was gratified when Adam agreed to do so. However he did realize and regretted that his relationship with his son had changed for there was a guardedness there that was new and Adam kept the conversation light and mostly trivial deftly steering it away from anything significant. The ties between them had been cut and Adam had fully asserted his independence. When Ben went home, he was satisfied that he still had his son’s love but knew he had lost the trust and closeness between them. He wondered what kind of reception Hoss and Joe would get at the end of the cattle drive they were on when they arrived in the city because they too intended to see Adam.

On that drive, Hoss and Joe had some fairly heated discussions about Adam especially about him leaving only days before their father’s wedding. Hoss tried to get Joe to understand that Adam wouldn’t have gone unless he believed that it was best for him not to be there, but Joe couldn’t accept it. That Adam had refused to visit even when their father had invited him on several occasions especially for Jamie’s christening was a big sore point for Joe that he couldn’t let go. When the two brothers met with Adam, that issue in fact was the one that came to the forefront almost immediately as Joe began laying out a list of complaints with Adam and ended with that one.

“Yeah, and why didn’t you show up for your own brother’s christening?” By then Joe was so angry, he shoved Adam.

Emotionally on edge after his meeting with their father, feeling guilty about his failure to handle the situation better, and now challenged by Joe, Adam blurted out more than he meant to say. “He’s not my brother.” Realizing what he had said, he tried to take that back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Listen, can we start over?”

“No, I think that’s about what you think. You don’t think he is a part of the family, do you? You didn’t want Pa to marry Troian so you don’t accept their son as part of the family. Well, you’re still being a jackass, and maybe you’re the one who isn’t a part of the family the way you’re acting.”

Hoss had enough at that point. “Joe, that’s enough. Adam, I’m sorry. I thought I had him calmed down enough that we could talk. I guess not. I’ll come talk with you tomorrow. Joe, we’re leaving.” Joe didn’t want to leave, but Hoss didn’t give him a choice in the matter. As they got back to their room at the hotel, Joe was steaming.

“You always take his side.”

“You don’t know everything. I try to support all the members of this family, and let me tell you, it ain’t easy. Now I want to get some sleep.” Hoss kicked off his boots, took off his shirt and pants, and rolled into bed refusing to talk about it any more making Joe even more frustrated.

*****

Chapter 8

The day after the altercation with Joe, as Hoss had expected, he found Adam at work. Hoss had gotten all the errands done that needed to be done and settled Joe down as much as he could telling him that he was going to go see Adam. Joe had objected saying that Adam had turned his back on the family. Once again, Hoss told Joe he didn’t know what he was talking about and left. He didn’t know that Joe followed him. When he got Adam’s attention, he had a request.

“We need to talk, older brother.”

“What about?”

“Oh, I think you know, but not here. Let’s wait until we get to a quiet place.”

Saying nothing, Adam only shrugged and told Hoss to wait while he wrapped things up. In a quiet booth at a saloon, they shared a bottle of whisky that night although neither of them usually drank that much. They didn’t sleep at all spending the night talking and being together.

“That baby that Troian had with Pa. It ain’t Pa’s. I know that even if some folks are talking like he is. I’m purty darn shur I do know who the father is though. It’s what I wanted to talk with you about.”

“No need to talk really. We both know now. It’s what I guessed and why I worried so much after I left and why I didn’t want to come back after you wrote that letter to me so you must have suspected it too and at the same time. I’m guessing that he looks enough like me that you’re convinced now. I think I knew even before that because it was the only answer that made sense. It’s why I said what I said to Joe. I didn’t mean to blurt it out like that, but it’s been on my mind all the time.”

“Yeah, you really stirred him up.”

“I guess I shouldn’t have said it, but I’m tired of the whole thing. It’s been weighing on me so hard, and then for him to push like that was too much.”

“You want to talk about it or just drink?”

“I wouldn’t mind both.”

“I know what you meant when you said in your letters that you were staying away to protect everyone the best you knew how. Ifn you were home, there’d be talk and whispers and Pa’d be humiliated.”

For hours, they talked about the issues and the lack of any good way to face them. They drank and talked about the future too. There was time for them to sleep after they said goodbye, and they were exhausted enough that they were going to need it. When it was time to go, Hoss grabbed Adam in a hug and held it longer than he ever had because he was afraid it was the last one he would ever give him. He wanted to remember what it felt like. Adam wasn’t prone to physical displays of affection with his brother but this time, he too wanted that hug to last. The lingering effects of the whisky were probably part of it for both of them. Finally, bleary eyed and disheveled, the two did part having made a tentative plan to meet again in two months. There was no surety of course that Adam would be there, but he would be if he could. When Hoss finally got to the steamboat, Joe was there waiting for him but said nothing and looked as tired as Hoss was which Hoss found odd but was grateful because he wasn’t in the mood for any questions. Hoss spent the next several hours sleeping in a chair. When he awoke, Joe was sitting beside him and offered him a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

“I heard you last night: you and Adam. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I came to find out once and for all why Adam was being such a jackass. I heard what you said and how he responded. Then I knew. I guess I suspected anyway because of how Adam acted with Troian and after seeing who Jamie resembled so much. Except for the hair color, he looks exactly like Adam. That’s why Adam said he wasn’t his brother. It’s his son, isn’t it? He was with Troian first, wasn’t he?”

“Joe, you should never ever say that again.”

“But why? It’s the truth. It has to be because it makes everything else make sense. How can he turn his back on him?”

“Joe, Pa has to know too or he’s got to figure it out pretty darn soon. He’s got to see how Jamie looks a lot like Adam’s ma and there’s only one way that can be true. Nobody’s gonna talk about it though. Adam ain’t gonna come back cause that would only make everyone see the truth or say it. The only ones to get hurt would be Pa and Jamie and they ain’t done nothing wrong here. By staying away, Adam protects both of them. He ain’t turning his back on ‘im. He’s protecting him and Pa the only way he knows how.”

“But she should, she should, oh hell, I don’t know.”

“I think she’s come to love Pa in her own way. I told Adam that. It’s not the kind of love that Pa had with our ma’s but it’s there. She won’t hurt him. She does love Jamie too.”

“But Adam’s all alone, and it hurts Pa not to see him.”

“They’ve met here in the city.”

“They have?”

“Yep. That extra long trip Pa took to Sacramento was really to here. He’s not likely to say anything at home about it. I don’t think he wants to talk to Troian about it. He and Adam met. Adam said they never did get around to talking about Jamie much. It was that elephant in the room the whole time, but they did talk about other things. Pa don’t understand why Adam won’t come back even for a visit. He wants him to see Jamie and get to know him a little. Adam of course don’t want to do that at all. I gotta wonder if Pa’s suspicious at all. By now, I’m thinking he’s gotta be ‘specially with Adam being so darn right stubborn about not wanting to come back to the Ponderosa even for a visit. All they settled is that Adam’s gonna stay here a while and run business for the ranch on this end. No more trips for contracts and such. He’ll do it for us for a bit.”

“I suppose Pa will send him the bottom line and then he’ll do his best.”

“Yep, about what he was doing before so nothing changes there except he won’t be bringing those contracts home. We’ll get ’em by post.”

“This is all going to take some getting used to.”

“For all of us. Then it will all likely change too.”

“Change?”

“Yeah, when Adam decides he’s had enough of sitting here wondering about his future and decides to leave and go chase that dream he’s got.”

“What dream?”

“He always used to talk about going to live in France or England for a while but now he brought up Australia too. I don’t know where he’s gonna go, but he’s got an itch to travel and nothing holding him back no more.”

“Next time we’re here, I’d like to see him when you go visit.”

Hoss put an arm around Joe’s shoulders then. “Are we all good on this then?”

What Joe most wanted to know why Adam hadn’t told their father the truth about Troian right away.

“At first he didn’t want to say ’cause he didn’t want to embarrass Pa. Then he thought she was leaving anyway. Then he was gonna tell and Pa told him that she was his chance at being happy again ’cause he’d been lonely for twenty years. Adam couldn’t bring himself to tell him then. She never told him about the baby. I don’t know why. Adam would be the first to tell you that he made a mess of it, but he dug himself into a hole he couldn’t get out of.”

The two brothers talked more about the situation until it was all talked out between them and then never brought up again in any detail because as Hoss warned, someone might hear.

On the Ponderosa at about the same time, Ben was having a stiff brandy even though it was only the early afternoon. Something that had been nagging at him for some time had finally hit him hard when he had been in town with Troian and Jamie. Sheriff Roy Coffee had come up to them to talk and had of course had to talk about the baby.

“Ben, it’s like you got another Adam growing up here. He’s the spitting image of your oldest ‘cept for the hair color. Why he’s got those dimples and the same color eyes. He’s gonna look just like him when he grows up. You’ll have two of your boys who look alike anyway.”

And Ben had smiled and agreed, but inside his heart had clenched and gone icy cold with the realization that hit him then and couldn’t be denied any longer. He didn’t have dimples nor hazel eyes. Those perfectly formed bow lips were exactly like Adam’s. Those traits had come to Adam through Elizabeth’s side of the family. Adam had talked briefly at times of the woman he called Helen in San Francisco. Could that be Troian? Helen of Troy? It would be something that Adam would do to make a literary or historical type reference to maintain his privacy in a relationship. It would explain his odd behavior and reaction to Troian’s arrival on the Ponderosa and his sudden decision to leave. Ben remembered too how Adam had tried to discourage him from marrying Troian. Adam had been in San Francisco a few months before Troian arrived on the Ponderosa. When Troian first came to talk to him, she had said that Adam must have mentioned her. Adam had only ever mentioned Helen in San Francisco. Troian had been surprised that Adam had never said anything about her to his family. It was all beginning to fall into place though. Was Jamie Adam’s son? Ben had looked over at her as Roy walked away and had seen the truth in her eyes. She knew then that he had figured it out. She had hugged Jamie to her and turned away. They hadn’t talked on the ride home.

As Ben sat in the chair at his desk, he had a lot of questions and guessed he would never have the answers. He had lost his eldest son and would raise his son’s son as his own. Troian came down the stairs after putting Jamie to bed for a nap. She stopped by his desk.

“I loved him but he didn’t love me. At least, he didn’t love me enough. He never trusted that I loved him. I don’t know if I will ever be able to say to you that I love you, but I do care for you, and I will be a good and faithful wife if you will let me. It’s all up to you now.”

That night, Troian offered to move her things to a different bedroom. Ben refused. His answer was gruff. “You’re my wife. You’ll sleep in my bed.” If Troian thought anything was settled though, his behavior let her know it was far from settled. In bed, he turned his back to her and said nothing. She could have been in the next room or the next town for as much as Ben communicated with her over the next few days. Gradually, he began to talk to her of necessary things and then of more mundane things, but there was no kissing, no hugging, no intimacy.

The unlikely marriage counselor was Hoss. Ben finally questioned Hoss about Adam and the two discussed the situation for the first and only time.

“Adam knew she was with child when he left and he knew that child was his, didn’t he?”

“He didn’t know then. She never told him. He suspected as much though after I wrote and told him she was having a baby, but by then you was married and there was nothing he could do.”

“How could he stay away then? How could he walk away from his own child?”

“What could he do? He couldn’t tell you. He was going to lay it all out for you to stop you from marrying her but was afraid that you would feel humiliated and feel like a fool. He was still considering doing it and then you up and told him she was maybe the last chance you had to be happy. You said you had been lonely for twenty years and finally there was a woman who was willing to fill that space in your life. When you met in the city, you said you were willing to raise her child as your own to keep her and wouldn’t let anyone come between you and her.”

“But if I had known about them, I would have stepped aside so that Adam would marry her and raise his son.”

“That’s it, Pa. He didn’t love her. He wasn’t sure he could marry up with her. He figured the best thing to do was to leave to let you be happy even if he couldn’t be. She told him that she cared for you and would be a faithful wife to you. He figured it was the best deal even if it wasn’t a good thing for him to do probably. He knows that. When he found out about the child, he was really torn, but it was too late to do anything else. He’s hurting about it yet, but he didn’t know what else to do. Still don’t. He talked to me about it, and I couldn’t tell him what to do neither. He made a big sacrifice for you to be happy. I only hope you appreciate it.”

That night, without saying anything special, Ben reached for Troian when they were in bed. She tentatively responded and the two made love again. From then on, they were a couple once again even if there would always be a shadow over their marriage. Much of that dissolved as Jamie got old enough to call Ben his Papa. When he did that, Ben’s heart softened a great deal as he realized that being a father was much more than fathering a child biologically even though that was important. Having that child grow in your heart was more important.

That took some time to happen. Meanwhile there were other surprises first for Ben and for his younger sons. When Hoss and Joe met Adam in Sacramento, they were both happy that he was still in the country but surprised at his appearance.

“Ya done growed a beard. Heck, I hardly recognized ya.”

“That’s the point of it all and glad to hear that it works so well.”

Both Hoss and Joe immediately understood. The full beard hid the classic lips and the dimples. It camouflaged the shape of the face and actually made his darker skin look a bit lighter in contrast somehow. No one looking at his appearance at that point would see the resemblance to Jamie that was so obvious when Adam didn’t have the beard.

“I wasn’t sure you had grown a beard or only forgot to shave for a couple of days. I know how fast you sprout whiskers.” Joe giggled at his own joke but both Hoss and Adam did smile at least. There was a lot of truth in what Joe had said. Then they got serious for all three knew too that what Adam had done made it even less likely that anyone outside the family was ever going to uncover Jamie’s secret. That was all the more reinforced with more news from Adam.

“I’m going to be gone for awhile. I’ve had some offers to do some work in other countries. I’m not sure which offer to take right now but I do know that I’m going to take one or the other.”

“Where’s the work?” Hoss had to ask and he knew Joe would take a little time to get used to the idea that Adam was actually going to leave because Joe had been holding onto the hope that somehow Adam would find a way to come back to the Ponderosa.

“One is in England and would be a combination of teaching and some on site supervision. The other is in Australia and is a construction position with buildings in the city of Sydney and then mines out in their backcountry.”

“And which way ya leaning?”

“I don’t know. Both have their attractions. It’s been nice coming home after a day of work without hurting somewhere and then waking up stiff in the morning only knowing some other part was going to hurt worse by the end of that day.”

“But ya always said ya wanted to build things.”

“Yes, and building things is what the other one is all about although it is a longer commitment and it’s further away. Communication could be an issue too.”

“Well, then, maybe ya ought to take the first one.”

“No, I think you pushed me in the right direction with your questions. I think I’ll take the construction one. It’s more what I dreamed of doing even though I’ll be gone five years at least.”

“Five years!” Joe’s voice almost squeaked because it was so high with that question.

“Yes, you won’t have to put up with me for at least that long. It’s the time commitment I have to make to get the job, and then there’s travel so it will be longer. Tell Pa I’ll come home someday. Tell him I’m happy enough with my choices.”

“Adam, you can’t expect me and Hoss to tell Pa something like this. You need to tell him.”

“He’s expecting it. I let him know the last time we talked that I would be leaving. We said our goodbyes then.” There was nothing more to say. The brothers hugged and said their farewells extracting that promise again from Adam that he would come home eventually. Then he was gone and they were left to carry the news home to their father.

*****

 

Dark Water

Chapter 1

Watching the dark water slide by the ship, Adam Cartwright thought that it was a fair representation of his dark mood but then amended his thought. His mood was more gray than dark. Like the water sliding past, he felt as if things were sliding past him and he had lost them. Troian was with his father not that he had wanted to keep her anyway, but it meant his son was with his father too. There was no helping that without hurting his father and probably his son too. He wasn’t going to marry Troian after she had so blatantly attempted to manipulate him because he knew that she would likely have used her pregnancy to shock him and then use his guilt and sense of responsibility to get him to marry her. However, by leaving to protect his father, he had unknowingly wrecked her plans. He wished his father well and hoped that he and Troian could find a way to be happy. Hoss had told him that he thought that Troian loved his father and definitely loved Jamie, and Adam would have to console himself with that. Yet, he was without his father, his son, and his brothers, and had signed on to take orders from another boss for five years. He would be far from his home and anything he found familiar and even communication was likely to be difficult. The more he thought about that, the more he wondered if he had taken this job in order to escape rather than for the challenge it represented. Although he had liked to think of himself as a logical and rational man who conducted his life according to careful planning and preparation, he realized in evaluating many of his recent actions, that he had been anything but a careful man. It made him angry and sullen, and unfortunately it made him rude and sarcastic to others aboard ship who attempted any kind of conversation with him. As a result, he frequently found himself as he did now standing alone at the rail as the others avoided him. It was clear he was disliked. At that moment, he didn’t care or didn’t care enough to do anything to change the situation.

“The burden you carry must be very heavy.” A man leaned on the railing next to Adam startling him.

“I don’t recall seeing you on board, and what do you know about me?”

“I haven’t been on board much or on deck, I suppose you call it. I’ve never gotten used to being on these ships no matter how much I travel. I’ve been in our berth below. My wife told me about the dark-haired man in the dark clothing and the dark mood.”

“I don’t like being gossiped about.”

“It’s not gossip if it’s true, and she was giving me her observations. She thought I could help.”

“Why would she think you could help?” Even as he asked the question, Adam anticipated the answer and his intuition proved correct.

“Perhaps I should introduce myself. I’m Reverend Paul Markham. You met my wife, Rachel Markham, I believe. She said you were rather blunt in rejecting her offer of friendship.”

“I’m sorry about that, but I’m not in the mood to make friends right now.”

“Oh, I think everyone knows that. Now, back to my original statement. Your burden must be very heavy. I would help you carry it if you would be willing to unburden yourself with me. We could start simply if you would tell me your name.”

It was such a simple request that Adam could hardly refuse without seeming churlish. What he didn’t know was that Paul Markham was a skilled interrogator when it came to working with those who had troubled souls. He knew that once he got his subject to answer one question even if it was giving up their name, he had them. Once a man started talking, even if it was only his name, he wouldn’t stop. It might come slowly, and might be like waiting for a pot of water to boil, but it would happen. When he heard this dark-haired man say his name was Adam Cartwright, he resisted the urge to smile. Instead, he simply greeted him by his given name and got to work on getting the next part of the story out of him. He guessed it wasn’t going to be easy, but they had weeks to talk, and he was a minister who could talk for hours if necessary. Sooner or later, this intelligent man was going to start responding to things he had to say, and eventually he was going to say what was hurting him so much that he had walled himself off with this animosity that projected all around him. Paul had counseled heads of government bureaus and derelicts in the streets of Sydney. He had never failed and wasn’t about to consider that possibility. Leaning on the railing and watching the water as Adam was, Paul started with a philosophical question guessing that an intellectual approach might work well with Adam.

“Has anyone ever told you about the things you can never get back?”

Not yet seeing where Paul was going with the conversation, Adam replied with a standard practical line. “I suppose it would be things like money spent and rocks thrown.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of words said, time passed, and opportunities lost. Usually regrets are built on those. Sadly we cannot get them back so regretting them is a waste of effort too.”

“What would you have me do then? Forget it all as if it never happened?”

And there it was far more quickly than Paul had expected. He guessed that the emotional wounds must be very deep for the pain to be so fresh yet. “No, you can never forget it. That’s the most painful part of losing anything. The loss is with you every day.”

“As a minister, aren’t you supposed to offer comfort because I have to tell you that you’re doing a damn poor job of it?”

“As a minister, I have to be honest too. I lost my son to disease when he was only a wee lad. He had only learned to walk. Every day of my life, I see him in my mind’s eye. I will never forget him. I lost him, and it will be with me forever. I cannot tell others that their losses will fade away and cease to be when I know it is not true. What has happened though is that I have come to terms with it and can remember him without pain. The loss is still there, but the pain is not. He is with the Lord and we will be reunited one day. I remember the good times I had with him even though the time with him was so short. He was a darling boy.”

With that, Adam turned and looked out over the ocean. Paul had seen the look of pain on his face before he turned away though. Somehow talking about his son had struck something deep within this man. It was the key to his pain, but Paul didn’t know yet what that pain was. There was no more time to talk then though nor for the next few days.

As Adam stared off across the ocean, he saw what appeared to be dark sails on the horizon. Soon it was apparent they were not sails as the storm clouds rose up higher and higher. The waves had been growing larger for the past several hours making the captain and crew noticeably nervous and the wind had changed direction and grown stronger. Now they knew why although the captain and crew has suspected as much and had been making preparations. They changed direction and began their race against the storm doing their best to get out of its way or at least to get out of its direct path. They didn’t manage the first part but did do the second part reasonably well although they had a rough day and night of travel. Even so, they had to seek out a safe harbor for minor repairs before continuing their journey.

As the crew worked on repairing the ship and sails, the passengers lounged on land giving Paul and Adam even more time to talk. Finally, exasperated by Adam’s taciturn nature and tendency to respond sarcastically to many statements, Paul started to be more blunt with his questions. Even that didn’t get Adam to open up making Paul frustrated and then angry. He let loose with an expletive which was out of character for him and certainly not something he was used to doing. He apologized immediately and turned away with a sigh not knowing what to do. With a classic smirk, Adam looked over at him.

“It’s bothering you so much that I won’t tell you everything?”

“It’s my job to help people. I cannot help you if I don’t know the problem, and you seem to take delight in denying me the knowledge that would allow me to understand you.”

“I take delight in preserving my privacy. I never asked for your help.”

“Didn’t you?” Paul challenged him with a look and nothing more then until Adam had to ask.

“How did I ask?”

“Every conversation you had or rather refused to have, every rude remark, and every time you stood at the rail staring at the waves, you communicated your sorrow and your pain. Everyone here could see how unhappy you were. The dark clothes reflected the dark mood. You wanted everyone to know or you would have hidden how you felt. But you’re so prickly no one could get close enough to help.”

“Except you tried anyway.”

“I have thicker skin than most.”

“What if I wanted everyone to know so they would stay the hell away from me?”

“Then I think the first time I talked to you, you would have told me to go to hell. You seem like that kind of man too. Instead, you responded. You wanted to talk to me and still do even if you haven’t told me anything yet.”

“How do I know if I can trust you?”

“How do you know you can’t? Have I done anything that makes you think I’m untrustworthy?”

“People can seem like they can be trusted and they can’t.”

Leaning back against a tree and watching the waves roll in for a short time, Paul watched the emerald waters and the slight foaming at the point where the waves broke and ended in the wet sand. He thought back over all the conversations he had had with Adam and the reactions he had seen in the man. His intuition was telling him some things but he wasn’t sure how much he should say. Finally he decided he ought to be honest with the man. It was probably the only way to bore a hole in the wall he had around him. However if he was wrong, it was also probably the way to alienate him so he would never break through to be able to help him.

“I perceive that there was a woman, a son, and a betrayal that sent you on this journey to leave your troubles behind and seek a new future.”

Shocked, Adam looked at him only briefly before turning away, standing, and stalking away from all of them and disappearing around a bend. Paul’s wife looked over at him and put up her hands as if to ask what he had done. He looked back and shrugged.

“Once more, into the breech, my love. Wish me luck.” With that, he followed Adam and found him leaning against a tree about a hundred yards along the beach. He stood silently near him and waited.

“How did you know? I never told you any of that.”

“I’m sorry if I shocked you, but I thought I needed to do something to make you start to talk before you exploded. I sensed anger in you and deep sorrow. You need me even if you don’t think you do. I can help you, Adam. Please trust me to let me help you.”

“I don’t think anyone can help me. I made a real mess of things, and I left it a mess because I couldn’t see any way to make it any better. All I could see to do was to stay away to protect those I love from being harmed by evil gossip that would happen if I was there. They didn’t do anything to deserve being hurt. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“And that bothers you as much as what happened. You wanted to be able to fix things?”

“It seemed like I always had been able to do that even when my methods sometimes weren’t the best but the end results worked out. This time, there was nothing that I could do that would work. Anything I did was going to make things worse instead of better.”

“Why don’t you tell me what happened. It’s hard to talk about this when I don’t know what happened.”

“I’m not sure talking will help. I can talk my way around a lot of things, but it can all be just so much bullshit, if you can excuse my expression. I realize now that sometimes I try to find a way to make what I did seem logical and rational when it wasn’t, and I can be very convincing when I do that. I can even convince myself.”

“Oh, I doubt that.”

“No, I did. Now, I look back though and realize what I was doing all those years trying to make myself seem like a rational, logical man when I wasn’t. I remember once when I tracked down a man who had kidnapped my younger brother and meant to force him to work in a mine with other boys the man and his partner had kidnapped. When I had the man helpless and face down on the ground, my little brother asked if he could kick him. I told him he could if the man moved at all. I told myself then and later that the man wouldn’t move and he wouldn’t get kicked so it didn’t matter. What I really enjoyed though was having that power over him and knowing the fear he had that my little brother was standing there ready to deliver those blows with me to back him up. My father later chastised me for telling my brother he could do that to a defenseless man. I told him what I told you, and he accepted it as if it was logical. It was as much hogwash as the reasons I used to justify leaving. I didn’t have a logical and rational plan at all.”

“You like to be in charge. You like control.”

“I think I told you that so that’s no great insight.”

“Tell me more and perhaps I will have some insight to help you.”

“Oh, hell, what can it hurt? You’re going to be in Australia. It’s not like the news is going to get back to my home.” So Adam told Paul about Troian and the intimate relationship they had until he decided to end it, but how his father had helped her before she arrived unannounced on the Ponderosa. She was pregnant but hadn’t told him even after his father had asked her to marry him. He left before she could tell him, and then went ahead with her promise to marry his father so now his former lover was married to his father who was raising his son. As he talked, he saw the various looks that Paul had and guessed that he had never imagined the twisted tale he was going to hear when Adam started talking. It took some time before Paul had anything to say.

*****

Chapter 2

“Your one careless act had devastating consequences. You’re looking at your later acts, but I’m looking at the first one. You chose to have a relationship with this woman without benefit of marriage, but you didn’t even consider the possible results. You had to know she might have a child and that you would be obligated to marry her. Is it possible you preferred your father to marry her?”

Furious, Adam uttered an angry “No!” Then he paused and continued more calmly. “No, I didn’t want that. I have to tell you that I don’t know what I wanted at that point. I didn’t think I wanted to marry her, but once I knew she carried my child, my thoughts were different. It was too late though because she had already married my father.”

“You didn’t even suspect she was with child when you left your home?”

“No, I didn’t. I guess I was too wrapped up in other thoughts. She surprised me by showing up on the ranch, and then my father’s interest in her made it difficult. I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“Or embarrass yourself by having to tell him the truth?”

Adam shrugged because there was no way to deny that either.

“It seems too that you are more impulsive than you seem to think you are and still afraid of your father.”

At first resentful of that evaluation, Adam said nothing. He leaned back and thought about his life recalling more than one incident in which Reverend Markham’s conclusions seemed to have merit. He had prided himself on being a rational and logical man but found too many times that he had not been, and that he had not broken free of his father’s control either. “I’m sorry. I’ve gotten angry at you when I should be angry at myself.”

“I’m not judging you, Adam, and I think you are more than angry enough at yourself, but it is not doing you any good. I want to help you, but first you must put down the burden. Your anger is a worthless burden.”

“But what I did was wrong in so many ways. Why wouldn’t I be angry?”

“I suppose there was a time to be angry, but that time has passed. I have had cause to be angry as well. Then it was time to put it down and move on. We develop habits in our lives. Our habits become who we are. Changing who we are is changing our habits.”

Still leaning against the tree but more relaxed now, Adam was thinking about all that had been said. He cocked his head to the side as he watched Paul Markham stare out across the ocean they had yet to finish crossing. “And what habits are you changing, Reverend, that have caused you to uproot your wife from her home and set out for Australia?”

“In this case, no habits of mine, but I am seeking opportunities much as you are. Now, what do you want? When you are sure you know the answer to that question, then you can achieve it.”

“I’m fairly sure I know the answer to the question, but I’m not sure that I can achieve it. It has eluded me every time so far. It’s what every man wants, I think, and yet some never find it.”

Thinking he knew that answer well before Adam had verbalized as much as he did, Paul ventured his hypothesis. “You want love, I think. You crave it. Yet, you need to give it to get it and you’re reluctant to do so. You’ve been hurt so you guard your heart jealously and so deny yourself what you want the most.”

Paul was serious and it surprised him that Adam smiled and then chuckled at his statements. Shaking his head, Adam could see how disconcerted Paul was by his reaction and knew he had to explain.

“You’re probably going to be surprised that I was already given that evaluation, but you will probably be shocked by who delivered it. I paid a professional woman in San Francisco to be my confidante. I needed someone to whom I could talk and who wouldn’t run out and spread what I said as gossip. I paid her well for that privilege. It wasn’t the usual thing for which she was paid, but professionals like her know how to keep secrets, and she came highly recommended for her discretion. I doubt the man who recommended her to me ever guessed that all we ever did was talk.”

“Your confidante was a whore?”

“Now that is crude especially coming from a man of the cloth. I would have expected you to be a bit more circumspect. I referred to her as a professional woman. You could call her a painted lady or even a soiled dove. The term whore is so crude, don’t you think? We don’t use anything so crude to refer to the men who pay them for their services. Aren’t they equally as guilty of violating the rules of society and of God especially as so many of them are married?”

“I do not think I want to get into a debate on morality with you. I fear you could twist my thinking until I wasn’t sure of anything any more. Granted, the standard is applied unequally and unfairly. Now, did you accept what she said any better than when I said it?” Adam shrugged. He wasn’t ready yet to give a direct answer. “You are honest at least and you’ll think about this, I think.” Adam nodded.

The two men walked back to where the others were sitting. Nothing more was said about what they had discussed, but Paul thought Adam seemed more relaxed. Getting to tell what was bothering him so much seemed to have helped. Adam had a few short polite conversations with others and was generally less prickly around everyone that day and the next. That next afternoon, the captain told them that they would be departing the following morning. Adam told Paul that he was going to a pool to bathe and wash his clothing because it would be the last chance to do so until they reached Australia.

