You Can’t Go Home Again series (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Eight stories.  You Can’t Go Home Again revised —  Adam leaves and gets a career after suffering a terrible loss, lots of complications occur in Nevada before and after he attempts a return home.  Alone Again revised — Adam is feeling betrayed and alone as he makes a new life. Home Again revised — this one is more upbeat as it is a romance. Again, Again, and Again revised — Adam is home on the Ponderosa sort of as he has built his own home and is working on his own ideas.  Heart and Home Threatened Again revised — An old nemesis comes back for revenge against Adam.  To Trust Again revised — With Candy’s help, Adam takes charge of a cattle drive for the Ponderosa. Disaster strikes.  Rambling Rake revised — sister-in-law shows up and leads Adam into confronting some ghosts from his past. There is romance for Ben in this story. The epilogue, Letter From Heaven, is a short story in itself referring back to the second story in this series.  What Else Could Go Wrong? — Illness and sabotage, collusion and a villain work against the Cartwrights, but an unlikely ally is there to help.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  174,582


You Can’t Go Home revised

Chapter One

“Pa, I have to leave.”

Ben replied softly, “Adam, you’re just feeling low after what has happened between you and Laura. You need to give yourself time to heal from that, and you’ll be fine. You love this land. It will always be part of you.”

Quietly and without the fiery anger his eldest son often exhibited in an argument, Adam slowly turned from the roaring fire he had been stoking in the large fireplace that was the center of the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house. He slowly shook his head and said “It’s not just Laura and Will. It hurt a lot that she would see him while betrothed to me, and it hurt more that my cousin would do that. I have forgiven them, and I know that Laura and I would not have been happy in the long run. But she never even tried to fight her feelings for Will and neither of them ever thought it was important to talk to me about what was happening.”

Ben wanted to say something to soothe his son’s hurt but before he could, quietly Adam spoke. “I loved Laura deeply, and despite doubts of our ability to get along well, we would have had a good marriage. But she betrayed me and she left me for Will. I love Peggy. I wanted so much to have a family and have her as my daughter.” Seeing his father’s eyebrows raised, he continued “I know what I said at the time, but it was just to smooth things over. There was no point in fighting—she was already gone from me. And with all the others I have loved, it always has ended with me alone.”

“Son, you just need to give yourself more time. It will happen for you.”

“Well, I’m not waiting for it. And there are all of these places I want to see and things I want to do. I love my family and I love this land so I will be back, but I just can’t stay here now. I wanted to travel in the last two winters and you said no that you needed me back before spring and I wouldn’t be able to do that and in that you were right, but it just makes this decision inevitable for me.”

“Can’t you just think about this a bit more. Take a trip to Salem or Sacramento? How about Denver? That is quite the town to see!”

“I’ve already booked passage out of San Francisco.”

“Without telling me!” Now that was the bellowing roar that Hoss and Joe, eavesdropping on the porch had expected to hear. They had made a hasty retreat when Adam asked to speak with their father. They were well aware that was the usual prelude to an argument between the two stubborn men, but they didn’t leave the door open a crack to hear as they thought the bellows and roars would give them all the information they needed. However most of the conversation had been so quiet until now that they hadn’t figured out a darned thing. Never before had they heard Adam and their father have such a quiet argument. Heck, it was hard to hear a lot of what Adam had said, so they weren’t sure exactly what the whole argument was about, but they knew it was a beaut when they walked casually in the door to see their father with that dark and dour expression and his eyebrows still all bunched up. What surprised them more was that his fists were clenched almost like he was going to hit someone. Hoss positioned himself so he could get between the two in case that was the situation.

“When will you be back?” It was a surrender, and they all knew it. It was also enough that now both younger brothers had an idea of what the two had been discussing. They had all known that this day was coming. Adam’s curiosity and wanderlust could not be held in check indefinitely. When Ben had said no to Adam traveling the past two winters, Hoss had been sure that it only made it more likely that Adam would leave.

“I’m not sure. It may well be years. There is so much I want to do and to see. Pa, Joe wants what I have, and he can do it. He can handle the responsibility if you let him be a man. He can do buying trips and deal with the bankers and the brokers. He can work with the men, and give them the daily orders. He can handle the horses and the mill as well as the ranch ledgers.”

Joe felt so proud at that moment that his brother had said these things about him, but he wasn’t so sure he liked the idea of the ledgers.

“Hoss is a natural with the cattle side of our business. And he can probably handle the logging business better than I did because of his ability to get along with the loggers and speak to them in their own way. The mining will require you to hire a mining engineer if you want to keep expanding that part of the ranch, but much of the silver is already playing out so you might just want to let that go. Joe and Hoss dream of building the Ponderosa the same way that you do.”

Hoss was hurting too much at the prospect of his brother leaving so that most of what Adam had said in praise of him was unheard. Joe, despite the unaccustomed praise from Adam, was starting to get angry because he could see how upset it was making their father.

“And you don’t? Adam, you are part of everything here. Your blood and sweat is in every acre of the Ponderosa! And what about your family? Hasn’t Pa taught you, like he taught us, that family is everything! How can you be so selfish and turn your back on all of us?”

“I know it hurts. It hurts me to even say it, but I have to leave. I cannot go on being a boy and a son when I want to be a man and be treated like one. That isn’t going to happen with me staying here and maintaining the relationship Pa want me to have with him. I may be wrong in leaving and maybe I won’t find what it is I’m looking for, but you all have to admit that you knew this day was coming. You have known this about me all along. It is not any more selfish for me to pursue my dream than it was for Pa to find his here.” Looking at Hoss and Joe next, Adam continued. “Or for my brothers to accept our father’s dream as their own and continue to build what he began.”

In an unaccustomed display of affection, Adam put his arm around his father’s shoulder and lowered his head there too, but it was an unusual conversation too. “I love you, but I have to go. Please?”

Ben could only shrug his shoulders as tears rolled down his cheeks. He would say goodbye to his eldest son and know that he might never see him again. He didn’t want their parting to be on such a negative note, but his anger and sorrow were all mixed together and he couldn’t bring himself to give his son his blessing. “When will you leave?

“I think now would be best. Prolonging it will only make it worse. I’ll go to town and stay at the International House tonight and grab the first stage to San Francisco. If you want to see me off, we can have breakfast tomorrow morning. If you aren’t there, I’ll understand.” There were no objections. “I have already instructed my broker on how I want my investments handled in my absence. There’s enough in my personal account to cover expenses for perhaps as long as five years if I don’t work anywhere to add to the balance.”

Turning his back on Adam, Ben went to sit at his desk. He had so much weighing on his mind and his heart. Hoss and Joe were silent watching first their father’s retreat to his desk as if it was a sanctuary, and then Adam as he went up the stairs to his room to pack a small bag. He came down the stairs to see his father just silently staring at the map of the Ponderosa behind his desk. He didn’t react to hearing Adam come down the stairs and pause as both Joe and Hoss shrugged and walked outside.

“Goodbye, Pa.”

Ben raised his hands and said nothing. Proceeding outside, Adam told his brothers he would ride Sport and leave him in the livery stable and they could pick him up whenever they were in town. Like their father, they said nothing as he rode away from the house. Once he was out of sight and the hoofbeats had faded away, Hoss said only one word and loudly.

“Damn!”

The next morning in town, only Hoss and Joe were there to see Adam off. Hoss slapped his brother on the back and told him that he better write or he’d get a whupping when he came back, or maybe Hoss would just track him down before he came home and whup him good. Joe added with a mischievous grin that they didn’t want any of that flowery stuff or any poetry either like that stuff he was always reading, sometimes aloud much to the consternation of the rest of the family. Joe couldn’t help himself: he told Adam that when he traveled he ought to use his smile more and his frown less because people liked him a whole lot better that way.

“With that ugly face of yours, you better be smiling or there aren’t going to be any pretty gals looking your way!”

That statement suddenly darkened Adam’s countenance, and Hoss wasn’t surprised when Adam silently turned and climbed into the stagecoach with just a wistful look over his shoulder at his brothers and the town that had been his hometown since he was seven years old. Hoss had a revelation with his older brother’s reaction.

“Is that what this is all about?” Hoss had noted the look on Adam’s face and remembered some of what he had overheard his brother and father discussing. His thought was that it was that darn ninny Laura who had pushed Adam toward this decision. If he had married, Hoss doubted that he ever would have left no matter what was pulling at him to go. As far as he was concerned, Laura just continued to be a source of pain for his family.

Joe was on edge because of Adam leaving and wanted to know what Hoss meant. “What are you talking about anyway?”

“Well that darn Laura treated Adam bad when all he did was love her. Then I heard that after Rachel Green and Adam were dancing at the last social, her pa forbid her to be in his company ever again. But the real bad news is that he said all of that and more at the Silver Dollar so it was all over town the next day.”

“What did he say? How bad could it be? That Adam is too serious, that he works too hard, that he is too book smart, that he thinks he’s right all the time and darn it, most of the time he is. Of course he is kind of bossy, but most women are used to that in men.”

“Mr. Green said that Adam is dangerous, and that he has killed a lot of men.”

“But he only used his gun when he had no choice, and he always felt terrible about it afterwards.”

“Well, he said Adam even killed a woman when he was young, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He even said that many people think Adam was trying to kill you when he accidentally shot you.”

“That’s crazy talk. That woman back then was trying to kill Pa and started a fire. She would have killed all of us and a lot of others if Adam hadn’t done what he did. It wasn’t Adam’s fault at all that she got trampled by trying to run away through the pasture after he came after her and then the cattle stampeded over her. And he would never hurt me or you or Pa. He just couldn’t.”

“Well we know that Joe, but Adam heard all that talk, and I think it made this all come to a head, and he thought the only way was to leave. He said he would be back, and we’re just gonna have to trust him on that. C’mon, let’s go get Sport so we can bring him home.”

Both Joe and Hoss looked down the road where the departing stage had gone. They wondered how their brother fare all alone with the anguish and the guilt he carried. They had to hope that he could find a way to forgive himself for his mother’s death from childbirth, from Ross’ death, from the weakness he felt he had because of the torture at the hands of Kane in the desert, and for all the other mistakes he felt he had made that had hurt others. He carried all that inside, and it made him somber and distant much of the time almost as if he was afraid to love someone because he might lose them. His eyes sometimes looked haunted. He rarely smiled or laughed any more. He had worked hard and slept little. They wondered when he came back, what kind of Adam would he be. They both decided that they would pray for him that he would get his smile back and enjoy life again and not sink deeper into sadness and despair. They would have to wait and see if the Almighty would answer those prayers.

*****

Chapter Two

The next day, Saturday, was one of those dreary days, rare in the high Sierras, when the sun was absent and the air was heavy. The fog persisted through most of the day. The threat of rain hung in the air but nothing happened. It was quiet at the breakfast table with all three lost in their own thoughts. Ben had spoken little and only when necessary. Hop Sing was in a foul mood and complained loudly as he went to and from the dining table. All could hear him in the kitchen too as he muttered loudly as he worked and banged pots and utensils around on the chance they didn’t know how unhappy he was by his commentary.

“Is he hurt that Adam left without saying goodbye?”

Hoss answered when his Pa did not acknowledge the question. “No Joe. Adam said goodbye and gave Hop Sing a present. He just misses Adam.” He paused then and looked at his father.

Ben slowly raised his eyes and looked at Joe. “He is angry with me. He blames me for Adam leaving. He also thinks I should have gone to town to see him off. I don’t know what more I could have said to Adam; he made his feelings perfectly clear.”

At that point, both Joe and Hoss knew how this would play out. Their Pa was putting the responsibility for this on Adam. It was probably because he felt guilty about and didn’t want to face it. Adam had told Hoss that is how he thought it would go, but it was disappointing for Hoss to hear those words so soon. Before that conversation went any further, they heard a wagon outside. All three, curious, went to the door. It was the Greens, father and daughter, and they wanted to talk to Adam. Ben told them that Adam had left for San Francisco and the east and would not be home for years perhaps. At that, Frank Green just slumped in his seat.

“Never mind, we’ll just be going home I guess.”

“Nonsense.” said Ben, “Come inside and have some coffee and warm up before the fire.”

Looking at his daughter, Frank shrugged and reluctantly accepted Ben’s offer of coffee and walked inside with him and Hoss. Rachel stayed outside. Joe walked up to her and asked if she was doing all right because she looked pale and frightened. She just asked if they could take a walk because she said she felt her world was falling apart at that moment, and that all her plans were in shambles. Joe guided Rachel in a short walk to the garden in back of the house and then had her sit on a bench there. She seemed like she was about to burst into tears but began to relax amid the beauty of the garden. She gradually began to think about smiling, and thought to herself that she was going to have to make the best of this and perhaps there was another option sitting there beside her.

Joe noticed the slight hint of smile and beamed at her. He had always been a little infatuated with her, but she always seemed more interested in men older than her. She was three years older than he was, and always seemed to be much more interested in Adam than in him. But Adam was gone and Joe was here so he thought that perhaps he had a chance with her now.

Suddenly she blurted out a shocking statement. “Joe, I have to tell you something. I told my father I think I might be going to have a baby and …” She broke down in tears before finishing what it was she had to say. Joe suddenly had a hard feeling in his heart and anger at Adam because he suspected he knew why they wanted to speak with Adam when they arrived. He was upset that he could have done this. Adam said he wanted a wife and children and now he ran out on this beautiful woman at the worst possible time. But he wondered if Adam knew.

Joe wrapped his arms around Rachel and held her as she cried into his chest.

“No man is going to want me now!”

Joe’s hear went out to her at this point and he knew how he could make her feel better about herself. “Does Adam even know?”

“Oh, Joe, no, he doesn’t, and he hasn’t even seen me in quite a while. He’s been so upset about things when I’ve tried to approach him in town, and he hasn’t been by. I wanted to tell him but there wasn’t a time when I could, so then I had to tell Papa. He was so upset he wanted to kill him, but I told him that Adam didn’t know and I was as responsible as he was because I had chased after him and pestered him until he couldn’t say no to me. It was terrible to have to admit it, but I did. I was a foolish girl. He doesn’t love me. I know that, but now the baby.”

“Please don’t say any more. That baby is a Cartwright and has the right to be raised a Cartwright. Rachel, I have always wanted to be with you. I have always dreamed that you might want to be with me, and if your father will approve, I would like to court you starting right now.”

Feigning shock, Rachel was delighted with this turn of events. She would have preferred Adam, but Joe would do. “Oh, he will approve. Oh, Joe, thank you so much. He…”

Joe placed a finger over her lips. “Shh .. that’s all I wanted to hear. We’ll go talk to your father right now.”

Joe and Rachel walked hand-in-hand back to the ranch house. Ben and Frank Green had come outside, and Ben smiled to see the two of them emerge on the path at the side of the house. Frank just had a quizzical look. Joe quickly asked for permission to court Rachel, and with a pleading look from his only child, Frank agreed.

With his thoughts were in turmoil, Frank wondered if she had confided in Joe. He suspected that his daughter had not told him a completely truthful account of her condition, and he had hoped that a confrontation with the intimidating Adam Cartwright would have brought out the truth. He had thought there was a good chance that she had intended to manipulate Adam into an offer of marriage so now he wondered if she manipulating Joe as she had hoped to do with Adam. His daughter was good at twisting a story to suit her needs, and he wondered what she was trying to accomplish here. He wasn’t even sure she was going to have a baby because he didn’t know much about those kinds of things and he would have to try to have a meaningful conversation with her on the way home. Tomorrow Joe had asked to drive her to church. He only hoped that he could understand what was going on by then. Raising a daughter without a wife was turning out to be a daunting challenge.

Equally surprised by that turn of events was Ben who had no idea his youngest son was that interested in Rachel Green. She had pestered Adam so much that his oldest son had done various things to avoid being near her or always made sure to have someone else with him when the young woman was present. She had not seemed to have any interest in Joe until the day before, and the only thing that had changed was that Adam had left. He worried that there was more going on that he didn’t know, and that worry was exacerbated by Joe’s unwillingness to talk about it except in the most shallow of terms. Even Hoss’ teasing had not gotten him to say much more than the obvious.

Joe was up early the next morning. He had barely slept. Worry about Rachel and some anger at his brother had occupied his mind too much to allow for much rest. He was sure he knew what had happened. There should have been a time when he wondered why he accepted what Rachel said without wondering why his brother who had such a strong moral character could possibly have done what he suspected. If Adam had been with her, he should have at least offered marriage to her. Joe had always been quick to anger and impulsive although also very caring. He was ready for church earlier than anyone and hitched the team to the buggy before going inside to grab a lap blanket in case it was needed. Hoss joshed him.

“Joe, you look like you’re going to your wedding and not just to church.”

“Well soon, I guess it could be both!” Joe left the house, hopped into the buggy, and drove off leaving Hoss standing in the doorway completely baffled.

Within a few weeks, Rachel told Joe she was not going to be a mother. She had been feeling very guilty over how she had misled Joe, and decided the only way to fix things was to break off her relationship with him. “Joe, I am not going to be a mother, well at least not now. And except for you and my daddy, no one knows what happened, so I think it was very gallant of you to want to help me but it isn’t fair to you. I lost the baby. I guess that’s pretty common when it’s so early.”

“Rachel, the time I have spent with you has been some of the best of my life. I think we’re meant for each other. We laugh and talk and, well, you know.” Joe was romantic but would never have forced an intimacy with Rachel, so their relationship was very respectable regardless of what the gossips in Virginia City had to say. “If you will have me, I want to continue to see you.”

“Joe, I think that would be wonderful. You are the most kind and sensitive man I have ever known. I missed seeing that in you, and these last few weeks have been a revelation to me.”

Joe pulled Rachel into an embrace and kissed her as Rachel wrapped her arms around his neck and responded with enthusiasm. The next months were full of picnics, long rides, and lots of dinners at the Ponderosa and in town. Six months after Joe began courting Rachel, Joe and Rachel were married. This wedding was the social event of the year in Virginia City. After the church wedding, a huge reception and party was held on the Ponderosa. Great slabs of beef were roasted, and long tables were crowded with the many dishes prepared by Hop Sing and his cousins who were brought in to help with the task of feeding a few hundred people. Colorful paper lanterns festooned the trees around the yard and hung from poles stuck in the ground where there were no trees to use.

Standing in the midst of the gaiety, Ben was awed by his youngest son’s marriage, but saddened and a still had to admit he was a bit angry that his eldest son wasn’t there and didn’t even know what had happened. He knew it was too soon to expect a letter, but still couldn’t find it in his heart to forgive what Adam had done. There were times he knew he was wrong to feel that way. He remembered being a young man with a dream and having that desire to break free and follow it. However over the years, his dream had changed and included his three sons inheriting the Ponderosa. He was having a difficult time adjusting to the change. His happiest thoughts were that there would likely soon be children on the Ponderosa again. Now if he could get Hoss to find a wife, then he could be happy that his dream would become a legacy. The plan was that Joe and Rachel would live in the ranch house until their home was ready. Joe had started to finish the cottage that at one time was to be his home with another. He had listened as Rachel described the home she wanted, and he made some changes in the house plans as a result.

Almost a month later, Joe hitched up the buggy on a Sunday afternoon after telling Rachel it was time to pack for the honeymoon. He put the bags in the back, and gratefully accepted a large basket of food from Hop Sing. Then he brought Rachel to the cottage. Flowers were in bloom around the small pond in front of the cottage. Matching rocking chairs were on the porch. When Rachel entered, she could not believe her eyes because the walls were robin egg blue, her favorite color. There were blankets with Native American design on the walls which was something she had told Joe once would be an attractive way to decorate. There were red roses in a vase on the dining table, and those were her favorite flower. Their bedroom was gorgeous, and next to their bedroom was another small room, a nursery, with a brand new cradle sitting in the center of the room. It still smelled sweetly of the pine that had been used to make it. Another older cradle crafted by Adam had been stored away at the Ponderosa. Joe had considered burning it in the fireplace but thought that if Adam ever returned, he might want it or perhaps someday Hoss might have need of it. On the mantel was Joe’s treasured portrait of his mother, and next to it was a photograph of Rachel’s mother. That was something they shared: both had grown up without a mother to guide them.

Rachel had gasped with almost overwhelming joy when she first crossed the threshold of her new home. Her husband was so handsome, and so rich. He was also so thoughtful and kind. When she saw how Joe had tried to create her dream for her, she began to fall even more deeply in love with him. He wrapped his arms around her, and she fell willingly into those arms. This was going to work out; well as long as Adam didn’t come back as she wasn’t sure how she would handle that situation. She well knew the oldest son’s reputation for honesty and integrity, and also knew Joe’s temper and sense of honor. If they ever met again, it was likely that her deception was going to be an issue which wasn’t going to turn out well for her. However at that moment, her faith in God was strengthened: he did listen to prayers!

****

Chapter 3

Three years later: The man’s buckskin jacket blended into the terrain so well the three men in the camp never knew he had been following them all day as they made their way through the Snake River valley. He wanted to be sure they were the ones he had tracked for the last month. In the steep rocky slopes, he had lost the trail and even though they appeared to be the ones, he had to get closer to be sure. He couldn’t afford to make a mistake. If these were the men, he needed to confront them, and he knew he could die in the effort. That would only add to his tragic tale to die confronting the wrong outlaws so he slipped closer and closer as they set up their camp.

“Hey, Charlie, move that stack of wood closer to the fire. I don’t want to be trudging around in the dark later looking for some darn wood stack. Get’s dark early too on this slope. Sun’s gonna be dropping below that ridge real soon and we need everything set up right before that happens.”

“Hey, Sam, I got the beans cooking and the fire going. Ain’t it about time for that fool kid to do something useful.”

“He’s taking care of the horses and fetching us some water. So just do as you’re told.”

The conversation confirmed it. The voices and the names matched his memory but caused a tremor to shake him for a moment. He steeled himself for what he had to do next even as those voices threatened to make all those horrific memories burst into his mind, and he just had to push them back down into the blackness where they belonged. Without conscious thought, his left hand reached up and rubbed across the nasty scar on his chest that could be felt even through the shirt. That was the scar that resulted from Sam’s knife being ripped through his flesh, not to kill him but to make him weak and unable to fight back as his wife was assaulted before his eyes. She had looked at him with fear, pleading, and anger in her eyes, and all he had been able to do was watch and silently pray for both of them to have a quick release from their torment. It had gone on for far too long until her eyes held only pain, and then the spark of life fled as he watched laying on his side too weak to move or to say anything to offer her any comfort. He had relived those hours in his nightmares while asleep and sometimes while awake and was always overwhelmed with guilt for bringing her out west and putting her in danger. Those men had laughed at him in his helplessness and walked away, mounting up, and taking what little of value they had with them. They knew he would die of his injuries, and it had seemed to increase their pleasure to know he would die slowly with his wife’s body in view the entire time. But he didn’t die, and he was about to ensure that there was some balance in this world. He would deal with these men, and if he survived, he would find the others. His only reason to live any more was to get justice in any way he could.

Night falling was his friend. He waited until they ate, and relaxed. Then he moved slowly through the brush until he was close enough to hear them breathing. His childhood Paiute friend, Young Wolf, and his more recent stay with the Shoshoni had taught him many things about moving with stealth and grace through this terrain. He checked his pistol to be sure the chambers were all loaded and the barrel was clear. He held his double-barreled shotgun with his left hand. He had another pistol loaded and ready to go in a second holster that had a cross handed draw. He could drop the one he held now and draw the other in less than a second. He had practiced until he could do it. Carefully he moved, sometimes sideways, and relying on his peripheral vision to show him where to place his feet soundlessly. He knew never to look at the fire in order to keep the night vision intact. He knew never to look up at the lighter sky but to keep your eyes focused on the terrain. The technique was to put your toes down first and slowly lower your heel before making the next step. He had removed his boots when he had left his horse further down the slope. He walked in moccasins now. It was time.

“Surrender and I will take you into Pocatello to the sheriff.”

There was a brief moment when he thought the three of them might just comply. They were frozen in place when this man dressed in mostly black and wearing a buckskin jacket stepped into the camp almost out of nowhere it seemed. But the hesitation was just that. Sam reacted first by jumping up and drawing his pistol, but a shotgun blast threw him back across his saddle before he even got halfway standing. Charlie dove for his rifle, turned, and tried to fire, but two pistol shots hit him in the chest and the throat. He died before he hit the ground. The kid was the slowest, and therefore the man had a chance to aim more carefully. The kid was hit in the right shoulder and dropped the pistol he had grabbed. He dropped to his knees and expected the death shot, but instead heard only the heavy breathing of the man. He looked up and the man sank to his knees and slowly raised a hand to his ribs, and it came away covered in blood.

“Damn. That hurts.” Looking at the kid, he spoke in a rich baritone voice that showed no sign of the pain he had to be in. “Probably not as much as that shoulder of yours though. Can you feel your arm at all?”

“Yeah. It hurts a lot. I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Lay down. As soon as I get some padding on the crease along my side, I’ll see what I can do for you.”

The kid fell more than lay down. He closed his eyes, and his breathing slowed.

“Well one less worry. He won’t be a danger to me for now.” The man walked over to their saddle bags and rummaged through them looking for anything to use as a bandage. His own saddlebags were on his horse but it was down the slope about one hundred yards. He was feeling dizzy from his own wound and didn’t think he could make it down the slope without falling, and he had enough problems to deal with already. He found an old shirt but it looked clean enough and then found a small flask of whiskey. He sat down and laid back against Charlie’s saddle and poured a generous portion of whiskey along his side. That did burn. His eyes watered, and when he awoke later, he realized he must have fainted. He didn’t want to ever have to tell anyone that part of the story, but his side felt a little better and he pushed the padding in under his shirt and then buttoned it up tight and buttoned his vest to hold it all in place.

When he stood, he realized he was going to need to move more slowly because it took a minute for the campsite to stop spinning. It was nice to have the wood pile so close so he threw several more small logs on the fire. The he turned to look at the kid. He went to Charlie and pulled his shirt off of him and walked over to the kid. Taking the whisky flask out of his pocket, he poured it over the wound in the kid’s shoulder. That woke him up, and he began to groan and then to cry out for his mama.

“Too late for that kid. You took up with the wrong men and made the wrong choices. Now you’ve got the consequences for that.”

“You’re the man we left for dead. I remember you. How can you be alive? You were laying there in a pool of your own blood when we left you on that slab of rock. Hey, mister, I hope you remember I didn’t touch your lady. I didn’t do anything.”

“That’s just it. You didn’t do anything. Makes you as guilty as them. You could have done something to stop the men you partnered with but didn’t. In the eyes of the law, you’re just as guilty.”

“I am so sorry. I was so scared.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. He had never expected repentance.

“Well if you truly mean that, where are the rest of the men who were with you that day? When I bring you into Pocatello, that could work in your favor that you agreed to help bring those men to justice.”

“Last I heard they was headed to Morgan’s place up by Bend. I don’t know how long they planned to stay there.”

“What are the other men’s names?”

“Morgan Davis, and his brother Jeb Davis, and the other was Sam’s brother Dru but I don’t know the last name they were using because they kept changing it.”

Settling the boy in his bedroll then, he secured all the weapons and ammunition he could find. He laid back against Charlie’s saddle and fell asleep. The calls of birds and sun shining in his eyes woke him the next morning. He had slept longer than he had wanted to, but as he sat up, he knew why. He was dizzy, nauseous, and slightly feverish. Looking over at the kid whose eyes were staring sightlessly at the morning sky, he realized he must have died from blood loss in the night. What he had not realized in the darkness was an artery must have been nicked. There was too much blood by the boy for him to have had a chance. Maybe if he had been in better shape last night and had cauterized it, but he had barely been able to do what he had done.

All he could do now was to wrap the bodies in blankets and tie them in bundles over the saddles of their horses. When he had that done, he walked down the slope to retrieve his horse. Wrapping, saddling, loading, and walking brought almost to the stage of collapse from fatigue. He felt bad about the way he was treating these horses, but he needed to rest. If he didn’t get over that ridge, he would be spending another night here so he pushed himself and the horses and rode until darkness hid the trail he needed to follow. The next few days were a blur as he pushed himself to get to Pocatello. It was a great relief to see those buildings finally.

As he rode through the little town on the way to the sheriff’s office, he drew a small crowd. Three bodies on horseback were certainly enough reason to stir the curiosity of the townspeople. He walked into the sheriff’s office and handed over papers to show that the men were wanted. He told the sheriff what he had done and what he knew of their identities. The sheriff rummaged through a stack of posters on his desk and grabbing about seven of them, he headed to the street to check the corpses. Pulling up the blanket on each one, he compared them to the posters and pulled two out of the stack, held them up and asked the man if he those looked like the men. He agreed that it appeared to be them.

“I don’t have a poster on that little one. Might be one out there but I don’t have it. Sam has a reward of $1000 total on his head and $200 more on Charlie Dean there. Wells Fargo and the railroads have been upping the ante on these two for a while hoping someone would put them out of business. Looks like you did. Now I need your name and I can send a scrip over to the bank so you can get paid.”

“The name is Adam Cartwright, but I don’t want nor need the money. It’s not why I did this.”

From a man lounging in a chair next to the wall across from the sheriff’s desk, there was an interest in this man who had done quite a bit of his work. “Well you should take it because somebody’s going to get it, and I’m guessing the sheriff here would know of someone who needs it hereabouts, and you can give it to them if you don’t want it.”

“And who are you?”

“I’m Marshall David King, and I’ve been tracking these men all the way from the Cimarron. Lost their trail and was just circling around trying to find a clue as to where they went. You wouldn’t happen to know where the rest of them are?”

“Bend. And that’s where I’m headed next. Sheriff, you got an idea of who could use this money?”

“The Shoshoni who recently got settled on a reservation here are having a hard time of it. Government rules make it hard for them to feed their people and keep everyone properly cared for. Giving them some money so they can buy some necessary foodstuffs from the store and from the ranches around here will help them a lot but also help the local folks too.”

“That sounds like a good idea. The Shoshoni have helped me out a couple of times. Seems right to return the favor.”

With that, he took the money and walked outside with Marshall King.

“I have a proposition for you. I can get you an appointment as a U.S. Marshall and we can hunt these men down together, within the law. And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to try another crazy stunt like that last one you described. That sounded a lot like an attempt to get yourself killed. Must have a lot of pain inside of you or you don’t care if you live or die. Working with me is the way if you really want to bring these men to justice.”

That brought Adam to a quick stop. He thought it through though and realized King had made some accurate assumptions about him. He did want to do this within the law, and suddenly he realized he wanted to live through the experience as well. Then maybe he could go home and explain to his family what he had done, and why. He turned and offered his hand to Marshall King and agreed. King took his hand and gave him a strong handshake.

“Partners, Marshal Cartwright!”

*****

Chapter 4

Four years later, Hoss was in town and Joey came running up to him with a telegram for his father. Joey couldn’t help himself – he told Hoss that the whole family was gonna like that news. Joey’s brother had gone to West Point several years previously, and he thought that anyone would be thrilled to know their brother was coming home even if it was for a visit because he knew he would be if his brother were coming home. Hoss searched in his pocket for a coin and put the telegram in his pocket, as he mounted Chubb and began the long ride home.

Ben read the telegram and Hoss couldn’t follow all the expressions on his face. He asked to see the telegram because he wondered what could possibly be the cause of the turmoil, and when he read it, he felt a little conflict in his emotions too. Joe came bursting in the house with his usual noisy entrance but came to a sudden and quiet stop when he saw the looks on their faces because he couldn’t tell whether he was going to console or congratulate someone by the looks on their faces.

“Your brother is coming home. He says that he’s coming here for a ‘visit’. He doesn’t say for how long.” Ben had a lot of hurt and anger in his head, but in his heart, he was relieved his son was alive and he was finally coming home. With no letters for so long and only rumors of his life, there was a lot he wanted to know. He wondered if his son would be willing to share what had happened, and he asked himself if he really wanted to know because some of it could be things he didn’t want to know. The turmoil in his head and heart made it to his stomach and he had breathe deeply to settle down.

Joe got the same look on his face as his father. There was love but also anger and resentment. How could he just act as if all he knew wasn’t already between them. All three men did not know quite what to say.

By the next week, when Adam rode into the yard, none had made any progress in sorting out their emotions.

“Welcome home Adam. We kept your stuff in storage and I had the boys put it all back in your old room. You can take what you want, and when you leave, we’ll just store whatever is left.”

“Shur is good to see ya older brother. I gotta get home now, but you can tell me all about your travels at dinner some night.”

“Good to see you Adam. My wife and children are expecting me so I don’t want to hang around here too long. It’s good to see you.”

Adam unpacked his saddlebags in his room. He was surprised and a little mystified at the reaction he had gotten. Anger he was expecting. Joy would have been welcome of course. But this kind, stilted reaction was stranger than anything he could have imagined. Whatever welcome Adam had expected or worried about, this was not it. They were polite, and nice, but no one said much of anything. Hands were shaken and there were smiles and welcomes, but at least there was none of the negative reactions he had feared might be there. He found it ironic that now that he was back and willing to share, his family had adopted more of his reserved way of behaving.

The dinner table each night was a somber place since his return. Sometimes Hoss and Joe would join Ben and Adam. Candy was there on occasion. All three of the younger men had wives who expected them home most evenings and none seemed anxious to have dinner with the prodigal son. The wives always found reasons they could not be at a meal with Adam. The tension at the table was uncomfortable for all. Candy seemed to have picked up on Joe’s slight resentment of Adam and treated him politely but without any warmth. At the table with all five present, it was like waiting for a tornado to hit: there were dark, menacing clouds on the horizon but with a stillness that precedes the storm that was nerve-wracking.

Ben had yet to ask his son what he had been doing for seven years. He was reluctant to ask because maybe some parts of those dime novels which featured the bounty hunting exploits of his son and his friend David King might be true. Table talk was about what happened today and what were the plans for tomorrow on the ranch. The levity or gravity of those conversations of the past were gone. It was banal and just the way that most seemed to like it. It was sometimes trivial, but it was always safe. It would not cause tempers to flare and words to be said that could not be retrieved. Ben was afraid if he started asking any questions that is what would happen.

On the first days back, Adam had asked about Hoss, and Joe, and their wives and children. He learned that Hoss had nearly died, and that Joe’s wife had been attacked by strangers, but had survived and recovered. He asked about the issues that had faced the ranch and how they had handled them.

Between Hoss and Joe, there were discussions about Adam, but neither had much of a discussion with Adam. Hoss remarked that his brother seem even more serious than he had been and that he never smiled. Joe said he thought he had always been that way. “But he used to get ornery, or uppity, or sometimes he just got silly, but now he never smiles, he’s always serious, and he doesn’t get angry at anything. He seems like a different person.”

Hoss wanted so much to just grab his brother in a big bear hug but just didn’t know if it would be welcome. After all, Laura had come back after her marriage to Will had ended, and Hoss had done all he could to help her and her son Joshua. Hoss felt responsible for the family, and with Adam gone and Will likely dead, he had to do it. Peggy was growing into a pretty young lady too, but hadn’t forgotten all that Adam had taught her about riding: she was one of the best cowhands on the Ponderosa whenever Pa let her work. Hoss built Laura a nice house on the Ponderosa in a real pretty spot. He spent time with Josh, teaching him how to fish, and hunt, and work with the animals. The more time that he had spent with Laura, the more he wanted her to stay there and be part of the family. Her romance with Adam and her marriage to Will and all that had gone on during both of those things had changed her. She didn’t complain but appreciated all that he did. She learned to do more for herself, but thought about the consequences before she acted. She became the sweet kind of gal that Hoss wanted as a sister, and they had long talks. With her help, Hoss was able to meet and marry a young lady and built another house not far from Laura’s.

He and Laura had had one very serious talk one day. She had burst into tears when Hoss had said that Will ought to come back to see what a fine young man his son was growing into. Laura had burst into tears and run back into her house. Hoss had followed and gotten her to talk. In a voice just above a whisper, she admitted something that shocked Hoss. “Will left me because he couldn’t stand to look at Joshua and think that he was Adam’s son, every day, and be reminded of our treachery for him to be with me at the same time I was with Adam too.” Hoss had swallowed and then swallowed again. Now he held that secret and wondered how he would ever talk to Adam and not let it slip.

Hoss remembered. Adam and Laura were engaged. Adam fell from the house he was building, but Will and Laura were riding up in the buggy to see it happen. After Adam’s fall and during his nearly two-month confinement to a wheelchair, Will had helped Laura. At that time, Hoss had suspected there might have been something going on, but he had now found out it was true. Adam had been in Laura’s bed, but during their engagement, Laura had also been with Will! She had said she loved one man, but fell in love with another. Hoss knew then the burden of guilt she had been carrying, and he knew too that it made no difference to him. She was different now, and she was sorry for what she had done. He told her he forgave her and he was sure the Almighty had too. She had asked him if he could please keep her secret, and he had pledged that he would do his best for her. He chuckled to remember the things that he had said about her once; not that he thought he had been wrong, but amazed how much this woman had changed and that’s what he told her. Laura looked at him in amazement.

“How can you smile and even laugh after what I said to you?”

“Laura, I remember the way you were and I remember what I used to think about you then. But you are not that woman any more. It took you awhile, but you grew up. Your parents and Frank never let you learn to be a woman. You used to be a girl, but you aren’t any more. You are a woman and a good mother. I want to help you, and I hope you find the right man along the way to be a father to these children. Ifn ya don’t, ya know I’ll be here to help out. None of that stuff that happened before matters at all if you don’t want it to.” As Peggy and Josh came busting into the kitchen after school, they found their mother and Hoss sitting at the table, his giant hand holding her small hand.

So now he wondered how could he talk to Adam when he knew all that about the woman who had wounded him so deeply. Hoss knew how much it had all hurt Adam even though he said it was all fine and he gave his blessing to Will and Laura. He did that. He always protected everyone else. And he could never tell Adam that Josh was his son although it was eating away at him that he wouldn’t. Darn it. Josh was like his son now, and his dark hair and slender build could be attributed to Will so no one would suspect a thing. Josh’s serious nature and his natural intelligence were the only clues but no one was likely to consider that Will wasn’t his father based on only that. And Will had gone down to Mexico years ago, and by most reports, he had met a violent death so he would never be around to voice his suspicions. Hoss felt bad about it, but he treated Adam the same way his father did: he welcomed but was reticent.

Both Ben and Hoss both knew that Joe was seething about something. After Adam left, Joe became his father’s right hand. He worked hard at it and helped the Ponderosa grow and develop. He was worried that Adam’s return threatened all that. By Joe’s thinking he was gone for seven years with hardly a word from him the last several years so he wondered why he had come back now. Joe loved his brother but was afraid that his return could unleash forces that could tear the family apart. He said little about this, but his few terse comments had been heard by Adam as well as by Ben and Hoss. Ben and Hoss knew an explosion was coming, and it needed a spark to set it off.

At dinner one evening as usual, they tried to make light conversation. Nothing of import was said, and no questions were asked either as if no one cared why Adam was gone seven years and now had come back. Then Candy suggested that they all go to town because the Silver Dollar had a new owner, a beautiful woman, and the place was busier and livelier than it had ever been.

“They say she’s so pretty it near hurts your eyes. She’s blond and she’s tall, and she’s really the nicest gal you ever met. But they say she’s spoken for too.”

Hoss reminded him that they were married, but “What a lucky man! A gal that’s pretty and runs her own business too. Heck if that was Marie, I could fish every day! When she came home from working, I could have a big ole trout lying on a platter surrounded by taters and carrots, and we could have some big ole bread rolls to go with it. Boy howdy! I’m making myself hungry all over again.”

“Everything with you Hoss just has to be about food sooner or later!” Joe started to giggle and soon Candy joined in. When he caught his breath again, he again asked if they were going. “Heck even if I’m married like you and Joe, we can still look at the scenery!”

Ben declined, but encouraged the other four to go, and with a slight nod of his head, Adam agreed. He had been doing what had become routine for him since his return: he lounged quietly in the background but observed everything. He had shown significantly more interest when the new saloon owner was discussed, but as usual, none were paying much attention to him and only Hoss noticed that his interest in a trip to the saloon increased after that information was shared. Candy was not satisfied with just the four of them. He continued to push Ben to come with them.

“Heck, Joe and Adam have water wagons positioned all over the ranch to help with the drought. Hoss has got all the cattle rounded up for the drive that doesn’t start for two more days. Then we’ll have four weeks on the trail. You need to come with us and have some fun. We’ll come home early so you get a good night’s rest.” Candy had that cheeky grin of his in place for the last part.

Ben couldn’t resist the pressure of Candy with Joe and Hoss to back him up. “Well how can we go? I don’t see any horses saddled up!” They laughed and went to saddle their horses. Adam followed behind and quietly closed the door to the great room.

*****

Chapter 5

Almost to Virginia City, Cochise started favoring her right foreleg, and all of them slowed to a walk. Cochise seemed fine then, and Joe said he would hire a horse from the stable for the return trip. Everyone could see the relief on Joe’s face that there was nothing seriously wrong with his equine friend. Candy rode beside Joe, and both kept checking on Cochise. As long as they kept walking, he was not favoring the leg. Ben followed closely behind and agreed with their assessment that it wasn’t serious. Ben said Charlie at the livery stable was as good as anyone with taking care of a horse and he would pay him a bit extra to care for Cochise.

Hoss dropped back a bit to ride next to Adam. Hoss had observed Adam’s reaction to the saloon owner, and it made him curious. “Adam I was wondering if that was a hint of a smile I saw when Candy mentioned the new saloon owner? Now why was that?”

“Well I think that may be my lady friend, and if I’m right, this is going to be a very pleasant evening.”

Hoss almost jumped in surprise, and Adam had to laugh at his reaction. That got all three of the other riders to turn and wonder what had happened. Adam never laughed. Heck he never even smiled, or so they thought. None realized that it was their behavior that had caused this to be true.

“What’s going on back there?”

“Oh Adam’s just joshing me!” A pause and then “You were just joshing me, weren’t you?”

“Not at all. Her name is Ann, and I have known her for many years, but it is only recently that we have been reacquainted. And I am very much looking forward to seeing her tonight. A friendly face and a smile isn’t something I’ve seen in the last few weeks.”

Hoss felt a little guilty about that. But what he said was, “Darn, Adam, you are just full of secrets aren’t you?”

“Not secrets Hoss. Just answers to questions that no one has asked. That was the first question about my life that anyone has asked since I got back. It’s what made me decide finally that this is just a visit. This isn’t my home any more. This is where my father and my brothers live.”

“Where is your home then? Do you have one if you deny this one is yours?”

“I have several properties. I’ve asked Ann to marry me. Then she and her son and I can live on one of the ranches I own. The one in Stockton isn’t too far away so that might be the one. Her sister Darcy is married to my best friend and partner, and they own property near there too.”

Hoss had to consciously close his mouth because it was hanging open. “Your partner? For real? In what?”

“David King and I are U.S. Marshals, and we have been working together for four years now. We are not the bounty hunters as portrayed in that dime novel trash.”

“Her son?”

“Jacob. He’s seven years old. I think he might be my son too, but Ann hasn’t shared that information yet.”

“Adam if you tell me much more, my head is gonna bust open like a watermelon that is just too darn ripe. How could you have a seven year old son?” Hoss’ thoughts went to Joshua who was seven years old. This had to be from a liaison from just before Laura.

“Hoss do you remember when that man Tom used my identity to buy a horse and get money from the bank? Well Ann is the lady I met when I tracked him down. We searched for him together and found he was dead. We set a trap for those who did it, and the sheriff got them all.”

Hoss laughing now “Well you musta done more than that.”

Adam grinned the full dimpled grin at that.

“Why didn’t you marry her then?”

“I let my pride get in the way, and neither of us knew at parting that she was with child.”

“But you said she didn’t say he was your son.”

“She would only be with someone she loved. By the timing of it all, I think I have to be the father. The only other possibility would be Tom, but I don’t know if they had that kind of relationship. I hope not. Jacob has black wavy hair, hazel eyes, dimples, and well you know, he just looks a lot like me already. Back then, things just seemed to move on, and I never tried to contact her again, even though I thought of her often. She is beautiful, but smart and strong too.”

“But if Tom looked enough like you to make people sell him a horse and give him a bank draft, then wouldn’t his son likely look like you too.”

“It could be, but I hope not.”

“Well, gosh, how did you two get back together after all this time?”

“About six months ago, I decided to go see her. She had this shocked expression on her face, but when I asked if she had a man, she just rushed into my arms and kissed me and said “Now I do!”

“Holy cow! Well what in tarnation made you go see her after all this time?”

“David’s wife, who also owns a saloon but with two partners, mentioned that her sister was planning to buy a second saloon and needed someone to run it as a partner with her. The more they talked, the more I realized it was Ann, so I asked questions and then they both looked at me and said

“You’re Adam!”

And I said “Of course, you already have known me for years.”

But Darcy said “No you must be the Adam she is always talking about. The classy cowboy she drove away with her ‘foolishness’, although she never said what she did that was foolish. They said that she never married because no one could ever match what she had found with ‘Adam’.”

“Adam how did you end up partnering with David King? You left here to travel and such – how did you end up a U.S. Marshal and why?”

“Hoss I don’t think I can explain all of that before we get to Virginia City. I am not sure if I could tell that whole story to anyone. I couldn’t tell Ann. There is my journal of all of it, and Ann has read that. She is only one of few who has so she knows my story. David knows too. You can read the journal or talk to Ann and David if you wish.”

The mood had turned very somber. Hoss wasn’t so sure he wanted to read that journal if it caused such a pained expression on his brother’s face just to mention it. Hoss knew there must be terrible secrets in that journal and he didn’t think he needed any more material for awful nightmares. However, if he wanted to know his brother again, he would have to read it. So quietly he said “Yes, I need to read that journal some time.” After a pause and Adam nodding to him, he had another question. “Dadburnit, how did you end up a bounty hunter in those books? Can you tell me that?”

“Yes, well, the short version is that I was after some men who did some horrible things.” As Adam paused, Hoss noted the same pained expression and guessed that somehow Adam was tied to those ‘horrible things’ and that he was after those men because of that. “I came upon three of them camped near the Snake River. I took my pistols and a shotgun and stormed into the camp demanding that they surrender. Of course they didn’t, so I shot them. Two were killed, but the third one lingered. With medical help, he might have made it, but I was nursing a bullet wound along my ribs, and the blood loss before I got it bandaged up caused me to be too weak to do much for him. By the next day, the man was dead, but the pain and the fear and probably a load of guilt had made him repent. He had told me where to find more of the gang. When I brought the bodies in to Pocatello, I found that the men had a bounty on them. The sheriff wanted me to take it, but I refused. Then David spoke up and said he was a marshal and had been tracking that bunch. He had tracked them from the Cimarron all the way to Pocatello and then lost the trail. He told me to take the money. He said he was sure the sheriff knew a family or two or someone who could use it. So I did and he did. The sheriff said that the ones who could use it most were the Shoshoni over on the Fort Hall reservation. Many were having a tough time adjusting to life there with the rules the government imposed. Well I perked up at the chance to help some Shoshoni because they had saved my life twice. So I walked out with David and a wad of cash. Three bodies draped across three horses had already drawn a crowd. Some writer in the crowd drew all the wrong conclusions. But the story was written and later he never would change it because the truth doesn’t matter to these people.”

“So how did you become a Marshal?”

“Because David wanted to get those men too, he offered me a job as a U.S. Marshal and said he could get my appointment approved right away. I asked why and he said that we were tracking the same gang, so why not work together and within the law. Then he said ‘Besides, I don’t want you trying to commit suicide with another stupid stunt like that last one.’ I realized at that moment that he was right and decided to live until all those men faced justice. That was most of the last four years, until I took some time off to go see Ann.”

“What about before then?”

“When you read the journal, you’ll know that.”

*****

Chapter 6

The lights of town were close. Even Cochise seemed to perk up and the four Cartwrights and Candy all rode into Virginia City. As the five men entered the saloon, Ann greeted them and took Ben and Joe by the elbow and guided them to a table. Her sultry voice and beautiful smile charmed them all. Hoss and Candy grabbed chairs and sat down with the others. Ann smiled and said the first drink was on the house because of the good company they kept. They all smiled with pride at each other, with Candy and Joe thinking she was speaking of them of course. Hoss and then the other three looked back at the door where Adam just stood. He placed his hat on the bar and quietly waited. Then Ann walked slowly up to Adam who smiled down at her, and wrapped his arms around her waist.

Candy was shocked. He had never seen that famous grin. “Heck he looks like the canary that swallowed the cat!”

Ann spoke softly to Adam. “Marshall, you don’t look very surprised.”

“Well news of a beautiful, tall, blond saloon owner in town traveled swiftly.”

Ann stepped in closer and wrapped her arms around his neck as she kissed him. Adam’s arms pressed her into him as he drew her into a deep kiss.

“Well I’d like to know what he said to her because I would say the exact same thing to my wife if she would kiss me like that!” Candy was impressed. Ben and Joe were shocked. Adam was smiling and kissing a beautiful woman and didn’t seem to care a bit what others thought. Hoss had a knowing smile on his face. His brother had always been good at surprises.

Henry Cates was sitting at a table playing cards and he was incensed. “She said she had a man, and then she just falls over that long lost Cartwright just because he’s got money. She wouldn’t give me a kiss or even a hug. Well, I’m going to get one now.” He pushed away from the table and started to move toward Adam and Ann. As he approached, a man pushed away from the bar and intercepted him.

“You don’t want to do that!”

“But . . .”

“She’s taken and that’s her man. Don’t mess with him because you wouldn’t like at all what would happen next.”

David King was quiet but firm and allowed his badge to show from under his vest. His voice was just above a whisper but deadly sounding so Henry stopped. He may have been a bit inebriated but not enough to be stupid. He still knew a threat when he heard one.

“Why don’t you let me buy you a beer?” So David and Henry had a beer. Henry’s friends came up to hear the story. Henry said he could take Adam because he was ‘taller and bigger than that Cartwright’. His friends told him that is why he lost fights and had his nose broken so often: he was a poor judge of his opponents.

Unaware of any of this, Ann told Adam that she had a room upstairs. “It’s a very nice room with a very big bed.”

Noticing that she was holding back a bit of a grin, Adam suspected there was more to the story and had a good idea what it was. “And I suppose there might be a small dark haired boy curled up in the middle of it reading a book.”

“Well, yes, that may be true.”

Shaking his head a little, Adam smiled fondly at her and nodded at David. David had and would take care of any trouble if it happened. Adam and Ann walked through the saloon and into the hotel, and then arm-in-arm, they climbed the stairs.

Ben was incensed. “Did you see that? They are going up to her room, and he doesn’t care who knows.”

“Pa, everything is alright.” Ben never heard him and suddenly Hoss wasn’t sure how much he should say. By telling him, he wondered if Adam had given him permission to share the information with the others, or if he was breaking a trust with his brother by saying something. Unsure of which was true, he said nothing because he decided that now was not a time when he could find out. He just sat in uncomfortable silence as his father seethed, and Joe and Candy looked everywhere in the room but at Ben. They had another drink, but for a bit, there was no laughter and little talk at their table.

As David looked over at that scene, he knew it did not portend good results for his friend. He walked over and got his guitar where it was leaning against the wall next to the piano, and started to play some tunes. Some he had learned in the War and some from his travels. Some songs were tender-hearted ballads and some were fighting songs. A few were bawdy saloon drinking songs. Men and saloon girls recognized the tunes and David encouraged them to sing along to the ones they knew.

One of Henry’s friends said he remembered a saloon in Stockton where he had gotten drunk once, and there had been two men there playing guitar and singing. They had a grand time. He said this marshal looked a lot like one of those two guitar-playing singers. He would have been quite surprised if he had realized that it was the same man, and the other one was upstairs having a grand time there visiting with Ann and Jacob. What they did know was that they were going to like how the new saloon owner ran the place even if she was already spoken for.

At about 10, Adam came walking quietly into the saloon. Ann walked in just a few minutes behind. Both walked up to David at the bar.

“Anything interesting been happening here? I thought I heard music playing.”

“That’s what the ladies always say when they’re with me.” And that got Adam an elbow to the ribs from Ann.

“Hey I have a cattle drive to work in two days, so take it easy on the ribs.” But he grinned down at her, and she leaned back into him.

“It was fun playing the guitar and singing again, but it would have been nice to have a backup singer and somebody to play some chords to fill in around my melody.” And David laughed at the expression on Adam’s face to be described as the second fiddle to his lead singing and guitar playing.

“Well maybe we can find some tone-deaf old boozer who wouldn’t mind all those missed notes and the singing that at its best is usually a half note flat.”

“Touché, my friend.”

“So things are going well enough that you are joining your family on a cattle drive?”

The darkening of Adam’s expression meant that his words wouldn’t be necessary. “They’re short-handed so I said I would help get the cattle to Sacramento. I’ll need to be careful though because there are at least three sets of eyes over there that shoot daggers at me much of the time. Not Hoss though: he’s always been the one I had the strongest relationship with, but I feel that Pa and Joe would rather see me leave again. Everything they say and do sends me the same message.”

Ann was sympathetic. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I had the feeling that you were ready to resign the marshal’s position and settle some place. This isn’t the place nor the time then I guess. Will you go back to Stockton?”

“Probably, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. It all depends on whether a certain lady will accept my proposal and come with me.” Ann knew she needed to give Adam an answer soon. He was being very gracious in giving her time to decide what was best for her and for Jacob. He smiled at her and changed the subject. “All the talk on the Ponderosa was to come see you tonight so you better play hostess a little with my surly companions or it will just be one more thing that they dislike about me.”

As a result, the evening ended with Ann playing her role as hostess and flattering the gentlemen in the saloon and laying enough blarney on them that they would all go home feeling like they had just grown a little taller. David and Adam quietly conversed at the bar until it was time to go. When Adam saw Ben signal the table near midnight that he was ready to go, he walked over and wrapped his arm around Ann’s waist and said good night while promising to come see her in about three weeks or so when the drive was over. He hoped she would have an answer for him by then.

*****

Chapter 7

Monday, the first day of the cattle drive, started with a clear sky and mild winds. Up in the hills though it looked like a storm brewing with towering clouds whose shape showed that there were strong winds there. Joe and Adam stood next to the corral and stared at the mountains.

“I hope we have enough water if there’s lightning in that storm and no rain.”

“Joe, you did a fine job positioning the water wagons where they would do the most good. The rest of it will be luck.”

Joe smiled at the praise. Adam had worked with him on the plan for the wagons, and had helped get them all into position. At first, Joe had been concerned that Adam would try to boss him on that task, but Adam had graciously acquiesced to Joe’s more recent knowledge of the conditions on the ranch. He had offered advice only on how best to use the hose that they had to get the best results from the water wagons. With his engineering background that made sense to Joe anyway.

But with the threat of lightning strikes on the Ponderosa with the drought conditions, a number of men had to stay behind, and Adam had agreed to help on the cattle drive. Joe was still worried about that. On all previous drives when Adam had been home, he had always been trail boss or ramrod. He wondered how Adam would he react to taking orders from his younger brothers.

“Pa, you shouldn’t be going.” Hoss followed his father out of the house and headed toward the barn. Ben was dressed for a drive with chaps, an extra large bandana, and a bulging saddlebag.

“What, cattle drives are only for young men!?” Ben worried what would happen on the drive with his three sons, so he wanted to be there to handle things. “I’ll be trail boss, and Joe will be ramrod. Hoss, that leaves you as my assistant to handle getting the chuckwagon where we need it when we need it, scout the crossings for the cattle, and find suitable sites for each night. I’ll set the schedule and make lists of men for each crew.”

“What do you want me to do?” Adam waited for his assignment.

“You’re in charge of the men riding drag.”

Both Hoss and Joe cringed at that because the job was for new hands and greenhorns. It was hot, demanding work that was done in the clouds of dust stirred up by a thousand or more cattle. They had to wonder again if their Pa was testing Adam or trying to get him to quit before the drive started. As they looked at Adam, his face was as impassive as stone. They could only guess at what passed behind those dark eyes, and what they imagined was mostly accurate. But he wouldn’t quit because he said he would help get those cattle to Sacramento so that is what he would do. But any hope of reconciliation with his father had just suffered a devastating blow.

“All right then. I’m saddled up. I will meet you at the herd.” All delivered in a monotone and perfect stated sentences before Adam swung up on his horse, wheeled around, and rode out.

“Pa, are you sure you want to do that to Adam? He has a lot of experience, and putting him on drag is just wasting that.”

“Hoss, Adam has not been on a drive for seven years. He needs to earn the respect of the men before he can work with them like he did in the past.”

Ben walked in the barn to saddle his horse. Joe started to follow but Hoss grabbed him by the elbow. “You’re ramrod. Can you get him to change his mind on this?”

“Hoss, Pa is doing the right thing. He thought it through, and I’m backing his play. I’m not going to start an argument with him over Adam. I know he’s worked hard since he got here, but not enough to put me at odds with Pa.”

“Well it’s plain wrong. Now it makes me wonder if both of you are trying to drive Adam away again.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t act all that surprised that I want him gone. He hurt Pa a lot and that’s still pretty darn obvious by how Pa acts. I don’t want him to get a chance to do it again. He left, and then he couldn’t even bother to send any letters to Pa. He shows up here and expects to be welcomed. Ha! And Laura can breathe easier when he’s gone too! Ladies talk and Rachel told me about Joshua. And I wouldn’t mind him being gone either; he makes Rachel nervous and edgy. You can bet that I would rather have her in my arms than Adam on this ranch!”

Joe turned and went into the barn. Hoss stood speechless. He didn’t want Adam to leave. He guessed that Laura had made peace with what had happened too and she and Adam could talk it out if they ever had a chance. He planned to talk to Adam first chance he got, and they would air it all out and make their peace with everything. Hoss decided he would do what he could to help Adam on this drive but knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Then he remembered that journal and thought about when he might have time to read it.

The first day through the drought stricken landscape went better than expected. They made more miles than they expected, and Hoss found a nice patch of brown grass for the cattle to graze. The night was peaceful as the storms had not rolled down out of the high Sierras. Hoss found Adam waiting in line at the chuck wagon for dinner. It was hard to recognize him at first with the thick layer of dust on him. Hoss slapped his shoulder and a cloud rose up around him.

“Don’t do that too close to the stew pot or everyone will have grit in their dinner!”

“Hey, Adam, you done handled yourself real well today. You kept your temper with Pa when many a son might have decked him for the way he treated you, and you didn’t even have a cross word for him. And I just checked on the herd and they are rounded up nice and tight, and the boys said we didn’t lose a single cow today.”

“Hoss, I do what I say I’m going to do. When have I ever been different than that? It did irritate me to be riding drag, but I said I would help and if that is what helps, then I guess I’ll do it. It’s going to make that bath at the end all the more enjoyable.”

“Adam, can we eat dinner together. I … well, I would like to talk with you about a coupla things.”

Hoss looked at Adam with such an earnest expression that Adam couldn’t help but grin and nod his head yes. The grin showing those white teeth in that dirty face got Hoss to guffawing like crazy. The men eating dinner looked over, so Adam repeated the grin and several men started laughing at that and at Hoss’ infectious roars. The mood was lighthearted and the men started feeling that the tension they had felt at the ranch might just be gone. That is, that’s how they felt until Ben walked into the circle with assignments for nightherding.

“Hoss, you start the night and pick a couple of the new men to show them the ropes. Joe has midnight and he will take his crew and split it into two shifts. Adam, Jess, Davis, and Mac, you have the 4 am slot; take some food with you because we want to get an early start so you won’t be back here for breakfast probably.”

Hoss and a number of the experienced hands were surprised, and it showed in their faces. Adam got the worst shift and with a short crew. That and a cold breakfast in a job that often meant you went without a lunch break was being hard on those men. It was the kind of thing you did to get someone to quit, or to punish a hand for bad behavior. Most wondered what Adam could have done to get that treatment. They had worked with him for a while now, and he was a decent man and worked as hard or harder than anyone. After Ben walked away, there was a bit of grumbling on their behalf, but it was quickly squelched by Adam.

“I said I would help, and if that is what they need me to do, I’ll do it. Everyone just do your job, and don’t worry; everything will work out just fine.” Hoss slapped him on the shoulder again and got another dust cloud. A little chagrined, Hoss stared. Adam just leaned back and grinned again, and everyone around the campfire relaxed.

“Adam I’m sorry about how Pa’s been treating you. It’s like he’s gonna make sure you don’t get close again so it won’t hurt when you leave.”

“Or is he punishing me for leaving the last time? I guess it doesn’t matter all that much. It is clear that Pa, and Joe too, want me to leave. I think I will because I don’t see how I could fit into the Ponderosa any more, but you and I can keep in touch. I don’t plan to go far this time so we will be able to get together when we want. Maybe we can even squeeze in a hunting trip soon?”

“I’d like that. But I think we need to talk about some things first. I want to clear some things up, and then you can tell me how you feel. I don’t know how to say this so I am just going to blurt it out I guess. Laura says that Joshua is your son, and that is why Will left her. Now I dun said it and I hope you know that Joshua is a fine boy and I’m right fond of him now and sees me almost like a father ’cause he ain’t got nobody else and nothing you say or do is ever gonna change that so don’t even think on doing anything.”

Adam was speechless for a moment. “Hoss, Joshua is not my son.”

“What? Well how do you know that? Laura said that Will thought you were the father.”

“Well Will may have thought that, and looking at Joshua, I suppose someone might think so. But Hoss, even though I did, ah, shall we say, find my way to Laura’s bed, it was only a couple of times, and not at all after my fall. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.”

“Well, sure you could have. Lots of men with disabilities have children. Old Luke came back from the War with one arm and one leg, and he and his wife have a passel of children.”

“Hoss, I had a spinal injury, and it made some things besides my legs not work like you expect. It was difficult, but I forced myself to have a talk with Paul about it at the time, and he said it was not unusual with a spinal injury and could be temporary or permanent. Luckily for me, it was temporary but it was at least six months before it worked again, and a great relief it was to me too. Then I spent an evening with a lady making up for lost time.”

Hoss had been looking exceedingly puzzled by Adam’s statements until that last part that Adam had added just to let him know exactly what the problem had been.

“Now Joshua was born eight months after Will and Laura got married, but unless he was an eleven month baby, he could not be mine. Will’s gone. Joshua is his son and if he sees you like a father, then that’s what will be. Is that why you have been a bit standoffish with me? Afraid I would interfere with your relationship with Josh? Nothing could ever make me do that. Will may have suspected I was the father, and that could easily have soured their relationship. Considering that she slept with Will while engaged to me, he could have thought she would have slept with me while in love with him. I don’t understand why Laura didn’t tell him that he had to be their son, but maybe she tried and Will wouldn’t listen. He had a strong pride in him too. Does this all make sense to you? You are giving me such a strange look, I don’t know what to think.”

“Adam did you ever sleep with Rachel?”

Adam almost choked on his dinner with that one. He just looked at Hoss with surprise written all over his face. “Rachel Green? You mean Joe’s Rachel? Lord, no! If I went to a dance, every time I turned around, she was there. If I danced with her, I only succeeded in making her father angry. His face looked like he had been sunburned by the end of that one Saturday dance when I did. She was attractive enough, but we never found a single topic of conversation. It is well and good to have an attractive woman, but I need one I can talk with when we aren’t being romantic. I could not wait to get out of there. That one dance is the only time I was ever with Rachel, and it seemed like it was ten hours instead of two. Why would you even ask me such a question?”

“Well Joe started courting her because he thought you had been with her, and he felt he was doing the honorable thing for the family.”

And for the second time that night, Adam almost choked on his dinner. Hoss slapped him on the back until he got his breathing back to normal.

“He married her, and he didn’t love her?”

“Oh, I think he loved her. I had my doubts about her when they first got married, but she sure seems to love him now, and their kids are really great.”

“I am glad it worked out for Joe, but I’m sorry about how it all started. I wonder what Rachel was up to by telling you that she had been with me.”

“Well she didn’t really say that to us I guess. She kinda led Joe to believe that.”

“She was misleading him.”

“Adam, we need to tell Joe.”

“Hoss I don’t think that is the only thing that Joe is holding against me right now. And I can see why Rachel never wants to be in the same room with me, but telling that to Joe now would only hurt their marriage and to what point. There’s nothing to be gained from it now. Joe seems worried about his position on the Ponderosa. It seems he’s afraid I may be a threat to him. I don’t think anything I say is going to change his thinking on that. Does Pa know all this about Joshua, and about Rachel?”

“I’m sure he does. But we can set both of them straight on these things now, and it should get better between you and them.”

“Well one could hope that, but it’s probably too late for old truths to heal what’s going on now, and it could create new trouble. When I left, part of it was because Pa treated me like a boy. I was his right hand but under his control all the time, and that bothered me a lot. To be honest, it bothered me that he always expected me to do the right thing and be successful at everything. So when I did well, he just nodded like of course, what else could he expect, and when I messed up, he let me have it like I was careless and irresponsible. I could not be a real person. However, even that would be better than the way he seems to look at me now, expecting the worst and showing little regard or respect for me or my feelings.”

“I know. I’m sorry that I added to your burden. I was just so worried. Now I know I should have known you would never do anything to hurt me. Just like you never hurt Pa and Joe except they couldn’t see you needed to live your dream too at least for a while. You said you would come back and you did. I just wish things were working out better for you.”

Adam threw his arm over Hoss’ shoulder surprising the big guy because Adam seldom showed affection that way. Hoss grabbed him in that bear hug he had been wanting to give him and actually lifted him off the ground. When he set him down, Adam just punched him in the shoulder.

“We both better get some rest. You’re up in just a couple of hours, and I’ve got dawn patrol. See you tomorrow night.” They shared grins, put their plates in the pan by the chuck wagon, and stretched their bedrolls out side by side.

*****

Chapter 8

The second day went well, and with a clear sky and smooth trails, and then they pushed the cattle until seven the following evening. At the campfire next to the chuckwagon, everyone was stretched out and trying to soothe sore muscles. Adam had collected another layer of dust, and there wasn’t enough water for the men to wash, so the best he could do was wipe as much grime from his face and hands as he could with his bandanna. He was moving rather stiffly and groaned as he sat down. Hoss watched him and knew he shouldn’t be riding drag. With the nighthawk duties and drag, Adam had been in the saddle for fifteen hours, and all he had to eat was jerky and hard tack with water and probably some dust as well. He had switched horses at midday, and got right back to work. Adam put his head down and pinched the bridge of his nose. Hoss got up and filled a plate with stew and beans and handed it down to him. Adam looked up with a grateful nod and took the plate and ate.

Joe walked in to the circle of men to hand out the assignments Ben had made. Then he looked at Adam.

“I need your help. One of my crew is sick and I need another man on the midnight shift.”

Adam looked up to protest but as he opened his mouth, Joe got that look that said he was itching for a fight. Adam just held up his hand and said he would do it. Hoss got up and followed Joe. When they were no longer in earshot of the men, Hoss stopped him by grabbing his arm.

“Why are you doing this to Adam? He spent more time in the saddle today than anyone. He’s done everything that you and Pa asked so far without complaining at all.”

“I’m just treating him like a cow hand. That’s what he is on this drive. He takes orders. If he doesn’t like it, he can leave.”

“You’re trying to make him leave. You got him so tired now, he’s gonna get hurt. Will your conscience let you live with that? He and I have talked. Our brother is there if you would give him a chance. Oh, and he ain’t never been with Rachel neither, and he ain’t Joshua’s father neither. A couple of ladies got a little explaining to do.”

Taken aback for a moment, Joe wasn’t ready to accept that news. “He can tell any story he wants. He always wants to come off as the big hero, the man who could do no wrong. I don’t believe him!”

Hoss grabbed Joe’s arm in his hand and let his little brother know he wasn’t letting go until he said his piece. “Joe, our brother can be arrogant, moody, patronizing, cantankerous, irritating, and even downright dangerous, but I have never in my life had any reason to doubt his word. He doesn’t lie. You and Pa are making his life miserable, and you’re doing everything you kin to be shur he’ll be leaving and this time, he won’t make no promise to return, and I can’t say as I blame him. He told me why he left and I understood because Pa treated us all the same until Adam left. He acted like we were boys and couldn’t do anything without his approval. And he pushed Adam harder than he pushed us and gave him less praise too. When we did something good, he heaped praise on us and I would feel good at the time, but sometimes I wondered if he was just surprised we did something right. When Adam did something real good, he just acted like that was expected, but when Adam failed even though he did his best, there was always the lecture that made our brother feel like a dog. I gotta admit sometimes, I didn’t feel all that bad about it when Pa took him down a notch, but lookin’ at it from his side, I reckon I see it a whole lot different. He’s been a darn good brother to us, and he’s a right strong man, and I respect him a lot. The way he’s dealing with how you and Pa been treatin’ him has earned him a lot of respect from the men. Right now they probably wish he was running this drive instead of us.”

Joe shrugged his arm from Hoss’ grasp, and stomped away. However, his thoughts were in turmoil. He knew that what Hoss had said was true. So the only conclusion he could draw was that Rachel had deceived him. If she had, he wondered what could he do because he loved her and he loved their children. But he had told his Pa what she had said, and had shared what Rachel had learned from Laura. He wondered if he had turned his father against his brother for no cause and treated his brother as unfairly as Hoss said. Guilt started to weigh him down and he knew he was not going to get much sleep this night.