After washing his clothing and spreading it on bushes to dry, Adam lounged in the pool swimming at times and otherwise enjoying the solitude and the cool water as well as the chance to think about things. He decided that Paul had been correct. He did need to change some of his habits although it was going to be difficult. However, he had never backed away from a challenge because of difficulty before and wouldn’t now. For the first time, he realized too how much he needed to grow as a person and how much he had been held back by living under his father’s roof for so long. He was long overdue to find his own way and become the man he wanted to be as soon as he decided what kind of man that was going to be. Although to do everything he was contemplating, he was going to have to pack a lot of living into the next five years. He rather liked the prospect of that too having been so bored with some of the past few years and things that had occupied so much of his time but not his mind or his talents. He was startled out of his reverie by a splash in the water behind him. He turned to find Rachel in the water and from her bare shoulders, he surmised that she wasn’t wearing any more than he was.

“Don’t look so surprised. At your age, I’m sure you’ve been with women before but you’ve been alone for weeks and weeks now. I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind a little company.”

“Rachel, you shouldn’t be here. You’re a married woman.”

“If that’s your only objection, then that’s no problem because I don’t care. You’re a man, and a very desirable man, and I’m a woman. Nothing else needs to matter now, does it?”

Rachel kept approaching and Adam kept retreating but the pool was small with nowhere else to go except to get out and expose himself to her. He wasn’t at all sure what he ought to do at that point but worried what she might do next. He was relieved and concerned when he heard Paul’s voice.

“What are you doing? Get the hell out of there!”

Not quite sure who Paul was addressing, Adam kept his attention on Rachel who looked disgusted when she heard Paul’s voice and then petulant as she turned to him.

“I only wanted to have a little fun. It was harmless. Nothing happened.” She began to wade back toward where Paul stood at the shallower end of the pool.

Paul turned his attention to Adam who was still staring at Rachel. “Adam, if you wouldn’t mind?”

Slightly embarrassed to be caught staring, Adam turned his back as Rachel climbed from the pool and, he assumed, she got dressed. After a few minutes, Paul addressed Adam who slowly turned to face him.

“Now you know my burden and why we left to go to Australia. Ever since our son died, she has engaged in behavior such as this on occasion. I had hoped to be able to supervise her well enough to prevent another occurrence, but apparently I will have to be more alert. I am sorry for any embarrassment she may have caused you. She doesn’t seem to know what she is doing when she does these things. The rest of the time, she’s fine. I don’t know what comes over her to do these things, and doctors haven’t been able to help. I promised for better or for worse, but I never imagined anything like this.”

“I’m sorry, Paul. I won’t mention it to anyone.”

“Thank you. I’ll go to her now. She’ll be upset and we’ll talk. It probably will help for a time, but then again, I don’t know.” With a resigned look, Paul turned and left.

Having lost his interest in lounging in the water, Adam climbed from the pool and dressed in the clothing that was dry. He explored the area a bit as he waited for the other clothing to be dry enough to fold and pack in his bag. He found some fruit he thought the others would like and brought that back when he returned getting smiles from those waiting on the beach to return to the ship who were pleased with the unexpected generosity. The other passengers liked this more relaxed version of the dark haired tall American and rightly assumed his friendship with the minister had been the cause of his minor transformation. The rest of the voyage passed uneventfully although Rachel was so embarrassed by what had happened that Paul had a difficult time coaxing her to leave their quarters at all except for meals. It took a visit from Adam to help her overcome that reticence. He knocked on the door and Rachel opened it slightly and would have closed the door except he asked her for a chance to speak to her briefly.

“Paul knows I’m here. He’s standing right behind me. Can I come in a moment? I want to say a few things.” After stepping into the cabin, Adam spoke softly to Rachel who had turned away from him clearly embarrassed. “Rachel, I understand. I’ve done some things too that make it hard for me to face people. I ran away from home in effect. I wish I could go back now to make things right but I can’t. You can. Please, let’s make peace and move forward.”

Turning back to face Adam, Rachel looked hopeful. “What did you do?”

Stiffening at the question, Adam heard Paul’s slight chuckle and then his response. “You walked right into that one, my friend. I didn’t expect you to take that direction in the conversation or I would have warned you. She’s like a bulldog too. She’ll never let go now until you tell her, but she’s discreet too. She won’t tell a soul.”

With a deep sigh, Adam decided he could do it again and told his story. Rachel was sympathetic and they talked about her situation too and how she found herself losing control sometimes doing what embarrassed her so much later and caused tremendous guilt. Adam asked a question then that no doctor or anyone else had ever asked.

“How do you feel or what are you thinking before those things happen?”

Rachel paused. “I’m thinking about baby Michael and how we lost him and how we have no more children and what a failure I am as a mother and wife.”

“Oh, Rachel, you aren’t.” Paul was aghast never having heard her say that before.

“Paul, you can’t deny how she feels. But, it’s her clue to what she’s going to do. When she feels that way, she needs to reach out for help because she knows what she’s going to do otherwise. It’s not a cure, but it might allow her to avoid any more, shall we say, unfortunate incidents?”

Paul and Rachel looked at each other and nodded. It was worth a try, and Rachel did want to change. She too knew Paul’s lecture about habits.

*****

Chapter 3

As the imposing headlands of Sydney harbor came into view, Adam felt some excitement and realized he felt more positive and hopeful than he had in a long time. The doubt over his decisions and the heartache he felt at leaving his family so far behind would be with him always or until he found a way to return, but he was starting to look forward and not back so much. Paul and Rachel came to stand at the rail with him as did a number of other passengers who were also seeing the land for the first time. There was a sense of adventure and a feeling of excitement at the prospects offered by the opportunities they would find, but there was also some nervousness at the uncertainties of what they would face. Adam and Paul already had jobs lined up but some of the men had come with only the hope of employment and were far more nervous about what they faced.

“Adam, I hope when you get settled that you will come visit us. You already know where we’ll be. The church has a house for us next to it and we’ll be there almost all the time I would think.”

“I’ll do that, Paul. I imagine I’ll be very busy at first though finding a place to live and getting situated in my new job. They seemed anxious to have me here so I doubt that I’ll be given any leeway before starting.”

It took some time to sail the harbor and get to the appropriate quay where the passengers disembarked. Paul and Rachel were met by two very serious looking men who gathered them and their luggage and moved them off to a carriage. Adam waved not expecting to see them again for some time. He had expected to be met, but no one approached him for some time. Then he saw two well-dressed men speaking with the ship’s captain who pointed at him. The two men looked dubiously at him but approached anyway. When they got within speaking distance, the taller of the two men spoke as if he couldn’t believe he would get an affirmative answer.

“You are Adam Cartwright, the architect we hired from America? The one with experience in mines and with the railroads?”

“I am.”

The shorter of the two men spoke then. “But you look like a common, I mean, you aren’t dressed like a professional, oh, I don’t mean to be impolite, but, oh, Randall, you handle this.” He turned to the taller man then clearly flustered by the whole situation.

“Here there are some distinct class lines, and as a professional man with education, you would be expected to dress and act the part. To look like any common laborer is not at all what we expected.”

“I did make it clear to your representative that I had gone down into the mines and saw to the installation of the shoring system. I have supervised the cutting of the timber and the construction of the honeycomb material before it has been installed. I’ve built buildings and been on the site while the work was done based on plans I’ve drawn. I don’t sit in an office and trust that others will do what I know has to be done. I thought that was why I was hired.”

“Ah, yes, it was, but I guess we had not thought through all the ramifications of what that would mean. I must apologize. We should not be having this conversation in the street like anyone might. Please, let’s take your luggage and get you settled in a proper hotel, and then we can go to our offices tomorrow and discuss this.” Looking a bit ill at ease, Randall had to ask. “You do have a suit to wear to the offices, I presume.” Adam nodded somewhat amused by the man’s look. “Very good. Then that is what we shall do. We have brought some papers to update you on what the firm is doing now. You can look those over before meeting with the others tomorrow. I’ve arranged for dinner for you at the hotel so that you don’t have to try to navigate a strange city on your first day here.”

Pleased that he didn’t have to deal with the basic necessities if he found it too inconvenient, Adam thanked the two men and was also amused when they realized that they had not introduced themselves properly and had to take care of that. His arrival dressed as he was in his black shirt and pants had so disconcerted them that they were completely nonplussed. He kept that in mind knowing that it could be useful information for the future in dealing with any men like them. He almost smiled wondering how they would have reacted had he worn the pistol rig that was packed in one of his valises. He had been told that parts of Australia were much like the western parts of the United States so he had come prepared. Sydney was an interesting city with the vibrancy of a growing city with some sophistication but still had rough edges too.

Once the two gentlemen left with a promise to send a carriage for him in the morning, Adam enjoyed a bath. He might have lounged in the warm water longer except it brought up memories of the pool and Rachel. Preferring not to think about that too much, he toweled dry and dressed as a proper gentleman although he doubted his clothing was the standard in this country. However, he guessed it would be good enough so that he wouldn’t stand out if he went to a nice restaurant for despite his new associates’ concerns, he was anxious to see some of the new land that was to be his home for years. Descending the stairs with the clerk noting his change in attire with obvious approval, he asked for directions to a good restaurant. The concierge seemed shocked that he planned to walk even though the restaurant was apparently only a few blocks away. Adam simply smiled and told him that after all that time at sea, he needed to walk because his legs were stiff. The man seemed to accept that even if he did so reluctantly. At the restaurant, Adam found the items on the menu were not familiar dishes but found them interesting. He guessed he would come to like some very much but there were a few items he didn’t think he would ever accept as a regular part of his diet. Pleasantly full, he walked back to the hotel not expecting anything more than a good night’s sleep. Instead he found a message from his employer requesting that he attend a party that night if he was available. Of course his employer knew he was available so this was a summons. Dress was described in a short note and Adam assumed that what he was wearing was acceptable. He asked the concierge to summon a carriage for him but was told one had been waiting for him for a half hour. A bit bemused that he had already unknowingly probably irritated his employer, Adam thanked the concierge and walked back outside to the waiting carriage which whisked him off to a fine estate obviously newly constructed.

Walking into the front vestibule of the large home, Adam noted the various architectural features and thought about how he would have done things differently. He did his best though to hide that assessment when his employer introduced himself and asked Adam almost immediately what he thought of his home.

“It’s the biggest in Sydney now. No one has a home that sits on a higher hill nor has a wider foundation than my home. I made sure of that when I bought the property and approved the plans. Now, I still own more property so if someone tries to outdo me, I can add on. What do you think of that?”

“I guess that’s very impressive if that’s what’s important to you.”

“You haven’t said yet what you think of my house. What do you think?”

“It’s a very fine home, and it is of course impressive in its size.”

“Cousin, I’m afraid your new American isn’t a lackey who will give you false praise. He’s doing his best not to tell you that he is not at all impressed by your house.” A dark haired woman had come up behind the two men and had a mischievous grin as the two men turned to face her.

“Grace, must you always try to create trouble?”

“Now, Connor, you know I have this terrible habit of telling the truth. Are you going to introduce us, by the way? It would be impolite to continue this conversation without proper introductions.”

So without further ado, Connor Fawlkes introduced his cousin Grace to Adam and then went to find his wife and his wife’s parents to introduce them to Adam. There were a few others at the small party, but it gave Adam and Grace a short time to talk.

“I’m sorry that you got dragged over here, but you’re not married, and as soon as my cousin learned that, he started planning a wedding.”

“A wedding?”

“Yes, Connor is quite scandalized that I am twenty-five years old and nearly twenty-six and not yet married. Respectable businessmen here are usually married so when he learned you were not and were older, he assumed you would be anxious to marry and might be willing to accept someone like me.”

Somewhat bemused by her honesty and her obvious desire to thwart her cousin’s plans, Adam had to ask a question. “Ah, and are you afflicted with some awful condition making you unfit to be a wife?”

“Yes, I am. I am an educated woman and I inherited enough wealth from my parents when they died that I do not need a man to hold me as chattel and as his servant and concubine rolled into one package.”

Taken aback by the bitterness underlying those words, Adam said nothing for a time. Then he felt that he had to respond. “I have no intention of doing anything like that to you or to any woman. I have great respect for education and for women. I’m sorry that you are so bitter and angry, but know that I will not make things any worse for you. I will make it clear to your cousin that I am not looking to marry.”

“Ever?”

“I don’t know. Life is complicated. I don’t have an answer to that question nor do I wish to discuss it.”

It was Grace’s turn to be quiet as she sensed some of the anguish lurking beneath Adam’s statements. “Perhaps we can help each other. There will undoubtedly be attempts by others to do matchmaking for you. If we spend time together, they will likely leave both of us alone until they realize that it is a ruse. That could take a long time.”

Looking at her, a small smile began to build on Adam’s face. “Do you like the theater and opera?”

Grace grinned in response as the grand conspiracy between them was spawned. Their conversation the rest of the evening went much better as they began to make plans for evenings out. Connor’s self-satisfied smile couldn’t have been bigger. The evening ended well but late. After the voyage and the short night of sleep, Adam guessed the next day was going to be difficult, but Connor told him that he could report at one so that he could get a proper night’s sleep and could get a fitting at a tailor. He gave Adam a card for a tailor shop with the expectation that he would use it the next day. Adam had expected something of the sort knowing his clothing didn’t quite fit the norm in Sydney. He knew he still wouldn’t get as much sleep as he needed as he did have some papers that had been sent given to him that he was expected to review before he reported to the office. He wasn’t upset though knowing he would wake early because of excitement and habit. The idea of habits reminded him of Paul and he wondered again when he would see him. He did miss their talks already although the prospect of some conversations with Grace promised to be intellectually stimulating. He didn’t escape the evening unscathed though as Connor had thought about what Grace had said earlier and questioned Adam about the house and got him to admit that there were some architectural details that he would have done differently. Before he left that night, he had another job and that was to make some drawings on how to improve Connor’s home and while he was at it, how to make it larger and more grand.

*****

Chapter 4

As expected, Adam woke early the next morning and began reading over the papers from the office. Based on the papers they had given him to review, his job was far more complex than the one for which he had been hired. The sheer magnitude of the job hit him then as did the many things that needed to be corrected in what had already been done in the mine construction as well as in the building projects related to that project as well in a major construction project in the harbor building a huge warehouse complex on the quay. Wondering too if the company would balk at the cost of the revisions he was going to recommend, Adam thought he might have a distinctly unpleasant time trying to convince them that their previous project architect and engineer had been woefully inadequate. He hoped the man was no longer employed by the company. Apparently he was not. A wall of one warehouse he was constructing on a quay had collapsed into the harbor killing several men and costing the company a significant amount of money. The man had resigned effectively by disappearing from the city and probably was working in a completely different capacity somewhere else. Since his flight from the city, the company had been relying on a set of junior architects and engineers but none had the experience that Adam had even though they had more extensive and recent education. Connor’s hope was that Adam would lead them into being a productive team. If not, their competitors might supplant them. What he didn’t like was Adam’s preliminary estimate of what that might cost.

“Looking over what’s been done, a number of things probably need to be redone. I’ve made a list of those things. A number of other items need to be altered mainly in additional support being added. No additional work should be done on any of these projects until the new work is ready to be done.”

That led to the rest of the day being spent arguing over the necessity of what Adam suggested and the costs in time and money involved. Nothing was resolved and tension was high at the end of the day when the arguments were suspended. With his confidence a bit shaken, Adam took some of the papers with him when he left and ordered dinner in his room at the hotel. He wasn’t done with the pressures of that day though. The clerk at the hotel brought a letter up to his room saying it had been delivered from a ship newly arrived in the harbor. It was a letter from his father and had likely been written soon after he had left to be here so soon after he had arrived. He put the somewhat thick envelope on the small table to the side of his bed. He didn’t think he would sleep at all if he read it then. All the guilt and recriminations flooded back then over the decisions that he had made. He could only wonder at what his family was thinking of him and what he had done.

As a result, the next day at work, Adam argued forcefully and somewhat disdainfully at times for the changes he had recommended. He got his way on most of them but at the expense of his relationship with most of the junior members of the firm who didn’t like the attitude of the new hire and hadn’t liked the hiring of an American anyway. His forceful style didn’t sit well with his boss either, but he seemed to be willing to tolerate and part of that was Adam’s skills and part of it was that he believed that there was a chance that Adam and Grace were attracted to one another. For the rest of the week, Adam threw himself into the work to show the others he was serious about what had to be done and to set an example. At the end of the day on Friday, he told Connor that he planned to go out on the weekend to visit all the sites the company owned to see the construction in person and get a good view of the terrain and the geology of the sites. Connor approved but had one question.

“Don’t you have plans with Grace this Saturday? And I thought we might see you and Grace for dinner on Sunday too.”

With an internal sigh, Adam generated a smile and agreed. “Yes, I’ll be sure to see Grace, and if she is willing, we will be there on Sunday for dinner.”

Connor was relieved by that and smiled as he left for the day. Like any business in Sydney, Adam stayed at work that evening until all his work was done. It was nearly ten before he walked out of the offices ready to head to his hotel. It was going to be a long walk unless he could find a carriage at that late hour. One was waiting at the curb surprising him. Grace leaned out the window.

“About time you got out here. I was having a difficult time staying awake. Connor said you would be working late but I never expected it to be nearly ten before I would see you.”

“Why are you here?”

“Well, you certainly are pleasant, aren’t you? Connor thought it would be a nice gesture if I got a carriage for you and he thought we could have dinner though I doubt we can find anywhere to have dinner now except at my house.”

“I wouldn’t be good company.”

“You aren’t good company already, but I’m willing to offer you something to eat and then you can take the carriage to the hotel. Is that acceptable to you? I can at least then tell Connor that I did as he wanted.” Shrugging, Adam climbed into the carriage. Taking that as an affirmative, Grace gave the driver instructions to go back to her home. “Now other than being tired, why are you such a croc?”

“Work has been difficult.”

“From what I’ve heard, you’ve been difficult at work.”

“If doing my job makes me difficult, then I am.” It was clear that Adam was irritated by her comment.

“I didn’t say I agreed with it. I only said that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t mean to lag on Connor but he doesn’t see you as a cut up but he doesn’t see you as a corker either. At this point, it could go either way. I seem to be the key.”

“I could nod, or I could be honest and say I didn’t understand what you just said.”

“Let’s talk over dinner where there are no other ears.” They were quiet then until they reached Grace’s house and were inside. As Grace got some food out in her kitchen, she told Adam to sit at the table. “We’ll eat here. I’m guessing you don’t mind a bit of informality.”

“No, now will you tell me what you said before?”

“Connor thinks you’re good at knowing what to do but not at getting along with the others. You don’t seem to know how to be diplomatic. As the new man, he expected you to be a bit diffident as a new hire here would be, but you’re brash and bold. He wasn’t ready for that. However, your work is above reproach.”

“That should be enough.”

“Oh, my, you don’t understand men like Connor at all, do you? He would have fired you the first day if not for me. You don’t give him the deference he thinks he deserves.”

“But he hasn’t and you think you’re the key?”

“I’m certain of it by things he’s said. He thinks that you are interested in me, and as a potential member of the family, you get a lot of leeway that another bloke would never get.”

“I never hear Connor or any of the men at the firm using language like you use.”

“They’re all such pikers who don’t want to adapt to the new land. It’s a new country and will have its own culture. They think they can keep the English culture intact here. It’s already been changed and it will continue to change. It just isn’t changing fast enough in some ways and its changing in wrong ways too.”

Raising an eyebrow, Adam cocked his head and contemplated Grace watching her expressions as well as reviewing what she had said. “What kind of problems are you having?”

“It’s nothing new and I should have expected it, but I was young and naïve.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“I know, and a polite person would have allowed me my evasion.”

“We’ve already established that I’m not polite.”

“Yes, perhaps that’s one of those habits you could work on changing. It’s the theme of Paul’s ministry, I’ve heard. I’m looking forward to hearing him preach on Sunday.”

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“I can see why they’re frustrated with you at work. You’re certainly persistent and it’s irritating. You know that, don’t you? You could get along better with people if you had more concern for their feelings.”

“If you didn’t want to tell me, you would say that. All this evasion only tells me that you would like to tell me but are uncomfortable doing so. Are you going to tell me now or continue this silly conversation?”

“You are maddening.” Keeping his silence, Adam couldn’t help a small smirk from appearing. “I bet smirking is another bad habit you have.” Adam still said nothing. “All right, then, I’ll tell you. My parents indulged me. I wanted to go to school which isn’t the normal thing for young ladies. Most only want to be schooled enough to be a cultured wife and mother and attend the best dances and such. I wanted more. They sent me to England so I could attend a good school because I couldn’t do that here. I studied science and then I begged them to let me study medicine. I’m a doctor, but when I got back home, my parents were ill. They died within months of my return. I inherited their wealth, but even that has not opened any doors here. I cannot use my education. No one will allow me to use what I learned.”

“Surely there must be a need for doctors here.”

“There is, but not for a woman doctor.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Thank you. I wish you were in charge.”

“Can’t your cousin open some doors for you?”

“I’m assuming that you mean that he could help me get started, but he’s one of the main impediments. He doesn’t want me to practice medicine and no one will help me if it means being in opposition to one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Sydney.”

Their conversation had occurred as Grace had brought out food and set it on the table and provided plates and utensils. They ate quickly then in near silence before making plans for the next evening.

“You said before that you’re the key to my staying in my job. Is that because Connor isn’t happy with my attitude and my manner but thinks I will be the one to marry you and make you respectable in his eyes? I’ll be able to support you and keep you from practicing medicine?”

“Yes, that about sums it up. And for me, you keep him from trying to match me up with old men who want a young wife and would settle for me.” Seeing Adam’s look, Grace nodded. “Yes, he’s already tried that a few times. Younger men simply find me unacceptable, so he’s looked to older men who would find my wealth and youth sufficient enticement to offset my other characteristics.”

“Your other characteristics?”

“I have opinions and I’m not shy about expressing them and I desire to have a job other than being a wife and mother.”

“Is there something wrong about being a wife and mother?”

“I suppose that’s what you want.”

“Yes, if I married, I would expect a woman who would want to be a wife. That seems only logical, and I would expect that she would want children too. It seems natural to me that those things would be part of marriage.”

“Part of marriage? So would you want your wife to work?”

“Want her to work? I don’t know if I would want her to work, but if she worked, that would not be a problem for me, or rather that would not stop me from wishing to marry her.”

“Well, you are an odd one.”

“I’ve been getting that response all my life.”

“That sounds like the subject for another night. It’s late though. Now, you should probably go so you can get some sleep. The carriage is outside for you. The driver has been paid.”

“Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow evening then, but let’s keep the conversation light. I would like to know more about Sydney and Australia especially some of the words you use. I want to fit in better here, and I think you could help me with that better than anyone at work. I also need to find a more permanent place to live, and you perhaps could give me some ideas about that.”

Grace agreed and that’s what they did over dinner and then at the theater. Adam spent the two days touring the company’s sites and looking over company building plans on Sunday evening after returning from dinner at the Fawlkes home. He felt better about work until he arrived at the office on Monday morning. His associates had found a way to get back at him without seeming to do so. He walked into his office and found a stunningly beautiful woman there.

“Ah, excuse me, but who are you?”

“I’m Prudence Clark and I’ve been assigned to be your clerk. You didn’t have one, and they assigned me to be yours.”

When she said she was to be his, Adam’s mind couldn’t help but do to some fantasies even though he banished the thoughts as soon as they appeared in his mind. It didn’t help though. She made his temperature and his heart rate rise.

“I don’t need a clerk.”

“Everyone here has one. You can’t fire me. Only Mister Collingwood can do that. He’s in charge of all the clerks.”

Turning on his heel, Adam left the office and headed out to find Collingwood who told him that all other clerks already had assignments so that Prudence was the only one available. He countered every argument Adam made until Adam left in frustration. Collingwood sneered in satisfaction and several others crowded into his office to share in his glee. It was the first step in their plan to make Adam’s life miserable. He would either quit or get fired. They didn’t care which it was.

Across town, a friend of Collingwood was reporting to their main competitor about what was happening. “We won’t have to worry too long about Cartwright helping them out of the messes that last man we set them up with created. He correctly identified all the problems and how to fix them, but the fools are insulted by what he told them and want to get rid of him. It shouldn’t take long.”

“We have a problem though. He’s seeing Grace, and her cousin won’t fire him as long as he thinks he’s got a potential suitor for her. We need to ruin that too.”

“We’ll come up with something, sir. The bloke won’t know what hit him.”

*****

Chapter 5

On Monday evening, Adam sat in his hotel room and picked up the letter from home. He had been putting it off long enough and guessed that no matter what was in it, he couldn’t feel worse than he already did. He opened the letter and began to read and was surprised by the contents because he had expected some recrimination but the letter was more melancholy than anything. His father was honest in laying out everything confirming Adam’s suspicions about what Troian had planned to do. What surprised him next was that his father had decided that he had a chance at happiness in the marriage despite all that had happened. Apparently he had found a way to work out a relationship with Troian that was beyond Adam’s ability to understand at that moment although he did know that his father was in love with her so he guessed that was part of it. His father’s ability to forgive was legendary to the extent that Adam had sometimes thought it far too magnanimous but in the present circumstances, it was the best for all probably. Then the saddest and most joyful part of the letter was the part about Jamie. It was clear that Ben was proud of the little boy but yet held some concern that he was raising his grandson as his son. There was no helping that at the moment though. He ended with the chilling words that Adam had already accepted in his heart. Someday Jamie would have to be told the truth even though it would likely shake his faith in his family especially in his mother, but Ben was correct. Jamie had a right to know his heritage and Adam would have to face it with him someday. He had trouble sleeping that night which put him at a disadvantage at work the next day and that was especially a problem with problems mounting there for him.

At the first meeting of the day, Connor Fawlkes was in a foul mood. He had a set of blueprints and errors had been pointed out in them. He laid them in front of Adam and demanded to know how he had let such shoddy work go down to be copies. After looking at them, Adam said that those were not the plans he had drawn. He sent Prudence to his office to get the originals, but she couldn’t find them. Frustrated, Adam went to his office and couldn’t find them either. At that point, he had a good idea of what had happened yet he had no way to prove it. He went back and gathered up the faulty blueprints and told his boss he would have corrected blueprints ready by the end of the day. Then he went through all the rest of the plans he had worked on and found that a few others were missing too. He would have to redo those too but sent Prudence downstairs to make sure they weren’t already being copied. One difficulty now was that he was going to have to take all of his work with him every day or face this kind of sabotage. Without any idea why it was happening, he had no other way to fight it. He and Connor Fawlkes were not yet on a footing where he could confide in him, be trusted, and work together to find a solution so he too was in a foul mood the rest of the week because in many ways he had never felt so alone. Prudence made no secret that she would be willing to offer solace or anything else he wanted, but Adam was sure that was one habit he wanted to break. He didn’t want to get involved with a woman because she was beautiful and because he wanted company so he fought the urge although there were moments he wished he had simply told her to come home with him. According to office gossip, Adam knew she wanted a husband and a home, and he was lonely. She apparently thought that was all there was to life. He wished life was so simple and thought that perhaps to her it was.

On Friday, there was some good news as the foreman of the construction crew at the waterfront warehouse project said that things were back on schedule with the new plans and that Adam showing up the previous Saturday had helped increase the confidence of the men in the safety of the project. He expressed a desire to see Adam there again, and Adam said he planned to be there on that Saturday. The man smiled and tentatively put out his hand which Adam took. It signaled the beginning of a great working relationship. Much of the firm’s reputation hinged on the very public nature of that project so Connor was pleased to see the two men working so well together and that the project was back on schedule because of Adam’s work. As Adam and the foreman walked out, the man had a request of Adam.

“Tomorrow when you come by, I want you to look over the plans for the work we’re supposed to do next week.”

“Why? Is there something wrong?”

“Maybe I’m a suspicious bloke and maybe I’m cockeyed about it all, but something seems off about those papers. I’d like you to look at ’em, mate.”

After agreeing to do that, Adam bid the man goodbye and then went to his office to collect all his papers as he did each day. One of the men there, Collingwood, asked him why he did that every day.

“I work at home. I haven’t anything else to do most evenings.”

It seemed to satisfy the man, but Adam had noted that Collingwood watched him quite often. He began to wonder if he was the one responsible for the sabotage although he knew he couldn’t be doing it alone. He went home alone although Prudence once more offered to help him with the papers he had to take with him. She was nice enough and he could use the help but couldn’t allow himself to go down that road. After making her disappointment clear, Prudence left for the day. Adam walked out alone and was a bit nervous when he thought that two men were following him. Luckily, Grace showed up with her carriage. Adam climbed aboard with a smile.

“Well, that’s a pleasant change. I thought you were always going to greet me with a scowl.”

“I’m very grateful for the ride and especially the timeliness of it.”

Cocking her head to the side, Grace wondered at his comment. Looking out the side window of the carriage, she saw two rough looking men staring at the carriage. “Were those two men following you? They do look like they may have meant some harm to you.”

“I had the same thought. It seemed unlikely in this part of town.” Adam raised both hands as if to say he didn’t know.

Grace looked back again and the two men had departed. “They’re gone now. You didn’t know them?”

Simply raising his eyebrows was the only answer Adam gave which made Grace smile. “Now, perhaps you could tell me why I was graced with your presence at such an advantageous time.”

“Some friends are giving a party and asked me to attend. I thought perhaps you might like to go.” She saw his look. “It’s in the country, and it’s an overnight invitation. I thought you might enjoy seeing a bit more of the countryside.”

“I’m sorry, but I promised to be at the warehouse building site on the quay tomorrow morning.”

“And I suppose you always keep your word.”

“Yes, I do.”