Standing in the darkness nearby, Ben had overheard the conversation between Joe and Hoss. At this point he was in shock. He had no idea that was what his sons thought of him. The possibility that Adam innocent of all that Joe had accused him of doing meant that Ben was guilty of a great transgression and one that he knew was very wrong anyway. He had judged his son and found him guilty without ever doing anything to uncover the facts of the cases or to offer Adam the opportunity to defend himself. Ben knew he had possibly done it because it made his own guilt that much less of an issue. Now he was acting in a way that was driving his eldest son away, and making his middle son think so much less of him that he lectured the youngest son about it. The weight of what he had done hit him hard. He so wanted his sons’ love and their respect and wondered how he had gotten it so wrong. He sat down hard on his bedroll and wondered what he could do. After a sleepless night and with the birds announcing that dawn was near, Ben got up to go talk with Adam because he needed to begin to right the wrongs. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say but had to make a start. As he approached the men, he didn’t see Adam, but he did see Hoss.

“Hoss, good morning son. I don’t see Adam. Do you know where he is?”

“He left almost a half hour ago to get the crew for drag organized. This is a lot rougher country and they’re gonna be working darn hard today, and with hardly any sleep after having the longest day out there yesterday.” Hoss turned away from his Pa because he was afraid of what he was going to say next.

“What do you mean, without much sleep? The crew with the last shift the night before was supposed to have last night off, and then take the first watch tonight.”

“Well Joe was short-handed so he gave Adam the midnight shift.”

“Hoss pick a couple of men to ride drag today and go get Adam and put him in the middle somewhere where he can ride easier, and at least get a good lunch today.”

Hoss looked over at Ben, surprised, and with a slight smile, agreed to do exactly that.

“Son, it’s time I did something to pull this family back together. I have been acting like this is all about me, and it isn’t. I guess I imagined more hurt than I actually felt. I have realized it was anger, guilt, and maybe a bit of selfishness on my part and maybe I was a even little jealous of Adam’s chance to go see and do the things he had dreamed about.”

Hoss nodded his approval and mounted up on Chubb. As he rode to the back of the herd, he didn’t see Adam anywhere. He asked the other men and no one had seen him since he had ridden back there. He rode around for a bit and then decided to go back up the herd because maybe Adam had gone back for something and he had just missed seeing him. When he got back to the chuckwagon, he still had not seen him. Ben was finishing up his coffee and holding the reins of his horse.

“Was he happy with the news?”

“Pa, I never saw him. No one seems to have seen him since he rode to the back of the herd.”

Ben’s face fell. His first thought was that Adam had left again. Perhaps they had pushed him hard enough to get him to just go. Hoss could read his face.

“Adam wouldn’t leave without saying he was going. He said he would help get these cattle to market, and you know he always stands by his word. I don’t know what happened, but I’m getting worried.”

Joe walked up then with his horse, and Hoss filled him in on what had happened so far. Joe looked at Ben and at Hoss, and he knew what they had to do.

“I’ll tell the men to hold the herd. We’ll go find Adam.”

As Ben and his sons rode along the back of the herd, Hoss looked for tracks leading away, but with all the cattle, there was no sign of any horses. Joe looked and saw an opening to a small canyon to the side nearly blocked with brush but some had been trampled. He rode over and Hoss saw his move and followed. There were cattle tracks and horse tracks in the cattle tracks so the cattle had gone in first and the horse followed considerably later by the condition of the tracks. All followed the track in but single file as there wasn’t room to do anything else, and the horses wouldn’t want to fight through that brush. As they entered the canyon, they saw a sight that shocked and frightened them. Adam’s horse had been gored and was obviously dead. Lying partially beneath the horse was Adam’s still form. Hoss raced to his side and jumped down next to him. He felt for a pulse at Adam’s neck and found it, but it was weak and somewhat uneven. They knew the first thing they had to do was get that horse off of him. Hoss grabbed the saddle and Joe wrapped his arms around the horses neck.

“On the count of three, heave. One, two, three!”

Working in concert, they lifted enough of the horse off Adam so that Ben could grab his shoulders and pull him completely free before Hoss and Joe had to drop the dead weight. There was blood on Adam’s lips and they all fervently hoped it was not from internal injuries. Joe ran and grabbed his bedroll and laid it on the ground next to Adam. Carefully, they lifted him from the dust and laid him on the blanket. The next job was to see how badly he was injured. Hoss pulled his knife and began to cut away Adam’s clothing. In his condition, he wouldn’t need them, and they didn’t want to jostle him any more than necessary without knowing what his injuries were. As he cut away the pants legs, it was clear that his left leg was broken, but the skin was unbroken and the leg appeared to be reasonably straight.

“Well at least we don’t have to work too hard to set that leg. By the swelling in the middle of his shin, it looks broken but it’s straight and we’ll pull it and splint it.” Ben was stating the obvious, but he was greatly relieved that it wasn’t worse.

As Hoss cut the rest of the pants away, they found some significant bruising around his left hip but nothing appeared to be broken. It was probably caused by the collision with the hard ground. His jacket was cut open next and then Hoss set out to remove the shirt but there was a lot of blood on the upper chest so he was taking his time and being very careful. As he was able to pull the shirt away, there was a collective gasp from all three. Not only was Adam’s collarbone jutting out through the skin, there was a horrific scar on Adam’s chest. It was over a foot long and went from the center of his chest to under his right arm before it angled away to his left side.

“My God! What happened to you boy?”

“Pa we kin ask him about that later. Right now we need to take care of this collar bone and figure out why he is still unconscious after all this we’ve been doing.”

Joe carefully probed Adam’s hair and stopped near the back left side of his head and held up his bloody hand.

“He’s got a gash here that’s probably a few inches long. Must have hit his head on one of these rocks when he fell. I got some clean clothes in my saddlebag. You can make some bandages with those. I’m going back to the chuckwagon to get Hop Sing and anything he has to help. Just see if you can stop the bleeding for now.”

With Hop Sing’s capable care, the wounds were cleaned and the collarbone was repositioned. Adam’s head wound was bandaged as well as his chest bound to protect him from the possibility of broken ribs because if they moved, it could be fatal. They then bound his left arm to his side with his arm crossed over his abdomen to keep the collarbone from shifting. Hoss found some green wood and stripped the bark to make splints and his lower leg was splinted.

“Okay now how are we going to get him out of here?” Hoss was concerned there wasn’t enough room but Joe walked out and came back in a few minutes later, with sounds of wood snapping and breaking behind him.

“The drag crew followed me back here to see if they could help. Adam has got himself three men who seem to think he’s worth an awful lot. They’re going to clear enough of that brush so we can get the wagon back in here.” Joe smiled.

“I think there are four more men here who think he’s worth an awful lot, but some of us forgot it for a while.” Ben looked at his middle and younger son, and they knew that somehow, all of them had found out what fools they had been.

“Number one son always was worth much. He was born in year of tiger. He very valuable man. You treat him good now or I go back to China, you see! Too much foolishment!”

From the oldest son there was no sound. Ben looked at Adam, and Hoss and Joe sobered up quickly too.

“He looks so pale. Does he have a fever?”

“Not yet. Almost certainly he will get one. With these injuries, you know there will be fever. I just hope we did enough so there won’t be infection. We have to transport him a long way so that could be too much for him. He just has to wake up and come back to us. We need to let him know that we love him.” Ben couldn’t talk any more. The sight of his injured son and the evidence of some horrific wounds he had received in the past was overwhelming. “I wonder what happened to him. Those scars look like they are all from the same time. He must have almost died with all of that. We might have lost him without ever knowing.”

“Almost four years ago he stopped writing. Maybe that’s when it happened.”

“Well why didn’t he write when he could then?”

“He did.” Ben saw their astonished looks. “I got a few cryptic letters. They were sloppily written and I guessed that he had just dashed off a quick note. I thought he didn’t care enough to write a real letter to me, but now I think it might have been all he could do at the time. But I didn’t answer them. I was waiting for a real letter. He must have thought I turned my back on him, and I guess I did. He never sent another after those three short notes that I did not answer.”

“Considering how we have all treated him, ya gotta wonder why he’s here at all. He must love us very much no matter what we do. Wish we all had done the same!”

The sound of the wagon being pushed through the brush made them all stand. The men had laid their bedrolls in the back over some of the light brush to give Adam as comfortable a ride as was possible under the circumstances. Two men carried long poles that they had crossed with smaller poles to make a stretcher to carry him to the wagon from where he lay almost twenty feet into the rocks and trees. Carefully, the Cartwrights and the men lifted Adam and placed him on the stretcher and then carried him to the wagon. Once in the wagon, the men untied the crosspieces and slid them out from underneath their friend.

“Jess and Mac: that was right clever how ya done that. Thank you, and I bet Adam thanks you too cause that shur made this a lot easier on him.” Hoss looked at the two men and they looked away a bit embarrassed.

“Well we both done battlefield duty in the War. Sometimes you just had to make do so we got kinda creative in figuring out ways to help the wounded. Came in handy today to help Mr. Adam. He is one fine boss, and I sure hope he makes it. We both will be praying for him.” Jess finished saying his piece and then turned and he and Mac walked away with their head bowed.

“We’ll be praying too. Praying a lot.”

They slowly backed the wagon out through the narrow trail in the brush. They headed the wagon toward the nearest town and hoped the doctor was there. Every bump in the trail made them worry about what it was doing to Adam but there was not a groan from him. It was the silence that started to wear on them. He was so out that he didn’t feel anything, and it made them wonder if he could come back to them. When they finally saw the tops of the buildings in town, they breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. Maybe the doctor could give them a hopeful prognosis, because right now everything was pointing to a bad outcome. The first person they saw when entering the town was a man working the livery stable. He directed them to the doctor’s house. When they got there, Joe jumped down from the wagon and ran to the door and knocked loudly. A lady opened the door with a stern look and got him to back up.

“The doctor is in the surgery with a patient, and all this noise is most unwelcome.”

“Ma’am, I am really sorry but my brother is hurt real bad and we need the doctor to look at him.”

“Where is he?”

“Here in the back of the wagon. We did what we could, but he hasn’t made a sound or nothing since we found him.”

“What happened to him?”

“His horse got gored and fell on him. He’s got a broken leg, some busted ribs, a broken collar bone that busted clean through the skin, and a bad bump with a cut on the back left side of his head.”

The doctor’s wife directed them to bring him inside, and place him on the nursing couch in the front room. She removed the blankets that he was wrapped in and there was no reaction.

“I will let the doctor know what is happening. He has to sew up his patient’s leg from an accident with an axe but he is nearly done with that. Then he will certainly need to see this man as soon as possible.” Please if you could, remove the remainder of his clothing and the blankets, and I will bring some cloths and soapy water, and we will bathe him. At their surprised looks, she answered that she had assisted her husband in his practice for over twenty years and she wasn’t going to see anything she had not seen before. “When we have him cleaned up, we will wrap him in a clean sheet and cover him with a clean blanket or two.”

By the time the doctor opened the door to the surgery, they had Adam cleaned up and ready for the doctor to examine. His wife had asked about all the scar she saw on his chest and was quite surprised when his family claimed they didn’t know what it was from. This made her skeptical that this was indeed the man’s family, but he did need care, and they could sort out the story later.

Hoss carried Adam into the surgery and placed him carefully on the table. Ben and Joe wanted to come in too but the doctor’s wife pushed them all out and closed the door. Hoss went first to the hotel to get a room, and then he got a bath and shaved. After putting on his clean change of clothing, he came back and sent Joe out to bathe, but Joe had to go to the store first to buy a shirt because his clean one had been used to make bandages for Adam’s wounds. When he got back, Hoss and Joe insisted that Ben go do the same, but he refused. It was so long now that he expected the doctor to come out at any time, but it was more than an hour later that the door opened.

“Your son probably has a skull fracture. The bones of the skull are not displaced nor is there any indentation, but I still believe it is a fracture and there is brain swelling. It does not appear to be too serious, but with such an injury, there is always the unknown. He may wake up soon, in a few days, or not at all. All we can do is wait. There are no responses from him yet of any kind. The bandaging on his leg was done well, so I just replaced the sticks with proper splints and bandaged it again with clean bandages. The collarbone injury is a bit more serious but after I removed a few bone fragments and cleaned the wound area, I bandaged that as well. You cleaned it up well so there does not appear to be a much of risk of infection, although that is still a possibility albeit a small one. The ribs are bruised but I could find no breaks. I lightly bandaged the ribs again but only for comfort of the patient.”

“Can we see him now?”

“Yes and you may sit with him but only one at a time. Two of you are clean so one of you will be first.” Looking directly at Ben, the doctor was quite direct. “If you wish to see him and sit with him, you must be clean. I suggest you clean up as your sons have.” With that, he looked at the two brothers who looked at each other and Joe nodded at Hoss to be the first to sit with Adam. Hoss stood and went into the room with the doctor and the door closed. Ben dropped his head. Joe stepped up beside him and put his hand on his father’s shoulder. Ben looked at Joe and Joe pointed him to the door and walked him over to the hotel.

For two days, they took turns sitting with Adam. There were a few hopeful signs. Occasionally he would groan with pain. The doctor said it was good that he was aware and that he could make a sound. Adam occasionally would raise his right hand like he wanted to do something and then after a bit, he would just lower it to the bed. At these times, whoever was sitting with him would talk to him and try to get a response but there was nothing. The doctor performed tests on his hands and feet and it was clear that he did sense pain because of his immediate reaction to being poked with a needle. But still he never opened his eyes nor responded to anything else they did nor anything they said.

On the third day, Hoss pulled the blind up a little to see the sky a bit better and Adam groaned loudly. Hoss went to his side, and he groaned and tried to roll over. Doctor Mayer came in and immediately crossed to the window and drew the blind down to the bottom plunging the room into near darkness. Adam immediately relaxed. The doctor took the lamp and set it on the floor so there was no light shining in Adam’s eyes. Hoss’ eyes widened when he saw a slight smile on Adam’s lips and a flickering of his eyes. He wanted to get Ben, but the doctor said if he did, he could not come back as it was still just to be one of them at a time with Adam.

“Like the light, too much commotion or activity will hurt his brain. It is injured, and like an arm or a leg that is injured, there needs to be a lot less activity. He needs it to be quiet and dark here even more than before.”

Hoss nodded and stood silently at his brother’s side. In a few minutes, he was rewarded as Adam opened one eye and then the other, and looked directly at Hoss and said “It’s good to see you again” in a hoarse strained whisper but to Hoss it was the most beautiful sound in the world.

“Adam, I’ll get Pa.”

“No, no, please, no.”

The doctor grabbed Hoss’ arm and looked him in the eye and shook his head no.

“Okay Adam. I’ll just stay here with you. You get better now, ya hear. You owe me a hunting trip. I think you promised, and you know you never break a promise.”

Adam smiled a bit and raised his right hand. Hoss grasped it in his own, and Adam relaxed and closed his eyes.

“This is very good. This is as good as can be expected at this time. Your brother may make a complete recovery from these injuries. He is well on his way now.” The doctor smiled and went to the front room to inform Adam’s father and brother of his progress, but he knew it would be hard to tell them that it appeared Adam did not want to see them. He only wanted his brother Hoss at this time. Ben and Joe felt terrible when the doctor finished speaking with them about Adam’s condition and his desire to only see Hoss.

“Adam needs to recover physically first. I believe I heard you have a cattle herd waiting to move. You should go take care of that. When you return, perhaps we can see about healing the emotional wounds in this family.” When the doctor and his wife went to change the dressings on Adam’s wounds, Ben and Joe took their leave and told Hoss to take good care of Adam. They said they should be back in about two weeks depending on the weather.

“Don’t you worry none Pa. Adam is going to be fine. We’ll work this out. Our family is going to be whole again.” Even if Adam didn’t live on the Ponderosa, he had told Hoss he would make his home nearby. Because he had told Hoss that, Hoss knew he would, because Adam didn’t lie.

*****

Chapter 9

Hoss walked slowly to the telegraph office in the quiet little town of Sequoia. He was concerned about the message he needed to send. How was he going to explain to his wife and to Laura that he had to stay in Sequoia because Adam was hurt and needed his brother. He had some questions about things Laura had told him but didn’t think he could ask about that in a short message. He knew though that he was going to be troubled about that until he had a chance to talk with her. He missed his children and Josh too and wondered how much longer it would have to be before he could wrap his arms around them and delight in just being home with his family around him.

The other telegrams would be easier as he knew he had to let Ann know about Adam. After Adam’s revelations about their relationship and having witnessed one interlude they had, he knew she needed to know. He hoped she would come here. Adam needed her.

Hop Sing, Roy Coffee, Doc Martin, and David King needed to be told too, but these messages like the one to Ann could be simple straightforward messages. He would need to leave a message for Ben and Joe at their destination as well. As he opened the door to the telegraph office, he decided to send the same message to all. Then he would write a letter to Laura. She would get it soon enough, and he could say more of what needed to be said that way.

Happy with his decision, Hoss felt like some of the weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Now if Adam would start on the road to recovery, all would be good. However for the last three days since Joe and Ben had left to finish the cattle drive, Adam’s fever had worsened. The worried looks on the doctor’s wife’s face told him clearly that the prognosis was looking more bleak.

As Hoss stepped up to the porch of the doctor’s home, he sighed deeply. Adam wasn’t fighting the way he expected him to fight. True, Adam was in a lot of pain with bruised ribs, a broken leg, a broken collarbone as well as that nasty bump on his head with a two-inch gash the doctor had stitched up and he had a skull fracture. Damn it seemed like a lot when you thought of it all together like that! His horse falling on him as he fell to the rocky ground had done a lot of damage. But Adam had been hurt badly before and been in a lot of pain, and he fought like a mountain lion against it every time. This time, the fight just didn’t seem to be in him.

“Good morning! How’s the patient this morning?”

“The same, Hoss. My husband has already examined him and changed the dressings on his wounds. As usual your brother was stoic.”

“Huh?”

“He just laid there and clenched his jaw and his right fist and made not a sound.”

“Stoic? That’s a good word. Maybe Pa shoulda made it his middle name. Seems like he has always been that way. Takes an awful lot to get him to holler out or show his feelings except when he is angry sometimes.”

“How did he get to be that way do you think?”

“Well lots of things seemed to do that to him. His ma died when he was born. Pa took him on a journey west but didn’t have enough money to they stopped in towns along the way so he could make money to keep going. As Adam grew up, he got used to not having things even medicine so he never seems to want to ask for anything from anyone nor complain about what he doesn’t have. He never had a home until Pa got to Nevada – he spent seven years living out of a wagon and traveling from town to town.”

“Well that is so sad, but lots of people have sad tales to tell like that and didn’t turn out so serious.”

“Stoic?”

“Well yes. There must have been more hurt or trauma in his life than that to make him so.”

“There is. My Pa married my Ma in one of those towns they stopped in. When I was just a wee one, Ma got killed by Indians. Adam saw her die.”

“Oh no, you lost your mother too.”

“You see though it wasn’t as bad for me ’cause even though I can’t remember my Ma, she took care of me and loved me until she died. Adam never had that as a little one. When Ma died, Adam took care of me although he was only nearing seven years old himself at the time. He used to hold me, sing songs to me, and at night if I got scared, I would fall asleep with his arms around me. He helped me grow into the man I am. No one was around to do any of that for Adam though. Pa was busy providing for his family. Ma did what she could. She wasn’t there for long though; it was only about a year and a half. I think that is why he is so darn independent and don’t want nothing from nobody.”

“But you have another brother.”

“Yes. Joe. Pa married Marie when I was about six, and she was with us for almost seven years. Joe was six when she died. Me and Adam lost another ma. Pa left for a while ’cause he was overcome with grief. Adam took care of us and the ranch until he got back. Then about a year later, Adam went to school in Boston. By the time he got back four years later, he had found he could live on his own without us. So even though he loves us, he doesn’t need us I guess.”

“What was he like when he got back that made you think that?”

“Well he had become more serious and closed off. He didn’t enjoy roughhousing with us like he used to. Plus he had developed this real short fuse! Boy howdy, he can throw a tantrum better than anybody you know.”

“He seems so calm.”

“Stoic.”

“Yes.” They both smiled. Working together for the last few days had made them friends. Mrs. Mayer found it easy to be Hoss’ friend. He had that shy smile and those beautiful blue eyes that warmed your soul when you looked into them. And the appetite he had amazed her! She had never seen a man eat like that, but he was always so appreciative of anything she did, and so helpful. She wished her sons acted so nicely as this gentle man did. Hoss was sitting on the settee and had a faraway look in his eyes.

“What are you thinking about now?”

“Well I was wondering if all the hurt Adam has had with women in his life kept this ‘stoic’ thing in him.”

“Hoss you lost two mothers too and you aren’t that way.”

“No Adam has had more hurt. When she was with him, one of his gals got shot by a jealous man and died in his arms. Another died when she was forced to help the Shoshoni during an epidemic. Two others he fell in love with wouldn’t stay with him because their religions were so different. He shot his best friend Ross when Ross killed his own wife Delphine who was a dear friend to Adam. Then the worst thing was when his fiancée Laura took up with his cousin and left him too. Last, I recently learned that his wife got murdered by some evil men who made him watch. He spent years tracking them down. I had his journal with me and sitting here with him, I had a chance to do some reading when he was sleeping.”

“Oh my God! That poor man. It’s a wonder he hasn’t died of a broken heart.”

“I hafta say that while I was reading it, my heart was breaking for him knowing what he went through. I know what it’s like to have my heart broken too. Well, I’ve had my heart broken more than once and this one time, it was real bad, but I used the pain of it to hurt my brother. Adam thought Regan was no good and set out to prove it to me. Regan kissed him and I saw it. I thought Adam kissed her and I wanted to kill him. I beat him badly but he never fought back. At the time, I thought he felt guilty for betraying me, and it just made me angrier. What I eventually came to realize was he was sorry for me, sorry I was hurt, and he wasn’t going to do anything to make it worse.”

“You are both very strong men. I love you dearly Hoss. I wish I was your ma.”

“Aw shucks, Mrs. Mayer, you sure are sweet to say that.”

“I mean it. Now what can we do to get that brother of yours in the there to heal up and get back home?”

“I sent out some telegrams, and I hope somebody shows up to help us.”

“That would be a blessing.”

*****

Chapter 10

Two days later, Hoss was still working on his letter to Laura. It was so hard to put his thoughts on paper when the subject was so important to him. He wished he could talk with her because he thought she needed to be here to settle things with Adam. More than anything, Hoss wished he could write an honest letter to his father and brother so they would know more and be here to work things out with Adam too. In Hoss’ mind, it was all the pressure of those relationships that was keeping Adam from wanting to wake up. He had so much pain inside of him, and then to have more coming at him from outside was too much for him. The stress of watching Adam seeming to fade away a little each day and his own trouble sleeping were wearing him down too. Adam ate and drank very little and often promptly retched up at least half of what they got into him each day. Seeing him grimace in pain as he retched into a bowl tore into Hoss’ heart. Adam slept most of the time, and when awake found it difficult to talk or move at all for that matter. He would hold Hoss’ hand and give him a slight smile, but that was about it.

“Hoss, Hoss, the stage just arrived and I think you are going to be very happy to see who was on it.”

Hoss turned and grinned widely. There in the doorway was Marie, his daughter, and his son, Laura, and Josh. He gathered them all up in his arms one by one, kissed his wife, and planted kisses on the tops of the heads of the children as they hugged tightly. He turned his head to see Ann, Jacob, and David come through the door too.

“Well looks like the cavalry to the rescue!”

“Dadburnit, I’m shur glad to see you, all of you!”

Hoss’ family were all smiles, but Ann and David wore more worried expressions.

“Where’s Adam?” Ann was dressed in a simple but pretty blue dress and her blonde hair fell beautifully around her face and down to her shoulders. Hoss pointed behind him at the door, and she asked David to stay with Jacob as she went in to see Adam. She found him sleeping but very restless. Putting a hand on his chest, she slowly moved it around in circles careful not to get too close to the bandaged collar bone on his left side. Whispering ‘I love you’ to him, she continued to caress him. He calmed and relaxed.

Standing in the doorway for only a moment, Mrs. Mayer pulled the door closed. “You’re so very right Hoss. He needed her. And you needed your family. I am so glad they all came. The hotel will be glad too. They will be full up for the first time ever, I think.”

Except for Ann, they all retreated to her parlor, and found places to sit. Hoss settled on the settee with his children squeezed in around him. Laura, Peggy, and Josh sat across from them on some chairs from the dining room. David and Jacob sat in two highback chairs. Mrs. Mayer sat in her wooden rocker.

“What made you all come here? Boy howdy, my eyes near popped outta my head when I saw y’all standing there. Dadburnit but it is so great that you are here, all of you.”

David spoke first. “Ann wanted to come immediately if not sooner. I suggested we travel together.”

Marie continued the narrative. “And the children wanted to see their Uncle Adam. All of us were missing you so much too that we decided to come here as a family. When we got to town to get on the stage, we found David, Ann, and Jacob were the other passengers. We managed to fit everyone in. Two days later and here we are.”

“Well I got a room at the hotel, and we can get more. The merchants in this town are going to be thrilled to have all of us here spending some money. People here are very friendly and will do anything we need them to do.”

Hoss took his family to the hotel, and David grabbed his bag as well as those for Jacob and Ann and followed behind as he didn’t expect to see Ann for quite a while now. As they signed for rooms, David said “Just one night. I need to get back to work. My office is in Sacramento and my wife is in Stockton so I have some traveling to do yet to get everything squared away. I have my ticket already for the stage tomorrow. I just wanted to get Ann here and check in on my friend Adam to see how he was doing. Looks like you got your work cut out for you with him. What happened?”

“Well like I said in the telegram, he got hurt on the drive. What I didn’t say was a loco steer charged him, gored his horse, and dumped him over to fall on Adam. He must have laid on that rocky ground for hours before we found him.”

“Why hours? Didn’t anyone on the drive see what had happened?”

“No he was riding drag . . . ” at that, David’s eyebrows rose and his expression darkened but Hoss continued “and he followed some steers into a little canyon. No one saw him leave because the brush was so thick there.”

“With his experience, I would not have thought that he would have done that alone. I know too that he is an excellent rider so why didn’t he turn his mount when he saw that steer coming and get out of the way?”

“Well he was pretty tired from all the night guarding and he missed breakfast too.”

David was thinking some unkind thoughts about Adam’s family at that point. His eyebrows rose into the frown he had. David’s expression got darker but it wasn’t the place to say something because the children were there. He turned on his heal, and walked like a fierce panther to the stairs and up. Hoss could see how much he and Adam were alike. It was easy to see why the friends had worked together for years. It wasn’t just the dark eyes, black hair, dark skin, and the tendency to wear mostly black. He communicated effectively without talking. It was clear from his expression that he wasn’t happy with how the family had treated his friend. Underneath, there was controlled fury, and like Adam, he could look dangerous without making a move or saying a thing.

“They could be twins.” Laura watched as David neared the top of the stairs. “They look more like brothers than you, Joe, and Adam do.”

“He loves Adam like a brother. You could see that in how he acted when he heard what happened to him.”

“Mama, mama, can we go see our room now?” Josh was always curious and anxious to see new things, and that reminded Hoss of what he wanted to speak about with Laura. He grabbed all the bags, keys, and headed up the stairs. The rest trooped after him. Laura suggested the children unpack, and take a nap to recover from the two days of traveling as everyone split up to their rooms with Hoss’ children in one room, Laura and her children in another room, Jacob in a room he would share with his mother, Hoss and Marie using Hoss’ room, and David in a room. Hoss asked to speak with Laura privately and she and he headed downstairs as soon as her children were resting.

A short time later, “I never said he was Adam’s son. I said Will thought he was. Will thought so little of me and trusted me not at all so he would never believe me when I said Joshua was his son. He let himself down and Adam down by pursuing me when I was engaged to Adam. The guilt ruined the love between us. No matter what I said or even what Adam had said to us, the guilt just built up. He drank, he gambled, he got angry and said hateful things, and then he left us; me. When he got killed in Mexico, I wondered if he had done it on purpose by putting himself in danger so he could be killed and freed of the guilt that was tearing him apart. I will never be free of the guilt I have for hurting two men I loved. I can’t do anything about the past. I can only say that I have changed. I finally grew up and accepted responsibility. I looked in the mirror back then and I had not liked what I saw. I was a whining, conniving shrew. I decided I needed to be a better person to be a proper mother to my children.”

“That is the longest speech I have ever heard from you. I know how hard that was to admit. I knew you felt bad about what you did to Adam, but I never knew how it had been with Will. Peggy had said a few things a number of years ago about how she liked your new peaceful home because she had never had that before. I am so glad you were honest with me. I understand why it was so hard for you to tell me the rest of the story. We can put it behind us now.”

“I should talk to Adam, shouldn’t I. I should ask his forgiveness for what I did to him so he can put it behind him too. I know I hurt him. I guess I feel guilty about that even now and wonder if that had something to do with him leaving when he did.”

“I think it did.”

“So all the pain he’s gone through and a lot of the trouble in your family even today is because of me. Hoss, I am truly sorry. If there was any way I could change any of it, I would.”

“I know that, and having that talk with Adam could help him. He needs to have that burden he carries lightened up a little.”

*****

Chapter 11

Over the next week with Ann nearly always with Adam and feeding him tiny amounts of food and water about every half hour to prevent the retching, Adam slowly got stronger. Seeing her and Jacob as well as having the other members of the family there for short visits improved his mood because he knew they had come so far because they were concerned about him. That level of caring did a lot to make him feel wanted and a part of the family again. Each morning, Hoss would wrap his arms around him from the right and pull him into a sitting position. Ann and Laura or Marie would place pillows behind him so he could recline comfortably. Then Ann would bathe him, shave him, and comb his hair. Once all of that was done, Doctor Mayer would change the dressings on his collarbone and under his splints showing Ann what to do because he was soon going to be handing this task to her. The fever was still there but diminished a bit each day. By the end of the week, Ann and Peggy had started taking turns reading to him from books they had brought along and from newspapers delivered each day by stage. Adam started to have short conversations with people asking what they did each day. His speech was mostly normal although a few times he struggled to remember a word he wanted to say or some words with difficult pronunciation came out slurred a little. The doctor assured them that he thought this would improve with time, healing, and practice.

Then Adam asked to have the blinds in his room raised. He squinted because he was unaccustomed to the brightness, but there was no pain. The severe headache that he had suffered with for two weeks was gone. With Hoss’ help, he started to take short walks around the house but used a crutch to keep the weight off his injured leg. The doctor told him the bone he had broken was the smaller of the two bones in his lower leg and if he was careful, he would walk on his own soon although a crutch or cane would be necessary for a while yet. As he improved, the doctor pronounced him fit enough to stay at the hotel as he no longer needed the doctor’s close supervision.

Adam was embarrassed to find that Hoss had rented a carriage and had it parked outside the doctor’s house. Hoss helped Adam walk to the carriage and then helped him get in. Hoss drove about one hundred yards to the hotel, and then reversed the procedure to get Adam into the hotel. Hoss knew that even that short walk from the doc’s house to the hotel was still more than his brother could manage. Besides once he had Adam situated in Ann’s room on the hotel’s first floor, he was taking his family, Laura’s family, and Jacob for a drive and a picnic. Adam didn’t feel quite so bad about the carriage when he realized there was another reason that Hoss had rented it and then he knew too why he had rented such a large carriage. Even then, Peggy and Jacob were going to ride horses behind the carriage.

Hoss gathered everyone at the hotel and escorted them to the carriage. He made a short trip to the hotel’s restaurant returning with a huge picnic hamper. As they drove out of town to view the countryside and find a nice picnic spot, they met Joe and Ben riding into town, so they filled them in on what had happened. Both Ben and Joe heaved huge sighs of relief at the same time, which got a chuckle from everyone else.

“We got a great price for the cattle, but some bad weather slowed us getting there, and then getting back here. We had hoped to be here several days ago, and we worried all the time about what we didn’t know.”

“Well by the time things turned around here for Adam, I thought you would already be heading back here and I wouldn’t be able to get a message to you. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know he was getting better. I feel purty bad about that now.”

“Nonsense. You did what you thought was right and based it on the information you had. I am just happy my son is going to be all right. I need to let him know what a jackass I was, that I hope he can forgive me, and that I love my son.”

Laura and Marie blanched at Ben’s use of profanity in front of the children and how they were going to have to explain it to them later. Hoss and Joe had not even reacted. That hinted at the strong emotions that all were experiencing.

“I feel the same way. I thought I was a man but Adam came back, and I acted like his jealous little brother. I know Adam spoke the truth. I’ve thought about it a lot and I think I know what happened. I have to talk to her about it, but she’s not a kid any more either, and once she is honest with me, we can put this behind us. In some way I think you know I’m happy with what I found out. Just like Pa, I need to ask Adam’s forgiveness and tell him how I feel about him.”

“Pa, Adam and Ann are together. In my room at the hotel, there’s a brown leather journal. You and Joe might want to spend some time reading it. It’s Adam’s. I’ve read it, and I asked him ifn it would be all right to let you two read it. He said it would be all right. A lot of the answers you might want to have to questions you still have are in that journal.”

Hoss was so serious in his tone and demeanor as he said that, Ben worried about what might be in that journal. He nodded. “You think it’s important that we read it before we spend much time talking with Adam, don’t you?”

“Ya, Pa, it’s real important.”

Ben and Joe turned their horses and headed into town.

Hoss shook his head. So much anguish because of misunderstandings. Of course Adam had not helped by leaving with little explanation but now they could repair the broken bridges. As Ann had filled him in on Adam’s more recent history, Hoss had gained a new and more complete understanding of his older brother. He hoped that Adam would give him permission to share this knowledge too with the rest of the family. He thought it could go a long way in helping people understand Adam. Adam wasn’t talking much about himself, but Ann’s presence had sure brought out the spark of life in him. He was getting stronger every day, and was becoming more and more interested in events and people around him much like the old Adam had been. Hoss had told Marie and Laura that they could return home soon, although he expected Ann and Adam would have to stay longer until Adam was more fit to travel.

At the hotel, Ann and Adam were talking about the future. They had been edging toward the topic for days. Hoss, his family, the doctor, and his wife always meant someone was hovering and there were simply too many interruptions for the serious conversation they needed to have.

“Ann, I never should have walked away from you. You said ‘Tom’ when I was kissing you and my pride, which has caused me problems at other times, got in the way. I should have known that it was me you were kissing and hugging, and a little slip like that should not have been that big of a deal. I thought about you for years. When you showed up here in that blue dress I remembered so well, it brought back memories of two of the best hours I have ever had in my life. I bought that dress for you. My heart almost burst with love for you. I couldn’t say much at the time, but I want you to know you were all I could see or think about at that moment. Waking up with you sitting there at my side was so overwhelming that I almost cried with joy.”

“Adam you have been with other women, and you know I was with a couple of other men, but after you, there was no man for me. You ruined me for other men. Every man who approached me was judged against you and found lacking.” Adam smiled the room brightening dimpled smile at Ann then. “You can be insufferably arrogant you know.” But her smile and tone made the comment humorous and not critical. She leaned in and kissed him, and Adam wrapped his right arm around her and drew her closer.

“I want you as my wife, my friend, my companion. Will you marry me?”

“Well, of course, yes, you big lug. I didn’t come all this way to say no. I love you.”

“Do you want to live on the horse ranch near Stockton or somewhere else?”

“What about the Ponderosa? Don’t you want to go back there?”

“It’s not my home any more. It’s beautiful. I’m proud of what we built there. It’s where my family has always lived. I love them, but I need to live my own life. A horse ranch gives me time to do other things. I still want to do architectural and engineering projects. I have investments to manage. From there, we can visit the Ponderosa regularly as it is only a few days by stage and two if we decide to make the ride ourselves. If they need me to help out, I can take time to do that. But I want us to make our own life together. And you still own businesses, which you will need to visit if you want to continue to operate them. With one in Virginia City, we will have another reason to visit. Another big point is that I want time to spend with Jacob. I want to help guide him as he grows to be a man.”

“Adam, we have to be clear on something. I don’t think that he is your son. He could be, but it was only one time for us.”

“As I mentioned, two of the greatest hours I ever spent on this earth. You knew I would remember that when you showed up in that blue dress.”

“Adam, shush! I’m trying to be serious here. It is more likely that Tom is Jacob’s father. Will that bother you?”

“No when we’re married, he will be my son.”

Ann started to cry and Adam pulled her into his shoulder. They just sat in that comfortable embrace for a time. Ann’s tears dried and she snuggled in closer.

“This is nice.” Her sultry voice got to him every time.

“Woman you don’t know what you are doing to me, and I can’t do anything about it.”

“Oh, I do know. Perhaps soon we can do something about it.”

They both laughed at the licentious grin Adam sported after that statement.

A soft knock came at the door. Ann rose and opened the door to Ben and Joe both cleaned up from the drive and the travel and wearing nearly identical sheepish looks. They had talked in their room about how nervous they were about seeing Adam. Joe said it was like going before the schoolteacher when you knew you had been caught being bad. Ben had laughed and said Joe had a lot more experience than anyone with that.

“Well come on in. You both look like naughty boys caught and facing the music.”

Ben and Joe couldn’t help it. Both started laughing, and Joe’s hysterical giggle soon had them all laughing.

“Now I know what you mean. You told me that it was next to impossible not to laugh when you heard Joe laugh, and you were probably the only one who had ever managed it. I don’t have that iron will of yours, and that laugh is more infectious than I could have imagined.”

Adam invited his father and brother to be seated. They asked how he was doing and he was happy to report all the improvements he was feeling. Gradually, the conversation lagged and Ben knew it was their turn.

“Adam, we need to ask your forgiveness. We …”

“You’re forgiven.”

“What? That easy? We have been talking for days about what me and Pa have to tell you we’re sorry for and you just say we are forgiven.”

“Yes. You’re sorry and that’s all anyone needs to be forgiven. It’s over and we need to move forward now. Ann and I have some plans we want to tell you about. We’re happy and we hope you’ll be happy for us too.”

Adam and Ann then began to talk about what they had discussed. Ben and Joe both were delighted to find that Adam, who frankly was looking like he wasn’t the marrying kind was finally going to be a married man. There were questions and answers, and hours passed. Finally, Adam said he was hungry and could they please get some meals in from the restaurant. And then Ben knew it was all going to be all right. It wasn’t the way he would have preferred but his family was together again, and his sons were men who deserved his respect.

That night, Ben and Joe read the journal. Shocked to find that Adam had been married and returning home only to be waylaid by outlaws, grievously wounded, and forced to watch them assault his wife until she died, they had tears reading the journal and could see there were tears that had stained those pages. They didn’t know if those were Adam’s tears or if Ann or Hoss had shed them but the story deserved them. The rest of the journal was Adam relentless search for the men responsible after he had recovered from his injury after being rescued by a party of Shoshoni.

Adam returned to the Ponderosa at his family’s insistence. Ann rented a small house in town and brought Jacob to live with her. The next few months passed peacefully as Adam and his family became reacquainted and he shared more of what happened to him in those years he had been gone. Adam and Ann spent time together when work did not interfere and made plans for a wedding. Unknown to all of them, Tom Burns had found out about Ann and Adam and suspected that Adam had fathered Jacob as well. He had faked his own death to shift the blame to his wife. Who would know who was buried in his clothing after several days buried in that shallow grave in that damp mine. He had fooled his wife, Ann, Adam, and the sheriff, collected his money, and enjoyed his life. Now however his only thought was revenge on the woman and the man that in his twisted mind he thought had wronged him.

*****

Alone Again revised

Chapter 1

The cell door to solitary in Nevada State Prison clanked open. The occupant squinted at the bright light of day. He wondered if he had miscounted. He was sure that it had been only twenty-one days not thirty. With so much practice with the routine of the place, he had gotten quite good at learning to count the days in solitary. He actually liked solitary over being in population. It was safe and quiet here. He wondered too if the two years in this place damaged his mental abilities that much. Conditioned to take orders though, he stood, turned his back, and put his hands behind him wrists extended for the shackles to be attached. He hated this part but each time he had resisted had led to punishment, and he wasn’t sure his back could take any more scarring from the whip.

“Not today. Just put these clothes on and follow me.”

That was a major surprise and worrisome because any change in routine could be a major problem. He worried about some new torture had they dreamed up for him. He pulled on the prison pants and shirt. There were no shoes provided, but it was summer so there was no need really although he wondered at the omission. He followed the guard who walked directly to the infirmary. There, he opened the door and nodded for him to enter. That too was unusual. The door closed behind him leaving him alone in the front office area of the infirmary. More curious than worried, he only had to wait a few minutes and an inmate nurse stepped through from the interior hallway and beckoned him to follow. The man had treated him innumerable times before when he had been injured from fights and from punishments, and had been most kind so he had no fear as he followed him. He was stopped at the washroom and directed to enter and bathe. There was a tub with warm water and soap. Not having seen a bath at all or even soap for most of the last two years, he was shocked at the opportunity but was not going to object to it. Undressing quickly, he stepped into the tub always watching the door wondering what horror might befall him but after fifteen minutes there was nothing until the nurse knocked on the door and asked if he was ready.

“Yes as soon as I dry off and dress.”

“Okay but don’t dress yet. I got some other clothes they want you to wear.”

At that point, he got defensive. How much easier the attack on him would be if he was still naked. He quickly pulled on the prison pants he had with him, but the door opened and the nurse was there with the clothes he had worn the day he stepped into this hell on earth. The look on the nurse’s face told him that his fear was well understood by the other man. After all, the nurse had seen the results of nearly all of the attacks he had endured. He knew the special treatment that prisoners convicted of raping and murdering a woman and then murdering her son often received in prison. In the prison hierarchy, he had been on the bottom, and no one wanted to be his friend or ally. After the door was once again closed, he stripped off the prison pants and put on the black jeans and black shirt. There was a new pair of socks, which he donned before pulling on his boots. His belt didn’t have enough notches to pull tight enough to secure his pants but close enough for now. If he got to keep it, he could add a notch later. The shirt fit loosely enough that he could pull the cuffs down and secure them to hide the scars on his wrists from shackles. He buttoned it to the top to hide the scar from the rope burn of the noose that had briefly circled his neck. How very close that lynch mob had come before the sheriff had rescued him and put him back in jail. It wasn’t really a rescue though was it as it simply guaranteed more pain and loss in his life.

“I’m ready.”

Although he wasn’t sure what he was ready for whatever was in store for him, but assumed he had no say in his future anyway so he cooperated. The nurse walked him to the door of the infirmary and when it opened, the same guard was there sitting on a bench. He motioned for Adam to proceed to the administrative building. It was where Adam was usually summoned to hear his punishment each time he had been attacked but then blamed for the disturbance.

“We’re going to the warden’s office.”

However, he had not seen the warden in his office since the first day he had arrived. He did see him on occasion often as he lay battered and bloody on the floor too weak to walk to the administrative building, and the warden would decide if his injuries warranted a trip to the infirmary or if he should go directly to solitary for inciting another disturbance. That was another fact of prison life he had not known. The staff knew of the prison hierarchy and seemed to approve of it. The result was that he was punished for every attack he had endured. At least the month in solitary protected him from further attacks until he was released back into the general population, and they found an opportunity to attack him again. He always fought them, but outnumbered every time, he never stood a chance of winning. He had lost nine days of his safe time this day and wondered what would happen next. The whole day seemed inexplicably mysterious based on his previous experiences and so far he could make no sense of any of it.

When they reached the warden’s office, he was told to take a seat in the inner office and the guard left. His shock must have been on his face because the guard smiled as he left. No shackles, no locks, and no guard. This was not any part of prison that he understood. The door opened and the warden invited him in and asked him to sit. That was another shock because inmates were always ordered to stand in the presence of a guard or any prison officer but especially the warden.

“I have a letter here for you from the governor of Nevada. He sent one to me as well.”

The warden read the first part of the letter, and he couldn’t help it as his heart began beating rapidly and his breathing was shallow and fast. “The State of Nevada hereby exonerates and orders the release of Adam Cartwright. All records of his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment by the State of Nevada are to be expunged. It is with great regret that we inform you that a grave mistake of justice has been made. . . . ” There was more but there was no need to read it. Adam stared at the warden who was smiling at him as if he had never treated him as scum.

“I have been ordered to release you immediately. The governor has come into possession of irrefutable evidence of your innocence. We sincerely apologize for the mistake that was made in convicting and sentencing you, but witnesses were mistaken. They, the jury, and the judge had no possible way to know that. Apparently there was some effort to make sure that you were blamed for another’s acts. Now that it has been ascertained, there is to be no delay in remediation of the error. You are to be released. The state of Nevada does not accept any responsibility for the harm that has befallen you. The system worked as it should and used the evidence that was available. We will provide you with transportation to the nearest town and money enough to pay for one night’s lodging, meals, and a ticket to any town you wish as your destination.”

There was so much that Adam wanted to say but there was no point. He stood and accepted the envelope with the cash.

“Is there anyone here to see me?”

“No, I’m sorry to say there is not.”

“Then I would like that ride you offered.”

“The wagon is at the front. You can access it by walking down this hall to your right and the door at the end opens to the outside. Good luck Mr. Cartwright. I’m sorry for any trouble you have had here, but we had no way of knowing that you were an innocent man. I hope you can forgive those who put you here. Vengeance will only lead to you returning, and I would hate to see that happen.”

Adam walked to the end of the hall and outside. He stood there a moment to feel his freedom. It was something he had thought was forever lost along with everything else he had ever had. The driver saw him and climbed into the seat and motioned that Adam should join him on the top seat. He climbed up beside the driver and they rode the twelve miles to the nearest town. The man had little to say to him as he had never given a ride to a man who was released because he was innocent. He was dropped off in front of a restaurant. The driver tipped his hat and turned the prison wagon to return to the prison. From the hostile looks he got from those on the street at that time, he knew that he looked just like any other convict who had been released at the fulfillment of his sentence. He looked down the street and saw a table in front of the saloon with a few men lined up, and he headed in that direction because it looked like they were hiring and he needed a job. As he stood there, he gathered enough from the questions asked to know they were hiring drovers for a cattle drive. That suited him fine if they would be willing to hire him. When he got to the head of the line, the man at the table looked him over and asked the obvious.

“Just get out of prison?”

What could he say? He nodded yes.

“Got any experience working cattle?”

“Yes, quite a bit.”

“Well we’re mighty short-handed. Mr. Castle sent me into town to hire some extra men to drive the herd he bought up to Wyoming. It’s a dollar a day and no guarantee of a job when we get to his ranch.”

“If you’ll have me, I’ll take it.”

“Don’t suppose you got any gear?”

“No sir, but I have twenty dollars and could get the basics with that.”

“The name’s Bud, and I’ll go with you to the livery to get you set up. Old Jace sees you coming with that pasty white prison skin, and he’s gonna take all of that twenty and give you a swayback with worn out tack. You trust me to get you set up?”

“Don’t see why not.”

“You stay that agreeable, and you might just find yourself with a real job as long as you can work cattle like you say.”

“No problem with the prison experience?”

“Lotsa men working out here got stuff in their past to be ashamed of, me included. Don’t matter none as long as it stays in the past. What’s your name?”

“Adam … Black.”

The trail boss heard the hesitation but it didn’t bother him none. His name wasn’t Bud either. As far as he was concerned, they would let the man start fresh. It might be what he needed.

Within an hour Adam had a decent mount. He had pulled the silver band from his hat and added it to the twenty dollars so he was able to get a better horse. Bud appraised him as he rode and noted with satisfaction that it was taking him a very short time to let the horse know who was boss. Adam rode with the confidence of a man who had been riding horses most of his life. His clothing and boots were better than that usually worn by a cowhand making Bud wonder what he had done to end up in prison, but as long as he could do the work and didn’t create any trouble, that wouldn’t matter. Once Bud and the men he had hired reached the herd, Mr. Castle came out to greet them. All three of the new hires looked to him like they could handle the work so he was pleased. Often in this situation he would have to hire men who really didn’t work very well, but a poor hand was often better than none because at least he could have them ride drag. He was surprised when Bud suggested that Adam ride lead or flank, and the other two could ride flank. Mr. Castle nodded at him and he accepted his recommendation. None of them would draw nightherd duty this first night but were told to expect to be in the rotation by the following night. They were sent to the chuck wagon to have dinner and were later introduced to the other men. The next day, they would start the trek to Wyoming.

*****

Chapter 2

In the same time span in Virginia City, Ben, Hoss, and Joe exited the courtroom with greater joy than they thought they had ever felt. Adam’s conviction was expunged and he was exonerated. They met Roy outside. They were all packed, had five extra horses on lead ropes, and immediately started the ride to the prison. If they rode through the night, they thought they could be there by noon the next day.

“Hoss, how are we ever going to be able to say sorry enough for Adam to forgive us? It was our testimony that put him in prison.”

“I had my doubts at the time. I shoulda done something about them. I just knew Adam couldna done it. But we thought we saw him leave Ann’s house, and then he told us he wasn’t even there. How were we to know that it was Tom Burns? He dressed like Adam and he looked like Adam. He even looked right at us when we called out ‘Adam’ to him. We had no way of knowing that Tom Burns was getting his revenge on Adam and on Ann that night. But how a man could murder his own son, I just don’t know.”

“Boys, no one knew that Tom Burns faked his own death so that his wife would be thought guilty of framing him when he had in fact committed that crime. He fooled so many people. More than anyone, I should have known Adam couldn’t have done it but it seemed that he wasn’t being entirely truthful, and I didn’t understand why he would do that. I’m sure that our lack of support had an impact on the jury’s decision. It shouldn’t have, but in a smaller town like this and as well known as we are, I’m sure that helped convict him. But I did doubt him, and I chose to ignore all I knew about him that he couldn’t be that way. It’s just with him gone all those years, when he returned, I thought maybe he had changed in some fundamental way.”

“Pa, you only ignored it because Hoss and I said we saw him there, and then he said he wasn’t there. Made us all think that he was lying, and that led us to wonder why he wouldn’t explain why he was there. But we should have known, Pa, we should have known better.”

“Nothing we can do about it now except beg him to forgive us, and then see what we can do to make things right. It’s never going to be right though, but we can make things a lot better. Boys, we’re going to have to let Adam make the decisions on how we do it though. We owe him that and a lot more.”

Roy just shook his head. He had never told them what Adam had said when the lynch mob was threatening the jail, and Roy warned him that he might not be able to stop them.

“It doesn’t matter. I lost Ann. That tore out my heart. I have lost my reputation, my freedom, my family, and my friends. No one trusts me and no one believes me. What else is there to lose. My life is worth nothing now. Don’t risk your life to save it.”

The mob had come and overwhelmed Roy. They locked him in a cell, and he had watched as Adam’s ‘friends and neighbors’ dragged him out of his cell, hitting him, and yelling at him. Clem had heard the disturbance from his house and entered the jail after the crowd left. He got Roy out of the cell, they armed themselves and got Sam from the Silver Dollar and a couple of other men willing to enforce the law and arrived at the scene just as the horse pulled away from Adam. The rope was stretched too tight before he was dropped from the horse so it didn’t break his neck, but it was strangling him. Roy raced to cut him down as the other men held guns on the crowd to hold them back. Roy thought Adam was dead, but after the noose was loosened, he breathed. Doctor Martin bandaged the rope burn and walked away without saying a word. The next day, Adam climbed into the prison wagon. No one in his family and none of his friends had seen him off that day and none had seen him after that day. He thought they were ashamed of him and wanted nothing to do with him. He was no longer one of them. He didn’t know that they couldn’t bear to see him in chains and in that prison wagon and had been in Carson City seeing the governor and trying to get some justice for him. They had managed to get a prison sentence instead of hanging, but they couldn’t get clemency. Now however all they felt was shame over their horrendous treatment of an innocent man: son, brother, and friend.

The four men made good time and arrived at the prison gates well before noon the following day. There they found that the governor had ordered Adam’s immediate release so they had missed it by a day. With the information that he had money for lodging and food, they headed to the nearest town to find him. He hadn’t registered at the hotel there and no one at any restaurant remembered seeing anyone who looked like him. He had not bought a ticket for the stage in any direction. Of course the description they got from Ben and the others bore little resemblance to Adam now. He had a full beard with some gray at the sides and wore his hair long. He had not shaved nor had a haircut in two years. The dimples and cleft chin as well as the hazel eyes were hidden and no one had seen them. He weighed about the same as he had when he was twenty-two. In addition, he had been in town just over an hour and had not entered any business except the livery stable. There Bud had conducted the entire transaction so Jace had never heard the cultured baritone voice either. The only information they got was that a man had climbed down from the prison wagon the day before. The town was used to that and paid no attention to a man they expected would be gone within a day so no one had noticed where he went. It was as if Adam had disappeared.

The four men got rooms at the hotel and went to the restaurant in the hotel for dinner. None had much of an appetite and pushed their food around the plate as much as they actually ate anything. They had lost him again and each was caught up in thoughts of guilt and frustration. Finally Hoss broke the silence.

“What are we gonna do? We got no idea where he went but he can’t be far. No matter where he went, he can only be a day or so away.

“Ben, did we ask at the livery if anyone bought a horse? Could be that Adam hooked up with somebody or rode out on his own, but he would still need a horse. Maybe he bought one and left town right away.”

Ben and his sons looked at Roy and then stood hastily. Roy followed as they raced out of the restaurant headed to the livery. There, Jace was questioned about selling any horses the previous day.

“Well I did sell a horse and tack to Bud.”

“Who’s Bud?”

“He’s a foreman for an outfit that was buying cattle hereabouts that they’re gonna drive north to some ranch.”

Joe was getting impatient. “What ranch? Who’s the owner? Where?”

“Don’t know any a that. Bud’s been in here a few times as they hit the ranches around here and bought up some stock. Alls I know is he said the spread was way north a here or maybe it was east. I’m not rightly sure I remember ‘cuz I been having lots of others in here from other ranches too. Don’t think Bud ever mentioned a name or place exactly. Said they were done and heading back.”

“Well, what else did he say?”

“That it was a big spread and they needed to improve their breeding stock. That’s about all I know. Didn’t ask no questions. Just talked as he was buying stuff.”

“Well how many herds can there be out there now?”

“Don’t know but lots of ranchers from Wyoming and Idaho been hereabouts lately cause they lost so many cows and bulls to the blizzards in those parts last year.”

Ben and his sons knew the truth of that as they had been selling a lot to buyers from those areas too. They had rejoiced at being able to sell so many without a drive making profit margins greater, but now it also meant it would be much more difficult to locate Adam. The next morning at first light, Hoss said he would try to find tracks of men heading north or east. It was the only hope they had, but the next morning when they got up, the rain was pouring down. Any hope they had of tracking anyone out of town was gone.

Once the rain stopped, they headed for Virginia City. The next plan was to hire detectives to search Wyoming and Idaho ranches for new hires. Of course with the description they had, that would not work either. They also had no way of knowing that Adam’s name wasn’t Cartwright any more. He had seen no point in keeping a name that would only bring questions and perhaps accusations his way. His last link to his family was severed.

*****

Chapter 3

On the cattle drive to Wyoming, Adam found that getting used to living in the outside world again had some difficulties but overall was pleasant. One problem was that no one could touch him when he was sleeping. Bud came to wake him for nightherd duty the second night of the drive, and the men had to pull him off Bud. Bud still had red marks on his neck the next morning at breakfast when he asked Adam to walk away from the chuck wagon to talk. Adam expected to be fired.

“Was it that way for you a lot in prison?”

Adam was shocked by the question but nodded.

“I kinda thought so. Spent a little time inside when I was younger. Not good looking and nobody held anything against me so mostly I got left alone. I made friends quickly so I had backup too. I’m guessing there’s some reason you didn’t.”

Adam stared at the man. Bud had been good to him, but they weren’t friends yet and even if they were, he wasn’t sure he could have this conversation with him.

“I understand if you’re not ready to tell me anything. I’m not gonna fire you. Figured out what happened right away. How should I wake you?”

Relieved, and grateful that he was being treated so fairly, Adam was respectful and answered that way. “Say my name or kick my boot. I do wake easy.”

“Yeah, I suppose you did learn to sleep light. Okay. I’ll let everyone know. I’ll do it quietly so nobody will make a big deal about it, but I don’t need to lose a hand cause you kill him for waking you up. And I’d rather not have your hands around my neck again either.”

“I’m sorry.”

Bud nodded to accept the apology, and he walked back to the chuck wagon, and after a moment, so did Adam. Bud was a good trail boss and might become a good friend if the first few days were any indication. Adam could use a friend, but he wasn’t sure at this point if he could ever trust any one that much again.

The other issue that came up was that the men had less respect for Adam because he didn’t have a firearm. It was among other things they held against him. Bud got him a scabbard and a rifle to carry when he was out with the herd, but he didn’t have a pistol and was the only one there who didn’t. Even the cook was wearing one so the men gave Adam some ribbing on a daily basis about it. They had never seen him shoot or fight, and with his obvious prison background, they didn’t treat him as an equal. His work with the cattle was better than most, and they found that he could sing songs to help settle the herd at night which was a real bonus. However singing at the chuck wagon even though it was asked for by the men caused some of them to wonder about his manhood, and behind his back, comments were made.

After three weeks on the trail, the barbs sent Adam’s way got sharper and sharper, and public. He held his temper, but it was getting much more difficult for him to do so. After an especially long day on the trail, two of the youngest men there began laying insults on him pretty heavily. Then one ‘accidentally’ knocked his plate of food into the dirt. The other spilled coffee on him as he came to help the first man. Adam jumped up furious with the two for their stupid actions. They taunted him more as he stood there, and the other men waited to see what he would do. Bud and Mr. Castle were standing outside the ring discussing the last part of the drive. Bud was going to intervene, but Mr. Castle stopped him.

“Let’s see what he’s made of. Those two jokers won’t be with us once the drive is finished, but Adam might make a good hand if he can get the respect of the other men.”

The two young rowdies were having fun. They thought they were winning when Adam’s fury seemed to have cooled, and he stared at them silently. One stepped forward to give Adam a push and met a fist in his chin that threw him on his back. The other one bull rushed Adam who sidestepped and flung the young man into the wheel of the chuck wagon. The first man got up and taunted Adam to ‘fight like a man’ but backed up as Adam advanced on him. Finally he could go no further and threw a punch that Adam blocked with his left and followed with a right to his gut and then a left uppercut. That one was down for the count. The one by the wagon rushed toward Adam’s back but Adam pivoted before he got there and the arm he threw out to punch Adam was grabbed and he was dropped to his knees by a blow to his chin. When he was on his knees, Adam kicked him in the buttocks making him sprawl in the dirt. He didn’t get up. Adam spun on the rest of the men.

“Anyone else care to see if I can fight?”

Bud walked into the firelight and answered for them all.

“I think any questions about you just got answered. A couple of you see to these two boys and the rest of you get some sleep.”

Bud nodded at Adam and went to lay out his bedroll next to his saddle. Adam did the same and everyone bedded down for the night. The next morning Bud kicked Adam’s boot at dawn. As Adam rose and rolled his bedroll, Jake handed him a cup of coffee and Buck mentioned that the cook was making his flapjack breakfast. Adam smiled and thanked Jake for the coffee and nodded at Buck. The three settled by the fire to drink their coffee and wait for breakfast. Bud walked over as Mr. Castle was finishing up with his gear and was told to let Adam know he had a job on the Castle ranch if he wanted to stay: bed, grub, thirty dollars a month, and a clothing allowance in town. When Adam was given the offer, he accepted.

Once they reached the Castle ranch, all the men were paid for the drive. Town was an hour away but all the hands as well as Bud and Mr. Castle headed that way. Once in town, Mr. Castle told Adam he wanted him to go to the general store with him. Inside he addressed the owner.

“Davis I want this man outfitted completely. He’s got what he’s got on right now. You know what he needs. Put it on my bill. Here’s a list of other things I need. I’ll leave the wagon out front and Adam can load everything up once you get it collected.”

“Mr. Castle, I can buy what I need.”

“Everyone of my men gets proper outfitting with a clothing allowance. You’re just going to use up the year’s allowance today so you better be careful with what you get because you will pay to replace anything you need that gets damaged beyond repair. Get yourself over to the saloon when you’re done.”

With that, Mr. Castle nodded and walked out. He needed to buy a few rounds at the saloon as it was a tradition after a successful drive. The next day was Sunday so most of the men could relax and sleep off a hangover if needed. And many of them did need it.

That first morning when he finally got to take off the one shirt he had been wearing for weeks and wash up so he could wear the new clothes he had gotten the day before, Adam was a little self-conscious. These men had never seen the scars he had and he waited until most of them were outside before stripping off his shirt and washing. There was silence behind him but he could imagine what they were thinking. He decided to get it all out in the open and turned to walk to his bunk and get a scissors to trim his hair a bit. That gave them a view of the scars on his arms, chest, and abdomen. No one said anything for a bit but Jake couldn’t stay silent.

“Holy shit, Blackie, it looks like you fought an army and lost.”

“Jake, why would you say that? I’m still here. Do you see an army?”

Jake, Bud, and Buck laughed at that but wondered how a man could accumulate that many scars and still be alive. When Adam was dressed, all of them headed outside to see what the others were doing because by all the gunshots they were hearing there was something interesting going on. As they walked behind the barn, they saw one of the younger men showing off his new pistol purchased with the money he earned on the drive. The only drinks he had had the day before had been the rounds bought by Mr. Castle so he had no hangover to worry about and was practicing with his new pistol.

“Hey Adam, how would you like to try my new pistol? I could show you how to shoot with a quick draw and all.”

“That’s okay, Newt, I don’t need to learn how to shoot your new pistol.”

“Not afraid of it, are you? C’mon, just one lesson?”

With the laughter from the men, Adam knew he had to now so he nodded and said he would try. Newt set up six cans on the fence, walked back, and tied the holster to his leg. He drew and fired quickly knocking four of the six cans in the air. He got a bunch of hoorahs from the men and a few comments about missing two but not many because most of the men would not have been able to do that well. He unbuckled the belt and handed the rig to Adam who strapped it on. Bud thought he looked like he had done that a lot because he looked more comfortable with the rig hanging low and tied to his leg than Newt had. Any questions about that were answered quickly after Newt placed the six cans back up on the fence. Once Newt was clear, Adam drew faster than most of them could follow and shot all six cans in the air. He casually unbuckled the belt and handed it to Newt.

“I guess you’re a natural born teacher, Newt. Thank you for the lesson. I guess I learned all I need to know.”

Adam strolled away whistling a tune. Most of the men silently watched him go. They wondered who the hell this new man was. It was probably the question in most of their minds whenever they took any time to think about it. Some guessed gunfighter and some guessed outlaw. Not one ever came close to guessing who he was. Once he walked around the barn, the men got back to the target practice, but it didn’t seem so funny any more. Bud just sat on a barrel by the barn watching the men practice their shooting and wondering too who this Adam really was.

Mr. Castle was in his study reading newspapers he had sent to him from cities in the region. He wanted to know what was happening in the region so that he would have more information to manage not only his ranch but the investments he had or would make. One article in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise had grabbed his attention more than any of the informative articles about cattle, mining, lumbering, and railroads. The tale of Adam Cartwright’s tragic life for the past two years was spelled out from beginning to end including that his family had looked for him and couldn’t find him after his release from prison about a month earlier. The sketch with the article showed Adam as he had been before the trial. It was the way people in Virginia City remembered him. The cleft chin, dimples, grin, and captivating eyes dominated the sketch. When Bud came in later to discuss the work schedule for the week, Mr. Castle tossed him the paper and had him read the article.

“Could that be our man out there?”

“Well, Mr. Castle, by the article, it sure could be and would explain some things, but this sketch doesn’t look much like him.”

“My curiosity is going to get the best of me on this one. Next payday, I think I will gift him a shaving kit. Seems like he may be the only one of the men who doesn’t have one.”

“Well that could certainly help answer the question if you can get him to use it too.”

“We’ll just have to see what he does. I don’t think I want to force the issue with him and lose a good hand. If he is this Cartwright, he could be a big help to us here in improving the ranch. It would help to know. Meanwhile, see how he evaluates things. Just bounce ideas off of him and see what he says. Let me know if you think any of the ideas have merit. If he is this Cartwright, he’ll know a lot of things that might be very useful to us here.”

*****

Chapter 4

Early fall colors blanketed the forests of western Wyoming. There were hints of yellow and red showing in the deciduous trees. Interspersed with evergreens in the forests, it made for a rich tapestry. The snowcapped mountains in the background of almost every view made the Castle Ranch seem majestic. It was only a few years old though, and Mr. Castle wanted to expand and improve his holdings. Bud came in early one morning with a suggestion. It seemed he had been in the barn with Adam and had seen the younger man staring at the upper reaches of the barn.

“Something mighty interesting up there?”

“How old is this barn?”

“We built it just two years ago. Mr. Castle wants to add on and build another one to use for hay and other storage.”

“Whoever built it made some mistakes. There isn’t enough bracing for the load bearing walls and the roof needs more truss support. It could blow down in a strong windstorm or a heavy snow load on the roof could collapse it.”

“What would you do with it?”

“Fix it.”

With more questions, he found that Adam thought they could add a frame inside the barn that would add enough support and then extend that further out the back to allow for expansion as well. For a new barn, he suggested a new design though to make the overall cost less and create a barn suitable to a different purpose. Mr. Castle had been wondering whom he was going to get to design a barn for him out here. They had done their best with local help with the first barn and the flaws in that method were apparent. His house plans had been purchased from San Francisco, but he didn’t want to incur that type of expense for barns. He asked Bud to send Adam in to see him when he returned from the pastures later that day. When Bud told Adam to head up to the main house, Adam was apprehensive. Bud noted his stoic demeanor.

“There’s no trouble. He just wants to talk to you about what you said about the barn. Clean up a bit before you go. He’s got a nice place there and ain’t gonna appreciate you tracking any dust into his parlor.”

The other hands watched him as he cleaned up. They were really starting to like this new man. He worked hard and never complained although some of his looks communicated plenty sometimes. He treated all the hands with respect. But he kept to himself a lot, and never talked about his past in even the simplest terms. He would talk about what he knew how to do but never about his experiences doing them. The hands had come up with all sorts of possible scenarios including that he was a hired gun or outlaw on the run. They had all seen what he looked like when he arrived and knew he had spent time in prison especially after Bud warned them off about being careful how they woke him. He wasn’t the biggest man here but no one wanted to tangle with him after he whipped those two young pups on the drive. They were long gone of course. Mr. Castle would never put up with troublemakers like that on the ranch. They just hoped the new man didn’t bring trouble here somehow, but so far things had been working rather smoothly.

Even as Adam noted their surveillance, he didn’t let it disturb him. He knew they were still taking the measure of him, and he hadn’t made it easy for them yet. Pulling on a clean shirt, he put away his kit and walked out the door of the bunkhouse. Pausing briefly, he sighed, and then marched up to the main house and knocked on the door. A small Chinese man opened the door, and Adam greeted him in Cantonese. The man was shocked, but Adam said he knew very little but had learned the basic greetings and responses. Smiling in appreciation, the man led him to Mr. Castle’s library and asked him to wait there. He walked around the room faintly jealous of the many books on the shelves. Wistfully he remembered his library at the Ponderosa and wondered what they had done with it. Probably burned them and everything else he left behind was the only morose thought he had about that. Hearing the door open again, he greeted Mr. Castle as he entered. Mr. Castle noticed where he was standing.

“Like books, do you? Well on a Sunday, you could come up here to read if you like. I don’t let my books out of the house. I couldn’t bear to lose one as they are very hard to replace here.”

“I would like that very much. It is something I have missed for some time now.”

“Now, you can call me Reg. My name is Reginald Marshall Castle but no one is ever allowed to call me Reginald. Outside the house, like Bud, please refer to me as Mr. Castle. I find that works best at keeping the proper relationship with the men.”

Adam was about to say that was his experience with his father but caught himself before he said that. Instead, he simply agreed with Reg.

“Good now I would like to get down to business. You will find that I am a very direct man. I say what I think and don’t hold anything back. My experience with you leads me to believe that you are an educated man. From what Bud has told me with the observations about the barn, I think you have training as an architect or an engineer. Is that right?”

“Yes on all counts and training and experience in both.”

“Good. Succinct and honest. Now what I need from you is an answer. Can you draw designs to reinforce and expand the main barn to make it a stable for forty horses or more and can you draw a plan for another barn that would hold hay and other supplies and equipment like wagons and a carriage?”

Adam shook his head negatively, and Reg was highly disappointed.

“Well why not?”

“I don’t have drafting tools, a drafting desk, and drafting paper. With a project this size, I would need all of that at least. To repair the mistakes in the existing barn, I could get by without those.”

“Well if I can manage to get hold of those things and get them shipped here, would you do the new barn?”

“Yes. I would enjoy that actually.”

“On Saturday, you will go into town with me, and we will stop by the mercantile to see if he can order these things. If not, I’ll have to make the purchases the next time I head to San Francisco. I have investments there and periodically have to go there to look things over and sign a few papers. Most of what needs to be done is taken care of by my sister there and our lawyer but not all. Have you ever been there? Wonderful city. Great restaurants, theatres, and bookstores.”

Adam had looked down at that last part. Reg realized he had made him uncomfortable for some reason and felt sorry about that.

“Well enough of my rambling. How about dinner? Chun Kit prepares some wonderful meals, and it is a shame not to share with others. Bud has dinner here frequently, but otherwise I dine alone. Chun Kit is the best bet I have as to my cook’s name. I speak no Chinese and he speaks very little English. We use signs and gestures a lot to communicate. But he seems to know what to do most of the time without me telling him so my assumption has been that he worked for someone else before me. I picked him up in Laramie. Some thugs were beating him, and I stopped them, and he wouldn’t leave my side after that.”

Adam followed Reg to the dining room and found three place settings. The knock on the door answered any questions as Bud entered the dining room as well. Reg informed Bud that Adam would draw plans for the barns and that meant they could keep all the men on for the winter as a building crew and that news Bud said would certainly go over well in the bunkhouse. The three men had an enjoyable dinner and discussions ranged from politics to cattle to horses and finished on education. Reg said his sister would join him here soon because her youngest had finally finished school. The two of them would be at the ranch before winter.

“She said she’s looking for some peace and solitude. Well she’ll certainly get a good dose of that in a Wyoming winter.”

After dinner drinks followed, and then as Reg walked his guests to the door to bid them good night, he reminded Adam of the trip to town on Saturday and that on Sunday he was welcome to read in the library. Bud looked at him with more appreciation than ever before. He had sat through dinner and after as comfortably as any man he had ever seen. Despite it being his first time there, he acted like it was an everyday occurrence. It had taken Bud months to get relaxed having dinner with the boss. More and more, Bud came to believe that Adam was the missing Cartwright but still couldn’t see the resemblance to that sketch in the newspaper. Maybe if he got that shaving kit and used it, the mystery would be solved. He had trimmed his hair but it was still long. He had also trimmed the beard back so that it was much neater but again, it still hid his features. He certainly did look like he might be trying to hide his identity, but Bud still didn’t know why. If that article was correct, he was no longer considered guilty of a crime by anyone. So he wondered why he would still want to hide away here in Wyoming when his family had that huge ranch in Nevada. He knew there must be some part of that story he was missing if this in fact was Adam Cartwright.

*****

Chapter 5

On the Ponderosa in September, Ben had some visitors from the Pinkerton agency. He had retained them after earlier investigators came up with nothing in their search for Adam. This was the same agency that he and his sons had hired to look into Adam’s case previously because none of them could reconcile the Adam they knew with what Hoss and Joe saw and what Adam had been convicted of doing. After more than a year of investigating including some undercover work, they had uncovered Tom Burns and the trap that he had sprung on Adam. It would have been unbelievable but the authorities got a look at Tom Burns dressed in black. He would have and did of course fool Adam’s own family. Burns had no cause to renege on the statements he had made to undercover operatives. Because of the myriad of crimes he had committed, he would hang, and it wasn’t likely he would be believed anyway. When the attorney general presented the case to the governor, the governor immediately ordered that Adam be released and his records expunged. No one unfortunately realized that Adam would leave prison without knowing what had happened to get him into prison and what had gotten him out. He disappeared before his family and Roy could let him know what happened. After the Territorial Enterprise had dug up some of the details from guards of what had happened to Adam in prison, his family was desperate to find him.

So far the Pinkerton agents had had no luck in finding anyone in Wyoming or Idaho who fit Adam’s description, resembled the sketch, or was using that name. They returned to the Cartwrights to interview them about Adam to get more information to refine their search. Ben and his sons were told that the costs of such an investigation would be prohibitive and could conceivably cost tens of thousands of dollars in wages and expenses if pursued until results were achieved, but the Cartwrights were vehement that the search must continue. Adam’s training as an architect and an engineer, his fast gun, all black clothing choices, silver band on his hat, the love of books and music especially playing the guitar, and anything else they could think of was added to the Pinkerton arsenal. Finally Joe remembered that he may have left with a man named Bud.

By October, the Pinkerton agents returned to the Ponderosa. They had a lead.

“There is a possibility that your son is working on the Castle Ranch in Wyoming. There is a long haired bearded ranch hand named Adam Black working there but he doesn’t fit the description nor the sketch we have.”

“Then why would you think it could be him?”

“Mr. Cartwright, the other things add up to a solid lead but I can’t tell you that this is your son only that it may be. The foreman is named Bud Knight. People wouldn’t talk much about this Adam Black and when we saw him in the mercantile, he hardly said a word. He was trying out pistols and selected guns apparently for balance and grip from the case. After he had a selection, he picked the plainest one of the bunch and handed over the cash for that and a plain leather holster.”

“That’s not much to go on.”

“Mr. Davis is somewhat talkative. We found that the Castle Ranch recently ordered drafting tools, a drafting table, and drafting supplies which Mr. Davis found highly extravagant for the owner whose degree is in law. This is our best lead and our only one, frankly.”

“Pa, we should go.”

“Joseph, I can’t go until I get these splints off my leg. I can’t possibly let you and Hoss go because at least one of you needs to be here to run the ranch. I can do the ledgers and the paperwork, but Paul said this broken leg will need at least six more weeks to heal.”

“Then I’ll go.”

“Hey Joe, maybe I oughta go. Adam and I always got on better than you and him did.”

“All the more reason I should go. He probably feels worse about you testifying against him than he does me. I was acting like such a jackass that he probably expected so little of me, it didn’t surprise him.”

That made Hoss feel all the worse about what had happened. “Dadburnit, I only said what I thought I saw. I only wish we had gone to see him in jail. That dadblamed prosecutor wouldn’t let us see him, and then that prison wagon came earlier than we thought. Nobody thought to tell Adam we were in Carson City trying to get him clemency when he got dragged away from us. Dang governor took his own sweet time seeing us. Ifn he’d seen us right away, we coulda been back and seen Adam.”

Thinking perhaps the family could use an intermediary, the Pinkerton man made an offer. “Mr. Cartwright, perhaps our agent could contact him and ask some questions?”

“No, I’m afraid he might bolt and run if he thought we were that close to him. There are reasons why he doesn’t want to be found and why he hasn’t contacted us. Maybe if Joe shows up there to talk with him, he may be willing to listen. Thank you for the report. Send your final bill. We’ll handle it from here on out.”

Ben, Hoss, and Joe spent some time discussing what they should do and how. They got together all the reports that they had from the Pinkertons on the Tom Burns investigation, the court proceedings that had cleared Adam, and the article in the Territorial Enterprise which had told the whole terrible story. Each time when they had tried to visit Adam in prison to let him know what was happening, they had been told that he was in solitary confinement. Now hopefully they could tell him all the things he needed to know and perhaps it would help him forgive them someday. Finally Ben told them all to get a good night’s sleep and that they would see Joe off in the morning hopefully to bring Adam home or at least get a start on bringing him back.

*****

Chapter 6

In Wyoming, Mr. Castle’s sister, Marlee, and nephew, Robert, arrived. Her full name was Marlena Mavis Castle Burke but no one dared call her Marlena. Neither Reg nor Marlee appreciated their parents’ choices for names for their offspring. Their brother Hank or Hiram Temple Castle felt the same way. All of them had named their children with ordinary names that would draw no special harassment from other children or snickers from adults. Reg’s daughter chose to remain living in California as did Hank’s and Marlee’s children except for Robert who had an intense interest in the frontier although he had never lived there. This winter would be a test to see if he wanted to do so in the future. His father was deceased so Uncle Reg was a father figure to him as was his Uncle Hank. But Hank still had children of his own and not much time to give to his nephew. Marlee hoped that Robert would like it well enough to live there for two years until he was of an age to consider going to a college or university.

One late fall day as Adam was reading in the library, Robert wandered in surprised to see a long-haired bearded ranch hand reading a Dickens novel. Once he overcame his surprise and introduced himself, he and Adam indulged in a spirited discussion of the merits or faults of each Dickens novel, which they had read. When they exhausted that topic, they discussed Whitman, which Robert was too embarrassed to discuss with his mother, but Adam seemed at ease with any discussion. When Robert heard his mother calling, he responded that he was in the library. As soon as she entered, Adam quickly gave his regrets and left. He was surprised to know Marlee except he knew her as Mrs. Burke, the wife of a man with whom the Ponderosa had done business for years. He was shaken by the incident and a little short with the men in the bunkhouse who decided to leave him alone to recline on his bunk after a few snappy lines he delivered in response to any overtures. Invited to dine with the family that evening, he declined which caused Bud to give him a long evaluating look.

The next day, Adam was in Reg’s study working on plans for the new barn when Marlee walked in. Again he quickly gave his regrets and retreated. Later Adam was in the barn supervising the men who were building the interior supports for the load bearing walls. As he issued instructions and helped measure the pieces needed, Marlee entered the barn.

“Adam Cartwright, what kind of game are you playing here?”

Adam dropped his shoulders in defeat. He turned to look at Marlee but had nothing to say. She issued another dinner invitation and said he was not free to decline as it was the boss’ order that he attend. When he finished work that afternoon, he returned to the bunkhouse and cut his hair and shaved his beard. There was no point to it any more. Bud asked if he could help a bit to even out the haircut and Adam accepted. Then he washed and put on a clean shirt and pants before he and Bud headed up to the main house for dinner.

Marlee answered the door.

“Well, now you do look more like yourself. Except of course that I remember that unless you were in formal wear, you wore all black, had your sleeves rolled up to your elbows, and always had the top few buttons of your shirt open all of which scandalized the more proper ladies. But that never bothered you before now.”

Adam said nothing but nodded his head. This was new territory and he wasn’t prepared to deal with it yet. Marlee had read the stories of his conviction and imprisonment. She had been shocked as she couldn’t believe he would have ever harmed a woman much less a child. When the most recent story was republished from the Territorial Enterprise into a number of California newspapers, it renewed her faith in her own judgment. She had not until today realized the impact of what had happened to the man she knew with the dazzling smile and the overwhelming confidence that some had taken for arrogance. It wasn’t. It was just that he was always so sure of himself and what he was doing. Now he looked like a shadow of that man in many ways as it was clear that the confidence was gone.

“I’m sorry about Mr. Burke. He was a remarkable man. Reg told me his sister was a widow for almost two years now and now that I realize that it is you, I must offer my condolences.”

Marlee nodded an acceptance of his comments and guided the two men to the dining room. At dinner everyone was polite, and no one interrogated Adam. They were giving him some time to adjust to the new circumstances. Bud had told him in the bunkhouse that he and Mr. Castle has suspected he was Adam Cartwright, and that they had read his story in the Territorial Enterprise. Adam was surprised at that and extended his appreciation that they had respected his privacy. He also asked if he could read that article sometime if they still had it, and Bud said he thought Mr. Castle likely still had it. Robert was sixteen and not as tactful at dinner as the others though. Reg and his mother had briefed him on Adam’s story.

“Why don’t you just buy your own ranch if you don’t want to go back to Nevada?”

“Can’t buy much on thirty dollars a month.”

Robert sat with a quizzical look on his face wondering how a Cartwright had to live on thirty dollars a month. Frankly the others had the same thought. Once the wall was breached it seemed there was no reason not to just lay it all out for them.

“When I was arrested, my access to the Ponderosa accounts was severed. I had to liquidate some assets at a great loss just to pay an attorney. Once I was convicted and sentenced, Ann’s sister, Darcy, and her husband sued me for damages. I thought I was going to be in prison for life without a need or use for material wealth, so I didn’t fight it not that it would have mattered anyway. She and her husband got everything.”

“You could sue now to have the property returned.”

“Reg, I’m sorry, but if I never see the inside of a courtroom again, it will make me very happy. I don’t ever want to walk into a courtroom again for any reason. A protracted legal battle is not something I want to be a part of. Perhaps in the future I can make more money as an architect or mining engineer. For now, I would just like some time to get my life back to normal.”

So for the rest of the evening, that is what they tried to do. They talked about all sorts of normal things. Robert asked if Adam might start teaching him some things about architecture. When he told Adam that he loved mathematics and that he would stroll the streets of San Francisco sometimes admiring and sketching some of the great buildings, a budding friendship grew significantly. By the time the evening had ended, Adam was more comfortable with the family knowing his story. Next up was the task of telling the men in the bunkhouse. He wasn’t sure how that was going to go but hoped they would still want to be his friends.

Once he and Bud returned to the bunkhouse, there were whistles and catcalls at Adam’s new appearance and how ‘pretty’ he was. That comment created some tension as the glower that appeared on Adam’s face was actually scary. Bud just said to him that they didn’t understand, and he calmed down. Then Adam sat in a chair at the table in the center of the room and asked if they had questions. He said he had answers, but he wouldn’t answer some questions and they would know which ones they were because he would ignore them. After more than an hour of questions and answers, the hands all seemed satisfied but a little grumpy too. That was answered when Newt pulled a bean can out from under his pillow and handed it to Bud who extracted a roll of bills from it.

“We had bets on what your story was and I won.”

“I’m not sure that’s fair considering you had inside information.”

“Okay, you’re right. I’ll use it to buy the first round on Saturday night. And maybe with what’s left, I can spend a little time with that new bar maid. She sure is a pretty one for around here.”

With laughter and a few well-placed barbs, the men all turned in for the night. Adam relaxed more than he had in over two years. Real freedom sure felt good to him. But even then, questions he had been asked nagged at him as he wondered why his brothers lied about him which had hurt him even more than his father’s rejection of him. It bothered him too that he didn’t know why some of the citizens of Virginia City were so anxious to lynch him that night, and why didn’t he have a single visitor in two years in prison. All of that had hurt him so deeply and scarred the inside as much as the physical scars marked him on the outside.

*****

Chapter 7

Early the next morning, Marlee was up early. It was an unusually warm October morning and she thought a stroll around her brother’s property would be a grand way to start the day. As she walked through the downstairs, she could hear Chun Kit already hard at work in the kitchen so there would be a breakfast waiting for her when she returned. She walked a circuit of the house and thought that Reg ought to think about some shrubs or flowers to brighten the place because she found it much too plain. Then again, his wife had died years ago so it was probably a surprise that the house was as well decorated inside as it was even if the outside needed to be spruced up to show it off a bit more. Perhaps Adam could make some suggestions for that as he had always impressed her as having an eye for beauty. With that in mind, she walked toward the bunkhouse. When she saw Bud, she asked him where Adam was, and he indicated he was still in the washroom at the back of the bunkhouse so she headed there. What she saw as she opened the washroom door made her pause almost in shock for two reasons. Adam stood there with his shirt off wiping his face after shaving but the sight of numerous scars caused her mouth to drop open. That and of course the sheer masculine aura he gave standing there like that had a major impact on her as well.

“I could remind you to knock, but it looks like you got a good enough scare that you will likely remember your manners in the future.”

There was that famous smirk. Marlee walked closer to him and touched the scar on his neck. Adam took her hand and pulled it down from his neck, and she pressed her hand on his chest.

“I am so sorry. I read the stories. But I never realized what the effect on you was.”

Marlee kept one hand on his chest and with the other, she caressed his cheek.

“I am so sorry that all of this happened to you. You never deserved any of this. I would do anything if I could take some of the hurt away.”

Adam gently took her hands in his and lowered them between them. He was touched in many ways. Her genuine sorrow at the pain he had suffered breached his defensive walls that had never been higher. The other reason was that he was shirtless, and he was being touched by a beautiful woman he liked very much. He hadn’t been touched by a woman in well over two years, and the pain of his loss hit him then again.

“Aren’t you a little afraid of what you are doing here with a half naked man who spent the last two years in prison?”

“I would never be afraid of you.”

Marlee stepped a little closer to Adam but an ‘Ahem’ from the door halted any further interaction.

“Marlee, I was wondering where you had gone. Breakfast is ready and everyone is waiting.”

Reg stood at the open door and waited. Marlee turned to leave.

“Please come to the house for lunch. It’s such a lovely day; we’ll eat on the porch. We can talk.”

Adam nodded, and Marlee walked away with Reg.

“Aren’t you worried about trifling with that man? He has lost a lot in the last few years, and he doesn’t need to get involved with a dying woman.”

“Well I can see the Wyoming experience has done nothing to soften your bluntness. I am not ‘trifling’ with him. I will tell him everything. But maybe our two wounded souls can find some comfort with each other.”

“You seem to know him very well and like him even more.”

“He visited our home often on business trips. And for your information, he was always a perfect gentleman so don’t get any ideas that there was ever anything between us other than admiration and friendship. He and Randall got along very well, and Adam is a man who will treat a woman with respect and listen to her ideas so I did look forward to his visits.”

“Just be careful. I find that I like him very much too, and I would hate to see him hurt any more especially by a member of my family. On another topic: have you told Robert yet?”

“Yes and no. I have let him know that I am ill and that the trip here is because of that. I have not yet told him that there is no hope that I will get better. I want him to get used to the first part of what I told him which he has handled well. Soon, I need to tell him the rest. It may have to be this morning. I have to tell him before I say anything to Adam.”

After the encounter with Marlee, Adam had some trouble keeping his mind on his work that morning. Bud punched him in the shoulder once as he was daydreaming and asked if there was something that needed doing before they all ended work for the day. Adam looked up to see the whole building crew looking to him for instructions and smiling at his discomfiture. That helped him focus until it was nearing time for lunch. If his conclusions were correct, Marlee was offering a lot more than lunch and conversation in their relationship. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that yet, and left open the possibility that he was wrong and she just wanted friendship. Friendship he thought he could give without reservation so for the moment he decided to think that’s all it was.

Before heading up to the house for lunch, Adam cleaned up a little, but supervising building was a lot less dirty than working cattle so he was presentable with little effort. Marlee greeted him from the porch where she was already seated with a warm wrap around her. As Adam approached the table, she stood and kissed him. It was a gentle kiss and in no way demanding. But it was still more than what friends would do, and he had a hard time resisting the urge to wrap his arms around her and press her body to his. With reluctance, he stepped away from her to sit at the table. As he turned his eyes away from her, Marlee worried that she had been too aggressive.

“I hope you weren’t offended by that. It’s just that I didn’t want to waste any of the time I have left.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“My heart beats too slowly, and there’s nothing to be done for it. I have tried an herbal remedy, but it seemed to have no effect. It has been getting worse, and the doctors have told me that perhaps within months, they think that some time when I am sleeping, it will simply slow down too much, and that will be it. Reg knows, and I told Robert this morning.”

“I don’t understand why you kissed me then. What can happen between us? Shouldn’t you be resting in bed if you have a bad heart?”

“I like you, and you like me so I thought perhaps we could take some comfort with each other. People who have a fast heart rate often are told to rest. With me, I get tired and sometimes dizzy and then I know the heart rate is slow without checking. Right now I feel fine, and most of the day, I feel fine. I can participate in all my normal activities. That doesn’t change the final outcome I can expect though.”

“That Castle bluntness seems to be a family trait.”

It was a quandary. Adam needed some time to process this new information. On the one hand, he didn’t want to take advantage of a woman who was ill, but she was the one who had made the offer. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure it was a good idea for him to become involved with the boss’ sister.

“You don’t have to decide anything now. We’ll have lunch. And then perhaps a short stroll before you return to work?”

Lunch was simple but pleasant, and they talked about how they had first met and what their first impressions of each other had been. After lunch, they strolled to a grove of trees behind the house. Reg had placed some benches there. As they sat on the bench, Adam put his arm around Marlee’s shoulders, and she leaned into his soft embrace. They talked of San Francisco’s theatres and bookstores, of her daughters, of Reg’s ranch, and Robert’s intelligence and talents. Finally Adam indicated it was time for him to return to work. As they stood, he leaned down and reciprocated the gentle kiss Marlee had given him earlier.

“If we can do this again, I would be comfortable with it. I don’t know if I can offer more. My heart, my mind, and my body all seem to have different opinions on what I should do.”

“If this is what you’re comfortable with for now, I am happy to say I would enjoy each day so much more if we could continue like this.”

Arm in arm, they walked to the house where Adam said goodbye and returned to work. From his study, Reg had witnessed the kiss and part of their walk back. He nodded to himself. They looked relaxed and at ease with each other. Perhaps this would be good for both of them.

For the next month, most days continued in the same routine. Adam and the building crew continued work on reinforcing the stable barn and extending it. The frame extension went right through the existing back wall of the barn as they removed small sections to allow that. The plan was to finish the extension of the barn except for the back wall. When the walls were done and the roof was finished, the back wall of the old barn would be removed and made into the back wall of the larger barn. Then during the middle of the winter, they would construct the stalls and pens in the barn and add hardware. By spring, Reg would be able to add horses to his herd, and outside corrals would be added. If the snows would hold off long enough, they were hoping to frame up the second barn as well so that it could be completed by the following fall. All of the timbers needed for that project were stacked in place and ready to go.

Adam joined Marlee and sometimes Robert and Reg as well for lunch. Weather permitting, he and Marlee would take a stroll. Otherwise, they would retire to the library and visit with Robert who often was found reading there. Adam and Bud joined the family for dinner each evening. After dinner, there were a variety of activities. Robert was excited to learn that Adam was good at chess, and they played often when they weren’t discussing the latest book. Reg sometimes discussed investments with Adam to get his input. Often all of them would discuss politics, religion, or any number of other topics.

Robert was finding that he did not find Wyoming boring as his urban cousins had warned him it would be. He was learning to ride with help from Reg, Bud, and Adam. He could work with Adam on the building plans and saw what was needed in a construction plan. Adam would even listen to his suggestions and evaluate their merit. The men in the building crew let him help and showed him how to do what they were doing. Reg was giving him one-on-one tutelage in investing and banking. His worries about his mother were the only difficult part of life in Wyoming, but he knew it would be the same in the city so that didn’t really matter. And he did notice that his mother was happier here than she had been and he attributed that to the attention that Adam paid to her. He liked Adam so that was no problem either.

Everything seemed to working well for Adam too until the late October day he walked out of the barn to see a familiar pinto pony tied up in front of the main house. He didn’t want to see Joe there with the whole Castle family. He walked to the bunkhouse and sat on his bunk. He had known that this day would probably come but was amazed they had found him so soon. He sat and tried to get his heart rate and breathing back to normal but realized too that it was a waste of his effort. As soon as he saw Joe or heard his voice, his anxiety would rise again anyway. He knew he wasn’t ready for this, and yet part of him wanted to confront his brother.

Adam got a small reprieve. Bud walked into the bunkhouse to let him know that Reg had told Joe to go to town, rent a room, and wait to be contacted. Joe had left a packet of reading material for Adam. Bud informed Adam that Reg said he was welcome to use the library or study to read through the thick packet if he wished for privacy. He could lock the door and no one would disturb him. Adam took the proffered package from Bud and without saying a word, walked to the house. He knocked and Marlee was there to open the door, but she stood aside as he entered and walked to the study. She told him that there would be coffee if he wanted it.

Hours later Adam was sitting and trying to digest all that he had read. Tom Burns had been alive and plotted against Ann and him. His brothers saw Tom and thought it was him. That he could accept, but when they learned of Ann’s rape and murder and the murder of Jacob, why didn’t they believe it could not have been him? Why did they stick to the story that it was him they saw leaving Ann’s house that night. He just couldn’t get past that part. That’s the evidence that got him convicted, and he never heard them even waver in the courtroom as their words took everything from him. He understood that their misgivings had caused them to hire investigators who finally maneuvered Burns into admitting his guilt. That evidence led to his release from prison, but it would not have been necessary if they had trusted him, believed in him. His father believed his brothers and not him. How could he believe that Adam was capable of such horrendous acts? How could any of them think that he could harm a woman or a child? He needed to talk with someone about this but didn’t know that he had the right to burden anyone with so much. He didn’t have to though because Reg and Marlee came to the study and asked if he wanted to talk. He couldn’t say no. With some gentle prodding, he told them the questions he had after he told them what was in the reports he had read. Marlee held his hand as she sat beside him, but it was Reg who offered some possible reasons for what had happened.

“Your brothers didn’t know that Tom Burns existed when they testified it was you. They called your name to a man who looked exactly like you and responded to that name. They had no reason to question that it was you. What they had to question was why you would deny that it was you there that night. It must have created great doubt in their minds as to what was going on. All they could say was what they saw. It was all the prosecutor needed too. It was the perfect set-up. As a lawyer, if I was prosecuting a case, that would be the thing I would like to be able to present to a jury.”

“But no one came to see me in the jail.”

“The prosecutor would not have allowed the witnesses to see you. According to what is in those reports, there were instructions from you for your father not to visit you.”

“I never gave any such instructions.”

“Adam, someone created a conspiracy to have you hang. It didn’t work out quite as they intended. Now who would have hated you so much that they would have wanted you to hang that they would have killed Ann and Jacob to make that happen?”

“I don’t know. I did have people arrested, and some of them were executed. Maybe someone in one of those families did it. I have no way of knowing.”

“They had to find someone who looked like you, finance the whole thing, and know you very well. It seems like it might be closer to home than that. They took in the whole town not only your family.”

Adam was sure his father and brothers wanted absolution from him. Well he could forgive them, but he could not absolve them of their guilt. That they would have to carry until they could find a way, if they could, to forgive themselves. If he had done something like it, he didn’t know if he could ever forgive himself. They probably wanted him to return to the Ponderosa too, but that was not going to happen at least not at this time. He could forgive, but he could not forget. They were going to have to face their guilt because he could do nothing about that either and he had to wonder how they would feel about having him there as a constant reminder of their failings. He asked for more time to look over the material. As he had more of these thoughts near eleven, there was a gentle knock on the door.

“Adam, I am sorry to disturb you, but do you want anything to eat, or coffee? You haven’t had anything since lunch.”

After Adam walked to the door and opened it, he held out his arms and Marlee stepped into his embrace. He couldn’t talk. He lowered his head to her shoulder and they stood that way for a time. Then he pulled her into the room and walked with her to the leather couch in front of the fireplace.

“Would you sit with me for a time? I don’t want to talk any more, but I’d rather not be alone right now either.”

That’s where Reg found them the next morning. Both were asleep with Adam’s arm around Marlee’s shoulders as her head rested against Adam’s chest and his cheek rested atop her head. Maybe Marlee was right that these two wounded souls could comfort each other. Reg knew there was more heartache and trouble ahead for them so it was good that they found some solace together.

*****

Chapter 8

In town, Joe had found a room above the saloon and ordered a meal and ate in the saloon. There was no other restaurant or hotel in town. He went to the mercantile and picked up a pair of socks, a new shirt, and a bar of soap. It was the only store there too. He asked if there was a telegraph office, and Mr. Davis said there was right there in the store. He walked over and opened a door to an office. Joe wrote a simple message to his father and Hoss.

“It’s him. Stop. He’s safe. Stop. Haven’t met with him yet. Stop. Will send word when I do. Stop. Joe.”

It was an expensive telegram to send, but Joe thought his family needed to know that much. Although very disappointed that he had not been able to meet with Adam nor even see him, Joe was happy to know that he had found him, and he was safe. He was also concerned that the people at the Castle Ranch all seemed to know that Adam Black was in fact Adam Cartwright, but no one in town had known when he had asked about him earlier that day. He had hoped to be with Adam as he read through all those documents and perhaps help explain some things. He thought too that he should have left the other package with a few small things from the Ponderosa but things that would be meaningful to Adam like his mother’s music box, her Bible, and the novel autographed by Dickens. His father had also had an artist make copies of their mother’s photographs and there was a miniature of Adam’s mother there in that package too. If he didn’t hear from Adam by tomorrow, he would deliver the second package as well.

There was no need to make the second trip though. A hand from the Castle Ranch delivered a message in the early morning. Adam would be in town before one and wanted to meet Joe at the saloon. Joe sat by the window of the saloon by noon and waited to see his brother. He didn’t pay attention when a cowboy rode up and tied his horse to the rail out front and walked in until he heard his name and turned to see Adam standing just inside the door. He looked like he was ready to bolt and run. Joe wisely kept to his seat and motioned for Adam to join him. Adam walked over and sat but never removed his hat or his coat. Joe would not have known him. He wore brown striped pants and a gray shirt buttoned to the neck. His heavy coat was a dark burgundy and he had on a nondescript slouch hat. His boots were dusty. He was clean-shaven and his hair was trimmed but still quite a bit longer than he was used to seeing on his brother. It curled over his ears and the collar of his shirt. The eyes were the same and bore into him with the intensity he remembered.

Adam removed his gloves and folded his arms as he sat in the chair and contemplated his brother.

“Adam, I imagine you have a lot of things you want to say to me. You have to know how sorry I am. We are all so sorry. We paid a lot to get those investigations done to get you out of prison and to find you now.”

“Do you think that money has any comparison to what I paid?”

Joe had no answer to that. He knew Adam was right, but he wanted him to know that they had done all they could. He didn’t know how to tell him that. Instead decided to let Adam take the lead because his opening remarks had not worked out well.

“Are there any questions you’d like to ask me?”

Joe expected there might be questions about all the documents that he handed over to Adam the day before. The question he got though felt like a punch in the gut.

“Why did you lie about me in court?”

“Adam, it wasn’t a lie even if it turned out not to be true. We said what we thought we saw. We thought that was you there that night. He looked like you, he dressed like you, and he even turned when we called your name, and he even gave a wave before he walked around the side of that house.”

“When you knew what happened in that house, why didn’t you decide it could not have been me?”

“We didn’t think you did that of course. But it seemed you were lying about being there. We just didn’t know the whole story. Can you forgive us for being stupid about that? We told the prosecutor that it couldn’t have been you who killed them, but he said we couldn’t say that in court. We were hoping your lawyer would ask us some questions that would let us explain that, but he never did.”

“Maybe because I had the worst lawyer available?”

“Hoss and I wondered about that. Why didn’t you hire a better lawyer? There were lots of people saying it made you look guilty that you didn’t hire one of the lawyers in good standing in town.”

“Maybe having my access to the Ponderosa accounts severed had something to do with that, but none of those lawyers who had ever done business with your family would take my case. Of course, I didn’t have much money to pay them either. Being in jail charged with murder and desperate for funds put me in a rather tough position when I sold off the investments I could to get cash. I got about ten percent of what they were worth. It wasn’t enough to hire an attorney from somewhere else and pay expenses. So I got to be defended by a lawyer with almost no courtroom experience. Not that having a better lawyer would have done much good anyway after you and Hoss testified.”

“I never knew you were strapped for cash.”

“Your father did. Who could have told all those lawyers not to take my case? No one visited me in jail so it was pretty clear what the opinion of me was.”

“That new prosecutor said we couldn’t because we were witnesses for the prosecution.”

“Your father could have visited.”

Joe was starting to get mad now. “It’s your father and your family too! You can’t just keep referring to us like we aren’t your family. Pa said he was putting pressure on you so you would tell everyone what you had been up to that night. He believed us when we told him we saw you there. He wanted you to explain that. He never thought you killed Ann and Jacob. We thought you were lying about being there and couldn’t understand why you would do that.” As Joe spoke, he realized how awful that sounded to Adam. In fact, it sounded pretty awful to him too. They had not shown any trust in Adam at all. They had not believed him at all.

“From the look on your face, I guess you’re beginning to understand. How would you feel if the people who should have been your greatest support gave none and showed no trust in you when you needed them most. I never had a chance. I was devastated by losing Ann and Jacob. I lost everything I had left in that courtroom. Nothing you do can will give back to me the most precious things I lost. I lost more and more in that prison. That can never be fixed either.”

“Maybe if you could come back to the Ponderosa, we could work on it.”

“That’s not going to happen. I can forgive you, but I can’t forget what happened. Neither can you. Every time you look at me, it would be the same look that you have now. You would feel guilt. Every time you looked at me, it would eat at you. Eventually, you would blame me for that too.”

“I promise you, Adam, that wouldn’t happen. We would learn to trust again. There’s just the three of us and Hop Sing. We could take all the time we needed.”

“Just the three of you?”

Joe dropped his head. He hadn’t meant to bring that up so soon.

“Marie died in childbirth. The baby didn’t survive either. Hoss nearly died from grief, and it only got worse when Will came back and took Laura and Joshua away. We were so sure he was dead. The stories we had heard from Mexico all said he was dead in the fighting there. Hoss and the children live at the house now.”

Adam looked at Joe and expected the rest of the story. Joe had that same guilty look he had had since he was a young boy and really messed up. He didn’t ask any questions. He knew the nervous energy would force Joe to reveal his story soon and he wasn’t disappointed.

“I, ahh, was indiscreet and Rachel found out. I had too much to drink and spent some time with another woman. Rachel took the children and moved into town. I couldn’t take the girls away from their mother or split the children up. I get to see them on Sundays when I’m there. She’s seeing somebody now though, and I’m afraid she’ll divorce me if I let her, marry him, and move away.”

“Joe, I’m not going back with you. I may never go back there. It’s not just the problems with the family. I don’t want to deal with all the people in town who thought me guilty of horrific acts. I remember who a lot of the men were who tried to lynch me. What would I do if I came face to face with them on the street or in the saloon? I would have to take care of myself because I won’t trust anyone to do it for me any more. I don’t have the money to do that in Virginia City. I don’t here either, but there are no threats to me here.”

“Adam, we really want to see you come back.”

“Then why is it only you here asking?”

“Pa’s got a broken leg, and Hoss had to stay cause somebody had to take care of the ranch.”

“Ah, yes, of course, someone had to take care of the ranch.”

“Dammit, Adam, you make it sound like we think the ranch is more important than you are, and that just isn’t true.”

“Joe, we each said what we were thinking, and now I have to get back to the ranch. Don’t try any of your schemes to get me to come back. I won’t.” Even though Adam had more questions, he didn’t want to ask because he suspected the answers would be just as unsatisfactory as what had already been discussed. To him, it was time to end this.

“Can we come visit you here?”

“If you want, I won’t run away. I’ll be here for a while yet. I have no plans to leave.”

Joe handed the other parcel to Adam. “We got together some things we thought you ought to have if you weren’t coming back.”

Accepting the parcel, Adam turned and walked outside where he put the parcel in a saddle bag. He mounted up and rode slowly out of the little town. Joe walked with his head down to the mercantile to have Mr. Davis send a telegram. This one was going to be awfully hard to send, but at least he could say that Adam was well and safe even if he wasn’t coming home and that Joe was heading home alone. He knew his father and Hoss would be disappointed, but they had known that it wasn’t going to be easy to convince Adam to come home after how they had treated him. They were going to have to do a lot more to begin to build the trust back before he would likely even consider a return.

*****

Chapter 9

As Adam returned to the Castle Ranch, there were a number of people anxious to see how he was doing. The only one brave enough to force the issue was Marlee. As he was in the barn unsaddling his horse, Marlee walked in and stood watching him for a moment. He looked upset but not as much as she thought he might.

“Well if you want to talk with me, you better walk over here because I will not shout across the barn.”

Marlee smiled. He couldn’t be too upset if he could talk like that. She walked over and stood next to Adam. He glanced at her as he finished with his horse. He was developing some strong feelings for her and really didn’t know what he should be doing about that. There was no future for them, but he had found that the future was never sure anyway. He had thought he knew his future a couple of years ago and what happened was so far from what he had ever even considered that he wasn’t sure planning for the future made any sense at all. He finished with his horse as he threw a blanket over its back, and then he turned and pulled Marlee into an embrace. As she wrapped her arms around him, he leaned down to kiss her but this kiss was not one of the gentle kisses they had been exchanging. This kiss was passionate and full of desire. Marlee wrapped her arms around his neck and surrendered into his embrace. As he held her close to him, he pressed his face into her hair and whispered in her ear.

“Thank God, I’ve been wanting to do this since that first lunch on the porch.”

Marlee leaned back and looked at him. “Aren’t you the devious one. I thought I might have offended you, and now you tell me you wanted more?”

“What was I to do? Grab you in my arms and lift you up, say I was going to ravish you, and then kick open the door and carry you to your bed like the stories in those trashy novels you read when you think no one is noticing.”

Marlee blushed at that. She had no idea Adam knew she read those novels, but they were such fun to read sometimes, she couldn’t help herself. “How did you know that? Did you spy on me when I was reading? Sneak up and peek over my shoulder to see it hidden behind a respectable book?” Marlee was smiling now but still wondering how he knew this.

Adam grinned at her with delight in her reaction. “Robert told me. He thought it was very funny. Reg heard us talking so he knows too. Your little secret is out.”

“Well I do read other things. I even read that Whitman book although I can’t discuss it with Robert like you do. Some of those things he makes reference to really get my mind roiling.”

“There is something making my mind roil too but it isn’t a book. It’s you. You are so direct, so honest, so kind, I can’t help feeling closer and closer to you.”

“Don’t say it, Adam, don’t. There is no future for us. I don’t want to do that to you.”

“It’s too late I think. Talking with Joe today, I realized I still love my family even though I don’t like them too much right now. There is no trust. But you, I like you, I trust you, and I love you. I’ve said it and I can’t take it back so you need to tell me how you feel.”

“Oh Adam, wouldn’t Shakespeare love our tragic tale. Finding love and knowing there is no time.”

“There’s time. We just don’t know how much. Marry me.”

Marlee gasped. How could he consider that? It could be over in months. She wondered why he would want to marry her.

“It doesn’t have to be a legal marriage, but we need to have at least the religious ceremony. If we are married in the eyes of God, that’s all that we need. Will you consider it? Please?”

“Why can’t we just be together without a marriage? We are not children. We have lived and learned. We could enjoy whatever time we have and not worry. Reg won’t mind, and I don’t think it would bother Robert too much either as long as I’m happy.”

“It would be wrong. I can’t be with you and know you without marriage.”

“Adam, you must have been with women without benefit of marriage before.”

“I have, and it was wrong. I won’t do that any more. I have found that all that I truly own is myself. If I am true to my beliefs and my values, no one can take my integrity and my honor away from me. I can lose it though and I won’t. I have lost too much already.”

“Adam, I don’t know. I need to think about this.” Marlee kissed Adam, and touched his face. “You are such a wonderful man. You deserve to be happy. All that may come from this is more unhappiness for you. It isn’t fair.”

“Think about it. You should talk to Reg. Talk to Robert if you think you should. I will accept your decision either way. We can continue the way we have been with each other, or we can have more. It’s up to you.”

“Thank you. I would hate to lose what we have now by saying no. I will let you know as soon as I can make a decision. Until then, friends?”

Adam smiled, nodded, and kissed her gently. “Very good friends, I believe.” Then they walked from the barn. He went to the bunkhouse, and Marlee walked up to the house deep in thought. Reg saw her coming and thought that the expression on her face meant that Adam had been deeply upset by the meeting with his brother. Instead, Marlee recounted her conversation with Adam about the two of them.

“Perhaps you should do it, Marlee. He is good for you, and he loves you. You should grab the happiness you can. If I had the offer that Rebecca could be back with me but would leave unexpectedly within months perhaps, I would grab that chance without reservation. And he’s right that a religious ceremony creates a marriage here in the west, but there will be no legal entanglements. Your children’s inheritance will be safe.”

Marlee had not even considered that but it was true. What Adam offered was good for her on so many levels, but she worried about what it could do to him. Reg saw the worried look on her face.

“Adam is a smart man. He’s going into this with his eyes wide open. He knows better than you think what this means.”

“But afterwards, he would probably leave here. Where would he go? What would he do?”

“Marlee, this was always just a stop on the road for Adam. He needed to recover from what was done to him. You should have seen him on the drive and after he got here from that drive last summer. He was quiet or almost taciturn. He didn’t joke or laugh except in the most dry terms. He didn’t open up to anyone about anything. No one knew anything about him, and he hid behind all that hair. Now I see a man out there barking orders to the building crew, laughing and joking with them, escorting my sister on walks to the woods, debating books with Robert, drawing elaborate blueprints for barns and corrals. Apparently even the meeting in town with his brother and all the negative feelings that had to bring up didn’t seem to bother him that much. He is a man in control of his life again. He will leave here when he decides he wants more.”

Marlee nodded and went to see Robert. Reg heard a loud whoop and knew she had told him. He wasn’t surprised. Robert liked Adam, and they had both discussed how much happier she had been since she and Adam started spending time together. Anything that gave her happiness in these next months was good with both of them. The next thing he heard was the front door closing. As he looked out, he saw Marlee walking purposefully to the bunkhouse. Reg went to the kitchen to talk to Chun Kit about a big dinner. It would take a while to communicate what he needed, but it would be worth it.

The next week was bittersweet for Adam and Marlee. Both enjoyed all the excitement their announcement had created on the ranch. There was seldom anything interesting happening on the ranch in November and all anyone had to look forward to was a long hard winter. But this year, there were building projects to keep everyone busy, and a wedding to celebrate. Of course, there were a lot of jests and innuendo directed at Adam in the bunkhouse but all in good humor because the hands were genuinely happy for him. Bud was amazed at the transformation that had happened with Adam in less than six months. He felt he was getting to know the real Adam Cartwright, and saw why Marlee had fallen in love with him. But Marlee and Adam also knew that any joy they had was going to be short-lived as her diagnosis hung over their heads like the sword of Damocles.

On Saturday, after the minister administered the oaths, Adam kissed Marlee tenderly. They had decided to hold the ceremony in the barn so that everyone there could attend. Jackets and coats were the main wedding attire. The newly wed couple turned to face her family and the hands with tears in their eyes. Reg and Robert knew why but the others thought it was the wedding that was the cause. Newt even called out that Adam’s days of being a bachelor had officially ended leading to raucous laughter from the rest of the hands. There was a celebration feast. Adam had helped Reg in explaining what was needed to Chun Kit who was gradually picking up more English under Adam’s patient tutelage. When dinner was over, Reg and Robert pulled a large crate from an unused stall into the center of the barn. They asked Adam to open the gift. As Adam used a pry bar to open the end of the crate and pull out packing material, he realized what it was. He looked to Reg and Robert and wondered how they had gotten a guitar here in less than a week.

“We were planning on giving it to you for Christmas, but this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

“Yes, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to play so you can play for my mother and teach me.”

Reg and Robert stood there with very self-satisfied grins on their faces. The hands all clamored for Adam to sing a song. He sat on a barrel and began tuning the guitar. When he was done, he turned to Marlee and played a soft tune and sang directly to her. Marlee walked over and stood at his side and beamed at him. She had no idea he could play and sing this well. Then at the insistence of the hands, he played and sang more lively tunes with many of them joining in when they knew the words. Hours passed as everyone enjoyed one of the best days they could remember.

Finally as twilight arrived, Reg, Robert, and Bud made some final toasts to the couple who took their leave to walk to the main house. Marlee was very nervous and wondered at that because she had been married for twenty years so there shouldn’t have been any worries for her, but the thought of spending this night with Adam in her bed had butterflies in her stomach. Adam looked down at her and smiled.

“I can feel you shaking. You don’t have to worry. I would never hurt you in any way.”

“I know that. I am just so nervous about tonight. I feel like it is the first time which is silly I know, but I can’t help feeling this way.”

“Well it is the first time for us, and I have to admit to being a bit nervous myself.”

That admission was probably what Marlee needed most at that time. It validated her concerns but also alleviated them at the same time. She smiled and wrapped her arm around Adam’s waist. She felt secure in his arms and began to look forward even more to what awaited this night and the discoveries she would make. They would have a joyful joining physically that would mirror their emotional ties to each other. In her bedroom, she found Adam to be as gentle as a passionate man can be. Later as they lay wrapped in an embrace, she told him how much she appreciated the patience he had had with her. Then she rested her head on his shoulder, snuggled in to his side with his arm wrapped around her, and she fell into a sound sleep. Adam smiled at her and closed his eyes too, more relaxed than he had been for a long time. Everything felt so right finally.

Adam awoke on Sunday morning to breezes fluttering over his chest. It seemed odd because it was November and all the windows were shut tight. As he became more aware, he glanced down to see Marlee’s head lying on his chest and she was blowing puffs of air over his chest.

“What are you doing?”

“Good morning to you too. Well you warned me about how you could awaken and that I needed to do it gently. You have all this hair and it moves like waves on the ocean when I blow across it. It’s fun.”

Adam shook his head and sighed.

“Is this how you plan to wake me every morning?”

“Oh no, I have been thinking of all sorts of ways to wake you.” Marlee gave Adam a wicked grin and he reciprocated.

“You need to be careful of those choices. Some may have consequences.”

“I was actually hoping that would be true. From what I can tell, there seems to be a consequence developing already this morning.”

Laughing quietly, Adam rolled Marlee over and looked down at her before enveloping her in a passionate embrace and kiss. Downstairs Reg and Robert ate breakfast, diplomatically deciding that notifying the couple that breakfast was ready was probably not a good idea.

As Thanksgiving approached, Reg asked Adam if he had hunting experience and he said that he did. Reg wanted some of the men to hunt and bring in some birds or other wild game to have a Thanksgiving feast. Bud and some of the men were planning a hunting trip, and Reg hoped Adam would go and take Robert along. Adam agreed, and they both heard a loud ‘Whoop’ outside the doors of the study. Reg was thinking that there were even more benefits to Adam being part of the family. Robert needed a strong role model and there wasn’t a better one than Adam.

After lunch, Adam took some time to teach Robert about shooting. Robert wasn’t very good with a pistol, but when he had time, he was reasonably accurate with a rifle that was exceptional for someone with no experience, and he told him that. Marlee walked out to watch Robert practice and was again impressed by how well Robert got along with Adam. In interests and personality, Robert was more like Adam than his father.

That night, Adam helped Robert pack saddlebags with what he would need on the trip. Then in the bedroom that Adam shared with Marlee, he emptied his saddlebags to pack what he would need. Finally, he would open the package that Joe had given him weeks before. As he set the items on the bedside table, he sat on the bed and stared at them. That is how Marlee found him when she entered the room.

One by one, Adam showed each item to Marlee and explained its significance. The last item was his mother’s music box. As Marlee admired the craftsmanship of it, she opened it and it played the melody that had soothed Adam for decades. Except this time it was not soothing. He had been holding in all the hurt, pain, anger, and love because he could not find a way to reconcile his conflicting feelings and thoughts. Marlee saw his anguished expression and asked him to tell her what he was thinking.

For perhaps the first time in his adult life, Adam let someone see the depth of his emotions. He found it hard to talk but accepted that no matter how great his problems were, Marlee’s were greater. It gave him a perspective that allowed him to open up to her. He found that he could trust her because she had given absolute trust to him.

“I’m beginning to think that my brothers were outmatched by Tom Burns and the prosecutor. I judged them by what I would have done not by what their capabilities are. Perhaps I ought to think about giving them another chance.”

“You have an amazing power of forgiveness. You may be the most Christian man I have ever met. To forgive those who have wronged you so much may help you too. But what of your father?”

Adam was silent. He found it nearly impossible to express his feelings about his father now. He felt betrayed but found it hard to believe too. He thought he understood what happened but the more he thought about it, the more inexplicable it became. Some things just didn’t add up. Suspicious and skeptical by nature, he wondered if he was missing some pieces of the puzzle. He understood his father might have doubted his word because of what his brothers thought they saw. But why did he deny him funds for an attorney and why would he forbid attorneys to take his case? Were there other forces that were at work of which he was still unaware? He should have asked Joe more questions. Finally, step-by-step, he told Marlee what he had been thinking. She suggested he ought to talk to Reg, and Adam agreed that he should. Maybe his legal mind would have some ideas of how to unravel what was feeling like more and more of a mystery.

After Adam finished packing his saddlebags for the hunting trip, he was exhausted. It had been a long day and the emotional toll of his discussion with Marlee was significant. Every time he let himself dwell on what had happened to him, it left him feeling drained. He and Marlee agreed it was time to get some sleep. As she snuggled in next to him, she was surprised.

“You’re not wearing anything!”

“This is how I prefer to sleep. I would have thought you knew that by now.”

“No I thought it was the result of the, ahh, recreation every night for the last three weeks.”

“Well yes it certainly does simplify that but it is also more comfortable. Nightshirts ride up, and long johns are constricting.”

“It may make it very hard for me to sleep with you lying right next to me that way.”

“Maybe we ought to try a little of that ‘recreation’ so that you can sleep better. I’m going to be gone for a few days and I would hate for you to be deprived. Come here.”

Marlee rolled into Adam’s arms and he kissed her, gently at first, and then more and more passionately as her excitement rose. With emotions on edge, their lovemaking that night was intense. After a short time with their bodies still entwined, they fell asleep as they did each night wrapped in each other’s arms.

*****

Chapter 10

The next morning, Adam, Robert, Bud, Newt, and Jake headed out toward the mountains to see if they could bring back some elk or other wild game. It would be a special Thanksgiving feast if they could. Before Adam left, he spent some time laying out his concerns to Reg about what had happened to him and his questions as to how it didn’t seem to fit together because it seemed some of the pieces were missing. The more Reg heard, the more he seemed too to think there were some odd things that had happened. He agreed to think it through and see what ideas he had about what had happened. Before the hunting trip was over, he had some more information, but it only seemed to make the puzzle more confusing not less.

It was a successful hunt. Robert took down an elk and Adam bagged a large bull elk. The men packed the meat on packhorses using wood frames and arrived home on Wednesday. All the hands came to help them unpack the meat. Some was to be smoked and dried, but most was to be roasted outside over an open flame. The plan was to have a western frontier ranch Thanksgiving. There was a lot of activity as everyone pitched in to make it a special day. On Thursday, the weather was cool so the hands planned to eat in the bunkhouse and the family in the house but there was a lot of time they could share as they gathered outside around the large cook fires. Chun Kit made enough bread with fruit for all, and there were several potato dishes and beans. In addition there was apple pie for all. There was hot, spiced apple cider to drink as well as coffee. Everyone was in good spirits. The walls of the barn were done and they had started to frame the storage barn. It was a day when everyone was enjoying a day off from labor.

To Marlee, it seemed like this day would be one of the most special she had ever had. Then three men rode up the road toward the house, and as they came through the big gate entrance to the ranch yard, Marlee saw Adam put his hand to his forehead and grimace. This had to be his father and brothers. He had told them they could visit but apparently hadn’t truly thought they would. Marlee walked to Adam and put her arm on his elbow.

“Let’s go greet them. You have questions. Maybe they have answers.”

As Adam looked at her, Marlee almost cried to see the pain in his expression. But as suddenly as a lightning strike, his features closed into a cold, hard look and he nodded at her.

“Adam, maybe this is a good time for them to visit. All your friends here are a buffer so that nothing too hard can happen today. It will give you time to get used to them being here perhaps.”

“Maybe.”

They walked over to the three men as they neared the crowd. Adam’s greeting was not cordial.

“I’m surprised to see you.”

“Adam, Joe talked to me about what you said. There’re some things that happened that we can’t explain. We did some checking around and found out that all was not as it seemed. We need to talk with you. You can tell us to go when we’re done, but this didn’t seem to be news that should be sent in a letter. May we go somewhere and talk?”

“Today was supposed to be a day for us to enjoy some time off.”

“I’m sorry, but this is important.”

Reg walked up. “Adam, perhaps we can go to the Library and talk this over. When they have said what they have to say, they can stay or go at your call.”

With that proviso, Adam agreed, and the group headed to the house with Marley walking with Adam and keeping her hand on his arm. She felt his tension, and noted how the other three Cartwrights stared at her obviously wondering who she was. She guessed that information could wait. There was room for all of them in the Library, and they would have privacy as well. Adam asked Marlee and Reg to stay with him. There were no introductions, but Bud and the hands had recognized the men by the descriptions Adam had once mentioned. As Ben, Hoss, and Joe had walked through the crowd of men preparing the meat for that day’s feast, they became a bit uncomfortable with the looks they were getting. Robert came up to Adam and Marlee, but they told him it would be best if he did not come with them but stayed to help the hands. Adam promised that there would be no secrets and everything would be explained later. Robert was disappointed not to be included but understood.

Once in the library, Reg pulled the doors closed as Adam stoked the fire in the fireplace that was in there. Marlee told all the men to be seated, and then she sat on the couch next to Adam and placed her hand on his arm once more in a show of support. Ben and his brothers noticed the gesture but didn’t know what to make of it. Adam decided to let them know.

“Marlee is my wife. This is her brother Reg Castle, the owner of this ranch. What is it you felt you needed to travel hundreds of miles to tell me?”

All three were amazed. So much had happened, none knew what to say. Hoss smiled though because once again Adam had managed to surprise them. Now if they could just get some of this mess straightened out, perhaps the family could have more smiling. Ben finally found his voice.

“Joe told me that you believed that I severed your access to Ponderosa accounts and ordered the lawyers who had worked for us not to take your case. That is not true. I knew it wasn’t, but I knew you had to have had reasons to think it was true so I started asking some questions. At the bank, I did find that your access was gone, and when I questioned them, they said they had received a message from me ordering that. None of us ordered that. We didn’t even know it had happened. You didn’t draw on any of the accounts to hire an attorney and I thought you were angry at us and decided to do it on your own. I had no idea that you had trouble getting money. At the bank, they have a document that appears to have been signed by me authorizing such a thing, but it was not. Whoever did it must have had a document with my signature in order to forge it so well.”

“You might have known I had no money if you had come to see me!”

Looking ashamed, Ben dropped his head before looking up directly at Adam. “I received a note I thought was from you, and it said you did not want to see me. The prosecutor ordered Joe and Hoss not to have any contact with you because they were witnesses.”

“How could you think it was from me. You know my handwriting. You would have recognized it.”

“That’s just it. It did look like your writing. At the bank, they said the signature on the letter they received looked like mine. When they showed it to me after they found it in their files, even I thought it looked like my writing except I never wrote and signed that. We found the same story as we questioned our lawyers.” Ben pulled out the note he thought that Adam had sent to him and handed it over to his son.

As Adam examined it, he had to admit that he even thought it looked like his handwriting. “Who could have done that? Apparently Tom Burns had his crazy reasons to do what he did to Ann to get even with her and with me. He wanted me blamed for the crime, but he had no means to stage all the rest of that.” Adam was skeptical, but at the same time, he was wondering if it could be true. His father and brothers didn’t lie about serious matters as far as his experience had told him, so he wondered what had really happened.

“If I could interject something here. Adam, while you were gone hunting, I sent some telegrams and letters about your case. I received one response and sent more based on what I learned in that one. The business that purchased your mining and railroad stock at such a low price, just a small fraction of what it was worth, when you needed the money, is owned by a Mrs. William Enders.”

“Bill Enders!”

Adam’s response was all that Reg needed to know that there was a connection now that should be explored. He had sent additional telegrams and letters out to find out more about Mrs. Enders and her husband. Now he knew he was on the right trail.

“How do you know Bill Enders?”

“I’m the one responsible for getting him sent to prison. He could have hanged but the judge was lenient.”

“Did you see him in prison?”

“Yes, he participated in the attacks on me. I saw him altogether too much. He seemed to be the one giving the orders to the men who attacked me, and he had that slimy smile the whole time each time.”

Adam dropped his head into his hands. This was too much. Now he was reliving those memories from prison. Marlee wrapped her arms around him as he tried to regain control of his breathing and his emotions. All the men remained silent. They knew without asking what kind of memories Adam was struggling with. Marlee did not truly know. She knew of the beatings and the whipping he received in prison but did not know what men could do to other men in that setting.

“Son, we are so sorry. We had no idea of what was happening to you in that prison.”

“If you had ever visited, you would have seen the evidence. I never healed up enough in between.”

“We did try to visit, but every time we did, they said you were in solitary and were not allowed visitors.” Joe had to ask. “Why were you in solitary so much?”

“Because I was blamed for inciting a disturbance for each time I was attacked.”

For the first time, Joe, Ben, and Hoss realized how often Adam must have been attacked in that prison. He would never have had any peace in the two years he was there.

“I’m so sorry we never got to see you. We did leave notes each time for you.”

“I never received a note or letter in the two years I was in there.”

Ben and his brothers were shocked. They had no idea that he had been that isolated with no solace from anyone.

“Adam, I know your lawyer sent letters to the prison for you too. The last one would have notified you of the appeal to the governor based on the new evidence we uncovered.”

“The first letter I saw was the one from the governor on the day I was released. No one was waiting for me, so I left on my own. In town, I signed up for the cattle drive that brought me here.”

“Reg, we are being neglectful hosts. Perhaps you would like to offer some refreshment to these men in the study. I’ll stay here with Adam.”

Everyone knew Marlee was asking them to give Adam some time to adjust to everything. She would stay by his side and support him. Once the men were in the study, Reg offered wine, brandy, or whisky. They all chose whisky. Assuming they would have questions about Adam and Marlee, he told them a brief history of the two. All of them found it hard to accept that Adam had fallen in love with a dying woman. It seemed tragedy was stalking him. Reg assured them that Adam was well aware of Marlee’s condition well before the marriage, and he had been the one to insist on marriage. The two of them were inseparable and making the most of the time they had. They had true joy in being together. Reg told them to be happy for the couple not sad because although the time they had together was going to be short, most people never had what the two of them did. He told them of Adam’s scars both physical and emotional. He told of how withdrawn he seemed when he first came to the ranch, and how all that changed with Marlee’s arrival.

Robert came looking for Reg to see what had happened. Reg asked Robert to get plates of food for Adam and Marlee and bring them to the library, and then get one for himself and join them in there for dinner. He would host the Cartwrights in the dining room after he got a platter of meat from outside. He left the Cartwrights for a few minutes as he went to tell Chun Kit to serve the other dishes in the dining room.

At dinner, Reg described all the changes Adam was designing for his ranch. There were the addition to the stable, a storage barn, a forge, a larger washroom for the house, and a water closet on the second floor. He invited them to take a tour of his stable to see how it had been reinforced and expanded although the interior work was not yet done. He told them that that was where Adam and Marlee had been married. Now there were stacks of lumber and barrels of hardware in there for the construction of stalls, pens, and a loft over the winter months. There was even a Franklin stove in one corner of the stable so that if there was a need they could add some heat to the stable. In addition, the tack room now had a Franklin stove as well and a large work counter had been added. They would see the newly attached elk racks hanging on the outside of the barn above the main door. These were the evidence of the first successful elk hunt on his ranch, and Robert was especially proud that he had contributed one of those trophies.

“It seems my son has made himself at home here.”

“This is his home now and for as long as he wants it. He will always be welcome here.”

“I had hoped that he might return to the Ponderosa at some point.”

“Ben, I think that might happen, but we have to get the full story of what happened to him so he can find some peace. I cannot afford a full investigation. My money is tied up in improving my ranch. I think that Adam may soon be able to afford it though if he chooses to. I sent a letter to Mr. and Mrs. King who sued for Adam’s property when they thought he had murdered Mrs. King’s sister. I suggested that they make a cash settlement to Adam and that it be fair so that we don’t have to get accountants and lawyers involved to work out a deal. It’s a bluff, but I think they will make a reasonable settlement now that they know the truth.”

“Why is it a bluff?”

“Because Adam had told me he would not ever go into a courtroom willingly. But the Kings have no way of knowing that, and I hope that they are feeling at least a little guilty about what they did. However at the moment, he does not have the funds for an investigation either.”

Ben looked at Hoss and Joe and they both nodded immediately.

“We’ll hire the same agency that found the evidence to free Adam and found him here. We’ll need any evidence you uncover so that we can turn it over to them. We will give them what we have found in Virginia City.”

“How about that tour now. I don’t have enough room to accommodate the three of you unless you want to sleep in the bunkhouse or stable. So I would like to give you the tour soon so there will be time for you to ride back to town if you wish.”

“We do have rooms in town. Do you think that we could return tomorrow? I would like to see Adam and Marlee again before we leave.”

“I’ll send a hand to town with a message letting you know in the morning. We get up early so it should be no later than eight. It will be up to Adam. He has a lot to assimilate right now so we need to give him some time.”

After the tour, Ben, Hoss, and Joe rode back to town. They felt they had made some progress in understanding what had happened. The big question was still if Adam could forgive them for not believing in him and not trusting him. It was crucial, but they would have to wait for that answer.

The next morning, the messenger turned out to be Bud. He said that Adam, Marlee, Reg, and Robert would be in town soon and would like to have breakfast with Ben, Hoss, and Joe. Adam had requested that there would be no talk about what they had discussed the day before. He wanted only some social time and nothing more today. When they saw him as he walked into the saloon, they understood why. Adam didn’t look like he had slept at all, and the exhaustion was apparent. So they respected his wishes and talked about the ranch, the hunt, Chun Kit, and a variety of other topics before Ben, Hoss, and Joe had to leave so they could reach the next town before sunset. Ben asked if he could return when they had more news because he wanted to talk more about what had happened. Adam said he would consider it and let him know.

After that exchange, Adam and Marlee stood outside the saloon and watched the three other Cartwrights ride out of town. Suddenly Marlee slumped against Adam’s side, and he grabbed her before she could fall. She had been having dizzy spells lately, but this was the first time she had fainted. Adam carried her to the carriage and lifted her in as Robert helped. Robert tied his horse to the back of the carriage so that he could drive allowing Adam to sit in the back of the carriage and hold Marlee. She was conscious but feeling weak. All three men were afraid of what this portended. It was what was expected, but all kept hoping for more time.

*****

Chapter 11

Reg and Robert were now part of Adam’s family as was Marlee’s daughter whom he met over Christmas at the Castle ranch. Patricia or Patty was shy and reserved which Marlee claimed she had been when she was that age too, but Adam just couldn’t see it.

“The woman who kissed me when I was invited for lunch was shy and reserved? I just can’t see that in you, Marlee.”

“That was the Marlee who became an adult, a wife, and a parent in San Francisco over twenty years ago. A lot can happen in twenty years.”

Adam smiled. He had been teasing her, and by her answering smile, she knew it. It was winter but some warm days let them know that spring was approaching. It helped everyone’s mood. At least with the new barn, they could get out of the house and do something, but activities were still limited by cold and snow. Marlee longed to be able to take just a few more walks to the woods with her husband. At Christmas, she wanted to show her daughter around the ranch and the spectacular views and the herds of antelope and other wild game. However, she also knew that her continuing problems with dizziness and more and more frequent episodes of fainting were warning signs. She was so grateful that no one was treating her as an invalid no matter how much they might want to do that.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day had been bittersweet for Adam. He was with the person he loved as much as he had ever loved before, but he knew she would be gone soon. He saw the changes in her and it wasn’t just the fainting and the dizzy spells. After her daughter had returned to her family in San Francisco, it seemed as if Marlee didn’t have the energy to do things that she once did. She had expended a lot of effort into making her daughter’s stay memorable. Once Patty was gone, Marlee relaxed into the company of the three men who would be by her side until the end. Adam hoped she would get to see spring one more time, but over the last few days of February, Marlee had grown noticeably worse. The strain on her heart was getting to be too much. Each day that he awoke to find her still warm in his arms was an occasion for rejoicing, but he steeled himself for the day when the opposite would be true. Her prediction that she would die in her sleep as her heart slowed and stopped terrified him in many ways as he feared waking to a cold Marlee in his arms. At least that did not happen.

In early March, it happened. The weather had been warming and the air smelled clean and sweet. Adam awoke and Marlee was in his arms but very still. He tried to wake her but got no response. He stood and pulled on pants, opened the door, and called for Robert and Reg. He walked to the bed and gathered Marlee in his arms and sat against the headboard holding her as her son and brother dashed into the room.

“She’s not responding to anything I do. I can’t get her to wake and her breathing is very shallow.”

Robert sat on the edge of the bed and held his mother’s hands. He told her how much he loved her and would miss her but assured her that he was safe in the hands of Reg and Adam and would soon be safe in the arms of the Lord and Savior. Her breathing slowed and stopped and all color drained from her face as if he had given her permission to go. Robert sobbed and dropped his head against his mother as tears ran down Adam’s face as he held her body against him. Adam and Robert dressed Marlee in her favorite dress and brushed her hair. Both thought she had always looked more beautiful with her hair down so that is how they left it. Adam carefully lifted her in his arms and carried her to the library where he laid her on the leather couch.

A short time later, Reg looked out the window of his study to see Adam using a pickaxe to dig a grave. As he watched him, Robert trudged out too with a shovel and removed the clods of soil that Adam loosened. Once Adam broke through the frost line, they took turns standing in the grave with a shovel to make it deeper. By early afternoon, they finished and came inside to clean up.

Chun Kit had waited to serve lunch until the men were finished with the grave. None were hungry though and pushed the food around more than they ate. After lunch, Reg rode to town to ask the minister to come out to the ranch the next morning for a graveside service. He stopped in the mercantile to tell Davis so he could let the people in town know, and also to send a telegram to the Ponderosa and another to Marlee’s daughter Patty who would let the rest of the family know. At the ranch, Adam and Robert went to the tack room where they used lumber meant for the barn remodeling to build a casket. Once Reg arrived home, he brought out a bolt of cloth Marlee had intended to use to sew some shirts and a dress. They used it to line the coffin. The men were somber and serious and only spoke as needed. Reg worried about Adam and Robert and how they would react when they had no more tasks to keep them busy.

That night after dinner, Adam suggested they tell stories about their memories of Marlee. Bud joined them and brandy in hand, they spent hours talking about her. Eventually they decided they needed to try to get some sleep. Adam couldn’t sleep in the bed he had shared with Marlee so he slept in the rocking chair in their room. He knew he would be stiff and sore the next day but it was what he had to do.

By about nine the next morning, there was a procession of wagons, carriages, and horses into the yard. Inside Robert and Adam did the hardest thing they had done yet. They placed Marlee in the coffin and sealed it. With the weather so cold, there were no flowers so they used pine boughs tied with ribbon. Chun Kit folded white paper flowers to be tied into each bouquet. Rope handles on the side of the coffin were used by Adam, Robert, Reg, and Bud to carry Marlee’s coffin to the grave. From there the funeral proceeded normally. After Robert, Adam, Reg, and Bud lowered the coffin into the grave using ropes, they each dropped a handful of soil into the grave and then the pine bouquets. The hands volunteered to finish, and Adam and the others returned to the house once the task was completed. People had brought food and Chun Kit had made more. After people ate and offered their condolences, they left one by one. Then finally as the house grew quiet, Adam, Robert, and Reg realized the finality of Marlee’s death. She was gone and her laughter would never again brighten this home. They would spend weeks getting used to that idea.

Adam worked from sunrise to sunset and Robert shadowed him. The two used work to wall themselves off from their emotions. Gradually they began to talk and amazingly began to confide in each other things that in the past they would only have shared with Marlee. Robert wanted to go to college and would soon be seventeen. Adam offered to help him prepare, and suggested he might want to visit the college in Stockton and the university in San Francisco to see if either of them appealed to him. With his inheritance, Robert could pay his own way and have enough to set himself up when he finished. What he needed to decide was what he wanted to be. His dream was to be an architect and engineer, but he loved living in Wyoming too near his uncle. A future in Laramie was a possibility. Adam’s future plans were less certain.

One evening after dinner, Reg asked Adam how he was doing. Adam stared into his coffee cup for a time before answering.

“I miss Marlee every minute of every day. But I can’t let sadness dominate my life because I promised her I wouldn’t. She asked me to remember our joy and our love so that she would remain alive in my heart. She said if I dwelled on the pain and the sadness, I would eventually have to forget her, and she would truly be gone from life. So that is what I try to do every minute of every day.”

“That sounds like Marlee. Even from heaven, she is worried about us.”

“Your sister was one hell of a woman.”

Adam’s voice broke and he could say no more which was just as well because Reg was in the same condition. They sat quietly for a time lost in their memories of the most honest and loving woman they would ever probably know.

Then Adam received a copy of the Pinkerton report from his father. The pieces of the puzzle were all there now and the picture they created was an ugly one. Men hated and sought to destroy him because he followed and supported the law. The life sentences that would lead to them ending their lives in prison were most unsatisfactory. Adam did not desire blood revenge, but devious, manipulative, cruel men like that ruled the prison hierarchy. Undoubtedly, they would have more victims. Finally, knowing what he did now, he was not confident that they would remain in prison.

The Pinkerton Agency had had a tough time with the new investigation asked for by Ben Cartwright. Most of the people they needed to find and question were criminals and one at least was in prison. The other people they needed were relatives of the criminals if not actually committing illegal acts themselves. The agency had extensive records of criminals in the United States, but this one case would add a number of files to that inventory. As it turned out, the conspiracy against Adam Cartwright was carried out mostly by Tom Burns, but at the direction of Bill Enders through Mary Enders who handled most of the communication and forged the papers. By the time the agency was finished, they had a complete version of the whole sordid mess. Tom Burns and Bill Enders had met in prison. Tom got out and worked an elaborate conspiracy against his wife and her lover managing to convince everyone that they had committed the crime and that he was innocent although presumed dead. During this time, Tom also got involved with Ann who later got involved with Adam. Tom never forgave either of them for that conveniently ignoring the fact that he was married at the time he seduced Ann. When he realized that Adam and Ann were together again, his fury pushed him over the edge.