That gave Grace pause as she contemplated what he had said and how easily he had said it. “I bet you do. You are always direct. That’s a habit you should keep even if some don’t like it. There are too many who aren’t direct and you’re always guessing what they’re thinking.”

“So what are you thinking right now?”

“I’m wondering how long you’ll be working tomorrow and if we are going to be seeing each other this weekend. I want to be able to tell Connor that we spent at least one evening together. He didn’t extend an invitation to Sunday dinner this week. He seems a bit put out with you.”

So Adam explained what had happened at work as they drove to his hotel. Then Grace told him she had located a small house for him to rent or buy and said they could go see it that evening if he wished. He put his things in the hotel room and then they took the carriage to go see the house. The two men who had been following them were disappointed and turned back to tell their bosses that the plan would have to be delayed or altered as Adam was going to be in Grace’s company that night. Adam liked the house Grace had found which pleased her. He got the information from her to make the arrangements to rent it delaying a decision on purchasing it for the time being. It was partially furnished so he could move in simply by taking his bags from the hotel to the house. He planned to do that as soon as he could complete the transaction.

“We can actually do that tonight. I own the house.”

“You own it? Then why didn’t you tell me about it sooner?”

“It only became available this week. The man you replaced at the firm used to rent it. His daughter came and got his things this week. I think you might know his daughter. She works at the firm yet, although I don’t know how she can show her face there. She begged Connor to keep her on after her father did his dastardly deeds and then left. She claimed she knew nothing of what he had done and would be destitute without the job as her father had abandoned her. Connor felt sorry for her. It probably helped that she’s pretty. Men are so predictable sometimes. Her name is Prudence.”

Grace was unable to decipher the look on Adam’s face at first because she didn’t know him well enough, but though she was unfamiliar with some American expletives, she knew enough to know how furious he was as he let loose with a string of them. She waited until his anger was nearly spent and then had to ask.

“Somehow that name seems to have unleashed the beast. Surely I deserve an explanation after enduring that rather boorish behavior from you.”

“I am sorry, and I do apologize for using that language in front of you. You didn’t deserve that performance, but I have escaped the fangs of one diamondback only to find myself stuck in the middle of a den of them here.”

“Pardon me, but what is a diamondback?”

“I’m sorry. It’s a rattlesnake. It’s a major threat to men and stock back home. Its bite is venomous and the Mojave one is especially nasty.”

“What’s a Mojave and how is that applicable here?”

So after explaining about diamondbacks and the paralysis that the Mojave diamondback can cause, Adam told her about the problem with the plans and sending Prudence, his clerk, to find the originals which she couldn’t find and then sending her to the copy room to be sure that other plans were not being copied incorrectly. He told her that Collingwood had been watching him seemingly an inordinate amount of the time and that he was the one who had made the assignment of Prudence to work as his clerk.

“If you can, you should find out from your cousin who got my predecessor hired at the firm. If Collingwood had anything to do with it, I think we may be onto those who are carrying on the sabotage that is happening at the firm.”

“It’s still happening?”

“I told you my plans were altered. Someone did that to make sure there were errors. They wanted to either make the building project unstable or to get me fired so I wouldn’t fix any more of the problems.”

Grace was quiet for only a moment. “Of perhaps both. Adam, you need to go to Connor with this.”

“Why would he believe me? What evidence do I have? It’s all conjecture, even if it’s damn good conjecture.”

“What can we do then? If there’s another catastrophe, Connor could lose his company. He’ll own property but nothing more.”

“We? You’re not going to do anything.”

“You’re not going to do that thing where a woman can’t do anything, are you, because that will make me quite angry with you.”

“No, you’re going to act as if all is normal. I’m going to move into this house, but I am going to start working more closely with the men who are actually doing the construction. I need to find what is being done behind my back. It’s the only way to find out who is doing it.”

“But how will you prove it?”

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’ll make duplicates of everything I do from now on and give the copies to Connor. He’ll have the option then of checking to see what the work looks like on the copy floor and with the junior architects. He can go to the sites too although I doubt he will. I’ll do that. Somewhere along the way, we’ll find who’s making the changes to wreck his company. He won’t believe me, but he’ll have the copies. My guess is that his curiosity will get the better of him, and he’ll look at my plans, and then he’ll go look at what’s being done in his company.”

“So, he’ll find the rat.”

“Rats. I’m sure there’s more than one or two. Collingwood and Prudence certainly, but who’s doing the legwork? There’s at least one more.”

“Those two men could have been following you to do you harm then. You could be in danger if they think that you’re too much trouble.”

“I don’t think they’re going to do anything too obvious like that, but I am worried that they will try to set me up somehow. Now, let’s go get some dinner, get my things, and you can drop me off here later. I’m looking forward to sleeping here and not having to listen to the noises from adjoining rooms and people coming in late and being too loud in the hallways. The doors there don’t do much to keep out sound.”

“As your landlord, I can do that.”

“Grace, no talking about this at dinner or outside. We don’t know whom to trust.”

“Can I talk to Connor about it?”

Sighing, Adam wasn’t sure but nodded. “I have to trust your judgment on that one, but if you trust me, maybe that will help him accept what I have to say.”

“I hope you’re right that they won’t do anything to you. I’m not too sure, and I hope that overconfidence isn’t one of your faults. They did cause those men to die in that collapse of the wall at the warehouse. Killing men doesn’t seem to bother them.”

They ended their evening with that somber thought.

*****

Chapter 6

The next morning, Adam was up early. He had no food in his new home so he headed out early to get something to eat and to head to the building site on the quay. He had a nagging feeling that there was something about the house that he should have discussed with Grace but couldn’t think of what it could be. He wasn’t used to being a renter and thought he would have to think about it later. When he got to the building site, he sought out the building foreman and asked to see the plans. It didn’t take him long to find the problems he had expected to see. He asked for pencils and began drawing in the corrections that were needed. The foreman stood by his side and nodded occasionally and muttered expletives as well. He saw what Adam was doing and realized how important some of the changes were once he saw them drawn in.

“Jingoes, but they’re thinking we’re all mugs. Glad you’re here though. Now, what can you do about it or do we have to deal with this all the time? The lads aren’t going to want to work here if they find out some ratbag is sending us cockeyed plans could send us all into dark water.”

“I’m working on doing something about this, but there’s going to be some trouble before this is all worked out. I don’t know who’s behind it, and I’m new here. People don’t trust me yet.”

“After what you done for us already, we do. We’ll do what we can. You ask and we’ll be there.”

“Thank you, but at this point, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have some idea who’s out to sabotage me, but what I don’t know is why and what their goal is.”

“It seems they want this project to fail.”

“I think that’s probably true. It may be possible then that they want the company to fail, but why are they trying to ruin me.”

“Mate, you’re being a bit dense on that one. Ruining you helps ruin the company. I’m not feeling too safe myself now.”

” You need to talk to your lads then and have them watch your back especially when you leave work each day.”

“You think it’s that serious?”

Not answering except with a look, Adam got his message across anyway. Then he reminded the foreman about the wall that had collapsed and how they hadn’t cared that men had died in that catastrophe. They agreed to meet on a regular basis to go over plans to make sure there was no unsafe building taking place.

With all of his business concerns addressed, Adam headed home then to get ready to meet Grace later for dinner and the theater. He had a bit of extra time so he stopped at a few markets and bought some food and some other things he could use in his new home. The shopping took longer than he planned so that he had to hurry as he became aware of the time. When he arrived home with his parcels, he wasn’t paying close attention and wasn’t that familiar with his new accommodations yet anyway. He didn’t realize that things were not as they should be so he was taken completely by surprise when two men stepped from his bedroom and grabbed him as he walked down the short hallway to bring new bed linens there. He struggled but they were ready for him and a cloth with a drug was held over his mouth and nose. He couldn’t help breathing in the fumes and slowly succumbed to its effects. Once he was put under, other drugs were administered using a funnel and a hose, and he was stripped and put in the bed. Then Prudence came into the room wearing only a thin robe. The men told her to be ready, and they took up positions to wait for Grace’s arrival telling Prudence that it was handy that she had kept a duplicate key to the house. Gradually Adam came to from the drug that had rendered him unconscious but was delirious with the second drug that had been administered and was still affected by the original drug as well. Other drugs were administered when they worried that he might not be completely in their control. He fell into unconsciousness again.

Riding to Adam’s place, Grace was in a good mood. She had talked to Connor, and although he was a bit skeptical, he had admitted that Adam’s conjecture did make a great deal of sense. He did say that if Adam gave him duplicate copies of his work, they would have a good plan for seeing if there was someone altering plans in the business. He didn’t think Collingwood could be involved because the man was always acting like such a good friend but was willing to believe that Prudence could be part of a conspiracy against him. It wasn’t a complete acceptance but did open the door for them to find out what was happening. The other reason for Grace’s good mood was that she was finding that she liked Adam a great deal and was wondering if he might feel the same way. Although their arrangement had been for mutual convenience, it was clear they were becoming friends, and she wondered if there might possibly be more for them in the future. Smiling when her driver stopped the carriage by Adam’s house, Grace waited for him to come out. When he didn’t, she frowned because he had said he would be ready to go and would be outside as soon as she arrived. Instead, she climbed down and told the driver she would be right back. Knocking on the door, she got no answer but checking the door found it was unlocked, so she entered. She heard some moans and such so she hurried down the hall to the bedroom only to stand in shock in the doorway. Then she fled the scene she thought she would never forget. She had seen Adam naked in bed with Prudence who was laying on top of him. His arms had been around her neck and her arms were around his shoulders as she moaned and writhed on his body. She rushed from the house and climbed into the carriage telling the driver to take her home. She leaned back into the seat and cried muffling the sound with her scarf pushing it into her mouth. What she wanted to do most was to scream. She cried until she was weak and had no more sobs left in her. All her hopes had been dashed so suddenly.

Then though, her medical training took over. She had heard only sounds coming from Prudence and seen movement only from Prudence. Then she remembered that she had seen Adam naked and he had a completely naked woman laying atop him and yet there had been no physical reaction that one would have expected in such a situation. Knowing as much as she knew of Adam and though that was limited after only a few weeks, she couldn’t imagine him being so passive in such a situation and allowing a woman to take the lead. She didn’t know much about making love but she could guess some things. She rapped to get the driver’s attention and told him to drive back to Adam’s house. She approached the house more tentatively the second time and found the door unlocked as it had been the first time. However on entering, there were no sounds. She called Adam’s name and got no response. Moving down the hallway, she felt her heart pounding in her chest and she wondered if she should be doing this or if she ought to retreat. She took a deep breath and kept going. Pausing at the bedroom door, she took another deep breath, listened and heard nothing, and then stepped up and took a look. It was shocking but in an entirely different way. Adam was still naked and still laying on his back, but he was alone and clearly unconscious. She hurried to his side and took his vital signs. He was alive. She slapped his cheeks, called his name, and did her best to see if she could get some response. He moaned a little and then began to retch. She pulled him onto his side as he emptied his stomach. It was a good thing he did so even if it made a huge mess. She could smell the drugs in the contents. He coughed and the smell told her that he had been given an anesthetic too. Close to him now, she could see the bruises developing on his arms, face, and stomach. He had obviously been physically subdued.

“Oh, Adam, what have they done to you?”

Pushing Adam onto his back again, Grace began working on removing the soiled linens from the bed. She had seen some new linens dropped on the floor just inside the door so she knew she could replace these. She got those and after rolling Adam back and then forth, she had the soiled linens removed and clean ones on the bed. After wiping Adam’s face and chest, she pulled a sheet over him, and then looked for a clean blanket and covered him. She put a pillow under his head and decided what she needed before she went to talk to the driver. He returned in about an hour with the things she had requested, but when she dismissed him, he went to her cousin and reported what had happened thinking that he needed to do that to protect her. Connor showed up at the house when she was bringing tea to Adam to try to get him to drink something.

“Grace, get your things together. You can’t stay here.”

“Why not. I’m taking care of Adam. He’s sick.” Grace turned her back on Connor then and continued down the hallway and went into Adam’s bedroom.

Frustrated, Connor followed and was quite astonished to find Grace attempting to get Adam into more of an upright position. “Grace, he’s naked.”

“Well, under these covers, he is, but all that anyone can see is his chest and arms now. Help me get these pillows behind him, will you? He’s still half out of his head, and I need to get him to drink this tea. The more tea I can get him to drink, the faster he can recover from the drugs.”

“Drugs?”

“Yes, he was drugged. He can’t be left alone. Now will you help me or not?”

Left without much choice, Connor helped her and then stood by as she helped Adam drink tea one small sip at a time almost as one would coax a child to drink. As she did so, she slowly told the story to Connor who was aghast at the narrative finding it hard to believe.

“You’re sure this is what happened?”

“Connor, it’s clear he was drugged into near senselessness. You can see the bruises on him. Yes, I believe that’s what happened. Until he gets his senses, we can’t ask him any more questions. He may not be able to tell him anything much more than what we already know. I think they used an anesthetic on him almost immediately to subdue him.”

“You’ve seen him completely naked then?”

“That’s the part you’re worried about? Connor, I’ve been trained as a doctor. It may surprise you to know I’ve seen other people naked too. I would see more that way if anyone would allow me to use my education.”

“Grace, we’ve been through that. It isn’t proper. Your parents indulged you far too much.”

“Oh, go on home then. I can take care of Adam. I only need to give him tea.”

“But what will you do when he’s had a lot of tea?”

“I’ll give him the chamberpot. What else would you have me do?”

Exasperated with her, Connor sighed. “I’ll stay. I’ll not have you dealing with him in that situation. I’ll take care of that when the need arises.”

“Fine!” Actually Grace was relieved because she had been a bit worried that those who had done this might return. Having Connor there made her feel safer. Within the hour, Adam did become more alert. Grace began asking him questions and as expected found that he didn’t know much of what had happened. Once he realized he was naked in his bed, he did want to know what had happened. She told him what she knew and could see how embarrassed he was by that revelation.

“So, they set me up well. Prudence turned in her key but obviously had another. They were in the house even though the door was locked when I returned. There were two men. I never saw Prudence but she must have been here. Grace, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It was set up to put a wedge between us.” Adam leaned back and put a hand to his forehead because he had a raging headache yet from the drugs.

“Well, it won’t work.”

Looking up, Adam reminded her that they could have killed him with what they had done. Murder apparently was something they were willing to do. “Grace, they’re dangerous. They’re far more dangerous than I had thought. I was wrong about them.” Putting his head down on his arms, Adam looked up with a frown after a few minutes. “Perhaps, we should let it work.”

Shocked, Grace shook her head, but Connor nodded because he had been thinking along the same lines as Adam. “He’s right, Grace. If they think it worked, then they won’t do anything else to the two of you. We’ll see what else they have in store though. The two of you will need to stay away from each other. No more dinners and theater outings.”

In a voice that was still weak and hoarse from what he had endured, Adam had more to say. “That means I don’t have any insurance at work either. Something is going to happen there too, Connor. They’re going to do something to make me look very bad, and you’ll have to fire me. Without me seeing Grace, you’ll have no incentive to keep me on if I mess up.” Thoughtful then, Adam asked them if they would look in the next room to see if his plans were still there. They looked. The plans were all gone. “Those were my copies. Prudence knew I had them. Now I have no proof of the work I did. They can put anything in place and say it was my work.”

“And with no defense, I’ll have to fire you.”

“I think my future with your firm is going to be very short.”

“What will you do?”

“I think there’s a construction crew building a warehouse on the quay that might hire me if you don’t mind. They might like me to look over the building plans they get and redraw any parts that aren’t properly drawn so that the work can proceed safely.” Adam smiled actually looking forward to working with men he could respect.

“You’ll be recognized.”

“I’ll shave off most of the beard and leave only a mustache, and wear different clothing. I’ll use my grandfather’s name. They won’t be expecting me to do construction work so they won’t be looking for me there. I think it can work.”

Grace didn’t like it, but there were no specific objections she could make. Quite early on Sunday, she and Connor left as Adam, although pale and weak, was recovered enough and they needed to be sure that their presence wouldn’t be discovered. Adam blocked his door with a chair and planned to get a new place probably closer to the construction site. He only needed a small apartment.

On Monday, Connor was presented with complaints about Adam’s shoddy work and stacks of evidence to back up the complaints. He had little choice except to let him go. Adam made the expected argument that the work was not what he had done. He could see Collingwood smirking in the background. Prudence wasn’t there. He was forced to clean out his office and leave before the end of the day. He went to the house he had rented, shaved, got his bags, and headed out to find a new place to live.

*****

Chapter 7

When Adam had cleaned out his office, he had packed up some things that he delivered to Connor’s office and thanked him for loaning those things to him. Connor had not loaned anything to Adam but accepted the items knowing that there was some message being sent to him even if he didn’t know what it was. After Adam left, he unpacked the small box and read through the notes that Adam had packed inside with a few items. He leaned back in his chair and chuckled for his new friend and ally was very clever indeed and had looked for something that Connor had not noticed at all. Without giving anything away, Adam had noted the most important part of the set-up that had gotten him fired. The men who had stolen the plans from his house on Saturday had taken everything which included the plans Adam had been working on to correct some problems in Connor’s house and to add on to it. Those plans had been included in the ones presented to Connor to prove Adam’s incompetence with alterations made to make the plans faulty. Adam noted that Connor should try to remember who exactly had handed that set of plans to him because he had never worked on those plans at the office. The only way anyone could have those plans was to be part of the conspiracy. Connor did remember quite well and now knew another member of the conspiracy. Again it wasn’t someone he would have suspected otherwise but it made sense. He was a friend of Collingwood. Connor noted too that Prudence wasn’t at work and asked about her later that day saying she would have to re-assigned. No one seemed to know why she wasn’t there. That seemed odd, but he wondered if she was like her father and had run when the going got too hot.

After clearing out his belongings from the house he had rented from Grace, Adam headed to the waterfront to find an apartment on his own. He had shaved off most of his beard and left only a brushy mustache. He wore his black shirt and well-worn black pants as well as his comfortable boots. He packed away his finer clothes in one valise suspecting he wouldn’t be using them for quite some time. As he traveled toward his destination, he stopped in a shop and bought a few more plain shirts, a coat, and a hat. Loaded down with his two heavy bags and with an additional package, he stopped in a pub for something to eat. As expected, the waitress asked if he was looking for a place to live. He was and asked if she knew of a place. Of course she did and soon he was on his way there. The apartment was very small but the door was solid wood and there was only one window with no way for anyone to get into the second floor window without a ladder. He paid the landlord for a month and took the key. He settled in his two room apartment and relaxed for the first time since he had awakened ill and found Grace tending to him with an angry Connor in the background. So much had happened since then that it seemed that a lot of time must have passed but it was only a few days. He didn’t have any food again, and looking at the door, decided he could easily install a bar across it to give himself more protection in case someone else had a key. He had an hour or two of daylight left so he headed out to take care of a few purchases and returned to find that his safety measure was still in place. He had placed a small piece of paper in the door as he closed it. It was still there so no one had likely entered his apartment or if they had, they had noticed the tiny piece of paper and managed to replace it in the exact position it had been in when he had left. Feeling confident, he entered his apartment with his purchases and set to work installing the bar across the door. Then he fixed himself a dinner before he laid down to get some sleep. The next morning, he headed to the quay again placing the small piece of paper in the door as his warning if someone had entered his apartment.

“Well, we don’t have any openings on the construction crew right now.”

“Mate, I think we already have an arrangement, but you’ll have to hire me to continue it.”

Shocked, the foreman, stopped and took a close look. “Adam? Now why are you dressed like that, and what happened to you? You look like bloody hell.”

So Adam told him the whole story or at least enough of it for him to understand what had happened while deleting the more embarrassing aspects of it. When he finished, the foreman had sympathy for him but wasn’t surprised.

“I figured they was gonna get you. Now, how we gonna work it here?”

“I do know how to handle a hammer and saw, but I’ll need time too to look over the plans and make sure that you’re not working with faulty plans. By working with the crews, I can keep an eye on the materials too to make sure they aren’t supplying shoddy materials too. I’m sure they’re out to cause another collapse. My guess is that as far along as these buildings are, the next collapse will be the roof of at least one. That could be very dangerous to your crews and more men could die.”

“Lots of these blokes could die. Almost all the work we’re doing now is inside. If a roof drops, everyone inside will be caught underneath tons of wood and ironwork.”

“So, Mister Spencer, you know what we have to do.”

“Call me Spence like everybody else. Now, what are we gonna call you?”

“Call me AC. I’ll use Abel C. Stoddard as my name here. It’s my grandfather’s name and the name I used to rent an apartment too. When I was in college, some called me AC so I’ll answer to that naturally.”

“The lads know there’s no openings on the crew so I’ll have to tell them a story. The likeliest is that you’re a distant cousin of Fawlkes and he wants me to give you a job. They may give you a bit of a blue at first about things but if you show ’em you’re no bludger, then things will go just fine. It’ll be a good way to explain why you should come on in the office too when Fawlkes himself is here.”

“All right, then, I suppose you ought to put me to work.”

For the rest of the week and the next, things went about as they expected. Adam kept a close eye on the construction plans making sure that all was being built safely. On the following Friday, Connor showed up with the full set of plans and had Adam take a look. After only a short time, Adam looked up shocked at what he saw. Connor shook his head.

“Yes, I saw it too. They’re getting impatient, it seems. You’ve corrected so many of the problems they built in that there have been no collapses so they built in one integral to the whole support of the roof system that is sure to have devastating consequences if the building proceeds as specified.”

“We can’t do it. Men will die.”

“I know, but if we don’t, they’re going to do something else.”

“Do you know who they are yet?”

“Yes, but Prudence seems to have disappeared, and we don’t know who the two men who attacked you are and we don’t know who is behind Collingwood and Yates. They’re the ones directing the sabotage, but someone else is directing them. I have detectives working on it and have alerted the authorities, but we have no idea yet who is doing it.”

“We need to find out soon. This is coming to a head, and they’re going to take drastic action. We can see that from what these plans show. If not for you looking for it and for me, this would be built in because only a trained architect would spot it.”

“It could be that they’re trying to ferret out who is finding their sabotage and correcting it too. Watch out for lags and spies here too. We don’t know all these men that well, and greed can corrupt even some who seem upright.”

“We’ll have to bring some others into it to keep a watch. I’ll have to trust Spence to know who we can trust.”

“He’s a good man. Tell him there’s a bonus in this for him. He deserves one.” Pausing then for a moment, Connor wondered if he should say what else was on his mind but decided to forge ahead. He wasn’t known for his subtle approach to anything. “Grace has been asking about you. What should I tell her?”

“I guess that all is going as expected.” Adam did his best to keep his voice neutral. It had affected him to hear that Grace was interested, but he didn’t want to let Connor know that.

“It was all a sham, wasn’t it? You and Grace, I mean. The two of you weren’t romantically involved at all, were you? I’m guessing you never even have kissed her.”

“No, I’ve never kissed her.” That much he could honestly say. What he couldn’t admit to Connor was that she was in his thoughts frequently and in his dreams often. He missed her. He didn’t even like admitting that to himself. He didn’t like that habit of falling in love so easily and wanted to banish those thoughts and feelings. However that was definitely easier an easier decision to make than to carry out.

“Ah, well, I guess she is destined to be alone. I’ve done my best, but no man can seem to be interested in her for long the way she is.”

At that point, Adam wanted to defend her but didn’t knowing that would likely give him away. Instead he said nothing more except to bid farewell to Connor and say he might see him in church on Sunday although they of course would sit in different sections and neither would acknowledge the other. It was a warning though to Connor’s wife and to Grace to do the same. Connor understood and said he would let the ladies know.

Paul and Rachel were under no such restrictions and greeted Adam warmly after services on Sunday although Adam hung back until nearly everyone else was gone and quickly asked them to call him AC or Abel. They frowned a bit but complied inviting him into the rectory for a visit.

“I almost did not recognize you without the beard and with only the mustache, but the clothing was familiar as was your walk. Now, you haven’t gotten yourself into trouble here, have you?” Paul was very concerned and questioned Adam as Rachel went to the kitchen to get some lunch for them.

“No, not trouble in the usual sense, but yes trouble of a sort. I should wait until Rachel is here because I know she’s trying to listen from the kitchen and it will be so much easier to tell all of it with both of you here.” Once lunch was set out, Adam told the whole story. He was a gifted storyteller and had the two mesmerized by the tale.

“So now you are trying to lure the shadowy figures behind this conspiracy to make some move to allow you to identify them or you hope the authorities will do so?”

“That’s about it.”

“But Adam, what if it’s like San Francisco and other cities, and the authorities and the men in power are one and the same or tied together so tightly that it is about the same?”

Adam had thought about that, and it was what worried him most. Rachel looked back and forth from Paul to Adam. With a bit of a sickly smile, Adam shrugged. Hoping to improve the tone of the conversation, Rachel decided to share her news.

“Paul and I have good news. We didn’t know it when we were on the ship. We’ve been waiting so many years and I thought it would never happen. I thought God wasn’t going to give us another chance, but He is.”

“Congratulations. I’m very happy for you. I know this is what you needed, and He knew it too. You’ll be such good parents and this is a wonderful place for a family.”

Grinning at being able to share such good news, Paul turned the conversation back to Adam. “How about you, Adam? How are you doing at changing your life?”

That gave Adam reason to pause. “I don’t know. I am being more honest with myself, I guess. I have opened up more to a few people. Those are positive steps.”

“Adam, I sense a ‘but’ in there. What are you holding back? Is it about Grace?”

Adam looked at Paul with a frown. “You have a bad habit of doing that.”

“Doing what?” Although Paul had to smile because he had a very good idea what it was.

“You know what it is. You guess rather accurately sometimes what my issue is based only on a small amount of information.”

“To be honest, it’s probably how you said her name. It was very different from how you said any other name you used. There was a distinctly different tone about it, warmer if you know what I mean, and I think you do.”

“I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want to fall in love with a woman I hardly know. It hasn’t worked out ever before. It’s one of those habits you’ve talked about that I need to change.”

“Then change it.”

“So I should walk away from her even though there are so many things about her that I admire and like?”

“No, I’m not saying that, but you started out by saying you wanted to be friends with her. Well, why can’t you pursue that? Go on with the friendship. You said you haven’t kissed her. Well, don’t. Keep it platonic. Keep it friendship until you do know her better.”

“Then when I’ve gotten to know her better and she knows me, we can make a more rational decision?”

“I’m not sure that it will be entirely logical and rational. Feelings will always be a big part of a decision to be romantic and then perhaps to marry, but yes, you will have a better basis for knowing if it is a good choice for you.”

By the time Adam left his visit with Paul and Rachel, he felt more at peace with himself about several things, but the problem looming over the construction of the warehouses still loomed. He wondered too if there were similar problems being set up with the mines that Connor owned because he hadn’t even had time to get a look at those projects yet even though originally those were supposed to be the main focus of his work. He decided that the next thing he had to do was to talk to Paul about that. However when he got back to his apartment, he found he had another problem. The piece of paper had fallen from the door and was laying on the top step. Someone had been there and probably gone through his things including the valise he had shoved away under his bed. It contained his more formal clothing and the letter from his father. He pulled it out and looked through it. The letter was missing. Someone now had it and knew who he was. He packed his valises and prepared to leave again. However, he guessed they would be watching the door. He climbed out the bedroom window and dropped the ten feet to the ground after dropping his two valises first. Once more, he needed a place to live and this time, he needed it to be where no one could find him.

As Adam moved stealthily through the shadows and away, he didn’t think he was detected, but within a few blocks, a carriage seemed to be following him. He had his pistol strapped on under his coat and was prepared to use it. He kept the carriage in sight and when it pulled close, he got himself behind some cover and pulled the pistol. Instead of a threat though, he heard Spence’s voice.

“Don’t be a fool. Get on over here before someone sees you and shoots you or us.”

Surprised, Adam hurried to the carriage only to halt before entering when he saw Prudence inside with Spence.

“Get on in. It ain’t as bad as it looks. She’s got a story to tell, and we needs to get along on down the road a piece. Hurry now, mate. Things are getting dicey around here.”

Uneasy, Adam got in only because he trusted Spence and it likely couldn’t be any worse than being out in the street. He leaned back in the seat and looked across at Prudence. She cringed under his hostile stare. Spence told her that it was no time to lose her courage.

“Go on, now, you need to tell him everything you told me, and don’t leave anything out.”

*****

Chapter 8

“She came down to the dock area looking for you today. A couple of the lads were in a pub and overheard her asking a waitress some questions. They followed her and then let me know what was going on. I didn’t know where you were but we caught up with her. She was scared and the story she told us, if it’s true, is cause enough to make anybody scared. That’s when we decided to look for you. I had the lads watch for you. They saw you head to your place but then saw that there were people watching for you to do that. I stayed back with the carriage and her, and they snuck up as close as they could to help you thinking them two men watching were going try to get to you. That’s when they saw you drop out the window. The two men watching you were on the other side heading up the stairs so they didn’t see that. One lad followed you and the other let me know the direction you were heading. That’s how we got on your trail so fast.”

“I almost shot you.”

“I saw that. Didn’t know you had a gun. Good to know that now. We may need it. Got any idea of a safe place to go?”

“Only one. Let’s head to the church.”

“That’s not bad. I doubt they’d expect you to run to a church for help.”

“They might, but they know I don’t have a carriage so they won’t be looking for that. Let’s hurry. Can you trust the driver?”

“Yes. I don’t know as we can trust her, but for now, I don’t think she’s our biggest worry.”

Prudence tried to break into the conversation. “Adam, I’m …”

But Adam cut her off. “No, don’t say anything now. Be quiet until we get to a safe place. Then I’ll listen and you can try to explain your treachery.”