Desiring revenge but lacking resources, Tom went to visit his old friend Bill who was still in prison. He had remembered Bill spewing hate and threats against this same Adam Cartwright. In fact it was Bill who told Tom how much he resembled Adam so that Tom had used that when he got out of prison to get money, a horse, and new clothes. But Bill was a wealthy man too and could fund a plan to get even with Adam. When the two met all those years later, they quickly established the skeleton of a plan so that both of them could get revenge. Bill had samples not only of Adam’s writing and signature but one sample from Ben too because of investments they had in common, and he told Tom what kind of documents to have Mary create so that they could be delivered in Virginia City. Their plan was that Adam would be left forlorn and poor as Bill’s wife bought up his investments for fire sale prices. Tom could never appear in Virginia City so a variety of men were hired to deliver messages to get the wheels of justice churning so they could grind up Adam after Tom got him blamed for Ann’s rape and murder. The murder of Jacob had been unplanned but happened in the fury of the moment. It was sheer luck that Adam’s brothers were the ones riding by when Tom purposefully exited Ann’s house in order to be seen witnesses after she was raped and killed. It helped the conspiracy nicely. Inexplicably, the judge had given Adam a life sentence instead of a death sentence. So Tom had hired men to go into the saloons, buy drinks for men who spoke up about Cartwright getting off easy with the intent of creating a lynch mob. Ann was well liked and in general, men who committed crimes against women were hated. Getting him lynched had almost worked too except they had not accounted for that deputy Clem.

Once Adam arrived at the prison though, Bill used his money to pay off guards and got other inmates to attack Adam repeatedly. Neither Bill nor Tom wanted Adam to survive because even from prison, he might start to figure out what had happened. The attacks on Adam were so frequent and debilitating that Bill expected him to die each time but somehow he survived each attack. There were better and more efficient ways to kill a man in prison, but Bill decided that he wanted him to be humiliated and debased before he eventually died. Then the shocker had been when Adam was released and disappeared. Bill hadn’t known what to make of that until he found that Tom had been arrested. At that point, he had tried to cover his tracks but there were too many who knew what he had been doing. The evidentiary trail was too strong to obliterate. It took the Pinkerton agents months to collect everything but eventually they did and prepared a complete report.

The key to breaking the case was the governor agreeing to commute Tom’s sentence from death by hanging to life in prison. The commutation was based on Tom’s willingness to explain events and name names. By the time the report was completed, a number of other people including Mary Enders had been arrested, and Bill’s sentence was extended to one hundred years. He and Tom would never get out of prison. Their desire for revenge had cost them any chance at freedom. Bill’s wife had tried to disappear and no one knew where she went at first, but the Pinkertons were on the case and found her trail turning over evidence to the authorities that got her arrested in Missouri and returned for trial. She got a twenty-year sentence avoiding a longer sentence because apparently she didn’t know that Ann was going to be killed. Her involvement in the case had been as an accomplice who worked with the conspirators after the fact. It took a full six months for the report to be finalized in the failed conspiracy to destroy Adam Cartwright.

Tom and Bill had been partially successful in the scheme for revenge though. They had damaged Adam’s relationship with his family. He had scars he would carry for the rest of his life both physical and emotional. In other ways though Adam had gained. He got to be a husband to Marlee and experienced more joy with her that he would never forget. He got to be his own man on the Castle ranch where he was liked and admired for what he could do and not for being a Cartwright. He made new friends who treated him with respect.

However Adam was still hurting from the treatment by his family. Much of what he had held against them though was explained in the report the received. Yet he was still hurt that they had not believed him nor trusted him. In such a terrible situation, belief and trust were paramount so their absence was that much more hurtful. Finally Robert helped him with his perspective.

“If I could have my father back even though he and I had little in common, I would do everything I could to make it happen. He was never physically abusive, but he made frequent negative and sometime even demeaning remarks to me. I was so unlike him but he wanted an heir to take over his businesses. I had not the slightest interest in that. I like music, reading, sketching buildings, and working with math. He thought if he could bully me into stopping those things, I could learn to like what he did. We were more and more at odds as I got older. Despite any of that, I loved him, and I wish my father was still alive. Yours is.”

Adam leaned back into the bench and stretched his long legs out toward Marlee’s grave. As the weather had warmed, he and Robert frequently walked out here to sit on the bench and talk. It was a way to keep Marlee with them. Reg had ordered a statue and a small headstone, which would simply read ‘Marlee Castle Burke Cartwright, Always beloved, 1830-1870’. As he sat there, he wondered what Marlee would have wanted him to do. Mostly she had sympathized with him and listened. On this issue though he suspected her opinion might have mirrored her son’s. Adam was torn. He had a life here among people he liked and doing things he enjoyed. Going back to Virginia City meant dealing with people who had turned their backs on him when he needed them most. But his family was trying and he had to acknowledge their efforts somehow. Each month, letters arrived from his family. It was often enough to let him know that they cared but not so much as to push him which he would have resented.

In May, Reg made plans to travel with Robert to San Francisco, and he asked Adam to take charge of the ranch in his absence. Adam agreed. He decided to let his family know he had a commitment through June. Then he would come home, but he would decide later whether it was a visit or a return. Adam liked having a plan. Even though he was nervous about what would happen, he felt comfortable with the timeline. He had projects to work on here to help him work through some of that nervous energy. He had time to decide on his future.

*****

Chapter 12

June twentieth was a beautiful summer day but not everyone on the Castle Ranch was in a good humor. They had spent days scouring the pastures and had found far fewer cattle than they should have. They knew that the herd would be smaller because they had only brought in new cows and bulls the previous summer, but the numbers were still far too small. There were enough to have a small drive to market but probably less than half of what they had intended to send. Reg was due home soon, and no one wanted to have to tell him. Everyone looked to Adam as the logical choice because Reg had left him in charge. Adam and Bud sat at dinner and went through the various scenarios that could have led to this result, but only one stood out.

“If there was significant winter kill, a disease outbreak, or too many taken by wolves or bears, there would have been evidence. We would have seen bones and probably hide. We found nothing. It’s got to be rustlers.”

Adam sighed and nodded. He agreed. But there were two major problems for him now. There was no law enforcement here. The town was too small, and they had not had any serious problem until now. The other issue for him was personal. He had told his father and brothers that he would be traveling to the Ponderosa at the end of June. He had a commitment to his family here and his family in Nevada. He didn’t see a solution to either and the quandary weighed on him heavily.

“If they’re going to hit us again, it will be while some of the hands are gone on the drive. We need to hire more men and set up a system of surveillance. Bud, do you think you could get a few men here before you leave on the drive? I can get things ready but I don’t know this area well so I’m not confident in hiring.”

“If I leave today, I might get some men in Rock Springs, but I only have a few days so no guarantees.”

“Not expecting any. Just a few good men would do.”

Bud left to pack. He could get at least four hours of riding in yet before camping. He would reach Rock Springs tomorrow if he rode hard. Then in two days, he hoped to have some men hired. They would return to replace hands normally going on the drive. Newt and Jake would stay and take some of the hands and work out a system with Adam to cover most of the ranch every day. Hopefully they would find some sign of the rustlers and be able to set a trap. Neighboring ranchers would likely help. Newt and Adam could contact some of them over the three days they expected Bud to be gone. Jake could handle most of the preparation for the drive and review his work with Adam each night.

At the Bar W and Lazy A ranches, the owners told Adam that they had the same problem. After discussing it, they agreed it had to be rustlers. Both ranchers agreed to send men out looking for clues as to where the rustlers were and where they were taking the cattle. The CR hands found nothing but two days later, the owner and foreman of the Bar W rode into the yard of the Castle Ranch to ask for Adam.

“Did you find something?”

“No, not exactly. We didn’t find any evidence of rustlers’ camps or nothing. What my foreman noticed though is mighty suspicious.”

The foreman seemed reluctant to talk, but his boss encouraged him. “You ain’t gonna get an innocent man in trouble. If he’s done nothing wrong, then we’ll keep looking, but tell him what you saw so we can see what we gotta do next.”

“Well ya see, the Bar W borders the Lazy A all along the north side. You got a bit of a border with them too, but not as much. We was riding and looking for evidence, and we seen the Lazy A hands working the herd they plan to drive to market. Onliest it seems to be that herd is every cow they owns, and then maybe some more, or they got somebody else’s cattle mixed in there. Now that could happen accidentally but then they’da told us and we woulda gone and got our beeves.”

“Mr. Wright, I think we ought to take a trip over there to see for ourselves. I’m not going alone though. I’ll take some of the men with me.”

“I’ll do the same. Meet where the road forks between the two ranches. We’ll be there in two hours.”

When the two forces met, they rode together to the Andrews ranch. As they rode in, Eric Andrews walked out to meet them. Adam had only met the man a few times but thought he looked nervous. He let Frank Wright do the talking as he observed what was happening around him. He nodded at a few of his men and they pulled their horses off to the side he indicated. Then turning in the saddle, he sent a few toward the barns and the corrals.

“Eric, we been told that maybe some of our stock got mixed up with yours. Now if you ain’t had time to separate them and send them our way, we’re volunteering to do that cause we’re both getting our herds ready for a drive right now.”

Eric raised his hand as if to say something, but instead a rifle shot hit the dirt in front of Adam and Frank. Adam’s horse reared ,but he was able to draw and fire anyway. A man with a rifle fell from the upper hayloft door of the barn. Adam swung his gun around and aimed at Eric Andrews’ chest.

“I’m guessing that means you don’t want us to look. We’re looking and anyone else who tries to stop us is going to end up like that one by the barn. Now I suggest you unbuckle your gunbelt and drop it slowly.”

Andrews hesitated. He knew it was probably hopeless, but if he did nothing, he was going to prison or worse. Justice out here could be harsh. He yelled at his men to shoot and then tried to draw his own pistol while lunging to the side. All that got him was a bullet in the lung instead of the heart. Most of his men dropped their guns and raised their hands. It wasn’t worth dying for.

Adam and Frank questioned the men and found who had been in charge and who had been doing it for the money. The ones in charge of the rustling operation were tied up and taken into the barn where they were guarded. The others were told to pack their gear and leave. If they never came back, there would be no charges. Most were grateful for the opportunity to get out of this so easily and quickly left.

Adam and Frank walked to the house to talk to the new widow.

“I told him not to do it. I told him we could wait it out just like everybody else, but he was too impatient, too greedy, and now look what it got him.”

Adam made her an offer.

“We can drive your cattle to market for you, all or some, you decide. If you want to keep the ranch, you will need to hire a new set of hands. We’ll have someone here for the next two days to help out. We’ll be riding out to the herd and dealing with the men out there as we did with this bunch.”

“Please let me go with you. My son is out there. I’ll tell him to not to fight. Please, he’s all I have left now.”

Adam and Frank agreed. They didn’t want another fight if they could avoid it. They had been lucky this time that the man in the barn was an awful shot. There was no way of knowing if he intended to shoot Adam or Frank, but regardless, they were lucky. When they got out on the range, Mrs. Andrews rode well ahead and talked to her son. They hugged and even from a distance, everyone could see that it was over. As Adam, Frank, and their men rode near, the young man turned to face them with courage but also with regret.

“I’m sorry for what happened. We told him not to do it, but the foreman told him if they took small numbers from each herd in the area, no one would notice. It was wrong. I’ll do what I can to make it right.”

Again the men were interviewed. It appeared that most of these men had been doing it for the money. Deciding that there was enough killing and that the other guilty parties were already in their custody, all the men with the herd were escorted back to the ranch and given the same deal in order to be free men. They packed their gear and rode off. Summer was a good time to hire on at ranches so there would be little trouble as they split up to seek jobs.

“She and that boy ain’t gonna be able to run this ranch, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yes. I’ll make her an offer in a few days time. See if she wants to sell. I want to give her some decent time to mourn.”

“It’s a hard land out here. She’ll understand.”

Two days later, Bud led the drive out. The additional men he hired as well as a full contingent of CR hands went with him because of the extra cattle they were driving. Adam rode over to the Lazy A to talk with Mrs. Andrews. He found her in her garden. As he rode in, her son walked out of the barn and followed him as he rode to the house. He asked if there was someplace the three of them could talk business. They went into the kitchen and Mrs. Andrews poured coffee for all.

“Have you decided on what you want to do?”

“I can’t run this ranch by myself even with Don’s help. He’s only fourteen years old and no men out here would listen to him as a boss. I don’t know enough about ranching and neither does he at this point. We’ll have to sell but getting a buyer is always so difficult. We owe the bank a lot and if we can’t sell, we’ll just lose the place. It’s the only home Don has ever had, and I hate to think of leaving, but I don’t see what else we can do.”

“I’ll buy your ranch if you would be willing to sell to me. You could keep the house and stay living in it as I have no need of it. Don can work for the Castle Ranch and live here. He would be responsible to maintain the buildings and take care of any stock we kept here although we don’t have a need to do that now.”

“Where would you come up with that kind of money or were you going to offer us a pittance because you know we have no other option.”

“I’ll give you a fair price. I came into a large sum of money recently and have no need for it. This is a good use of that money. We both gain.”

Adam quoted her a figure and she gasped. She knew that was the best offer she could possibly imagine getting. He either knew nothing about land prices or he was being a decent man. He didn’t look or act ignorant so she had to assume he was doing the right thing.

“When would we do this?”

“We can do it today if you have the mortgage papers and deed.”

The Andrews got in their wagon and followed Adam to town. The bank collected the amount due on the mortgage from him, and then he made a draft for the remaining amount to Mrs. Andrews They went to the land office, which was in an office in the bank and transferred the deed. Next Adam deeded the house and surrounding acre to Mrs. Andrews. She would keep her gardens and the family plot. The land with the barn, corrals, and bunkhouse as well as all the grazing lands and remaining Lazy A cattle now belonged to Adam. He owned a ranch again. He said the gate with the Lazy A sign could stay. He gave some instructions to Don, as his first hire, on what he needed to do over the next week. He also asked him to come over to the CR the next day to meet the hands who were still there. Then he and Don shook hands.

When Adam rode back late that night to the CR, there were lights in the windows of the main house study and library. He was happy that Reg and Robert were home. He had a lot to tell them, and hoped Reg would be agreeable with what he had done. But first he had to welcome them home. Robert was excited to see him and grabbed him in a hug. Reg was more reserved and the two men shook hands. Adam told them about the problems they had had, and how it had been resolved. Then he needed to explain what he had been doing that day.

“Reg, if you would be willing to be a partner with me, I just increased the size of the ranch by doubling it. I bought the Lazy A today.?

Reg looked at him in complete surprise, and then smiled.

“Marlee said you were good at surprises!”

Adam grinned and nodded. She wasn’t the first person to say that. He had a tendency to work out a problem or a situation thoroughly in his head first and then just do what he had decided. Without speaking to anyone else first, it always came as a surprise to them.

“Adam, you’re family now. Of course, we can work together. What did you have in mind?”

“I want to go back to the Ponderosa. I don’t think it will be forever though. If you would agree, I would like to leave some of my things here and be back for the winter. I could help Robert prepare for school, and there are a number of projects here I have on paper but haven’t done anything with yet.”

“I would like that very much.”

“I’d like it too. Can I go with you to the Ponderosa?”

Adam looked at the young man he liked so much. He felt like he did in fact have a son.

“I’m sorry but not this time. I think that there may be some tension with everything that has happened, and I need to work through all of that with them and come to some understanding. I don’t want you in the middle of that. There’s also Don Andrews. I was hoping to ask you to take him under your wing and help him out. He needs a friend and someone to show him how to grow up to be a man. I think you are the one to do that. He’ll be more comfortable working here if you are working with him. He just lost his father too.”

“Adam, will they be living on what Don is making?”

Adam told them that Mrs. Andrews cleared enough from the sale of the ranch that she could support herself for her life if she spent reasonably. Reg asked how much he paid for the ranch and Adam told him.

“You could have gotten that ranch for a third of that.”

“Yes, but it would have been wrong to do that. I couldn’t take advantage of her and leave her destitute. I just killed her husband.”

“That was his fault not yours.”

“But I am still responsible.”

“When we talk like this it’s as if Marlee never left. The two of you think so much alike.”

Adam ignored the use of the present tense. He carried one of Marlee’s handkerchiefs in his shirt pocket over his heart every day. She would always be with him. All of her things were still in their room. He couldn’t bear to pack up any of it. So the drawers on the dresser were filled with her clothing, her books, and her mementos. He would deal with that over the winter months. Robert would want some of those items, and they would decide what each of them would keep. She had a dark blue bandanna and he wore that around his neck now on hot days. He still found it difficult to let people see that scar around his neck, so without the bandanna, he would button his shirt to the top button.

The next morning, Adam came downstairs to breakfast with his saddlebags packed. He didn’t want to leave especially so soon but knew he had to. If he stayed and got into a routine with Robert and Reg, he wasn’t sure he would be able to go at all. Robert choked up every time Adam talked of leaving. Adam told Robert to use the drafting tools and design a hay barn. Adam had some ideas on how to prevent the steep losses of cattle in heavy snows.

“Do I sketch it or draw it?”

“I would like you to do both. When I get back, we’ll work on the drawings, but if I see the sketch, I’ll have a better idea what you want. Now remember to talk to Bud and the others to see what they think a hay barn ought to look like. The new corrals have to be finished too. I intend to bring back a string of horses from the Ponderosa to improve the breeding stock here, and we’ll need those corrals.”

Any worries that Adam wouldn’t come back were alleviated. He was leaving some important possessions behind. He was making plans for the future here. They knew he would be back. Reg and Robert were certain of it. They said goodbye and that they were sorry that Bud, Jake, and the other hands wouldn’t be able to say goodbye. Adam explained that he had said his goodbyes to the men before they left on the drive as he had already made up his mind to return to the Ponderosa. With a tip of his hat, he turned and rode off. Later when they walked to visit Marlee’s grave, they found a fresh bouquet of flowers at the plaque. He had said his goodbyes there too.

As Adam got as far as Salt Lake City, his horse developed inflammation in his right foreleg. Adam sold him there. The horse had been a reasonable mount, but he hoped to have a better one soon. He took the train to Reno, and then switched over to stagecoach to Virginia City. Originally he had not wanted to go to that town so soon, but it was necessary. He hoped he could get off the stage and to the livery stable without being recognized so he let his beard grow. He already wore clothing unlike what Adam Cartwright was known for. Going incognito didn’t work though. As he walked away from the stage, he heard Roy Coffee calling his name. He had not seen Roy in three years, but despite the changes in him, Roy had recognized him.

“How did you do that? I didn’t think anyone would recognize me.”

“Well, hello to you too, Adam. Now I didn’t at first, but you did look mighty familiar. As you walked away, I just knew it was you. Would you like to have a coffee or some lunch before you leave?”

“No actually I would like to get a horse and get out of town before anyone else recognizes me and the longer I stand here talking with you, the less likely that is going to work out for me.”

It was too late already. Doctor Martin was already walking toward them. He greeted the doctor with a cool detachment. He remembered the last time he had seen him. Roy noticed the change and suspected he knew the reason.

“Now Adam if you’re blaming Doc here for that last night I think you oughta hear what he has ta say first.”

Paul took a deep breath and looked at Adam with embarrassment but decided he had to be honest too.

“I didn’t speak to you in the street that night because I couldn’t. I couldn’t cry in front of those men, and that’s what I was going to do. So I took the coward’s way out and left. I am sorry for that. I should have let them see my tears and know how I felt. It would have helped you too.”

Adam nodded. It seemed a lot of people had hurt him without having the intention to do so. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but it was too late to worry about it. He offered his hand to Paul who took it with gratitude. Adam had decided too many good memories couldn’t be destroyed by one awful one once he had a chance to think about it.

“If you’re planning to go see your family, you don’t have long to wait. I just saw them go in the bank as I was walking to my office. Then I saw you here with Roy and had to come make amends.”

It was happening so fast. Adam took his leave of the two men and walked toward the bank. As he neared the bank, he stopped and leaned on a hitching rail debating whether to have the reunion in the bank in front of all of those people who knew the Cartwrights so well or out here on the street among even more people but most who wouldn’t know who he was. The decision was made as his father and brothers exited the bank. Joe and Ben were talking, but Hoss looked across the street and broke out into a dead run at him. Adam was a little worried about his personal safety with three hundreds pounds of muscled man rushing at him, but Hoss pulled up in front of him and gave him a bear hug. Once he was released by Hoss, his father and Joe were there and hugged him too. Finally they stopped remembering how much he disliked things like that especially in public.

“I’m sorry son, but I was so glad to see you here, I couldn’t help myself. I’m sure your brothers felt the same way.”

“Hot diggidy, Adam, it sure is good ta see ya.”

Joe suggested a beer before they headed to the Ponderosa, and they were all so excited about it, that Adam agreed to one beer. Then he just wanted to get out of this town. He had not spent time in any town for three years, and it all made him uncomfortable. It was triggering memories he would rather not remember. In the saloon, Hoss ordered four beers and looked at their father for payment. Ben just rolled his eyes and pulled the money out of his pocket for Sam. Adam explained that he would like to stay at least until November but that he had a commitment over the winter.

“Shucks, Adam, that’s not a problem. I remember you stalking around the house like a caged mountain lion almost every winter. It’s good ya got something to do. We got a lot of time to get to know you again.”

In the corner of the bar, there were a bunch of drifters. A few knew Adam although he wouldn’t have recognized any of them. They were former employees of the Lazy A. One thought he would get a little revenge for losing his job. He sauntered toward Adam showing off for his buddies. He outweighed Adam by at least one hundred pounds. He was overconfident as a result.

“Hey now, ain’t this the man who done married a dying woman to get her money? He had his fun with her and then stuck her in the ground.”

The drunken lout probably never saw the fist coming. If caught him under the chin and lifted him onto a table. He slid across the table onto the floor on the other side and didn’t move. His friends cautiously approached him and were relieved to see he was still breathing although it looked like his jaw was broken. Adam stood by the bar grimacing. He probably broke a bone or two in his left hand with that one . He had learned in prison not to lead with his right hand because he needed that one more. He became adept at throwing his weight and muscle into a left uppercut.

“No one ever say anything about my wife again!”

Adam walked to the door to leave but Roy was entering. Adam said nothing. His rapidly swelling hand and the man laying on the floor were pretty much the whole story. His father briefly stated what had happened and Sam backed him up. Roy told the man’s friends to pick him up and get him over to the doc’s. Then the Cartwrights headed to the livery stable. Adam rented a horse and the four rode out for the first time in three years. The family was whole again. There was still an important conversation to have. Ben waited a few days for the right opportunity. He wanted Adam rested, but he didn’t feel that Adam would feel comfortable in his presence nor would they be able to rebuild their relationship until he did his mea culpa. The opportunity came a few days after they arrived home when Joe went to visit his children and Hoss and his children went with them. Seeing the look his father had, Adam waited.

“You may as well get started. I’ve seen that look before and I know you’ve got something you need to say.”

“That’s part of it actually. You’re smarter than I am in many ways. I guess sometimes, I resent that and all the things you can do so well. I shouldn’t. I should be proud of it, but it makes me jealous. I know that’s petty and small. I admit it. There have been times when you deserved a lot more praise than you got, and times when you got a lot more criticism than you deserved, and that’s all on me.”

“I never expected to hear you say anything like that.”

“There’s more. When you left, I treated you most unfairly. What you were doing was something I should have accepted because I had done something much the same or even far more extreme taking my small son across the country and exposing him to danger, denying him a home and the comforts he deserved.”

“Pa, I never held that against you.”

“When I was reading your journal, it hit me how I did that to you. Perhaps you should have. I put my dreams first. I felt guilty about that and told myself it was all right because you would inherit what I built so it was for you too. Then you said you were leaving. You had your own dream and basically you were tired of building my dream. I resented that a little, but most of all, I felt guilt because now I had dragged you across the country and had you help build my dream without any consideration for what you wanted. I turned my guilt outward as anger toward you. I was unfair and wrong. I have no defense for my behavior. I can only beg your forgiveness.”

“Pa, I do understand.”

“I know you do after what happened to your wife, but I never asked about that either. What was she like?”

“She was my quiet girl, Pa. She was supportive and kind and smart too. There’ll never be another one like her.”

“I’m so sorry you lost her.”

“Thank you. I’ll never forget her either.”

“As for what happened with your trial, son, I never thought you did any of it. I’m sorry I’m not as smart as you. I couldn’t figure out what was happening and I was tricked much too easily. I should have questioned what was happening far more than I did. By allowing myself to be so easily fooled, I contributed to the harm you suffered. I have failed you as a father on so many occasions, I don’t know that I even have the right to ask your forgiveness, but it is the one thing that I truly crave.”

“Pa, I have forgiven you, but I have to admit that I have trouble trying to forget what happened. I’m afraid it has forever altered our relationship. It can never be the same.”

“I understand. As long as you’re willing to be here with us at least some of the time, and as long as you don’t close us out, I am grateful that you can be that forgiving. Thank you.”

When Hoss and Joe returned home, they found Ben and Adam playing chess. Adam was leaning back in the chair with his stocking feet resting on another chair. Joe mentioned something about that, but Adam only raised an eyebrow in response and Ben shrugged. He wasn’t going to get in an argument with Adam over something like that. They were on a more even level now. Adam could do what he considered was proper to do, and his father was going to accept it.

“Check.”

“Looks more like checkmate, son.”

“It is, but I was giving you the option to concede.”

*****

Home Again

Chapter 1

For several weeks back on the Ponderosa, Adam only familiarized himself with the changes from the past three years, got acquainted with the hands he didn’t know, and allowed his hand to heal. Doctor Martin had been a guest at Sunday dinner following Adam’s arrival back home and pronounced that although there were breaks, there was no displacement so the hand would heal normally. As he had pushed up Adam’s sleeve, he had paused at the scarring on the wrist. He knew what caused it, but the amount of scarring indicated how frequently Adam had been subjected to the shackles. He knew there were likely other scars and suggested that perhaps Hop Sing would have an ointment to soften the scars. Adam’s family had not seen the full extent of the scars on his wrists nor the other scarring because Adam kept them covered but based on the reports they had read, they knew what some of those scars were. Hoss couldn’t help but want to aid his brother.

“If you want, I can put some of that ointment on yer back too. We can do it any night before you go to bed. No one else has to see.”

Seeing the earnest expression, Adam looked at Hoss thoughtfully and nodded. The scars on his back did pull so softening them would help. Of course he knew at some point that Ben and Joe would see those scares and the others if they had not already, but somehow they still embarrassed him. He worried that he had not done enough to stop what happened to him in prison. It was a nebulous concept because he had no idea what it might have been. He had trouble putting it into words, but the lack of control he had over his life there still haunted him. He too had trouble looking in the mirror while shaving and seeing the thin ring of scar tissue on his neck because it reminded him of the attempt to lynch him by people in Virginia City.

During those first few weeks, Adam never left the Ponderosa. There were no trips for supplies, no Saturday nights in town, and no Sunday morning trips to church with his family. If visitors came to pay their respects, he avoided them or gave them a cool reception before excusing himself. He did not yet feel comfortable around people back here where he had grown up and then lived for most of his adult life. He had forgiven his family, and they had talked of some of his experiences. The talk with his father had gone a long way to healing the rift between them even if trust was going to be difficult to rebuild. However even with his family, he was reticent about sharing the most upsetting of the things that had happened to him. Those memories were the stuff of nightmares that had become too frequent. Away from Marlee’s arms and without the comfortable setting of the Castle Ranch and with no heavy work to exhaust him so he could sleep, the nightmares were becoming almost a nightly occurrence. He had warned his family of his potentially violent reaction to being touched while sleeping so they found it difficult to wake him and were frustrated in that they could not comfort him at those times. Doctor Martin suggested a sleeping powder and Hop Sing offered an herbal tea but Adam refused. He would not use a ‘crutch’ as he called them for he knew that if he could relax and be comfortable here, the nightmares would end. Either that or he would work himself into exhaustion as he had on that cattle drive a year earlier and that was effective too. He did find that on the nights Hoss was there to rub ointment on his back and talk with him, he slept better.

Definitely Hoss was the key factor in getting Adam reintegrated into the Ponderosa. Being with Hoss and with Hoss’ children sometimes were the times that Adam felt most normal. The children liked him to tell them stories or to sing songs and begged for both at every opportunity. Their innocent enthusiasm and easy acceptance of him, made him relax in their company. Adam suspected that he found it more difficult to talk with Joe and their father because he did not want to disappoint them, but Hoss knew all his faults and loved him anyway, which made things easier. The children didn’t see his faults and didn’t care about his past. They only cared about the present.

Once Adam’s hand healed, he and Hoss set out to mend fence lines, a task Adam generally had disdained in the past but now used to fill his days and tire himself out. The hard physical labor reduced stress and tension. Being with Hoss allowed Adam to be more comfortable as he discarded the neckerchief and unbuttoned his shirt for comfort in the summer heat.

“The first time I saw them scars of yours, I had a hard time not saying nothing.”

“I know. I heard you swallowing and swallowing as you stood behind me. It’s okay. I don’t like looking at them either. That ointment does seem to be softening them, and they’re smoother too so it’s less noticeable.”

“Leave it up to ole Hop Sing to have just the thing we needed.”

Adam nodded. Hoss nodded too. They had always used a lot of nonverbal communication, and the reviving camaraderie between them had them back to that. For most of the morning, they did not talk but enjoyed each other’s company and the nice summer day as they worked in tandem. At lunch under a nearby tree, Adam decided to open up more.

“Hoss, I should have said something earlier, but I am so sorry for your losses.”

“Ya, it was awful hard, Adam. Losing Marie and the baby near tore my heart out, but I had the children and Laura, Joshua, and Peggy, and we all mourned together. Then Will came to take Laura and her children and I didn’t think I could take any more heartbreak only Peg went to stay with Laura’s Aunt Lil and go to school in San Francisco. I had to face losing a lot. At least I still had Iris and Mark. I guess ya never know what you can do until you’re pushed to do it.”

“You are a western philosopher. You could write a treatise on sorrow.”

“Well, I figured you’d understand what I meant. You been through it twice now. Now you’re back home and using them words I don’t understand, but from the look, it must have been a good thing you said.”

Adam smiled and nodded.

“Adam, you going back to Wyoming?”

“I made a commitment for this winter to help Robert prepare for school and finish up some projects there.”

“What about in spring? Now that you own part of that ranch, are you gonna live there?”

“I haven’t made any definite plans. Owning part of the CR doesn’t matter. It’s only money. Owning part of the ranch doesn’t matter to me. What I’m finding hard to do is to plan ahead.”

The short choppy sentences were an indication that this was a difficult subject for his brother. Hoss thought he knew why. Adam had made plans with his wife and that had led to tragedy. Then he and Ann had plans only that turned into a nightmare for him instead. It seemed he was watching his back now and wanted a chance to bolt if he felt threatened. Hoss knew that Adam didn’t trust the people here yet even if he forgave them because he couldn’t forget what had happened. Time would help, but Hoss hoped that he could help too.

About a week later, Roy stopped in for coffee on a Sunday night. He knew it would be the best time to actually talk to Adam. After greetings and coffee with dessert, Roy asked to talk with Adam who asked his family to stay. Such a request from the Sheriff still made his heart race and his stomach react.

“Now I know ya know who some a them people who tried to lynch ya was. I got a list here of some families that up and packed up and moved out this last month. I want ya to look at this list and tell me if any a those people were in that mob that night.”

Reluctant to look, Adam finally took the list and read it. He handed it back to Roy and said nothing. Roy and his family had seen the change in his demeanor as he read. With Adam’s face expressionless, he waited for Roy or his family to say something.

“Well. I thought you oughta know. You not saying they’re innocent pretty much confirms what I thought. Except for the men Bill hired, that’s the lot of them. All gone now.”

Adam still said nothing. Ben bid Roy good night, and Hoss and Joe walked him out. Adam walked up the stairs, and Ben heard his bedroom door quietly close. About a half hour later, Hoss went up, knocked on Adam’s door, and announced himself. Adam told him to come in. Adam was seated at his table with his shirt open and pulled out of his pants.

“I knew it was you. Even without the clumping down the hallway, I knew it would be you.”

Hoss picked up the jar of ointment and Adam removed his shirt so Hoss could rub the ointment on his back. “With all those people gone, do ya think ya might like to ride into town with me sometime? Maybe just for supplies. If ya think it would be all right, there’s a dance Saturday night. Joe’s pushing me to go. Pa said he’d be going too.”

Adam was thinking it over. He would have to do it sometime unless he wanted to live as a near hermit. He wondered if he should do it step by step or just plunge in and accept Hoss’ offer. Hoss was encouraged when Adam didn’t say no immediately. Further discussion was pre-empted by Joe walking in. Joe stood like a statue and stared at Adam’s back, which was shiny with ointment, but the scars were in full view.

“I suppose after twenty eight years, there’s no point in reminding you to knock.”

“Adam, I am so sorry.”

Adam knew it wasn’t about the rude entrance. He hadn’t meant his comments to be negative anyway as he was used to Joe barging in. Joe’s ‘sorry’ wasn’t about that either.

“All we need now is Pa and everyone will have seen them.”

Hearing his name as he walked to his bedroom, Ben stepped up behind Joe and saw what he had seen. His reaction was as expected, but Adam just shrugged. It was over. He could relax even more now although they would have to deal with what they had seen. Adam would be able to show his scars at home at least to the adults. They would get used to seeing them until it didn’t matter any more. He would talk to Hoss about how to show the children because he didn’t want to traumatize them by having them see the scars accidentally. After a time, Joe sprawled on the bed, Hoss sat in the rocking chair, and Ben leaned against the doorframe as Adam sat at his table. They sat and talked about the next day’s business. For the first time in years, it felt normal to be together.

*****

Chapter 2

It was that feeling that things were returning to normal that allowed Hoss to convince Adam to attend the dance. Hoss said goodnight to the children. The wife of one of the married hands had been hired to care for the children when Marie died, and she watched over them when Hoss worked or whenever he was gone from the ranch. She was like a mother to them, and they would stay with her on a night like this when Hoss would get home late. As the men dressed and then rode to town, Adam wasn’t as nervous as he was apprehensive. He had gotten so used to things going wrong when he least expected it, that he worried that some disaster would mar this night. Joe especially helped distract him with funny stories and hilarious impersonations of people who were likely to be at the dance.

“Joe, I worry a little that you can impersonate the women so well. There isn’t something you want to share with us, now is there?”

“Adam, here I am slaving away to entertain you two big lugs, and that’s the thanks I get!”

“Aw, Joe, I was wondering too if wearing them pants so tight all the time ain’t caused that problem with your voice.”

Ben couldn’t help himself. “Oh, and those long pretty curls. Guess I didn’t really need to have a daughter.”

“Well. Let’s just see who has the most girls on his arm tonight for dancing!” Joe squeezed his knees into Cochise and they took off at a gallop to the laughter ringing out behind them.

“Joe’s shur in a rush to get there to find a girl to kiss tonight.”

“Yes, but we shall take our time, save our energy, and perhaps kiss all the girls tonight.”

Ben smiled at Adam’s play with the old joke. The joshing and joking hid the pain that both of his older sons must be feeling but showed they were making a great effort. Tonight could be a good night for them. Ben hoped there would be nothing to mar the night echoing the thoughts of his eldest son.

As the three of them arrived, Joe was waiting at the livery stable. Once they got their horses inside, the four of them walked to the dance. Joe walked between Adam and Hoss with a hand on a shoulder of each to show his support, but it was Joe who needed support. Just outside the dance, Rachel stood next to a man and had her arm through his. Joe tightened his grip on his brothers’ shoulders, and Adam flinched as Joe’s fingers dug into his often damaged left shoulder. The gasp from Adam refocused Joe’s attention on his brother.

“Joe, I don’t mean to be interfering, but have you told her lately how you feel?”

Joe looked at Adam wondering why he said that. Finally he asked him.

“It’s clear you still care and very much. Hoss and I lost our ladies and can’t do anything about it. Yours is still here if you can find a way to win her back.”

“Ya, Joe, seems to me she wasn’t always so honest with you. It don’t excuse what ya done, but she should be willing to forgive ya.”

Joe was getting ready to argue. He was lining up all of his arguments when his father intervened.

“They’re right. We would move heaven and earth if we could be reunited with our lady loves. We can’t, but you can.”

Ben had tried to have this conversation with him but there was never any progress in convincing him. Now the combined efforts of the three of them had caused Joe to become thoughtful. Perhaps this is how he should have been feeling all along. Instead of guilt, contrition might have worked. He would start tonight by asking Rachel to dance. All thoughts of the other women at the dance were gone. He couldn’t make things worse by dancing with others, but could make it better by refraining. He needed to find out. Before he could say anything though, Adam and Hoss began teasing their Pa.

“Of course, Pa, it could be rather awkward for you if all our lady loves came back.”

“Ya, Pa, you’d probably have to become a Mormon. Salt Lake ain’t too far from here. We could visit.”

“Well, my sons, they won’t be back so that is the end of this subject.”

“Certainly, father. But what will they say at those pearly gates some day. Mr. Benjamin Cartwright, three to see you, right this way.”

Ben had no answer so he used Adam’s trick: change the subject. “Well, let’s go inside and see what lovely ladies are waiting to dance with us.”

Adam steeled himself for the entrance. He expected stares. There were some but out of curiosity and without malice. He began to relax. He saw Rose Mary Gerrit, the daughter of an old neighbor to the east. They had left years ago when their farm failed in some dry summers. He walked over to greet her.

“Rosie, I haven’t seen you in over twenty years. Have you been back long?”

“Adam, I wondered if I would see you tonight. I’m visiting my cousin Cynthia who recently returned here to live. I may stay until the winter season and then head back home.”

“Where’s home now?”

“North of here in Alturas. My husband and I used to operate a little store there. He died of cholera last year, and I handed the store over to my son and his wife to operate. Now I do sewing and such out of my home, and help them at the store when needed.”

“I am so sorry to hear of your loss.”

“And I yours. Seems we have all had to deal with some things. But for tonight, how about if we are just old friends and have a good time?”

Adam offered his arm to Rosie and inclined his head to the dance floor. She smiled and accepted. Adam had not danced in years but natural grace could not be lost. He whirled her around the dance floor with ease. After that dance, she danced with Hoss and then Ben. Adam found a succession of ladies willing to be on his arm. Most were married to men who didn’t enjoy dancing or were not skilled in that area. The chance to glide around the floor in Adam’s arms was an opportunity they were not going to miss. After more than an hour and a half of dancing though, Adam needed some fresh air. He thanked his last dance partner and headed outside walking to a grove of trees nearby where there was a bench. He rested on the seat and massaged his neck. Taking deep breaths, he truly felt at ease. He saw a lady leave, look around, and then head his way. As she neared, he recognized her.

“Cici, I didn’t see you inside.”

“Cici, I haven’t been called that in over a decade I think. And you couldn’t see me inside because you had a lady on your arm every minute. Still the ladies man despite everything.”

“Well Cynthia Catherine, I would have danced with you if you had let me know you were there. Any friend of Joe’s as they say.”

“Well and that’s another thing. Joe had his eye on only one lady in there. He either danced with her or watched her as she danced with another. What has happened to the girl chaser I remember?”

“He was married to Rachel until an indiscretion. He’s going to try to win her back.”

“So polite. An indiscretion. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me with Joe.”

“He did have a problem with choices and consequences, but being a father and a husband has made him re-evaluate. He’ll be all right now no matter what happens. What about you? What has your life been like?”

“Challenging, rewarding. I went to school and got my degree. Now I am hoping to start a practice here.”

“I always admired your intelligence and diligence in your studies. I’m glad you used that and got a degree. It surprised me sometimes that you and Joe were friends because schooling was the last thing he thought was important. What is your field?”

“Medicine. I should have been in practice when all of you were younger. I could have been an in-house doctor and supported myself nicely. You three did have tendency to get shot, stabbed, beaten, trampled, and otherwise damaged. And Cartwrights always pay their bills.”

Adam looked directly at her because that was a surprise: woman doctor. That is not what he would have guessed. He nodded and smiled at her because of her accomplishment.

“Would you like to go inside for that dance now?”

“Yes, and would you like to come on a picnic tomorrow. That was the real reason I came to find you. I thought you were leaving. Rosie and I are joining Barbara Jordan for a picnic by the stream behind the church after services tomorrow. We wanted to know if you would like to join us?”

Adam had been startled by her question, and Cici had seen that so she had quickly explained so there would be no misunderstanding. She had seen him visibly relax once she explained so she understood that his seeming ease at the dance was an effort on his part. A picnic among friends with no pressure would be good for him. Adam accepted her invitation. Cici asked if he would bring his guitar and any book he would like. The three ladies would bring the food and wine. He raised an eyebrow at the wine statement, and she laughed.

“We are all adults here by quite a margin, and all will be well chaperoned by the others. I am looking forward actually to see what the gossips will make of the three of us heading off with you tomorrow. I hope it is a delicious, salacious rumor. Those are the most fun.”

Adam couldn’t help it. He laughed out loud. Hoss and his father were standing outside cooling down after some vigorous dancing and were amazed. That may have been the most relaxed and genuine laugh they had heard from Adam since he returned. Ben slapped Hoss on the shoulder. Convincing Adam to attend this dance had been a wonderful idea.

Later, on the way home, Adam announced that he was going on a picnic with three ladies after church on Sunday. That caused a flood of ribald commentary from Hoss and Joe. Cici would have enjoyed the comments immensely if she had been there to hear. Adam planned to entertain the ladies with them on Sunday. He had his first social engagement without his family. He would picnic with three old friends behind the church on a Sunday afternoon. He had no hesitation because he expected nothing to go wrong in such an innocent undertaking.

*****

Chapter 3

Sunday morning Adam was up early. He did his chores and his brothers’. He wasn’t sure why he had so much nervous energy but of course suspected that his picnic plans were the reason. It felt good though to repay his brothers for their kindness since he had been home. Although sometimes it bothered him to have them hovering, when he needed help, he knew one of them would be there. Hoss was frequently dropping one of those big powerful arms around his shoulders to let him know everything was all right. When he got a bit morose, Joe was there with a funny story or some other silliness that always got to him no matter how much it might be irritating at first. He made sure Sport had a good serving of grain and plenty of water before he headed to the house for breakfast.

Once inside, Adam cleaned up in the washroom and then changed into the clothing he had brought down earlier. He had a pair of his old black pants. They fit rather loosely but that would work well for sitting on the grass for a picnic. He wore a new light blue shirt and a tie. After combing his hair, he headed in for breakfast and found he was the first there. Savoring his coffee, he watched as his father and then his brothers trudged down the stairs. It had been a late night and his father especially looked fatigued. Hoss and Joe were going to head out to the barn when Adam interrupted them.

“Chores are done.”

“Dadburnit, Adam. Thank ya. So you ain’t just a pretty face all dolled up for them ladies. You’re a right fine brother too.”

“You’re welcome, I think.”

Joe was going to say it was about time as he had three years of chores to catch up on but stopped himself before tasting shoe leather and the kick in the behind that he would have gotten from Hoss or Ben for that. Instead he mumbled ‘Thanks’ and sat down to drink as much coffee as he could before it was time to go. He wondered how Adam looked so chipper and had gotten less sleep than any of them when he suddenly realized something.

“You didn’t have a nightmare last night, did you? It was quiet all night.”

“No, I had no nightmares.”

Adam had slept well and awakened refreshed. He didn’t get many nights like that so it sure felt good when it happened. He hoped that he had turned the corner on those nightmares, but tonight would tell. He hadn’t had two nights in a row of uninterrupted sleep since he had come home and neither had his family. They probably wished for him to get past this as much as he did. He waited after breakfast for his family to get dressed and then all four headed out for church services. Adam had his guitar slung over his back, and had a couple of books in his saddlebag along with some extra food from Hop Sing. He was planning to see if one of the ladies would invite Hoss to join them and wanted to be ready if they would include his younger brother.

As they arrived at church, Rachel was waiting outside with the children. Joe immediately walked over to her, she smiled, and they walked inside as a family. It was a start. Adam’s three lady friends walked to the church together, and he intercepted them and relayed his request. Cici smiled and when she saw Hoss, headed directly for him to invite him to join the impromptu picnic. The smile on his face let the other three know how happy it had made him to be included. He said he would be happy to joing them if his father wouldn’t mind watching Iris and Mark for the afternoon.

“Do you think that will be a problem?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. They love being with him ’cause he spoils them so, and he loves spoiling ’em so it works out real well both ways.”

Cici kidded him that the stories would be especially lurid now with the two of them and three ladies, and Adam could see him blushing across the churchyard so he could imagine what Cici had said. He had to say something when she walked back toward him.

“It is a good thing, Cici, that you are a beautiful woman with charm. Otherwise that sense of humor of yours would have all these chaste and proper women here aghast.”

“Perhaps they are. I am in the company of the bad boy of the Ponderosa. I have heard stories about you that would curl your toes.”

“What would you know about curling a man’s toes?”

“You say that with that innocent look you have, but some would say that look is just a lack of conscience.”

“I can see sparring with you is going to be a challenge. I like a challenge.”

The five of them joined Ben as he walked into church, and Hoss looked at Adam and Cici and started to speculate. She was a beauty, a doctor, so well educated, and had a smart and sassy mouth. He thought she might be the kind of lady Adam complained about and then courted. His conclusion was that this could get real interesting. Meanwhile, he was admiring Barbara, and Rosie noticed. She gave him an elbow in the ribs and smiled up at him. Rosie was speculating too and decided it was a good thing she would be along as a chaperone or a cold bucket of water, whichever way one wanted to think of it.

After church, the five of them collected food, guitar, books, blankets, and wine to head off for their picnic. Any number of other single women still standing near the church looked on with envy. Adam might have been forty years old, but the grace, the dimples, and the sheer masculinity made any one of them imagine being married to him. Hoss did not have those attributes, but those beautiful blue eyes, the shyness, and the kindness of the man had most of the ladies hoping that if they couldn’t have Adam, perhaps there would be a chance with Hoss. Apparently, both men had mourned long enough if they were accompanying these three ladies on a picnic. The men in question were not thinking of courting much less marriage. It was just so pleasant to be on a picnic again and to be treated so normally.

The singing in church had made all three of the ladies yearn to hear more of Adam’s singing so they pressured him to serenade them while they laid out the blankets and the lunch. Adam played and sang a song he had learned from a friend who was his own worst enemy, but the man sure could create beautiful music. Hoss remembered him too when he heard the song.

Well every road I see leads away from me,

There’s not a single one that leads me home.

The roads keep saying,

Friend, come see what’s round the bend,

So is it any wonder that I roam?

All the places I have been keep a calling me back again.

Down in the pines I hear the cold wind blow.

My heart keeps telling me,

Footloose and fancy free,

But the road goes by and calls to me as it goes.

Maybe somewhere there’s a someone waiting there with a smile

And maybe there’ll be someplace I can stop and rest a while.

Cause maybe you weren’t meant to be just a rolling stone,

And there’s a road to travel on that leads you back to home.

But Ill keep traveling on, keep looking at the dawn

Till I can lay this lonesome body down.

And when that day has come, I never more will roam,

And every road I see will lead me home.

And when that day has come, I never more will roam,

And every road I see will lead me home.

It was a song with a beautiful melody, and words that were sad and hopeful at the same time. Adam told them the story of his friend who loved music more than his life or the life of anyone else.

After lunch, the ladies wanted to wade in the little stream. It was quite shallow here with tiny rounded pebbles on the bottom. Laughing the three ladies unhooked the buttons on their high topped shoes, slipped off their stockings, and ran to the stream to walk in the water with their skirts hiked up. Adam looked at Hoss, shrugged, pulled of his boots and stockings and walked to join the ladies so Hoss did as well. They laughed and splashed a bit but it was hot in the sun so they headed back to the shade of the tree. Hoss was very warm and picked up the glass of lemonade he thought was his and drained it. The others grabbed their glasses too, but after drinking, Rosie got a funny look on her face.

“Rosie, is there something wrong with your lemonade? You don’t look too good.”

Cici immediately went to Rosie, but she laughed and said she was fine.

“I just got too hot in the sun, and I’m feeling just a little light headed and the lemonade made my stomach lurch a little, but I’m fine now.”

It was Hoss who wasn’t fine. He grimaced and suddenly staggered and then bent at the waist. He would have fallen except Adam was there to guide him to the ground. He looked at Adam with a pained look. He put his hand to his head like he had a serious headache and closed his eyes. Adam looked to Cici for help, and she was immediately at Hoss’ side checking his vital signs.

“Get a wagon quickly. We need to get him to my office.”

Cici grabbed her bag that was sitting off to the side and removed a small vial. She opened Hoss’ lips and tipped the contents of the vial into his mouth. She massaged his throat to try to get him to swallow. When she thought he had swallowed at least some of the liquid, with the help of the other ladies, she rolled him on his side. Before Adam returned, Hoss retched out lunch and beverages. Cici just prayed it was enough. At least he had not lost consciousness nor had a seizure. Once in her office, she got out some activated charcoal, crushed it, and made an infusion. With Adam’s help, she got Hoss to drink all of it. Then, she had Hoss lie back on the bed and close his eyes. Quickly, she placed a cotton cone over his nose and anesthetized him. Adam looked at her.

“Now, we pray.

*****

Chapter 4

Because Adam wanted to stay with Hoss, he paid a messenger to go to the Ponderosa with a message for Ben. He wasn’t sure how to get in touch with Joe but thought perhaps his father would know when he arrived in town. Ben was understandably upset and wanted answers as soon as he got to Cici’s office.

“What happened?”

“Pa, I don’t know. Everything was fine, and then Hoss collapsed. Cici seemed to have some idea what it was, but she’s been busy taking care of him. Maybe now that Paul is here too, she’ll be able to talk to us. I thought she was going to talk to me earlier, but then Hoss started rolling around and moaning so she asked me to leave so she could care for him. She told me to stay close and she would call if she needed my help. She hasn’t called, and about a half hour ago, Paul got here and went in too. Rosie and Barbara went looking for him as soon as we got Hoss here to the office.”

Rosie and Barbara were sitting in chairs to the side of Adam, and Ben thanked them for their help. Almost as if summoned, Cici opened the door to the front of her office and closed it behind her. She looked around at Adam, Ben, Barbara, and Rosie. She asked if anyone had found Joe yet. Rosie said that people had been alerted to tell him when they saw him but that he had taken his family for a ride and wasn’t back yet apparently. Cici knew what she was going to say was going to be difficult for them to hear.

“I think the first thing you need to do is to get Sheriff Coffee here. Hoss has been poisoned. I don’t think we should talk more about that until someone can get the sheriff.”

Everyone was shocked except Adam. He had helped get Hoss to drink the infusion of charcoal and didn’t know any use doctors had for that other than to absorb a toxin that had been ingested. He hadn’t said anything to his father because he expected an explosion when he found out. What he was most concerned about was his brother’s prognosis.

“What in tarnation do you mean that he’s been poisoned?”

“Pa, settle down. Like she said, she needs to tell the sheriff first and you can hear her then. There are more important concerns right now.” Turning back to Cici and ignoring his furious father, Adam had only one question. “Can you tell us if he will be all right?”

“The signs are good for a recovery. He is breathing reasonably well, and although there has been some difficulty, it would be much worse now if it was going to be. The other problem with this poison is that it can cause seizures and convulsions that can be deadly. I anesthetized him as soon as I could to prevent that. Soon we will bring him out of that and hope that he has passed that stage. If he should start convulsing or seizing, we would have to try to anesthetize him again. I don’t want to do that because it is dangerous too but less so than the seizures or convulsions.”

Almost in an accusatory voice, Ben took over the questioning about Hoss’ health.

“And just how did you know it was a poison?”

“Strychnine is used sometimes in very small doses to treat other conditions. I don’t agree with its use, but I have seen the effects of an overdose more than once. There were classic signs, and he had been looking good until he drank the lemonade.”

At that point, Cici realized she had said too much, but it was too late. Both Barbara and Rosie reacted to her statement.

“But we all had lemonade, and none of the rest of us got sick.”

“But Rosie, when we got back to the blanket, you and I weren’t sure which glass was ours, and Hoss had set his glass right next to ours. What if he got one of ours instead of his? Hey, I remember you saying you were feeling a bit queasy too. Are you feeling all right now?”

Roy walked in at that point and wasn’t happy at all that they had a poisoning case and the principal witnesses had been discussing it, but it was too late to do anything about it. After they filled him in on what had been discussed so far, he asked about the glasses and if they had been left unattended.

“Yes, I led our little group down to the creek to walk in the water. It was pleasant, but hot in the sun so we went back to the shade. We had poured lemonade just before leaving, so each of us took our glass when we got back.”

“Did anyone else get sick?”

“I was feeling a little nauseous for a bit, but it passed.”

“Rosie, was that before or after you had the lemonade?”

“After, but I think it was the heat that made my stomach touchy. I feel fine now.”

Adam and Cici explained that their glasses were next to the tree and the guitar. They were out of sight of the picnic area for quite a while, and no, they had not seen anyone lurking or even walking in the area. Roy told them all to be careful because at this point it was impossible to be sure whom the target of the poisoning was. Just then Dr. Martin opened the door to say that Hoss was awake. Cici asked for some time to do another examination of him before the family went in to see him. They reluctantly agreed.

Rosie was torn. Her husband had died with similar symptoms a year earlier. Her son had said the doctor told him it was cholera. But only two other people in town had been ill and died. Her husband had not shown any symptoms before he suddenly became ill, lapsed into unconsciousness, and had multiple seizures until his heart stopped. She wondered now if someone had poisoned her husband and if that someone was targeting her now. She thought perhaps she needed to ask Cici some questions soon.

The Cartwrights were too absorbed in their concern for Hoss to notice how troubled Rosie looked, but Barbara noticed and moved to sit next to her. Barbara took Rosie’s hand, and as Rosie looked at her, she wrapped her arms around her and comforted her. Barbara thought that Rosie felt as she did that perhaps the poison had been meant for her, and it was her fault that Hoss was in danger. Although Barbara could not imagine that anyone wanted to kill her, she was logical enough to know that her glass had stood next to the other two suspect glasses. There was the possibility too that someone wanted to hurt her to hurt her father. At this point, she couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing, but she knew her father had gotten death threats over the years. Of course the Cartwrights had their share of enemies and jealous neighbors too, but most often those threats were against Ben, Adam, or Joe not Hoss.

The door opened and Cici invited the Cartwrights to come in to see Hoss. He was awake but groggy from the anesthesia. Cici explained that the poison was probably meant for a smaller person unless the perpetrator had intended only to make one of them very ill. The amount used would have probably killed any of the three ladies but Hoss was more than twice as large so the poison had not had the fatal effect. He did not seem to have any neurological damage, but Cici wanted to keep him there for observation for a few days. Ben of course planned to stay. Adam and Joe said they would return to the ranch to take care of things there and would bring any items to town that Ben and Hoss needed. Ben reminded them to be careful what they said to the children and how they said it. Joe said he would take care of it as he had more experience. Paul and Cici suggested that Hoss needed to get some rest and let the anesthesia work out of his system. Ben pulled a chair next to the bed. Adam looked at Joe and each smiled and nodded.

“Cici, I want to thank you for saving Hoss’ life. Your quick thinking and actions were the stuff of brilliance.”

“Thank you, Adam, but it was the stuff of good training. I was lucky to study with a number of doctors who were willing to share their knowledge with a woman. There are not many men willing to accept that a woman can be as intelligent.”

“There may be more of those men around you than you think.” His words let her know that he was one of those men. “The picnic was a wonderful idea. Lately, it seems that trouble follows me around. I’m sorry that you and the others got in the way of it today.”

“After everything that’s happened to you, I can see why you might feel that way, but your fatalism is misplaced here. The evidence indicates that it was Rosie, Barbara, or me who was targeted. Whoever did this knew we were having the picnic and waited for a chance to do the deed that had to be planned. Hoss was only invited this morning and you late last night. The three of us had been talking about this for most of the week. I’m afraid the wrong person overheard us at some point.”

“Not you. By the same kind of logic, the person who was watching would have seen you set your glass by the tree near mine as I set it by the guitar.”

“So it was Barbara or Rosie who was the target.”

“It certainly looks that way. I did enjoy the picnic until disaster struck. We could try it again sometime perhaps on the Ponderosa.”

“Yes, that would be lovely. I’ll talk with Barbara and Rosie, and we’ll let you know, but I am sure they would like the four of us to try to get together again.”

Adam nodded, and left while wondering why that last statement was a little disappointing to him. Marlee hadn’t been gone that long, and he should still be mourning her and not looking for another woman in his life. He also thought sadly of what had happened to the last two women in his life although Marlee’s fate was determined well before she met him. Still he was ill at ease with his feelings.

*****

Chapter 5

After a few days convalescing with Cici’s care, Hoss was ready to go home to the Ponderosa. Ben had stayed in town with him even after it was apparent there would be no long-term consequences of his poisoning. Roy came by several times to see if Hoss or Cici could remember anything else, and they could not. Adam, Barbara, and Rosie gave him the same answer. They had been having so much fun and never thought to be doing surveillance of a possible threat. After all, it was on a Sunday, on a picnic, near the church. None of them had expected anything like what happened. Adam and Cici shared their theory with Roy and found that he had drawn the same conclusion: someone had meant the poison for Barbara or Rosie. The difficult question was who wanted to do either of the very decent, caring women harm.

On Wednesday as Hoss was getting helped into the carriage by Adam and Joe, Ben invited Cici to spend the afternoon at the Ponderosa and have dinner with them on the following Sunday. She was happy to accept. It would give her a chance to check on Hoss and get reacquainted with the whole Cartwright clan again. Cici had seen the love the four of them showed each other as they cared for Hoss and then helped each other over the past four days. As the carriage pulled away, Cici had a chance to talk with Adam before he followed.

“Adam, if the picnic offer is still good, Barbara, Rosie, and I could join you Saturday afternoon or another time if that is not convenient.”

“That will work fine and I am looking forward to it. I’ll meet you here about one if that is convenient for you ladies?”

“Adam, if it’s all the same to you, I would rather I didn’t get invited to join you.” With that comment, Joe giggled, turned his horse, and headed out of town to catch up with the carriage.

“Just the four of us then. I’m looking forward to it, Cici. Till then.” Adam tipped his hat and followed his brother.

As Cici turned to go back in her office, Barbara called her name, and she turned to greet her friend.

“I think we need to talk. Rosie has told me some upsetting news.”

Barbara proceeded to tell Cici all that Rosie had said about her suspicions of her son. Cici thought they ought to share the idea with the sheriff so he could make some inquiries for them. Barbara agreed. Both of them knew that Sheriff Coffee could be very discreet when he needed to be. They trusted that this theory would not be shared, as it would be very damaging if it wasn’t true.

As they went inside, neither saw two men take up residence across the street at the mercantile sitting on the bench outside the store. They stayed there until Barbara left Cici’s house and then followed her to her home. Once she entered her home, one of the men left and the other moved behind some trees to keep watch on the house.

After Cici closed her office that afternoon, she headed to the Sheriff’s office to share the theory about Rosie’s son. Once there, Roy was very gracious and heard her out completely. Then he offered to send a few wires to see if he could get any more information. With that assurance, Cici headed home. A single man was shadowing her and followed until she got home. Once it was clear she was in for the night with her cousin, he left.

Since Monday, Roy had assigned deputies to watch all three women. They reported back to him on the two men shadowing Barbara and one following Cici. Rosie had not left Cici’s home that day, so there was nothing to report there. Roy was sure now that one of the women had been the target of the poison. He had thought it was likely Barbara or Rosie, but now Cici was being watched too. On the two previous days, only Rosie and Barbara had anyone following them. None of the men had done anything that was even remotely illegal yet so Roy was going to continue the surveillance. Roy went to the telegraph office to send out some inquiries but was afraid that something would happen before he got enough information to stop it whatever it was. By Saturday, the pattern had continued without any seeming change so Roy was stymied and still waiting for replies to his messages.

By one that afternoon, Roy and his deputies saw Adam ride in and go to Cici’s house where there was a carriage standing out front. After a brief visit inside, Adam came out and transferred his guitar and saddlebags to the boot of the carriage before walking Sport to the livery stable. As he returned, Cici, Barbara, and Rosie were loading baskets into the boot as well.

“It looks like you have enough to feed Hoss there, but he won’t be joining us today.”

“Not at all, Adam, Barbara and Rosie thought we ought to bring the wine we never had on Sunday so that is in one basket with some ice. Only one basket is filled with food. But if I recall, you do like roast chicken and peach pie.”

Smiling, Adam nodded in agreement and helped each of the ladies into the carriage. Barbara and Rosie climbed in first so they sat in the back. Cici was last so she could sit next to Adam on the ride. He rather liked that arrangement. Barbara and Rosie smiled at each other when Cici and Adam sat together up front. They knew he would be reluctant to start a relationship so soon after his wife’s death, but they thought that he and Cici would make a nice couple or at least very good friends so they were just gently nudging each of them in that direction.

Once the four of them arrived at the lake, blankets were spread in the shade, and they once again took off their boots, and then walked in the icy lake waters. Cici said they should all stay barefoot because they would be cooler on this hot August day. After they had their lunch and some wine, Adam got out his guitar so they could sing songs together. Finally, each got their books and Cici read a short section of hers. Adam was leaning back on his elbows near her when she was reading, and she suggested he could rest his head on her leg so he did. After she told him to do that, she couldn’t believe how bold she had been, but he looked comfortable. No one seemed scandalized so she thought she could relax except his head resting on her thigh was starting all these feelings churning through her that she was sure the ladies must be able to see her discomfort. They however were looking quite innocent as if all they cared about were listening to her read.

The four picnickers had been followed though. The two men who had been following Barbara took up a position high above the four and settled in to watch. The third man had followed these two and wondered what they were doing. As they settled in to watch, he began to scout for a spot where he could see the four down below but remain out of view of the two up above. Clem watched the drama begin to unfold and thought it looked ominous. He sent word back to town with the other deputy for Sheriff Coffee and told the man if he saw anyone to tell them to go to the Ponderosa for more help. Clem hoped nothing too dramatic happened before reinforcements appeared because he only had one deputy left with him.

*****

Chapter 6

Contented, Adam lay with his head on Cici’s thigh. At first he was just mesmerized by her voice as she read with emotion and skill. But he was beginning to feel that this was being too forward for he offered nothing more than friendship. As he moved to sit up, a gunshot resounded and hit the dirt at Rosie’s side. Adam grabbed her and rolled behind the tree urging Barbara and Cici to get behind the other one. He drew his pistol to defend them but had no idea where the shot originated. As he waited to see a target, there was rifle fire from the west but it didn’t seem to be aimed at them. Suddenly there was more pistol and rifle fire and men shouting. He used the opportunity to get the three ladies behind some boulders where there was more protection. There was one more shot and then silence.

“Adam, are you all right?”

It was his father. He wondered why his father was here and why there had been all that shooting. “Is it safe for us to come out?”

“Just a moment, son. Let us come down to you and make sure.”

After what seemed like an hour but was about ten minutes, Ben’s voice was much closer and reassuring them they could come out from hiding. Barbara walked out from behind the rocks with her arm around Rosie who was visibly shaken. Adam limped out with Cici’s assistance.

“Are you shot?”

“Ah, no, mostly a little damaged pride.”

Ben looked at him quizzically. Cici laughed. Adam looked sheepish.

“We rushed behind these rocks and Cici lost her balance and fell back into me. When I fell, I twisted my ankle. That’s all it is.”

Joe sat on Cochise and enjoyed Adam’s discomfiture. He hadn’t seen him look like that in years. That’s when Ben noticed they were all barefoot.

“Well maybe if you would have had your boots on, you wouldn’t have been hurt!”

“Pa, it’s just an ankle strain. Besides we were all comfortable until someone shot at us. What happened?”

“Roy’s on his way down here. He’s trying to figure that out with the men up on the ridge right now. I assume he’ll tell us when he gets here. Perhaps you would all like to put your boots on before he arrives?”

Over an hour passed before they could see Roy riding down toward them. Ben and Joe were seated with the ladies and Adam and enjoying peach pie and wine. They all had their boots on except Adam did not have his left boot on because his ankle was quite swollen. He was sitting with his ankle resting on one of the baskets. Cici was amazed and amused that even after all the gunfire, these men and women could relax again and have fun so soon.

“In Philadelphia after an episode like this, women would be lying in parlors being fanned by maids or family, and the men would be out demanding that elected officials do more about law and order.”

“We uncivilized hooligans of the west, my lady, just do not have enough refinement to be affected so.”

Adam had spoken with an exaggerated theatrical voice and all had to laugh. One look at Roy’s face as he neared them though made all of them more somber. Roy asked Rosie to describe her son. She clasped her hands to her mouth as tears streamed down her face.

“Now I don’t rightly know if that is your son up there so before you get yourself too upset, could you please give me a basic description?”

Barbara stood at one side of Rosie and Cici at the other. She described her son as almost six feet tall, very heavy, pale, with brown hair, brown eyes, and wearing spectacles.

“Rose Mary, I am very sorry to have ta tell ya this. The sheriff in Alturas said that your son has been gone twice in the last week and a half. Each time he said he was going fishing, but he headed south out of town, and we know that ain’t the direction to go if ya are going fishing in Alturas. Those trips coincided with the poisoning and this here shooting today. There’s a man up there on the ridge who fits your description too, but is refusing to talk with us.”

Barbara offered to go with Rosie to see who the man was, but they all knew who it was already. It would only confirm their suspicions. Cici offered to go too, but Rosie said she should stay and help Adam. Then Rosie and Barbara left with Roy. Ben and Joe helped Adam limp to the carriage. The three who weren’t limping then loaded the baskets, blankets, and such into the boot of the carriage. Adam assured them he could drive, but Ben said to take the carriage to the Ponderosa instead of town because he wouldn’t be able to ride Sport home anyway.

“Cici can wrap your ankle back at the house. Then Joe can drive the carriage back to town and get Sport for you. If that’s all right with you, Cici?”

“I knew I should have applied to be an in-house doctor for the Cartwrights. Two damaged in a week. I wouldn’t need to see any other patients at this rate.”

“Well, Pa, we need to get back soon or that other patient is going to be trying to get on Chubb and come out here to see what’s going on.”

Ben looked at Adam and Cici to explain that they were all relaxing on the porch enjoying the cool breeze when a man rode in and said a deputy told him they needed help.

“Was that you with all that rifle fire up there then?”

“No, apparently, Barbara’s father hired some men to watch over his daughter. He thought someone might be trying to hurt him by hurting her. They were the first to fire on Rosie’s son, which probably saved your lives. He had an arsenal with him but never expected that there would be much return fire.”

“Then who fired that last shot?”

“That would have been me, older brother. He was going to try one last shot at you before we could get to him. He didn’t get that shot.”

“Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Pa. We really needed your help today. But why was there a deputy riding to the Ponderosa for help?”

“Roy has had someone watching over the ladies all week. They followed the men who were following you. When it looked like it might be more than following, Clem sent for help.”

Cici sighed. “I have had this creepy feeling all week that someone was watching me, but every time I looked, there was no one there. Rosie said the same thing, and we assumed it was our nerves getting to us. But it was Rosie’s son and the deputies. I’m relieved now that I know that I am not imagining things.”

The crisis was over and no one got shot. Cici came to the ranch and wrapped Adam’s ankle before riding back to town with Joe. The two of them talked quite a bit about Joe’s situation and what he might do about it. They had been friends a long time. Before they parted, Joe asked if she thought she and Adam might have a future.

“Joe, it’s much too soon to think like that. He’s still in mourning for his wife. I’m his friend and I like that. For now, that’s going t have to be good enough.”

“It is. He needs a friend. He lost a lot with everything that happened, and there aren’t many he will trust or let into his heart. You seem to be the exception so I hope it works out at least for friendship, and I have to say, I wouldn’t mind at all if it was more.”

The following day, Cici was back for dinner even though she had already checked over Hoss on Saturday after wrapping Adam’s ankle. On Sunday, she got to attend to both men, and the three of them sat on the porch and enjoyed lively conversation. After that, Cici became a regular Sunday guest at the Ponderosa, and there were more picnics including Hoss, and sometimes Hoss’ children and Ben too on occasion. Joe was there rarely as he was spending most of his Sundays with Rachel and the children. But the fall roundup ended the pleasant outings, the weather was getting colder, and then Adam left for Wyoming in early November.

*****

Chapter 7

When Adam arrived in Wyoming, he was leading a string of horses. He had purchased some mares and two stallions from the herd Joe was developing on the Ponderosa. With a man he hired to help, he brought them to the CR ranch. Reg and Bud liked the looks of the horses he brought in and began to make plans for breeding to improve the herd at the ranch. With the larger stable Adam had built the previous season, they had plenty of room to do that. Adam began working on other projects that he had planned for the ranch before he had left in early summer.

“Adam, what’s her name?”

Bent over his drafting table, Adam looked up at Reg in surprise.

“Don’t look so surprised. Ever since you got here you have had that same distracted look much of the time. I seem to recall a similar look when you weren’t sure how to proceed with Marlee. Don’t worry, I can’t tell what you’re thinking, but I can see that you are. That you haven’t shared your thoughts with me, Robert, or Bud has led me to the conclusion that it’s a woman.”