Spitting that out with some bitterness made her sink back against the seat. It made him feel a little bad for her but not much. She did look thinner and a bit haggard, but he wasn’t going to let her use her charms on him or get sympathy from him. He’d been through enough to be skeptical of anything anyone involved in this conspiracy had to say. It took only a short time to arrive at Paul’s church. The three of them quickly left the carriage and moved into the church as Spence told the driver they wouldn’t be needing him anymore that night and paid him for his services. Adam saw a light in the house and told Spence it would likely be best if he went to get Paul while Adam stayed in the church with Prudence so that no one would see them. A short time later, a perplexed Paul appeared with Spence and stared at Prudence and Adam.

“You’ve gotten into another messy affair with a woman?”

“No, this is Prudence, the woman I told you about who did her best to ruin my relationship with Grace and got me fired from my job.”

“Ah, and why is she here?”

“Apparently she has quite a story to tell and there are people after us. We need a sanctuary, and I need someone I can trust to listen to her and help me judge whether she’s telling the truth or not.”

Once everyone settled in seats, Prudence took a deep breath and with an encouraging word from Paul, began to tell her story. “I did what I did because my father was being held. I was told he would be killed if I didn’t cooperate. He had been forced to do what he did because my mother was being held with the same threat. We didn’t want to do what we did. We were afraid for our lives, and we thought that all that would happen was that Mister Fawlkes would lose his business to Mister Winston and then all would go on as if nothing had happened. We had no idea people would die. When men died in that accident, my father said he wouldn’t do anything more. That’s when they took him and said I would work for them to take care of whoever replaced my father. I had to convince Mister Fawlkes to keep me on. I did, and then when Mister Cartwright got hired, I did everything they told me to do. I gave them copies of his work, stole his copies from his office, and anything else they said to do. I thought I was keeping my parents alive. I almost said no when they told me what they wanted me to do at his house.” Prudence looked down then as her face reddened.

Paul interceded. “You don’t have to tell us what you did there. We know.”

“You know?”

“Adam told us so yes, we know.”

“I am so embarrassed about that. Humiliated. I have never been with a man and to be like that, and let people see me like that, was awful.”

Paul was sympathetic. “Is that when you decided you couldn’t do anything more like that?”

“No, I would have done even worse, I guess, if it meant keeping my parents alive. No, it was something that was said while I was there. I said something about how awful it was what they were making me do, and one of the men said it wasn’t as awful as what had happened to my parents being in the belly of a croc. I asked what he meant, and the other man told him to shut up. Well, excuse my language, but he told him to ‘Shut the hell up!’ and those were his words. They both looked at me then to see how I reacted. I did my best to act like I didn’t understand, but I did. My parents are dead. They killed them.”

“Why come to me? Why not go to the authorities with what you know?”

“They’ve got someone there helping them too. I don’t know who it is, but I’ve heard them mention their mate in the constabulary and then they laugh. I don’t think they respect him at all, but he is able to protect them, the two who do all the dirty work that is. They know that Mister Fawlkes knows about Collingwood and Yates, but they said he doesn’t have any proof and anything he turned in is gone now anyway because any evidence turned in is always taken care of by this man.”

After thinking for only a short time, Adam smiled. “He’ll be easy enough to uncover. Connor made copies of everything. He can make more. He can take those directly to the local prosecutor who can compare what he got from his police source and then he’ll know that it was sanitized. He can deal with that then. Connor has enough clout to move up the ladder like that.”

“Both are members of the church. I could even ask them to meet here to discuss the matter. That way if Winston has others in his employ, they would not be privy to the matter.”

“Good thinking, Paul. You’d make a fine detective too.”

“So you believe me?”

Attention shifted back to Prudence. Almost reluctantly Adam had to admit to her that he did believe her. Spence nodded too. Paul took charge.

“Adam, you and Spence can rest here in the church tonight. I can bring a couple of blankets to you. Miss Clark, you come with me to the house. My wife, Rachel, will get you settled in our guest room. You’ll stay here until it’s safe. Adam, tomorrow morning, I’ll go to see Connor and let him know what has happened. Spence can go to work but you need to stay here. They know who you are and you are not safe. I’ll get some food to you and perhaps a book to read.”

“I think I’ll head home. I don’t think the blokes know I’m involved yet and I’ve got my lads looking out for me. I want to make sure my family is safe too. Adam will be fine here.”

So Adam had a night alone to rest and to think. He got to evaluate a lot of things and tried to think of how he might have done things differently to have gotten to a different result and couldn’t come up with anything. It seemed that events had moved him along rather than him moving events. He needed to try to do something about that or he knew he was likely to become a victim of the men pulling the strings of this conspiracy. He began to think about the changes in the plans and how obvious they had been. It had been so easy to see. Connor had been alarmed and had brought them to Adam immediately. That had probably helped unmask him as the one at the site who was fixing the plans and set them on his trail eventually leading to them uncovering his true identity. But he kept coming back to that obvious fault built into the plans. Earlier issues had been more subtle and it had taken his expertise to find them. Almost anyone would have spotted this latest one. Then he realized what their strategy must be: they had shocked them with a major fault so that they could do something else that they wouldn’t notice. There was something else going on at that building site that was going to lead to a catastrophic failure. They were spending all of their time focusing on the roofs collapsing because that was where all the early problems had been in the plans, but what if their adversaries had shifted their focus. What were the other areas that could be exploited? It hit him hard when he realized the problem. There were four main support posts for the roof system. If those fell, the whole complex could collapse. They were well set and supported, but a charge set at the base of two or more of them could begin a a catastrophic collapse. He left the church and hurried to the rectory. He didn’t make it as he was hit on the head and dragged to a carriage that was driven to the construction site. Waking later in complete darkness, he smelled dirt and sawdust as well as the harbor as he lay face down. He heard voices too.

“Now what do we do with him?”

“He ain’t had time to run to his boss with anything. We toss him in the harbor like Winston said.”

“He’s still alive.”

“He won’t be for long. He’s senseless so he’ll drown. They’ll find his body after the blasts. They’ll probably figure he’s the one who done it just like Winston said.”

“Why?”

“Don’t you understand anything? He got fired. He’s here to get even. It’ll make sense to everybody except Fawlkes and he can’t prove nothing. He’ll be ruined and nobody is gonna listen to him anyway.”

Still dazed, Adam guessed he wouldn’t be able to fight the two men so he feigned unconsciousness and was summarily dumped into the harbor. It was a long way down and a shock to hit the water, but he remembered the lesson his father had taught him decades earlier when he was a child. If you’re too tired to swim, relax and your body will float. He had objected then that his face was in the water but his father had said to turn to the side as needed and take a breath. In the darkness, Adam did that and could hear the men up above laughing as his body floated face down in the water. As he was able to get some air and regain his senses a bit, he caused himself to sink slowly under the water. He knew he was bleeding and had heard there were sharks in the harbor. He hoped there weren’t any this close. Once submerged, he turned and made his way back to the pilings although he almost panicked at one point in the dark water when he wasn’t sure which direction he was going. He banged into a piling hurting his shoulder but was relieved to know he wasn’t swimming further out into the harbor. He was under the quay and surfaced gasping for air as he clung to the slimy piling. Then slowly, he made his way along the pilings toward the shore where he could see a few lights in the distance to guide his way. Once there, he collapsed in the mud unable to go any further. He lay there as dawn broke and men arrived to work.

Several men noticed Adam lying there and came down to see if it was a body or if he was alive. They were shocked to find out who it was and called to Spence who had been alerted that Adam was missing. In a hoarse and weak voice, Adam told him to get all the men out of the construction site. Spence paused only a second before turning and yelling to the men to evacuate the building site. Then he turned back to Adam to ask the reasons why, but Adam didn’t get much of a chance to explain. By the time someone brought him some water to drink and he began to tell his tale, there were three blasts and the whole complex began to collapse. There were only some minor injuries to men hurt by debris flying out from the disastrous failure of the buildings under construction, but because of Adam’s warning, no one was killed. All gathered together and wanted to know what had happened. Police were soon there having been tipped off that Adam was going to blow up the buildings and were ready to arrest him. Connor Fawlkes arrived as well and there was a significant amount of confusion.

Eventually an office was found where all the principals could meet. One by one, they all told what they knew. Prudence was brought there from Paul’s home too and added what she knew. The lads who had witnessed what had happened with the men following Adam were brought in too to help verify his account. Adam spent a good part of the meeting with his head resting on his arms. He had a terrible headache and was exhausted. He answered questions and did his best to describe what he could of the two men who had taken him but it wasn’t much. However it was enough to match the description of the two men Prudence described. The police seemed familiar with them and by midday, there were warrants issued for their arrests. Late in the day, they were brought in because they had been overconfident thinking that they had covered their tracks well enough. Facing a death penalty, they quickly began informing on those who had ordered them to do all the illegal acts they had done. Collingwood and Yates were arrested based on their testimony and those two gentlemen broke quickly too. Two men at police headquarters were arrested including one of high rank. Then, although police were reluctant to arrest one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Sydney and one with important political connections, with all the evidence they had, Aubrey Winston was arrested at his home as he was enjoying a cigar after dinner. Shocked beyond imagining, he loudly exclaimed that heads would roll. He was correct but not in whose heads were going to roll. The meeting broke up at police headquarters and everyone headed home. Adam had no place to go. Connor waited until the room had cleared.

“Get a room at the hotel where you first stayed. It’s on my tab. You need a bath and I daresay some sleep. You look like bloody hell. Then tomorrow, we need to talk.”

All Adam could manage was a nod. After Connor left, he struggled to his feet and walked slowly outside. A familiar carriage waited there for him. He didn’t have the energy for any clever repartee or anything else though so he stood there staring instead of moving toward it. Grace climbed down from the carriage and came to take his arm.

“You’re hurt and no one has bothered to take care of that. I brought my bag. I’ll take care of you. It’s what friends do. You trust me, don’t you?”

With a nod, Adam moved with her to the carriage, climbed inside, and collapsed back into the seat closing his eyes. Grace smiled benignly at him and told the driver to take him to her house.

*****

Chapter 9

At Grace’s home, she quickly got a tub of water ready and told Adam to go ahead and bathe as well as telling him that she would get his clothing once he was in the tub so she could have them washed. Then she left him alone and when she knocked on the door again, opened it, and looked in found Adam looking like he had probably been close to falling asleep in that tub of soapy water.

“Adam, I want to wash your hair and check on that wound. I can see that you’ve bled some. Your friends told me you were hit on the head and had been bleeding. Once your hair is clean, I can take a look at it to see if you need stitches or if a bandage will be sufficient. Then I think you’ll need to get out of the bath before you fall asleep and drown.”

That last part startled Adam into wakefulness. Grace noted the change in his demeanor and guessed correctly that there was more to that story. She could also see that he was embarrassed to have her in the washroom with him so she stayed as businesslike as possible working quickly to wash his hair and examine his head wound determining that a bandage would be sufficient. She pointed at a stack of towels and a blanket and told him to dry off and wrap in the blanket.

“When you’re ready, I’ll show you the guest room. I’ll bandage your head, give you some hot soup, and then let you get some sleep.”

Knowing there were things he ought to discuss with her and that there were things he ought to do or remember to do, Adam simply didn’t have the energy to do anything more than agree with her. Within a half hour, he was alone in bed and fell asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes. He didn’t wake until there were loud voices and light was streaming in the windows. Guessing that probably ten hours or so had passed, Adam couldn’t get up to investigate because he realized he had no clothing and wasn’t going to parade around in Grace’s house wrapped in a blanket. He remembered doing that the night before walking from the washroom to this bedroom, sitting on a chair as she bandaged his head and he drank a cup of hot, thick, rich broth before she had left telling him to get into bed and get some sleep. He guessed she had probably checked on him but he had never heard anything sleeping soundly through the night. Now he has a slight headache and listened to Grace argue with Connor because the two could be heard quite easily.

“Grace, this is the second time I’ve found you alone with him in a house and you tell me he’s naked in bed. Your reputation doesn’t seem to matter to you, but you’re part of a family, and our reputation does matter to us.”

“Oh, Connor, the man was senseless the last time, completely out of his head after being drugged, and he needed medical care this time, and none of you paid any attention to that. When I came down to see what was happening, it was the men who worked with him at the warehouse site who told me he was hurt and needed help. When I saw him, I could see he was in no shape to be left alone. It would have been far more scandalous if I had stayed in his hotel room and watched over him. Only my housekeeper and driver know he is here.”

“But he shouldn’t be here. You could have taken him to his friend’s house, that minister he knows so well.”

“I could have, but I didn’t, because I could take care of him perfectly fine here.”

“Well, he can’t stay here.”

“He can stay here as long as he needs to stay here.”

“Well, how is he then? Is he ready to leave today because I can give him a ride to the hotel? There are some things I would like to discuss with him anyway.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t looked in on him since midnight. I was sleeping until you so rudely awakened me.”

“Well, why don’t you get properly dressed then, and we can see how he’s doing.”

“I am properly dressed.”

“You are in a robe. It isn’t proper for you to go into his bedroom dressed like that.”

“Oh for goodness sakes, Connor, he’s not going to attack me. Besides, Mavis probably has his clothing laundered and I can bring that to him. I’m sure he would like to get dressed too.”

“I’ll bring him his clothing. You go get dressed. Perhaps we can meet in the dining room like civilized people?”

With an exasperated sigh and shake of her head, Grace agreed. Connor was only a few years older but acted as if he was her father’s age. It was nice that he looked out for her, but sometimes she found it smothering. This was one of those times. An hour later, they were all seated at the dining room table. Adam and Grace had been served breakfast and Connor had enjoyed tea while waiting for them to finish. He was anxious to lay out some proposals to Adam who could see how nervous Connor seemed or perhaps on edge was a better description.

“All right, Connor. What is it? You obviously have something to say to me. I’m ready.” What he heard next was not at all what Adam was expecting.

“I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. You struck me as boorish and uncouth when I first met you. You are so different than I am that I could not conceive of you fitting in here in the business world, yet you get the job done and have a way with the men that I will never have. I’ve taken a major loss with the explosion, but because you and the others were able to help prove it was Winston who was responsible, my reputation is intact and I can recoup much of the loss by going after Winston’s assets. My legal representatives are already hard at work at that this morning. I also have railroad and mining interests. I can see your look. Yes, I know you were hired expecting to be working primarily with those. What I’m proposing is a partnership. I need an infusion of some capital to rebuild and to build. You have some from what I know. You also have skills and knowledge to help the business grow.”

Thinking about it for a time, Adam asked a key question. “What percentage partnership?”

“I was thinking that seventy to thirty would be fair as I already own so much.”

“But a lot of it won’t bring in much revenue without someone who can make the mines profitable and build an efficient rail system on the right of ways that you own. You also want an infusion of capital. I think fifty to fifty is more reasonable.”

It was Connor’s turn to think for a time. He needed Adam but couldn’t bring himself to let him have half control of his company. “Sixty to forty and the lawyers can draft some articles of dissolution and divestiture if the arrangement doesn’t work out in five years.”

“Connor, do you think we can work together?”

“Are there reasons you think we cannot?”

“At first I thought you were pompous and arrogant, but now I’ve come to realize that it seems to be a trait here to want things to be the best, tallest, longest, or whatever as long as the word ends in est. It’s a sign of wanting progress and seeking to be the best rather than some overblown sense of pride. The rules of class distinction are a bit foreign to me, but I think that if I had lived in the eastern part of my own country, I would have run into the same kind of thing.”

“Do you think you can adapt to our ways enough to be comfortable here?”

“I’ll do my best, and I’d like a little time to think about your offer. I like it, but I want some time.” Adam could see how Connor was looking nervous about that and smiled. “Not a lot of time. I’ll give you an answer by dinner this evening. I’ve only been awake for a short time, and I need time to think a bit, but I must say that at the moment, I am inclined to say yes. Before I do though, I want to be sure that’s the answer that I want to give and that I can wholeheartedly say that I will commit to making it succeed.”

Smiling then, Connor made plans to meet with Adam later in the day. “At the hotel.” Which he pointedly directed toward Grace even as he was addressing Adam. “I’ll have a room ready for you there. The three of us could meet there for dinner perhaps.”

Grace was pleased by Connor’s idea but startled by how Adam answered her cousin’s proposal.

“Yes, I’m agreeable to that or you and I could meet and talk about that partnership. Could you have my valises picked up from the church? That’s the last place I saw them, and I would like to have them back.”

Connor noted that Adam had opened the door to Grace not being at the dinner but left that issue for the two of them to settle. He was guessing that Adam wasn’t as interested in a relationship with Grace as she was with him. He found that mildly disappointing but not surprising. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Reaching into his inside coat pocket, Connor pulled out the letter Adam had received from his father. “The police found this on one of the men they arrested. It was addressed to you so I said I would get it back to you.”

Connor didn’t notice the change in Adam’s expression or the way he stiffened a bit when he took that letter, but Grace did. She wondered why and guessed she would ask when she had the chance. She was always curious and sometimes it got her into trouble. She didn’t think this was going to be one of those times but guessed that the subject was going to be serious and wisely refrained from blurting out the questions she had. She waited instead until Connor had left to ask about the dinner.

“Is there a reason why you don’t want me to be at that dinner this evening?”

“It’s not that I don’t want you there but that there’s no need for you to be there. You’ve been inconvenienced by me quite enough already. All that we’re going to do is talk business and you’re not part of that.”

“I thought we were friends. It’s not an inconvenience to help friends.”

“Grace, I have a feeling that you want more from me than I’m ready to give right now. The plan we had was fine, but that’s what I wanted: a companion for the theater and some evenings out. I frankly wasn’t looking for anything more.”

“That was what I wanted too.” Grace was careful to put it in the past tense so that she was being truthful without giving away how she was feeling at the moment.

“All right, then, we can continue the way we were. I’ll call on you for dinner and the theater if you’re still willing. It may not be often if I decide to do what I’m inclined to do and take Connor up on his offer.”

“Why would that make so much of a difference?”

“Grace, all of the mine holdings are well away from Sydney and the railroad construction would be far from the city as well. If I get involved in that, which is what I thought I would be doing when I came here, then I won’t be in the city much.”

Grace couldn’t hide her disappointment at that which made Adam smile because he was pleased at least a little that it bothered her. He did still think there was a chance that they could have a relationship but was going to try to follow Paul’s advice and take it slow. If they couldn’t be friends, then they couldn’t have a long term relationship. He thought that it probably wasn’t fair not to let her in on what he was thinking but didn’t know her well enough yet to share more. He still had feelings of loss and guilt that he hadn’t reconciled within himself yet so he could hardly burden her with them or at least that’s what he told himself then. Later that night after telling Connor that he would accept the partnership and agreeing to meeting with lawyers the next day, he lay in bed and thought more about Grace. He knew it was fear as much as anything that kept him from opening up to her. What if he told her about himself? Would she still want to be with him if she knew the whole story about him and why he was in Australia? He was worried that she might not. And then there was Connor who wanted him to be interested in Grace and had obviously been thinking about it that day because he had asked some pointed questions at dinner when the two of them had finished talking business. Grace had not been there after taking the hint from Adam that he wanted to talk business with Connor.

“I thought that you and Grace might be attracted to each both of you being kind of at odds with what society expects. Neither of you seem to like to follow the path others have set for you.”

“That’s probably true but that doesn’t guarantee a mutual attraction.”

“I daresay it must not, but I can tell that she is very interested in you. She’s never shown much interest in any man before finding them all beneath her standards whatever those may be. But you seem to have piqued her interest mightily.”

“We’re friends. I’ll continue to see her if you find that acceptable. She wants to go to the theatre with me and we’ll have dinners together.”

“That may be difficult with what we’ve outlined for you to do.”

“I’ve warned her about that.”

“Well, then, that’s that then. Well, at least she’s found a friend although I would much prefer she find a husband and settle into a normal life.”

“You sound more like her father than a cousin when you talk like that.”

“I know, but I had to grow up fast when my father died and left me in charge of the family business interests and then when Grace’s parents died, I felt that I had to help her too. She hasn’t much of a business mind preferring science and such. She was years younger but that curiosity led us on some grand adventures when we were children and led us into quite a bit of trouble with our parents too, I daresay. I grew up, but somehow Grace has never lost those qualities.”

“She is an interesting woman.”

And for the first time, Connor began to wonder if Adam was truly interested in Grace but holding back for some reason. It was an intriguing thought with lots of possibilities. He talked with his wife about it when he arrived home much as Adam was thinking about it as he tried to fall asleep.

*****

Chapter 10

For the next several days, Adam hardly remembered to eat meals as he was so busy in meetings with engineers, architects, and with bankers and Connor. There plans to make and orders to compile and process, and he had to coordinate everything. In the evenings, he studied all the projects trying to learn everything he could about terrain, personnel, and what progress had been made in each endeavor already. He was beginning to catch some of the enthusiasm that Connor had about the possibilities.

“Adam, I think the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands have the potential for more gold than Victoria can produce. I’ve bought up as much land with potential that I could get from here to Dubbo and Kiandra. I didn’t pay much for any of it. If we get one rich hit on any of it, then the investment will be worthwhile. Two or more, and the wealth could be enormous. So far, we’ve had some surface strikes but I think there’s richer deposits that can be mined. That’s where you come in with your knowledge of mining.”

“I don’t know how to find gold.”

“I have men hired to do their best to do that. You’ll be in charge of mining where they tell us the gold is. If it’s there, and you can create an efficient system for extracting it, we’re going to be the richest men in New South Wales.”

“But if we don’t?”

“Then we’ll have to try something else.”

Connor was confident, and very sure too that if it failed, he could recover and try something else. Adam worried though because he had sunk all that he had into this endeavor because he had been convinced it would succeed or that it probably would. He would work to make it succeed, but if it didn’t, he would lose all that he had. It was at dinner that Saturday night that Grace helped him put that into a better perspective.

“You seem rather morose for someone about to embark on a grand adventure.”

“From what I’ve heard, the conditions will be primitive. I’ll be living in a tent, sleeping on a cot, and probably won’t have a chance to bathe or even shave until I return here in a month or so.”

“A month? I had no idea you would be gone so long.”

“There’s a lot to do, and travel is difficult and time consuming. I’ll do all that I can do each time I’m out there. I think it may be one of the reasons that Connor found me so attractive as a partner. I’ve got experience living in conditions like that so it wouldn’t stop me from accepting the partnership.”

“Oh, don’t sell yourself so short. Connor wanted you as part of his company as soon as he saw your qualifications. Your rough edges put him off a bit, but once he got used to that, he was sure of his initial judgment.”

“I changed my initial impression of him as I’ve come to understand society here better.”

“Yes, he can be a bit stuffy and full of himself at times, but he means well and would do anything he could to help family and friends.”

“Yes, I found that out. He told me a bit about you too and how you used to get him in trouble when you were children even though you were the younger one.”

“Well, it seems you know quite a bit about me, but I know almost nothing about you. Why is that, Adam? I know that you have that letter from your father so I know you have one, but you never speak of your family or your home.”

“This is my home now. I would like to concentrate on being here.”

“You’re quite good at evasion too. Each time I try to get you to talk about your family, you do that, but all right, if that’s what you want. Let’s talk about you here in your new home and get back to my original question. Why did you come in here looking so morose?”

“And your cousin is correct. You are very curious and persistent.”

“That isn’t an answer. Are you worried about failing and disappointing your family somehow?”

“I probably couldn’t disappoint them more than I already have. No, I want to change my life but events seem to be moving me along and pushing me into old habits. Wanting to change is a lot different than being able to change. I made decisions without having the time to think them through and consider the consequences, and now I think I accepted this partnership the same way. Even though Connor made it clear he wasn’t going to be able to give me much time to think about it, it still rankles that I made another impulsive decision that has such a great impact on my life.”

“Isn’t it what you wanted to do when you came here?” Adam nodded albeit somewhat reluctantly because he could see where she was going with her argument. “Isn’t the use of your money in these investments exactly how you planned to invest your money or that’s what I thought you told me when we first talked about it? You wanted to invest in mining and railroads with the idea that you could sell your shares or stocks in five years or less and have ready cash.” Adam nodded again. “Then I don’t see the problem.”

“I feel that my life isn’t in my control. I feel that there are forces moving me along and I have no say.”

Grace smiled. “Adam, perhaps you lived with your family too long. That’s how all of us feel sometimes.” She waited then for his reaction and saw a number of changes in his expression as he thought about what she had said. It was one of the things she loved about him. He listened to her ideas.

While she waited, Adam was thinking that living with his father making decisions had probably insulated him from many things and living in Nevada on a ranch had been insulating too. Now he was experiencing more of the forces that shaped the world and was going to have to adjust his thinking and his behavior. “So, it was as if I was a ship in a safe harbor, and now that I’m out and charting my own course, I have to deal with winds and waves and they aren’t always going to go the way I want them to go.”

“Yes, and there is your crew too, and there are so many ports of call, and there can be storms. I have to say that I find your captaining to be very admirable so far.”

That got the full dimpled smile that made Grace respond in kind, but her smile faded a bit at what Adam said next. “Grace, I’m so glad we’re friends. You’re so good for me. I don’t know what you see in me or what I do for you, but I do know what you do for me. You always make me feel better.” Grace had hoped for more but admitted to herself that the two of them had not ever broached the subject of a romantic relationship. She thought perhaps that she should but wasn’t sure how to do that. She tried when he bid her goodnight.

“Adam, have you ever thought about kissing me goodnight instead of simply saying farewell?”

Startled because those were his exact thoughts but he had no intention of acting on them, Adam could only respond with denial. Grace was sorely disappointed but covered it as well as she could. She closed her door as Adam left, but tears slowly coursed down her cheeks. Her housekeeper came to get her coat and to ask if she needed anything. She shook her head and headed up the stairs to her bedroom as her housekeeper watched her go and wondered what the young man had done to make her employer so sad. She would have been surprised to learn that it was something that he had not done.

As he traveled back to his hotel, Adam had many thoughts but most centered on Grace. He wanted so much to take his time with her and follow Paul’s advice, but he could tell that she was impatient with him. Knowing she would be in his thoughts and dreams, he resigned himself to a difficult time about that situation and only could hope that her patience wouldn’t wear out before their friendship could develop enough for him to know her and learn to trust her. Even then, he wondered if he was good enough for her and if he should subject her to his past and what was inevitably going to be a complicated future especially when he returned home. His thoughts were made even darker when he got to the hotel and found that there were letters there from his brothers. Like the letter from his father, Adam was reluctant to open the letters and face what he feared might be in them especially as he was already feeling down. He had not yet answered his father’s letter and knew he had to do that too. He decided to put all of it off to Sunday night.

On Sunday morning, Adam headed to church anxious not only to be at a church service again but wanted to see Paul and Rachel too. He felt some peace listening to familiar hymns and singing along and Paul’s sermon about forgiveness hit home too. After the service, Adam waited until Paul was able to bid farewell to all the members of the congregation who stopped at the church door to see him. Once it seemed that there were no more members waiting, Adam approached Paul and the two friends greeted each other although Adam sensed that Paul was nervous about something. It didn’t take long for that issue to surface as Rachel approached with Prudence, and Paul explained that they had taken her in as their housekeeper and that she would be their nanny too once the baby was born.

“Adam, she has no one else, and we need the help.”

Saying nothing more until the ladies headed to the rectory to prepare lunch, Adam turned to Paul. “I understand, and she did have reasons for what she did. Is she also there to keep an eye on Rachel?”

With a serious look, Paul nodded. “There is that extra benefit. They do everything together because Prudence doesn’t feel comfortable going anywhere alone. That means that Rachel is never alone which actually makes her feel better. We both know she won’t do anything when there are witnesses. This will help her too.”

“Then things are working out for you very well.”

“How about you, Adam? How are things working out for you?”

“It depends. Are you asking about business or personal issues, because business is going well although I’ve taken a big leap of faith?”

“Well, all we have that we can count on is family, faith, and friends although I take it this is a different kind of faith. What is the new endeavor?”

So Adam explained what he had agreed to do with Connor and what it would mean for his immediate future. “I probably won’t be back for three weeks or a month. The conditions for living and for travel are a bit primitive.”

“Does that bother you?”

“No, I worked on a ranch for twenty years and that meant a lot of similar conditions. I’m used to it.”

“Not that; I meant being gone for that long. Isn’t that going to create a problem if you want to pursue a relationship with Grace?”

With a sigh, Adam nodded and looked away for a time before answering. “Paul, I don’t know what to do. Grace is impatient with me and wants more than what I’m ready to offer. I’m not sure if I’m the right man for her either. You know my past. She doesn’t. She has no idea what kind of mess I made of things with my family and how difficult it will be when I go back there.”

“You will go back then?”

“Yes, I wasn’t sure until I got a letter from my father and realized I was going to have to go back. Jamie has the right to know the truth someday. I need to be there to face him when he learns it. It would be too cowardly to let him deal with it alone.”

“He wouldn’t be alone.”

“No, but as the one most responsible for what happened, I need to be there.”

“At some point, you need to tell everything to Grace and let her decide. I daresay she’s one of the smartest women I’ve ever met, and even though I don’t know her well, I think she may surprise you with what she can handle.”

“I’ll think about that. I have a lot of time to do that because I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Bathurst and then I’ll be moving on to properties that Connor has purchased to see about getting some mining projects started. Then I have to see about purchasing some land where we can get timber for shoring up those mines. Once that’s done, I’ll be coming back here to give reports to Connor and finalize those deals.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’ll have much time.”

“Nights and Sundays will be mine, and I doubt there’ll be any social activity to occupy my time.”

“You might be surprised at that. I worked in some mining camps and men there seemed to be able to devise all sorts of activities.”

“Yes, I have some experience with that too, but they didn’t usually invite the boss.”

“Well, there is that. Good luck, Adam, and if there is anything I can do, please call on me. I’m always here to help.”