“I don’t know what to say. It is a woman, but I don’t know how I feel about her. I didn’t want to talk with you about it.”

“Because you thought I might think you were betraying Marlee? Nonsense. You made her as happy as I could have hoped. I only wish the two of you would have had more time and that she could have seen Robert go to school. She was worried about you and what you would do after her death. I assured her that you were in control of your life again and she need not worry.”

“I may be in control of my life, but I don’t know how she feels. Her name is Cynthia Catherine Davis, but I have always called her Cici, which is what her nickname was in her family. Marlee let me know right away how she felt so it was up to me to decide to be with her or not. Cici hasn’t been so direct.”

“How is it you don’t know how she feels. Didn’t you spend time together?”

“Yes, we did but as friends and with others always around. We were never together with only the two of us, but even then, there were some signs she was interested, but there was nothing direct. Now that I’m here though I’m just thinking of her. I’m not sure how I feel, but I think I wish we were more than friends.”

“Beautiful?”

“Yes, to me, she is, and she’s so smart. She’s a doctor. She’s also twelve years younger than I am. I don’t know if any of my feelings would be reciprocated.”

“Write to her. You won’t be distracted by her beauty or any other of her, ah, attributes, and you can explore your feelings with her without having to be there and be all nervous about it. You’ll be able to say things that you might find difficult in a face-to-face conversation because you can think about it and say it just the way you want to. She can do the same.”

Adam was thoughtful. He wrote to his father and brothers every two weeks now letting them know what he was doing. They wrote to tell him of their activities and thoughts. He could write to Cici, and if she answered, they could continue and perhaps discover if there was anything more than friendship for them. He smiled at Reg. “That could work.”

“I’m a lawyer. I know how to bring two parties together.” Reg grinned then. To him, it was like winning a case.

As Christmas approached, Adam had his first letter for Cici ready to mail. He had been exceedingly careful in how he worded his proposal to her. He hoped she would write back. If she didn’t though, he would know that there was no future there other than as ordinary friends.

On the Ponderosa, Christmas planning and decorating was in full swing when a packet arrived from Adam. Ben invited Cici to be with them on Christmas because she no longer had any family living in Virginia City or anywhere nearby. Roy Coffee agreed to be her escort and the Martins were invited to be there too. She accepted. On Christmas morning, Ben heard the carriages approaching and went outside to greet his guests. Hoss and Joe took the horses and brought them to the barn before joining everyone inside.

There were drinks, toasts, and wonderful snacks. Joe was anxious to open gifts with everyone there so that came next. There was a lot of oohs and ahs amid a variety of comments about gifts. Then Ben read a letter that Adam had written to all of them for Christmas wishing them the joy of the season and telling them what he had been doing. Just before dinner, Ben asked Cici to join him by his desk. He pulled another letter from the desk drawer and handed it to her.

“Adam sent us letters in a large envelope. There were individual letters for me, Hoss, and Joe. He wrote a cute little letter for the children. In a note inside, he asked me to read the open letter to his family and our guests if we had any on Christmas. Last, he asked that I give this letter to you privately and suggest you read it when no one else is around.”

“I would very much like to read it now.”

Ben suggested then that she should sit at his desk to read. He brought a lamp over so that she would have more light. Then he left her to read and joined the others who were doing their best to sing, but without Adam’s voice, the choir was a bit flat although quite joyous and enthusiastic. Cici opened the envelope slowly. She had hopes for what this letter might say but also knew it could be something she didn’t want to read. After reading the letter, she walked over and sat next to Hoss and joined the others in singing. Ben looked at her and she grinned at him. He relaxed: it must have been good news.

Ben walked Cici out to the carriage later. “I take it you liked the letter from Adam?”

“Yes, very much. We are going to be writing regularly.”

“I’m very glad about that. Helping Joe and taking care of Hoss were important steps for Adam to take this past summer. He needed to be needed. He also needs a friend with whom he can share the most important things in his life. I’m glad that you are that friend.”

“I think he’s coming back here.”

“I do too. The letters we get talk of the projects he has to finish and the help he promised to Robert. There isn’t any talk of more to do there after he finishes his commitments. I hope the two of you can grow closer too. Our letters could be very important to getting Adam to come home.”

Cici smiled so much that her face started to hurt. Those smile muscles were getting quite a workout. Her friends and patients noticed too how she even seemed happier walking about town and working in her office after Christmas although none of them knew the reason.

Letters started traveling at a fast pace between the CR ranch and Virginia City’s newest doctor. As soon as one got a letter, there was a push to write a response as quickly as possible and send it so that the next letter could be sent in return. They wrote of their pasts and the present. The future was not discussed. By early March, suddenly Cici did not get a response to her last letter. She waited for almost two weeks and there was nothing. She worried that something had happened to Adam or that he had changed his mind about pursuing a relationship with her. As she got ready to close her office for lunch on that Friday, her doorway was darkened by a tall handsome cowboy who had what appeared to be about two weeks of trail dust on him.

“I should have cleaned up before seeing you, but I couldn’t wait. I’m sorry for my appearance. I should have been here a week ago, but everything that could go wrong did. I got sick, my horse went lame, the stagecoach lost a wheel damaging the axle, and we waited at a station until another stage could be sent, and the telegraph line went down in a dust storm.”

Cici walked over and put two fingers over his lips.

“I’m am just so glad you are here and safe.”

Relieved that she wasn’t upset with him but seemed so happy to see him, Adam put his hands on Cici’s waist and pulled her to him. He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. Cici threw her arms around his neck and his hesitation was gone. She kissed him with enthusiasm, but her lips remain chastely closed. Adam teased her lips open, and as he kissed her more deeply, he felt her flinch a bit but she didn’t pull away. They kissed until they needed to stop to catch their breath.

“Well that answers that question. You are glad to see me, and we are definitely more than friends.”

Cici reached up to touch his cheek. “I love you.”

He kissed her gently. “I love you.”

Adam grinned at her. Gads, she thought: apparently he didn’t know how devastatingly seductive that smile of his was. Then she wondered if he did. “You do need a bath.”

“Oh, I need more than that. I need a bath and then a shave, clean clothes, and lunch would be at the top of my list. Would you like to join me?”

“I hope that invitation was for just the lunch part of your list, and if it was, then I accept.” She grinned a cheeky grin, but his look said that perhaps he wouldn’t have minded company for the rest of the list. “You’re awful.”

“I’ve missed you. I want to spend as much time with you as I can.”

“Get that bath, shave, and clean clothes, and then we’ll see how much time we can spend together.”

“How much time do I have?”

“I was closing up for lunch when you arrived. I can stay open a bit longer and take a later lunch. Things have been slow today anyway. I can take a late lunch. I have no afternoon appointments. How about lunch in an hour? Would that be enough time?”

After doing those things he needed to do and as fast as he could do them, Adam joined her at the restaurant for lunch and asked for the alcove in the back so they could talk. They talked of changes occurring in Virginia City and what she had been doing for the past four months as well as what Adam had done in Wyoming. Adam took her hand after they finished eating and held it in his hand staring at it for a moment before looking up and into her eyes.

“Please marry me.”

She sat back in shock. It had been something she had contemplated, but this was so sudden it had hit her hard.

“Why wait? I love you. You have told me you love me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Cici thought about it and couldn’t come up with an argument against what he said. Her parents were deceased, and she had no siblings. Rosie had moved back east after her son tried to kill her. Waiting to have the wedding would not make a difference. She looked at Adam and had only one question.

“I want to continue my work. Would you have a problem with me being a full time doctor here in Virginia City?”

“Not at all. I fell in love with a doctor. It would seem silly to expect you to be something else because we are married.”

“When would you want to get married?”

“We could marry today.”

Cici’s eyes got very wide. Her heart started racing, and she wasn’t sure lunch was going to stay down. Adam was looking at her with such longing and hope, she had to say something. “Well then I have another question. Don’t we need a ring and a minister to complete the ceremony?”

Adam reached into his jacket that was hanging on the back of his chair and produced a small brown box. He handed it to Cici and told her to open it. Inside was a gold ring with an emerald set between two diamonds. There was a matching wedding band that twinned with it that could be worn separately.

“Will that do? I had it made in Salt Lake City. I was hoping you would be my love and my wife. I wanted to be ready. When you’re working, you can wear the simple band, but when there’s a more dressy occasion, you can add the fancier part.”

Cici started to cry, and Adam handed her his handkerchief. By now, even though they were in the alcove in the back, they were getting stares from the other patrons many of whom did not know who he was and wondered why their good doctor was crying. Adam stood and suggested they ought to leave, and Cici stood so he could help her with her coat. Within about fifteen minutes, they were at the minister’s house and explaining why they wanted him to perform a wedding ceremony. Another fifteen minutes, and they walked out of his house as husband and wife.

“Oh, Adam, this was so exciting I didn’t think. Isn’t your father going to be upset that he wasn’t at your wedding?”

“He may be. We’ll tell him and he can give us the biggest party anyone could imagine or nothing or whatever he wants to do. He’ll be happy. Consider how long he has waited for me to be married here. But I do think we should go to the Ponderosa tonight. I would hate for someone to tell him before we do.”

The couple went to Cici’s house so she could pack some things for the weekend. They discussed for quite a while where they would live but couldn’t come to a conclusion. Living on the Ponderosa was too far for her to continue her practice, and Adam living in town was impractical for him. They talked of building but had no definite idea where so they decided to talk more about that later. Cici smiled to herself as she thought how happy Ben and Adam’s brothers would be if they could hear this conversation. Adam was clearly staying here in Virginia City.

They made a stop at Cici’s office so she could leave a note on the door telling people where she could be found on the weekend. She dressed in her riding skirt and rented a horse at the livery stable. It was late though by the time she and Adam reached the Ponderosa and the only light burning was the lamp by the study window. Adam smiled and explained that the lamp was always lit when one of them was not home. In the stable, they saw that Cochise was not there so it was Joe who was not home. He must have been expected though because the front door was unlocked. Adam hung his jacket and hat up and set his gunbelt on the credenza. No one was up so Adam led Cici up the stairs to his room.

Once inside his room with the door closed, Adam took Cici in his arms. Although she returned his kiss with ardor, he could feel her shaking. Sitting on the bed, he pulled her onto his lap.

“Do you trust me?”

Cici nodded yes.

“I will never hurt you. I will be patient. We have the rest of our lives together so we can begin slowly.”

“I’ve never done anything except to kiss a man, and it was all very chaste and proper. Until today, I never knew that kissing could be so passionate. You might expect that a doctor would know more than that but it wasn’t something they talked about in my studies. I do know the basic process, but I don’t know what you expect of me.”

At that, Cici turned red from embarrassment. Adam smiled, touched her cheek with his fingertips, and slowly slid them down and across the skin showing through the top open buttons of her blouse. He leaned in to kiss her and slid his other hand into her hair. Item by item, clothing was discarded to the far side of the bed. Laying back on the bed with Cici wrapped in his embrace, step by step, Adam introduced her to the passion and pleasure a man and a woman could enjoy. They fell asleep lying side by side with his arm wrapped around her holding them together. In the morning, they were awakened by footsteps in the hallway and a knock on the door before it was pushed open. Adam had quickly rolled on his side to face the door and Cici snuggled down behind him.

“Adam, I didn’t know you were coming home so soon. When I saw your door closed, I was hoping it meant that you were in here. Come on down to breakfast. I’m sure your brothers would like to see you too.”

Adam nodded yes and Ben left pulling the door closed behind him. He wasn’t surprised to see Adam shirtless because he knew his oldest son preferred sleeping that way. He wished he would wear a nightshirt but had given up on that issue. It just didn’t seem important. In the bedroom, Adam pulled the covers up over his head and rolled around to talk with Cici. Hidden under the covers, it was unlikely that anyone would hear what they said.

“I am so glad we put your clothing on that side of the bed last night. Now if you would like to get dressed, we can go down to breakfast.”

“Oh, I think you should go down to breakfast and tell them, and I’ll join you later.”

“Nope, I have told you about my father’s raging inferno temper and would hate for you to miss an example of it.”

“Why is he going to be mad? I thought he would be happy we are married.”

“Oh, he will be, but the first thing that will happen when he sees us is that his temper will blow. He has a tendency to jump to conclusions, and he has especially with me, and to be fair, with Joe too. When it happens, reason, logic, and common sense have no room in his head because he’s angry. You will have to see it to believe it. The great Ben Cartwright blowing his stack is a sight to behold.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes I am, and I am going to enjoy the next part so very much.”

“Then why didn’t you tell him when he had the door open?”

“To fully enjoy it, I think I have to be dressed and so do you. You wouldn’t have wanted me to introduce you as my wife like this?” Adam ran his hand from her cheek down to her hip. “You’re so beautiful, but I would rather not share this vision with my father.”

Shaking her head, Cici got out of bed and dressed. Amazed at how natural it felt to be nude in front of a man for the very first time in her life, Cici decided that could only mean than however impulsive they had been the day before, it was the right decision. Actually he had gotten her to act impulsively. He apparently had planned ahead. Adam got a pitcher of water, and they shared the water and the washbasin. She was a little sore but felt very satisfied too. From what she had gleaned from conversations with other women who were usually older than her, she had thought that it was her duty to take care of her husband’s needs in marriage. She had never expected to enjoy it so much. She finished dressing as Adam shaved. Then he pulled on a shirt, put on his boots, and opened the door.

“Ready for this? He really doesn’t bite. It just looks like he wants to take your head off. Well, in this case, my head.”

Cici nodded, and Adam kissed her gently. Arm in arm, they walked down the hall and the stairs. Before they reached the landing midway down, Ben reacted.

“Cici, what are you doing here? Adam, what is the meaning of this?”

Joe and Hoss sat at the table frozen like statues staring at Adam and Cici. Adam tugged Cici to continue as she had frozen almost in midstep at Ben’s bellow. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they walked to the dining table.

“I thought we would have some breakfast. Hoss hasn’t eaten it all yet has he?”

Ben stood. If possible, his face got redder and his voice louder. Cici cringed back against Adam. He looked down at her and shrugged.

“You may be a forty-year-old man, but in this house, there are standards that are not going to be forgotten.”

“To which standard are you referring? The one where a man and his wife sit down to breakfast with the family?”

“You cannot expect me to just ignore this. This is immoral, and I will not tolerate this in my house!”

Ben was going to say something more, but paused as he thought about what Adam had said. Adam lifted Cici’s left hand to show the ring set on her finger. Hoss grinned, and Joe whooped and jumped up from the table to hug and kiss Cici.

“What the heck!” Joe kissed Adam on the cheek too.

“Papa, why did Uncle Joe kiss Uncle Adam? Why is Miss Cici here? Why is Grandpa mad at Uncle Adam? Papa, what’s going on?” Hoss came around the table to give Adam a big bear hug and then gave Cici one too after Joe released her. Ben was struggling to say something. Hoss turned to Iris and Mark then to explain that Adam was married now and Cici was now Aunt Cici. He said he would explain the other things after breakfast but that they should say they were happy for Uncle Adam and Aunt Cici. They did and then asked to be excused to go play.

All of it gave Ben a chance to collect his thoughts. Adam looked at him. “Pa, what is it you would like to say?”

Ben sat down. Cici walked to him and kissed him on the cheek. “The letters worked, Papa.”

*****

Chapter 8

After breakfast, Adam and Cici went for a ride explaining to the family that they were going to scout out some possible building sites. The rest of breakfast had been very entertaining. Hop Sing had come out to see what all the commotion was and was very happy for number one son but then complained of all the extra work he would have to do. Everyone smiled. The next bit occurred as Adam and Cici were asked where they were going to live and discussed that. For now, they decided that from Friday through Monday morning, they would stay on the Ponderosa. Monday night through Thursday night, Adam would go to town to stay at Cici’s house. They would continue this way until they had a better option or got a house built that was more convenient. Every decision they made for a time was likely to be just as entertaining to the family if they conducted it in front of them because they had married without having much of a discussion of the future. They had trusted each other that they would be able to work out any issues. It could get to be difficult, and they both knew it. For now though, they were so much in love, that nothing seemed to be a serious problem. For the other three members of the family, it was interesting and amusing to see Adam and Cici start to find things out about the other that they didn’t know and then banter back and forth about issues.

Ben, Hoss, and Joe immediately began discussing party plans as soon as Adam and Cici walked out of the house that morning. Ben had asked who knew of their wedding and found it was the family and the minister. The plan was that the minister would announce it at church on Sunday morning. With that concern out of the way, they could begin inviting people at that same service. Joe had some grandiose plans but was reminded that they were hoping to have the party in one week, so time could be an issue. Adam was going to send a telegram to let Reg, Robert, and Bud know of the wedding and the party if they could get away. Ben had a list of people he intended to send telegrams to but didn’t know if any of them would be able to attend with only one week’s notice. However, any wedding on the Ponderosa would be well attended so this would be a big celebration regardless. Hop Sing was brought into the discussion and suggested that his cousins could help with food, decorations, and fireworks. The fireworks especially appealed to Joe’s sense of theatrics. Soon everyone had things to do and was about to head off in different directions.

“Pa, Adam’s is really back with us now, ain’t he! That was a little bit mean springing that surprise on ya that way, but you know how he likes to surprise us. And him having that plan with the ring and all before he saw Cici is just like Adam used to be. He’s back in more ways than one.”

“After I thought about it a bit, I decided that it wasn’t mean. I’m sure they would have told me last night if I had still been up, but I was so tired I had gone to bed earlier than usual. This morning, there really wasn’t a way for him to announce it that wouldn’t have affected me unless he wanted to yell it from upstairs before I saw the two of them. It was quite a shock though to see them walking down the stairs together.”

“Pa, he could have come down by himself to tell us and then Cici could have come down.”

“Well, now that you mention that, Joe, maybe he was just a little mean.” Ben smiled though to show he wasn’t serious about that.

“Oh, Pa, you shoulda seen your face. Adam musta loved that. You was redder than a beet.”

“Hoss, I seem to recall seeing my two younger sons sitting there pale as ghosts and stiff as statues when they came waltzing down those stairs.”

“Pa, you ain’t never been on this side of one your bellows, and if ya was, you’d understand how we felt expecting one and sitting so close to ya and all.”

Ben puffed out his chest and stood to his full height, and bellowed: “I do not bellow!”

Joe started laughing so hard he fell across the red leather chair. Hoss guffawed, and Ben laughed that deep laugh of his. Hop Sing came out of the kitchen to see what the commotion was this time, and smiled. The family was happy again. So much trouble for this family sometimes, but they could still enjoy the good times. The children came running in from outside to see what the fun was and were disappointed to hear is was the adults kidding each other. They never understood such things and were always as disappointed as they were this time. They were told about the wedding party that would be held in a week though, and that made them happy because parties meant cake and children visiting so they would be having a good time.

Near the border of the Ponderosa, Adam and Cici had dismounted yet again to look at a potential building site. This was the closest site to town that they had found a possible spot. There was a nice flat area for building and was near the main road so there wouldn’t have to be much done to connect to it. As Cici walked about looking at the size of the site and thinking of what they could build there, she turned to see Adam gazing up the hill on the north side of the site.

“You’re not thinking of building there are you?”

“It could be done. It isn’t that much of an elevation change from here, and if we can find water for a well, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

“How would you build a house on the side of a hill?”

“What I see is a long narrow two story house with a veranda across the whole front. Every room would have a southern exposure so there would be good light all day but not any direct light except for the rooms on either end. One could be the kitchen and the other end could be a study.”

“You see all that in your head don’t you? But how long to build it? It sounds elaborate.”

“Yes, it would take some time. But we could build a small house here with a small kitchen, small washroom, and room for a table, a dresser, and a bed. Later we could convert it easily into a bunkhouse for hired hands. If we built a small stable and corral that could be expanded later, we could move here within two months.”

“Ah, Adam, about that kitchen. Have I mentioned that I don’t really know how to cook. I can make scrambled eggs and bacon, and I can fry or roast beef, and I can even make beef stew, but that’s about it.”

“In your kitchen, there were all sorts of food including bread and pies.”

“Some of my patients pay me with food. Cheaper for them and cheaper for me than going to a restaurant for dinner.”

Adam laughed and wrapped his arms around her.

“Well, I can cook like that too, but I can also make beans a lot of different ways. We can hire a cook and housekeeper here. On the Ponderosa, Hop Sing will prepare all the meals. For now at your house, we can survive with our cooking skills. If we get too tired of beef stew, we can always go to a restaurant.”

“That could get to be expensive.”

“Perhaps we should talk about what I have and own.”

For the next hour, Adam explained about cash accounts he had because of the settlement from the Kings and how that came about. He told her that there were still some additional payments they would be making. He told of the CR Ranch and his share of that which would also mean a regular source of income unless Reg exercised an option to buy him out.

“That’s not likely for the foreseeable future though as he’s putting most of his profits back into the ranch to build it up. Then of course, I’ll continue to work on the Ponderosa as needed and draw a salary here. That my not be that much, but it will be a regular amount. There were some investments that I were never touched by the lawsuit or my liquidating them and I can sell those for additional funds or continue to get a return on them. I hope too to get some work doing architectural or engineering work like I did in Wyomint. Money will not be an issue for us, and you will have time to build your practice without worry.”

Then Cici brought up the most serious issue so far: children.

“Adam, do you want children?”

“I’m not sure. I’m forty years old, soon to be forty-one. I know that when I walk into the house and see Hoss sitting with one or both of his children, I get a longing for the same. I don’t know though. You are much younger but you want to be a doctor, and I don’t know how children would fit into that choice.”

“So, you’re not against the idea?”

“Not at all, but I won’t push you either. Whichever way it works out will be fine with me. I either have you to love for the rest of my life, or I have you with children to love the rest of my life. I’m pulling in the jackpot either way.”

“We didn’t use any method to protect against it last night so it could already be decided.”

“It was just once so the odds would be against you being with child already. but yes, I know it is possible.”

“I do want children but would like to wait a little. We have a lot to do in the next few months. Then, I would like to have a child, but we don’t have to do anything differently. I will leave it in God’s hands. Now though we should get going. I’m getting cold standing here, and we can talk back at the house.”

Adam unbuttoned his coat.

“What are you doing? It’s freezing today!”

Adam stepped next to her and opened his coat and drew her into an embrace and wrapped his coat around her. Cici wrapped her arms around him under his coat and put her head on his chest. Adam kept his arms around her and rested his chin on her head.

“Warmer now?”

“Yes. Thank you. This is nice.”

Once Cici stopped shivering, Adam helped her get on her horse. Then he used the blanket roll he had brought along to wrap around her shoulders and her blanket roll, he laid over her legs to keep them warm. It was still cold in March so he had insisted they strap bedrolls on before leaving, and now Cici was very grateful that he had insisted.

“When we get back, I’ll get you into a warm bath. You’ll feel a lot better then, and so will I.” With that, Adam shot a salacious grin at Cici. “In medical school, did they ever discuss the benefits of a husband and wife bathing together? I’m sure that it could be quite invigorating, and we’ll both be pleasantly warm or even hot when we’re done.”

With that, Cici turned even redder than the cold had made her cheeks. For perhaps the first time in her life, she had no comeback. She began to imagine what he might mean for them to do and just got more embarrassed but also was highly intrigued by the possibilities. When she looked at Adam, he was grinning at her. She couldn’t help it; she grinned back.

Back home, Adam had Cici sit wrapped in the two blankets on a hay bale as he got the horses settled in their stalls, groomed, fed, and watered. Then he walked over and pulled her to her feet before bending and picking her up to carry her, blankets and all, to the house. Inside, he set her down and announced to his father and brothers that he was going to get Cici into a warm bath.

“Once you get her in there, come back here, and your brothers and I can tell you of the party plans and preparations.”

Picking Cici up in his arms once more, he moved toward the kitchen and as he passed through the door into the kitchen on the way to the washroom, he sent a salvo over his shoulder. “That may be a while, a very long while.”

Ben looked at his sons and saw from the looks on their faces that they had drawn the same conclusion as he had. Joe had to say something.

“Adam’s back, Pa. He’s definitely back.”

“I know; I know. Lord, help us.”

*****

Chapter 9

Once Hop Sing heated enough water, Adam pushed the washroom door closed and dropped the latch. He and Cici undressed quickly and stepped into the warm water sinking gratefully into its warmth as Cici leaned back into Adam’s embrace as they reclined in the large tub. There was warm water almost to her chin.

“I’m very glad Hoss is such a big man. We ordered this extra large tub because of him. Who knew there would be fringe benefits to that idea.”

A half hour later, there was a bit less water because some had splashed onto the floor of the washroom due to their activities. The water was cooling too, and she sat forward and twisted to look back at Adam who reclined with his eyes closed.

“If you want, I could wash your back. Just turn around.”

Adam slowly opened his eyes and grinned at her. “As soon as you make room for me to do that, I will.”

Even though Cici knew he was hinting at more, she chose to ignore it. She grabbed a cloth and soap and started to lather the cloth. Adam turned and turned so that his back was toward her. Cici rubbed his back. Other than that morning as they dressed, she had not had a good look at the scars on his back, but she had felt them and knew they were raised and thick. There appeared to be about twenty stripes of scar tissue with some overlapping and others roughly paralleling each other. As she washed his back, she wondered if there was something that could be done to ease any discomfort he had from them so she asked if anyone had done anything to help.

“Until I left in November, Hoss would rub some ointment Hop Sing had made into the scar tissue. He did it for me almost every night. It did help to soften and smooth out the tissue. On my neck I think the scar tissue actually diminished. I still have some of that ointment in my, err, our room.”

“In the bath like this, I think a pumice stone could be used to reduce the ridges of the scars, and then after the bath, the ointment could be applied. I will talk to Hop Sing and see what he thinks.”

Adam was impressed that she was willing to talk with Hop Sing about nonwestern medical treatment. That she was more clinically interested in his scars and not squeamish at all about them was a relief too. In their many conversations and in the letters, he had talked some about what happened to him so she knew he carried these physical scars. It didn’t bother her because she had been more concerned about what he felt and thought about his treatment. The more he learned about Cici, the more impressed he was with her.

“Wouldn’t scraping the tissue create a chance of infection?”

“Possibly but with a good soap scrub before and after, it is unlikely. We could do a rinse with carbolic acid to be sure. There, your back is done. Do you want me to wash your front too? I have the cloth all lathered and ready.”

Grabbing the cloth from Cici as she dangled it over his chest, Adam rolled his eyes at her. For someone who twenty-four hours earlier had never been with a man, she was certainly learning fast especially in how to tease him. Laughing, Cici climbed out of the tub, grabbed a towel, and dried off. She was nearly dressed by the time Adam stood to get out of the tub. She took the dry towel that was there and pantomimed taking off with it.

“You better not do that! Choices have consequences!” Adam did a fake scowl at Cici, and she laughed.

“You’ll have to do better than that if you want to make me scared. I’m just giving this back because I’m hungry, and this game could take too long. Do you want me to help dry you?”

Giving another impish grin, Cici sat on the bench next to the tub and looked her husband up and down as he dressed. Adam just shook his head as he thought about her.

“What force of nature have I unleashed here?”

She giggled in response. After releasing the plug at the bottom of the tub so the water could flow outside, Adam and Cici headed into the kitchen.

Hop Sing was finishing dinner and when Cici asked when would be a good time to talk about his treatment for Adam’s scars, he had the two of them sit at the table, and they talked as he finished dinner. The ointment he had made was for soothing and softening but often did reduce the size of scars as well. Hop Sing agreed that the pumice stone idea should work, and that they should take precautions against infection as Adam suggested. Scar tissue has no feeling so if an infection got into the scars, it could be well advanced before Adam would know. Hop Sing decided that he liked this young lady more and more. When she mentioned that she could not cook other than the basics, he offered to either teach her a little each weekend or make a recommendation of someone to hire to do it for her. Adam thought both ideas were good ones, and Cici agreed. They helped Hop Sing carry in the dishes for dinner.

After dinner and some conversation in front of the fireplace, Hoss told the children to head to bed and said he was tired and heading to bed too. He poked Joe and nodded toward Adam and Cici. Ben was sitting at his desk, and he too suddenly was too tired and needed to go to bed.

“Hold it! You don’t have to go running off to give us privacy. Cici and I know how to have privacy if we need it. Now everyone should just relax and do what you would normally do on a Saturday night, and I’m guessing going to bed early is not it.”

“Well, older brother, ya ain’t had a honeymoon so we thought we ought to give you some time alone.”

“Hoss, Adam and I have been discussing taking a honeymoon, but with my practice just getting started, we probably won’t until fall. Don’t worry. We talk about everything, and if any of you, not just Hoss, have a concern, please feel free to talk with us. We can be very honest if you will just ask.”

“And I will be spending Monday through Thursday nights in town. We will have lots of privacy then. So please don’t let us disrupt your plans here.”

Ben opened his book again and turned up the lamp on his desk. Hoss started setting up the checkerboard again and Joe turned his chair back in that direction. Iris and Mark asked if that meant they could also stay up but were disappointed when Hoss said that it was still their bedtime. Adam and Cici had a backgammon set and decided now would be a good time to play. It didn’t take long for Hoss and Joe to be watching their backgammon battle and to be intrigued by the game. Because it was a two-person game, it would be perfect for the two brothers. Soon Cici coaching Hoss were playing against Adam coaching Joe. Ben smiled from his desk. This had been the vision of his family he had been hoping to see again, and Cici was the biggest reason for it. He loved this daughter-in-law as did his sons. The future looked better than it had in quite a while.

*****

Chapter 10

That night, as Cici rested in Adam’s arms again, she felt safe and loved. She wondered about something though that they had never discussed. She decided to ask if it was taboo.

“Adam, we’ve never talked about your wives. Is that something you don’t want to talk about?”

“I can talk about them. I didn’t know if that was something I should do with my new wife.”

“I would like to know the other women who loved my husband.”

“Victoria was my quiet girl. She was the kind of woman who liked being at home, liked doing the kind of things that made a house a home, yet she was smart and liked to read. We could have long conversations about all sorts of things. She had never traveled, never saw much of the world. She was excited about coming west. She wanted to see more of the country, experience more of what it was like when I traveled out here with my father. That’s why we traveled by wagon part of the way and why she was killed. I felt terribly guilty about that for a long time, and in many ways, I still do.”

“But she wanted to do that. You had no way of knowing what would happen. No one can guess what’s going to happen, to know what others are going to do.”

“After I rescued that Shoshoni boy, I should have realized those men might retaliate. I should have known it was possible.”

“What could you have done?’

“That’s the part where I get stuck. I don’t know.”

“What was Marlee like?”

“She told me that when she was young, she was shy. I never knew her like that. I used to visit her and her husband in San Francisco when I was there on business. She was always self-assured and maybe even a bit brassy. When I saw her in Wyoming, she made no secret of what she wanted and held nothing back about her condition. She was blunt in her honesty. She was smart too and liked to read. She read Whitman and Dickens but her favorite were trashy dime novels she hid inside good books to try to fool people so they didn’t know what she was actually reading.”

“That’s funny.”

“She had a great sense of humor. She could laugh at the crazy things in life and enjoy the beautiful and appreciate each good thing there was. She wasn’t morbid about her condition. She wanted to be positive and enjoy life as if there was no such diagnosis looming over her. She worried more about me and what would happen to me after she was gone.”

“You knew about her heart before you got involved with her?”

“I did. I went in with my eyes wide open. It may seem odd, but with Diane, I thought we would have many years together, and we ended up having only a few months. With Marlee, the only difference was that I knew it wouldn’t be years.”

“Life can be very unpredictable.”

“Yes, a year ago, I never would have expected to be resting beside a wonderful woman and living on the Ponderosa and planning my future here as my wedding was going to be announced in church the following day.”

“I have the same wonder.”

Chuckling softly, Adam pulled her into his embrace, kissed her, and whispered that they needed to get some sleep. She agreed because she wanted to be fresh when they arrived at church the next day.

Sunday morning was cloudy, and Ben didn’t realize the time at first. When he did, he got out of bed quickly and pulled on his robe. This was one Sunday, he didn’t want to be late to church. He opened Hoss’ door and called to him to wake him. Next he went in Joe’s room and shook him awake. Then pretty much without thinking, he knocked and opened Adam’s door to wake him with a word, but what he saw left him speechless. Ben quickly pulled the door closed and mumbled an apology to the closed door. ‘Lord, how am I going to say I’m sorry for that one?’ was his only thought.

In Adam’s room, Cici was turning a brilliant shade of pink. She had been laying atop Adam and kissing him. Adam had reached to pull the sheet over them as soon as he heard the knock, but the sheet was twisted with the comforter and only came to their waists. Well at least all his Pa had seen was a bare back mostly.

“You most definitely need to get a lock on that door. I can’t believe your father just saw us like this!”

“Well it was a good thing he didn’t come barging in ten minutes sooner or he would have seen a lot more.”

Adam was grinning at her as she remembered and got even more embarrassed.

“Okay, then this is certain: you will go down to breakfast and I will stay here, perhaps until tomorrow morning when I go back to town. I don’t think I could bear to look at your father right now.”

“Sweetheart, there is just one big problem with that. We are going to have our marriage announced today in church. If you’re not there, I’m afraid of the salacious stories that will be told about us. Who knows what rumors and gossip will be spread by tomorrow morning. Now you wouldn’t want that would you?”

“That is not funny. How can you joke about this?”

“It’s over. There’s nothing that can be done about it so it makes sense to relax about it and move on.”

“I don’t know how you do that.”

“I have been through some tough things. It taught me to pick my battles more carefully because there are some things not important enough to worry about. There are also things that I cannot change nor control. Therefore I guess I have decided to worry only about important things that I can do something about and let the rest go, or at least try to.”

“Your father is probably just as embarrassed as I am.”

“More! My guess is that he is far more embarrassed because he is the reason for the situation. He will be trying to avoid you because he won’t be able to look at you without thinking of what he did.”

“Or what he saw!”

“He didn’t see much, but it’s Sunday, and he’s headed to church. He probably thinks the devil made him do it. He’ll be thinking of how to repent.”

They laughed together then and got out of bed to dress. Adam left first to go get the carriage ready. Ben was sitting at the table as Adam walked to the front door. All Adam did was give his father a little salute, and Ben started turning red all over again. Hoss and Joe were both curious as to what was going on but their questions got no answers. Joe suddenly had enough to eat and announced he was going to the stable to help Adam. Hoss would have gone too, but Hop Sing had made hot cakes so it would be a little while before he was ready to satisfy his curiosity. Besides Joe would tell him whatever he found out anyway.

“Say, Adam, can I give you a hand there?”

“Sure, Joe. Very nice of you to offer. There wouldn’t be anything else other than brotherly love that would have brought you out here to help, now would there?”

“Well, you see, now that you mention it, why is Pa turning red this morning every time your name gets mentioned, and he won’t talk about it, and Cici’s name about makes him choke on his food?”

“Did Pa walk in your room and shake you awake this morning?”

“Of course.”

“Did you hear him yell out Hoss’ name to wake him?”

“Yeah, I was hoping he needed him for something, and he was gonna let me sleep but nope he had to wake me too.”

“Well . . . ”

“Oh no, he walked in to your bedroom . . . ”

“Yes, and I was already up.”

“Oh lord, is Cici ever going to forgive him?”

“If she ever comes out of the bedroom again, yes. And the moral of the story is, do not walk in the bedroom of a couple who have been married less than two days.”

“Oh, Lordy.”

Hoss was walking in to the stable and had heard Adam’s last statement. It didn’t take much to guess what had happened. All three brothers started to laugh together then and couldn’t stop. Ben was walking out of the house, heard them, and walked back inside. Cici was coming down the stairs, and both blushed as they saw each other. Ben turned on his heel and left again. He would rather face his sons than his daughter-in-law at this point.

*****

Again, Again, and Again

Chapter 1

Work on Adam’s homes began in earnest once he had the plans finished. The small temporary home that would be converted to a bunkhouse eventually was being rushed to be finished as quickly as possible. Even though Adam wedged a chair under the doorknob of their bedroom at the Ponderosa each night he and Cici stayed there, Cici just found it too uncomfortable to think about her father-in-law barging in on them again. That was never likely to happen because Ben still turned a lovely shade of pink every time his faux pas was mentioned which Adam used to good advantage on occasion. Although Ben did not enjoy those moments, he still liked to see that twinkle in Adam’s eye and that sardonic smirk of his every time he pulled a little stunt like that. He had seen it first on the morning when Adam and Cici had announced their wedding to the family. It was a long time since he had seen his son act that way and it was wonderful to see him return in personality as well as in person.

Although, in some ways, everyone could see that Adam was different. The most notable difference was that he would no longer take any orders from his father. Ben could ask him to do things and he would consider it and rarely said no, but that no was an option was never in dispute. They both knew that if Adam became dissatisfied in his role, he could and would leave. He had a home waiting for him in Wyoming whenever he wanted it. Reg Castle had made that clear when he was at the wedding party for Adam and Cici. With warmth and enthusiasm, Reg had welcomed Cici into his close circle of family and friends. That he thought so highly of Adam was made quite clear by the way that he, his nephew Robert, and foreman, Bud Knight, traveled at very short notice to be at Adam’s wedding celebration. Ben, Hoss, and Joe found themselves a little envious of the close relationship that Adam had to the three men from the Castle Ranch. However, those men had accepted Adam and helped him when he needed it most so Adam’s family should not have found it surprising.

At one point in the wedding celebration, Reg had pulled Ben aside to discuss Adam’s work. Reg could see that there were hints that Adam was not altogether happy with his role on the Ponderosa. As Ben and Reg stood next to the corral admiring some breeding stock that Joe had recently purchased for the Ponderosa, the discussion was of horses, but the underlying theme had to do with Adam.

“That’s a beautiful, strong stallion you have there. He has exceptionally good lines and a strong chest. He should sire some potentially valuable horses for the Ponderosa.”

“Yes, I’m very proud of what Joe has been doing with horse buying and selling. The horse breeding operation has developed into a very profitable enterprise for us.”

“It would be a shame for that magnificent animal to be a cow pony.”

“Oh no, he’s too valuable for that. He may be ridden on occasion, but his value is in what he can do here not out on the range. Many horses can be cow ponies, but only a few can be in command of the herd. He’s a little ornery, likes to have his own way, but can do things for us that none of the others can.”

“He reminds me of Adam.”

As Ben thought about their conversation, he realized that Reg had been giving him a not so subtle message about his son, and at first, he resented the man’s intrusion. Later as he thought about it and remembered all the projects that Adam had done at the Castle Ranch in just one year, he decided that he ought to reconsider the work he asked Adam to do. He had always said that any job on the Ponderosa was not beneath any of the family to do and often they did some of the most onerous tasks. But Ben rarely did those things any more, and at forty years of age, Adam had done all of them and some for several decades. Perhaps it was time to redefine some of the roles on the ranch. By the time that Reg left after visiting for a few days, Ben was able to thank him for their conversation. Reg knew what he meant, nodded his head, and smiled glad to have been able to help Adam with readjusting to life on the Ponderosa by getting Ben to readjust his thinking.

A few weeks later, at Sunday dinner, there was an opportunity to discuss revising roles on the Ponderosa. All were there and no one had any commitments for that week.

“Sons, there is something that I have been meaning to discuss with all three of you. The Ponderosa has become a very diverse enterprise. It seems a waste of talent to have all of us working on all parts of the ranch. Joe has pretty much taken over the horse operations. I’m thinking we should do that with all of the operations we have.”

Hoss smiled. He had been waiting for just such an opportunity. “Pa, I would like to do with the cattle operation what Joe has done with the horses. I think if I can get some better breeding stock in here, we could expand our operations and deliver more meat to San Francisco including shipping some already butchered and ready to sell in the market. I’m thinkin’ that with some planning, we could have some of the best stock in these parts so we could also start selling breeding stock to other ranches and make more money per head that way.”

“Now that sounds like you’ve been planning for a while. I like what I’m hearing. What do the rest of you think?” Adam and Joe agreed that it was a good plan. “Adam, what are you thinking?”

“It looks like the mining and lumbering operations would be left for me. I don’t mind that at all. It would give me more flexibility in my schedule. I have to admit I’m tired of punching cattle and feeling too old to break horses. With Cici’s work, I would rather have the chance to be at the house every night if I could too rather than off on a drive or chasing down mustangs. If Cici gets called out at night or for a call well outside of the city, I’m going with her.”

Cici gave him a partial scowl that the others saw quite clearly.

“She doesn’t like it, but it is something I have to do.”

Adam stared back at her, and the other three knew this conversation had happened before with the two of them and probably more than once. Cici’s self sufficiency versus Adam’s protectiveness was bound to create a few disagreements between them.

“I would like to do a survey of our timber operations before I say anything about any plans. As for the mining, I need to do some inspections there too before I say anything more.”

Hoss did have a request for Adam though. “Adam I was thinking that you could design some of them hay barns for the pastures like ya did with the Castle Ranch.”

“I could do that. I would like to do more design work. It would likely be when things calm down especially when the weather starts to turn.”

“Hey, Adam, how about an indoor necessary like you did at the Castle Ranch? I think Pa and Hoss would love that too. Could you do one with a big tub in it like some of the fancy houses in San Francisco have?” Joe was excited about the things Adam could do if he had more time to do other projects.

“It could be done.”

“Now, I hear all three of you making some plans. How about if each of you draws up your plan and itemizes expenses so together we can make a decision on which projects to move forward with first. We won’t be able to afford all of them right away.”

“How soon?”

“Well Adam needs some time to get familiar with the lumber and timber operations, so how about in three weeks? Would that be enough time for everyone?”

“When does the division of labor start?”

“Adam, I think there’s no reason to delay is there? We could start immediately if that is acceptable to all of you.” It was. “I think that the plan could be that tonight, Hoss and Joe can work on the orders for the men for the morning. You can decide which operation you want to start on first. You have been bull of the woods before, and the men in the mines will remember you because we have not hired many miners in the last ten years. In fact, the timber crew is mostly intact from several years ago too. The crew at the lumber mill works with the timber crew as we have shifted men back and forth as needed. How does that sound for a plan?”

It was taking some time for the three sons to get used to their father asking approval for the ideas he set forward. However, they liked the new arrangement. They agreed to his suggestion, but Adam had a question.

“For now, what about cattle drives, roundup, chasing down herds of mustangs, fencing, haying, and things like that?”

“I think that we should discuss each of those like we did tonight and come up with a plan each time. I don’t think we can make decisions on all of those things tonight. We will still need to help each other out with big projects or come up with some other means of getting all of them done.”

“Hey, Pa, what are you going to be doing? You could do a little horse breaking if you like. I’m a little shorthanded this week, and Adam won’t be available.”

“I’ll continue to do the ledgers with your help or the help of anyone who is available. I’ll deal with the Cattleman’s Association and with the banks too although when any of you are negotiating contracts then you will deal with the banks as necessary. All the paperwork for that has been in place for years so there is no need to change that practice, but perhaps it would be good for all transactions to now have two of us there each time.”

All four men and Cici retired to the chairs in front of the fireplace to share some brandy to seal the new working arrangement. Ben realized he would have to do the most adjusting, but the looks on his sons’ faces were all the encouragement he needed to accept that. Cici sat next to Adam on the settee, and as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, she felt how relaxed he was. His father was treating him like a man recognizing his talents, and it was all he had wanted. Cici was sure that Joe and Hoss probably felt the same way. She was sure there would be times when Ben would revert to his old ways, but today had been a big step for this family, and she smiled as she leaned in to her husband’s warmth. She found it very nice.

What Cici didn’t find to be so nice was that Adam was gone almost every day for the next three weeks. He came home exhausted on Fridays, and they had the weekends except when someone needed her or Adam was working on drawing plans or formulating a budget for his project proposals. The first Friday he returned from the timber camps, he had a variety of bruises and abrasions. He had told her not to worry as he had to establish himself with the men, and he had. Adam assured her that he would not have to do that again nor would he always be so busy, but she wasn’t so sure about that.

Finally the temporary home was ready, and Adam and Cici, with Hoss and Joe helping, moved some of her furniture from town to the small house. It wasn’t much: a dining table with six chairs, a bed, two dressers, a stove, a kitchen cabinet, and bedding. Adam brought over his desk and drafting table from the Ponderosa and that was about all the little house could hold. Once they brought most of their clothing over to fill the two dressers and brought in supplies and food, they were all set. It was small and cozy, but most importantly, it was private.

As soon as Hoss and Joe drove away after delivering the last items, Adam closed the shutters on the windows and locked the door. Then he sat on a chair and opened his arms for Cici to sit with him. As she went to sit, he pulled her to straddle his legs.

“Adam, I can’t sit that way with this dress on.”

“You can if I pull your dress up a little like this.”

As Adam caressed her now bare legs, Cici leaned in to kiss him. Adam raised his hands from her legs and began unbuttoning her dress.

“Adam, it’s the middle of the day!”

“Yes, and we are in our own home with all the privacy you could want. I don’t want to wait another moment. You can make all the noise you want, and no one will care. Well I will care, but I’ll like it.”

“You are such a bad boy sometimes.”

“I think you knew that when you married me.”

“I did. I do.”

Later, as they embraced, still sitting on the chair, Adam caressed Cici’s back.

“If we keep going like this, there’s going to be another little Cartwright soon I think.”

“Adam, there already is.”

Startled, Adam pulled back a little from Cici to look at her face. When he saw that smile, he knew she wasn’t teasing him. He kissed her again with all the passion he felt for his wonderful vivacious wife. And then she knew too that he was as happy with the news as she was. Waiting to have children because they were so busy didn’t seem important at all any more. She knew that they would both welcome and love this child unconditionally.

Unfortunately contrary to what Adam had concluded about the timber camps though, he had not established himself as well as he thought. He had fought the foreman and won which should have been enough. But the foreman and the men he had working in one of the camps were selling timber to another lumber operation making a significant amount of money doing so. If Adam spent too much time at the camps, they knew he would begin to notice the discrepancies in reports and ledgers versus what he could see of the production. By their estimation, he had to be stopped or their profitable side trade was going to be lost. The other Cartwrights had trusted the foreman for years and had no reason to suspect his illegal deals, but Adam didn’t know him and would be more suspicious and skeptical. If he told a story, Adam wouldn’t believe it and would check it out. The foreman already knew that much about him. He and the others already had plans in the works to rid themselves of what they considered to be this pesky Cartwright’s interference.

*****

Chapter 2

In the timber camp, the foreman, Dick Chesky, was trying to come up with a fool proof plan to get Adam Cartwright out of their hair until the logging season was over or at least until they had six to eight weeks of uninterrupted thievery. Their plan was that they would send as many logs as they could for sale to the lumber company that had no concerns over where they got the logs. He had convinced his crew that they had to make a final big haul and then get out. No matter what they did, there was going to be more scrutiny of the timber camp with Adam in charge, and they would be caught if they tried to do this much longer. However, in six to eight weeks, they thought that they could pull in enough cash to satisfy even the greediest among them. Then they could pull out taking all the stock and whatever tools they could carry with them to work another timber camp somewhere, maybe in Oregon or Washington. One logger, Hugh Allenby, was all for just bushwhacking Adam. The others, who knew the Cartwrights better, insisted that if they killed him, the others wouldn’t stop until they tracked them all down and made them face justice one way or another.

“Those Cartwrights is thick. If’n you hurt one, the others are on ya like a she bear what’s protecting her get.”

“Well, we know can’t get him charged with no crime or nothing. Everybody’d be suspicious of that now cause it’s been tried. We could try making a lot of things go wrong here so’s he’d get blamed, but he’d likely see enough before that got his butt kicked out as boss by his daddy. Naw, we need him out of the way. Unseen, unheard, like he up and rode off. Nothing to send suspicion this way though. Nothing can happen to him here. He’s been gone for years so maybe they might think he up and left again.”

“You’re right. That might jest work, and then after we do what we plan to do, we kin make sure he kin get himself free. They might be so happy to git him back, they don’t try to track us down.”

“They won’t be able to if we keep him where he can’t figure out who’s in charge or who’s doing what. We gotta jest put him somewhere where nobody can talk ta him or tell him nottin and he cain’t see nottin neither.”

Bobby Joswish suggested they kidnap him and hold him away from the camp but nearby so they could control him. If their plan failed to get money from the logging, they could collect a ransom instead. The others thought Bob’s plan had some good possibilities. But where could they keep him for a month or more without anyone getting suspicious was the next big question.

“There’s an old mountain man’s shack in that timber we was told not to cut so no one goes there. It’s all stove in on one side, but the chimney is still standing and holding up the other side. It would be good enough for someone to stay through the summer and even into the early fall. Wouldn’t be any good when winter come though.”

“We’ll be gone by winter. Heck if it all works out, we’ll be gone in two months maybe.”

Dick had worked a lot of scams in his life. The key to him was not getting caught. Any plan had to have a back up plan for that reason.

“Boys, what if they come up here looking for him. Wouldn’t take long to find smoke coming from an abandoned shack. Especially since it’s in an area we ain’t supposed to touch.”

“Well it ain’t that cold up here in the summer, so we could just give him a few extra blankets instead of a fire at least for the first few weeks.”

“I got another idea to put them off the scent. Bobby, you’re about his build. How would you like to take his horse, ride over them mountains to California, and spend some time with a lady.”

“Geez, Dick, that sounds great but where would I get the money and why would I do that? I want my share here.”

“Well, boys, if’n we hide him here, one way to get them not to look too hard is to make them think he’s someplace else. Once we get him, we take his clothes and dress Bobby in them. Send Bobby with his horse and gear over the mountains to shack up with a woman somewhere. He’ll have to swing by Virginia City at least a bit so people can see him. Then head west and go through Placerville. Next find some little town and an agreeable whore and spend a few days. After that, Bobby could up and ride out of that town. Then he could sell that horse, buy another, and head back here dressed as himself. Meanwhile I could assure them that we was doing our best to carry out the contracts he set us up to do. By the time they know otherwise cause they miss the contract deadlines, it’ll be too late. We’ll be gone and our pockets will be full of cash. Now the other crew is still sending the logs where they’re supposed to go so nobody’s likely to get suspicious right off. I still think we gotta think about cutting and running in about eight weeks to be safe.”

The others nodded. Some didn’t comprehend all that was going on but if the leaders thought it was good, they were all right with it. They had been getting a lot of extra cash doing as they were told so no one was going to object.

“All right then, it’s a plan. Now he’s scheduled to come up here today. Two of you are gonna go to him at his home to tell him that we got a real problem. Maybe tell him the flume collapsed. Make sure his wife ain’t there when you talk to him. Then you need to grab him before he heads back here cause we can’t have anybody say they saw him heading this way at all. Make sure there ain’t no note or nothing saying where he’s going. We don’t want ’em looking up here right off.”

It was a rather elaborate plan and there were a lot of things that could go wrong, but greed stopped Dick from canceling it altogether and leaving right then.

The object of their predawn planning was just waking up. Awaking with his wife at his side was perhaps the most pleasurable experience Adam could imagine. It was satisfying on so many levels: physical, mental, and emotional. Adam had never been this content in his life and felt that he had found what he had been seeking for so long. Late at night, he had opened the shutters on two of the windows before they went to bed so that the moonlight would let them see where things were and they could enjoy a little fresh air the evening breezes would send. The glow from the fireplace helped in cold weather, but it was hot now and the fireplace remained unused. The kitchen stove was there to supply any heat that was needed in the mornings or on a chilly day.

As the dawn brightened the room, Adam lay very still and watched Cici sleep. She looked so relaxed. He tried so see if he could see a difference in her that some said they could see in a pregnant woman. Frowning as he looked, he could see nothing so he thought perhaps it was the joy that people were seeing when they said a pregnant woman had that glow. He was anxious to tell his father and brothers, but Cici wanted to wait for a month to be sure there were no problems. If there was a miscarriage, she did not want anyone else to know. He had never imagined how wonderful it felt to have the woman you loved carrying your child. Slowly as she began to stir, Adam leaned over and trailed kisses from her forehead to her chin. Her eyes blinked open and she smiled into his face, which was only inches from hers. She could feel the warmth of him along her side and snuggled up against him.

“Good morning, sweetheart. You are so beautiful.”

“Hmm, I don’t think I am ever going to get tired of being awakened this way.”

“I wish I had more time to make you feel special, but we both need to get going quickly today. I have to get to the timber camp again, and you have to be at your office for appointments.”

Rolling over on her side to face him, Cici caressed the black curly hair on his chest, and then kissed his neck, cheek, and then his lips. “Are you absolutely sure we don’t have a little extra time. We could skip breakfast?”

As Adam looked down at Cici lying at his side gazing at him with those wide innocent eyes, he smiled at her knowing she could be more seductive with those eyes than anything. He couldn’t resist her, as if he wanted to anyway. He leaned down to kiss her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down on top of her. Their loving had been more patient and almost languorous compared to what happened that morning as Cici showed an intensity to her passion he had not seen before. Every day was a revelation to them as they learned more about the other. He loved her more with each passing day and told her so as they lay in an embrace later. Then it really was time to get moving, and they hurried through their morning tasks. Adam went out to get the carriage ready for Cici and pulled it up to the house just as she exited. With a kiss that promised more, Cici climbed into the carriage and drove off to Virginia City. Adam went inside to get his saddlebags. As he came out, two men from the timber camp rode up.

“We got big problems, Mr. Cartwright. One of the supports for the main flume must a been anchored in loose ground. The ground slid, the post fell, and the flume collapsed right in the middle as we was sending logs down.”

“Was anyone injured?”

“Nah, we was lucky, but it shur is a big mess.”

Adam went back inside to get more clothing and supplies for at least an overnight stay and to leave a note for Cici. He instructed the men to wait for him. As he left the house, he was hit in the stomach and as he doubled over, he was hit in the side of the head. It wasn’t too hard because they didn’t want to chance killing him, but it stunned him. The surprise of the attack had left him defenseless. Bobby started to unbutton Adam’s shirt to pull it off. When that was done he tied Adam’s hands together at the wrist. Adam was still groggy and they pushed him down, unbuckled his gunbelt, and pulled off his boots and pants. Quickly, Bobby donned Adam’s outfit. They rolled Adam in a blanket and laid him on his stomach over Bobby’s horse and tied his feet to his wrists under the horse. They tied other supplies around him so that it looked like a packhorse carrying supplies. Adam started to moan so Bobby pulled up the blanket and gagged him. The men went inside and found the note and took it. They went to the dressers and found the one that had Adam’s clothing in it. They pulled the drawers out and made it look like he had packed in a hurry.

Bobby then rode toward Virginia City but slowly because he didn’t want to overtake Cici’s carriage. Once he was inside the city limits, he made sure he was seen but kept his hat pulled low and took the road out of town headed west toward Placerville. Hugh rode off toward the lumber camp leading what looked to be a packhorse, which is what the building crew thought as they rode in to work on the house on the hill. Hugh was very pleased to be hauling the boss man around this way. Nothing felt better to him than humiliating rich people. He knew that the others wouldn’t let him kill Cartwright, but he had some ideas on how to make him miserable until it was time to let him go.

When Hugh arrived at the timber camp with the ‘supplies’, he and a few of the men went to the abandoned and half collapsed mountain man cabin. The brought a logging chain and a collar. Once at the cabin, they drilled a hole in the fireplace wall and attached the logging chain. One of the men used tools to attach the collar to Adam’s wrist and then attached that to the chain. He was now shackled with no hope of breaking free with about ten feet of heavy chain to lug when he tried to move around. Adam was wide-awake by then, but every resistance was met with blows so he refrained from resisting them as he tried to determine why they were doing this to him, where he was, and what his options might be. Outnumbered and dressed only in his shortalls and socks, he wouldn’t get far in any case even if he had somehow broken free. There was a bucket of water and an empty bucket to use as a slop bucket. The men threw down two blankets before leaving. After they had removed his gag, he had asked what was going on but only got rude laughter as a response. Adam was as alone as he had ever been and had no idea why.

At the end of the day, Cici packed up the food she had gotten from some patients that day and headed home. The building crew who had been working on their new home had already left. Once home, she stabled the horses and then went inside where she was surprised to see Adam’s dresser drawers open and some clothing strewn about. She straightened up the mess and put the roasted chicken on the stove to keep it warm. Two hours later she was still waiting for Adam and beginning to get worried. He had never been this late. He knew she would be nervous here alone and made it a point to be home. If he couldn’t be home with her, he told her to stay in town. This morning he had said nothing about being late only that he was going to collect the ledgers from the camps so he could review them. As dusk approached, Cici saddled her horse Sassy and rode toward the Ponderosa main house. If Adam was headed home, she would see him on the way. If not, she would have the other Cartwright men to alert, and perhaps they would know what had happened.

However when she delivered her news, Ben and Hoss were as surprised as she was because they had not seen Adam. Joe was away delivering some horses. Ben told Cici to spend the night at the ranch house and in the morning, one of them would ride to the timber camp at dawn to find out what had happened. Cici had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. As the sky began to lighten in the morning, she rose and dressed. Staying in bed wasn’t doing any good anyway. As she walked down the stairs, she wasn’t surprised to see Ben and Hoss already at the dining table finishing breakfast. With a good morning, Hoss was on his way. Cici could see that both Ben and Hoss were worried which only intensified her bad feelings about this.

At the timber camp, Adam woke shivering intensely. Two blankets might have been enough if he had his clothing. But nearly naked and sleeping on the cold ground up on the mountain side, he was chilled through and through. When a man brought a plate of food, he asked for a cup of coffee but only saw a retreating back as an answer. The food was cold too which meant to him that it had been cooked quite a distance from where he was. He could hear noises from quite a long way that sounded like a timber camp and the two men who had taken him were loggers so he concluded he was near one of the timber camps but had no idea which one. With the light of day, he searched the cabin for anything to use to try to escape. He found the very rusty broken blade of a knife and another piece of flat metal of unknown origin. Neither of those was of any use in removing the collar fixed to his wrist. He tucked the items away in the debris to one side of the collapsed cabin wall never knowing if he would find a use for them.

That morning as Adam was doing his exploring and trying to find a way out of his dilemma, Hoss arrived at the upper timber camp, and Dick came out to meet him.

“Thought it would be your brother. He was supposed to be up here yesterday, but we never saw him.”

“Dadburnit, I was hoping he was here. Mebbe he’s at the lower camp.”

“I went down there last night thinking the same thing, and he wasn’t there. You could go check to see if he’s there now. Let me know if you see him. I wanted to go over a few plans with him.”

Smiling as Hoss left, Dick was rather proud of his performance. It had seemed to convince the big man rather well. Hoss did ride to see the men at the lower camp who had not seen Adam either. Then he rode back to the Ponderosa using the trail he thought that Adam would have used. He saw a lot of tracks but nothing of his older brother. He hated the news he was going to have to deliver to Cici and his pa because this wasn’t good, not good at all. As he rode away, the conspirators saw him leave and met to talk over their plan.

“Well, Dick, look like we got him bamboozled right proper.”

“Hugh, for now, it’s all right. But don’t underestimate these Cartwrights. They didn’t get to own all they have by being stupid. We have to be careful, very careful.”

When Hoss returned to the Ponderosa, his father was upset, but Cici was distraught. She couldn’t have found her true love only to lose him so soon. She worried that their baby might never know his father as she feared the worst. Once she stopped crying, Ben helped her into the carriage that Hoss had readied. They rode into town to report Adam’s disappearance. When they did, Roy said he had seen Adam in town the morning before but that he had ridden out on the road to Placerville. Cici was stunned. It couldn’t be true. Ben and Hoss were speechless as well. None of them had any idea what had happened. By that night back on the Ponderosa, Joe was back and the four of them discussed what they could do. Joe said he was riding after him to find out what was going on, and Hoss said he would join him.

“I don’t think Adam went west.”

“Cici, Roy saw him riding that way.”

“I know what he said, but Adam would not leave without telling me. Not now especially.”

“Cici, daughter, what is so special about now?”

“We are going to have a baby. Adam was so thrilled and wanted to tell you right away. I asked him to wait a month because if I miscarried early, I didn’t want anyone to know. He was counting the days until he could tell you. Yesterday morning, he was as loving as ever. He did not leave. Something else happened. You have to trust him, you just have to.”

Remembering how the lack of trust had almost lost Adam the last time caused all three of the men to pause. Ben accepted fully what Cici had said. Joe and Hoss nodded.

“We have to find out who that man was then and what has happened. Hoss and Joe will head that way until they find him. He has got to have some answers to this puzzle. You’ll stay here until Adam is back.”

Cici nodded and smiled at Ben and Adam’s brothers even as tears rolled down her cheeks. They had to find him and this was the only clue they had.

*****

Chapter 3

At first light the next day, Hoss and Joe rode out going cross country to get to Placerville sooner. Once there, they questioned people and found that the man they were following had passed through. No one seemed to know which way he was going. It was the same story in each small town they passed through once reaching the main road. They rode to every small town near the road and in one, they were sent to the saloon because he had been seen there just that morning. Inside they asked for him and were told that ‘Adam Cartwright’ had been spending time with Julie Ann. For a small fee, they were allowed to go upstairs to wake her and question her. She described a man just over six feet tall with black wavy hair, all black shirt, pants, and boots, a holster with a silver C on it, saddlebags with the Ponderosa brand, and a rifle with a large C engraved on the stock. Joe and Hoss didn’t know what to think.

“Who is he to you boys anyway?”

Joe was perplexed and explained to her what they were doing hoping that she might still be able to help them somehow. “We’re looking for our brother Adam. We just don’t think the man you were with was Adam, but we don’t know what to make of things you told us.”

“Well, sugar, I could give you a real good time while you were thinking. I could take on the big brother too afterwards. Not a lot of business in this town.”

Joe declined and started to leave but was stopped in his tracks by her next statement.

“Well sugar, I was just hoping you was better in bed than your brother. He sure did not have much in the way of manliness and never gave a thought to how I was feeling.”

Joe turned slowly and Hoss was shaking his head. It didn’t sound much like Adam. Joe decided that there might yet be one way to know if it was or not.

“Julie Ann, what color were his eyes?”

“Well, sugar, you ought to know your own brother’s eyes. They were the most beautiful light blue eyes I ever saw. Just like that big brother of yours there. That’s how I knew you was telling the truth. Those two have to be brothers with eyes like that. Those eyes and that beautiful smooth muscled chest, and I was almost in love with him the first time I saw him.”

Hoss was smiling now and nodding at Joe. Cici was right. There was something strange going on here. Joe tossed a gold piece to Julie Ann.

“Darling, I don’t know who you were with, but my brother Adam has hazel eyes and his chest is pretty well furred. Somebody is playing a game, and we’re going to find out who and why.”

Joe stopped at the sheriff’s office to let them know what had happened. Hoss sent a telegram to let Cici and Ben know what they had found. Next they had to decide what to do with what they knew.

“Hoss, ready to do some tracking?”

“Joe, how am I ever going to find Sport’s tracks in all the tracks in and out of this town?”

“Adam was getting real fancy last time he worked the forge. He was putting little c’s on all the horseshoes he made. I know he recently shoed Sport’s back legs so all we need to do is find that mark and we’ll know where we’re going next.”

Grinning then as he remembered what Adam had done, Hoss nodded. He might be able to do what Joe had requested. Just west of town, Hoss found Sport’s prints and they were heading north. They followed that trail until they came upon a small ranch where they saw Sport in the corral. They both made sure their pistols and rifles were ready to use and rode down into the ranch yard. A woman and what looked to be her three children came out to greet them. She explained that her husband was working near by and if they wanted to talk to him about the horse trade he made that morning, just fire two shots and he would come running. They did, and he did riding in with several ranch hands expecting trouble. Instead he found Joe and Hoss leaning up against the corral fence and talking with Sport who seemed very happy to see them and his former stable mates.

“I bought that horse all legal like. I got a bill of sale and everything. Traded him for one of my horses. Now if that isn’t all right with the man that sold him, that’s too bad. I wondered why he wanted to trade his fine horse and gear for one of mine with my old saddle but it was too good a deal to pass up.”

“Mister, that’s all well and good except this horse is stolen. He belongs to our oldest brother and he’s got our brand on him. If we have to get the sheriff here, we will.”

Joe was bound and determined that they would at least be returning with Sport. The man was hesitant to let the horse go but when Hoss offered to pay him fifty dollars for his trouble, he got very agreeable. He could get another horse equal to the one he had traded away, a new saddle, and still have some money left without having any trouble with the sheriff. He then admitted that the man had included the saddle, rifle, pistol, and saddlebags so he should have suspected it was all stolen. But he also showed them the trail the man had used to leave. He was headed directly back to the Ponderosa. The man’s wife offered to fix up some food for them and within a short time, they were on the trail leading Sport who was again carrying Adam’s saddle, rifle, and saddlebags. Within two days, they were nearing the Ponderosa timber camps following the obvious trail the man had left. It was clear that he had no idea he was being followed.

There was no way now to let Ben and Cici know what was happening. But back home, Ben had started doing some investigating himself. That same day he had been talking to the building crew who continued building Adam’s new house. They mentioned seeing a man leaving with a packhorse loaded down the day Adam disappeared. By the description, it sounded like he was a logger and the direction he rode would have taken him to the Ponderosa timber camps. Ben rode home and got Candy and a few of the hands ready to ride with him to the timber camps the following morning at first light. Something was wrong up there and he meant to find out what it was.

At the upper timber camp, Hugh had been making Adam’s stay as miserable as he could. The second afternoon when he brought Adam’s meal, he had kicked over the slop bucket onto the two blankets Adam had to stay warm. Then Hugh urinated in the water bucket before he had laughed and walked away. Adam had not reacted at all. He had known men like that in prison. They took their joy from inflicting pain on others. The more you showed how it affected you, the more they would do. He would find a way to get justice but at that moment had no idea how. Using the metal pieces he had found, Adam was digging around the bolt secured in the fireplace wall. He was making some progress, but he was afraid it would take days to weaken it enough to pull it loose. After Hugh’s treatment of him though, he worked at it with renewed diligence. After five days of effort, he thought he could see some movement of the bolt. He used the heavy chain to apply additional pressure pulling it down and then to the left and to the right. As he sawed away at it that way, rock dust gradually started to fall in minute amounts. After working all day at it, he began to think he might be able to pull it loose that night. His hands were bloodied with the effort and the lack of food was making him weak. He got one or two meals a day of cold food and a bucket of water. Although Hugh had made a practice in the afternoon of fouling his water so he drank as much as he could before Hugh got there to torment him. He washed his hands and did his best to cover them so that the blood would not be apparent and sat and waited for Hugh to show. Once that was over, he ate the food quickly and got back to sawing away with the chain on the bolt until long after the sun had set and the stars appeared.

Without warning it pulled free and fell to the ground. Adam just stood there for a time. He was free but he had little clothing and no boots. He used the blade of the broken knife to saw through one of the blankets which he used to pad his feet and then tore strips to tie those pads securely to his feet. He cut a slit in the other blanket and pulled it over his head securing it with a tie made from the last of the first blanket. They were filthy and smelled awful but he had no choice. He took the bolt and the broken knife blade with him by sticking them in his makeshift belt. The next problem was the heavy logging chain. He picked it up and looped it around his shoulders. There was no other choice. As Adam stepped from his makeshift prison, he looked to the timber camps. If he headed directly home he would have to pass both camps. It wouldn’t work. The chain itself made too much noise. He would be heard. So he headed west toward the Paiute summer camp. He hoped they would recognize him before they shot him as an intruder. That is, he hoped that would be the case if he got to the camp at all. He had miles to go, and by morning his ‘jailors’ would be in pursuit of him. He would only have a short head start if he left at first light. Typically it was several hours after that before anyone brought him a meal and water.

If he had only known that his brothers were coming toward him from the west and his father and ranch hands were coming from the south, he could have waited for rescue. When Ben got to the timber camps, no one could find the foreman. The men who were there claimed not to know what he might be doing. Candy spoke quietly to Ben.

“There’s something wrong here. These men should be out working by now, but no one who can give orders is here. These guys are nervous too. They know a lot more than they’re letting on.”

Candy worked his way down the line of Ponderosa hands. Once he got to the last man, he pulled his rifle and all of the men including Ben did the same. They ordered the loggers to drop any tools or weapons they had, and to stand in a line.

“Now, gentlemen, we are going to try this again. Mr. Cartwright has some questions, and he is going to get some answers. The first man in line is going to be the first one shot when a question isn’t answered. Then we’re going to shoot the second man when the second question isn’t answered. I guarantee you we will be getting answers eventually so you might as well start talking now.”

“You won’t do that. That’s murder.”

“Mr. Cartwright’s son is missing. He may be dead. Do you think we care about your lives at this point?”

Ben sat there looking as formidable as he could. Although he found Candy’s statements abhorrent, he couldn’t show that. The bluff would only work if some of these men at least believed what he said.

“They got him over in that broke down cabin on the next hill. Only this morning they found he was gone so they went after him.”