After thanking Paul, Adam headed back to the hotel after having lunch alone at a restaurant. He had declined Paul’s invitation to lunch because he wasn’t yet ready to have lunch with Prudence knowing what had happened. When he got back to his room, he sat down to read the letters from his brothers and to pen a letter to his father. He realized that these letters like the one from his father must have been written about the time he left or shortly thereafter. He wondered how much things might have changed since then but he could only read what was there. The letter from Hoss talked about everything but what had happened to make him leave. It was comforting to read about normal things, and he guessed that Hoss had known that. The letter from Joe was harder to read. Much as Joe had pushed for the truth when Adam had been home, he pushed now for Adam to write to their father and talk honestly with him. He said their father was having a difficult time accepting everything no matter how brave a face he put on. As usual, Joe hit Adam right where it hurt most, and it was probably because the two were alike in many ways so Joe understood how Adam was feeling and knew what he had to do to feel better about it. Joe did say that their father and Troian seemed to have reached some kind of understanding and did have a reasonably good marriage. The difficulties were about Jamie. Ben wanted to see Jamie as his grandson but could not under the circumstances. It almost seemed as if Ben and Joe were pushing for the truth to come out. Adam wondered at that and wondered if that was something that could ever happen. He wrote a letter to Hoss telling him all about what he had learned about Australia. He wrote a letter to Joe thanking him for his advice and explaining as much as he could about how conflicted he was about what to do. Then he penned a letter to his father agreeing that Jamie must know, and when it was time, he would be there to tell him. He also told his father about the business project he had agreed to pursue with Connor. In none of the letters did he mention Grace. He wasn’t sure what to say about her so said nothing. That would have to be in a future letter if there was any news.

By the time he finished writing letters, it was late. He skipped dinner and went to bed early instead. In the morning, he posted the letters on the waterfront by contacting a ship’s captain who was headed to San Francisco to get them sent there. Then he got his things together and headed out of the city for a busy few weeks.

*****

Chapter 11

A month later, Adam walked back into his hotel and was almost escorted back out until he identified himself and was recognized. He had a full beard and was dressed like a miner from the outback. He was sorely in need of a bath and clean clothing, and he had lost weight as well. The clerk agreed to have a bath prepared as quickly as possible with extra towels and soap as Adam requested. Adam also asked for a meal to be sent to his room in an hour. When he was clean, shaved, and full, he fell into bed and slept through to the next morning. He dressed and headed to Connor’s office with a valise full of paperwork. For the next five days, he did what he had been doing for the past month. He avoided thinking about anything personal by throwing himself into work and letting it consume all of his time and energy. Connor was actually concerned about him when he first saw him and then saw how he was during the week with his only focus on work.

“Are you going to see Grace on Saturday? Perhaps you could go to dinner and enjoy the theater. You certainly look like you could use some time to relax.”

“I have too much to do. If we want this whole thing to succeed, I still have a lot to do.”

“Adam, I want this to succeed too, but I don’t want you to kill yourself doing it. We have years to make this work out and be profitable.”

“All we have is money going out and nothing coming in.”

“I have enough resources especially with the capital you invested to keep this operation solvent for at least two to three years even if we don’t hit it big on any of those properties. We have time.”

“I don’t like living like this.”

“It’s what we need to do for a while, but we won’t make any money at all if you get sick or hurt because you’re exhausted. Take tomorrow off. If you don’t see Grace, at least step away from the work and rest. You look like bloody hell. I’ve been holding back saying that, but I have to tell you now to make you do what you need to do.”

“Are we moving along well enough in the construction side of the business?”

Pausing a moment in thought, Connor made a decision that Adam didn’t like. “I’m not going to tell you anything about that right now. You’re so caught up in work that you’ve lost sight of what’s important. I know because I do that too but I don’t think I’ve ever gone as far down that road as you. Adam, you need to take some time to get some perspective on things.”

“Everyone wants to give me advice.”

“Have you thought it’s because we like you and it’s what friends do when they see a mate going the wrong way?”

“Mate? Seems that Grace is having an effect on you.”

“I’m afraid she is, but she’s also taught me that I need to bend a bit to talk to people the way they are. I have found that I get along better with Spencer and the others if I can manage to use some of their vernacular. Of course, when with those of similar wealth and privilege, I still know how to act the part.” Connor grinned then making Adam like him better knowing he wasn’t so committed to those class distinctions that seemed to dominate society in Sydney. “I do think you need to spend some time relaxing this weekend. There’s a lot to do other than work. On Sunday, why don’t you plan to come to dinner with us?”

“And Grace?”

“Yes, Grace is almost always with us for Sunday dinner.”

“All right, but Connor, I won’t promise I’ll be there. I’ll only say that I’ll try to be there. I’ll have to let you know.”

“As soon as you can though, please, because Eleanor will want to know.”

After agreeing, Adam left not sure what he would do. He had no letters from home and hadn’t expected any. The travel time between the two countries was such that they were probably only getting his letters or about to get them. He would likely have to wait another month for an answer to anything he had written. He missed his family and the past month without his new friends had been far more difficult than he had thought it would be. Having always thought that he could be alone without being lonely, Adam was surprised to learn that it had been because he had known his family was on the Ponderosa which was a safe haven to which he could return. In many parts of the country, he had had friends to whom he could turn for anything he needed as well. In Australia, he was truly alone and felt that way much of the time. Now in addition to not knowing exactly how he felt about Grace, he was worried that he might be desiring a relationship with her because she offered a solution to his loneliness. Mostly he was confused about what to do, and he wasn’t used to being in that state. He had trouble sleeping that night and decided on Saturday morning to go see Paul. Although he had objected the day before to getting advice, he was going to ask for more. However the discussion wasn’t what he wanted to hear either.

“Paul, the more I think about Grace, the more I think I should walk away. I don’t want to subject her to the mess I made of my life because she’ll be confronted by that when I go back, and I have told my father I’ll go back and tell the truth to Jamie when he’s older.”

“Adam, wouldn’t it be better to tell Grace what happened and let her decide. You’ve said you admire her and like so much about her. Why give all that up without even giving her a chance?”

“She’ll get over me easier and I would rather not share that story and see the look in her eyes when she hears it.”

“So it’s your feelings that you care more about and not hers?”

“I care about her feelings. I think it would be better to spare her feelings rather than lead her along and then dash everything by letting her know what kind of man I am. She’ll get over me and find someone else.”

“You can’t dictate another’s feelings. You can’t predict another’s thoughts either. After what she’s done for you, I think she deserves a chance. You’re denying her the honesty that friends owe to each other.”

“You think I should tell her and let her reject me instead of me making the decision for her?”

“I guess you could put it that way.”

After leaving Paul’s parsonage, Adam headed to Grace’s home. She met him at the door with a huge smile and was clearly disappointed to find him far less enthusiastic. At least he asked her to go to dinner with him that night. After setting a time, Adam left. Grace wondered at his strange mood and guessed that perhaps he was tired because he looked as if he was and noted that he looked quite a bit thinner too. She spent the afternoon picking out what she wanted to wear, getting her hair just right, and then accessorizing because she hoped that finally Adam might see her romantically and wanted to encourage him as much as possible. Right on time, Adam was there with a carriage and they proceeded to the restaurant as he talked about meeting with Connor and told her that he had talked with Paul too. She was a bit jealous knowing he had been in town since Monday and hadn’t contacted her until that day and perhaps a bit of that slipped into her tone because Adam seemed to get quieter as they spent more time together. At the table in the private dining alcove that he had requested, she apologized.

“Adam, I’m sorry if I sounded a bit peevish, but I did miss you, and knowing that you had been here since Monday irritated me. It shouldn’t have. You don’t owe me anything, but I thought we were friends, and you would have wanted to see me. We could have had dinner and you could have told me about your time in the mountains.”

That caught Adam off guard because it was so unexpected. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about telling you something else entirely and hadn’t thought about talking about such mundane things.”

“I hadn’t thought of it as mundane, but that intrigues me. What do you have to tell me that four weeks of your adventure seems mundane in comparison?”

Sighing audibly, Adam asked her if they could perhaps talk about the mundane for a while and have dinner. After dinner, Grace pressed him again, and he put his head down and pressed his hand against his forehead for a moment before raising his head and looking at her so seriously that she was worried.

“I have a story to tell you about me and what I’ve done that led me here. It’s about the mess I made of my life and what I’ll have to face when I go back home, and yes, I will be going back home at some point. I think you do have the right to know what kind of man you have befriended. I was going to walk away to let you forget me, but Paul convinced me to tell you everything.” So Adam told Grace the story of Troian and how his son Jamie had come to be raised by his father who had married Troian. By the time he finished, he could see that she was shocked. He didn’t know what part of the story had shocked her more, but there were so many parts that might have done it that it didn’t matter that much. “Let’s go.” He stood and helped her with her wrap and escorted her from the restaurant. Outside, he helped her into the carriage and before she could react, he closed the door and signaled the driver to take her home. He turned then and walked to his hotel sure he would never see her again.

The next morning, Adam didn’t go to church. He not only didn’t feel worthy after another night of feeling the weight of memories, but he also didn’t want to see Grace. Even if she said nothing, he didn’t want to see what was in her eyes when she looked at him. At that point, he had to admit to himself that he loved her and would have to accept another loss as he wondered how he was ever going to find someone to share his life after all that he had done to mess it up. On Saturday afternoon, he had gone out to look at a property to buy because he was tired of not having a home. There were so many things he could not control in his life, but that at least he could change. The small, fully furnished, stone house with the solid red roof was well outside Sydney so the price was low enough for him to afford it even with his limited resources at that point. Tired of the class distinctions that seemed to rule society, he preferred the country life and it was on the way to where he needed to go to do his work anyway. It was only a short ride into town to the office to meet with Connor as necessary, and he would have peace and calm when he worked at home. Although rather out of the ordinary, he went to see the man who had the keys to the property and told him he would buy it. He said he would take the dog that came with it too as had been offered.

“I rather liked the dog, and I think he’ll be good company. He looks like he wouldn’t mind traveling with me when I have to go to the mountains. It’ll be nice not to be alone for those trips.”

The man smiled and told him the property was his for a fraction of what he had been quoted only one day earlier. “Marston loved that dog. When he was dying, he wanted to make sure that someone would take care of him as well as be a friend to him. My instructions were to offer the dog as part of the sale and only sell to a man who would take both and at the price I just quoted you. The money will go to the church. He had no children and thought his friends had enough money without needing his. He always called the dog, Snake, by the way. He thought it funny when he called his dog and people would jump and look about scared that there was a snake in the vicinity.”

“Are there keys or anything that I need to take possession?”

“No, he didn’t believe in locks. If you want those, you’ll have to install them yourself. We can do the formal paperwork tomorrow, but go ahead and settle in there whenever you wish. Snake will be happy to see you. The two of you got on well together yesterday, and I’m sure he’s been lonely with no one there for the past few weeks.”

“Who’s been feeding him?”

“Marston had a local working for him taking care of the stable and such. He wasn’t around yesterday, but I’m sure he’ll want to keep working there if you want to retain him. I don’t recall his name, but he’s one of the indigenous people. Most of Marston’s neighbors disapprove, but he never cared about that.”

The two men shook hands and Adam headed back to his hotel to check out. He had a message sent to Connor that he would be missing Sunday dinner. With his bags in hand, he made his way to the stable where had rented a horse before and made a deal to purchase one with a saddle and tack. He was going to need some basic supplies too but wouldn’t be able to get those until the next day so he stopped at a restaurant and got some food packed in a sack to take with him. By early afternoon, he arrived at his new home and Snake came bounding up to meet him obviously pleased that he was back and overjoyed that he had food in the sack he was carrying. Smiling, Adam put the horse in the stable and made sure he had water before he headed to the house with Snake. Inside, he found that everything was in order as it had been when he looked at the house on Saturday and guessed the man who took care of the place must have come in regularly over the past few weeks to clean because there wasn’t any dust anywhere. He shared some of the food with Snake and then put his clothing in the bedroom and his few books on the table in the parlor. The house only had three rooms and a washroom. The parlor had a very large table though which Adam planned to use for work but knew that if he ever entertained, he could seat at least eight there. The kitchen was roomy too and the bedroom was large enough. He finally felt at home and when he sat in the chair in the parlor and Snake lay down at his feet as he pulled a book to read, he felt more relaxed than he had in a very long time.

The next morning, Adam walked to the stable with Snake on his heals and he surprised a man working in the stable mucking out the stall where the horse was. The man quickly recovered and asked Adam if he still had a job.

“You must be the man who was working for Marston?”

“Yes, I saw you yesterday, and I knew you was all right because Snake was all right with you.”

“Where were you? I didn’t see you.”

“I’m never seen if I don’t want to be. I was up where I sleep.” The dark-skinned man pointed up above to the loft.

“That’s where you live?”

“It’s better than outside.”

“All right, I guess. Yes, I want you to keep working here. What do I pay you?”

“Marston gave me food and a place to live.”

“But how much money do I pay you?”

“No money. Only food and place to live.”

“But I should give you money.”

“Give me more food then.”

“You can’t eat more.”

“My family can.”

Understanding then, Adam put out his hand. The man wasn’t sure how to react but then smiled and shook Adam’s hand. He had never shaken a white man’s hand but had seen white men do it to seal a deal. He liked this white man who spoke differently and acted differently than other white men. He hoped there were going to be more white men like this one instead of those who hunted his people especially the men. He was smiling and held onto Snake as their new friend rode off to Sydney in the near distance.

*****

Chapter 12

When Adam got to the office, he was ready to share his news about the house and to continue working with Connor but found his partner diffident and difficult. Finally, he asked what was wrong.

“I would like to ask you the same. I want to know what you did to Grace first of all. She was at my home yesterday but left early. I could tell she had been crying, but she didn’t want to talk about it. She only said that you didn’t trust her and didn’t believe in her so you were just like all other men.”

With surprise bordering on shock, Adam stared at Connor trying to understand how Grace could think that about him. He didn’t. “I thought it best to be honest with her and tell her about my past and what I planned for my future. She said nothing about it, and I had the driver take her home. After that, I don’t know why she feels that way. I can see that she would be disappointed in me especially in not telling her sooner but surely she must understand that I needed to trust her to be that honest with her.”

“I don’t know either what happened, but I do know that whatever you did upset her and hurt her deeply. I hope that you can find a way to apologize to her or at least to stay away from her to let her get over you.”

“I had planned to do that.” Adam told Connor then about his new place giving him both the address and directions on how to get there not that he ever expected Connor to visit him. It was too far outside of what Connor would find comfortable. He was rather certain of that. However Connor dutifully wrote everything down as if it mattered and tucked the paper away in his inside suit pocket. “She’ll have plenty of time to get over me. I leave tomorrow again for the mines. I won’t be back for two weeks or more. I’ll let you know as soon as I see how things are progressing at the mines.”

It was all business after that, and the next morning, Adam left as planned saying goodbye to Can-do, the man who was now his employee and looked after the place. It wasn’t the man’s name but what his former employer had called him. He told Adam that he doubted Adam could pronounce his actual name and that he was used to Can-do, and as it was a positive name to have in English, he didn’t mind. He told Adam that some of his people were forced to take names they didn’t want in order to work for whites so he was pleased to have a choice. It was agreeable to Adam too then who made sure there was plenty of food there for him and for him to take to his family wherever they were. Can-do didn’t trust Adam enough to let him know where that was.

When Adam returned over two weeks later, the place looked very good and he praised Can-do for his work.

“Family likes the extra food and came to help me. You better boss man, they say. Snake look happy too.”

“Yes, he seemed to like being out on the trail and being in the camps with all the men. Snake got a lot of attention.”

“Angry sad lady come here to see you. She not say much and then leave.”

With a fairly good idea of who that had been, Adam had mixed feelings about what he should do. He wanted to go see Grace and apologize for upsetting her, but he didn’t know how she would react to that. He did need to let Connor know he was back and give him some fairly good news about their projects so he cleaned up and headed to town leaving Snake at home. He got to the office by early afternoon and saw Connor who almost didn’t recognize Adam with over two weeks growth of beard and still wearing the type of clothing he wore when in the field.

“I didn’t have time for a full bath so I came like this. I thought you would like to know the good news. The big mine on the property near Dubbo is already producing high quality ore. We hit a vein almost as soon as we started the tunneling. That one is going to be very profitable.”

“That’s wonderful news. And the other project?”

“The one near Kiandra is proceeding more slowly but from what the men there say, they’ve found nuggets in the ground all around there as they dig. They’re letting the men keep the small ones if they turn in the larger ones so we actually are making a profit there without getting any ore out yet. It looks like it could be an even richer vein though. The men are working enthusiastically too. They want to find the small nuggets so they spend as many hours as they can working every day. Some will even go out on their own time on Sunday and dig for a while. The project is ahead of schedule.”

“Do you think it wise to let the men have the gold like that? It sets a dangerous precedent.”

“Not a dangerous one but rather a smart one. We’ll never have a shortage of workers and we’ll be able to demand the best workers. Anyone who doesn’t measure up, we can let go because there will be a ready and willing capable man there to take his spot. It’s hard and dangerous work, but if the compensation is good enough, we’ll have men willing to do it.”

“And our competitors will be begging for workers and having to take those we don’t want.”

The two men grinned at each other then. They were motivated by different goals but they reached the same conclusions about how to run their mines. It was going to be a good partnership as they learned about business and working with employees from each other.

“I’ve got the reports here on the production so far. It’s all good.” Adam pulled the papers out and handed them to Connor who was anxious to begin pouring over the figures. After a pause as Connor was busy studying the numbers, Adam said he had to go.

“Grace apparently was out to my house. I better go see her.”

Distracted, Connor waved to him and only later realized he should have said something but also realized that it probably wouldn’t have done any good to tell Adam how upset Grace was. He was going to find that out anyway.

At Grace’s house, Adam knocked on the door which was answered by the housekeeper who gave him a nasty glare he suspected was for his attire and for what she supposed was his treatment of her employer. He stood inside the door as the woman went to tell Grace that he was there. She had hardly wanted to let him in but had no reason good enough to deny him entry. When Grace came into the hallway leading to the entryway, Adam saw her anger in every move she made and the way she looked at him.

“I heard that you came out to my house.”

“Yes, I went to your hotel only to find that you had left without telling me, and then I went to your house after Connor gave me directions but you were already gone. I wanted to tell you that you were terribly inconsiderate. You sent me off that night as if my feelings didn’t matter. You never gave me a chance to say what I was feeling. All you cared about was what you were feeling. Friends don’t do that to friends.”

“No, they don’t. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

That deflated her anger because she hadn’t been expecting it at all. She changed tactics then expressing what she had been feeling. “I think about you all the time. I dream about you. I don’t care what you did. I care about who you are now and what you do now and what you will do in the future. That’s what matters to me.”

For a short time, they stood silently until Adam moved closer to her step by step. “You wanted me to kiss you goodbye once. You asked me if I ever thought about doing that. The answer is yes. But sometimes people kiss when they greet each other or they kiss when they want to make up after a disagreement. Would that be acceptable to you?” By then, he was only a short distance from her and opened his arms to her to see if she was willing. She stepped closer to him which he took as a yes. He leaned down toward her and brushed his finger across her upper lip and then her lower lip.

“Kissing means that we won’t only be friends. It means that we will be embarking on a new stage in our relationship. Are you ready for that?”

Grace could only nod slightly mesmerized by the experience. Men had tried to kiss her before but usually that meant that they moved in forcefully and she did her best to fend them off. This was an entirely different kind of experience. Adam leaned toward her and kissed her right cheek softly almost like a butterfly’s wings brushing across her cheek and then kissed his way across to her other cheek as she turned her face up to meet him hoping for more. He moved to her lips then placing his lips on hers and gradually increasing the pressure as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with more and more enthusiasm. He paused though.

“At this point, it would be nice to have some reciprocity. You could participate too.”

“What do I do?”

“You could wrap your arms around me and then do whatever seems natural to do.” For the first time, Adam realized how inexperienced Grace was with men. He thought he was definitely going to have to take things slowly. However, when he moved to pull away, she didn’t want him to do that.

“Can’t we kiss more?”

“Yes, but perhaps not right now. I think we should talk.”

“All right. Your beard tickles, but I like it. Do you think you could trim it though so it doesn’t look so wild and bushy?”

Smiling at that, Adam nodded. He rather liked having a beard. Adam stayed for dinner, and that became a pattern for the next two weeks as he and Grace spent evenings and weekends together and learned more about each other as well as spent more time kissing at Grace’s insistence. When it was nearing time for Adam to head out to the camps again, Grace had a suggestion.

“Adam, I should go with you. I’m a doctor and you said those men never get to see a doctor because it’s so isolated out there. They probably wouldn’t mind that I’m a woman if I can lance a boil or take care of a wound or a broken bone. I could finally use my education.”

“Grace, you can’t travel into those camps. A single woman simply doesn’t go into those camps except to make money.”

Knowing what he meant, Grace turned a little bit red. “But surely they would see me differently.”

“They would see you differently if you were married. They treat the few married women with respect.”

With a saucy grin, Grace had an answer for that too. “Well, then, mister, you could marry me and that would solve that.”

At first grinning, Adam got a more serious look. “Did you just propose to me?”

“Uh, what if I did?”

“Well, it’s not like I haven’t been thinking about that.”

“You have?”

“Of course I have. Once I decided to kiss you, it became a real possibility. The more time I spend with you, the more I like the idea. I didn’t know if you liked the idea though.”

“Well, I like the idea too. If you asked me, I’d say yes.”

“But you asked me first instead.”

“Are you going to say yes, or are you going to ask me?”

“Yes”

“You’re impossible. Which question are you answering?”

“Both.”

Grace paused and then smiled. “Yes.”

“Let’s go see Paul and make the arrangements.”

“But that means six weeks. I won’t be able to go with you.”

“There’s a way around that too if you’re willing. We can go get married legally with Paul and Rachel as witnesses, and then in six weeks we can have the religious ceremony and the big party and celebration of our wedding.”

“Oh, I like that.”

Paul was somewhat reluctant at first to go along with their scheme but when Adam said that he and Grace would spend most of their time out of the city so that no one would be scandalized by their behavior, Paul agreed. That night, they drove to Adam’s home in the country to spend their first night together as a married couple. Adam was as patient with Grace that night as he had been with the first kiss taking his time and telling her what to do so that she could enjoy their first time together as husband and wife. The next morning, Grace was up early and making tea when there quite a commotion with Snake barking loudly at a carriage outside. Grace opened the door to let Connor enter.

“That’s a horrible dog out there. I think he wanted to kill me.”

“No, he didn’t know you and wondered why you are here. Why are you here?”

“No, why are you here? Grace, you can’t keep staying with Adam like this. Your reputation cannot survive this. I went to see you last night, and your housekeeper said you packed a bag and left with him. It was too late to come out here last night. I was hoping you would be home late last night, but when you weren’t, I came directly here.”

“Connor, we should have told you, but we wanted to keep it a secret a bit longer.”

“Where is Adam?”

“He’s still in the bedroom getting dressed.”

“The bedroom! Oh my Lord! You didn’t!”

“Oh, Connor, yes we did, but Connor, we got married.”

“What?”

Before Connor had a heart attack or stroke, Grace explained everything to him. Adam walked out in the middle of the conversation and watched as his partner and wife’s cousin absorbed all the information. He didn’t like it.

“I should have expected something like this from the two of you, but I didn’t. I shall do my best to cover for you. The wedding will be in six weeks, you say? Very well. That shall have to be good enough. I would like to say congratulations, but at this point, I’m not sure how I feel. I hope there are no more surprises.”

But then they told him that Grace would be going to the mining camps to practice medicine and he nearly did have that stroke as his blood pressure rose. Adam told Grace to take her tea and go to the bedroom to dress.

“Connor, you know how much Grace wants to practice what she learned. She’ll be able to do that in the mining camps and no one in Sydney will see her being a doctor. Here, she will be my wife and your married cousin as you wanted. However, we will be the only company that has an attending physician visiting their mining camps. Our men will have a benefit that no other mining companies can offer. This is a great boon.”

“Adam, I simply cannot think the way you and Grace think, but you are adults, and there is no going back on what has been done. I will pray that this all works out, and that this is not a horrendous mistake. I’ll go now. I need some time to think about all of this. Give my best to Grace. I do want the best for her, and I do wish you well.”

So Adam and Grace began their new life with changes for both of them. They eventually had three homes. They built one near the larger of the two mining projects and used that when they were there. They lived in Adam’s house outside the city when they were in Sydney except when there were formal occasions in town or Sunday dinners when they spent time at Grace’s house. With the significant profits from the mines, they were able to expand Adam’s house too and add on to the stable to give Can-do a nice tack room with a bed to call his own. Adam’s family grew too as he and Grace welcomed a son and a daughter, Abel and Eleanor. Looming over them though was the promise that Adam had made to go back home someday to tell Jamie the truth about his heritage. Grace got to know Adam’s family as well as she could through letters because she knew it was going to be a challenge when she went to America with him. Both she and Adam maintained a regular correspondence with the Ponderosa and Grace even found herself writing letters back and forth with Troian which was something Adam didn’t do. He only wrote letters to his father and brothers even though he received a few letters from her. After eight years in Australia, Adam looked up from the latest short letter from his father and asked Grace if she was ready for a move. She knew it was time to face that trip to America. She nodded. There was going to be another story for them.

*****

 

Tides

Chapter 1

“Papa, why do I look more like Adam than I look like you? Everyone says so. Even Sheriff Coffee said so at church on Sunday. He always says that.”

“Well, you don’t have the same hair color as Adam. He has very black hair and yours is reddish brown. His hair is wavy too especially with curls in the back.”

“But does he have dimples like mine and eyes like mine?”

“Yes, Jamie, he does.”

“Does he have lips that look like mine?”

“Yes, your lips look quite a bit like his.”

“Is he skinny like me?”

“No, he is actually rather muscular and broad chested like me.”

“Oh. I guess we aren’t exactly the same then. I’ll go help Hop Sing then. He likes it when I help him. I finished my school work. It was easy.”

Glad that Jamie didn’t ask any questions comparing his skills in school and his intelligence to Adam, Ben leaned back and thought a bit. He had been debating doing something for quite some time and decided he had to do it. He pulled out some paper and began to write. He had told Troian he was going to do it. When he had first broached the possibility, she had objected saying it wasn’t necessary, but the more they had talked about it and the more she observed her son, the more she accepted that it was the only way.

Dear Adam,

Son, your son Jamie came to me again today with questions that I had to answer. I couldn’t lie to him so I evaded as well as I could, but he has noticed that he resembles you more than he does me. Each time he asks me that question, I evade because I cannot bring myself to tell him a lie. He’s a very intelligent boy, and I’m afraid that he will know I am lying as well as the moral problem I have with the act itself. Your picture on my desk as well as the family photos you send have been studied by him. He is insatiably curious, a trait you have said your son Abel shares, and I remember well that same trait in you as a child. Jamie is almost eight years old and becoming aware of many things in the world. He is precocious and paying attention to much that adults say. I know that when you left, you did so with the best of motives and intentions to spare me and to spare Jamie from gossip and humiliation of the truth of our situation. However, many have guessed and as Jamie grows older, more are guessing. Roy Coffee has guessed the truth. In fact, he knew when Jamie was only a few months old. I’m sure others guessed the truth that soon too especially as Troian and I were not the most loving couple especially in those early years of our marriage. If not now, at some point in the future, that secret will not be secret but common knowledge as more and more people talk and Jamie grows more into the spitting image of you.

What I’m asking is that you consider coming home soon to talk with your son. He needs to hear the truth from his father. I would hate for him to hear it with some gossip spoken by children who have heard it from their parents. I’ll be here too and his mother is here. We’ll have to help him to accept what has happened and the unusual circumstances in which he will find himself. I’m sure we can work this out so that our family can heal and that Jamie can accept what has happened, but only the truth will let that healing begin. Son, it’s time. We’ve talked it out between us in letters over the years, but that won’t do for your son. He needs to know you. I hope you’re ready now to accept that and return to be his father. I look forward to your response and pray that it is positive. After much thought and prayer, I am convinced that it is the right thing to do and the only thing to do. Please, pray and seek His guidance, and I feel you will reach the same conclusion. I look forward to hearing from you, and hope that you agree. As always, I will do the best I can whatever is decided.

Your father, Ben.

Knowing that letter might take two months to arrive in his son’s hands and even if Adam agreed with him and decided it was time to return, there would be significant work that needed to be done before he could make that trip, Ben resolved to find a way to talk to Jamie and try to prepare him for the news that he was inevitably going to learn. Ben knew too that it was time to talk to Joe and to Hoss about this subject. He found time to talk with Hoss first finding him working in the stable later that week and told him about the content of the letter he had written to Adam.

“Dadburnit, this is gonna be awful hard on Jamie.”

“Yes, I expect it will be difficult for him. He is close to you and may come to you for comfort or advice because you’re not part of the complex situation in which he will find himself. I hope you will be able to help him understand that no one meant any harm by what was done.”

“Mebbe Joe kin help too.”

“Joe is very wrapped up in his new family now too. I’m afraid his attention isn’t going to be focused on Jamie with a new wife and a baby on the way as well as a new house.”

“Yeah, that is a lot to take care of. Pa, you know I’ll be here for Jamie. I’m cain’t wait ta see Adam too. It’s been way too long. I wonder what he looks like now, and he’s got two young’uns.” Hoss paused then. “I guess I should say three. Now, his wife knows all about this, right?”

“Yes, Adam told her the whole story before they were married so she has known about it from the beginning. I’m glad he was honest with her from the start. Honesty from all of us would have helped a great deal to avoid this situation in the first place, but that can’t be helped now.”

“Pa, you gonna be all right with people talking about us and such cause you know there’s gonna be talk.”

“Hoss, there’s talk already. We both know that. Once it’s all out there, yes, there will likely be a real flare up of talk, but then it will be over because who wants to gossip about what everyone else already knows?”