Suddenly there was no shortage of men who wanted to talk. Ben and Candy left a few of the men to guard them and headed out to follow the trail of the men tracking Adam. Dick, Hugh, and the others had horses and were making good time tracking Adam, but Adam knew the terrain and knew where he was going. He also knew how to go places that made it extremely difficult for anyone to follow. A number of times they had to stop to search for his tracks. They always found them, but it was taking far longer than expected. They also could not figure out why he was heading west. At first they thought he meant to mislead them, but after hours of travel, it was clear that west was his intention. It just took him deeper into wilderness and eventually he would go right off the Ponderosa. They wondered if maybe he wasn’t as smart as people said.

As the day wore on, Adam believed he was nearing the Paiute camp, but he could hear his pursuers and knew he had little time. He tried to run but only managed a slightly faster pace. His weakness and the weight of the chain as well as the blanket padding on his feet simply did not allow him to move any faster. As he heard his pursuers break through the tree line behind him, he thought he saw some Paiute braves on the hill to his right. He raised his arm in greeting as he heard a yell behind him.

“Adam Cartwright, hold it right there or I’ll put a bullet in you right now.”

Adam was not going to stop. He refused to die as a prisoner of anyone. He heard a rifle shot and was amazed not to feel a bullet’s impact. He stopped and looked behind him. Hugh had dismounted to steady his aim, but he had dropped his rifle as he clutched at the arrow that had pierced his neck. Blood was spurting out staining his hands, arms, shirt, and the ground in front of him. Inadvertently by calling out to Adam, he had alerted the Paiute as to the identity of the man he was going to shoot. They stopped him. The Paiute would not have known that this bearded, filthy man in rags and carrying a chain was their friend, Adam Cartwright, except for Hugh’s yell.

When they saw what happened to Hugh, Dick and the others chose to retreat but had ridden only a short distance when they met Ben, Candy, and the men from the Ponderosa. A few loggers tried to fight it out, but were quickly shot. Dick and the others offered no resistance. Dick shook his head and thought to himself that he should never have taken on the Cartwrights but should have cut and run as soon as Adam came into the camp to take charge.

The Paiutes had ridden up to Adam after the others fled.

“What has happened to you, Adam Cartwright?”

“Thank you for saving my life. It’s a long story. If there’s a creek near here that I could jump in to clean up, I’ll tell it to you.”

Having heard gunfire, Joe and Hoss rode fast in the direction of the shots. When they arrived, they found Ben, Candy, and ranch hands taking custody of a group of loggers. Ben and Candy filled them in on what had happened to Adam but that they still didn’t know where he was. The hands took the loggers back to the timber camp and were told to haul the whole bunch into Virginia City where Roy could sort out who was guilty of what. Candy said to gag them all so they couldn’t work out a story or threaten anyone who wanted to confess. Ben, Hoss, and Joe agreed that was a good idea.

Then with Hoss in the lead, they started tracking again. First they followed the loggers’ tracks because they had obliterated any sign of Adam’s footprints. In just a short time, they found Hugh. The arrow had been pulled from his neck, and he was a bloody mess laying on his back staring sightlessly at the sky. Knowing what he had done, they just left him for the time being. They could come back and bury him if they had time. From that point, they followed Adam’s tracks only a short distance until there were tracks of many unshod horses. Believing the Paiute had come to Adam’s rescue, they followed those tracks. Nearing a stream by the sound of rushing water, Hoss thought he could hear voices. Ben called out Adam’s name. A Paiute brave stepped out of the woods only ten feet in front of Hoss and signaled that they should ride forward. The scene they rode into was unlike any they had expected. Adam sat in the stream, naked, bearded, and regaling the braves with his story using a combination of Paiute and English to tell the tale. When he used English words, he paused to let those who understood him translate for the others. The braves were laughing and commenting on his story. Adam had always been a good storyteller.

“Hi Pa. Good to see all of you. I hope someone has some extra clothes with him because I’m clean out of clothing.”

There was a pile of stinking cloth on the stream bank. Adam asked if anyone could use a stick and carry it off or maybe burn it. Then he stood to climb out of the stream and lifted his ten-foot logging chain to carry it out. Hoss stepped up to the edge of the stream and helped him climb out. Adam sat wearily on the grass. When he looked up, the Paiute were gone. As Adam had come closer to them, Ben and the others could see the bruises on his torso, and the cuts and broken blisters on his hands. Candy walked over and handed a few tools to Hoss. It was all they had with them. Hoss said he could get the chain off he thought with those but he would need tools at the Ponderosa to remove the collar. Adam was just happy to get rid of the darn logging chain. Joe walked up with Adam’s saddlebags, and Adam just looked up at him with wonder. Joe was rather proud to be able to explain what they did.

“We followed one of the men who did this to you, and got Sport and your gear back for you. We lost him in these hills. But we were close enough when we got here to hear the rifle fire and rode in to find that Pa and Candy had the loggers well in hand.”

After Hoss spent a half hour cutting through the chain, Adam pulled a shirt and pants from his saddlebag. He didn’t remember packing any pants but he was glad they were in there. He had a pair of socks but no boots. Sport would react to his commands so boots weren’t most important thing he thought but they would help him to stay horsed which did turn out to be a problem later. As he stood, he staggered and Hoss went to support him. Ben suggested they would get him back to the timber camp and he could sleep there.

“No I want to go home. I need to go home.” Adam was most concerned about his wife and wanted to see her as soon as he could.

Hoss helped him get on Sport, and Joe rode to one side and Hoss to the other to make sure he didn’t fall off. They headed slowly toward the Ponderosa ranch house. About halfway there, Adam was swaying in the saddle so much there was a good chance he would fall off. They halted at Joe’s suggestion. Joe pulled Adam’s feet from the stirrups and then mounted up behind Adam on Sport.

“Now Adam, just give me the reins and we’ll get you home to Cici.”

It was apparent how exhausted the man was by how easily he handed over the reins to Joe. Candy offered to spell Joe if it got to be too much, and they did that about an hour later taking turns until they finally saw the ranch house in the distance. Hoss had ridden ahead to let Cici know they were coming home with Adam and that he was all right. As they waited, he told her all he knew of what Adam had been through. Both of them were yet again surprised at what men would do because of greed.

Cici was standing in the yard waiting with Hoss when they saw the horses break through the tree line at the closest pastureland. Cici started crying and Hoss wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him but kept her eyes focused on the group of men approaching. Hoss had warned her that Adam was exhausted, but she was still astonished at how haggard he looked when they rode into the yard. Joe told him they were home and Adam lifted his head for the first time in over an hour. He saw Cici waiting for him.

“Oh my God, you are the most beautiful sight in the world.”

“Hoss, could you come and help me get our sappy brother down from this horse and into the house for some sleep? Maybe he’ll be back to his usual self after he sleeps for a day or two.”

Hoss helped him down and then pulled one of Adam’s arms over his shoulder, and Joe got the other one as Candy took charge of the horses. Ben guided Cici into the house, which was difficult because she couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of Adam. Inside they helped Adam into the downstairs bedroom for convenience sake at this point. Ben helped Cici unbutton his shirt and remove it as Hoss and Joe pulled off his boots. Cici opened his belt and the three men started to exit the room.

“Aren’t you going to help with his pants?”

“Well, darling, he ain’t wearing nothing underneath them pants so you could just leave them on. If you choose to remove them, we’ll let you do it in privacy.”

Hoss, blushing a little, began to pull the door closed.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“In a little while, could you bring my bag in here? I want to put some dressings on his hands and clean up the abrasions too.”

As Cici opened the buttons on his fly, Adam pulled her into an embrace. But he didn’t have the energy for it and began to fall asleep. Cici luxuriated in his warm embrace with her head resting on his chest listening to his heartbeat until she heard his breathing settle into a sleep pattern. Then she removed his pants and pulled the sheet and comforter over him. He didn’t move during any of it. She sat in the chair by the bed then and held his hand and stroked the back of it. He was safe and their baby would know his father. She couldn’t ask for anything more at this point.

*****

Chapter 4

Early the next morning, Adam awoke with a nice warm wife snuggled into his side with her head resting on his chest. He ran his fingers through the long loose strands of her hair. He loved it when she had her hair loose and hanging down past her shoulders. He would have liked to do more but the bandages on his hands and the swollen fingers made it difficult. The metal on his wrist was gone so Hoss must have removed it at some point the previous night. He had no memory of that at all. Cici began to stir.

“This may be my new favorite way of sleeping. Your chest is nice and warm and your heartbeat is very soothing. I wonder if a baby feels that way sleeping in its mother’s womb with that steady heartbeat providing constant reassurance that everything is all right?”

“You’re not wearing anything! Not that I’m complaining. Just surprised.”

“Well I didn’t exactly pack for a stay when I rushed over here to try to find you a week ago, and what I did go get is in the room we usually use upstairs. I didn’t want to leave you.”

“I’m sorry about that. I still have no idea why those men kidnapped me and held me on the mountain. I know Pa and Joe were trying to explain it to me but yesterday is kind of foggy.”

Cici started to explain what had happened and why but was distracted by Adam’s roving fingers. He might have done more but the bandages on his hands limited his actions. As he slid his fingertips over her lower abdomen, he got a quizzical expression on his face.

“No, you won’t be able to feel anything different yet. It’s only been two months. By next month, I think there may be a noticeable bump developing. Oh, and I’m sorry that I ruined your surprise, but I told your father and brothers that we are having a baby.”

Cici winced a little, worried at how Adam would take that news. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a kiss. She knew it was all right.

“There are several things I would like to do right now, but one will have to wait until we get back to our home. The others are that I need to use the necessary and I’m starving.”

Cici helped Adam from the bed and then helped him get dressed in pants and shirt buttoning them up for him because he found it was difficult. Then he was going to go look for some old boots to wear until he could get home and use a pair of his. Undergarments weren’t that important but he needed a clean pair of socks too. He opened the guest bedroom door to find the items he needed sitting on the floor just outside the room. It looked like a pair of his father’s boots. He managed to pull them on even with bandaged and swollen hands, and then hurried outside to the necessary as Cici dressed and did her morning preparations. It took quite a long time before Adam returned and he sheepishly admitted that the buttons were still an issue but that he had managed. When Cici emerged from the guest room, there were plates with food and cups of coffee on the table for them. Hop Sing was a wonder. Cici quickly unwrapped the bandages from his hands and rewrapped them with clean strips. Adam began eating like he hadn’t eaten in a week, which wasn’t too far from the truth. Hop Sing came in with another plate and like the first, the food was already cut into bite-sized portions for him so that all he had to use was a fork. Hop Sing had a big smile to see his food being so appreciated.

“Hop Sing you are a treasure. This family could not survive without you. Thank you.”

Hop Sing nodded again keeping that big grin on his face. Number one son always did appreciate him, and Hop Sing had a special place in his heart for this one. Miss Cici was a wonder too. For such a tiny thing, she was eating almost as much as her husband it seemed. When she shared their good news with him, he understood and went to get her a big glass of milk. By the time the rest of the family came trudging down the steps, Adam and Cici were savoring cups of coffee. Ben was first to the table but was of course followed soon after by Hoss. The noises upstairs indicated that Joe was awake, but often it took him a while to get going in the morning. Hop Sing was in his glory with two more hungry men to feed. If that young one took too long, there wouldn’t be any more hot food left.

“Hey older brother, you gonna shave or keep that shaggy bear look?”

“My hands are a little stiff for that. Handling a fork isn’t too bad, but a sharp razor could be more of hazard to my health. Cici will help me, and she wants to do some stuff to my hands and the other scrapes I have too. If I didn’t do it yesterday, I want to thank both of you for believing in me and finding me.”

“Son, you did thank us yesterday. You were pretty worn out so it’s not a surprise you don’t remember. If you would find it easier to shave here in the washroom with the tub, you could. You could use my razor.”

Adam looked at Cici and she nodded. It would be easier to draw a bath for Adam here, and Hop Sing could help her too.

“Cici has told me about the timber camps. I need the ledgers and records from there, and I’ll need to see the records from our lumber mill and receipts from our customers to know just how far behind we must be on our contracts. I can’t handle a horse with these hands so is there someone who could drive me there or bring all those items here?”

Hoss looked up from his meal and said he could go get the records and such that morning and have them by that night probably.

“How much trouble do you think we’re in?”

“Hoss, this theft has probably gone on for a long time and the Ponderosa managed to meet contracts anyway. I think that possibly it won’t be too bad. The contract offers were based on what was actually being delivered not on what was cut. I’m hoping we have enough time to make up the difference. We’ll need to hire more men or shift most of the lumber mill workers to the timber operation. I’m going to need some help to get this all straightened out.”

“Adam, while Hoss heads to the timber camps, I’ll go into town and see about hiring some men. It’s a down time for the miners with two mines shutting down in the last few months so there should be enough men to get a crew together. They will likely be inexperienced though.”

“Pa, we can pair up every new man with an experienced logger to show them the ropes. It’s hard work, but not that tough to do if someone is right there telling you what you need to do and when except for the toppers and a few other jobs. Can we offer a bonus to the men who take charge of the new workers?”

Ben agreed that was a good idea, and suggested Adam might consider offering bonuses to everyone if the contracts were met. That should be an incentive to hard work too and Adam agreed he would add that into his calculations. Now they had the beginning of a plan, and Joe finally made an appearance. Adam filled him in because Ben and Hoss were leaving. That also meant Joe was the only one left to do all the barn chores so he started the day a little grumpy.

“Joe, thank you for believing in me and tracking the imposter down. I heard the story from Hoss that was kind of a funny story. Now what was that the barmaid said that made you sure I wasn’t there?”

Joe appreciated the thank you, but glanced at Cici wondering if he should tell that barmaid story in front of her, but she and Adam laughed. Hoss had already told the whole story.

“Pa’s idea to have us each take charge of part of the Ponderosa businesses seems like it was the right thing to do. With all of us overseeing the timber operations along with everything else, none of us took the time to really look into how things were going up there. The contracts were met so we trusted the foreman which turned out not to be a good idea. I’m sorry our lack of attention got you in such a mess.”

“It’s not your fault, Joe. Anyone can hire men who are greedy. They hid it well, exceptionally well.”

A knock on the door announced that Roy had arrived. He had questioned the loggers and had a pretty good idea of who did what. Now he needed Adam’s statement. He had already seen Ben on the way to Virginia City and found out what he knew. Most of the cases were going to be easy to handle. They admitted their complicity and were willing to take their punishment. Roy thought the ringleaders, especially that Dick Chesky, needed to be locked away for a long time so Roy was building a strong case against them. Bobby had been apprehended at the timber camp by the loggers who had been working honestly and he had been delivered to town. Roy asked Adam if he wanted his boots back and Adam declined. After Roy left, Adam got cleaned up, had his hands bandaged again, and was shaved by Cici. Hop Sing provided more of his ointments for the scrapes.

Later as Cici and Adam pulled the carriage into the yard of their home, Adam was amazed at the progress on the house that had been made in a week. It looked almost like it was ready to move in to although he knew on the inside the walls were just framed in and the floors weren’t finished. The outside was already impressive though and that long veranda was a beautiful sight. They stabled Sport, but Cici needed to go to her office so the horses were left hitched to the carriage. She hadn’t been to her office for much of the past week and she guessed that her patients would be wondering if she still intended to practice. She planned to have regular office hours for the rest of the week.

On the building crew, there were two extra men that Ben had sent over with Cici’s blessing. They were there to work but also watch over the house and stable. If Adam was agreeable, they would spend each night bunking in the tack room of the stable. One, Matt Kirk was potentially a good foreman, but with Candy firmly established in that job on the Ponderosa, Ben was hoping Adam could find a supervisory position for him. Bright and talented, Matt was about Adam’s age and had worked cattle ranches, farming, mining, and lumbering. Matt had wandered most of his life but seemed ready to settle down. Adam ended up sleeping after Cici left until Hoss arrived with ledgers, records, and receipts. It was a lot of paperwork.

“Hey, Adam, maybe Matt could help you with this and then drive ya to the timber camps or lumber mill if ya need to go. He’s right handy with numbers and stuff.”

“Matt?”

“Oops, sorry, I thought Pa or Cici would have already told ya. Pa sent a couple of men over here to work with your building crew and kinda oversee things while you were missing. He wanted to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on Cici when she wasn’t with us. There was so much to tell you, I guess they forgot that part.”

Adam at first was a little angry but quickly got over it. It sounded like they were just looking out for his wife in his absence, which was good. As for having Matt help him, well he could use some help so maybe he ought to meet this man. He asked Hoss to go with him to the house construction so he could meet Matt and it also gave them a chance to take a close look at the construction so far. Hoss thought it was a great idea. After Hoss introduced Matt to Adam, Matt asked if he could show a few things to Adam to get his opinion. The space the crew had allowed to retract pocket doors to the study didn’t seem wide enough to Matt, and he thought the window framing did not have strong enough headers put in. Adam looked over both and agreed with Matt. He asked the building crew foreman to make some changes.

“Can you read blueprints or were you just observant?”

“I can read the basics on a blueprint. My father was an architect and builder in St. Louis. He died before I was an adult so I lost touch with that, but working with him until then, I learned a lot. I have done some construction work in the past but mostly in shoring up mines.”

“Are you familiar with the Diedesheimer method of shoring?”

“Yes, I am and what a great idea that is. Sad that a lot of mine owners put the expense of that system ahead of the safety of their workers. In the long run, wouldn’t a cave in be more expensive to clean up than to just shore the mine up properly to begin with?”

Hoss was proud that Adam played a role in that development. “Adam here had a lot to do with getting that design in the mines here.”

Adam and Matt were sizing each other up and finding a lot to like in the other. Hoss was pleased. He had been afraid they might be too much alike to work together.

“I could use some help with the records from the timber camps and the lumber mill. At the moment, I can’t ride well so for a few days, I need someone to drive me there and back as well. At some point I need to inspect the mines we own and another hand with that would be good. Would you be willing to give that job a try? When you aren’t working on those things, I’d like you to keep an eye on the building here.”

“I’d like that. I get bored easily so having a few irons in the fire suits me well. Who’s paying my salary?”

“You’re still a Ponderosa hand, but there would be extra money in it with the extra responsibilities. We’ll need to find you a place to stay here too.”

“Oh your pa and your wife told me to bunk in the tack room, and I’ve been there most of the week. Jed’s been here too helping out but now that you’re back, I think he would just as soon get back to working cattle.”

“All right, tack room for now. If this works out, the house we’re living in now will be available once we move up here.”

“I haven’t had a house to live in since I left home when I was sixteen. My pa died, and ma was already gone so there was no reason to stay. This is looking better and better to me.”

Matt let the building crew foreman know that he and Jed were leaving, but that he would be back on occasion at Adam’s direction. Adam nodded to the foreman that indeed that was the situation now. Hoss was smiling because he knew that Pa and Cici were going to be tickled pink to know how well this had worked out.

It took several weeks for the mess at the timber camps to get straightened out. It had taken some of the Ponderosa’s cash on hand to get enough men working and then bonuses had to be paid as well. Adam assured his family that he had enough cash in his personal accounts that the ranch would not need a bank loan if cash on hand got too low. Once the contract dates were met though there was plenty of cash to pay expenses with enough left to send Hoss on his first cattle-buying trip. Because of the money they had spent to get quality bulls, Hoss was intent on buying cows. With both bulls and cows of high quality, he expected to be able to improve the stock at a faster rate. He had the men working on some fencing near the main house because these cattle would not be running with the regular herds for at least a few years until they had a much larger number of quality stock.

Once the timber/lumber system was working well, Adam, with Matt’s assistance, began to do mine inspections. They checked the two mines the Cartwrights owned outright as well as several in which one or more of them had invested. By the time they were done, the news was all bad as far as Ben was concerned. He had hired a mining engineer to work for them and oversee the mining operations ever since Adam had left ten years previously. One of Adam’s first acts had been to fire the man. Records were in a shambles but most importantly, the shoring in the mines they owned was substandard and had reached a dangerous state in some of the tunnels. The mines in which they had tied up money by investing were not much better, but without a majority share, they could do little about them so Adam advised selling out any shares held in them. He also wanted to close the mines over the winter to work on shoring them up. Temporarily with no timber ready to go, he closed down the tunnels he felt were most unsafe. As a result, income from those mines dropped precipitously creating another cash flow problem. Ben was on edge because of it and the rest of the family waited for the argument that was set to blow between Ben and Adam.

Adam and Cici postponed their honeymoon to San Francisco because of the uproar. They had intended to buy some furniture while there but now were afraid to tap into Adam’s cash accounts too much in case the Ponderosa needed to borrow those funds. Cici had two mothers expecting to deliver soon so didn’t feel too bad about the postponement at first, but she knew that by October, she did want to get away with Adam. If they waited too long, the weather would be bad, and by spring, she would be too big with her pregnancy to enjoy a trip nor would it be safe for her to travel. They both wanted to have some new furniture in the new house when they moved in so it felt more like their home. Cici worried too about a confrontation between Adam and Ben. Both men were proud and stubborn, but Ben had given up some authority over the Ponderosa and was chafing a bit because his sons weren’t doing things the way he would have done them. Even though Adam had done nothing wrong, it was his responsibilities on the Ponderosa that were causing all the problems at that time. Irrational or not, Ben was seething at that. Hoss and Joe were very worried that Ben could do something to make Adam leave again.

Only rarely did Adam show up at the main house any more during the week as it was just more convenient to go directly to the timber camps, lumber mill, or mines directly from his house. To go to the main house would only make his days longer. Ben however seemed to think that Adam was avoiding him and added that to the list of grievances he had. That one was no more rational than the others, but as Adam had told Cici, when Ben was angry, rational thought was very difficult for him. Joe was helping Hoss with the fall round-up and would go with him on the cattle drive. Adam wasn’t going because concerns with the mines were keeping him working from sunrise to sunset as it was, but again Ben was upset that he would not help his younger brothers. As it turned out, the blow-up happened with Hoss not Adam.

At dinner the night before the drive was to begin, Ben was again making disparaging remarks about Adam’s mining projects bleeding the Ponderosa accounts dry. Hoss finally couldn’t take it any more when Ben made a remark about the cattle drive.

“At least I have two responsible sons who will handle the cattle drive and put money into our accounts instead of draining it out.”

“Pa, I have had just about enough of this. I ain’t planning on coming home from this cattle drive to find you drove my brother away again. Adam is responsible. He’s like the meaning of that word, responsible. He takes responsibility for things that ain’t even his fault and drives us crazy when he does that. He’s done nothing except work himself as hard as he can to fix one mess after another. You’re doing what ya done in the past. Ya said ya was gonna change, but ya ain’t. First sign of real troubles, and you start acting the same old way. Well, it ain’t setting right with me at all.”

“But who’s paying for it?”

“We are! All of us! Adam postponed his honeymoon to make sure things got done right. He ain’t ordered the stuff he wants for his house in case we need to borrow the cash he has on hand. All I hear from you is complaints, and it’s gotta stop right now.”

“You need to watch your tone with me young man.”

“That’s right! I am a man. And I have every right to tell you what I think, and if you don’t like it well that’s too bad. I got a right to my opinions just like anybody else. And I don’t gotta watch my tone with you neither.”

“Well maybe if you’re so unhappy with me, you can just go live on your own like your brother!”

“Is that what’s sticking in your craw. You had this problem, and you apologized for it, but now come to find out, you didn’t mean it in your heart. Damn it, Pa, he’s a man, and he’s got a wife and every right to live his own life. I ain’t saying nothing you don’t know already. What I don’t understand is why you gotta be so negative about what he’s doing. He worked with swollen fingers and bandaged hands to get a plan together for the timber camps and lumber mill so we could meet our contracts, and it worked.”

“We helped him. He didn’t do it by himself.”

“Of course ,we did cause he wasn’t too proud to ask when he needed help. We always work together. I thought you said we were all still gonna help each other on big projects? But it was Adam’s plan. We saved our business reputation with it. From here to Reno and all through the Washoe, every man knows if he makes a contract for our timber, we’ll meet it no matter what. Every man jack out there knows what Adam went through to get that job done.”

“Pa, Hoss is right. With the timber and the mines, if we had paid more attention, we wouldn’t be having these issues right now. I know it’s expensive, but ten years of not investing enough money and time back into those mines caught up to us. How would you feel if some men got killed because one of those tunnels collapsed? Matt’s been working with Adam, and from what I’ve heard from him, he’s been scared just to do some of the inspections with Adam.”

Hoss had a sudden intuition. His father felt useless. Doing the ledgers and attending meetings might be making him feel like a figurehead instead of a valuable asset. Meanwhile Adam was getting a lot of attention and many were going directly to him for decisions that Ben used to make. He might be a tad bit jealous too.

“Pa, maybe for now you could take over the timber and lumber operations from Adam so he could concentrate on the mine problems. If he didn’t have to go up there two or three times a week maybe he could make some faster progress with the mines.”

Joe saw where Hoss was going with this and had an idea of his own.

“Pa, while I’m gone, who’s gonna supervise the relocation and rebuilding of the mill? We made those plans over three years ago, and it really needs to get done. The mill is only operating at a fraction of its capacity because there isn’t enough water to push the wheel unless we hold off for a while and let the pond fill.”

“Well I can’t do all of that. With paperwork and all, I don’t have enough time for all of it.”

“Maybe Matt could help with the timber and lumber? He’s been helping Adam for quite a while now so he could handle a lot of the stuff as long as he had someone telling him what needed to be done. He could still help Adam with the mines on the other days.”

Suddenly Ben started talking with them about how he could get things done with the mill, and how he could help Adam with the timber and lumber operations until the mines were pulled up to proper safety standards. A major crisis had been averted. Hoss intended to find some time in the early morning to let Adam know what was going on before their Pa saw him. He knew Adam was chafing under the criticisms Ben regularly sent his way so he might react badly if their Pa just sprung this on him. Hoss wasn’t certain either that Ben really had understood his own feelings. After some time to reflect on everything, it would come to him. Then he would go to apologize to Adam. For now though, this felt like the right solution.

*****

Chapter 5

The next morning Hoss rode out very early to Adam’s house. Ben saw him leaving and assumed he was going to talk to Adam. For much of the night, Ben had been thinking. He was ashamed that he had been acting like a spoiled child who had his toys taken away. He would ride out to the drive this morning and make amends to his two younger sons. He would need to think for a time on what he could do for Adam. A simple ‘I’m sorry’ wasn’t good enough so he was thinking of what else he could do but had not had a good idea yet. It had to be soon though so Adam would know he meant it with all of his heart. Meanwhile he needed a good breakfast because he had work to do today.

As Hoss approached Adam’s house, he was relieved to see smoke coming from the stovepipe. Someone was working in the kitchen so he wouldn’t be interrupting too much. He knocked on the door and Adam answered almost immediately so he had heard Hoss approaching. Adam was shirtless and carrying a towel so Hoss assumed he had been shaving. When he heard Cici call hello from the kitchen it confirmed that so he relaxed.

“Hoss, this early, it has to be very good news or very bad.”

“Good. I think.”

Hoss then recounted the conversation he and Joe had with their Pa the night before and added what he though had been behind it all.

“Hoss, you are the most perceptive man I know. That all makes sense to me the way you tell it. I hope it’s true because you’re right; Pa and I were headed to a showdown. Does Pa know you came to tell me?”

“Well he probably heard me ride out so he may have guessed but I didn’t tell him. I’m heading out to the drive now. I’ll see you in about two weeks or so. Don’t do nothing crazy now.”

“I won’t. Thank you.”

Hoss left and Cici looked at Adam with a questioning look. He knew she wanted to ask about what he thought. Adam wrapped his arms around her and Cici pressed her hands on his chest and caressed him tenderly.

“Pa and I have always had this contentious relationship. I don’t know why. It seems we can never work things out unless there’s some tension or an argument. Seems to be the only way he ever tries to look at it my way.”

“Could it be because he resists change, and you love to try new things?”

“I could think of a few new things I’d like to try right now.”

“Adam, could you hold that thought about nine hours. I think I’ll be ready to try some of your ideas then. Right now, breakfast is ready and I have patients who will be waiting for me.”

But she made no move to move away and continued to move her hands over Adam’s chest. He leaned down to kiss her and she wrapped her arms around his neck. They kissed and caressed and soon breakfast was ruined. Once they emerged from the bedroom, Cici took the ruined breakfast and set it on the counter.

“I think that’s the third time this week that’s happened. How about if we just do the loving as soon as we wake up in the morning?”

“The spontaneity is half the fun.”

“I’m not sure it’s spontaneity if it happens every morning.”

They both started laughing and had a hard time stopping. As a doctor, Cici did know that because of pregnancy, women could be more amorous but she was surprised by how much. Adam wasn’t complaining at all though. Cici grabbed her bag and followed Adam who was heading to the stable to harness the horses to the carriage. For the day, she would be at her office and he would be heading to the mines to do more inspection and make plans for new shoring. She urged him to be careful as she kissed him goodbye. Matt joined Adam and they rode to Bonanza mine one to see the progress on the safety upgrades. Some tunnels were having new shoring installed and they wanted to check the progress of that. Then they would proceed to Bonanza mine two where Adam had closed tunnel three already. The shoring in tunnels four and five was much newer so today they would make a decision on whether to keep working in those tunnels. Blasting in two was suspended until all inspections were completed so the men were back to basic hard rock mining in tunnels one and two only and didn’t like it at all.

Ben had ridden to the drive to apologize for his behavior to Hoss and Joe and wish them well on the drive. Then he had gone to town to have his broker sell his shares in mines Adam said were unsafe and put the money he got into the Ponderosa account. This would give them more money to pay for timber to shore up the mines they owned and to pay the miners for the work. Once that was done, he rode to mine two because he thought that was where Adam was working that day, but he had not arrived by the time Ben got there. One of the miners came up to Ben and said that Adam had closed tunnel three but the shoring looked pretty good in there so they wondered if he had made a mistake. Ben accompanied a group of miners to look in tunnel three and agreed that the shoring looked safe so he gave them the go ahead to continue to work in that tunnel. One of the miners asked if they could blast and Ben said of course because how else could they get the ore out. He had no idea that Adam had suspended blasting in this mine. After waiting a bit longer, Ben mounted up to ride to mine one to see if Adam was there. Adam had detoured back to his house to pick up some maps and other paper work that he had forgotten to take with him so Ben did not see him on the way.

Once Adam and Matt reached mine two, they headed into the mine to inspect tunnels four and five. They planned to take some samples from the shoring to see if there was dry rot like there was in tunnel three where the wood looked good but could be smashed with a shovel in some places they had found. As they walked to tunnel four, Adam suddenly stopped because it suddenly dawned on him that he hadn’t seen wire in the mine the day before. He asked Matt if he had seen any wire heading into tunnel three when they had been there the day before. Matt never had a chance to answer as a blast shook the mine; dust poured out of tunnel three and then it and tunnel four collapsed. Miners raced out of tunnels one and two to the outside. There they saw Adam’s and Matt’s horses and knew those two men were in the mine. They waited hoping that they would come running out but there was no one else.

In the mine, near tunnel four, the air was dust-filled. Adam coughed and coughed. It was very dark. His right foot was trapped under a large boulder but didn’t seem to be damaged much. He called a number of times for Matt and got no response. He repeated the call at intervals as he moved small rocks and debris away from the larger rock pinning his foot by pressing against his ankle. He finally heard a weak and wheezing reply to his call. Matt was apparently trapped as well but his voice sounded very weak and he was wheezing noticeably. He also seemed confused so Adam asked him if his head was hurt and Matt said he didn’t know which answered the question anyway. It remained very dark so Adam concluded that the tunnel was blocked completely and explained too why the air was getting stale. Mattwas seriously injured. It was cold and they had no food and water. When Matt asked him how things looked for them, he was honest.

“Well, so you think it looks a little bad for us right now. It could be worse.”

“How?”

“We could be dead. I do try to look on the bright side of things.”

Matt couldn’t help it and started chuckling even if weakly. Adam did too but it turned into coughing very soon with the dust he had ingested earlier and the lack of clean air. He found a small rock and pounded a short series of hard taps on the rock wall nearest him. If anyone could hear, they would know the two men were alive. He had no illusions though. The chances of rescue were slim. About every five minutes, he repeated the taps and hoped someone could hear them. When he tried to talk with Matt, there was only silence. He thought he could hear him breathing but it was so soft it could have been wishful thinking too. He continued to work at the rocks that pinned him where he was hoping to get free and go to Matt and perhaps assess the wall of rock that blocked their exit too.

The siren had been sounded at mine two when the tunnel collapsed, and miners from mine one headed there to help bringing all the tools and equipment they could easily carry. Ben rode with them. Adam’s prediction had come true, and Ben only hoped that no one had been killed. When he saw Sport tied up at the mine office, but didn’t see Adam anywhere, his heart sank. When he found the courage to ask, he found that the only two missing men were his son and Matt.

The sirens could be heard in Virginia City, and Cici had a premonition. She had already seen her scheduled patients for the day and decided not to wait to see if anyone dropped in. She closed the office and went to the livery stable to get her carriage. She brought her bag and additional medical supplies with her. There was a procession of wagons and carriages headed to the mine which she joined. When she reached the mine, she saw Ben, but did not see Adam. She climbed out of the carriage and ran to where Ben was standing. As Ben heard Cici call his name, he turned toward her, and she knew from the expression on his face that Adam was in that mine. She collapsed in tears. Ben knelt at her side to console her.

“They’re forming teams of men right now to start digging out the debris. They’ve done this before and know what they’re doing. Adam is alive. I know he is. We have to believe that.”

“He was right about these mines, and now he’s trapped in there. He’s probably hurt and no one can help him.”

Ben helped Cici to a chair outside the mine office and then went to find the men who were in charge of the rescue. When he found them, he was shaken to his core by what he found out.

“I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright. We had no idea that tunnel three was that bad. Mr. Adam did, I guess, and that’s why he told us not to blast in the mine. We were sure he was overreacting so that’s why we asked you if we could. If we could take that all back now, we would. But we promise we’ll do everything we can to get your son out of there.”

Suddenly Ben realized that he was the one who had caused the mine collapse that had trapped his son. He had usurped Adam’s authority without a thought. He should have told the men to wait for Adam and ask him. His own damn pride and confidence had led him to make a reckless decision that had placed his son’s very life in jeopardy. Adam would have every right never to forgive him, and now he prayed that Adam would at least have an opportunity to do just that. Ben picked up a shovel and headed into the mine to help.

Over the next twenty-four hours, the men worked in shifts to clear away debris. Often they thought they heard tapping, but it never continued long enough for them to be sure. Once they stopped working because someone thought there was tapping, it would already have stopped. They kept going though hoping that there would be a way to get through the debris and find the tunnel open on the other side. Finally they came to a section where the debris did not reach to the ceiling. There was an opening at the top. One of the men crawled up there and yelled through. After a minute, they heard a weak call from the other side. There still wasn’t room to send a man through but they began working at the top of the pile trying to make a space large enough to send a man through to the other side. Ben went out to tell Cici who had been staying in the mine office. She was somewhat relieved but also treated Ben rather coldly. He suspected she had found out from the miners exactly how this cave in occurred and was justifiably very angry with him.

Behind the pile of debris, Adam tried to call out to Matt that there was an imminent rescue, but he was so dry and had breathed so much dust, he couldn’t manage. He had not heard a word from Matt since shortly after the cave-in and feared for his friend’s life. Until recently he still thought he could hear the wheezy breathing, but with the clatter now from the rescue diggers, he couldn’t hear him at all. It took less than an hour to open a space big enough for the smallest miner to wiggle through with water, candles, and bandages. The fresh air from the opening was the most welcome.

Shorty, of course the little miner’s name was Shorty, quickly found Adam and gave him a canteen of water to drink. He told him to take it slowly so he wouldn’t retch it all back up. Adam told him the direction where he thought Matt could be found. Soon there were several candles lit in that vicinity and Shorty appeared to be very busy.

“Is he all right?”

“He’s alive.”

Shorty climbed back up the pile of debris to tell the rescuers that both men were alive and described their condition. He asked for a long sturdy pole to use as a lever so he could move debris and free the two. Shorty and Adam could hear someone crawling through the tight space at the top and were shocked to see it was Cici. She had her bag with her and pulled a long pole behind her. She also had a lantern, which she handed to Shorty. Once he lit that, the cavern was much brighter. She looked for Adam and then rushed to his side and began checking his injuries. Shorty got the pole and using a rock for a fulcrum, levered the rock that had held Adam’s foot. Cici did a quick check and said it did not appear to be broken but it was badly bruised and swollen.

“Go to Matt. I think he needs you.”

As Cici hurried to where Shorty knelt beside Matt, Adam limped over to there too. Shorty climbed back up the rock pile to ask them to send in more water and another lantern. One look told him that Cici was going to have to do some work on Matt before he could be moved. Shorty had used his pole and worked to remove the debris over Adam’s left leg and left shoulder. Cici cleaned his head wound as well as the blood from his face. That blood apparently came from the head wound that had stopped bleeding long ago. Matt’s shoulder was bruised badly but didn’t appear to be seriously damaged. His leg was broken but there was no displacement. Cici then went to open his shirt. She was afraid of what she would find but let out an involuntary gasp anyway. There was a very large dark purple bruise along his right side. As she palpated the area, she concluded he was bleeding from a hemorrhage because of a broken rib, and he needed surgery immediately. Cici gave Shorty a list of items she would need, and he climbed up the debris pile to relay her message out.

Water, lanterns, soap, a metal bowl, sheets, splints, and bandages were relayed into the mine and through the opening to the inside. Cici began washing the area of the bruise and beyond. Then with Shorty’s help, she got the sheet under Matt. Once that was done, she thoroughly washed her hands and the instruments she would use. Then she prayed that the surgery could be quick and simple even though it was critical. Shorty held Matt’s left arm securely and Adam braced himself against Matt’s hip to help hold him steady. There was no anesthesia so they had to physically prevent him from moving. He was unconscious so probably felt little or no pain. Once the surgery was underway, there was a lot of bleeding but after the broken part of the rib was removed and the wound was stitched up, the bleeding was minimal. After washing the outside of the wound with a carbolic acid solution, Cici applied a heavy bandage. With Shorty’s help, she wound bandages around Matt to hold the thick pad in place over the stitches. Then she cut away Matt’s pant leg and splinted his leg. Through all of this, he made no sound nor moved. That was ominous. Cici could find no evidence of a skull fracture but knew it was possible. That he had at least a severe concussion was obvious.

The debris was being removed at a good pace now from the top down and more men were able to come through the opening and started working on the pile from the inside as well. Cici asked them to move Matt out by stretcher as soon as possible because he needed more medical care and she needed more light to properly evaluate his injuries. In less than an hour, Matt was transferred to a stretcher and moved out of the tunnel. Cici followed him out. Shorty helped Adam out later as more debris was removed.

Outside, Doctor Martin had set up a surgical tent with an exam table and a bed inside. Everything was clean and waiting for a patient. There was hot water. Matt was transferred into the tent and then the two doctors worked together to care for him. Ben waited anxiously outside as did Adam and most of the miners. About two hours later, Doctor Martin emerged to say that Matt would live. He had a concussion but not a skull fracture, a broken leg, and had most of one rib removed. The other injuries were superficial although painful. He had been in shock. As they warmed him up with hot water compresses and got some fluid into him, he began to groggily respond to their questions but complained of a severe headache. Dr. Martin asked the cook to make some broth and bring it to them as quickly as possible. He suggested they ought to give a bowl of it to Adam as well who was sitting nearby wrapped in a blanket.

“Can he be moved?”

“Ben, he’s going to stay right here for the time being. We have all that we need and moving him at this time would be an unnecessary risk.”

“Can I see him?”

“Ben, I think you know the answer to that question already. Trust us. We will take good care of him. Maybe after we get the broth in him. We’ll see how he’s doing by then.”

Cici was the next person that Ben saw. She looked exhausted and Ben suggested she should get some sleep. Her reply was polite but not warm, so Ben bit the bullet.

“Cici, this is all my fault. I did a stupid and reckless thing and almost got my son killed. But I didn’t mean to do any of it. I was asked and answered a question as if I was still in charge here and I wasn’t. I should have told them to wait for Adam. Old habits die hard. I don’t know what I can do to make it up to you and to Adam. I came up here to tell him I put extra money in the accounts so he could do more of what he needed to do here, and then I messed things up horribly.”

“Then you need to tell him that. It has been so hard for him the last month trying to do the right thing and having to endure your displeasure the whole time. You need to give your trust to him without reservation. He is not taking your place. He wants to work beside you and be treated with respect. It isn’t too much to ask. Now I need to clean up, grab some breakfast, and get back in there to see if I can sleep a little. Matt is awake but in a lot of pain. If you talk to him, don’t ask questions. Say what you need to say to let him know how sorry you are and then let him rest. He doesn’t know why that tunnel collapsed. If you tell him, he is going to be upset so the next thing you say better be a thorough apology or I’ll kick you right out of that tent. Then get my husband home so he can get some rest.”

And so it went. Adam was upset with Ben’s explanation of what he had done, but Ben’s abject demeanor and sincere apology went a long way to resolving Adam’s anger. Ben asked if he could please give Adam a ride to his house or to the main house so he could get some rest. Adam nodded yes, but wanted to say goodbye to his wife first. Ben went to the tent to ask her if she would do that. She did, and then went back to the tent, Cici laid back on the cot next to Matt, and closed her eyes. Getting these Cartwright men to work through change was a daunting and exhausting experience.

*****

Chapter 6

The next day, Matt was moved to Adam’s home. Ben had said he could go to the main house where Hop Sing could help, but Adam didn’t want to do that. Adam who was limping just a little offered to help Cici with Matt as needed. Ben had to swallow down his argument, but he did as Cici nodded her encouragement to him. He was learning. His sons would not always do things the way their father would have but that didn’t make them wrong just different. Ben was learning how to respect the differences. In fact once at Adam’s house, Ben could see how convenient the smaller home would be with the bedroom, kitchen, and washroom all in close proximity, and he did have the good grace to say that to Adam to reinforce that his son did make a good decision. Then he took his leave to get back to the Ponderosa and get some work done.

Before Ben left, he had asked Adam when he would have a plan in place for the mines. Ben would do as his son asked and follow his instructions until Adam was ready to do the job himself but that wasn’t likely for several days at least. Adam was very tired from the ordeal and wasn’t ready to start thinking about the mines yet, and Cici suggested that Ben come back the next morning to discuss this with Adam who gratefully nodded his agreement with that. After Ben left, Adam helped Cici get Matt into bed. Then Ada went to theie bedroom and sacked out too. By that evening, Adam wanted to get up and work at his desk on a plan for the mines but Cici put her foot down hard.

“You were in a mine collapse two days ago, you are recovering from aninjury, you were dehydrated, chilled, and in shock. You are staying in that bed except for anything necessary. Lean back on those pillows, mister, and I’ll bring you something to eat.”

Adam gave her one of those sardonic grins but with a lot of humor in his look.

“What?”

“I’m just getting my father trained, but my wife is now dictating my every move.”

Cici clenched her fists at her side and glared at him.

“Come here, please? I was just teasing you. Can the patient please have some company? Maybe a bedside visit from the doctor?”

Cici walked to the bed and Adam slid a little to his left side so she could sit on his right. Once she did, he slid his right arm around her to coax her to lean against him. She relaxed into him and he sighed.

“You’re right of course. My stomach is a little queasy yet. Could we just relax here for a bit? You must be tired too. God, I hurt all over. I think I’m feeling bruising now I didn’t realize I had.”

Cici got her own wicked little grin. She turned to Adam and he knew something was up with that look.

“Just tell me where it hurts, and I’ll kiss it to make it better.”

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t do that to me. I’m suffering enough here without you teasing me like that.”

“What if I’m not teasing.”

“Then it’s worse. The torment is going to kill me I’m sure.”

Cici kissed him softly and got up from the bed.

“I’m going to get some broth and some tea. You do need to get something in you before you sleep tonight.”

Cici got Adam to drink some of each. Then she checked Matt’s bandages and splints. The leg swelling was greatly reduced. It was the fibula that was broken and not the tibia so he could be up and walking with a crutch in a few days and with a cane in just a few weeks. The stitches from the surgery were dry and the area although badly bruised showed no inflammation which she found remarkable under the circumstances. His concussion would keep him from riding for a week or more but he needed time to recover from his other injuries as well so that wasn’t too much of a problem either. She knew he might be a terrible patient as many men were, but by tomorrow he could sit at his desk and work on the mine problems with Adam. Adam would be more relaxed about the mines now too as no one would question his decisions on the mines after this. At least for now, Ben would follow Adam’s plan exactly: there were some benefits to him feeling so guilty. Ben was also probably a bit worried as to how Joe and especially Hoss would react to what he had done, and Cici took a little guilty pleasure in knowing that too. She actually hoped she might be around when they got back and Ben had to tell him how he had messed up, again.

The next few weeks passed uneventfully as life slowly got back to normal patterns. As Adam sat on the veranda of his new home discussing the finishing work with the foreman and Matt, Hoss and Joe rode up next to the small house down below. Adam yelled hello and waved and they walked up to the new house.

“Dadburnit, Adam, this house is looking purtier and purtier every time I see it. When’s it gonna be done?”

“Within the month, I hope. Cici and I are leaving for San Francisco on Friday. We’ll be buying some furnishings while enjoying our delayed honeymoon. We’ll have everything shipped here and it should be here before we are. Matt knows where everything goes so he’ll be in charge here while we’re gone.”

“So everything is good with the mines and the timber and lumber?”

Adam nodded affirmatively as did Matt. Joe looked meaningfully at Matt’s cane and still splinted lower left leg.

“We heard what happened. Hoss really let Pa have it. After that talk before we left, we never thought he would do something like that.”

“How did he react?”

“Just said ‘I know and I’m sorry. I need to change my ways.’ Shocked us that he didn’t blow up the way Hoss was talking to him. Said he didn’t mean to do what he did but just acted out of habit without thinking.”

“You threw your two bits in too as I recall. Didn’t matter. Pa sure feels bad about what he done. He looks plumb tuckered out too.”

Adam chuckled. “I think he has a new appreciation for all we do. He had to take charge at the timber camps and run to the mines on most of the other days to make sure my plans were being followed. Then he got home and had to do the paperwork for everything too. Good thing you left Candy behind to run the ranch or I think he might have killed himself with all the work. He did start on the mill project but I don’t think it got too far.”

“But everything is good enough for you to be gone?”

“Good enough. I owe Cici a honeymoon, and I mean to give it to her before the baby is born. We’ll be back by the end of the month to hopefully move into the house here.”

“A month! What can you find to do for a month in San Francisco?”

Adam just arched his brows at Joe who started to giggle and then all the men had a very good laugh. Adam did remind them that the city had many fine theatres, restaurants, and bookstores. That led to a few more ribald comments and more laughter. They asked about Cici’s medical practice once they got all the laughter out of the way. Adam explained that she and Paul were working together now, not as partners, but they consulted on patients and assisted each other in surgery and sent patients to each other when overworked. When working on Matt, they had found an ease of working with each other that surprised both the older doctor and the younger. Paul would cover Cici’s practice for October and then she would do the same for him in November when he traveled to St. Louis for a conference. Both could relax more now about travel because each had a competent doctor to cover their practice when needed.

On Friday morning. Cici removed the splints from Matt’s leg and left them off. At his questioning look, she explained that if he was careful and used his cane, he should be fine. It would also make working and driving the wagon more comfortable. Matt gave them a ride into town where they were surprised to see Ben, Joe, and Hoss with Barbara on his arm to give them a sendoff. Adam smiled at Barbara, and she blushed. Hoss talked briefly to Adam as Matt moved their trunks from the carriage to the stage.

“Adam, you don’t mind if I’m going to be seeing Miss Barbara, now do ya?”

“Hoss, not at all. She and I were friends. I’m very happily married and glad you found someone so nice to spend time with. I was just teasing a little with that look.”

“Well, Cici saw it so you better be ready to deal with that too.”

Hoss slapped him on the back, and Adam looked over to Cici, but she looked perfectly normal to him. He hoped she wasn’t upset with him. It wouldn’t be a good way to start their honeymoon. Cici turned and looked at him, winked, and nodded at Hoss and Barbara. All was well. Adam and Cici kissed and hugged their well-wishers and then climbed aboard the stage. They were the only two passengers that morning so Adam was able to stretch out his legs and get comfortable.

As the stage passed the city limits, Adam pulled Cici into an embrace and started kissing her passionately. She enthusiastically participated until he started to unbutton her dress.

“Adam, not on the stage. We can’t do anything on the stage.”

“Well not too much, but a little kissing and touching should be all right. We’ll be at the first station in less than a half hour so that’s all I’m asking.”

“You’re insatiable. Is the whole honeymoon going to be this way?”

“Oh, I certainly hope so, I very much hope so. I have a room reserved in Placerville for tonight, one in Sacramento the following night, then we’ll be on the steamer the night after that, and San Francisco for three weeks.”

Once in Placerville, Cici found just how romantic her husband could be. There was champagne cooling in ice, roses, chocolates, and dinner brought up to their room soon after they arrived. The dinner was cold before they got to it, and she had never known how romantically champagne and chocolate could be used. Her husband certainly had a vivid imagination.

In Sacramento, the room had similar embellishments but also included a large tub. As soon as they entered the room it seemed, there was a knock on the door and maids entered carrying buckets of steaming water. Dinner was served much later so they had a chance to eat while it was still hot. The next morning, they got to arise leisurely because the steamer did not leave until ten. As it was, they were almost late because they got a little carried away with the morning’s activities before they finally realized the time, packed, checked out, and raced to the dock.

By the time Adam and Cici arrived in San Francisco, she was looking forward to the next adventures he had planned. She was not going to be disappointed. There were friends to visit, museums to see, and theatres providing entertainment on many nights. During the days, there were carriage rides, and visits to bookstores, chocolate shops, and charming little restaurants. Friends of Adam recommended shops where they went to purchase items for their new home including everything they would need for a nursery. Adam insisted that Cici visit some dress shops and have some dresses made to fit her now and for the ensuing months. The last night, she dressed in an emerald satin gown. They had reservations for a fine restaurant and tickets for the latest theatre production that night. Just before they were going to leave, there was a knock on the door. One of the men from the desk downstairs brought a delivery to them. Adam thanked him and turned to hand a long narrow box to Cici. She opened it to find a diamond and emerald three-strand necklace. Adam helped her fasten it. She was speechless. It was the most gorgeous gift she had ever received. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him with all the love she possessed.

“We could skip the restaurant and theatre and stay here.”

“Oh no, I am going to go out and show this off. I may not have a chance to wear this at home for quite a while.”

After dinner and the theatre, Cici expected to return to the hotel, but Adam directed the carriage in another direction. They came to a street that seemed to be filled with carriages. Once at the center of the melee, their carriage stopped and Adam escorted her into a fall ball. They danced and danced until midnight. The next morning as they left the hotel, Cici was exhausted, but she had had the most romantic and exciting honeymoon she could imagine anyone had ever had. She couldn’t wait to get home to tell Barbara all about it. The trip home was more mundane as both were anxious now to see family and friends. When they arrived in Virginia City, their carriage awaited them. Matt helped them with their trunks and then rode ahead to the house. Once Adam and Cici arrived, she expected to drive to the small house they had been using, but Adam pulled up the drive to the new house.

“Oh, Adam, I don’t think I want to live out of boxes and trunks tonight. Can’t we spend just one night in the little house?”

Adam said nothing, but when Cici climbed out of the carriage, he took her elbow and guided her up the steps. He swung the front door open and then picked her up and carried her in. There were no boxes or crates and furniture was placed in a nice arrangement in the parlor. Her curiosity aroused, she moved from room to room on the first floor finding that everything they had shipped was unpacked and put away or placed where they had planned. Finally she had to ask.

“How did you do this?”

“Matt has earned himself a nice bonus. I left a plan with him and asked him to uncrate and unbox everything and put it where we wanted. He moved the items from the little house that we would need too.”

Cici hugged and kissed her husband. A new chapter was beginning and it couldn’t have looked better to her.

*****

Chapter 7

On Thanksgiving morning, Adam walked up behind Cici as she was making bacon and eggs at the stove for their breakfast and ran his hands over her baby bump as he kissed her on the neck.

“I bet that Hop Sing never has to deal with distractions like this when he is cooking.”

“That’s a shame. He might like a woman kissing him and holding him as he worked. You never know what might start cooking.”

Cici groaned at his comment. Adam had been in a playful mood ever since the honeymoon. With winter approaching, his responsibilities on the Ponderosa were rapidly diminishing. Over the winter, he had some projects to design and an indoor upstairs necessary to build at the main house on the Ponderosa. Because of the location of the house, it was more difficult to engineer a system to get water to that space but much easier to create a system to dispose of waste. That was the opposite of their own house on the hill where it had been easy to pipe water in to several locations in the house but more complex to drain it away after use. Adding on was always more difficult it seemed than adding something like that into the design elements of a new house. He thought he had the basics of the design done but needed to measure and be sure it would work as well as get final approval for the project from his father and brothers. The lumber and basic supplies were not much but there was a need to order an extra large tub to accommodate Hoss, a large water tank to hold a supply of water on the second floor, a stove for heating the water, lots of piping, and a pump. He had created an alternative plan to add on to the washroom that would be much cheaper but less private and certainly less convenient. Either option though would end those trips outside in cold and unpleasant weather.

Cici served bacon, eggs, bread with preserves, and coffee for breakfast and it was quite delicious. Adam appreciated how much she had learned from the few lessons she had from Hop Sing. Her repertoire of recipes was developing but most were still simple dishes and baked goods. Compared to what he could manage in the kitchen though, she was a great chef. He did have one question that he had been meaning to ask every morning as he saw her devour plates of fried food.

“I know that I am not knowledgeable about a woman being with child, and I don’t want to wish anything bad for you, but aren’t you supposed to be sick in the morning? I do remember when Marie was carrying Joe, and she changed to various shades of green and yellow whenever food like this was served. Then she would run outside and Pa would follow. I always had to hang on to Hoss because he thought it was a game they were playing.”

“Aww, that’s a cute story. Not everyone gets sick in the morning or with food but some have it all day. I am one of the lucky ones. I remember Mama saying that about herself and her times so I guess I got it from her. On a related topic, have you been thinking about the names I suggested?”

“Yes, the more I thought about them, the more I liked them: Victoria Michele for a girl and David Michael for a boy. They’re strong names and won’t get them teased as children. I like that there can be a diminutive version for when he or she is a baby: Davy or Vicki.”

Cici smiled. It was just like Adam to think it through and see the long-term impact before making a decision. She just liked how the names sounded. More and more she had the feeling it was going to be a boy, but had no medical reason to say that as it was just a feeling.

“I think you will love holding Davy and showing him off to everyone.”

“Maybe it will be Vicki I will be showing off. I know you think it will be a boy, but there is no way to tell, is there?”

Cici shook her head and waited for the next part of the conversation. They had been having this discussion since their return with no resolution yet. Adam looked at her with an eyebrow raised and didn’t have to say anything. He waited for her to say something.

“Yes, we can hire a cook and housekeeper, but not yet please? I want to get things in the house the way I want them first. I want to spend Christmas Eve with you and only you. After Christmas, we can hire someone. Will that be all right?”

Adam had been pushing her to accept hiring someone and agreed quickly before she could change her mind. Not only had being with child made Cici more amorous, but she could be quite emotional in some decision making too so he knew the best choice was to agree quickly and without comment. It was a good compromise anyway: he had wanted to hire someone almost a month ago and she wanted to wait until it was near her delivery time so this was about halfway between.

“Adam, should we ask Matt to join us when we go to the main house for dinner today? I hate to see him all alone.”

“Ah, he won’t be alone. I think Jed is coming over again.”

“We need to find a girl for him or he’s going to spend his life as a bachelor all alone. I feel bad for him that he doesn’t have a family. The only visitor he ever has is Jed except when he has some of the hands over to play cards on a Friday or a Saturday.”

“He’s happy with Jed.”

“Well Jed could use a girlfriend too. He’s a lot younger than Matt, but Matt seems to be his only friend. He could be very lonely too. Maybe that’s why he’s over here so much. Matt may be like a father to him or an older brother and he needs that.”

Adam didn’t know how to tell her. It wasn’t a subject most people talked about so there wasn’t a usual way to bring it up. He pinched the bridge of his nose and frowned so Cici knew something important was going on in that head of his. She waited to see if he would tell her.

“Um, Cici, Matt and Jed are not lonely.”

Cici waited for him to say more. He didn’t and she wondered why and wondered why he seemed so embarrassed about what he just said. Suddenly, she wondered if he could mean what she thought he meant and it dawned on her that he must based on what he had said already. She knew about this but had never known anyone who was at least as far as she knew.

“Matt and Jed have each other?”

Adam nodded. In medical school, one professor had repeatedly warned of the horrible problems that could result from masturbation and in her last year of studies, he started to include the repercussions of homosexuality too. Then he had gone on to warn of all sorts of things that were pleasures men and women engaged in. She had believed what he said in all those early lectures but had discovered with Adam that much of what he had said was a bunch of malarkey which made her wonder if his concerns about homosexuality were just as baseless. Adam did look embarrassed about the subject though so she had to ask.

“Does it bother you that they like each other that way?”

“No, it doesn’t. They are good men. Love is love. The thing is that if others find out there could be some serious trouble. It’s the kind of relationship people don’t talk about out here or probably anywhere. People know. Maybe lots of people know it goes on but it’s kept discreet and private. If it becomes public knowledge, there will be some kind of trouble for them.”

“Why don’t we hire Jed then? Wouldn’t it be safer if he lived here?”

“We haven’t hired him because we don’t have enough work here to justify hiring two men so it would just cause the inquiry we are trying to avoid.”

“Well, we’re just going to have to find more work to do then so Jed can help us. You wanted to expand the stable and the corrals, add a forge and a workshop, and a smokehouse as well as a wine cellar, and I’m sure there must be more.”

Adam held up his hands in surrender.

“I’ll talk to Matt and see what he wants to do.”

“When? Jed’s coming over today you said so if you talked to him now they could discuss it and let us know what they want to do.”

Adam smiled at her nervous energy about the topic, and agreed to go talk to Matt as soon as he finished his coffee. He reminded Cici not to talk to anyone at all about this not even his brothers because he wasn’t sure they knew and neither one of them was any good at keeping a secret.

“Well how did you know?”

Adam hesitated to tell her. He wasn’t sure this was even a conversation they should be having especially today. Finally he told her about some of what had happened to him in prison and that he learned what some of the clues were if men were so inclined to be with other men. He had noticed some things about Matt and they had had a frank conversation while riding to the mines one day. Matt trusted Adam and was willing to share that information about himself.

After Adam talked to Matt, Jed arrived. It didn’t take long for the two men to let Adam know they liked the plan. Both of them knew they would be safer living in the bunkhouse at Adam’s ranch than trying to maintain a relationship with Jed living at the Ponderosa bunkhouse and visiting Matt so often. Matt told Adam their decision when he drove the carriage to the house so that Adam and Cici could pack the things they were taking to dinner with his family. Adam asked his father that day if he could hire Jed to help Matt with some building projects.

“Adam, I think that is a wonderful idea.”

No hesitation and no questions let Adam know that his father was aware of the situation. But like most men of the time, they did not discuss it. Adam nodded, and Ben was aware that he knew too. It was settled. Later Hoss asked if Adam and Joe could help him move some cattle from the high pastures down to the south pastures. He had gotten behind on moving cattle because of fence building for the new bulls and cows he had purchased. With storms starting to build over the Sierra, the last of the herd needed to be moved and he was shorthanded. The three brothers agreed they could do it starting the following day. Joe teased Adam because with the injury to his ankle and then his honeymoon, he had not spent much time in the saddle for months and might be saddle-sore by the time they got back.

“Joe, I’m always saddle-sore when I get back so it won’t be anything new. I’ve got a house doctor now though if it’s too painful.”

He waggled his eyebrows and that started Hoss laughing that oversized guffaw of his and Joe’s giggle soon had all the men laughing uproariously. Then they had to explain it to the ladies, which Adam attempted to do with polite conversation until Hoss interrupted.

“Aw heck, Adam, you jest said that if your get sore muscles, ya got a doctor who can take care of it for you. Then ya done that eyebrow thing of yours so we’d know what you really meant.”

Cici raised her eyebrows at that, and she could swear it looked like Adam was blushing. He definitely looked embarrassed in front of her and Barbara. She had to laugh too so soon everyone had a good laugh. That night Cici asked him if he had any sore muscles so she could practice taking care of them for him. He had a few in mind and she practiced helping him with those which turned into quite an enjoyable evening for both of them.

The next morning, Adam packed to go to the high country with Hoss and Joe. At Matt’s insistence, he included a canvas tarp, a slicker, and an extra bedroll. He got a sack of food with ham, bread, and preserves from Cici. Once he strapped his coat on top of that, he headed out. His brothers, especially Joe, had not packed nearly as much gear, but Hoss especially had a much larger food sack. Joe carried oats for the horses because he never wanted his Cochise to be hungry. The extra preparations were fortuitous because the three of them got caught in an early snowstorm on the second day up there. They found some shelter in a rock cliff and Adam used his tarp to create a lean-to that also acted as a windbreak with the cliff walls at their back. They spread Adam’s slicker and extra blanket on the ground and then slept side-by-side using the three remaining bedrolls to stay warm. With a fire at the cliff wall radiating heat back into the lean to, they were comfortable as they waited out the storm. The extra food meant they were well fed on the extra day they spent there rounding up strays and then driving them down to the lower pastures.

As they rode home and neared the ranch house, Hoss saw a carriage in the yard.

“I sure hope that carriage means that Barbara is over and waiting for me. I been looking forward to a kiss for five days now.”

“If that’s the case, I’m hoping that Cici rode over with her.”

Joe looked around at his two brothers who hadn’t bathed nor shaved in five days. Adam had a pretty heavy growth of bristly beard already, and Hoss wasn’t far behind.

“Ha, I’d bet a days wages that neither of you is getting a kiss when we get back. You both smell like cattle and horses or worse, and you look like shaggy mountain men with those beards.”

“I’ll take that bet.” was an almost simultaneous response from his two older brothers.

As they neared the ranch, Cici came running out to greet them. Adam kicked his left foot out of the stirrup and Cici put her foot in it and Adam helped her up climb up and to sit across his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and they kissed. Joe just shook his head and rode ahead with Hoss leaving Adam and Cici to ride in slowly behind. As Hoss reached the yard and saw Barbara standing there, he dismounted and Barbara walked toward his open arms and they embraced and kissed although in a much more chaste and proper way than Adam and Cici had. Joe shook his head and Hoss laughed when he saw them. A few minutes later Adam and Cici arrived and he helped her dismount before swinging down himself.

“We were worried about you boys. We saw the storm clouds get pretty bad up there. You look none the worse though so things must have been all right.”

“Yup, Pa. We got all the cattle moved and we’re all set for the winter. Adam and Joe were all the help I needed.”

The children ran out of the house then to welcome their father and uncles back home. Everyone could see the sugar on their lips so they knew Hop Sing had treated them to powdered sugar something. In short order, Hoss was headed into the kitchen to find out what that was. Ben invited all to stay for dinner, but Cici and Adam declined. Rather than ride home double, Adam borrowed a carriage and they left. Barbara went inside to help Hop Sing with dinner preparations although mostly she put things on the table and washed pots, pans, and utensils. Hop Sing appreciated that she would do those things to help him so he was beginning to like her as much as he did Cici. After dinner, Hoss drove Barbara home with an extra horse tied to the back of the carriage for his return trip. Hours after he was expected back, Ben heard him ride in. When he came in the house, he had a big but sheepish smile on his face.

“Well?”

“She said yes!”

There were squeals from upstairs as the children heard the news too. Hoss looked up and told them to come on down as they were awake anyway. He sat on the settee with them, and they talked about how life would be different once Barbara was married to Hoss. Iris was especially happy that there would be a female in the house. She was getting old enough to like pretty dresses and ribbons and found her father, uncle, grandfather, and Hop Sing wholly inadequate when it came to such things.

*****

Chapter 8

The morning after Barbara said yes, Hoss rode over to Adam’s house because he had a couple of requests after he told his brother the news. He assumed Barbara would be telling Cici as soon as she saw her in town. The two ladies were best friends and had lunch together at least once each week. As Hoss rode up to Adam’s place, he saw him with Matt and Jed working behind the stable or at least walking around back there.

“Hey, older brother, what ya up to?”

With an almost distracted look, Adam greeted Hoss but kept pulling string off a roll in his hand and walking in measured steps away from the stable back wall. He explained to Hoss that he was measuring out space to expand the stable and then to add corrals.

“Why?”

“Cici wants to raise some horses like her father did. He had a nice line of carriage horses and she would like us to try doing that too. She thinks that there’s a market for them here and in California and I agree. We have room here to do this, and with Matt and Jed, we can get started this winter. Once we have the walls up, we can work on the stalls, a work area, and a larger tack room inside. We’ll use the old tack room for storage and put room in the back here to put a carriage house. Then off the other side, we’ll build a forge as well as expand the corrals. Next spring we’ll fence in some breeding pastures.”

“Oh, is that all. Heck, I thought maybe you had some big plans in the works.”

Hoss started laughing so Adam decided not to tell him about the plans for a wine cellar and smokehouse.

“So did you just come here to laugh at me or some other dire purpose?”

“What? Oh, ifn you want to know why I came, it was to let ya know I asked Barbara to marry me and she said yes.”

The three men congratulated Hoss, but it was apparent he still had something on his mind.

“Adam, I ain’t got no ring for her. I was hoping you could go into town with me to help with that?”

“Hey, haven’t you done this before?”

“Nah, I used the ring Pa had for Ma when I married Marie, but I can’t use that ring again. She didn’t want a big show for our wedding and she liked the connection to family, but I can’t use it now with the connection it has now. I’ll keep that ring and give it to one of the children to use someday. I want to get a real purty ring for Barbara, and I don’t know what to ask for.”

“Let me get cleaned up, and we’ll take a ride into town and see what’s available.”

On the way to town, Hoss and Adam discussed options for rings. Cici’s ring was an emerald surrounded by diamonds for her engagement ring and a gold band for her wedding ring. The two rings nested together when she wanted to wear them both, but most of the time she just wore the simple band. Adam told Hoss that he had matching earrings for her Christmas present, and that all would match the necklace he bought her on their honeymoon.

“Adam, I ain’t got any idea how to do all that. You’re the planner.”

“Hoss, you just have to have an idea about what you like and what she likes, and then we can come up with a plan for you too.”

“Well I know she likes blue, but I kinda like red better.”

“I don’t think there’s a woman out there who would say no to a ruby. With her coloring, it would look good, and you could do the same with a necklace and earrings later, even a matching brooch or hairpins.”

“You got those things in mind for Cici don’t ya?”

Adam’s smile was answer enough.

“Now why did you pick an emerald?”

“Green for the Ponderosa and the beautiful country here. The diamond is for ‘always’.”

“A diamond is really hard and strong too, ain’t it?”

“Very much so.”

“So the ruby could be for me giving her my heart, and the diamond for our love is strong?”

“Hoss, you may not like to read poetry, but you have the soul of a poet.”

“Aw, shucks, Adam, I ain’t got them purty words in me like you do.”

As they arrived at the new jewelry shop not far from Cici’s office, she saw them and waved. Barbara had already been there with her exciting news so Cici had a good idea what they were doing. In the shop, there were no rings that Hoss and Adam liked but they did find a setting they liked and asked how long to make the ring set. The jeweler said he could have the engagement ring done by Saturday. Hoss thought that was a good plan. There was the holiday dance on Saturday night so he show the ring to Barbara before the dance, and then they could attend church together on Sunday and announce their betrothal there. Adam asked him if he wanted to get a matching piece of jewelry to give as a Christmas gift because the holiday was so close. The jeweler was smiling as he said it and pulled out a larger but similar setting for a brooch. He said he could easily have it done in time. Hoss ordered that too and was as happy as he could be by the time they left the store. Hoss had not talked to Barbara’s father yet and asked Adam to come along for that too, but he declined.

“I have no experience asking a father for his daughter’s hand so I wouldn’t be any help anyway. You’re on your own with that one.”

Barbara’s father was very gracious even as Hoss stumbled over his questions. He had been expecting a Cartwright to ask for Barbara’s hand but for years had originally thought it might be Adam. Now with Adam married, Hoss had been spending a lot of time with Barbara so he had once again hoped for his daughter to marry. Finally it was coming true. He wasn’t sure if there would be grandchildren because of her age, but at least she would have a loving husband and a secure future. But there would be grandchildren. Part of the reason Hoss had been so late getting home after asking her was that she at first said no. She thought he should marry someone young enough to be sure he had children. Hoss insisted that if they could not have children naturally, he wanted to adopt because there were a lot of children in the orphanage and it broke his heart when he visited and couldn’t take any of them home. When Barbara was sure that he meant it, she changed her answer to yes. They had kissed. Then Hoss had gone home but he hardly remembered the ride he had taken last night because he had spent all of the time picturing his future and it sure looked grand to him.