“Pa, what’s Troian gonna say ’bout all this? She all right with this?” Seeing how Ben looked away and frowned, Hoss had a good idea of how that had gone if it had been discussed at all. “Seems to me you two better get it right between you before you ever think to bring it up with Jamie and long before Adam gets here or it’s gonna be even worse.”

“We’ve talked about it in general terms so many times, she has to know how I’ve been thinking, but I have to admit, I’m worried about actually saying it to her.”

“Pa, you’re saying the truth is what Jamie deserves. Well, seems to me it’s what all of us have to start thinking on doing. Bin too much of not being entirely truthful ’bout too much for too long. So now I got another question for ya. How are you gonna be ifn Adam tells him the truth and he wants to go live with his pa? Ya said you told Adam to come back to be his father. Well, you know how Adam is about his responsibilities. He don’t do nothing half way.”

“He’ll still be my grandson as Adam is my son.”

“Pa, Adam will come back ’cause he said he would, but I don’t think he’s gonna come back the same as when he left.” Hoss said no more leaving his statement hanging there. His father knew what he meant. Adam wasn’t going to move back into his room and resume the life he had before he left. Adam had a wife, two children, and significant business interests now that had nothing to do with the Ponderosa. His life wasn’t here any more so even if he returned, he wasn’t going to be living here on the ranch. His father could hope or dream that he might build a house on the ranch as Joe had done when he married, but Hoss was certain that was not going to happen.

Knowing what Hoss was implying and accepting it in his mind even if his heart wanted to reject the thought, Ben had nothing more to say. His middle son was the wisest counselor in the family and had given him a lot to consider. He had known too that he should be talking more to Troian about this whole situation but had been avoiding it because he was fairly certain too that the end result of the letter he had sent was that Jamie would end up living with Adam and away from the Ponderosa. It would be his fault in Troian’s eyes and he wouldn’t be able to deny it. It was time to have that conversation with her, but he needed to find time when Jamie wouldn’t be around for a while so that both of them could be composed by the time he returned. He vastly overestimated Troian’s ability to compose herself after such a conversation. Their opportunity to speak in depth about the subject came that Sunday when Hoss volunteered to take Jamie for a picnic and fishing at the lake. Troian had been able to tell for days that her husband had something weighing heavily on his mind, and when Hoss took Jamie for the day, she knew that the subject involved her but never guessed what it was. Ben shocked her when he told her what he had written to Adam.

“How could you do that without consulting me? Jamie is my son. I have every right to be part of decisions about his life.”

“Yes, you do, but so does his father, and it’s about time that he comes here to start doing that.”

“You’ve been his father for eight years. Why does that have to change?”

“Because I’m not his father and his father is alive, well, and quite capable of being a father to his son. Gossip shouldn’t be what stops that from happening. We were so worried about the scandal. What we should have worried about was Jamie.”

“Yes, and we should worry about him now. What will this do to him? You want to tear him from the only roots he has. You want to shatter his world and leave him questioning everything.”

“No, he’s already questioning. He frequently asks me why he looks more like Adam than he looks like me, and I can’t lie to him. I have successfully evaded answering his questions directly, but he’s a very smart boy. He’s going to figure that out soon enough. Then what? What happens when he finds out that we have been lying to him? What happens if he hears the story at school because we know that people have been talking and children overhear things?”

“But what will he think of me?”

“Probably the same as he will think of me and of Adam: that we’re human and we make mistakes. He’s getting old enough to learn that lesson.”

For a time. Troian sat with her head down and tears streaming that she wiped away with her hands balled into impotent fists. She felt as if her whole world was crumbling. Then a new fear surfaced. Scared, she looked at Ben to beseech him. “What if Adam wants to take Jamie with him? What if he wants Jamie to live with him and his family?” Ben said nothing and she knew. “That’s what you think too. You want that, don’t you? You don’t want Jamie living here. He reminds you of what I did and that Adam had me first.”

Not able to deny that he wanted Jamie to go live with Adam at least for a time to get to know his father, Ben also didn’t want him to leave but knew it was best for Jamie. There was some truth in her accusation too but that had nothing to do with his decision. It did still hurt that Adam and Troian had been together and he had not known about that. Unable to explain his feelings because they were so contradictory, he said nothing and Troian thought the worst.

“And you think that Adam’s wife will be a better mother to Jamie than I am? She leaves her children in the care of a nanny as she goes off to take care of sick people and brings back who knows what to her home.”

“She’s a doctor, Troian, so I’m sure she knows how to avoid putting her family in harm’s way.”

“And will she feel that same way about Adam’s child from another woman?”

The conversation was going in directions Ben didn’t like. This was another question he had considered and about which he did worry somewhat. All he could do was go back to his original premise. “Troian, isn’t it better that Jamie know the truth and that he know his father? He will learn that someday, and he will not be forgiving if we are not honest with him. I know because he is so much like Adam. We can’t think about what is best for us. We have to think about what is best for Jamie. You brought up troubling issues. I understand because I’ve thought about those same things. I don’t have answers for you. All I can do is come back to the same thing. What is the best for Jamie?”

“Shouldn’t he be with his mother?”

“You’ve had him for eight years.”

“I don’t want to give him away.”

“You won’t be. You will be placing him in his father’s care if it comes to that, and we will still see him. He is your son and my grandson. We will see him often. I can promise you that. He may not be with his father all the time either. Adam has two children and businesses to run. I’m sure that he will give Jamie the time that he can, but he has other demands on his time too. He will need help with Jamie, and we’ll be here to help. We’ll see Jamie. I can promise that.”

“How can you promise that?”

“Because I trust Adam.”

*****

Chapter 2

While Troian went into depression thinking of what she was going to probably lose, Jamie worried about his mother. She was frequently wiping away tears and telling him it was nothing to worry about to the point that Ben told her that she was going to have to do a better job of putting on a good face around their son. She did better after that, but Hoss and Ben could still see the strain in her face and posture even if Jamie seemed relieved that she was no longer crying and smiled and laughed with him as she had before she had that big talk with Ben. When Hoss had a chance, he brought up the subject with Joe after telling his father he thought it would be best if the two brothers talked it out before Ben talked with Joe.

“It’s going to be great having Adam back. The family just hasn’t seemed right with him gone.”

“Joe, there’s one thing I ain’t tole ya yet. Pa wants Adam to tell Jamie the truth.”

Pausing then in his work, Joe looked at Hoss uncertain as to why Hoss looked so worried. “I’ve thought for years that the truth should come out. It’s going to be best for everyone for us to have the truth be told. It probably should have been told right away. I understand why Adam did what he did, but we both know it didn’t really work. Jamie looks too much like him. People were guessing at the truth all along. The gossip he wanted to avoid is out there anyway.”

“Yeah, lately Jamie’s asked me why he looks more like Adam than Pa. I never did know what to say to him. Pa says Jamie done asked him the same, and Pa couldn’t lie to him. He did his best to avoid answering direct like. But you know how smart Jamie is. He knows there’s something strange, but you can bet that boy ain’t got no idea what the story really is.”

“It’s gonna be hard on him when people start talking. There’s going to be a lot of staring and words said. I wish Jamie didn’t have to be here for that.”

“There’s a good chance he won’t be.”

“What?”

“Pa’s kinda thinking that Jamie might be going to live with Adam. Jamie’s real smart and he could really do a lot better spending some time with his own pa.”

“Our Pa is smart.”

“He is, but it ain’t the same thing. Jamie wants that book learning and wants to learn about all sorts of things that we ain’t got here.”

“But if Adam’s coming back, how would things be any different?” But after only a few seconds, Joe knew. “Because Adam won’t live here. He would probably live in San Francisco like he was before he left for Australia. He won’t live on the ranch. It won’t ever be the same, will it, Hoss?”

“No, it won’t ever be the same, but it’s still gonna be great to have our brother back at least close enough to see ‘im. I been missing ‘im something fierce. And he’s got a wife, a son, and a daughter that we ain’t ever met. They’re family and they ought to be here.”

“Why didn’t Pa tell me if he told you?”

“Cause I asked him to let me tell you. I know that when you and Pa get to talking ’bout things you sometimes git to arguing before you talk it all the way through. This way I figure you’ll have heard it all out, and now you can go talk to Pa so you two can talk more calm like.”

Slightly offended at hearing that assessment, Joe couldn’t maintain his negative attitude and had to admit that Hoss was probably correct. He agree to have a talk with their father about the situation and not get angry about it. When he talked with Ben, Joe was surprised to find that his father was more disturbed about the possibilities than he was. Afterwards, he realized how hard it would be for his father to let go of Jamie even as he adjusted to his new role as Jamie’s grandfather. At the same time, he would have to deal with Troian and her emotional distress over the situation. Joe was happy then that his wife and family life although troubled by Alice’s brother were more straightforward. If only her brother wasn’t such a ne’er-do-well gambler and dishonest as well. He had to wonder how that was going to turn out but expected that it wasn’t going to be a good result for his brother-in-law.

As Joe was thinking those thoughts, Adam was having his last dinner with his cousin which was as close to a brother-in-law that he had. Connor was as protective as Grace as a brother, and he was worried about this move to America though he had known it was coming ever since Adam and Grace had married. After more than seven years had passed with no move, Connor had allowed himself to begin to hope that perhaps Adam wouldn’t move, but he did know that Adam had been making investments in America for years with profits from their business. However even now, Adam wasn’t selling off all of his properties in Australia. They were keeping Grace’s house in Sydney, and Adam was keeping his share of the business with Connor.

“I wouldn’t pull my investment out and risk harming the company, Connor. You’ve been great to me and to Grace. I would never do that to you. You have my proxy to make decisions for the firm, and as possible, Grace and I hope to be able to come back for visits. It won’t be often, but we don’t want to turn our backs on our home here.”

“My concern is that you believe that now, but once you are fully engaged in your life in America, you won’t have time for those visits. I will miss Grace and the children so much.”

“Connor, one of my investments is a small shipping company. I hope to buy some newer ships and improve the speed of my line to offer some of the fastest delivery times in the Pacific. With that, I can carve out a special niche in the market against the larger companies.”

“As long as money is no object?”

Grinning then because he and Connor understood each other so well in business matters, Adam nodded. “Yes, of course. I didn’t say it was going to be the cheapest delivery in the Pacific.”

“So, weather permitting, you leave in one more day?”

“Yes, we’ve invited Paul and Rachel to dine with us tomorrow evening and the next morning we’ll leave on the high tide.”

“I wish you well, and if you see some good investments for our company over there, I’ll be interested. It would give me a good reason to visit and a chance to see Grace and this wilderness you’re taking her to especially as I know someone who’s going to be buying some fast ships who can get me there in the comfort and luxury to which I have become accustomed.” Pausing briefly, Connor grinned. “You’re taking one of those ships to America, aren’t you? That’s why you were able to book passage for you and your things so fast. It’s your ship.”

“Guilty as charged.” Adam’s answering grin was as big. “I ordered a new ship and it was recently delivered. I had the captain and crew hired and had them take the ship on a short trip to be sure it was all working well. The captain assures me it is the fastest ship he has ever had the privilege of commanding. He and the crew are looking forward to the trip too.”

“And did Grace get a captain’s hat for Abel?”

“No, she bought him black pants, a black shirt, and a black hat. He’s quite proud of being a miniature version of me in my casual clothing. Grace told him I’ll be wearing that when we get to the ranch so he wants to be ready.”

Much of the same was repeated the next evening with Paul and Rachel, but they had a few more questions too. The most important one was about the nanny who had been working for Adam and Grace ever since Abel was born so that Grace could continue working. Paul broached the subject but Rachel’s apt attention showed that she was interested too.

“Is Prudence going to be traveling to America with you?”

Prudence had been a nanny to the youngest children of Paul and Rachel, but once Grace had Abel, they had suggested that Adam and Grace had greater need of her services as a nanny and that Prudence preferred to live outside of Sydney which held so many unpleasant memories for her. The home that Adam had outside the city was expanded several times so there was room for her and for the children too.

“Yes, Grace told her that we would let her keep the house in the country if she wanted to stay, but she doesn’t want to stay. She’s become quite attached to the children, and frankly, I think she’s afraid to be alone.”

“She could marry and then she wouldn’t be alone.” Rachel always had high hopes that marriage would be good for any lonely woman because marriage had been so good for her.

Grace smiled benignly. “Prudence hasn’t found a man gentle enough and kind enough for her to trust. I don’t know if she ever will. She will have a home with us though as long as she needs one. The children adore her, and she makes me comfortable continuing my work. I don’t have to worry about the children as long as she’s working for us. She’s more like family now than a nanny.”

“Do you plan to continue working when you go to America?”

Both Paul and Rachel saw the quick glance she gave to Adam and the look he gave to her. Obviously this had been a subject of discussion with them and wasn’t settled yet. Grace admitted as much. “Adam isn’t sure how that will work out considering where we plan to live. We may have to make some adjustments to our plans.”

“On another subject, what will happen to Can-do now that you’re leaving? His safety was in your hands. You know that, don’t you?” Paul was deeply concerned about the fate of the indigenous people of the country he had adopted, and had been horrified to hear that men went out to hunt the aboriginal men and sometimes the women and children too. Mostly though women were brought in as servants or forcibly taken as to be used as servants and for sexual needs of the men especially in the frontier areas where there were few if any women. It was barbaric but not something he could stop although he preached against violence practiced against any of God’s people. Many did not see the indigenous people as God’s though so the genocide continued although not as bad as it had been although sadly it would continue for many decades. Adam was well aware too of what had been happening and had taken care for Can-do’s future.

“I sold my property to someone who will keep Can-do safe. I made sure of that. I’ve provided for an account to be sure that food will be provided for his family for many years too. He has been a good and loyal friend. I have done what I can and what he will allow me to do. Snake is staying with him. I’ll miss that dog, but Can-do would have missed him more. We’re taking one of the pups with us that he sired. He’s going to be our new Snake. Abel insisted we call him that.”

“Adam, you seem to have everything planned out.”

“I knew this day was coming. I’ve been preparing for it for several years. I don’t have everything planned out though.”

“Oh, what haven’t you planned?”

“My father wants me to tell Jamie the truth. I know he’s correct, and I plan to do that, but how am I going to tell my son I walked away from him eight years ago? How will I be able to get him to understand that decision when I’m not sure I understand it myself?”

*****

Chapter 3

“Pa, any more stores close up and any more people board up their houses, and this is gonna start looking like a ghost town.”

“It will get better again, Hoss. The silver market goes up and down so fast that many of the mine owners haven’t learned how to adjust. The smarter ones know how to hold onto their bullion until the price rises. They’re still open.”

“I dunno, Pa. According to what I been hearing, the price of silver is going lower. It goes up like you say, but then it goes down further and the ups never quite balance out the downs.”

“I’m afraid that’s true to some extent. The Comstock has added so much silver to the market that it has brought the price down. Too much success brought us to this point. I’m glad that Adam talked us into selling our silver interests before he left. We made a nice profit. If we had held onto them, we would have sold at a loss if we could have sold them at all. Some of these mines simply shut down.”

“Nice to have this Independence Day celebration. At least for a day, everybody kin forget their troubles and worries.”

“I’m not so sure I can forget all of mine with Joe riding in that horse race again. He’s a husband and soon he’ll be a father. I would have thought that he might consider giving up horse racing.”

“Aw, Pa, you know Joe and horses. He ain’t never gonna give that up no more than me and horseshoes. And speaking of that, I better get over there to make sure I don’t miss my turn. The prize is a silver horseshoe this year. I aim to win it.”

Ben grinned as Hoss hurried away. Jamie was by his side and the two continued on to the foot races where Jamie planned to compete although like all the other boys waiting with their fathers, they too stopped at the finish line of the horse race to wait to see who won. Troian was sitting with the ladies who had set out the pies and box lunches for the auction that was soon to take place.

No one paid any attention to the train chugging slowly into town or to the family who disembarked. Adam paid to have a porter take their luggage to the hotel and Prudence went with the man to get their rooms ready as Adam led his family to the Independence Day celebration explaining as well as he could what was happening. As they prepared to cross the street, there were yells and people warned them not to cross. Soon thundering hooves warned of the approach of men on horseback racing through town. After they passed by, Adam smiled and turned to his family.

“Well, there went one member of the family. Abel, that was your Uncle Joe on that black and white horse. It’s called a Pinto.”

“You mean the man who was winning the race?”

“Yes, he was the one who was winning.”

“You said he liked horses. You didn’t say he was so good at riding them.”

“You’ve seen that for yourself. Now, we can head in that direction. My guess is the rest of the family is probably down that way somewhere.”

As Adam walked with Abel making an opening in the crowd so that Grace who was carrying Eleanor could follow, he saw a shooting contest in one of the wide alleys. He paused and Grace knew what he wanted to do.

“Oh, go ahead. We aren’t going anywhere fast in this crowd anyway. Maybe if you make enough noise, they’ll find us.”

“I was thinking that Joe might compete. Maybe he’ll find us.”

“You don’t have to convince me. I already told you to do it. We’ll sit on the side and watch.”

With a smile and a shrug, Adam walked to the registration table. The two men looked up at him dressed in his city clothing and asked if they could help him.

“Yes, I would like to compete.”

“You?”

“Yes, is there some reason I can’t?”

“The shooters have already had the first rounds. You’d hafta start in round three.”

“What does that mean?”

“The target is moved to fifty yards and you only get one shot. Three best shooters go to round four. It’s moved back another ten yards and one more shot and the two best shooters advance. Move it back ten more yards and the best shot wins.”

“I’ll do it. Ah, can I borrow a rifle to shoot?”

“You want to shoot with a borrowed rifle?”

“Yes, is that a problem?”

The men shook their heads and reached behind them for their rifles both having been eliminated in round one. Adam tested the balance of the two rifles and chose one. He thanked the man for the rifle and paid him for the ammunition he would need and the registration fee. He asked then what the prize was, and they told him it was a brand new Winchester. The other shooters had been waiting and listening smirking with amusement. Their smirks were less pronounced when Adam was one of the three to advance to the next round placing his shot in the inner ring with two of the others. The target was moved back and the three shooters prepared to shoot. One man hit the ring of the inner circle and the other man put his inside the ring. Adam stood to shoot and the man who had hit the ring tried to rattle him.

“Never saw a city slicker could shoot when it mattered. Probably never shot nothing except a paper target in his life anyway. Probably wet himself if there was ever anybody shooting back at him.”

Lowering his rifle, Adam looked over at the man. “With your lack of manners, I would imagine you have to worry about men shooting at you rather often.”

There was a smattering of chuckles in the crowd because the men there had known it was bad sportsmanship to do what the man had done. They appreciated the cool manner in which Adam had handled it. Adam raised his rifle and fired without wasting any time placing his shot in the center circle. He and the other man were advancing and the poor sport was eliminated. He grumbled and walked off. The man competing against Adam turned to him.

“Good luck. May the best shooter win. My name’s Candy.”

“I’m Adam. May the best shooter win. After you.”

With a nod, Candy stepped to the firing line and took careful aim at the target now ten more yards in the distance and in the shade at the far end of the alley. He fired and hit the ring of the inner circle. Adam nodded at the fine shooting and moved to take his spot. Raising the rifle to his shoulder and carefully seating it there, he lowered it to sight in on the target and carefully squeezed the trigger. The man at the end moved to the target and signaled that Adam had hit the ring also. The crowd was silent for a moment not believing that he could have done that. Adam only smiled and turned to Candy. They had to shoot again. Both hit the inner circle. They had to shoot again. Both hit the inner circle once more. There was no room to move the target further back and the people running the contest wanted a way to have a winner. Candy suggested they toss for it and Adam was game. He lost the toss.

“Good shooting, Candy. Would you mind if I took a look at that rifle you used?”

“Sure, it’s a rifle the family I work for gave me to use. It’s got real nice balance.”

After handling the rifle only briefly, Adam was going to hand it back to Candy. “Yes, it does. It’s a fine rifle.”

Candy surprised Adam though. “You know, I have a new rifle and I know you borrowed one. Why don’t you keep that old one?”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”

“Good luck to you.”

The two shook hands, and both walked away smiling. Grace had to know the story but waited until Candy and others were well away.

“Why are you smiling like you won?”

“It’s nostalgia. It’s my old rifle. I always liked this rifle and now I have it again. I didn’t need a new one, and he wanted that new one so it worked out very well for both of us.”

“Should we go look for your family now?”

“I think we can relax here for a while. I have a feeling my family is going to find us soon.” Grace had no idea why Adam thought that, but she was tired from the trip, from carrying Eleanor, and from pushing and being pushed by the crowd. Resting and waiting to be found sounded fine to her. They found an unoccupied bench and settled there. Adam got them some popcorn and some water to drink and they waited in the shade to be found.

In the saloon where they had agreed to meet, Ben bought beers for himself and his two sons. Hoss leaned back and admired his shiny new silver horseshoe after winning the horseshoe contest. Joe was admiring the silver belt buckle with the horse emblem on it. Ben relaxed and sipped his beer waiting for Candy who was supposed to join them. Jamie was with his mother and Alice helping to clean up after the auction of the box lunches and the pies that the ladies from the church had done to raise money for the fire department. It had been a good day and they waited to hear how Candy had done in the shooting contest. When he walked in with the new Winchester in hand, both Hoss and Joe jumped up to congratulate him on his win.

“I didn’t win by shooting.”

“Well, of course you won. You’ve done got the rifle, dontcha?”

“Hoss, another man shot as well as I did. We tied three times. Tall as me and he looked like a city slicker the way he was dressed, and he’s got that full beard and all, but he shot like he knew what he was doing and had been shooting for years. We finally settled it with a coin toss and then I offered him my old rifle. He looked so happy to get it you would think it was an old friend.”

Suddenly all three Cartwrights were at full attention, but Ben was the first to speak. “Candy, what did he look like otherwise? What was he like?”

“Like I said, he was about my height, dark hair, dark eyes, and kind of a smart alecky way about him. Oh, and he had a dark haired wife and a son and little girl too. Funny thing, the little boy was dressed all in black.”

The Cartwrights never heard that last part. They were already headed out the door and on the way to where the shooting contest had occurred. Candy took a long slurp from one of the beers and followed. He was definitely curious and wanted to know what was going on. He caught up to them as they reached the walk where Adam sat with his family. Adam stood when he saw them approaching and Ben didn’t care what anyone thought or if Adam was going to be embarrassed. He grabbed his son in a hug and didn’t let go for a full minute. Slowly then, he disentangled himself and saw that Adam’s eyes were glistening too.

“You came back.”

“I promised I would, and you asked me to come back.” Turning then to get time to regain his composure, Adam pulled Grace and Abel to his side and introduced them. Hoss came up then to grab Adam in a hug and then hugged Grace and knelt down to say howdy to Abel. Abel had a question for him.

“Does it hurt when you hug somebody?”

“Nope. Hugs feel good.”

“Can I hug you then?”

“Shur can, little buddy.” Hoss moved in gently and hugged Abel who grinned.

Joe was next and hugs were shared all around until everyone had hugged the new arrivals. Abel looked up at Hoss as he stood beside him and told him how tall he was and told Ben he never had a grandfather before.

“Well, Abel, you did because I’ve always been your grandfather. You just never had met me before today.”

“Oh. Do I have any other grandfathers I haven’t met?”

There was laughter then as Adam explained that he had been trying to explain various family roles to Abel but at six going on seven, Abel didn’t quite understand yet because he had no experience with family other than cousins. Ben said that they should get the whole family together and head out to the Ponderosa.

“Pa, we have rooms at the International. Our nanny is there getting the rooms ready. Eleanor is ready for a nap and Grace is tired. We’ll stay at the hotel tonight. We’re waiting for the rest of our luggage to arrive too. Tomorrow we’ll be out at the ranch for a visit.” The tone by which Adam stated everything said that it was nonnegotiable.

Hoss and Joe were a bit wide-eyed at the change in the relationship between their older brother and their father. Ben had expected something like it, and although somewhat disconcerting to hear his son dictate his actions so clearly, he agreed to Adam’s agenda. “Good. We’ll be expecting you then. Maybe you would like to meet Jamie and Alice before we leave. They’re around here some place.”

With a glance to Grace, Adam agreed. The whole group moved toward the church then with Ben in the lead. Candy tagged along as he found the whole situation fascinating. He had known much of the story having talked to both Hoss and Joe about it, but seeing the family dynamic play out was quite a bit more dramatic than he had expected. When Troian saw Adam, she immediately looked to Ben and then adopted a blank look trying not to react at all while Jamie was openly curious and anxious to meet the rest of the family he had never met. Jamie and Abel looked amazingly alike although Jamie had light brown hair and Abel had black hair. Otherwise they were very similar. The two boys started talking and both were intrigued by the other’s accent. Troian’s greeting to Grace was formal and her greeting to Adam was as neutral as she could make it. With all of that out of the way, Adam said it was time to get Eleanor to the hotel so she could rest. He gathered his family and promised to be at the Ponderosa the next morning as soon as he could. Ben didn’t take his eyes from his eldest son until he disappeared around the corner down the street.

*****

Chapter 4

That evening, Ben noted that Troian was unusually quiet. He worried about what she was thinking and wasn’t expecting at all what she told him when they were behind closed doors before bed.

“Ben, I’m ready to accept what you think we need to do that’s best for Jamie and for the family.”

Stunned after all the tears she had shed and complaints she had made for the previous months, Ben stared at her. “What changed your mind?”

“I think in my mind, I probably knew it might be best for Jamie to live with his father and get to know him, but in my heart, I thought it was all wrong. Then today, I saw Adam with his wife and children. I saw how he acted as a father and a husband. It was only for a very short time, but it was real. I saw how Jamie was with Abel. He deserves the chance to be in that family if that’s what he wants. And Grace.”

Troian couldn’t continue collapsing onto the bed dropping her head into her hands as she cried. Ben sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. He knew how she felt for he had the same reaction. In his mind, he knew what they wanted for Jamie was the right thing to do, but his heart was breaking at the thought of Jamie leaving. He would miss Jamie every day and would wonder what he was doing and what he was thinking and how he was feeling. He guessed it would even be harder for Troian and knew what a sacrifice it was going to be and how much she had to love her son to be willing to do this.

“Troian, this is the most loving and most unselfish thing that you have ever done. I know how you feel. This is going to be very difficult for us, but I have never loved you as much as I love you right now.”

“Ben, I love you too very much.” That left Ben stunned for a moment. “I know I’ve never said those words to you. I thought you wouldn’t believe me. Over the years, I have come to love you very much. You are a man I respect, a man of morality and compassion. I have seen you in so many different situations and you have always acted with honor and kindness. How could I not fall in love with you?”

“I longed to hear those words from you. I had come to think you might never feel that way about me. Oh, Troian.”

Ben pulled her into his arms and kissed her with passion. For the first time in their marriage, they made love as two people who loved one another without reservation. Past mistakes had been banished. Their shared experiences and future together were now more important.

In town, Adam and Grace were having quite a different kind of discussion as she wondered why he had seemed so cool to the idea of going to the Ponderosa. “You greeted your father and brother so warmly, I had tears in my eyes. I nearly cried. Then when your father said we should all go to the ranch, you got that cool business voice you have and said we wouldn’t. You never asked me what I thought or if we had time to go. Jamie would have loved to spend more time with Abel I’m sure by how the two were when they met, and by all the complaining, you know that Abel was disappointed by your decision.”

“My father and I had disagreements in the past as to who got to decide what I would do, and I wanted him to know that there would be no disagreement. I make my own decisions.”

“So that was some kind of contest and you won?”

“No, we were going to spend the night in town anyway. You and I had already agreed on that. It was letting my father know that we make the decisions for our family.” Adam wisely switched to the ‘we’ form of decision making for the family not wanting to stir up any trouble with his wife when he knew there were already some sensitive discussions and decisions awaiting him with his family on the Ponderosa.

Grace knew that too and let the issue drop switching instead to a discussion of his family. “Your brother Hoss is very intimidating. He’s so big. Joe seems quite a bit like you and your father in some ways, and that hired man of theirs, Candy, seems like a member of the family.”

“Yes, Candy does, and the way Hoss and Joe have mentioned him in their letters, they think of him almost like a brother. From what I’ve seen, Candy’s a good man. Hoss is the most kind and compassionate man I’ve ever known. Don’t let his size fool you. He’s so much more than his appearance. Too many have failed to see what he is because they never got past seeing how big he is. Jamie and Abel got on well which is a relief.”

“You thought they might not?”

“Boys can sometimes be competitive instead. The two of them seemed more curious and looking for a friend instead. That will help.”

“Adam, I still think we need to tell Abel soon. I know you don’t want to tell him before you talk to Jamie because he has an unfortunate habit of complete honesty and may say something he shouldn’t, but he will not like it that we kept this from him.”

“He will have to understand that Jamie deserves to know first.”

“When we talked about all of this so many years ago, I never imagined how difficult this was going to be. It seemed like it wouldn’t be so hard, but now I know the people and we have children too, and it is so much more complex than I ever understood it would be. Now I better understand why you did what you did. There is no simple solution to such a complex situation.”

“No, there isn’t, and the next few days and weeks could be difficult for all of us.”

Pausing in thought, Grace didn’t want to be too pessimistic but she tended to be realistic. It was probably a result of her training and her profession. “It could be much longer than that.”

Although he didn’t want to do it, Adam had to agree with her assessment of the situation. She was seldom wrong in such evaluations. The next morning after a restless night, the two prepared for the trip to the ranch. Prudence was invited to travel with them and accepted. The commotion in town the day before had her too nervous about staying there alone. Adam was going to rent a carriage but found that his father had sent the Ponderosa carriage to town for them to use. He looked at Grace and raised an eyebrow. She chuckled at the situation and only had one thing to say.