After getting Barbara’s father to give his blessing, Hoss went looking for Adam. He had another request of his older brother. Well he had more than that, but one more he wanted to ask today. He found him easily by going to Cici’s office first. Adam was in the front of the office entertaining some children with one of his stories. They were enthralled, and Hoss assumed that their mother was likely behind the closed door of the exam room. Hoss realized it was the story of how a bear had attacked Adam, but in his version, he bit the bear and then knocked him silly. His gestures and facial expressions had the three older children laughing hysterically. The toddler on his lap just sat on his lap gazing in amazement at the faces Adam was making. The story was nearly done when the door opened and their mother came out surprised that the front office was not in shambles and that her children were sitting and listening. She had heard so many stories about her doctor’s husband and how he had killed and fought. After today, there would be another story making its way through the ladies of the town that a few of whom would find hard to believe, but the others would sigh and dream of what could have been.

Cici came out and said it was her last scheduled appointment of the day but because it was still so early, she would stay at the office and make sure her records and supplies were in good order. Hoss asked if he could treat them to lunch but Cici said she had already had a good early lunch with Barbara and they had already started discussing wedding plans. Adam agreed to lunch and to designing a home for Hoss which he requested while they ate.

“It don’t have to be so fancy as yours, but I do like those two way fireplaces downstairs and how you got the walls of the fireplace exposed in the bedrooms upstairs. That way, those two fireplaces can heat eight rooms which was purty clever of ya. And if ya could, I’d like an indoor necessary and washroom next to the kitchen but I don’t need a study.”

“What were you thinking of the façade?”

At Hoss’ quizzical expression, he changed that to ‘siding’.

“Oh, I like the look of the Ponderosa ranch house. I like the porch too. Pa gave me some land not too far from your place but set in the trees. It’s near the road, but ya can’t see it from where the house will go. The level land isn’t too much but I only need a small stable and corral besides the house.”

“Close, huh?”

“Well not too close. I know you like your privacy, but I didn’t want to be too far away either for Barbara’s sake. Heck, she and Cici are good friends and visiting will be easy this way.”

The brothers made plans for the dance on Saturday. The plan was that Hoss would escort Barbara to dinner and show her the ring. Adam and Cici would join them then to celebrate, have dinner, and all four would go to the dance together after dinner. The ladies agreed to the plan although Barbara knew nothing of the ring. Her rosy cheeks and bright smile at dinner though let them know that she was very pleased with the ring.

At the dance, Hoss danced with Barbara and Adam with Cici for the first several dances. Hoss was warm and wanted to sample the refreshments and food. At almost six months pregnant, Cici got tired and wanted to put her feet up so she encouraged Adam to dance with others. He was a popular dance partner because he flirted mildly, complimented each and every partner, and made any of the ladies he danced with feel as if she was the most beautiful lady at the dance at that moment. After a number of these dances though, Adam complained of being warm and wanted Cici to go outside. She declined because her legs were still uncomfortable so he walked outside by himself. He had not told her but he was developing a severe headache and the lights inside the hall were making it worse. Once outside, he removed his jacket and tie but couldn’t seem to cool down. His back hurt but so did most of the other joints. He wondered what he had done to be so sore. Then almost without warning, he felt he had to retch. Joe walked out with Rachel and saw his brother on his knees and ran to him.

“Adam, you’re burning up. Rachel, get Cici and quick.”

Alerted by others who had come outside, Hoss was soon there too. “Dadburnit Adam, why didn’t ya tell us you was feeling sick. Why ya always gotta let it get so bad before we know.”

Adam had trouble answering Hoss and felt that his mind was in a fog. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening.”

Cici rushed to her husband’s side, and asked Joe and Hoss to get him over to her office. Once there, she started to unbutton his shirt and gasped as she saw a rash on his chest. There was only one thing that could cause all of this and she worried now for everyone she knew. She turned to Hoss and asked him to get Dr. Martin and Roy to come to her office. They needed to make plans and quickly. As she waited, she got Adam’s shirt off and started placing cool compresses wherever she could. First and foremost, she had to get that fever down. Her husband had typhus and most likely there were going to be other cases.

*****

Chapter 9

With Roy’s help, Cici and Paul compiled a record of everyone who got sick in the typhus epidemic. Unfortunately, there was no clue in the map. The typhus outbreak in Virginia City was hitting in a seemingly sporadic manner. Adam Cartwright was the first to fall ill but soon there were a number of other cases. Everyone hit with the disease was in the middle to upper social strata of the city, which in itself was highly unusual. There were also an inordinate number of young men and women among those sick. There was no geographic pattern either as to where they lived with residences all over the area. Roy Coffee with ideas from both Doc Martin and Cici was trying to track the source of the outbreak. The dance hall had been converted into a temporary hospital ward. They had expected more victims, but by Sunday it appeared the rate of infection had dropped dramatically. Adam was still quite ill and being cared for in Cici’s office by her and by his family. They had spent most of the last twenty-four hours trying to reduce his fever with only limited success. As a result, he was suffering delirium and had no idea what was happening although some of the comments would have been funny if the circumstances were different.

“You’re so beautiful. Will you marry me?”

“Sh, sh, we’re already married. You need your rest. Just try to relax. Sh.”

“We’re married? I’ll be good to you. Pa, where’s Mama? I need her, Pa.”

And it went on and on like that as if he had a head injury that Cici feared could be true if they couldn’t get his fever to break. There was a risk of brain damage. So around the clock they packed snow packs and ice packs on him to reduce the fever but only had limited success. The same was done with the others who were ill. The time of year was fortuitous because it meant that just a short ride into the hills got them all they needed to cool the patients. It was also surprising because it wasn’t the usual time for a typhus outbreak.

“What do all these people have in common? I jest can’t make hide nor tail of it.”

Roy was perplexed. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to this outbreak that he could decipher, and he was good at working out these kind of things. He wished Adam was in his right mind because he didn’t know anyone better at puzzles than him, but he wasn’t making any sense of anything so Roy had to rely on others to give him ideas. Doctor Martin wanted to know where everyone had been before falling ill.

“Perhaps if you can trace where these people have been for the last four or five days, we might have an idea of the source of the infection? Somehow, they must all be tied together somehow for the infection to have gotten to all of them.”

“Now Doc, I done thought of that but they’re all too sick to ask. I been asking family members and such but so far haven’t been able to nail down any place they all been to lately.”

“Roy, with all the people shut up in their houses because of this and the cold weather, I’m afraid there could be more people out there who are sick, and we simply haven’t located them yet. Do you have enough help that you could start knocking on doors to check on people?”

Cici had been listening to the conversation.

“Maybe you could check locations to see if a large number of the patients have been there lately. It has to be local. You have a list of patients. Go to the places where they would likely have been and see how many have been there lately. They are male and female so restaurants, stores, and such would be the most likely places to check.”

“Cici, that is a good idea. You and that husband of yours shur have a lot of smarts. I’ll get right on that.”

“Roy, the only places in town that I know Adam has been since returning have been the jewelers shop right across the street, Cici’s office, Daisy’s for lunch, and the dance tonight.”

“Thanks Hoss, that should narrow down the choices for me to start checking although I can’t see as how any of those places would likely start an outbreak like this. If you were with him, aren’t you feeling sick at all.”

“Nope, I’m fit as a fiddle.”

Within an hour, Roy was back. He had found disturbing news at Daisy’s. The staff there could remember that almost all the people on the list had been there in the last week. Not surprising because Daisy’s was a popular lunch spot, but surprising because several of the workers there were among the patients and there were no patients from any of the other restaurant staffs in town. He had checked.

“Cici, I need some help. How could a restaurant be the source of the outbreak, but only some people got it?”

“Roy, if it was in the water they were using, I would think everyone would be sick. It might be in the food they are using. You need to shut that restaurant down now.”

Roy sent Clem to do just that. “Now we also got a list of names of other people they remembered being there. It includes me and I feel fine.”

Suddenly Joe got a shocked expression on his face. “I took Rachel and the children there to lunch Friday.” He raced out of Cici’s office and headed to the house where his estranged wife and his children were.

Hoss asked Cici where she and Barbara had been having their lunches and when she said that they too had been eating at Daisy’s, he raced from her office as fast as Joe had left, but he returned in a short time to say with relief that Barbara was feeling fine.

However Joe did not return, and Cici suggested that Hoss ought to go to find out what the cause of the ominous delay was. When he arrived there, the door was open. He entered and called Joe’s name. Hearing a muffled reply from upstairs, Hoss ran up the stairs andfound Joe kneeling at Rachel’s bedside.

“Hoss, she’s gone. They’re all gone. I wondered why she didn’t come to see us after the dance. I was looking for her but she wasn’t anywhere. I didn’t want to push too hard so I didn’t check. I didn’t check and now she’s dead. My babies are dead. It’s all my fault.”

Hoss checked for a pulse and thought he found a faint one but more importantly, Rachel was hot. If she had died, she wouldn’t be so hot.

“Joe, listen to me, she ain’t gone. She’s mighty sick though. You run and get some of that ice and get it back here. Joe, go now!”

In a near state of panic, Joe still followed Hoss’ orders probably because Hoss barked them out with such authority. Hoss went to check on the kids and found them in the same state. He wasn’t sure of a faint heartbeat or shallow breathing, but they were hot and that meant they were alive. When Joe returned, they placed cold packs on all three. Then they set out to get clean bedding for them and get them into clean gowns. With the ice packs, the three started to rally. Hoss went to get some help to care for them and in making broth because they needed to get some fluid into them. Once they had a helper at the house to make the broth, they added ice to cool it, and they started feeding that in small amounts to their patients. Ben showed up to help too. Adam’s fever was being reduced slowly so he had time to make sure Joe’s family survived this as well. Adam’s fever did not break for two days although it was no longer at dangerously high levels, but Rachel and the kids were showing signs of recovery by the next day.

By the end of the week, a few of the patients had died, but most were recovering. The use of ice and snow packs had helped significantly. There was weight loss and weakness. The longer and more severe the fever, the weaker the patient was. Adam fit in the category of the weakest. Cici prescribed weeks of bed rest which wouldn’t be a problem at first because he could do nothing for himself, but Ben and his brothers cringed at the thought of the patient he would be when he started to feel a bit better. As he improved, he got more grumpy and demanding which were sure signs he was starting to feel a bit better.

Roy showed up with some unusual questions. Did Adam like tomatoes? Did Hoss? Barbara? Cici? Joe? Rachel? When he got the answers of yes, no, no, no, no, and yes, he nodded. The tomatoes served in the restaurant had arrived the previous Monday from California. One of the cooks had remembered that Adam wanted tomatoes with his sandwich. In checking around, Roy found that a large number of those who were ill liked tomatoes. It was an unusual source of such an outbreak he thought, but Cici assured him it was possible.

Joe stayed in town to take care of Rachel and his children. It appeared that their reconciliation, that had looked improbable at one time, was now a real probability. Joe hired a cook-housekeeper and that was met with a positive response from Rachel. Joe and Rachel were spending time talking and the revelations in these conversations were astounding.

“I only started seeing another man because I wanted to make you jealous. You weren’t paying attention to us, and I was hurt by that and worried.”

“I thought you didn’t want to see me. I was such a jackass.”

“No, I was upset with you. But I still loved you. I wanted you to show you were sorry and pledge never to do something like that again, but you never talked to me about it.”

“I got drunk. I don’t even know why any more. I didn’t know I was married, heck, I don’t even remember going up those stairs. The next morning when I woke up, I realized what I had done. I was so ashamed and mad at myself. I wish you could have beaten me. It would have made both of us feel better.”

“You don’t remember being with her?”

“No. I haven’t had more than a single beer since and not that often either. I guess I finally accept that alcohol is not for me. It brings out the worst in me. I can’t handle it. Adam can get falling down drunk and still be polite to a lady. I saw him tip his hat to a lady once after he fell on the floor he was so drunk. He apologized for falling down in front of her. He woke up with a pounding headache the next day. I wake up with a ton of guilt when I realize what I did the night before or when somebody tells me what I did.”

“Can you pledge not to drink?”

“Nothing at all?”

“Yes.”

“No, I can’t do that, not living here. I could say it, but it wouldn’t last. I could pledge to try to drink only one beer and get one of my brothers to go along with me or Candy could do it too. Not one of those men would ever have left me go up those stairs that night.”

“Would you be comfortable with that?”

“A lot more comfortable with that than with hurting the ones I love the most.”

“If you can make that pledge with your brothers present, I will accept it and trust you.”

“Well it’s going to be a long while before Adam’s up to it. He’s weak as a kitten, and Cici says he needs weeks of bed rest. But I’ll get Hoss and Candy to come here today or tomorrow if that will be good enough?”

“Yes, I think it’s time we start working together.”

“Being together?”

“Yes.”

Joe reached for Rachel, and she accepted his embrace. Tentatively at first, and then with emotion born from longing, the kisses grew more passionate. Joe pulled away. He didn’t want to go too fast and ruin things. When he told that to Rachel, she smiled and then Rachel pulled him back to her, and they kissed more. Joe pulled away again, and Rachel wondered why until he stood and closed the bedroom door and returned to his wife’s embrace.

By the next day, Rachel and the children started being able to eat some solid food. They were on the road to recovery. For Adam, it went quite a bit slower. Rehydration was working, but he still couldn’t keep anything down except broth and tea. He still had a cough. It would be weeks before he was back on his feet. Cici wanted to take him home where he at least would have his books but first they needed a cook-housekeeper. Normally Adam would have liked his idea being acted upon, but because it was to care for him, it just made him grumpier. Hoss brought the carriage and carried a blanket wrapped Adam to it. The glower alone was enough to let everyone know how humiliated he felt about that. Once home, he insisted on sitting in a chair where he promptly turned pasty white and nearly passed out as the room spun around from his perspective.

“You are not ready for this mister. You belong in bed, and that’s where Hoss is taking you. Rest is the only solution until you are able to eat solid food.”

So the crisis was over. Within weeks, most of those stricken were well on their way back to leading their normal lives again. Most would not eat tomatoes again.

*****

Chapter 10

Christmas Eve was not the one that Adam and Cici had envisioned. He was still weak and spending most of his time in bed or in a chair. At least the vertigo and vision problems had gone so he could read and take care of his own basic needs, but he was just starting to be able to eat solid food and gain his strength back. As a result, Hoss, with Barbara at his side, picked up Adam and Cici in the sleigh for the ride to the Ponderosa main house for a celebration with the extended family. It was the first time that all of them would be together for anything. It was snowing and there was already a lot of snow on the ground. It looked like it could be an extended stay so they packed accordingly.

Joe, Rachel, and their children came in another sleigh. Joe knew he had made a mess of his marriage and his family but Rachel was willing to work with him to fix it. Rachel though had not spent much time with Adam and hardly knew Cici so she was quite nervous about how the visit would go. That it was likely to be at least several days with all of them in one house made her even more nervous. She need not have feared. When she and Joe arrived, they were met with smiles and warm greetings. Cici, Hoss, Barbara, and Ben all came outside to welcome them and help them carry things inside. Adam greeted her when she got in the house.

“Rachel, we are so happy to see you here. I’m glad you were able to forgive Joe, and we’re quite grateful that you were willing to try to tame this cur of ours.”

Adam’s gracious greeting although meant to prick his brother too was very welcome. Cici and Barbara volunteered to help her and the kids get settled upstairs in their rooms. Within a short time, there was a convivial atmosphere. Even Adam’s grumpiness at being confined to a chair with a blanket over his legs did nothing to diminish the good cheer. Knowing that Adam needed to do something, Hoss suggested he tell the girls and Mark the bear story he had used to entertain some children in Cici’s office. Well that was all he needed to get into the spirit of the holiday. Soon not only the girls but most of the adults were laughing at his exaggerated tale of besting a grizzly without firing a shot.

“Cici, my son is going to be a wonderful father. And I know you are going to be a wonderful mother.”

“Papa, I can’t wait. It seems to be taking so long. I wish it could be over soon.”

“I think all my wives felt that way in the last couple of months.”

“Less than three months to go.”

“By next Christmas, this will be an even bigger gathering.”

Seeing the look on Cici’s face, Ben was quick to add an amendment to that statement. “I know you wanted Christmas Eve to be a special time for your family. Next year it will be. We will all gather for Christmas Day in the future so each family also has some time to enjoy the holiday together in their own homes. This year with everything that happened, it just seemed to be a good idea to pull everyone together.”

Cici gave Ben a hug, and he returned it. He loved this daughter-in-law more than he could have imagined. He had not seen Adam so relaxed and happy probably in his whole life, and he knew that Cici was the reason for that. Even with the troubles Adam had had in the past year and the tragedies that he had endured before meeting Cici, he was happier than anyone could remember. Both of them watched as he launched into another story that had the children enthralled. Bethany Leigh crawled up on his lap and Anna Maria who was older sat cross-legged before him as Iris leaned against his arm as she knelt by his side and Mark sat on the arm of the chair leaning against his shoulder. Rachel and Barbara had never seen this gentle child-sensitive side of Adam and were amazed.

Barbara moved over to stand next to Hoss.

“I never knew Adam could be this way with children. It’s amazing.”

“Not to me.”

“You’ve seen him like this before?”

“Yup, I shur did. For a lot of years, he did that for me telling me stories, looking after me, and making sure I felt safe. He did the same for Joe quite a bit too. You forgit that Adam was older than us and pretty much helped raise us up. Seeing as how he was so good at it when he was mostly a young’un himself, I reckon he’s gonna be a right good father to his own.”

With that, Hoss wrapped his arm around Barbara, and seeing the look in her eyes, he suggested they go out to the stable to see the new kittens. No one was surprised that they wanted to do that, but most assumed they wanted some private time as well. Unlike the two married couples, it was going to be difficult for Hoss and Barbara to find time alone over these days. Most anticipated that there would be lots of trips to go see the kittens.

The walk to the stable was more difficult than they had imagined it would be. The wind had picked up and the snow was heavier. Once in the stable, Hoss moved to put blankets over the backs of the horses. He made sure they still had food and water. Then he moved the kittens in their basket to an open stall between two of the horses and piled straw all around them. Mama cat was a little perturbed at all the interference but once he finished, she snuggled in and let the kittens nurse. Hoss wrapped his arms around Barbara as she watched the tender scene. The he gently turned her face to his and kissed her. Barbara wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a more passionate kiss. It was getting more and more difficult for them to call a halt when they felt their passion aroused but in this case, the storm outside did the trick. They could not linger. In fact when Hoss went to open the door, he observed that the storm was even worse. He backed up inside quickly and closed the door.

“We need to string a rope line. And we are going to tie a rope to each other as well as to the rope line. If we have trouble getting to the house, we can always retreat here. There’s a Franklin stove in the tack room for emergency use and this would be one of those.”

“Won’t they worry about us in the house and come looking?”

“Well, I shur hope they got more sense than that.”

Hoss found a large coil of rope and took one of the lariats from the tack room. He used the lariat to tie himself to Barbara and to the rope line securely. Then he found a blanket and wrapped that around Barbara and wrapped the lariat around that as well. Once bundled and tied together and secured to the barn itself, Hoss headed into the snowstorm in the direction of the house. He struggled against the snow and in trying to keep Barbara upright. He was about to give up and head back to the barn when he felt a tree. Assuming it had to be the one to the west of the kitchen, he used it to get his bearings and pushed to get to what he hoped was the kitchen door. He couldn’t see anything so when the wall of the house loomed in front of him he actually walked into it. His nose was hurt but it was so cold he didn’t feel any pain. He felt along the side of the wall until he located the door and then pulled Barbara in behind him. The door wouldn’t close all the way because of the rope but Joe and Ben were there soon and took charge of tying off the rope line.

As Hoss and Barbara shed the blanket and their wet coats and boots, they noticed that Ben and Joe were in their coats.

“We were about to come get you. We had some rope from the bunkhouse that was going to be used to make some ropes for branding. Between the two of us, we thought we could get to the barn.”

“Pa, I’m jest glad ya didn’t have ta try. I barely made it myself. I almost headed back to the barn to fire up the stove in the tack room. That is one of the worst storms I’ve ever been in.”

Soon Hoss and Barbara were wrapped in a blanket in front of the fireplace and sipping brandy. Cici had offered them a blanket each but Hoss insisted that one would be plenty. Adam and Joe smirked at that. Hoss just said that they would be warmer sharing body heat but he couldn’t help grinning as he said it. Rachel was amazed at the open affection she saw between Hoss and Barbara as well as that between Adam and Cici. Earlier Cici had briefly sat on Adam’s lap even though all the others were still in the room. Rachel had never seen her parents show affection like that and in fact had never seen her mother and father even kiss. In this one day, she had seen more kisses, hugs, and other signs of affection than she had seen in her entire childhood. She wondered why Joe never showed affection to her in public although he was very demonstrative in private. Willing to experiment, Rachel walked over next to Joe and wrapped her arm around his waist. He looked down at her in surprise and she realized she was the reason he showed no affection in public. In the past, she would have shunned it if he had. This time though, he smiled at her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him.

“Feeling the Christmas spirit?”

“The love in this house is hard to miss. Thank you for bringing us here tonight. Later, I think we should get reacquainted some more.”

Joe’s eyes lit up with that statement. They had been intimate in the past week but it had been limited by Rachel’s recovery from typhus and her reluctance to trust Joe. He could tell though that the time here had already strengthened the bond between them. Adam caught Hoss’ eye and nodded at Joe and Rachel who now stood face to face in an embrace whispering to each other. Hoss looked back with a smile and Adam did his classic smirk.

When it was time for gifts, Joe’s girls were jumping up and down with excitement and Iris and Mark looked to their father with such wistful expressions, expressions, his heart melted. So it wasn’t at all a surprise that the adults got the gifts out for the children first. Santa’s gifts would be there in the morning, but these gifts were from their grandpa and uncles. Each girl received a comb, brush, and mirror set from grandpa. From Hoss, there were carved picture frames with their parents’ wedding picture inside. From Adam and Cici, there were dolls and scarves for each doll that matched one for each girl. Mark got a new set of boots, a jackknife, and a book about sailing ships and a small ship in a bottle. The children were sent up to bed then after some hot chocolate.

Then each couple had gifts to share. Hoss had a beautiful diamond and ruby necklace for Barbara that matched her ring. Adam had insisted Hoss order it made at the same time he ordered the ring. Joe gave Rachel a carved ivory music box, which caused her to cry but Joe was more than willing to kiss away the tears. Cici got emerald and diamond earrings that matched her engagement ring and the necklace she got on her honeymoon. Adam who had reverted to wearing a lot of black, got a dark grey Stetson and matching leather vest from Cici. Joe got some of the dime novels he loved to read especially to his girls who enjoyed the stories as much as he did. Hoss got some carving tools from Barbara. Joe and Hoss went to the bunkhouse and returned with Ben’s gift from his sons wrapped in a blanket: a new saddle with elaborate turquoise and silver inlay.

“It’s not for everyday, of course, but Pa when ya go to town to a meeting or ta church, ya can go in style now.”

Ben knew that the three had to have planned this many months in advance and was very happy not just for the gift but that his sons had worked together on it so he told them just that. There were lots of self -congratulatory smiles and nods this night. Ben handed out his gifts last. Each son unwrapped a box containing a framed map of the Ponderosa with a legal document making them full partners. All had the same authority now with banks and businesses as well as on the ranch. There was silver picture frame in each box with a picture of that son’s mother. Ben had had an artist reproduce them almost exactly. Each daughter-in-law received a leather bound Bible with many pages in the front for recording family births, weddings, and other special events. It was after midnight by then so everyone bid good night except Hoss and Barbara who returned to the settee in front of the fire. The others left to give them a little more private time. Adam and Cici were sharing the downstairs guest bedroom so it would be easier for Adam to get around.

As Hoss and Barbara kissed passionately, it was the proximity of Adam and Cici that kept things from progressing too far. They need not have worried because that couple was otherwise occupied once Cici decided to wear her matching earrings, necklace, ring, and nothing else.

“Barbara, we need to set a date. I don’t know how long I can take this. I want you so bad it hurts. Can we be married this winter? I know a lot of brides like spring but I don’t want to wait that long.”

“Hoss, I would marry you this minute if there was a minister available. My father is going to insist on at least six weeks of engagement though.”

They discussed potential dates and agreed on one day they thought would be special.

“Perfect. Or as perfect as we can hope for I guess. I love you so much.”

They kissed more but before it got out of control, they hugged and walked up the stairs together to kiss one more time before bidding each other good night. Each would have trouble falling asleep this night thinking about the other. In the morning, there were gifts from Santa under the tree for the girls and all sorts of squealing and laughing as they opened them. Adam sat in the blue chair and as Cici came out of the guest bedroom, he smiled that full dimpled smile that could light up a room, and Cici walked over and placed her hand on his cheek as she kissed him. Joe poked Hoss in the ribs when he saw them and waggled his eyebrows like Adam did sometimes.

“Oh, Joe, how could they? Adam is still having trouble just staying upright and Cici is six months with child.”

“There are ways, Hoss, there are always ways.”

Joe laughed and went to sit next to his girls and his wife. Ben was in the red chair overseeing everything. Barbara came down the stairs and Hoss’ smile couldn’t have been wider. He met her at the bottom step with a good morning kiss. He asked her if they could make the announcement and she nodded.

“Well, dadburnit, I got an announcement to make. We set the date. We’re gonna get hitched on Valentine’s Day.”

*****

Chapter 11

In his full bellowing father mode, Ben stood in his home and glared at Hoss. “Fire and brimstone, I can’t believe this. I worried about this when you boys were younger, but I thought those days were long gone!”

Adam couldn’t help a smirk and unfortunately for him, his father saw it.

“And you were the one I worried about the most and the longest so don’t go making those faces.”

Joe looked over at Adam. If he was Pa, he wouldn’t have worried as much about Adam as he did about himself. As far as he knew, Adam had always been careful, but he was a lot younger than Adam so perhaps his ‘perfect’ older brother hadn’t always been so careful. This could lead to some opportunities for embarrassing his older brother when he could devise the best scenario for using this information. However, nothing was quite as good as the predicament Hoss found himself in. Now this, Joe thought was hilarious.

“Pa, we was worried she couldn’t have children at her age . . . . ”

“So you thought you would test your theory early. That was not a good idea!”

“Pa, what I meant to say was we weren’t as careful as we shoulda been cause we didn’t think it would matter.”

“Matter? You didn’t think it would ‘matter’? You compromised the reputation of a wonderful young woman and her father. You compromised the reputation of this family, and you didn’t think it would ‘matter’?”

Hoping that his brothers being there might help calm the waters, Hoss had chosen this meeting about Ponderosa projects to tell his father that Barbara was with child. The couple had only been intimate on two occasions, but apparently that had been all that mattered. They had taken the sleigh back after Christmas and had a blanket over their legs because of the cold. After dropping Adam and Cici at their home, they had continued to Barbara’s house. She kept her hand on his thigh and snuggled up to his side to keep warm. Then there was a note from her father that he would be in Carson City for a week. Barbara invited Hoss to stay for a time and they had ended up in her bedroom. Barbara had missed her flow in this cycle and already was plagued by morning sickness, which her father had recognized immediately. That first day, after discovering Barbara’s news, arriving on his doorstep had been very uncomfortable.

“Pa, Barbara’s been feeling sick a lot so we were hoping that the wedding could take place in the early afternoon instead of the morning. She’s throwing up over and over again in the morning. Cici said she got it early and that could mean it’s going to get even worse and could last another two months or so.”

“Well, I hoped she had seen a doctor.”

“Yes, she went to see Cici as soon as she suspected something.”

With a meaningful glare at Adam, Ben just stared at Hoss for a time. Joe was thinking of some way to escape the rest of the conversation between Ben and Hoss.

“Pa, I think Adam is looking a might peaked, and I ought to get him out to the kitchen for some of Hop Sing’s tea.”

“Adam is just fine. It’s six weeks since he was ill. Now we need to discuss how to handle this situation.”

“Oh, I think Hoss has already ‘handled’ it. Now we just need the wedding to make it legal.” Adam couldn’t help a little jab or two.

“I have had just about enough of your smart mouth!”

“Oh, c’mon, Pa, it’s done. They were engaged at the time. It happens all the time out here. Only the gossips in town are even going to care. I think that an early afternoon wedding should work well. We can have the dinner right after and then some dancing. Do you think we ought to use the house or perhaps open the barn for an old fashioned barn dance. With Hoss and Barbara liking animals so much, it just seems that a barn dance might be fun. It will be the middle of February too which will be a difficult time for people to travel in their finery.”

Now Ben’s anger was focused on Adam, and Hoss appreciated the reprieve even if it was going to be brief. Joe was impressed at how easily Adam could manipulate their father in a conversation. He doubted that their father even knew what had happened until later when he thought about it.

“Well, I suppose the ladies have been planning the wedding so we ought to ask them if that fits in with the work they have already done. Otherwise, yes, that does seem like a good idea.”

Joe was feeling sympathy for Hoss at this point. He would have to live here for two more weeks under the unrelenting judgment of their father and without Adam’s help. Joe wished he had room in his house to offer Hoss a place to stay, but at this point he didn’t, and didn’t want his father’s wrath to turn his way either. He and Rachel with their daughters had moved back into their home. It would be Hoss and their rattling around in this house until the wedding when Barbara would join them here although the presence of the children should soften what Ben would say most of the time. There was a knock on the door and Candy walked in. Immediately noticing the atmosphere in the room, he looked at Hoss with a questioning look and Hoss nodded at him. Ben saw that.

“Did everyone know before I did?”

“Pa, I think Hoss had to practice telling it before facing you.” Adam again stepped in to deflect the anger away from Hoss.

“Well, is it that hard to talk to your father?”

Joe was first. He couldn’t help it. With all the tension of the morning, and then that question, he just went over the edge. He began to giggle and then laugh so hard he had to sit down. Adam and Candy began to laugh at about the same time. Hearing Ben’s question and then with Joe laughing hysterically, the usual self-controlled men burst into loud laughter. Hoss had to join in. Finally, Ben couldn’t help himself and joined them all in a grand laugh fest. Hop Sing walked out of the kitchen to see what all the laughing was about. He had heard Hoss’ admission and most of the rest of the conversation as he eavesdropped from the usual place at the dining room door, but had heard nothing that seemed to justify all this laughter.

“Foolishment, all time foolishment.”

But Hop Sing walked back into the kitchen with a smile. As far as he was concerned, laughing Cartwrights could handle any issue. All was well again. He prepared a tray with coffee and some fresh baked cookies to take out to the five men who were supposed to be discussing upcoming projects on the Ponderosa. Hoss relaxed back into his chair. The worst was over. Now he expected he would have to put up with two weeks of relentless jibes from his brothers though. Joe started almost immediately.

“Hoss, maybe you needed another one of those ‘talks’ with Pa. Don’t seem like the first ones worked.”

As they prepared to leave, Adam walked over and put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder, and Hoss braced for a stinging jibe. Adam was the best of anyone he knew at delivering those, and he just wondered what it was going to be.

“Hoss, we’re going to be fathers. Can you believe it?”

Hoss looked in shock at Adam before smiling.

“In a few months, you’ll be lying in bed and you can put your hand on that baby bump and feel the life you created. I have never been amazed at anything in my life like I was when I first felt my child move.”

“Ya know, Adam, I’m supposed to feel bad about this, but I don’t. I am thrilled that we’re going to have a baby. We talked of adopting ’cause we thought mebbe we wouldn’t be able to have a child, and now that there’s one on the way, I cain’t feel bad about it.”

“Pa won’t either once he has a chance to calm down. Three sons married and with children is the answer the prayers he’s been offering up for years, and who could have thought that was even possible a year or two ago.”

“That’s right. You and Cici ain’t been married a whole year yet.”

Hoss slapped Adam on the back and Adam got on his horse. He tipped his hat to Hoss and rode off. Hoss turned to go back in the house. At least Candy was still there for some support. He was going to ask him to stay for dinner.

*****

Chapter 12

There was no topic that Cici and Adam had off limits so Cici took the opportunity one day to broach a subject that had confused her. “Why is Rachel always so uncomfortable around you? She’s always making excuses to leave the room you’re in, and if she can’t get away, she stays as far away from you as she can.”

This was another one of those stories from the past that Adam would rather not have to tell Cici, but he wouldn’t lie to her even by omission. He had to tell her.

“When I left, Rachel led Joe to believe something about me that wasn’t at all true. It is the reason that Joe and Rachel got together in the first place so it wasn’t all bad, but I think every time she sees me, she remembers.”

“Has she ever apologized?”

“No, we have not had a conversation since I have been back. It has been what you see, and of course for quite a while, I didn’t see her at all.”

Curious as to what could make Rachel that uncomfortable around Adam and Adam reluctant to tell her, Cici had to ask more. “What did she lead Joe to believe?”

Oh, he definitely did not want to talk about that but now had to. “She led Joe to believe I had relations with her, and that she might be with child because of it. She led him to believe I was the father when in fact she wasn’t even with child and had never been with me that way.”

Seeing the look on Cici’s face, he wished again that they were not having this conversation. It couldn’t help anything and his greatest fear was that something like this could cause Cici to doubt him. Losing her was by far what worried him most in his life because he thought he could handle other events after all that he had already experienced. Anything that could cause her to leave him though was something to be avoided. Her upcoming delivery date was worrying him enough; he didn’t need her to be worrying about his past and how it could affect their relationship.

“I danced with her one Saturday night. Then I couldn’t get away from her. We never even kissed. I left the dance early. I don’t know if she hatched her plan before or after that night, but apparently she wanted her father and mine to think I had done the deed with her so they would insist I marry her.”

“If someone wrote your life as a dime novel, the readers would think the author had gone just crazy with all the things he had happen to the central character. In this year, you got married, got kidnapped, got caught in a cave-in, and then caught typhus.”

“The year isn’t over yet.”

“Don’t even say that. I could not bear to lose you. I’m so sorry to hear the bad things that have happened to you. I am amazed that you are the man you are after all of it and aren’t bitter and angry at the world. You have an amazing resiliency as well as an ability to forgive that is admirable. You are the true Christian. You may not spout the Bible like some, but you live it.”

Cici ran her hand through the hair on Adam’s chest. He pulled her to him but she rolled around to spoon with him. It was getting harder and harder to snuggle. Spoon fashion allowed him to hug her and sometimes his hands could roam. Tonight was a night to sleep though so they snuggled in together and soon Cici was asleep. As her breathing settled in to a sleep pattern, Adam rose up on his elbow and kissed her on the cheek. Then he too snuggled in to sleep.

At the same time at their house, Joe and Rachel had been having a similar conversation.

“I don’t know why a Sunday dinner at Pa’s house has to be such a drama. Why can’t you just talk to Adam some time and say you’re sorry. He’s a very forgiving person, or at least when his temper has cooled down. Everyone is uncomfortable at family gatherings because of the tension between you and Adam. He gets along great with our daughters. Barbara adores him.”

“It’s only because he tells them stories.”

“Oh, come on, you know it’s more than that. Why can’t you trust him enough to say you’re sorry? He has done nothing to indicate that he feels anything bad about you. If you apologize, then you can relax. If you do that, everyone else will too.”

“If you think it will work, I’ll try, but after so long now, it will be even more difficult.”

“We’re trying for a fresh start here. That might be a good way to open a conversation with him. Get all of us to start fresh?”

“When?”

“Tomorrow I have to take you and the girls into town to finish the fittings on your dresses for Hoss’ wedding. Cici will be there too so you know Adam will be around. What I’m asking you to do won’t take long, and then we can all move forward.”

Rachel knew he was correct in that assumption, but her stomach already had butterflies anticipating what she would have to say. She reminded Joe that her father wanted to make a trip into town too. He wasn’t getting around very well anymore and his eyesight had gotten weaker so he couldn’t ride that far nor drive himself in his wagon. About once a week for supplies and then on Sundays when the weather was fair, he rode with them to town.

The next morning, Rachel was up early. She was very nervous and bustled about in the kitchen making a special breakfast for her family. Joe came in and understood immediately that she was working off nervous energy. He sat down and waited until she had a moment to ask for coffee. Once the girls were up, they sat down to a sumptuous breakfast. Then they cleaned up and climbed into the carriage for the ride to her father’s house. Soon the five of them were headed to Virginia City. Just outside the city limits, disaster struck. Virginia City was built on the side of a mountain. Some of the roads were steep and with ore and lumber passing through, there was at least one wagon that crashed out of control every week although town gossips said it was every day. As they drove into town, one of those runaway wagons was headed their way. It was a logging wagon and it was rolling backwards in a completely haphazard way. Joe tried to avoid it but it clipped the back wheel of the carriage as it careened down the road and flipped the carriage over. Logs, wagon, carriage, and people were tumbled out onto the road.

Rachel heard screams and then darkness overtook her. When she awakened a short time later, her head was cradled in Joe’s lap, and her daughters were at her side sobbing.

“I’ll be all right, sweethearts. I just got a bump on the head. I’m so glad to see that none of you are hurt.”

They did have scrapes and bruises, but for the most part, they had escaped unscathed. Suddenly Rachel asked for her father.

“Where is he? What happened to him?”

“Adam and Cici are with him. They drove up just after it happened.”

Rachel pushed herself up, and with Joe’s help, walked to where her father lay in Adam’s arms. They heard the two men talking softly.

“Say, Adam did you ever marry my daughter? She wanted to marry you something fierce.”

“Yes, Rachel is Mrs. Cartwright now. She has two beautiful Cartwright daughters. You’re a grandfather twice over. Don’t you remember those two beautiful girls?”

“Nah, Adam, I can’t hardly remember nothing now. I took quite a spill there. I’m so tired now, do you think I could just go to sleep?”

“Your daughter and granddaughters are here now. How about if you say goodbye and then take your nap?”

Frank saw Rachel and her daughters then. He smiled a weak little smile.

“There you are. Adam says to say goodbye and then I can take a nap.”

And his eyes closed for the last time. Rachel looked at Cici who shook her head for there was nothing anyone could do for him. He had suffered severe internal injuries as well as a head injury, and his system was already shutting down. Rachel sat by his side and held his hand. Slowly the color drained from his face and the shallow breathing stopped. Rachel and her daughters burst into tears. Joe wrapped his arms around all three. Adam carefully laid Frank down and got a blanket from his carriage to cover him. People from town had already arrived to help.

Rachel looked over to Adam.

“Thank you. You let my father die with dignity, and you were so kind to him. I am sorry for anything bad I ever said or implied about you. It was wrong to do, and you never deserved to be treated so badly by me.”

Adam nodded his appreciation for what she had said. Then Cici came over to take care of the abrasions and any scratches anyone had. Out here, infection even of a scratch could be serious and could even turn deadly.

*****

Chapter 13

Joe and Rachel buried her father on the Ponderosa near where his mother was buried. The funeral was held at that site even though it was quite cold. Adam and Hoss had worked with the hands to clear an area and get a grave dug. The heavier than usual snow cover helped as the frost had only penetrated a few inches. They planned to get a proper headstone in place in spring. The unfortunate and untimely death of Mr. Green in an accident did serve to push Rachel into a closer relationship with Joe. She needed him even more because of it, and he was there at her side. There was a lot to do with selling the ranch and taking care of the stock. Luckily it was winter so there wasn’t much to do on the Ponderosa with the horses. The only difficulty was the weather, but they did have some months to get everything squared away.

Meanwhile, Hoss was getting more and more nervous. Not only was his wedding day drawing closer, Ben had asked if he and Barbara would live at the Ponderosa main house. With Adam and Joe gone and Candy living in Hoss’ old house, there would be just Ben and Hop Sing rattling around in the big house. Hoss felt his father was feeling lonely and didn’t want to disappoint him, but Barbara was a little disappointed that they were not going to have their own home. Hoss was torn and finally went to Adam for advice.

“Adam, it seems that I can’t make the right decision here. No matter what I do, someone I love if going to be unhappy.”

“What is it that Barbara wants most?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, is she looking for privacy, to decorate her own place, to cook, or who knows what else.”

“I think it might be a little of each of those.”

“I propose that you offer Pa a compromise. If he doesn’t accept it, then you can follow through with building your own home right away. Pa can move into the bedroom downstairs. It will be closer to the washroom and the new necessary. You and Barbara will be the only ones upstairs except when there are guests. Some of the furniture in the house is as old or at least older than Joe. Barbara should be able to choose some new furniture and window coverings to replace the old. You’re going to have to redecorate one of the bedrooms as a nursery anyway. And maybe you ought to get some new dishes too.”

“Gosh, I sure wish she’d get rid of those damn tiny china cups Marie brought from New Orleans. Can’t git my finger in that little opening to hold it, and it barely holds two swallows of coffee.”

“I have dreamed of using those little cups for target practice any number of times!”

“How do you think of how to do these things so easy. I been thinking on this for days and I had no idea what to do.”

Adam smiled. How could he explain it? His brain just worked that way. Presented with a problem, he would analyze it, break it into its component parts, and brainstorm possible avenues for solutions for each part of the problem. Then he would choose the ideas that made the most sense to him, and that was it.

“Hoss, tack a folded blanket to the back of the headboard or have Barbara come up with a decorative way to do it.”

Hoss looked at him with surprise and a little bit of a questioning look.

“I used to hear Pa and Marie’s bed banging into the wall. It made sleep difficult some nights. I’ve heard the same when we had visitors and someone got a bit energetic. At Christmas, Cici and I hung a quilt over the headboard even though we were downstairs.”

“Dadburnit, Joe said you would.”

“That we would hang a quilt over the headboard?”

“No, but he said that you would, you know, even though you was still so weak and Cici is so, you know, kinda big to do things.”

Adam started to laugh. Hoss was so funny. Even entering his second marriage, he found it difficult to say the words. Hoss had to smile too even as he faked being angry with Adam.

“Dadblame it, Adam, ya don’t hafta be laughing at me.” Hoss threw an arm around Adam’s shoulders and hugged him close. “Thank ya, older brother. I think your idea jest might work.”

And it did. Barbara was happy that Hoss had seen what she wanted and responded to it. Ben was willing to move to the downstairs bedroom if it meant one of his sons would stay in the big house. That bedroom was warmer in winter too, as well as being closer to everything, and he wouldn’t need to worry about the stairs any more either. On the redecorating, Ben was going to move the settee into his bedroom, and the red chair next to his desk, while the blue chair would be given away or recovered and put in a spare bedroom. They could then rearrange the other furniture so that Barbara could bring in new chairs and a couch. Ben gave his blessing to new window treatments except in his new bedroom. Those curtains had been chosen by Marie, and like the settee chosen by her, he wanted to keep them. One of the bedrooms upstairs would become a sewing room when there were no guests using it, and another of course would be a nursery.

On the issue of the china, Ben balked. Barbara then suggested that Marie’s china be saved for special occasions, and she would get some more practical everyday tableware but with a pretty pattern. Hoss looked at her with a new appreciation after that suggestion. Ben was willing to try that solution. None of that furniture buying could be accomplished because it was early February, but Barbara and Hoss ordered new tableware at the mercantile, and she picked out bolts of cloth to make new curtains. They were working as a team, and it was clear that their marriage had a good foundation even before it happened.

By the day before the wedding, they knew that the barn dance was out of the question because of a cold snap. The brothers hauled hay and straw bales to the front of the porch to set the informal mood and also add more protection from the cold and wind as guests arrived the next day. The entire wedding took place on the Ponderosa and inside the main house. The guests were all the close friends of the couple and their family members. Joe stood with Hoss and Cici with Barbara. Adam had encouraged Hoss to choose his younger brother as best man because he knew how important it was to Joe. Barbara was looking pale as the ceremony progressed and Cici stepped up next to her and handed her a cup of tea that Adam had surreptitiously brought from the kitchen. Barbara drank it in one gulp and then realized it had been spiked with honey and a little brandy as well as a few of Hop Sings special herbs. The taste was highly unusual, but the burst of energy from it and the soothing warmth of the liquid got her through the ceremony. After the ‘I do’ from each, the minister told the groom to kiss the bride. Hoss blushed and then did just that.

There was food on the dining table and punch and dessert on another table in the great room. The musicians played through the dinner and then for almost two hours more as the small group of revelers enjoyed the wedding. Finally it was time for all to go home. Ranch hands brought each carriage up to the front door and guests departed. At last it was just Cici and Adam. Ben walked into his bedroom and emerged with a small valise and walked over and picked up another valise from his desk.

“Pa, where ya going?”

“Adam and Cici have invited me to stay with them for a couple of days. Adam and I will be going over the ledgers and some of the contracts that we will start on in spring. This will be more convenient for us, and you will be here to watch over the house. Hop Sing will be leaving tomorrow morning to visit relatives for a couple of days too. He has the kitchen all stocked with wonderful food, and Barbara can cook anything she wants as well. The mixes for the tea will be on the table in the kitchen. Iris and Mark are staying with Joe and Rachel and the girls. They were so excited about the adventure, they left without saying goodbye. The house is all yours until Tuesday evening.”

Hoss and Barbara smiled a lot at that. They had planned to wait a few weeks before taking time for a honeymoon because the weather was too harsh and unpredictable at this time. Now they could have a mini honeymoon right away.

*****

Chapter 14

The next big event happened sooner than anyone had expected. That night, Cici woke Adam because she was so uncomfortable and was having a lot of back pain. He massaged her back, but it didn’t seem to give her much comfort because with a short time of the pain easing, it was back again. After the third time, Adam started watching the clock. Then when the fifth set of pains struck, he asked Cici if she thought she might be in labor.

“How do I know? I’ve never been in labor before, but I wouldn’t think my back is what would be hurting. Maybe I just participated in too much today with the wedding ceremony, the dinner, the dancing, the ride there and the ride back.”

“Your pains are hitting about fifteen minutes apart. Seems to be rather regular for something like muscle cramps or fatigue.”

“It’s too early. The baby isn’t due for three weeks yet. Paul told me that.”

“Well I’m going to send Matt for Paul. You just try to relax here. I’ll be right back.”

Ben heard the commotion as Adam left the house and then came back. He heard a rider leave, and came out of the guest bedroom just as Adam reached the top of the stairs. His son was rubbing his arms and shivering.

“I think Cici is in labor. Kim is heating water and getting a stack of clean sheets and towels together just in case. I’m going to sit with Cici and Matt went to get Paul. Pa, is there anything I’m forgetting?”

“Well maybe take a few deep breaths, put on a shirt, and button your fly. Then go sit with Cici and I’ll wait downstairs for Paul.”

Ben shook his head and smiled. He walked down the stairs and waited for the doctor. It was nice waiting for the doctor in this situation. After Paul arrived with Mrs. Bayer, they shooed Adam out, and he came downstairs and stalked around the room like a caged cougar. Ben tried several times to get him to sit, but nothing worked. After about four hours, there was a scream from upstairs and Adam stood at the foot of the stairs holding his breath. Then there was a wail, and several people talking, and he breathed again. He wanted to go up right away but Ben held his arm and said just give them a little time to clean everything up.

As soon as Paul appeared at the top of the stairs to tell him he could see his wife and child, Adam raced up the stairs and to their bedroom. In the doorway, he halted. Sitting in the bed and leaning on pillows propped against the headboard, Cici sat holding a little bundle.

“Paul says your son is perfectly healthy although a little small. Nothing to worry about though as he’s big enough, and I can swear to that.”

Adam walked in to sit on the side of the bed in awe of this moment. The woman he loved so much and now he had a baby to love as well.

“Do you want to hold David Michael?”

Adam took Davy into his arms and snuggled him to his chest.

“Paul said that with him being a little early and a little small, the risk of the delivery was much less. All is well.”

Downstairs, Ben and Paul sampled a little of Adam’s brandy.

“Paul, this is a wonderful day. Hoss is married again. Joe and Rachel are together with their children, and that family is whole again. And now there is a little boy on the Ponderosa again. Life is good again.”

*****

Heart and Home Threatened Again revised

chapter 1

The sky was all blue and pink as the sun was about to crest the mountains and the sunlight struck the high cirrus clouds. Spring was breaking out all over with trees budding out and grass shoots greening the slopes. Many animals were having their young in dens and birds were sitting on nests of eggs or feeding their tiny young ones. The streams and rivers flowed freely with icy cold clear water. Foals and calves were skipping next to their parents in the pastures of ranches and farms. The middle of April was a time of renewal and birth.

This peaceful and lush scenery of the Washoe was threatened by a new mining company that was being organized in Virginia City. The Enders Mining Company planned to buy out the under-producing claims of miners and mining companies and use hydraulic mining to get the sparse ore from those areas. Mary Enders had been talked into investing her wealth in this company but had little say in its activities. Mary would not have known what to do anyway in running the company. Her husband had invested in mining but had never shared his knowledge of mining with her. The men who wanted to use her wealth to plunder the land had convinced her with one main argument: the man most likely to challenge their activities was Adam Cartwright. All Mary lived for any more was the destruction of the man she blamed for the loss of her family. The man she should have blamed was her husband, but he was already as good as dead serving a life sentence with no hope of parole. Mary had chosen to remember only the best of Bill and ignore all that he did in order to be wealthy and that his life in prison was a result of his own actions. His vendetta against Adam and the conspiracy with Tom Burns had sealed his fate and made sure that there was never going to be a parole. Mary had gotten an early release from prison for her role but blames Adam for being there in the first place. Somewhat emotionally unstable anyway, the pressure Bill had put on her to participate in his conspiracy and then being convicted of a crime and sent to prison had finished her descent into mental illness. Her partners fed her hate and her delusions. Although they would not condone murder which she had suggested they do, there were other ways to destroy a man. Apparently Cartwright was happily married, so that would be their first target. Then they would destroy his reputation. If they could trigger that infamous temper of his, he might even help destroy himself.

Rarely venturing to town in winter, Adam was unaware of the development of this company for weeks. By April, as he accompanied Cici on one of her trips far out of town to deliver a baby, he had a long conversation with the woman’s husband who had invested in a mine only to find his investment value plummet as the vein of silver in the mine was fully mined. Those who had invested in that mine had recently received an offer that was generous under the circumstances. Curious as to why, they had investigated to find that the prospective new owners planned to use hydraulic mining on that slope surrounding their worthless hole. The men who owned it were struggling with their consciences: they needed the money but hated what would happen if they sold out. Adam immediately made the man an offer for their claim that, while not as good as the Enders’ offer, would allow them an option that was far more attractive. They shook hands and agreed on a time and place for the other owners to meet with Adam.

As Adam and Cici drove away in the early dawn, she could tell he was very disturbed by something. The birth had been breech and took much longer than expected, but he had dealt with that kind of situation before and had never complained. He had always said that her safety was more important than the time he had to spend with her as she worked. He only accompanied her on these long trips or when she was called on at night to help. Their baby was in the capable hands of Mrs. Bayer who was staying with them for the first six months or so of Davy’s life. Her sole responsibility was Davy as there was a cook/housekeeper who did the rest. Therefore that could not be what worried him. This was the first work she had done since the birth, but he had not shown any reservations when they left the house summoned by the woman’s husband. She needed to know what was bothering him.

“Are you going to tell me or do I have to play twenty questions?”

“There’s more trouble with the mining. Enders.”

“He’s in prison. How could he be doing anything?”

“I don’t know but Enders Mining Company is moving in and planning to do hydraulic mining. I’ll be staying in town today. There are a lot of people I need to see.”

“Wasn’t your family expecting you to help today with the spring roundup?”

“This is more important. They’ll understand. Spring roundup won’t matter much if the streams and rivers get fouled with mining effluent and the slopes become susceptible to avalanches year round due to the lack of trees to hold everything in place.”

“Are you in danger? The last time I heard the name Enders mentioned, it was you telling me of how you ended up in prison due to a conspiracy between him and Tom Burns.”

“I have no way of knowing. I will be talking to Roy to see what he knows. At this point I suspect they may have plans for me again, but I have no idea what they are. I know you are going to worry, but I will be careful. As Sheriff, Roy can make some inquiries and get some answers before I do. I’ll talk to our lawyer too to see if he can do some digging. We need to find out as much as we can.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t be alone while you run these errands in town. You’re too vulnerable alone.”

Unwilling to admit it but knowing she was correct, Adam was quiet for a short time. “I’ll ask Matt to come with me to town after I take you home.”

“I need to go to the office too. I won’t leave the office unless you come to get me. We all need to be careful.”

Accepting that what Cici said made a great deal of sense, Adam thought a bit more about the situation. “Once I meet with some of the mine owners, I’ll go see about transferring money from my accounts into the Ponderosa accounts so if I have to buy more mining claims to keep it away from Enders, I can. But I won’t be able to buy them all so I need some of the other mine owners to step up and buy. If necessary, I may need to go to Carson City to enlist support from the bigger ranches there and mine owners as well. We all stand to lose a lot if the Enders Company does what it plans to do.”

“I’m glad to see you plan to enlist help.”

“I learned what happens when I am on my own. I’ll need a lot of help though. I think with Enders that this is personal too.”

“Naming the company that is like a slap in the face to you. They want you to know it’s him. Someone is calling you out without doing so publicly.”

“I think you’re right about that. I should go tell my family what’s going on as soon as I can too.”

Adam and Cici had breakfast in town that morning after stopping at home for a short time. Matt rode into town with them but had a few errands to run before he came back to the restaurant. In the restaurant, both Adam and Cici were aware that they were receiving a lot of looks.

“Adam, why do people keep looking at me like I have a terminal illness?”

“Not sure because the looks I’m getting are ones that seem to wish I had a terminal illness. My bet is that whatever the Enders Company has planned has already started. I need to see Roy soon.”

When Matt got back, Adam walked Cici to her office, and he and Matt proceeded to the Sheriff’s Office. The looks the Adam and Cici got while walking to her office with Matt were the same as in the restaurant. As Adam walked with Matt later, he saw looks on the faces of a number of men who appeared to want to challenge him. Only his intimidating looks and reputation as well as Matt’s presence prevented that from happening. When he arrived at Roy’s office, Roy did not seem surprised.

“Well now, I was wondering how long it would take for you to get yourself in here.”

“It would seem then that you have a better understanding of what’s going on than I do. Care to enlighten me?”

“Mary Enders has been telling a nasty tale about you. She says you were her lover, and she was pressured to testify against her husband because of threats and promises you made. She said you never kept the promises to be with her and support her, and the baby you and she had died before birth.”

“What? That’s a damnable lie. What could she possibly hope to gain with such a story?”

The next thought that Adam had was a worry about what Cici would think when she heard this story. He needed to talk to her soon before irreparable damage was possibly done to their marriage. He had promised to tell her the truth about himself so he needed her to know that this was a lie. Mary’s accusations against him years ago had been a ploy to try to save her husband. This new story was probably more of the same, but Cici could only know that if he told her about the original story in that kind of depth.

“Adam, I can imagine jest how ya feel, but you gotta hold that temper a yours in check or they’re gonna git jest what they want. I think you oughta talk to your wife and then get out of town. Go on home to let things cool down a bit.”

“I will talk with Cici. I just never expected this kind of attack on me. But I also have to meet with some mine owners before I leave town.”

“Now see that’s jest what they expect. You do that and they’ll see what you’re up to and there’ll be more stories. Go home. Send messages and have the men meet you at your home. Matt here can handle a lot of that for ya, can’t he? You ain’t that far outta town and your cook makes some delicious food. That and you got some of the best brandy in the area. I expect they’ll come ta see ya if they have any interest at all in helping ya or if they got any interest at all in hearing what ya got to say.”

“Why didn’t you come and tell me this story was going around?”

“We can’t appear to be working together. I need them to think you’re on your own so I can watch and see what they’re gonna do next. If’n you was to walk outta here looking a might peeved that could help. They gotcha last time cause we didn’t work together, but we gotta be clever about this until we see who is doing what. I’ve got Clem nosing around for me already, but these men are smart. They ain’t hired no locals that they told anything to yet far as we know.”

Adam nodded. There was some wisdom in Roy’s strategy, and he realized it was his anger that was making him want to do something right away. He needed to calm himself and think this through thoroughly. His intellect was his advantage, and Roy was reminding him to use it. But that Cici could be hurt by this was eating at him already. He couldn’t bear to think of losing her, and it appeared that was part of the plan against him because that story was the kind that was intended to damage his reputation and his marriage. He agreed to do as Roy asked. He walked out of the office in an apparent snit and headed to Cici’s office with Matt heading off to talk to men on Adam’s behalf. When Adam got to her office, Paul was talking with Cici. As soon as she saw Adam, she rushed into his arms.

“I don’t believe any of it. I know you better than that.”

Cici couldn’t help it though. She started crying. Why they couldn’t just get to enjoy being a family for a time was her main complaint. There was always something going on to threaten their peace and happiness. Turmoil seemed to be a way of life for Cartwrights. Adam told the whole story about Bill Enders then including how Mary had accused him of assaulting her in order to save her husband. An assault complaint versus a love affair was a big change in her story. Paul also mentioned that she was pregnant well before any of those accusations were made, and that she and Bill had been to the office together and were thrilled to be having a child. Paul didn’t know why the baby had died but assumed the stress of everything that happened had contributed.

“Adam, can you set up an office for me at home? I don’t want to come to town now. I can work out of the house for my patients who still want to see me. Then I can nurse Davy on a regular schedule as well.”

“Yes, that’s probably a good idea. For now, we can convert the study to an exam room. Later, if you want to continue your practice at home, I will build an exam room and office as an extension off the house.”

Cici smiled again although a little sadly. She didn’t like being forced into this decision even though they had discussed it before, and she was leaning toward doing it. This was the first time she realized Adam had been planning for the possibility. But she was feeling very comfortable with the move because it had been very hard last night to leave her two-month-old son to travel to help another woman birth her child. She knew she would still get some of those calls, but overall she would be able to spend a lot more time with her son.

“When do you want to move all of this?”

“Tomorrow would be a good day to do it. I have very few appointments scheduled because I was just getting back to work. Paul, I’ll still come into town whenever you need me to assist in a surgery or you can call on me to help if you need me. But this office will be closed.”

Following Roy’s strategy, Adam stayed with Cici at her office letting Matt attend the meeting he had scheduled. There, a sales agreement was made that would have to be finalized with Adam at his house. Adam went to get the carriage, and when he returned, a distraught looking Cici came out and climbed in while he sat and waited for her. She wrapped her arms around herself in a very defensive posture as Adam drove the carriage out of town. Paul was impressed with their acting ability. Anyone seeing them without realizing what they had actually discussed would have seen a couple apparently very unhappy with each other after an argument. As Mary Enders watched from her hotel room, it was exactly what she thought. What was unexpected though was her sympathy for Cici. Mary understood what it was like to suffer because of what your husband had done. As quickly as that thought entered her head though, she dismissed it. It wouldn’t do to think that way as it would get in the way of her satisfaction of taking revenge on Adam Cartwright. All those years ago, if he had only left everything alone, she would still have Bill and none of the intervening harm would have happened. To her mind therefore, he was responsible for all that had happened including her time in prison and she intended that he be made to suffer for it. After all, by her way of thinking, Toby was already dead by the time Adam interfered. His activity couldn’t bring him back, so he did no good by what he did and accomplished a lot of harm. To her way of thinking, she was ridding society of a troublesome man who brought a lot of difficulties into the lives of others by his meddling.

*****

Chapter 2

After dropping Cici at home and handing over the carriage and horses to Matt’s care, Adam headed to the Ponderosa main house. He walked into the kitchen there because the men had not yet returned from roundup when he got there. Hop Sing was happy to provide him with something to eat because he had not had anything since breakfast. He took his plate and sat at the table in the kitchen where he ate and conversed with his old friend. His father and brothers found him there when they returned.

“Hey, Adam, we still got to talk about whether you still work for a living.”

“Shur coulda used your help out there today.”

Even though Adam appeared calm and unworried, something was obviously bothering him as he didn’t take the bait with his brothers casting jibes his way. Cici’s understanding and support had gone a long way into easing his mind. She trusted him. He could not love her more but he was willing to try. Now though he had to tell his family of what was happening with the Enders Mining Company. He expected his father to have a negative reaction over the long ago ride he had made to prove Bill could have committed that murder at Goat Station. His persistence in pursuing evidence against Bill had upset his father at the time, but had been Mary’s damning words that got Bill convicted though.

“So much trouble and pain has been the result for you of that decision to go after Bill.”

“Would it have been better to let him get away with murder? Didn’t Toby’s life have at least that much value?”

“Of course, I didn’t mean to demean what you did. I only meant to say that it set in motion a lot of things that none of us could ever have imagined would come to pass. Surely you had no idea either the consequences of your decision to pursue proof of Bill’s guilt.”

“Pa, Adam had to do the right thing. Joe and me knew it then and helped him with that ride that proved Bill coulda done it.”

All four were sobered by the discussion, but Hoss and Joe were ready to come to Adam’s defense. They knew their brother and there was no other way for him to act in that situation. Their father still had trouble with accepting decisions his sons made and tended to ask a lot of questions. It put all of them on the defensive when he did that but none more so than Adam. None of them had any idea why that was. Ben had always expected a lot from Adam but always seemed to question he would do even more. Adam told them of the Enders Company plans and about the story Mary had been telling about him. He told them that he and Cici were all right, and that her office would be moved to their home and that probably it would be a permanent move. Then he left because he didn’t want to leave her and Davy alone for long now. There was too much uncertainty of what was going on, and he had a number of messages to compose too so that Matt and Jed could deliver them the next day. He planned to follow Roy’s advice and keep a low profile. Information needed to be gathered, and allies had to be lined up before they could formulate a plan and carry it out.

As he rode home though, Adam was on edge. He wondered if he had to worry about being bushwhacked. There was also a concern about what he would have to face next. The first salvos in the battle with the Enders Company had been well aimed. He hoped to be more ready for the next shots they took. Once he was home, he still found it was difficult to relax especially as he carefully worded messages to be sent to those he thought would be willing to help him against what the Enders Company had planned. He was concerned that he might have to go to Carson City to enlist more allies, which would leave Cici and Davy home alone although he could make sure that Matt and Jed were there to protect them.

Everything was weighing heavily on his mind when he entered the bedroom to find Cici nursing their son. No matter how many times he saw this, he never failed to be overwhelmed by emotion. He walked to the rocking chair and kissed Cici and kissed the top of his son’s head. His son had been small at birth but was growing well. He had a head of dark fuzz and rosy cheeks with a dimple in each. He was slender but long so there was every indication he would resemble his father as an adult. Once Cici was done with the nursing, she handed Davy to his father. Adam sat in the rocker then and rocked his son so he could burp if needed and then fall asleep. When Cici handed him to him, he had taken his shirt off and loved the feel of his son against his chest. Cici prepared for bed and when she was done, she picked up their sleeping baby from Adam and placed him in the cradle near their bed. They should have at least four hours before he awoke hungry and wet. Mrs. Bayer helped with Davy during the day but the nights were still handled by Cici and Adam. Cici climbed into bed next to Adam.

“I am so tired. Starting the day in the middle of the night, delivering a baby, and everything that went on in town today has left me with little energy. I think I will sleep in tomorrow morning. After nursing Davy, I’ll hand him over to Mrs. Bayer. She’s like his grandmother.”

“All right then, sleep it is.”

Adam was going to roll on his side and go to sleep. Cici however began to kiss him.

“I thought you were tired.”

“Not that tired. I need you. As long as I have you, I don’t mind how it happens.”

Not needing much encouragement, Adam began to kiss her as his hands roamed over now familiar spots. Cici groaned into him. He knew it was pleasure not pain and continued. They had moved into a very comfortable routine for nights like this so that both would enjoy the experience and be satisfied, but it would take less time than when they were feeling playful and adventurous. This night like most others, they fell asleep later in each other’s embrace. Tomorrow would come soon enough, but for now, they had a peaceful rest. The first part of Mary’s plan had failed although it would be some time before she knew that.

After Adam had left, Hoss felt it was time to discuss this trust issue with his father.

“Pa, why don’t you trust Adam? You expect a lot from him, but you always seem to have something to say that shows you don’t completely trust him. It’s like you don’t trust him like you trust us.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust him. I only question him to find out what he’s thinking and if he’s sure of his decisions. My relationship with him is different than my relationship with you two. He was my partner more than my son for most of his life. He does things his own way and rarely confides in me. I don’t know what he is thinking much of the time.”

“But Pa, partners talk to each other and work together.

“I often learn things from him at the same time that you do. Just like today. Last year, he was married and didn’t tell us until the morning after.”

“And we talked about why Adam didn’t tell you about the wedding. You were sleeping when they got here to tell ya. It ain’t that.”

“Now he has gone and bought mining property without telling me until it was done.”

“He’s the one in charge of the mines, and he used his own money to buy those properties in case we would not agree with what he did. But he bought them for the Ponderosa and to protect our water supplies. You don’t need to be so upset with him. What happened to make the two of you at odds so often? It seems like it has always been this way or at least as long as I can remember.”

Ben was quiet. He suspected he knew what had happened, and if he remembered his son’s words correctly, there was no question about why it was different. But it would be very difficult to tell his sons what he had done. At some point they might learn about it from Adam especially now that Hoss was asking him. Why couldn’t it just be forgotten? It was so long ago.

“Once when Adam was about sixteen, we argued about a trail drive. He was only sixteen and already ramrodding a drive. He felt I was undermining his authority and challenged me on it. I used my belt and disciplined him for disrespect. He didn’t shed a tear. He stood and walked away without talking with me. When I called him to come back, he turned and asked if I would punish him again for not talking with him. He said if I planned on doing that, there would be many occasions for me to do just that.”

“Pa, if you had done that to either of us, we would have been furious with ya too.”

“The next day he got in a fight with one of the men who challenged his orders. He fought but couldn’t win. The other man finally agreed to stop because Adam would not give up. He helped Adam get up and they shook hands. He could barely walk and I challenged him as to why he couldn’t handle the situation better than that. He said that because of what I had done to him, he had no choice.”

“Pa, you know that’s the truth. I had to fight some of the men to earn my spot too. Hoss was always so big he didn’t have to do it.”

“Yes, well it changed him. He got his ribs wrapped and went out to work without speaking with me. The rest of the drive, he acted as an employee. He has rarely voluntarily discussed anything with me since except business. He became very independent. Going away to school reinforced that.”

Both Hoss and Joe were shocked that he could have done that. They had never known of this. Adam was a pretty forgiving person though once he got over his anger, so both wondered what else had happened.

“That wasn’t the end of it though was it?”

“No, Hoss, you know us very well I think. Once we were home, I told Marie about what had happened. She tried to talk with Adam about it and he refused. I was still upset with him from his behavior on the trail drive. I disciplined him for refusing to talk with her. He told me when he stood that the bruises from the last beating had almost healed so he would be able to work the next day. Then he walked away again. Until that moment I had no idea that in my anger, I had hurt him that much. I tried to explain what I had done and why, but you know the look I got. He said I wanted him to work like a man and listen to him like a boy. I slapped his face. My relationship with Adam was forever changed. He won’t lie to me, but he has had a lot of practice in evading my questions and hiding what he does from me. He doesn’t expect my trust and acts accordingly. What has happened over the last several years probably reinforced that.”

“So when ya questioned him about Bill Enders back then, he wasn’t about to listen to ya. Just like whenever he had a new idea and you opposed him, he would lose his temper.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that argument about the windmills. That was a doozy. And he was right too. Nothing else would have gotten water to those pastures. We were able to increase the herd by quite a bit because of those windmills when we finally got them.”

“Yes, he was usually right. I have said and done things because of my anger that I regret.”

“Pa, have ya ever apologized to him?”

“Pa, what have you always told us about pride? You need to do this.”

“I can’t take it back and Adam can’t forget.”

“Then ya need to move forward. Trust him now. Build trust with him. And he is a pretty darn forgiving man for most things. I think even for things from that long ago, you could still apologize. Like you said. He don’t forget, so you apologizing would go a long way to healing the hurt between ya.”

“I can try, but I think it will take more than that.”

“Maybe it will, but it seems like you got the responsibility on this one.”

*****

Chapter 3

In town, there were developments that would add support to that argument. The Enders Mining Company was setting up a public office. There was a bustle of activity as desks, chairs, cabinets, and such were unloaded from freight wagons and carried inside. There was a man painting the company logo on the window of the office: Enders Mining Company, Enders, Crane, Davis, and Cartwright. Inside there were name plates placed on four desks: Mary Enders, Sebastian Crane, Wendell Davis, and Adam Cartwright. The second part of the plan was launched.

There were many questioning looks exchanged as people saw the new window decal. They wondered how Adam Cartwright could be a partner is such an enterprise and go around trying to arrange deals supposedly in opposition to this company. It just didn’t make sense unless Adam was deceiving all these mine owners in order to get a better deal for his new venture. By the time many of the people had gotten the messages to meet Adam, they had already seen or been informed of this new development. Many were so angry they refused to consider going to meet with him. Others who knew him better decided to head out to meet with him to try to find out what was going on.

Roy Coffee headed to the telegraph office to see if his inquiries had yielded any information yet. With this development, he had to send more telegrams too. He wanted to find out from the State of California who had organized this partnership and who had put Adam’s name on those documents. Roy had no doubt that Adam was being set up again, but he needed to know more about who was doing it. He had seen some of the men who left town that morning and they would no doubt tell Adam about this new development. Roy just hoped that Adam could keep a lid on his temper. This kind of move was intended to damage his reputation but it was also like charging a grizzly. Whoever did it knew how hard it was for Adam to remain cool when his integrity was challenged and this was one of the biggest gauntlets he had ever faced.