“It seems your father isn’t willing to give up entirely.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam helped her into the carriage and then handed Eleanor up to her after taking her from Prudence. He helped Prudence into the back with Grace, and then he helped Abel up on the front seat and then joined him there. The liveryman asked Adam if he knew how to handle a team of horses which earned him a roll of the eyes too as well as a deep sigh. Even though Adam had changed into his black clothing, everything was quite obviously brand new and marked him as a newcomer. The rest of their luggage had not yet arrived so he only had his more formal clothing and his new clothing. His old pistol rig was in the luggage that had not yet arrived so he took his old rifle with him and had it under the front seat.

The ride to the Ponderosa was uneventful and for the family who were used to the long rides in Australia, it was not as impressive as it was for other newcomers. They were impressed though by the mountains and by the view of the lake they could see through the trees. Adam promised that he would take them on a more scenic ride when they had more time so they could see the lake better and get more views of panoramic vistas. That of course meant he had to start defining words for Abel which had both Grace and Prudence snickering in the back seat. Adam was enjoying himself though so he wasn’t bothered by that nor by the incessant questions from his son who wanted every new tree and bird identified. Then he wanted to know how his father had gotten a rifle because he knew they had not arrived with one so Adam told him the story of the shooting contest making his son sit up even more proudly to have a father who was so skilled with a rifle. Abel asked if he could hold the rifle and with a look to Grace for permission, Adam reached down for the rifle and set it on the stock so that Abel could grasp it by the barrel and hold it upright.

“There, out here we call that riding shotgun.”

“But I have a rifle not a shotgun.”

“It doesn’t matter what you have. It’s what it’s called when you sit by the driver and you’re armed and ready to defend the driver and passengers.”

“Oh. But I can’t shoot this, can I?”

“No, you can’t, but it’s just that you’re sitting there like you’re riding shotgun.”

“But if I can’t shoot, then I’m not.”

The snickering from the back had turned into outright laughter by then as Adam struggled to answer Abel’s questions. Grace finally managed to choke out a statement.

“I bet your father would enjoy hearing this immensely. I imagine you were like this as a child too.”

Then Grace noticed the serious look Adam got and imagined he was wondering about Jamie and what he was like and what the previous eight years had been like. There was no going back though so she began asking questions too to stop Adam from brooding. In a short time, they were at the Ponderosa and the whole family was there ready to welcome them. It was clear that the men in the family were stunned to see Prudence when Adam introduced their nanny. Prudence greeted Joe and Alice reasonably well despite her shyness but shied a bit from Ben with his booming voice and visibly paled and stepped back when Hoss moved forward to greet her. Adam cringed on seeing the hurt look that briefly appeared on Hoss before he shook it off.

“Aw, shucks, miss, everybody looks at me that way. Sorry ifn I scared ya. I cain’t help being big and ugly. I hope you don’t hold it against us all. I’ll try to stay away from ya so ya don’t have ta worry none.”

In a shaky voice, Prudence denied that she had been scared, but quickly moved with the ladies and the children into the house. Adam put a hand on Hoss’ shoulder.

“She had a tough time with men a long time ago, and she escaped into being a nanny. She’s spent most of the last eight years with children. She’s not comfortable being alone with me either.”

“She’s kinda like them little hurt critters I bring home sometimes. All she’s feeling is pain and thinks she cain’t get away from it.”

Adam’s mouth quirked up in a half smile as he recognized that instinct in Hoss to take care of someone who is hurting. Ben saw it too and mirrored Adam’s look. Both had a good idea of how difficult that was going to be though.

Meanwhile Hoss zeroed in on the boys. “Hey, you two, I got a new colt in the stable. There’s a couple other little ones ain’t much older too, Abel. Jamie’s been introduced to ’em, but you could say howdy.”

“How do you say howdy to them?”

“You come with me and Joe and we’ll show ya how, right Joe?” Joe got the hint and the four of them headed to the stable to give Ben and Adam some time alone.

“Well, not too subtle but it got the job done. I assume that means that my brothers know that you have something you want to say to me?”

“I hadn’t meant to do so quite so quickly but I guess there’s no point in delaying. Do you want to sit on the porch where we can talk? I’m sure Hop Sing will bring coffee out soon.” Once they were settled, Ben’s prediction proved correct. After taking a deep breath, he launched into a preface that was the same as the letter he had sent with only a few more details. Next he asked Adam about his plans, and Adam said they were thinking of living in San Francisco with some trips to Australia possible once he had his shipping company well established. He also hoped to expand his investments into a company similar to the one he and Connor had in Australia. Ben asked if there was a chance they might live closer to Nevada if they were thinking of investments in mining and railroads. Adam said that was possible and asked why that was important. That’s when Ben shocked Adam.

“Troian and I have been discussing an idea I brought up and which she now accepts and agrees would be best for Jamie. We want you to have Jamie live with you wherever you choose to live at least for a time perhaps for the school term.”

Stunned into silence for a time as he thought about all of what that implied, Adam had a few questions when he found his voice. “Troian accepts this?”

“She does. We’ve been discussing this for months, and I have to admit she was completely against it at first, but she has reconsidered. She has now looked at it based on what is best for Jamie. He needs more than what we can offer to him, and we can still see him. It’s why I would like you to live closer, but I understand if that doesn’t work. We do have the resources to travel as do you so we could still see him often. I do think he would enjoy the summers here with us.”

“I would have to talk to Grace about this.”

“I know it’s a lot to consider. It’s probably a good idea that I was able to lay it all out for you today and give you time to talk it through with your wife. Meanwhile we can all get to know each other and spend time together.”

The rest of the day passed very pleasantly as the ladies got to know one another, and the boys enjoyed being entertained by Hoss and Joe. Grace saw Troian give Ben a look when he and Adam came in the house, and Ben nodded. She noted too that Adam appeared a bit distracted for much of the day but could only wonder why. It was that night when they were in bed, that Adam was able to tell her what his father had proposed. After discussing that for quite a long time, the two of them had another restless night and got less sleep than they had the previous night. The plan was to spend another day visiting the ranch and then when the rest of their luggage arrived, they would move to the ranch to spend time there as Adam prepared to tell Jamie the truth and then deal with the repercussions of that.

Abel was anxious to stay on the ranch, but Prudence was nervous about the move as she was feeling some strange things about Hoss and that worried her. He scared her and attracted her at the same time. She didn’t know what to do about that. Often she noted him looking at her, and when she looked his way, he smiled at her. That gap toothed smile and those blue eyes told her to trust him, but it was so difficult to trust a man. Could she take a chance on him?

*****

Chapter 5

In the morning, Grace asked Adam why his father was putting all the responsibility for telling Jamie on him. “Why can’t Ben tell Jamie or at least tell him with you?”

“He could, but I’ve assumed a lot of this responsibility over the years as we’ve discussed this by letter. I wasn’t alone responsible for what happened but by leaving so abruptly and then by not coming back here, I pushed others into making decisions they might not have made if I had been here to assume more responsibility for being Jamie’s father. I know I didn’t know about Jamie until after Pa and Troian were married but I ducked out before the wedding. Troian was made even more desperate by that.”

“More desperate?”

“Remember that she came here thinking that she would tell me that she was with child and I would marry her because she thought I loved her. I made it clear to her that I didn’t and that I planned to end our relationship. That was a shock to her and shook her terribly especially in the condition in which she was then. She came up then with a scheme to force me to face marriage with her but it blew up in her face when I left. I think she thought then that she had no choice. A woman alone with a child and no way to support herself and that child is a very frightening future to face. She did like my father and he loved her. She decided to make the best of it. I doubt she thought through the consequences of the choices she was making.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever made such a long speech about this nor have you ever been so forgiving of her for her treachery because that’s what it was, my husband.”

“I know, but now we have to look to the future. I made mistakes. She made mistakes. There is no going back for any of it. What good can come now from holding a grudge? How will that help Jamie? How will that help my father? They’re the two completely innocent parties in all of this who don’t deserve any hurt, but they are going to be hurt, and there is no way that I can see to avoid it. All I can see is a way to try to do the best we can do for both of them now.”

“And what does that mean?”

“We may have to reconsider a full-time life in San Francisco. Perhaps we should take a look at other places we could live that would make it easier for Pa and Troian to see Jamie and for him to see them.”

“What about you and your business interests?”

“Much of that is in northern California and Oregon. Perhaps there’s somewhere north of here where we could live that would be more convenient.”

“Would that make it easier for me to work than it would have in San Francisco?”

Smiling a little, Adam nodded. “Most likely, yes. I can maintain an apartment and offices in San Francisco and would likely have to travel fairly often but rail traffic so improved now, it wouldn’t be for long.”

“I’m not sure that I like the sound of that. Perhaps we could think about a second home here as we did at Bathurst. If rail traffic is as good as what we experienced so far, we could travel here fairly often and spend much of the summer here if not all of it. The boys certainly would enjoy that. That way, you would only be traveling away from the family for those few months instead of repeatedly throughout the year.”

“Would you be willing to give up your work because I don’t think it will be easy for you to practice in San Francisco?”

“I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking that perhaps I could start doing some teaching instead. Now they would find that more acceptable, wouldn’t they?”

“We need to talk about this more after we’ve had time to think about all of it, but yes, I think your suggestions may work out for us. Let’s get the children up and ready to go though if Prudence hasn’t already done it. We promised a full day on the ranch and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to that. Now if only the rest of our luggage would arrive, we could think about settling in out there for a bit.”

When Adam and Abel went to get the carriage, they were hailed by a porter from the depot who told them the rest of their luggage had arrived. With big grins, they followed him to the depot where they were reunited with Snake. The puppy had been ill when they reached San Francisco and rather than delaying their travel, they had left him in the care of a liveryman who said he knew how to take care of sick pups and would send him along when he was well enough. Adam had paid the man for his services and paid for passage for Snake when he was well again. The man had told him to expect the dog within a few days and had been correct. The dog seemed quite healthy again as he had been in Australia but he had not weathered the travel aboard ship well. Adam and Abel took him to the stable and soon were at the hotel where Grace and Eleanor happily greeted Snake too. Adam guessed the puppy would be a big hit on the Ponderosa with everyone except his father who had never liked dogs in the house and probably would find a boisterous puppy even more objectionable.

Once they were at the house, it was much like the day before except that Ben and Joe went with the boys once everyone was introduced to Snake and learned the history of that unusual name. Snake was a little shaky after all his travels so it was decided that he should stay at the ranch and rest for the day. Hoss and Adam were left behind as the ladies went in the house with Eleanor. Keeping the puppy with him, Adam wondered at the change but Hoss told him he would explain once they were in the stable. In the house, equally serious conversations were held too as Troian couldn’t wait and asked Grace if Adam had talked to her about what Ben had asked him to do.

“Yes, he did.”

“Will you and Adam do it?”

By Alice’s silence, Grace guessed she already knew too what had been discussed. “We will if that’s what Jamie wants. He’s old enough to have some say in what happens. We’ve been talking too about how to make sure that you and Ben stay in more contact with him. We’re considering the possibility of a house here as well as in San Francisco and spending as much time here as possible.” Troian said little to that so Grace had to ask what she was thinking.

“How do you feel about this? I don’t know how you can do it.”

“A few months ago, I wasn’t going to do it. I slowly came to realize that was because I was putting myself first. I tried to think of what would be best for Jamie and of course at first, I assumed it would be best for him to stay in the home he’s had since birth. But again, I was thinking mostly from what I wanted. I didn’t consider what Jamie wanted. Yes, the best for him would probably for all of us to live here, but that isn’t going to happen. He does need more education than he can get here. Sooner or later, he was going away to school anyway. It was probably going to be in only a few years as smart as he is. He was likely to end up in a boarding school so this is a much better situation.”

“I still don’t know that I could do it.”

“I think you could. I’ve only known you in your letters but now I’ve seen you with your son. You want the best for him. You would do what you had to do no matter the cost to you if it was what he wanted.”

“Yes, and we may be getting way ahead of ourselves here. Jamie may not want to be with us. He may wish to stay here even when he knows the truth.”

Ben and Joe had had a similar conversation which was relayed to Adam by Hoss who said Joe had questioned why Jamie had to leave and Ben had referred not only to what was best for Jamie but also the need for better schooling and that once Jamie knew, he would have some say in the final resolution of how the family would be organized after the truth was revealed. “It’s gonna be real hard on Jamie but on Pa and Troian too. Joe knows that and he’s worried about them all. He’s got a lot on his mind these days, and I guess that he hoped there’d be less to worry about here not more.”

“Why does he have so much to worry about?”

“Well, he’s trying to get his house finished up before his baby arrives, and Alice’s brother is a big worry. He’s a gambler and runs up big gambling debts. Alice used ta bail him out by working hard, but now she ain’t working and he’s still gambling. You can imagine the debts he’s gotten since their wedding. Now hand over that puppy. I think I know how to make him feel more comfortable.”

*****

Chapter 6

“Maybe I could help Joe with his house.” Adam watched as Hoss rubbed Snake’s back and belly getting the puppy to relax and close its eyes. Then he laid the small animal on an old horse blanket and let it sleep.

“Seems to me that this little feller needed to rest. Now, as to Joe, yeah, that could go a long way to getting the two of you back on the same trail drive. Sometimes working together gives folks a chance to talk like they don’t get otherwise too. Joe is a mite tetchy though with all this worrying ’bout Alice’s brother so keep that in mind.”

“Seems to me Joe is always a bit like that so nothing has changed.”

“You’re wrong there, Adam. Dontcha go thinking that he’s the kid like he was when you left. He’s a man, and he needs to be treated that way.”

“Sorry, Hoss, I only meant that he tends to be touchy about some things, sensitive. I didn’t mean to imply anything else.”

“Sorry, then, too. I guess I might be a bit tetchy myself with all what’s going on. I’m worried ’bout Jamie. Joe was the one who said all along that the truth should be told. He thought Pa shoulda told the truth long ago too. He didn’t like how you figured to fix things by leaving and sure didn’t like keeping the truth from Jamie, but he wasn’t gonna push too hard for what he thought ’cause he wasn’t so sure he was right either. Hard to know what to do in a situation like this.”

“It sure is.” Snake stirred a little with the two men talking so Adam dropped to an old stool next to the dog and began softly rubbing it the way he had seen Hoss do it. The puppy quieted under his gentle hand as Hoss looked on approvingly. “I want to make things right or as right as they can be, but no matter how it goes, I can see that there’s still going to be hurt. Being irresponsible all those years ago still reverberates. Choices have consequences except others are paying prices for what Troian and I did.”

“Jamie was a good result. He’s smart as a whip, and he’s darn nice. No matter what you or anybody thought about Troian, she’s been a good mother to the boy.”

“And to Pa?”

“Well, we all know she wouldna been our first choice by a coon’s tail, but they seem all right. I guess it is better than Pa being alone and this last couple of years, they seem happy enough. I don’t rightly know what this whole thing is gonna do, but until now, I figured them to stay together.”

“Pa, says you’re very close to Jamie. How do you think he’s going to take the news?”

Dropping down to sit next to Adam, Hoss leaned against the side of the horse stall as he thought about that. “It’s another thing I don’t rightly know. But there is one thing I do know. Ya oughta think on tellin’ him real soon ’cause he’s a real smart one, and he knows that something is going on and that it’s got something to do with him. You need to tell him soon.”

Hoss couldn’t have been more correct in his assessment of that. Ben and Joe had been showing the boys the horses in the breaking corral and explaining to Abel what they did there. Jamie told them that he was going to the stable to check on Snake to see how Hoss was doing with the dog and perhaps he might bring the dog back with him. Actually, Jamie was curious about Adam. Having overheard so many snippets of whispered conversations between members of his family in which Adam’s name figured prominently as did his, his curiosity was piqued. He wondered what kind of plans could be in the works and hoped that perhaps it meant that he was going to be able to take a trip with Adam and his family. He enjoyed them already and thought that might be a fun thing to do. When he got to the stable and could hear Hoss and Adam talking, he once again heard his name mentioned. As usual, he was too far away from the quiet tones of the talking to hear all that was being said but his name he could discern. He decided to take the bull by the horns, more or less, and walked rather boldly into the stable.

“Tell me what? Everybody is always whispering a lot lately. I hear my name too. When I ask, they say it’s nothing. Well, I know it’s something. I want to know. Adam, what does Hoss want you to tell me?”

Looking over at Adam, Hoss smirked a little but looked sympathetic too. “I told you. Smart as a whip, but a lot like you too. Bold and brave as they come and ready to grab a bull by the horns when need be. I’ll be outside if either of ya need me.” Hoss stood then and walked from the stable pausing and placing a large gentle hand on Jamie’s shoulder as he passed him.

“Do you want to sit too?” Adam needed a little time as he prepared to tell Jamie the truth. He had been rehearsing this for months yet found this moment was not at all what he had expected. Jamie nodded and pulled crate over next to Adam so that he could face him as he spoke.

“Is this going to be a real serious kind of talk. I thought it might be kind of a fun kind of talk. I thought maybe you were gonna invite me to take a trip with your family. But the way Hoss acted has me scared now.”

“This is a serious talk. Things aren’t exactly what they seem. Pa says that you’ve been asking some questions that he was uncomfortable answering.” Jamie got a quizzical look. “You asked why you looked more like me than you looked like him. There’s a good reason for that. Many years ago, before he met your mother, I knew her. I met her first. We spent a lot of time together. Then I decided that I didn’t want to be with her any more. I was back here, and Pa was there when she needed help. He helped her and began to fall in love with her. A bit later she came here thinking I would marry her.”

“Why would she want you to marry her if you didn’t love her and Papa did?”

“That’s where it gets very complicated. I told her I didn’t love her, but she didn’t tell me she was with child. If she had, I would have married her. It would have been the responsible thing to do. Before she could tell me, I left because Pa asked her to marry him. Because I left, she accepted that marriage, and my Pa ended up raising my son.”

Jamie was very bright but still very young. It took him a bit to process all of that information. He looked at Adam and realization dawned. “You’re my real father!” However as he thought about all of it, his anger and resentment grew too. “Why didn’t Papa tell you to come back here and marry her if you were my father?”

“He didn’t know I was the father. He knew she was with child but not that I was the father of that child.”

“But when Papa knew, why didn’t he tell me?”

“I guess because I was in Australia by then.”

Again Jamie thought. His head dropped as his opinion of his mother dropped. Then he stood and in as cold a voice as a boy could affect, stated his version of events. “You ran away. My mother is a liar. Papa can’t be trusted. There’s nobody who cares what I think.”

Turning then, Jamie nearly ran full speed from the stable toward the house. Adam made sure he didn’t flee in any other direction as he walked to the stable entrance. Hoss moved over to stand beside him.

“I’ll go in to see him in a bit. Maybe get him to talk ’bout this. You did the best you could. You laid it all out without blaming anybody and kept it simple enough. It’s that it’s hard for a boy to take all that at once.” Looking at Adam who was as pale as he ever got except if he was wounded or deathly ill, Hoss was worried. “You gonna be all right?”

“I will be, but I have another boy I need to tell this story to now. I have to shatter my image with another son. Can you keep an eye on Snake? Abel would never forgive me if I let anything bad happen to that pup.” With that, Adam walked away toward the breaking corrals to find Abel. Now that Jamie knew, it was time to tell Abel.

A short time later, Grace came out to the stable with Eleanor on her arm. Hoss asked about Jamie. “He stormed in the house and ran up the stairs. He had tears but it was more from anger than sadness it seemed. We heard his door slam. Troian went up to talk with him but he refused to talk with her. Wouldn’t even open the door to her. Where’s Adam?”

“He went to talk with Abel.”

With that, Grace asked if Hoss could hold the sleeping Eleanor so that she could go find Adam and Abel assuming that she could be of some help to Adam. Hoss accepted the little girl who opened her eyes only briefly before snuggling into Hoss’ embrace and falling back into peaceful slumber as Grace left. Later, Prudence came out to the stable wondering where Grace had gone. She found Hoss sitting on the stool with a sleeping Eleanor cradled in one arm as his other arm extended down to Snake on the blanket and slowly rubbed the pup’s side encouraging him to sleep too. Hoss had his head down watching both and didn’t see Prudence approach at first. She paused in the stable entrance seeing Hoss like that and decided that he was different than most men she had known. It was then that she decided it was time to re-enter the world of adults. Quietly, she addressed Hoss.

“Hi there. Can I help you with one or the other?”

*****

Chapter 7

Emotionally exhausted by talking to Jamie, Adam walked to the breaking corral knowing he had to talk to Abel before he heard the story from someone else. Ben saw him and asked the question he had with a look which Adam answered with a nod.

“He ran to the house. I imagine he could use someone to talk to by now.”

As Ben headed to the house, he met Grace who was headed to the breaking corral to help Adam. She confirmed what Adam had said and added a bit more detail about Jamie’s mood by the time he was in the house and how he had reacted to Troian. By the time Grace reached the breaking corrals, Joe wanted to know what was going on. She gave him a quick rundown and then went to where he said Adam had gone with Abel to have a talk. When she reached the spot where the two were talking, she was surprised at the light-hearted nature of Abel’s responses to Adam’s questions. She approached with curiosity and was rewarded with a quick explanation from Adam.

“He says he’s happy to find out he has an older brother who might decide to live with us at least part of the time. It seems Hoss has been regaling him with stories of the benefits of being the middle brother. I don’t know how he has managed it in such a short time, but he’s got Abel thinking it wouldn’t be bad at all to have an older brother to lead the way.”

Grace looked over at Abel who nodded vigorously and grinned. Returning her gaze to Adam, she had to share her thoughts. “Your brother Hoss is even more of a delightful bloke than you described him. He may be the wisest man here although Hop Sing is close competition.” She smiled softly then and Adam asked why. “As I left Hoss a short time ago, he was sitting in the stable petting Snake. I left Eleanor in his care. I can’t imagine another man that I knew for such a short time that I would hand over my daughter to and trust that no harm would come to her. He is absolutely amazing.”

“He is. I wish he had some magic he could work with Jamie.”

Abel was worried then. “Doesn’t Jamie want to be my brother?”

Adam wanted to kick himself then for having said that. “No, it’s not that. It’s that he’s been living with Grandpa and with his mother for eight years here on the Ponderosa. It would be a very big change for him to have to leave. He may not want to leave.”

“I left my homes in Australia.” He had that smug look then that only a seven year old can have when they think they’ve bested an adult in a conversation.

“But we left with you.”

“Oh, yeah.” Thinking very hard for a short time, Abel had a suggestion.

“Well, then Grandpa and Grandma have to come with us or we have to

stay here.” He looked rather proud of himself for his logical solution.

Shrugging, Adam looked at Grace. “Out of the mouths of babes. He has a point. I’m beginning to think your ideas are probably the best way to think about approaching this. We probably need to think about proposing it this way to Jamie and telling Pa and Troian that’s the way we plan to approach it.”

“What ideas?”

So Adam and Grace discussed the idea with Abel to see what he thought about living in two houses again. He liked it. Of course he would because it brought him back to a system to which he was accustomed and allowed him the greatest number of options to keep life exciting and stimulating. Adam and Grace leaned toward the idea partially for the same reasons. However they knew that for Jamie, it would mean a major upheaval, that it would take time for him to appreciate the benefits of living that way. They hoped to have a chance to present it to him as an option and wondered how well Ben and Troian were doing in getting him to talk.

First of all, Ben had to get him to open his door, but that booming voice issuing such an order was still effective. Jamie opened the door. When Ben entered, he could see how emotionally distraught Jamie was and his whole demeanor softened. Jamie looked at him.

“Papa, tell me that Adam was lying.”

Noting that Jamie simply referred to him as Adam but in a neutral tone of voice told Ben that Jamie knew it was true. He sat on the bed next to Jamie. “He told you the truth. We should have told you the truth a long time ago, but I thought you should hear it from your father. That was my decision. Don’t blame anyone else for that. I’m here now to discuss it with you if you are wiling to talk with me.”

“I don’t want him to be my father. I don’t want any of it to be true.”

“I can understand that. It’s so complicated. It’s been that way for a long time. However, we have a chance now to work things out as well as they can be worked out. We can all talk about it and try to find the best way to work this.”

“Are you going to give me away to Adam?”

“No, Jamie, no one is giving you away. I do think you should think about the possibility of living with your father and his family at least for a time so you can get to know your father, but no one will force you to do that if you don’t want to do that. I think you should listen to your father about the advantages living with him could bring, and know that we will always see you too and that you have the choice to continue living with your mother and me. Adam is not going to live in Australia. He will live somewhere here. Now the details aren’t worked out yet. Let’s wait and see what they are before you decide you won’t consider spending time with your father, getting to know him, and letting him be your father as he should be.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like things no matter what happens.”

“Maybe you won’t but don’t make up your mind until you hear everything and have time to think about it. Nothing will happen for months yet. Adam doesn’t have a house yet for his family anywhere yet and hasn’t even made a decision as to where it will be. We’ll have time to talk. Remember that we all love you and we want the best for you. All right?”

Grudgingly, Jamie agreed although with all that had happened, he had some doubts to face. A bit stubborn in his thinking, Jamie reminded Ben again of the boy’s father. Ben told him then to go see his mother. Jamie did, but found it difficult to talk to her. He stiffened when she moved to hug him so when he left to go back to his room, she broke down in tears. Ben comforted her and told her to give Jamie time to adjust to everything he had learned.

“He needs time. He got quite a shock today with everything that he was told.”

As dinner neared and everyone was in the house, Ben told Jamie to come downstairs. He pointedly ignored everyone except Joe and Alice, Hoss, and Prudence as well as Hop Sing. The others were snubbed including Abel who didn’t understand the situation, but his parents asked him to accept it that evening and not complain. It was a relief to Adam and Grace when they were able to leave for the day. Ben asked if they would be at the house the next day to stay. Adam said they would as agreed. Ben bid them good night and then watched as they drove away toward town. Joe and Alice had left earlier. Joe had been concerned that Adam had told Jamie so much at once. Adam had given the logical answer of course.

“It isn’t something that can be told in increments. If I had tried, he would have asked questions anyway.” Adam had that same beaten look though when Joe conceded the point. It didn’t make anything go down any easier to know it was the way it had to be.

Inside after the others were gone, Hoss tried to engage a somewhat sullen Jamie in conversation, but that didn’t work.

“Jamie, would you like to go to your room to read before bed? I thought perhaps you would like some quiet time.”

It was clear that Jamie wanted exactly that by how quickly he agreed to Ben’s suggestion. Once he was gone, Ben openly berated himself for not preparing him better for the news he had received.

“Pa, you can’t blame yourself. This whole thing is so different from what anybody’s ever lived that we’re all kinda just trying to work our way through it best we can. Ain’t nothing bad happened so far. We’re all doing all right. Let’s just see how it all works out.”

*****

Chapter 8

In the morning, Joe was over early to pick up supplies. He told Ben and Troian that Alice’s brother had spent the night. “He’s probably hiding out from whomever he owes money to now. I swear, Pa, I don’t know what to do about him. He’s my brother-in-law, but he’s no good. He only comes to see Alice when he wants something. She’s only a month away from having the baby. I don’t like her getting upset like this. Yesterday she was all excited about getting the baby’s room ready, and now this morning, she’s worried about him again.”

“Maybe Troian can go over there this morning. She’s still upset too so having something to do like get the baby’s room ready might be helpful.”

“Jamie still snubbing her?”

“Not so much that as he isn’t acting normally around her. It’s bothering her quite a lot. She was already on edge because of everything and this is making it worse.”

“It’s going to take me a while to get things ready. I have to use the forge to make some hinges before I go back.”

“I’ll ask if she wants to go. If she does, I’ll have the small carriage hitched up for her. She can go for a few hours. She and Alice can work on the baby’s room and both can get their minds off other issues.”

“Sounds good, Pa.”

It worked that way too. Troian was happy to have the option to spend the morning with Alice and was headed there within the hour. An hour later, Adam arrived with his family and their luggage so they could move into the guest rooms. Ben asked Jamie to help carry luggage, but when he finished that task, he went to his room and closed the door. The adults decided that he needed the time to think and told Abel to go to the kitchen to work with Hop Sing who was willing to help out as much as he could. Abel asked if he could do something first.

“What do you need to do, son?”

“Well, somebody has to take care of Snake, and somebody has to take care of Jamie, and I was thinking maybe they could take care of each other. Snake always makes me feel better when I want somebody close. He can make anybody feel better.”

Adam and Grace were never more proud of their son than they were at that moment. They agreed and all watched as Abel got Snake and hurried up the stairs with him. They heard mumbled voices and then nothing before Abel came back down the stairs looking confused. Adam asked him what was wrong.

“I thought it would make him happy, but he started crying and then he got mad and told me not to look at him. Then he shut the door.”

“What about Snake?”

“Oh, he hugged him right away.”

“Then your plan worked, son.”

“It did?”

“Yes, Jamie is confused right now, and he didn’t want you to see him cry, but sending Snake to be with him was a wonderful idea.”

When all the other adults told Abel the same thing, he accepted the praise and gratitude even if he didn’t quite understand what had happened and went to the kitchen hoping that the wise man in there could help him understand it better. Prudence and Grace said that perhaps they could go help the other two ladies, and Adam said he would give them a ride over and could help Joe with the house while he was there if Joe wanted any help. Joe liked that idea and said he’d be happy to give Adam some work as soon as he got back there with the supplies. He warned everyone about Alice’s brother being there before he went back to his work on the hinges. Hoss of course offered to help too making both Adam and Ben share small smiles. It was clear the two were attracted to one another, and both wondered what people would think when they saw the beautiful Prudence with Hoss. They liked it, but knew it would surprise many. They could get on their way quickly because the carriage was already set to go outside. With a quick watering of the team, they were ready to go. Ben said he would watch over Abel if Hop Sing got too busy. The ladies were given some special food by Hop Sing who was concerned about Alice, and then Adam drove the team from the yard and asked Hoss for directions. Hoss smiled and reached for the reins.

“Be easier ifn I drive there. You kin drive back.”

The two ladies sitting in the back with Eleanor chuckled at the two brothers. As they drove, Hoss began to regale the two ladies with stories about Adam when he was younger. However, the story was cut short when Adam grabbed Hoss’ arm to stop the wagon,

“Do you hear that?”

“Damn. Sounds like guns and that’s in the direction of Joe’s house. Grab your pistol. I’ll get us close and then we’ll move in.”

Any plan to do anything like that was moot as three riders emerged from the trees up ahead riding hard in their general direction.

“You know them?”

“Nope. Shouldn’t be here.”

That conclusion was reinforced when the fleeing men fired at them. Adam yelled at Grace and Prudence to get down even as he drew his pistol and Hoss pulled the rifle from under the carriage seat. Furious firing went on for no more than thirty seconds. Adam and Hoss may have been better shots or it could be that they were on a stationary stable platform from which to shoot while the three men were firing from horseback and clearly inexperienced at doing that. When the firing stopped, one of the three was dead, one was wounded, and one had escaped. Adam jumped from the carriage to take the wounded man into custody telling Hoss to go to Joe’s house.

“I’ll tie him and round up one or both of these horses. Go!”

It was ominously quiet as Hoss drove toward Joe’s house. When they arrived there, they found Alice’s brother dead, Troian shot, and Alice trying her best to stop the bleeding. With bloodies hands and tears streaming down her face, she was nearly hysterical but was coherent enough to tell them what had happened even if it was brief.

“They told him to give them their money. He said he didn’t have it, and they said they were going to shoot me if he didn’t hand it over. When they pointed their guns at me, Troian pushed me behind her, and they shot her to get to me. He tried to help and they shot him too. I think he’s dead.”

Grace had checked the man quickly before moving to kneel beside Troian and Alice. She wanted to keep Alice talking because in her state, she could easily get too agitated and that could lead to more problems. “I’m sorry. He is. We saw them riding out of here. Why did they leave?”

“When she pushed me, she pushed me toward the chair where she saw Joe’s pistol rig. He was working with a leather apron on this morning and didn’t wear it. I took his pistol and started shooting at them. That’s when they rode off.” Alice stood then as Grace probed around Troian’s wound. As she did so, Alice grabbed her abdomen. “No!”

Looking at Alice, Grace knew what was happening. It was what she had expected but had hoped wouldn’t happen. “Hoss, get Alice inside to her bedroom. Then get Prudence and the baby back to the ranch. Tell Adam or someone to get my medical bag.”

Hoss didn’t have to leave. By the time he had Alice inside, Adam was there and soon Joe and Ben arrived having heard the gunshots. Other Ponderosa hands were there soon too. One was sent to retrieve Grace’s medical bag and another drove Prudence and Eleanor back to the main house. Ben, Adam, and Hoss carefully carried Troian inside where they placed her on the kitchen table that had been covered with a thick blanket at Grace’s request. She got a small pillow to put under Troian’s head and then got two blankets to cover her patient. She bandaged the wound.

“Aren’t you going to remove the bullet?” Ben was incredulous.

“Not right now. She’s too much shocked by what happened. I want to warm her and get her heart rate down and get her to relax before I do anything more to her. The wound is not bleeding much so we have time to wait.”

Before his father could begin arguing, Adam steered him outside as Grace went to check on Alice who was under the watchful eye of Joe. Hoss stayed by Troian’s side to alert Grace of any change in her condition.

*****

Chapter 9

Nearly overcome with worry and resentful of Adam’s imperious treatment of him, Ben was furious with his eldest son, but Adam didn’t give him a chance to vent.

“Trust her, Pa. I do. You should. She only wants the best for her patients, and she’s good at what she does.” Adam had that fighter’s stance of his when he was sure of himself and wanted to make sure he made his point.

“But.” Ben had a similar stance, but worry meant that he wasn’t standing in as much of a confident position. Adam could see it too.

“But she’s a woman? Pa, she’s been a doctor in mining camps for eight years. She’s treated just about everything you can imagine. Men there weren’t going to object that she was a woman when there was no other doctor within hundreds of miles. She can do this. Trust her. Have the courage to trust her.”

“But that bullet should come out.” Ben made the conventional argument.

“If Grace says it can wait, then it can wait.”

“You’re going to back her over me?”

Ben’s words would have been funny in many other circumstances but these were too serious for any humor to intervene. Adam guessed that he and Grace might find time to laugh about it at some point though once the crisis was over.

“She’s the one with the medical education and the medical experience.”

“Well, I can’t exactly force her to operate. I guess I have to accept what you say.”

With grudging acceptance, Ben walked back inside to take Hoss’ place watching over Troian. Adam was there too and Hoss gave him that raised eyebrow look to which he could only shrug. Hoss understood. Their father wasn’t happy about how things were going but wouldn’t fight it at the moment. When Grace returned, Adam asked her to explain in more detail why she wanted to wait.

“Often when working with miners who were injured, their injuries caused such severe reactions that their heart rates were highly elevated causing them to bleed even more. If I could get the heart rate to slow, then the bleeding slowed too. As I did that more and waited on treatment, I realized the long term results were better too so I began keeping records to compare doing immediate surgery or intervention compared to waiting. Now granted, sometimes I couldn’t wait, but overall, patients did better when I was able to get the heart rate down and get the patient comfortable before doing any necessary work. Now my medical bag will be here soon. I’ll be able to give her something for the pain, and after it takes effect, I’ll remove the bullet.”

Somewhat mollified by an explanation that made so much sense, Ben nodded conceding. However then he worried aloud about Jamie and how the news would affect him. He didn’t want to leave his wife’s side but thought someone had to go to Jamie. Hoss looked to Adam who nodded. He would go talk to his son to tell him what had happened and reassure him as much as possible.

Grace continued to go between Troian and Alice finally reporting that it seemed that Alice’s labor pains had subsided. She had warned Joe to keep her calm and resting though to hope they did not resume. Doctor Paul Martin arrived about an hour later and was surprised too that Grace had not removed the bullet from Troian. Ben told him what he had been told, and Paul too was a bit skeptical but was more curious. Soon after he arrived, Grace determined that Troian was probably about as stable as she was going to get. She administered more pain medication and ordered Ben from the room. Hoss got him to go outside as Paul assisted Grace with the surgery. Only a half hour later, Paul walked outside to tell Ben that the surgery was successful and that Grace was bandaging the wound.

“Your daughter-in-law is a skilled surgeon. You’re very lucky to have her here. Your wife is in good hands. I’m going back inside to check in on Alice. Grace is worried about her because it’s not only the shock of what’s happened but she lost her brother too. That could be enough to trigger the baby to come. I’ve been her doctor for months now. Grace will stay with Troian. You can go in soon, but wait until Grace calls you.”

Paul found Joe doing his best to console Alice. He was able to help somewhat by telling her about Troian. “She’s going to be fine. Grace got that bullet out without much trouble. Ben is probably by her side by now, and we know he’ll take good care of her until she’s tired of being fussed over. Hoss is going back to be with Prudence to help take care of the children and reassure them. Adam went to talk with Jamie earlier and now we can send word with Hoss that she is going to be fine. Now, my concern is you. How are you doing?”

His answer was Alice bursting into tears. Joe looked at him with that helpless look.

“She seems fine for a while, and then this happens.”

“It’s not unusual for women in her state to be very emotional, and with what’s happened, it’s not a surprise to me. However, we do need to find a way to calm her or that baby may decide to come after all.”

Paul got some cool water and a cloth and had Joe wipe Alice’s face and told him to speak reassuringly to her to calm her. Spreading another blanket over the bed, Paul thought it might be best to warm her a bit more too after he held her hand and thought she seemed too cool. He reached under the blanket then to check her abdomen to see the position of the baby. What he found let him know that it was probably too late to stop the inevitable. Joe had been watching Paul and their eyes met when Paul looked toward Joe after checking Alice’s abdomen. Joe was able to read Paul’s expression, and Paul read the worried look that Joe had as well. The baby was going to come early, and there wasn’t likely anything they could do about that.

Outside there was some commotion as Candy arrived with Sheriff Roy Coffee. They had the wounded man in custody having taken him from the small tree to which Adam had tied him. They also had the dead man’s body draped over a horse too. Roy needed to speak to everyone about what had happened but Grace wouldn’t let him speak to either Troian or Alice so he had to take everything down from second hand accounts. He wasn’t happy about that, but it was a rather straightforward situation. Adam returned as well. Roy told them what he knew.

“Now, I gotta tell ya that I think I know who the one who done got away was. His name is Turner, and he’s a nasty one. He’s been gambling in town for a few weeks now. Runs an honest table by all accounts but knows how to get men to play until they finally lose it all.”

“He folds on hands he could win early letting them win, and then later he takes them to the limit and cleans them out?”

“Adam, that’s exactly it. He gets them thinking they got a winning night going so they stay in and then he takes all they got and sometimes takes property they own and makes loans to ’em that they can’t pay. I’m guessing that’s what happened here and he come to collect. It would explain a couple of men who got beat pretty bad lately. They ain’t killed no one until now.”

“Where do you think he went?”

“Don’t know enough about him to even guess, but I asked Candy to help me go after him. Adam, I was hoping you might help too. With three, we shouldn’t have no trouble taking him if we can catch up to him.”

That made sense to Adam who went to tell Grace what Roy wanted. She wasn’t happy about it, but it made sense and there wasn’t anyone else there who could go with Candy and Roy. She told him to be careful and he promised he would. She asked how his conversation had gone with Jamie.

“It was mixed At first, he didn’t want to talk to me at all until I said I had news about his mother, but then it was bad news. He looked at me at first like I was responsible. I did tell him that you were going to take care of her and Abel jumped in to say you were the best doctor in the world. Jamie asked then for me to tell you please to take the best care of his mother. I think he didn’t know what else to say. He’s overwhelmed with so much coming down on him in such a short time.”

“Hoss is there with Prudence, and with Hop Sing, they can help him.” Adam agreed, kissed his wife, and went to find Roy and Candy.

The three men rode out then. Roy had told Candy that Adam was the best tracker he had known except for Hoss. Candy was waiting to see if that was trued and wasn’t disappointed as Adam picked up the man’s trail rather quickly and led them after him. They knew the man had a good head start, but if they could get an idea where he was going, they could go to town too to wire ahead to look for him because they knew who it probably was. After tracking for several hours, Adam got down from his horse and carefully examined the tracks. Walking for quite a ways forward and then mounting up and riding back quite a ways to dismount and check again. Candy and Roy were mystified and asked what he was doing.

“These look like old tracks. He crossed an old trail a short way back. He’s doubled back. We have to follow this back and find where he did it or we have to guess where he likely went.”

“How do you know they’re old tracks? They look like the tracks we been following all along.” Roy couldn’t imagine what Adam was talking about.

“If you look closely, you can see that the sides of the tracks are collapsing. They’re drying out and the wind and gravity are pulling them down. If they were new, the sides of the tracks would still be sharp and clean. He turned back somewhere along here.”

Candy was getting worried. “There’s only one reason I can see for him to double back and that would be to get rid of the witnesses who know he committed murder or he wants revenge or who knows what he wants. Men like that don’t always act in ways we can understand.”

Adam mounted up. “I think it doesn’t matter why. We need to get back and protect my family. Let’s ride.”

The three took off on a fast ride toward Joe’s house not worrying about who could get there first or who might fall behind.

*****

Chapter 10

At the main house, Hoss found Prudence had her hands full trying to console Jamie because Adam had to tell him his mother was hurt. He knew that Ben and Joe had rushed to Joe’s house because of gunfire so he knew something bad had happened. Abel was worried too because his parents had gone in that direction, but at least Prudence had been able to reassure him that both of his parents were fine. When Hoss came back to tell them that Troian was holding her own and that Grace seemed confident that she could get the bullet out, Jamie was somewhat relieved but it wasn’t until Adam sent a hand with the news that the surgery was successful that Jamie could finally relax and accept that his mother would live.

“She saved my mother’s life. I didn’t know if I was going to like her enough but she saved my mother’s life.”

“Yeah, Jamie, she’s quite a woman. Your pa sure knows how to pick ’em.”

“I want to go see Mama too. I want to tell her I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting. I don’t want her to be sad any more about that.”

“I don’t know if she’ll even be awake. Grace gave her medicine for the pain, and that stuff usually makes you go to sleep and stay sleeping for quite a spell.”

“I want to see her anyway. I want to thank Grace too for saving her. Can I, please?”

At that point, Hop Sing came out from the kitchen. “I make food. Nobody cook at Mister Joe’s house. They need food. You take. Boys help.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing. You always know the best thing to do.” Hoss’ eyes met Hop Sing’s and conveyed that the thanks were for more than the food. Hoss knew that the task would keep the boys busy and keep their minds off their worries. It also meant that their parents wouldn’t be as upset about them arriving at Joe’s house as they might have been if Hoss just plopped them down in the midst of everyone for no particular purpose. Hoss turned to Prudence. “I think I could use your help too ifn ya don’t mind helping out.”

“I don’t mind. In fact, I would have felt insulted if you had not requested my assistance. Thank you.”

“It’ll take me a bit to harness up a team again. I wasn’t expecting to use the carriage again today. As long as we’re going, let’s take some extra clothes for Pa and Troian. I reckon they ain’t gonna be able to travel today for sure. Can you pick out what’s needed?” Hoss gave an endearing and imploring look to Prudence because he truly had no idea other than a dress as to what Troian might want to have at Joe’s house. He looked so relieved when Prudence said yes, she would do that, she wanted to laugh, but under the circumstances, that seemed inappropriate. She smiled softly and headed upstairs but then turned to ask which room she was going to have to look in to find what was needed. Hoss told Jamie to go help her. Within the hour, they were ready to go and arrived at Joe’s house quickly. Not wanting to disturb anyone, Hoss told the boys to wait outside while he went in to see if Troian had been moved to a bed yet and found that she was on a cot in the parlor. The kitchen looked like a kitchen again. Hoss went to his father who was at Troian’s side and told him what they had and who was with him.

“She’s asleep, but I’ll go out with you and talk with Jamie before I bring him in to see his mother. You can have Abel help you in the kitchen for now. Both Grace and Paul are in with Joe and Alice. They think the baby is going to come anyway.”

“But it’s too soon.”

“It’s three or four weeks early, but Grace said that babies born that early still have a very good chance at survival if precautions are taken. Apparently she has some experience with that. I hope she’s right.”

“Me too, Pa. Me too. Alice done lost a lot already, but losing a baby would be the worst.”

With that, Ben and Hoss did as they said they would. When Jamie got to sit at his mother’s side, he said he was sorry for treating her badly, and that if she would wake up and be better, he would make it up to her and never treat her badly again. Ben doubted that was true because there were always going to be disagreements between parents and children, but this was not the moment to discuss such things. Ben wrapped an arm around Jamie and told him he loved him and that his mother loved him too.

“Even after the way I was?”

“Of course. We will love you no matter what happens. We will always love you.”

That reassurance meant more to Jamie than Ben realized at that moment because Adam had told Jamie the same thing earlier, and Hoss had been advising him that was true all along. It was going to help him to adjust to all that had happened to shake up his world.

Eventually Abel saw his mother when she came into the kitchen lured by the smell of fresh coffee and the food Hop Sing had made. With relief, Abel gave her a big hug and said he was glad she wasn’t hurt before he asked where his father was.

“He and Candy went with the sheriff to track down the man who helped do all of this but got away. He thought that with the three of them, they should be able to take the man without anyone getting hurt.”

With some pride that the sheriff wanted his father’s help but a little worried, Abel looked to Hoss for reassurance that all would be well with his father serving on a posse. Hoss gave it to him telling him that the main reason they wanted Adam was for his tracking ability and that with three of them to the one they were after, it should be easy to apprehend him. Troian couldn’t be moved yet so Ben was spending the night as was Grace who planned to watch over both patients and help with Alice whom she expected to deliver the baby that night. They asked Hoss to take the children back home and watch over them there with the help of Prudence. After they left, Grace returned to Alice’s room to check in with Paul to see how Alice was doing. Ben sat down beside Troian and was startled to hear his name. It was very soft and her eyes were closed yet, but it was unmistakably his name. She said it again.

“Troian, don’t try to talk. I’m here. I’ll be here as long as you need me here. Now, rest.”

“Thirsty.”

“Wait a moment while I check with Grace to see what she wants to give you to drink.” By the time Ben was back with Grace, Troian was asleep again.

“Next time, if I’m not here, give her a sip of water and then perhaps some sugar water. I’ll get some sugar and have it here next to you. You can mix a little into the water in the glass and spoon it for her. If I’m here when she wakes, we’ll get her some broth. It’s in a pot on the stove and it’s all warmed and ready.”

Before she could return to Alice, Ben asked about his other daughter-in-law. “Despite our best efforts, her labor has started. The baby is coming tonight.” There was nothing more to be said. They both knew that it would be better if the baby came a few weeks later but that wasn’t going to happen. Ben began to pray again as it was all that was left for him to do. He wished he was younger and able to do something more.

Meanwhile, Roy was wishing he was younger too. He was feeling every one of his sixty years and thinking it was getting to be time to consider retiring for good. He had watched Adam and Candy disappear ahead of him long ago but continued to ride as hard as he could.

At Joe’s house, Adam and Candy arrived near there about the same time and pulled up together. The sun was getting low in the sky but left enough daylight to still see well. All looked calm and as they had been riding up, they had seen the carriage in the distance heading toward the main house at a leisurely pace.

“Adam, why don’t you go inside and let them know what we think that Turner may be thinking of doing. I’ll take a ride around the house and see if I can see anything. If he’s there, he’s going to back off or confront me. Either way, we’ll buy some time.”

“We could both ride around.”

“We could, but I was thinking that with the sun dropping down, they might start lighting lamps inside and that could make it too easy to sight in on a target inside. They need to be warned.”

“Good point. We’ll do it your way.”

Candy’s estimation of the man in black went up quite a lot at that point with his easy concession to Candy’s idea. He was a reasonable man even if Candy had heard him described as stubborn. They split up to complete their tasks.

In the house, Ben was surprised to have Adam back so soon, but he was worried when he heard what the theory was on Turner. “You should probably cover all the windows then. Some don’t have curtains yet so we’ll have to find blankets or other things to cover them. I can help you.”

“Let me go tell the others first, and Joe can tell me where to find things to cover the windows. You sit tight for now.”

Adam headed down the short hallway to the main bedroom then and knocked softly on the door. Grace opened it and was surprised but glad to see him. Very quickly, Adam explained what had happened or what they thought had happened and what Turner might be planning to do. Joe stood to show Adam what blankets and such to take from the linen armoire next to the window. As he moved there, Adam saw a glint of sunlight on metal outside the window and moved to shove Joe out of the way even as the window shattered and he felt his side erupt in agony from pieces of flying glass that embedded in him. Alice screamed. Noise was heard outside and then it was relatively quiet for a time until Candy’s voice was heard.

“Don’t shoot. We got him. Sorry we were a bit late. He got a shot off but it went pretty high when I hit him. Hope no one was too close to that window.”

Joe put Adam’s pistol down then knowing the threat was over and helped Grace get Adam to his feet and out of the room to the kitchen while Paul took care of Alice. In the kitchen, they removed Adam’s shirt by cutting it away to reveal several places where large pieces of glass were still sticking in Adam’s side. None were in deep but it was clearly very painful. Joe got water for Grace to use and a stack of cloths. Outside, Roy was taking Turner into town while Candy was using some of the material Joe was going to use on his roof to patch the window. It would block all the light but also keep out any bugs and the cold air. There was some pounding as he did his work, but none was as hard on Adam as the pounding he was getting from Grace for what he had done.

“Why did you do that?”

“I couldn’t let him shoot Joe.”

“Did you have to protect Joe by putting your body there as a shield?”

“I wasn’t trying to shield him. I tried to get both of us out of the way. It would have worked except for the glass.”

Joe had a comment to make before he went back to help with Alice who had been shaken even more by this latest incident. “Yeah, he only got hurt because he’s so much bigger than me. Not a piece of glass even touched me.”

Grace’s glare let Joe know she didn’t appreciate his flippant comment. He looked to Adam who was trying not to grimace with each thing that Grace did.

“Geez, Adam, is she always like this: like a she bear protecting her cubs?”

“No, not always, but she’s worried about me right now. I appreciate that, but keep talking like that and you may find out for yourself what she can be like.”

Grace looked up as Adam smiled but she saw the strain in the attempt and felt bad about scolding him when he was in such pain. As Joe left the room, she leaned forward and kissed him softly.

“I’m sorry. It’s that I was so damned worried.”

“And now you’re swearing. Woman, what am I to do with you?” But Adam could see the strain in her face and the tears glistening in her eyes.

“Love me like you always have.”

Adam knew how the pressure of the situation was wearing on his wife too even as she tried to hide it. “I will. If you could get the rest of that glass out, I would appreciate it. Every breath I take reminds me that you’re not done yet.”

“I’m sorry again.” Grace got back to her work and soon had all the glass out, bathed the cuts and then bound them up with thick bandages. When she finished, Adam pulled her into an awkward hug because he couldn’t move as freely as he wanted with the bandages around his chest. He let her shed a few tears as she rested her head on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Adam. I should be stronger than this.”

“No, you’re strong but everyone has limits. We need to be strong for each other. I’m here for you right now.”

He kissed her softly and she stepped back saying she was better. Then she had him sit at the kitchen table and got him some of the food Hop Sing had sent over. They were able to talk and gradually Grace was able to feel more relaxed. That’s where Candy found him when he came inside.

*****

Chapter 11

As Candy talked with Adam, Grace went back to help with Alice. They still expected the baby to arrive that night although they were not sure when it would be.

“Adam, why do you really think Turner came back here? Who was he going to shoot in that room?”

“I don’t know. If outlaws and criminals acted logically and intelligently all the time, we wouldn’t catch many of them.”

“But they go for revenge or panic or do stupid things for a reason we can’t understand.”

“Exactly. Did the wounded one tell you and Roy anything?”

“Nope. He was hired muscle and had no idea what Turner was going to do next.”

“Sometimes I think men like Turner go a little crazy when things don’t go their way because they’re so used to controlling other men.”

“Whatever happened, we got very lucky.”

“What? Troian’s shot and you’re cut.”

“She’ll be fine and my cuts are minor. Turner and one of his men are dead. We came out way ahead.”

“Good overcomes evil.”

Both were sitting quietly then when Ben came into the kitchen to get some water and asked where Grace was wanting her to check on Troian.

“She went to help take care of Alice. They think the baby is coming tonight especially after all of this, but Paul thought it was inevitable anyway.” Adam answered first.

“Your wife is quite a doctor. You’ve been lucky to have her to take care of you the past eight years.”

“Pa, this is the first time since we’ve been married that I have been hurt. I was banged about a bit once before that, but until now, that was it. Grace had to really step up to face everything today.”

Leaning back against the wall in thought for a short time, Ben had to smile. “It seems four ladies showed a lot of character today. We’re very lucky men to have these women in our lives.”

Candy went to get Grace to do that as Ben waited. When Grace went to see Troian, Ben sank into a chair next to Adam.

“I’ve realized too how much I do love Troian now that I know I could have lost her. She’s not perfect, and we have a lot to work on yet, but I want her to live.”

“That’s good, Pa. You know what you want now. That’s an important step. We’ve all made some big steps lately.”

“Yes, we have. I think Candy should take you back to the house. Grace has enough to worry about here.”

With a nod, Adam agreed surprising his father with his easy acquiescence. Candy smiled too seeing that. Adam noticed and thought perhaps an explanation was in order.

“I met a man, a minister, on the way to Australia, and we became friends. One of his tenets is that we are our habits. If there’s something we don’t like about ourselves, then we need to look at the habits we’ve formed and see about changing those. I was too stubborn sometimes and not for the right reasons. Now if I’m stubborn, it’s got to be for the right reasons. Otherwise, I need to be more agreeable to what others are suggesting is the right thing to do.”

With a better understanding then of why Adam had accepted his advice earlier, Candy went outside to see about getting the carriage ready because Adam wouldn’t be able to ride. He came in and asked if Ben knew where there was a blanket because Adam’s shirt was in shreds and it was cool outside. Soon they had Adam in the carriage and headed back to the main house. By the early morning, Alice and Joe had welcomed a tiny daughter into the world. She was small but healthy with good lungs. Paul stayed there with them, and Candy was back with the carriage to give Grace a ride to the main house. Ben was asleep in a rocking chair next to Troian asleep in her cot. All was well.

Over the next few weeks, there was healing that had to occur but all went well. The shared trauma and crisis brought the family very close together. Eventually, Adam and Grace had a chance to have a long talk with Jamie to explain the plans they had for the future and his place in them if he wanted it.

“But you still don’t have your two houses yet?”

“No, I plan to go to San Francisco to take care of getting a house and finish setting up my business. In fact, Grace and the children will be living here until Christmas because that will be easier for them and give them time to get to know the family better. I’ll be back to visit as often as I can. After Christmas, we’ll move to the San Francisco house for the spring school term and come back here when it’s over at the end of April.”

“Where will you live here?”

“At first, we’ll live here in the main house, but we’re building a house here for us. When it’s done, we’ll live in that one when we’re here.”

“And I get to decide where I live?”

“You get some say, but you can’t change your mind just because things don’t go your way all the time.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t be in San Francisco with us and get upset with us and then decide you would rather live on the Ponderosa. It won’t work that way.”

Grace decided to intervene at that point. “You won’t be making this decision for quite a while. Nothing has to be decided until after Christmas.”

“And I can tell Papa Ben about it and talk to him about it and to Uncle Hoss too?”

“Yes, they know and you can talk to them about it. I know you might think you needed to know first but we had to have their permission to even consider doing this at all so we had to explain what we were thinking. They are in agreement that it might work.”

“Might work?”

“It can work if you want it to work.”

“Oh.” Thinking for a short time, Jamie had another question. “Where would you put your house here?”

“About a mile from this house and closer to the lake. We’ve picked out a spot. We can show you if you’re interested. Abel would like to see the spot too so we could take both of you.”

“I’d like to do that.” He thought about things a bit longer before he asked the next question. “School is easy here. Will it be easy in San Francisco?”

So Adam had to explain about the school and tutors he planned to arrange for the boys and that it would be difficult to do well. That had Jamie a bit worried but also excited. He had a lot to think about over the next few months, but also had a chance to get to know his stepmother better and his half-brother. Ben and Troian counseled him as did Hoss. He got to spend time with Adam and talk with him on his frequent visits back to Virginia City.

Troian finally felt that she was part of the family. It wasn’t only Ben’s profession of love, but Hoss told her that her actions showed she was a true Cartwright. She and Adam made peace too forgiving each other and in the process themselves for the mistakes of the past as they agreed to look forward and not back. Jamie was a great child and needed their positive attention.

By the Christmas season, Jamie told them he had made a decision.

“I want to live in San Francisco with Adam and go to school there. I want to get to know my father. Then I want to come back here and live with Papa Ben and my mother until it’s time to go back to school. I guess my mind could change again. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do, but you all said I could change my mind if things didn’t work out. So that’s what I want to do.”

The most relieved at that decision was Troian, and the others were suitably impressed with the boy’s reasoned approach to a difficult decision, but of course with Ben, Adam, and Hoss advising him, he had had lots of help formulating it.

There was another announcement though that wasn’t unexpected. Prudence said she wasn’t going with Adam ad Grace to San Francisco. She was going to stay with Joe and Alice for the winter months and marry Hoss in May. All the while she was talking, Hoss was grinning. Hoss announced that after they married, they hoped they could live in the main house. Ben looked so noticeably relieved that everyone laughed and there were congratulations all around.

Weeks later when Jamie left with Adam and Grace, there were lots of tears and they continued on and off for weeks for Troian who gradually adjusted especially because she knew he would be coming back. It wasn’t as permanent a loss as she had anticipated. She and Ben were going to be sharing the parenting of Jamie with Adam and Grace.

*****

EPILOGUE

In April, after the school term had ended, Adam took his family to the shore for a picnic before they returned to the Ponderosa. At one point, he and Jamie were out walking among the tidal pools at low tide. Various types of sea life were temporarily exposed. Jamie made his observations of what they had seen at that point.

“Some of these are beautiful, some are strange, and some are slimy or yucky.”

“Yes, life is like that too. Soon, the tide will come back in and cover it all up making it all different again. The when the tide goes out again, this will all be different again too with some things the same and some different.”

“I kinda feel that way too.”

“What way is that?”

“When we go back to the Ponderosa, some things will be the same and some will be different, won’t they?”

“Yes, and things will never be exactly the way they were before.”

“But Uncle Hoss will be the same, won’t he?”

“Yes, he probably will, but now he’s going to be married so some changes may happen with him too. I think the changes will be good though.”

“It’s all right. With you and Papa Ben and Mama and Mama Grace to help me, I can handle it all. I like having a brother too. Can he live at the house with me when you get your house done?”

“Maybe for a time, but I want him with us most of the time.”

“Maybe I’ll stay with you some of the time too then.”

“I’d like that.”

With a nod, Jamie moved next to his father and leaned against him inviting Adam to wrap an arm around him. Adam did and guided him back to shore as the tide slowly began to come back in.

***The End***

Return to BettyHT’s home page

2 thoughts on “Troian series (by BettyHT)

  1. WOW what a mess, but you fixed all the problems and all was well at the end. Jamie was a great kid
    I assume you researched quite a lot for this story. Males me ill what was done to the native population.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was a story in which there couldn’t be a neat and tidy happy ending. Like real life, sometimes things are messy. So the Cartwrights did what many families do and did the best they could under the circumstances. I’m glad you liked how they worked it out. Yes, the history is accurate. The natives were treated abominably.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.