At Adam’s home, his temper was on full display. With a roar, he threw his coffee cup into the fireplace. That upset Cici and his son who started to cry. More than anything else, it was the sad and frightened sound of Davy that got him to settle himself down. Well that and the daggers Cici was shooting at him with her eyes. Adam apologized to her and to his guests. Then he talked soothingly to his son who calmed. Turning to the men who had come to talk with him, he apologized again.

“Well, I didn’t see this coming either. I will check into how they got my name on the company but there is little doubt that they did it legally or legally enough that I won’t be able to prove I had nothing to do with it. This is a well-orchestrated move. They will get all the claims they want now because I won’t be trusted. I can back you men if you will try to do something, but at the moment, I can’t see a way out of this quandary.

The men stayed to talk for a time. Barney Fuller was the last to leave.

“I know you and me and your pa ain’t never seen eye to eye on a lot of things. But this hydraulic mining will ruin my businesses like it will ruin yours and that of a lot of the other men who were here. I’ll stand with ya. If you’ll back me, I’ll start buying claims right now. I don’t have much cash on hand but I can get some loans if I have to. You know I ain’t never cheated nobody even if I drive a hard bargain on everything I do. I’ll do anything I can do legally. I ain’t so soft-hearted as you and your pa. But this time, I’m willing to work with ya. Let me know as soon as you can. Not much I can do all by myself.”

“Thank you, Barney. I’ll work with you even if my father won’t so how about meeting here again tomorrow morning? I don’t think I want to show my face in town right now.”

Barney stuck out his meaty hand and Adam shook it. They nodded in agreement. The two would never be friends but had a grudging respect for each other in business matters. Adam had his first ally. Now if he could convince his father to acquiesce to working with Barney, they would be able to start working against the Enders Company plan. Once others knew that Barney was working with him despite their competition for business over previous decades, they would likely lean toward doing the same. He didn’t look forward to the confrontation with his father, but he knew it had to happen soon, so he headed over to see him and brothers.

As Adam rode up to the Ponderosa ranch house he had helped build, he was actually a little disappointed to see Buck, Chubb, and Cochise tied to the rail near the front door. They were all home. He would have to face them immediately without first relaxing with a lunch Hop Sing would have been happy to serve to him. He took a deep breath and walked in to find all three at the dining room table enjoying coffee after lunch.

“The spring roundup must be going very well if you can take the time to ride back here for lunch.”

The looks on their faces at that statement let Adam know that was not at all the case.

“Older brother, someone is out ta make a mess of our roundup. The cows we herded yesterday was scattered all over the range today. Fences was cut so it wasn’t no accident. Looks like at least some were run off. I found a trail but lost it in some loose shale. They planned their escape well. This was no taking advantage of an opportunity.”

“This was a deliberate act of sabotaging our roundup. Pa and Hoss got most of the cattle back where they belong, but we lost a full day of work, and now we have to assign men to stay in all the pastures at night, so by day, we’ll be very shorthanded.”

Pulling out a chair to sit, Adam nodded. “Looks like an all-out barrage then. With all of you tied up here, you can’t do anything about the mess with the Enders company. Enders Company put up a logo at their new office today, and I’m listed as an owner.”

From the shocked expressions on their faces, he knew they were as upset by that as he was. He then told them of the men he met with at his house, and the agreement he had made with Barney Fuller.

“Son, if that’s what it takes, we’ll back you all we can.”

Adam stared at his father. This reaction was so far from anything he expected that he had nothing to say. Joe poked Hoss in the ribs. Hoss smiled at Joe. They were both proud of their father at that action. He couldn’t have done it better.

“Hey, Pa, ole Adam there has nothing to say. I think we need ta mark this day on the calendar and celebrate it every year. The day Adam had no smart comeback.”

“Boys, it appears that there will be more trouble coming. This is not the end of it. I think we need to call on some of our friends and neighbors for help. Anyone have any ideas?”

“I’m calling on Reg. He’s a lawyer and still has a lot of connections in California where this company was organized. I need legal help to get my name off that partnership, and I think he’s the one who could best help me do it.”

“Adam, how about if I head over to Carson City and try to line up some help over there? You’re not in a good position to do that now. Hoss or Pa could head into Virginia City to hire more men.”

“Joe, thank you. I was worried about doing that and leaving Cici at home. I put some money into the Ponderosa accounts to cover the first purchase I made. There should be enough to cover more men. I need the rest to back Barney as he buys some properties. Do we have any other funds we can pull up? And not loans; they’ll be ready for that and probably have a plan all ready to sabotage us with that.”

“I have some bonds to cash in if we need them. I don’t think cash flow is the problem. I am worried that you or your brothers may be bushwhacked. Each of us needs to have someone with us when we travel. Candy can go with Hoss to town to hire some men. Joe, pick one of your horse wranglers to go with you. Adam do you think Matt can work with you?”

“I’d like to leave Matt to protect Cici. He’s a better shot than Jed and cool under pressure. Jed can ride with me wherever I have to go.”

“All right. Warn the men that they should watch for anyone or anything unusual. We can’t trust any stranger right now. I’ll let Hop Sing know, that is what he doesn’t already know by eavesdropping.”

There was a clatter of pans and some muttering in Chinese from the kitchen. All four men got to release a little tension with laughter. Adam grabbed some bread and ham from the table to make a sandwich. As the four men walked outside to proceed with their tasks, Adam stopped his father with a hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you. You don’t know how much it means to me that you accepted my decision.”

“You’re welcome. And Adam? I do know. I shouldn’t question you like I usually do. It’s an old habit and one I should try to eliminate. I know why I do it and I should stop. Please accept my apology for when I do it and know that I know better, but habits are hard to break even when you want to do so very much.”

“Thank you, Pa. Knowing you’re trying is good enough.”

With Jed at his side, Adam made one short trip to town to send some telegrams and do a few quick tasks. Only three days after receiving Adam’s telegram, Reg Castle arrived in Virginia City. He did some checking before he left and had enough information to know that he wanted to be part of this fight. Adam met him at the stage station outside of Virginia City and they rode in the carriage to his home. There was no point in letting the opposition know he was bringing in reinforcements. Cici and Adam had lunch with Reg, and of course, he had to see Davy. After lunch, they started to talk business.

“Adam, the Enders Mining Company is a corporation. The three who are in town formed a management partnership and are hired to run the corporation. It is an unusual set-up. From what I have learned so far, you own one share of stock in the corporation and you are listed as a partner in the management company. For now, let’s leave those alone. I want to get your power of attorney to use your share to get a copy of the company prospectus.”

“Reg, as soon as possible, I want my name off those companies. Do you have a way of doing that for me?”

“Yes, I think so. My former partners are the lawyers representing the Anti-Debris Association in California. I want you to go with me to meet with them and the head of the Association too. There are a few tricks we can use too.”

Cici was very concerned about what could happen based on Adam’s history with Enders.

“Cici, I have checked and had friends check. We can find no connection between Bill Enders and this operation. Mary Enders may be a pawn in the hands of rich investors. It puts a smokescreen in front of what they are trying to do. It looks like a revenge scenario, but what they are doing is trying to eliminate the opposition to hydraulic mining. In this region, it would be the Cartwrights especially Adam. These men are skilled. I don’t think they will resort to physical violence at least not at this stage when they think they are winning.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“We will meet in Sacramento with lawyers and James Keyes. He used to be a miner here but now farms. His land has been flooded and damaged by tailings being washed downstream from hydraulic mining. He and other farmers have formed the Anti-Debris Association and are trying to stop hydraulic mining on the other side of the Sierras. Then we need to try to set up a meeting with the governor. Adam, can you father do that?”

“I’ll go talk to him before we leave.”

Cici held Adam in a ferocious hug before he left. She reached up to touch and caress his face as if she would never see him again. Adam realized how scared she was and held her for a long time. He walked with his arm tightly around her to tell Matt what was going on. Once that was done, they went inside to pack his saddlebags and Adam kissed and hugged Davy. As he kissed Cici goodbye, he could see tears welling up in her eyes and that did it for him. He held her and they both shed tears for the turmoil that seemed to dog them.

“Sweetheart, it will be okay. I will be careful, and Matt will watch over you here. Jed will stay too as I will be far away from here and these thugs won’t know where I am.”

Cici nodded but couldn’t talk. She hugged Adam one more time, and he mounted up and rode away. She hoped that he was right. She hoped that his brothers got it correct when they said Adam always did the right thing and was always right. More than ever, she needed that to be true. Matt walked over to her and asked if she thought he should stay in a guest bedroom so he would be close if needed. Cici agreed. It would be another piece of ammunition the other side would try to use against them though but neither of them saw it at the time. Of course the opposition didn’t know that Matt was a gay man and that Adam would have enthusiastically agreed to him staying in the house to protect Cici.

Ben agreed to see the governor and try to set up a meeting. Adam and Reg went overland to California. It was faster and prying eyes would not know they were gone. They met with James Keyes, and Reg got a copy of the Enders Company prospectus. The information in it was seemingly very legitimate, but he saw Adam raise his eyebrows at the little he was able to read before they left Sacramento. Adam assured Reg that he thought he had a lot of information that he could use to sway the governor to agree to their plan. Before they left Sacramento, they gifted the one share of stock Adam held in the Enders Company to James Keyes. Now he was an owner and had the right to attend meetings and see company documents. The company would oppose him on that but his lawyers had grounds to get access for him. They had fired their first salvo. It was a warning shot over the bow, but it was a start.

Ben had telegraphed them that the governor would meet with them in Reno. Again Adam and Reg traveled overland to avoid anyone who could tell the opposition where they were going. Once in Reno, they checked into a hotel using other names: Adam Stoddard and Reg Thayer. Ben was under an alias too but they had neglected to find out what it was before they left so they waited in the dining room for him to appear. Ben walked in near dinnertime and joined them when he saw them.

“I was waiting in my room, and finally got hungry. Why didn’t you let me know you were here?”

“Ah, Pa, we may not be very good at this skullduggery. We forgot to ask you what name you would be using so we had no way of knowing who to ask for.”

They all had a good laugh. It was good to relieve some of the tension. Then Reg and Adam filled Ben in on what they had accomplished in California. Ben enjoyed the method that Reg had used to rid Adam of his tie to the Enders Corporation.

“How will you get his name off the partnership?”

“Once, we can get some information from the company, he will sell or gift his share of the partnership to one of James Keyes’ associates. Then they will have access to what the partners are doing too. This company is funded by William Ralston and Lester Robinson as well as by some wealthy British investors who are represented by Sebastian Crane. He manages a blind trust of their shares.”

“What else have you two planned? I can see from your looks, that there is more going on.”

“Adam and I are going to file injunctions for every stream, river, and lake that could be affected in Virginia City or Carson City. We will ask the courts to enjoin that the company not deposit tailings nor gravel in any of these waterways. They will have to fight each injunction separately because we will file them one at a time.”

“Pa, I have a few things I would like the governor to do as well that will slow the company down. They will undoubtedly start using pressure, probably bribes and threats, but if we get some organizations in their way, it will strain their resources to fight all of them.”

“The governor and some of his staff will meet with us at his home tomorrow morning at ten. Bring everything you’ve got because he said the company has already contacted him about the jobs they can create, and the money they are willing to use to support him in the next election if he supports them in hydraulic mining.”

The three men enjoyed their dinner. Adam had sent a telegram earlier to Hoss. He couldn’t be direct and send one to Cici because the telegraph office in Virginia City could never keep a secret. He sent a carefully worded telegram to Hoss that informed him that he had arrived safely to meet with Reg. Anyone reading that would assume he would be in Wyoming. Hoss would know better though and would tell Cici as soon as he could so she could worry just a little less. The next morning, Ben, Reg, and Adam were admitted to the governor’s home by a butler. He led them to a door and slid it aside. They entered a spacious and well-appointed library/study. The walls were covered in bookshelves. Moreover, it was on the second floor so no one could eavesdrop at the windows. The governor welcomed Ben enthusiastically. It had been many years since he had seen Adam, but only a few years earlier that he had set aside his conviction and expunged his record after Adam had been railroaded by men closely related to the ones he was fighting now.

“Adam, you don’t seem to be able to avoid trouble. You are looking well though, and I heard that you have a beautiful wife and baby boy.”

“Trouble does seem to dog me, sir. And yes, I am very blessed with my wife and my son.”

“I’m sure your father had informed you of our previous conversation. What evidence do you have that would indicate I ought to avoid entangling myself with this company?”

“I have the company prospectus. Your staff can look through it later and draw their own conclusions, but two things stand out. They have projected that with purchases of mines in the Nevada Sierras, they can make a profit of four and one half million dollars on silver and gold that is only accessible by hydraulic mining. They project costs of two million dollars. Therefore they are selling stock with the promise of two and one half million in profits to be shared with investors.”

“Mr. Cartwright, you disagree with those figures?” The attorney general seemed skeptical.

Ben was going to answer, but Reg put a hand on his arm. The Mr. Cartwright the attorney general wanted to answer was Adam. Ben was not used to being in this position.

“All of the mines they have listed as potential purchases had veins of gold and or silver that became smaller and smaller as they were mined. There are likely flakes of gold and silver and perhaps even nuggets in some of the gravel, but mining of this type gets an extremely low yield. What is more likely is a return of less than one half million dollars and that may be optimistic if they have accurately assessed their potential costs of doing business. I have included on this sheet some of the costs and profits of companies that have already done hydraulic mining. You can see that the profit margin on each one is very small and in two cases, they lost money.”

“I would assume that these gentlemen would be familiar with that information as well?”

“They should be. The company that lost the most money had Ralston, Robinson, and the same British investment consortium as owners.”

“Why would they want to do more of the same if they lose money?”

“Well perhaps it is the mining that is losing money, and they are not losing money. The most profitable part could be skimming money out of the company from stock sales by grossly inflating the costs. If you look at the other companies, the ratio of costs to profits is much closer. And every company except this one has lower costs.”

The governor looked directly at the attorney general. They knew the men they were with this morning were honest, and they had already heard enough to determine that they should help them.

“Adam, I would like my legal staff to look over that prospectus if you don’t mind. And I have three agents I would like to send in undercover to work this case. I’m sure you know them.”

Adam smiled at that. He did have fond memories of the three young men who had helped save him. The governor wanted to know what else he could do, and Reg and Adam had two suggestions.

“Sir, we would like you to sponsor two pieces of legislation. One would be to create a licensing board for all hydraulic mining operations in which they would have to show a plan of how they would avoid depositing tailings and or gravel in waterways. They will fight this with everything they have, but it is the direction that a number of states are headed so it would not seem unusual for that to happen here. Secondly, we would like you to set up an Anti-Debris Mining Commission to study all tailings and effluent released by mining and how it could be prevented. This would give your staff access to company records and excuses to visit any sites where they may begin operations.”

“Ben, I thought you said your son was trained as an engineer and an architect. Seems to me that he must have spent some time studying business and law too. This is a well thought out and comprehensive plan.”

“He knows how to gather what he needs too.” Ben looked at Reg when he said that.

“I want to discuss it with my staff, but at this point, I will give preliminary approval. If you stay in town, we will let you know by tomorrow morning what our exact plans are.”

By the next morning, the governor’s office sent a simple message. “Yes. To everything.” Ben, Reg, and Adam packed to go home. They planned to travel together until they neared home. Reg and Ben would go to Carson City where Reg would file the first injunction, and Ben would meet with ranchers and miners he knew to try to enlist their aid. Adam was headed directly to his home. He had been gone for ten days, and by now, he expected Cici to be sick with worry. He was right again, but it wasn’t the only reason she was sick. As Adam rode into his yard, twilight was falling. He put his weary horse in the stable and walked to the house. Matt greeted him on the veranda.

“Hey boss, heard you come in. Just checking to make sure it was you. Your wife is upstairs with your son. Cook is in the kitchen and Mrs. Bayer is in the great room knitting. I’m heading down to my own bed. Jed will be keeping first watch tonight. I’ll spell him later. Welcome back, and good night.”

“Matt, thank you!”

Adam walked inside and Mrs. Bayer nodded at him. He was covered in trail dust and hadn’t shaved yet that day so he had a fairly good stubble. As he walked up the stairs, Mrs. Bayer smiled: she remembered when her husband would get home after a trip, and it didn’t matter to her what smells were in his clothes or how dirty or dusty he was because she was always just so glad to see him and hold him again. She expected that Adam and Cici felt the same way. She thought she would stay downstairs and out of the way for the next hour or so.

As Adam reached the door of the nursery, he paused to watch the glorious sight of his wife nursing his son. He had such a strong emotional reaction every time he saw this that he couldn’t bear to interrupt them for a moment. Finally he had to go in. He kissed Cici as she looked up at him and her mouth formed a perfect O. It made a passionate kiss all that much easier. Davy was nursing, but he was also falling asleep. Adam took him and held him tenderly and carefully so he would not transfer a bunch of trail dust to him. After Cici closed her dress, she took Davy and settled him in his crib. She and Adam walked quietly out of the nursery and into their bedroom. Once there, there were no longer quiet nor passive.

“You need a bath and a shave.”

“That’s not all I need. Join me in the bath. I’ll shave first.”

Cici shook her head.

“You have to be exhausted, but you are still insatiable.”

“Sweetheart, it’s been ten days. I missed you. You are even more beautiful than when I left. You have a glow about you.”

Cici smiled a little smile and went downstairs to get the bath started as Adam stripped off his dirty clothes and prepared to shave. They were still awake four hours later when Davy awoke wet and hungry.

*****

Chapter 4

In less than a week, it was clear that the Enders Mining Company was going to retaliate against Adam and Reg for the injunctions and for the gift of stock to James Keyes. Sebastian Crane and Wendell Davis rode out to Adam’s home to confront them. Candy had been sent over to help out because such a move was anticipated and he, Matt, and Jed got their firearms and stood by as the two men headed to the house on the hill. Adam answered the door when the men knocked but did not invite them in. He stepped outside to the veranda and Reg joined him there soon after.

“You don’t know who you’re up against, Cartwright! We won’t be held responsible for anything happening to you.”

“If that’s a threat, you need to look around. You aren’t exactly in a position to make any threats here.”

Davis was doing the talking while Crane stood by with a supercilious look. Adam was armed and definitely more dangerous than either man confronting him. In addition, Matt was a crack shot and Jed and Candy would back him up.

“You’ve made a mistake here. The men we represent have a lot of resources. I would think that you would know that after the two year vacation they got for you last time you stuck your nose into other people’s business.”

This was the first time the complicity of these same investors in his incarceration was alluded to although both Adam and Reg had suspected as much. Adam remained calm outwardly but inside his temper was roiling.

“And now you got a lot more to worry about.”

Adam grabbed Davis by his jacket lapels and threw him off the veranda.

“You are the one who is mistaken. Your life isn’t worth a mouthful of dust if you go anywhere near any member of my family. Now get out of here. The stench of you is fouling my property.”

“We’ll be back and with the sheriff. You committed an assault on my person. You will not get away with it.”

“I’m afraid, ‘gentlemen’, that Mister Cartwright was defending his property against two armed trespassers who in front of witnesses threatened his family. Do you think any jury would convict him of anything? In fact, they might be inclined to support a countercharge considering the circumstances. I suggest you leave and never come back. Any future trespassing on the Ponderosa will be met with deadly force. The gentlemen standing behind you now will escort you off the property.” Reg did the talking, but the other men were ready to do what he had said.

Davis and Crane mounted up and left with Jed and Matt riding behind them with their rifles held at the ready. Reg and Adam returned to the house where they had been discussing their strategy with Cici and Ben. Candy remained on guard outside.

“Well, they figured it out. They know where I am most vulnerable. Now what do we do to keep Cici and Davy safe?”

“Son, I think they should come to the house with me. There are a lot more men there who can protect them.”

“Do I get any say in this? I think we can stay here. I won’t go to see any patients unless I am escorted, but I want my patients to be able to come here. The tack room can house two men so you could send two more men here to help guard the place.”

Adam wanted to accommodate his wife but also understood that his father’s argument had merit. He looked to Reg.

“For now, most of what they will do will be in court. For a time until that strategy fails, I think Cici and Davy are safe here as long as we add more security. Once they fail in court though, all bets are off as to what they might do next. Then we will have to have a siege mentality and build up our defensive forces.”

They all agreed that for now, they would follow what Reg and Cici wanted. Adam wasn’t comfortable with it but at this point probably wouldn’t be comfortable with anything. Reg and Ben talked as Ben walked to the stable to get his horse. They planned to ask Joe if he wanted more security or if he wanted his family at the main house.

“Candy, nothing can happen to Cici and Davy. I love that lady like a daughter and Davy is my precious grandson. I know it would destroy Adam if anything happened to them. He has lost too much in his life. He cannot lose more without losing himself.”

“We’ll get some of the men to stay near here at all times. No one gets anywhere near here without us knowing. We should work out a schedule after we talk to Joe. It would be easier if he has his family at the main house. That would mean we wouldn’t have to spread our men out so far. We have three shifts guarding the herds and now with protecting the family, we will be spread out even more.”

Joe and Rachel did think that going to the main house was a good idea. Joe suggested that they suggest that Adam and his family come to the main house each night even if Cici wanted to be home during the daytime. Ben planned to ride there the next day with that suggestion. It was too late. A group of armed men had bushwhacked Matt and Jed near the boundary of the Ponderosa. Once Crane and Davis described the layout of the property and the few people there, they rode and forced their entry into the house firing as they went. Adam was able to shoot two of the intruders before being subdued. Reg was badly wounded. Mrs. Bayer and Kim were forced into the kitchen and tied to chairs there. Cici and Davy were grabbed and taken outside and loaded into the back of a buckboard wagon. Adam was trussed like a calf for branding and left lying on the floor next to Reg who was bleeding profusely.

“Adam, I’m sorry. I seem to have miscalculated.”

“Don’t talk. Try to keep your strength.”

“I know it’s over my friend. I need a lot of help and no one can help me now. Take care of Robert.”

Although Adam worried for his wife and son but thought it was likely they were going to be held to control him so their lives were not in immediate danger. He feared most for Matt and Jed as well as for Reg who needed attention fast. The only thought he could have was that Matt and Jed were dead or dying too.

Easing himself across the floor toward the gun cabinet, Adam was careful not to pull the rope on his neck any tighter. He had one chance and that was the throwing knives he had in a lower drawer of the gun cabinet. He had been planning to move them because it wouldn’t be safe to have them there when his son started crawling. Now he was glad he had not moved them yet. As he reached the cabinet, he used his mouth on the brass pulls to pull the drawer open. Then he had to carefully maneuver himself on to his knees so that he could reach the knives with his mouth. He pulled one from the drawer and wedged it against the cabinet. The he turned around and pressed the knife against the ropes on his wrists. Sawing back and forth, he cut himself as well as the rope. Within minutes he was free but his hands were slicked with his own blood.

Adam checked Reg for the pulse and found it extremely weak. He headed to the kitchen to free Mrs. Bayer and Kim. Kim grabbed his hands and wrists before he could get away and wrapped cloth around the shallow cuts. It was all that Adam would allow before he insisted they help Reg. As soon as they were busy with him, he ran out to the stable to saddle his horse. He needed help and a lot of it fast. Firing three shots in the air, he rode as hard as he could in the direction that Matt and Jed had gone. He found both of them badly wounded but Ponderosa hands arrived in response to his shots. He told them to get the two men to town as fast as they could and then he rode to the main house.

Ben heard a horse thunder in to the yard outside the house and he grabbed a gun as did his sons and Candy. Hoss looked out the window in Ben’s study.

“It’s Adam and he’s hurt.”

Ben was the first outside. Adam had bruises emerging on his face and both hands and wrists were wrapped in bloody bandages. Adam did not dismount but emotionally distraught, he started yelling about what had happened.

“They got Cici and Davy. We need to hurry. They went in a buckboard wagon from what I could tell. Reg is so badly wounded he might be dead by now. Matt and Jed are both shot and being taken to town. I don’t know if they’ll live either.”

Joe and Candy hurried to the stable to saddle up fresh horses and Hoss went in to the bunkhouse to get some of the men to help. Ben could see that Adam was in shock. His wife and child were kidnapped. His best friend might be dead because he had helped Adam. Adam could not see that he needed to care for himself. Ben needed to get him down from his horse so they could help him.

“Adam, you need to get down for a few minutes. Hop Sing will bandage your hands. You aren’t going to be able to help us if you pass out from blood loss. Now get down, please.”

“We have to hurry.”

“Yes, son, I know. But it will take a few minutes to saddle the horses. We will go as soon as we can.”

Adam dismounted and staggered and grabbed the saddle to keep from falling. Ben stepped to his side and guided him to a bench. Barbara had come outside with Hop Sing by this time with bandages, a basin of water, and other things they needed. Working as quickly as possible, they took the bloody cloths from Adam’s hands, quickly cleaned the areas that were bleeding, applied ointment, and then bandaged both. Barbara unobtrusively handed a small jar of ointment, a roll of bandages, and a vial of laudanum to Ben who surreptitiously slipped those things into his pockets. Hop Sing went into the kitchen and emerged with a several small food sacks containing bread, ham slices, and apples. He would have liked to send more but there was no time.

“How did your hands get cut?”

“I did it. I had to cut the ropes, and I was in a hurry. Those throwing knives are very sharp.”

Joe, Candy, Hoss, and another six men were ready to ride. Four more would go to Adam’s house to help and to notify Sheriff Coffee of what had happened and what they were doing. Joe led out Buck and a different horse for Adam. Sport had been ridden hard and was in no shape to continue what might be a long pursuit. The men rode all hard to Adam’s home and then those continued on following Hoss who was in the lead and tracking the kidnappers. It didn’t take long to find the tracks of a wagon and a number of horses. They were headed east. The men grimly began to track them.

Miles ahead of them, the wagon had broken down. The men hired from Sacramento, California for this task were unfamiliar with the territory and had no idea how rough the terrain was that they were traveling through. They had intended to get to one of the mines purchased by the Enders Company, but now it would be difficult. As they worked to try to repair the wagon, one of the men scouted back and saw a large force of men pursuing them. The time they had gained by Adam having to go to the Ponderosa main house for help had been lost as they struggled to repair the wagon. Finally, their leader Davis ordered two of the men to stay behind to slow the pursuit. He ordered Cici to get on a horse. When she refused, he grabbed Davy from her arms and handed him up to one of his men already mounted. She quickly mounted up on the horse assigned for her, and the group rode out.

Within a short time, the Cartwrights and their friends arrived at the site and gunfire erupted from the tree line. One of their men was wounded and Adam charged the two riding with his head low behind his horses neck. Hoss, Joe, and Candy rode with him when they realized he would not stop and the others laid down covering fire. The men in the trees did not surrender and paid the ultimate price for that miscalculation. Adam shot one in the head and Joe hit the other in the chest. Without pausing, the group headed out following the tracks of the horses ahead of them. Within fifteen minutes they had the group ahead of them in sight. They would not escape into the mine. The man carrying Davy dropped him and raced away. Cici stopped her horse and ran sobbing to her baby’s side. Davis drew his pistol to shoot her and his head erupted in a red cloud. Hoss had stopped and had trained his Sharps rifle on the group. When he saw what Davis planned, he already had him in his sights. He had prayed a little and pulled the trigger.

Adam leaped from his horse to run to Cici’s side. She was examining Davy and looked at Adam with her eyes full of tears and tears streaks through the dust on her face. Davy was crying so loudly it was almost screaming. Cici struggled to speak. She finally choked out the words.

“He’s not hurt. He’s not hurt. He has some bruises and a scrape but nothing is bad.”

Adam sat on the ground with his wife and child, wrapped his arms around them, and sobbed. He had never felt such fear in all of his life when he saw them abducted and then later saw his son dropped from a horse. The men who had been with him rode with Hoss, Joe, and Candy to capture the rest of the marauders. They were all hoping that they would fight instead of surrendering. Most did but two did surrender and within an hour they were brought back to where Adam, Cici, Davy, and Ben were waiting. Davy had calmed and Cici had nursed him while Adam continued to hold her. The three were still huddled together when the men returned.

“Candy, have some of the men take these two into town to hand over to Roy. Someone needs to go to Adam’s house to get a carriage or wagon. We can wait here with the rest of you for protection.”

“Papa, I want to go home. Adam, please, take us home.”

“Cici, I think we need to go home with Pa. We’ll stay together.”

Adam noticed blood on Cici’s skirt.

“Cici, are you hurt? Where’s this blood coming from?”

Cici had been feeling pains for over an hour. She knew without checking what had happened. She looked at Adam and tears flowed again.

“We were going to have a baby.”

“Were?”

“I’m losing the baby. The ride and everything caused it.”

Cici began crying again and Adam pulled her and his son into his chest one more time. Ben and Hoss who had been close enough to hear the whole exchange turned from them with tears welling in their eyes. Joe walked over when he saw them, and they told him that Cici needed the doctor because she had lost her baby due to the rough treatment. Joe misunderstood and was worried about Davy for a second until Hoss told him she had been with child. Joe mounted up and rode for town to get Doctor Martin. Soon a wagon arrived and Adam with Hoss’ assistance got his wife and son into the back of the wagon. Hoss handed Adam a blanket and he wrapped it around his wife and then settled down next to her to hold her. Ben drove the wagon.

Hoss was heading to Adam’s house to see how Reg was doing and to make sure that Mrs. Bayer and Kim were all right, and then collect some clothing and necessary items for Adam’s family. When he got there he found Reg rolled in a blanket. Mrs. Bayer and Kim were by his side. They asked if they would be needed at the Ponderosa main house and Hoss invited both to come along with him to help care for Reg. He hitched a team to the buckboard and carried Reg there. Then next to him, the three loaded everything they thought would be needed as well as some foodstuffs that would spoil if not used. They closed up the house then and headed to the main house. With Kim sitting by Reg to care for him as they traveled, Hoss drove slowly and carefully to the main house.

Wendell Davis was dead but Sebastian Crane was still out there and no one knew if there were more hirelings they needed to watch for. The men sent to take Matt and Jed returned with the news that they were still alive but in dire straits. Adam wanted to go see them, but he was told that both were unconscious. Roy rode in shortly thereafter to question them to get the whole story of what had happened. It took hours for the telling of everything from all the people involved.

*****

Chapter 5

There was a question for Roy too when everyone had a chance to think about what had happened. “How did you get here so soon, Roy?”

“Well that Sebastian Crane feller come riding into town sayings as how there was an attack by some armed men, and he lit out of there for town and didn’t know what had happened to his partner.”

It was a very good thing that Adam was not listening to this conversation. He was in the downstairs bedroom with his wife and son trying to soothe them. Hop Sing had done all he could, and now they were waiting for Doctor Martin to examine Davy and to make sure that there were no complications from the miscarriage that Cici had suffered. Doctor Martin was busy with Reg though following up on what Mrs. Bayer and Kim had done to care for him. With Candy’s help, Hoss was outside cleaning up the wagon. Ben and Joe couldn’t believe what they were hearing though. They explained what Adam had been able to tell them.

“Well, then, my guess is that Crane raced to town to establish an alibi for himself or he didn’t know what Davis was up to and he rode fast cause he was scared. Until I get some evidence to the contrary, I’m going to have to accept Crane at his word. I’m sorry Ben, I know what you’re thinking, but we gotta go by the law here. I’ll keep my eye on him and do whatever I can to watch him ifn he tries to leave town again.”

Ben wanted to say something more, but he knew that Roy had just undermined any argument he had. Joe stormed out of the house to talk with Hoss. Finally Ben asked some questions.

“We sent some men into town with the two jackals who surrendered. Have you questioned them yet?”

“No, I came out here to get the full story as soon as Crane came riding in. I met your men on the way here and told them to hand those two scoundrels over to Clem. He’ll keep them separated and quiet until I can talk to them.”

“Have you gotten any information as to who is behind this whole scheme?”

“That I know. It’s a pair of scoundrels by the names of Ralston and Robinson but it’s unlikely they’ve got anything to do with breaking the law like this. They have been creating a lot of trouble in California with hydraulic mining and railroad building. The two of them never break the law as far as anyone can prove but the dealings are shady enough to suspect they wouldn’t worry much about the law if they thought they could get away with it, and it ain’t likely they worry overmuch about what friends of theirs do. When that Truckee Railroad mess got taken care of, and Adam got cleared of any wrong, they were friends with a lot of the men who went to prison and maybe they were silent unseen partners, but there’s no proof.”

“So they could be bent on revenge against Adam?”

“Could be, but from what I’ve learned, they’d only do it if there was profit in it for them. Now I had a talk with Mary Enders, and I got to tell ya, Ben, that is a very bitter woman. She ain’t rightly got all her eggs in the basket either if ya know what I mean. She talked about how Adam had harmed her and the law wouldn’t do anything. So I says that he didn’t harm her, her husband did, and Bill was the one done broke the law, and she went on and on about how Adam set him up and how nothing bad woulda happened except for his interfering in things. Ben, she could be dangerous in her state of mind. I don’t rightly know what she’s gonna do next.”

The sound of a carriage could be heard and Ben and Roy went to the door assuming that Doctor Martin was there. Instead, it was Mary Enders.

“Sheriff, I want you to arrest these men for the murder of Wendell Davis and the men working for us. They chased them down like dogs and killed them.”

“Now Mary, that ain’t the way it was. Mr. Davis and those men kidnapped Mrs. Cartwright and her baby and attempted to kill an unarmed man while doing it.”

“It’s lies, all lies. They are doing what they always do. Making up stories to get people to think they do no wrong. But they do. I should have known that you would just back them in their murderous ways just like you always have. I had hoped our conversation might have enlightened you but I can see that it did not. I will be contacting the governor’s office. We need some intervention here by state authorities to uphold the laws you swore to protect but so willingly ignore.”

As she was turning her carriage to leave, Mrs. Bayer drove in. Ben and Roy greeted her and then escorted her into the house to see Cici and Davy. By then, Paul was examining Davy and agreed with Cici’s assessment that he had no serious injuries. He told them to keep the abrasions clean and wrapped to avoid infection and to watch him carefully for any changes, but he did not expect any. Other than clinging to one parent or the other, Davy seemed to be acting normally. Davy cried as Adam took him from Cici’s arms but settled once he realized it was his father’s chest that he was being held to. Paul asked Mrs. Bayer if she could go sit with Reg so that he could examine Cici and told Adam to take Davy out of the bedroom in case she would make any sounds because at this point anything would frighten the boy. Adam walked into the great room and sat in the red leather chair with his hands and arms almost covering his son. Davy quieted and soon fell asleep. Roy asked Adam if he could quietly recount what had happened. Adam told him everything he knew and with his son in his arms and needing him to remain calm, he was able to do so without raising his voice that was a Herculean effort on his part.

Outside, Joe was filling Hoss and Candy in on what Roy had said. They all found it hard to accept that Crane might get away with this. All they could hope was that the two men in jail would talk to avoid hanging. It was a slim hope.

“Hoss, I never saw Adam like that before. I’ve seen him angry before, and I guess that’s what I expected, but he was just crying so hard when we found Cici and Davy. The only other time I saw him lose control like that is when we found him in the desert after that Kane tortured him. Do you think he’s going to be all right? After that Kane episode, he wasn’t all right for a long time.”

“Joe, it’s two different things. Kane did that stuff to him on purpose. Ain’t nobody going to be all right if they get worked like a pack animal and then denied food, water, and rest. This here was just too much for Adam to hold in his feelings. Anybody woulda had to let it out. Even our older brother ain’t strong enough to hold that much in.”

Joe looked at Hoss with skepticism all too evident in his expression. Candy was finding the conversation enlightening. He liked Adam and admired the way he could work, but he was a difficult man to get to know.

“Joe, you often have said that Adam was cold and had no feelings. That jest ain’t so and I have tried to tell you that every time you say it. Adam feels everything just as much as you and maybe even more. He jest don’t let it out most of the time. Well unless he’s mad of course. Then he let’s all of that out. He ain’t never learned to control that temper of his so good.”

“Hoss, that’s still just so hard for me to believe. That time that Pa was held as ransom so we wouldn’t hang Farmer Perkins, well Adam was so cool under that pressure. He did what he thought was right and it didn’t matter that Pa could have died.”

“No, we were wrong then and you’re wrong now. He felt everything we felt and we made it worse by what we said to him. He was hurting too and we made it worse by dumping our anger on him. He did what Pa would have wanted done. Pa told him that afterwards but it was real hard for him especially cause he knew we wouldn’t a done it the same way. He held all the pain and everything else inside.”

Hoss then filled a curious Candy in on what had happened with Farmer Perkins and the showdown in the street after he was hanged. Candy had a new appreciation of just how strong the bonds in this family were, but also was starting to understand some of the reasons why Adam might have felt it necessary to leave for those years. He had always wondered why anyone would leave the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family, but Adam must have been a bit on the outside of what the others shared. It was probably worse those many years ago too. Apparently then even Hoss had not been as strong in support of his brother as he was now. Candy could see that the bond between Hoss and Adam was strong. He wondered if Joe and Adam would ever have that type of bond. Maybe this was the thing that would draw them together.

Once the men finished cleaning up and putting gear away, they went to the house. Inside, Adam was finishing telling the story to Roy. As the three men entered, Roy greeted them and asked them to sit at the table where he asked them questions about what had happened. Their answers were consistent with what he had learned from Ben and Adam. Roy was satisfied he had enough to write a complete report. He told them that he would notify Reg’s family. Adam asked Ben to write out some messages from him to Robert, to Reg’s daughter, and to Bud and the men at the CR ranch. Roy agreed to take care of sending those too. Paul came out of the bedroom and told Adam that there were no complications, but that it would be best for Cici to remain mostly at rest for a few days before gradually resuming normal activities. Adam nodded and went to the bedroom with Davy.

Hop Sing came out to announce quietly that dinner was ready and there was enough for everyone. Barbara had been helping in the kitchen and the two of them started to bring food to the table. Roy couldn’t stay but Hop Sing pressed him to take bread and beef to make a sandwich, and he had to smile broadly and accept that. Joe went upstairs to get Rachel and the children who had been staying upstairs to be out of the way and to shield the children from hearing too much about the more traumatic events of the day. Paul and Candy were invited to stay and both accepted.

Ben softly knocked on the downstairs bedroom door and opened it to see Adam sitting in bed leaning back into a stack of pillows with Cici resting on his chest and Davy cradled between them. Both Cici and Davy were sleeping. Ben pulled the door closed behind him and walked to the bed to tug Adam’s boots off. Then he took the light blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed and laid it over all three. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Davy awakened and then all three would be up. But for now, it was healing sleep. Ben walked softly out of the room and closed the door behind him very carefully. He asked those at dinner to speak softly so that Adam and his family could rest. Inside, Adam closed his eyes. He was home and his family was safe. It was all that he cared about at that moment.

Hop Sing prepared a tray of food and took it upstairs for Mrs. Bayer who was sitting with Reg. He was pale but his breathing had become more regular and Doctor Martin thought that he should recover. It was likely to be a long recovery though.

*****

Chapter 6

“You need to go. We’ll be fine here.”

Adam had no response to Cici. He was feeling almost numb with the emotional drain of the last several days. With the kidnapping of his wife and son, the injuries of his friend Reg and to their men Matt and Jed who remained in town to recover, the shootout with the kidnappers, and the loss of the baby that Cici had been carrying, Adam wasn’t sure he could make any rational decision right now. As he fell into a glum mood, Cici started to come out of her depression and was slowly returning to normal activities although they remained at the Ponderosa main house. Now Adam was debating whether he stay at the ranch or go meet Robert who was coming to see his uncle. Hoss and others had mentioned a time or two how Adam could get into a dark mood but Cici had never seen it until now. If the others were correct, he was blaming himself for all that had gone wrong.

“It’s not your fault, you know.”

“What’s not my fault?”

“Any of it! These things were done by men and by women who lack moral convictions. You cannot control them, and you don’t need to carry their guilt.”

“I can’t help it. I have seen it as my job for as long as I can remember to take care of my family, and I made a mess of it this time.”

“I know that your mother was not able to care for you, but certainly as you were growing, your father cared for you.”

“Pa was busy with moving west, and then with building the Ponderosa. Then there was Hoss to care for and then Joe.”

“But who cared for you?”

Cici knew the answer just by looking at his face. Adam had taken care of himself as long as he could remember. Keeping quiet, holding in disappointments, tolerating deprivation, and not crying so as not to add more to his father’s burden of responsibilities was his childhood. His pattern of holding it all in and trying to manage by himself continued in Nevada so that he and his father could care for Hoss and then for Joe. He was working a man’s hours each day even as a boy and acting as a man even though he must have carried the insecurities and concerns of a boy. Now he often didn’t know how to ask for help especially when his need was emotional.

Ben had been coming out of the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee and heard the last part of the conversation. He knew that Adam was not sure he should leave now in the midst of all the turmoil and potential danger to his family. Ben had seldom fully considered how deeply all those experiences of Adam’s early life had molded him but was beginning to realize it was far more than he had ever imagined. Well, it couldn’t be changed but the future could be different starting now.

“Adam, I would like to travel with you when you go to meet Robert. We can travel with him back to Wyoming too. I want to be with you to pay my respects to his family and friends. When were you planning on leaving?”

The query was so unexpected that Adam was speechless. He had never considered that a member of his family would want to go with him. Cici stood and walked behind the chair in which he was sitting and began to massage his neck and shoulders. It would give him a moment to think and construct an answer. She was almost as surprised as Ben when he answered.

“I would like to leave today. Robert is already on his way and Reg’s daughter may join him on the trip. Someone should be with them because neither of them is familiar with this area.”

“I’ll pack a saddlebag and go talk to Hop Sing and get some food sacks ready. Then I’ll see if your brothers have time to saddle our horses. You take the time you need to say goodbye to your wife and son. I’ll meet you outside whenever you are ready.”

“Cici, I’ll be careful but I would like to hold our son before I go. We’ll be back after we meet them and make arrangements to transport Reg.”

“He’ll be cranky if he wakes because he just fell asleep, but if you lift him with his blanket, he will probably snuggle right into your chest.”

Davy did just that. He squirmed a little but as soon as Adam held him to his chest, he snuggled in and continued to sleep.

The next day, Adam and Ben were back with Robert and a large carriage. They got Reg comfortably settled in the back, and then Adam went through the goodbyes again telling his wife once more to be very careful. She reminded him to be careful as well.

“I’ll be careful. I doubt anyone expects me to travel to Wyoming. I would prefer if you did not leave the ranch here until I get back.”

Worried about Adam and also about Davy, Cici nodded. After Adam laid his son back down and caressed his back until he fell asleep again, Cici wrapped her arms around her husband. She had tried not to cry but the tears flowed.

“Are you sure this is all right? I can stay here.”

“No, you have to go. It’s just that I will miss you so much and I will worry about you until I see you again.”

Adam understood because he felt the same way. He pulled Cici into a strong embrace. Barbara, Rachel, and the children were going to come downstairs, but seeing the couple together, Barbara turned and shooed them all back. They could stay upstairs a few minutes longer. Adam released Cici, and after grabbing his saddlebag from the bedroom, he buckled on his gun belt, grabbed his hat, and walked outside. Cici didn’t follow. It would just make it harder for both of them.

Ben and Adam were gone for ten days. The trip there and back was uneventful. The reunion was as highly charged as Adam expected it to be. They shared a lot of memories and news, but there was one problem. Robert felt that if Adam had not asked for his uncle’s help, Reg would not have been hurt. Reg’s daughter told him that Reg wanted to help, that he cared strongly about the cause, and that Robert should in no way blame Adam. That helped, but there was a reserve in Robert that wasn’t there before. Apparently, Reg had been planning to ask Adam if he could buy his share of the ranch. Adam agreed with the proposal after speaking briefly with Reg who had not mentioned that to Adam when he had been in Virginia City because he told Adam that there were more important matters to discuss. The plan was that Robert would operate the ranch with Bud until Reg was fully recovered. The money was transferred to Adam’s account and the paperwork was signed before they left.

“Adam, do you feel relieved that the CR ranch is no longer your responsibility or will you miss it?”

“Pa, I have to admit it is a relief. I’m glad that Bud will be taking care of Robert. I have taken too much on lately, and I wasn’t sure how I could handle it all. I was relieved that Reg’s daughter took my side with Robert. I hope that he understands someday and doesn’t blame me for Reg being hurt.”

“You could ask me for help whenever you need it. I can’t read your mind. I don’t think anyone can.”

Adam laughed. It had been a long time since Ben had shared a laugh with his son. It felt rather good too. For the rest of the trip they discussed some of the ideas that Adam had about the future of the Ponderosa and how to protect it for the future generations. One idea was shocking to Ben, and he realized he needed to think about it before he responded so that he wouldn’t be negative. He had never considered the possibility before. Adam had suggested that they start organizing the Ponderosa businesses into partnerships and corporations. He suggested that the mining be a privately held corporation. None of the mines were actually on the Ponderosa although a few were very close. The timber areas could be organized as a privately held corporation or partnership. Finally, the Ponderosa horse and cattle businesses would be organized the same way and then the land itself would be another entity. Therefore, when they were taking loans, they did not have to risk the entire operation. If any person had a claim against any member of the family, they could only threaten the amount actually held by that person. By including each son and grandchild as they were born, the wealth as well as the risk would be shared.

Adam had explained it to his father with examples. If someone came after him, they would only be able to threaten one eighth of the whole because Davy would also have one eighth. If he had another child or two, each would get a share in their name held in trust until such age as the family determined they could fully share in the responsibility of running the whole enterprise. The corporate entities could also start to purchase properties and businesses outside of the Ponderosa itself or they could create another one to do that. Each separate entity insulated the others from threats. Because all would be family owned, the family could transfer assets from one to another to help out as needed or to shield assets.

“Adam, to do this, it sounds like we need to hire some attorneys and probably someone to do the accounting, This will be too much for me, and you’re already doing too much by your own admission.”

“Probably, but remember, I’m suggesting this as a possible long term plan. We could try it with just the mines first if Joe and Hoss agree. We might separate the timber from the cattle next. That way we could see if it looks like it could work for us and proceed accordingly.”

“This is what I mean by never knowing what you are thinking. Never would I have guessed that you were thinking of something like this. I would assume you have been thinking about this for some time?”

“Yes and no. I thought about it in general terms as I thought about how to be more efficient and organized. But lately I have been thinking about it as another way to defend the family. The more we can do this, the less danger to any individual in the family. With the responsibility and the assets shared by so many, the loss of one would not be as damaging. Therefore, there would be less to gain by targeting any one of us.”

“You mentioned that you might have one or two more children. Have you and Cici discussed this lately?”

“Yes. It is a difficult topic. She wants to try as soon as Paul gives her the go ahead. I would like to wait a bit to be sure that the turmoil has diminished. With all that we do, there is always bound to be something disturbing our lives but hopefully not as serious as this current affair.”

“She may need to try as soon as possible. That happened with Marie after she lost a baby she was carrying. She needed to try for a baby to ease the hurt of the one she lost.”

Adam looked with interest at his father who had never talked this freely with him about his personal life. Maybe there really was a change in their relationship. He had been surprised and pleased that his father had made this trip with him and that he had not rejected his business ideas but was thinking about them. He smiled at his father then, and Ben looked back and smiled as well. At least this time, he felt he knew what his son was thinking and that was good. By then they were nearing the ranch and Ben could tell how anxious Adam was to get back. He encouraged Adam to ride ahead but he would not.

“Well then, son, got any race left in that old nag of yours?”

Ben kicked Buck into a gallop. Buck enjoyed this chance to run all out and soon was racing as fast as he could as his master gave him freedom to run. Ben knew that Adam on Sport would pass them easily, but couldn’t resist the urge to holler while he was still in the lead. Adam did pass him and without going all out stayed comfortably in the lead. As they raced into the yard, a number of people came running out and were shocked to see the venerable head of the Cartwright clan and the responsible eldest son having a race to see who could get home first.

“Dadburnit, Adam, it’s been peaceful around here until now. We been waiting for trouble and then you come running in here like you was being chased by the devil.”

Adam grinned, but Cici was there by then and grabbed Adam in a fierce hug. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with passion as if no one else was there. Hoss hugged his father and then shepherded all of the rest into the house to give a little bit of privacy to his brother and his wife. Joe’s two girls kept swiveling around trying to see what was going on. They weren’t used to seeing their parents being quite so demonstrative in public and found this to be very interesting behavior. Joe caught Rachel’s eye and the two of them shielded their daughters who were very disappointed but knew better than to defy either of their parents. Inside Barbara was holding Davy. Her pregnancy was seven months now and the need to nurture was growing. Hoss walked over to her and smiled to see the happy expression she had holding Davy who seemed to like her almost as much as he liked his parents. Hoss was looking forward to being a father and hoped all this trouble could be resolved before September when his child was due. Soon Adam walked in with Cici and headed directly for his son who threw out his arms and cooed with excitement as he recognized his father. Ben sat in his chair sipping a brandy and was more content than he had been in some time.

*****

Chapter 7

That night, Cici finally got to relax fully again too. “You and your father seem to have been very relaxed when you got home.”

Adam smiled at his wife as she rested her head on his shoulder and ran her hand through the hair on his chest. He knew that she was concerned about his relationship with his family and yearned for it to be closer and with less tension. With Hoss, every experience they had seemed to bind them closer together. His relationship with Joe would always probably be a bit prickly because of the nature of their personalities, but they had become closer since that last cattle drive and Joe’s trip to Wyoming to try to bring him back home. But with his father, it was taking longer to develop the closeness he thought they once had. Adam knew that he had been most of the reason for it because he was not satisfied with the old relationship and wanted his father to treat him as a man in business and as a son in family matters. It had been tumultuous so far but this last trip had shown that their relationship was growing closer.

“Yes, we talked a lot on this trip. He even talked to me about Marie losing a baby she was carrying. It’s hard for him even today to talk about the wives whom he lost especially the difficulties they had while they were married. It made me feel that he trusts me.”

Adam could feel Cici tense as he talked about losing a baby and understood that she was still emotionally very vulnerable. He felt it too.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were with child?”

“I wasn’t feeling well. There was so much going on that I didn’t want to add to your concerns. Now I realize the symptoms were probably because there was something wrong and that is why the rough treatment caused me to lose the baby.”

“It was seeing violence in your home including a friend being shot, and then getting hit, thrown, and forced to ride in a wagon bouncing over rough terrain and finally being caught in a gun battle and watching your son getting dropped on the ground by a man on horseback. That could have caused any woman with child to do that.”

Cici buried her face in Adam’s chest. He could feel the warmth of her tears. He felt awful about making her cry but didn’t want her to minimize what had happened to her. That would only lead to her feeling guilty about what had happened. He was very familiar with carrying a load of guilt and knew how harmful it could be. Cici had been passionate in their lovemaking. They had waited for everyone to go upstairs. Earlier as they sat outside after putting Davy in his cradle, Adam had whispered in her ear that he expected to make a lot of noise after missing her for ten days. He had asked if Doctor Martin had told her it was all right to have relations again, and she had nodded her head so enthusiastically it had reduced both of them to laughter. With everyone staying at the house yet, there was a concern for privacy especially as Joe’s girls seemed inordinately intrigued by the two of them. It seemed to Adam that every time he touched his wife or kissed her there were two pairs of eyes watching his every move. It was disconcerting. Anna at nine years old was especially curious it seemed. Adam had little experience with young girls and found this aspect of raising girls to be almost embarrassing.

“Sweetheart, I didn’t want to make you cry, but you need to place the blame on those men who did this. You did nothing wrong. We will have more children. It could be happening already, and if it isn’t, I’ll keep trying no matter how many times it takes. No sacrifice is too great.”

Cici poked him in the ribs for that one.

“Ouch! Well at least you poked the ribs. I’m a little vulnerable lying here like this so I suppose I should be glad it was my ribs you attacked.”

“Aw, should I kiss it and make it better?”

And of course that led to other things happening, and it looked like there would be another baby on the way soon if this behavior continued. Ben was walking by their room on his way to the kitchen for a cup of tea. He heard the bed creaking and smiled as he wondered if it was again or still. He was glad that his oldest son had found someone who loved him so unconditionally. All three sons were happily married now, but Cici probably had the biggest challenge in her marriage. Adam never did anything small it seemed. He loved with all of himself and was more loyal and protective than anyone Ben had ever met. However his temper and his dark moods were also on a grand scale, but Cici seemed not to be concerned about either. Perhaps she was the reason Adam was learning to control the negative side. Ben realized that lately the humorous smart mouth comments were still abundant but that the biting critical sarcastic commentary had diminished to almost nothing. It had to be the influence of Cici, but becoming a father may have been a very important factor as well. What Ben failed to realize was that his trust in his son and his respect for him had alleviated a lot of the tension in Adam and was more responsible than anything for his change in demeanor.

The next day Adam had to leave early for the lumber camps and the sawmill. With everything that had happened, he had been neglecting these two enterprises and there were contracts to be met. He needed to get up there to be sure that everything was working according to schedule. He would likely be gone a number of times in the next month to be sure those contracts were finished on time. The plan was that Cici and Davy would continue to stay at the main house until they were sure the crisis was past. Some ranch hands went to Adam’s home daily to see to the stock and make sure that all was okay. Having Barbara, Rachel, and the children at the main house meant that the time passed quickly for all of them.

The only news they got about the crisis that had affected all of them was good. Matt and Jed recovered enough to return to the bunkhouse. Everyone started to relax and Joe and Rachel started to plan for the move back to their home. Bethany Leigh was just a little sad though as she would miss her uncles especially Adam for the two of them were close. Every night he was home it seemed Adam was reading to her in the evenings. Davy would rest on his lap and Bethany would snuggle into his side as he read stories. Davy didn’t understand any of it of course but seemed to love the sound of his father’s voice as Adam read and adopted various accents and voices for each story. Cici and Davy would stay at the main house until Adam would be home every night. For now, each visit to the timber camps was an overnight trip. In addition, Adam needed to hire men to replace Matt and Jed so that he could continue the projects at his home until those two were recovered enough to work again.

By mid-August, Joe and Hoss returned from town with the best news yet. Sebastian Crane had closed the Enders Mining Company office and was leaving town. Crane had been defiant until the governor’s agents had visited him and mentioned that the attorney general was considering fraud charges against him. Soon after, he had hired attorneys to handle the sale of properties purchased and the liquidation of the assets of the company. Investors were getting back about ten percent of what they had invested. Mary Enders was ruined financially.

Joe and Rachel went with their daughters to open up their home and prepare it for their return. Hoss was in town with Barbara to see the doctor. Adam was away on another one of his trips concerning the lumber contracts. Ben was holding Davy and playing with him. More and more, Davy reminded Ben of Adam. At six months of age there was a quiet side of him unlike Joe’s girls, but he observed everything and had a curiosity about all that was around him. Unlike Adam though, Davy would have a childhood with parents to lavish affection on him. He would never want. Cici told Ben she was going outside for a walk through the garden and to cut a few flowers for the dining table. Ben nodded as he played with his only grandson.

Several hours later, Joe and Rachel came in the house. Bethany and Anna raced over to Ben to get a last chance to play with Davy. Their parents had told them that they would pack up their belongings and spend that night at home. It had not taken long to get the house ready, and all of them were ready to return to a normal routine. Anna asked where Cici and Barbara were. For the first time, Ben wondered what was taking Cici so long to take a walk and cut some flowers. He asked Joe to go outside and tell her to come in to say goodbye to the girls. Within a few minutes, Joe was back carrying an empty basket.

“She’s gone. I looked around and asked some of the hands and no one has seen her since Mary visited.”

“Mary? I didn’t see any visitors. Joe, get some of the men mounted up. We need to find out what is going on.”

Joe did the tracking but there was little to see. Once they hit the main road to Virginia City, there were too many tracks to follow any one set. Roads branched off and wagons and carriages had passed through all of them. They had no choice but to go all the way into town. Once there, they alerted Roy who with his deputies conducted a search in town. Mary Enders had left the hotel without checking out. All of her belongings were gone from her room. At the livery stable, Mary had rented a carriage and ironically and suspiciously had told them she was going to the Ponderosa and that he should put the charges on their bill. She was overdue. At this point, no one knew where she was. Clem came over to tell them that Mary had purchased food and other items at the mercantile that day and said it was for the Ponderosa so that also was on their bill. In addition to food, she had purchased rope, blankets, a lantern, and basic kitchen supplies and most ominously a small pistol and ammunition. Apparently she had spun quite a tale for the shopkeeper so that she could get all of these things. It was becoming clear that Mary had kidnapped Cici. By now Hoss and Barbara had joined Joe, Ben, and Roy. Adam was expected home that evening. Telling this to him was going to be traumatic but he needed to know. They needed a plan of action, and Adam was the best at that. They hoped he would still be able to do that even though his wife was undoubtedly in great danger. With heavy hearts, the group returned to the Ponderosa.

*****

Chapter 8

In darkness, Adam was trying to remember. There was something very important that he was supposed to do but he couldn’t quite grab that thought as it flitted through his mind. His head hurt so badly and there was a pounding that interfered with his thinking. He couldn’t open his eyes. At least he thought he couldn’t open his eyes. He had thought he opened them once but there was nothing to see so he guessed that he had not actually opened his eyes. There were people here but one voice he couldn’t remember at all. The other he knew belonged to someone very important to him but again that thought was as ephemeral as a ghost as it danced in and out of his memory. The other voice made him question if he was awake or dreaming. It seemed to be a person from the past and the present but was interspersed with a man’s voice except that man wasn’t here. He was mostly sure of that. Somehow this all should be making sense as part of a larger story, but the parts just were not fitting together or perhaps they did but he could not remember all of the pieces at once. Then it was quiet, and he wondered where the voices had gone. He waited and there was silence, and without planning to do so, he slipped into unconsciousness again.

Sometime later but he had no idea how long it had been, he awoke again. It was still so dark so perhaps little time had passed. Now he heard a new sound. It was a groaning sound and very close. Gradually he realized that it was his sound. He tried to stop the sound but it seemed to emanate from him without any conscious effort on his part. It was like another part of him that acted without input. But he heard another sound too. It sounded like ‘hmmm, hmmm’ and then someone pounding something into something. This was all very strange. Perhaps if he just waited, there would be someone willing to explain to him what was happening. He listened, and he heard something being slid across the floor by the sounds of it. Abruptly as that sound got very close, there was someone rubbing on his arm. They rubbed and rubbed. It was irritating but not painful. As quickly as it had started, it stopped and he felt warm breath on his face.

“Adam, Adam, can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?”

That voice was the one he liked. He tried to open his eyes but again it was so dark he couldn’t see.

“I’m trying.”

Talking was very hard too. Each word seemed to take so much effort. He closed his eyes to try to ready himself for the next task.

“Good, good. Adam, do you know who I am?”

Oh how he wished he could answer that question. He wanted to answer it so badly. He knew he would disappoint her if he couldn’t but he just couldn’t grab that name. He tried but nothing came to him.

“No. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right. You took quite a blow to your head. At least you can understand my questions. You are doing fine. Just stay with me.”

Adam snickered at that. How could he leave because he couldn’t even think correctly so how could she think he could get up and go. Understanding that Adam misunderstood, Cici leaned close to talk with him.

“I mean that you should try to stay awake. I’ll talk if that helps. Just open your eyes again if you want me to keep talking.”

Adam opened his eyes but now he had a question if he could just get it all out.

“Why can’t I see anything? It’s so dark?”

Adam heard a gasp then and she didn’t talk. She said she would talk so why wasn’t she saying anything. This felt better though. With her leaning on his arm and talking with him, he no longer felt that he was floating. Now if he could just remember who she was. He knew she was important to him. What was her name? He kept thinking and suddenly remembered a name. He hoped it was the right one.

“Cici?”

“Oh, Adam, thank God. Do you think you can sit up?”

“Can you help me?”

“No, my hands are tied behind me. If I turn, can you try to untie the ropes? If you can’t, it’s all right.”

Cici turned so that her hands were next to Adam’s hands.

“Reach forward and you will feel my arms and hands. Then you can feel the rope and the knot. I think it is a simple knot but I can’t reach it at all. If you can loosen it just a bit, I think I can slip my hands out.”

Adam worked at the knot for quite a while. He was so disorganized in his thinking that mainly he was just randomly pulling and twisting various parts of the knots hoping to loosen some part of it. Suddenly without warning, one strand he pulled came loose. Cici quickly began working her hands to try to expand the ropes around her wrists. Then she pulled one hand out and the knot dropped to the floor. She pulled the gag from around her neck and stuffed it in her skirt pocket. Quickly untying the ropes around her ankles, she bent to whisper to Adam.

“I feel cool air coming from deeper in the tunnel we’re in. Mary and her ally are out front barricaded inside the entrance. We have to go deeper and hope to find an exit. At the least, we will be hard for them to find. I’ll help but you have to try to stand.”

Adam slowly got to his knees with his hands still on the floor. With his head hanging down, he tried to get the dizziness to diminish. Cici was anxious to move but knew she had to let him regain as much of his equilibrium as possible so he wouldn’t fall. First he moved his hands to his thighs and sat back on his heels. Then with Cici’s help, he stood. One slow step at a time, Cici led him deeper into the mine. She carried a lantern in one hand. They had no food nor water so it was an act of desperation, but she had seen the look in Mary’s eyes. Mary would kill them before letting them leave this mine. Her companion seemed little better as he did whatever she said. Cici couldn’t tell if it was misplaced love and devotion or if the man was as crazy as Mary. Either way, they were not safe as long as those two were near.

Mary had taken Cici by gunpoint at the ranch. Once in the carriage, a man came from the trees and climbed in to take over the driving. At the mine, Mary had tied her hands behind her back and tied her ankles together after forcing her to write a note to her family demanding that an unarmed Adam deliver a large ransom. Once Adam neared the mine entrance, he had asked to see Cici before turning over the money. It had apparently been exactly what Mary wanted him to do. As he entered the tunnel entrance, Mary’s friend had swung a long stave and hit Adam in the back of the head. He fell face first and hit his forehead on the rock floor. Cici was worried that he would die until she heard him stirring. They had been forced further back into the mine when the sheriff and the Cartwrights demanded that Adam and Cici be released. Apparently Mary had not thought through the plan very well and had expected to kill Adam and then ride off with the money. Undoubtedly now Mary was trying to come up with a new plan. Cici worried what that might be and wanted to be out of Mary’s control before she decided what she was going to do.

Outside the mine, Ben and his sons were discussing a plan with Roy. There was no way to charge the mine. It was up a steep slope and they had barricaded most of the front. Joe had ridden to town to find anyone who had worked this mine and one man had said he did. He was with them now and had told them that there was an air shaft deep in the mine. It would be too small for a man of Adam’s size to be pulled to freedom. Cici could get out though. And a smaller man could get in. Joe immediately had volunteered. Shorty wanted to go in too. Roy and Ben concurred that it was probably their best option at this point. Canteens, firearms, ammunition, and candles were collected and put in sacks. They would be lowered first. If all went well, then Joe and Shorty would follow. If they could, they would get Cici to the shaft and the men up above would pull her up. Joe and Shorty would stay to protect Adam. They had seen him fall from the first blow and the fear they all had was not voiced was that they were not sure he was still alive. However until they knew otherwise, they were going forward believing both Adam and Cici still lived.

Inside the mine, Mary had discovered that her prisoners were gone. She could not understand how that could be true. Her companion suggested they must have gone further into the mine to get away. She couldn’t understand how that could be either. Instead she looked with wary eyes at the man who had been helping her for a share of the ransom. She raised her small pistol and shot him. As he fell, the shock on his face was complete. He had expected to kill Mary once they left the mine with the money. He had never even considered that she might have that plan for him. He fell forward from his knees and didn’t move. He would bleed out but was mercifully unconscious as it happened. Then she ran into the mine. She thought she could hide until her enemies were gone and then she would escape to wreak her vengeance. After running for some time, she heard voices ahead and wondered how that could be. She stopped and doused her candle. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she realized there was light ahead. She began to slowly creep through the tunnel toward the light.

Up ahead Adam and Cici had reached the base of the airshaft. There was a dim light emanating from it. Cici lit the lantern and turned up the wick just a little. She used the light to clean some of the blood from Adam’s forehead with some cloth torn from her skirt. Then she used the bandanna that had been her gag to wrap around his head across both wounds. Adam was keeping his eyes tightly closed. When he opened them, his vision was fuzzy, everything was dark, and there were multiples of every shadow he could see. It made his stomach rebel so he kept his eyes shut. Suddenly several sacks tumbled from the airshaft to the floor. Next they could hear noises coming from the shaft and after a few minutes, a man dropped to the floor next to them.

“Oh, my God!”

“No, Cici, not God, just me.”

Cici grabbed Joe in a hug. She was so relieved until Joe said she should go up the shaft, and he would stay with Adam.

“No. Adam is injured, and I need to stay with him.”

Shorty emerged from the shaft then and began opening the sacks they had dropped. He handed a pistol to Joe and kept one for himself. They had an extra that they had planned to give to Adam, but one look at him sitting on the floor with a bandaged head and eyes tightly shut, and Shorty knew he was in no shape to help.

Without anyone hearing the sound of someone approaching, a bullet was fired into the chamber in which the two men were standing next to Cici who knelt next to Adam. Shorty dove toward the lantern and smashed it plunging the area into near darkness. Joe dropped in front of Cici and Adam to shield them. Another shot was fired and missed again. At this point it appeared that a ricochet was a greater threat than the shooter. A simple question from Shorty was whether they should charge the shooter and Joe answered that they should. Immediately both rushed along the walls toward the tunnel where the shots had originated. Mary heard the noise and turned to run but was hit from behind by Shorty. As she fell her gun flew out of her hand. She began to scream and thrash about so that Shorty was having a hard time hanging on to her. Joe tried to help and finally hit her in the jaw, and she fell back stunned.

Ben, Hoss, and Roy had been slowly approaching the mouth of the mine. When no shots were fired toward them, they had grown bolder, and as they entered the mine, they heard voices approaching. With immense relief, they saw Joe and Cici holding Adam between them. His head was bandaged and hanging down but he was moving his feet and trying to walk. Hoss rushed over, and with Ben, picked up Adam to carry him out of the mine. Shorty came next with Mary slung over his shoulder. Joe told Roy that a little further back in the tunnel was a dead man but that they had not shot him. They had found the carriage that Mary had rented and used it to transport Adam and Cici back to the Ponderosa. Joe rode to get Doctor Martin at Cici’s request. With Adam’s injuries, she wanted a second opinion especially from someone who had helped Adam with other head injuries he had suffered.

*****

Chapter 9

Once more, Adam and Cici were ensconced in the downstairs bedroom. This time of course, Adam was the one that needed to rest and be quiet. He was not nearly as accommodating as Cici had been. He had always been a poor patient, and with all the responsibilities he had now, he was even grouchier at his imposed bed rest. Doctor Martin had concurred wholeheartedly with Cici that with the previous head injuries Adam had suffered especially the beating by Asa Moran and the more recent injuries he had suffered, they needed to be quite conservative in his treatment. At first his symptoms had scared Cici because of his persistent dizziness, nausea, headache, sensitivity to light, and sleepiness, but now that he was recovering and using less sleep powder and no laudanum, the other symptoms were diminishing rapidly. She was sitting on the side of the bed with him a week after he had been brought home with his eyes tightly shut against the light, and he asked her if he could please sit outside for a time.

“When the sun is higher, yes. There will be nice shade on the porch for you and likely no light reflected into your eyes. Just and hour or two more.”

“I’m not happy with the wait but I am very glad that I will be freed from this gilded cage. Perhaps we could think of something pleasant to pass the time?”

“You can’t. No excitement for another week at least. You can start back into doing some of your normal activities in a week.”

“Just a kiss?”

Cici knew better but she missed him too. She leaned in to kiss him and he wrapped an arm around her waist to draw her closer. The kiss lasted a long time and included a little more gentle touching before Cici knew she had to pull away. She offered to ask Hop Sing to make them a lunch that they could eat outdoors. He was disappointed that she had moved away from him, but he knew that her plan meant more time outside of the bedroom so Adam readily agreed that she had a wonderful idea. Davy would be awake soon and all three of them could have lunch together. Adam would enjoy holding his son as the two of them ate lunch. Lunch would keep Davy relatively quiet so that would help as well. Cici knew that Adam was far from recovered and she needed to find ways to accommodate his needs but keep him resting as well.

Rachel and the girls had been visiting and with Hop Sing, Barbara, and Hoss’ children had been busy in the kitchen making cookies. Anna made frequent trips to the dining room to place trays of cookies to cool on the dining room table. As Hop Sing prepared to shift from cookie baking to lunch making, he shooed the girls out of the kitchen. Rachel retrieved cookies from the table to place them in containers she had washed. Barbara helped Hop Sing prepare lunch. Anna and Bethany headed outside to let Hoss know it was time for lunch.

The rest of the day passed very pleasantly. Adam enjoyed his respite from the bedroom. He had tried to read but the words and letters still had a tendency to swim on the page, which aggravated his headache so he had quit soon after trying. Cici had warned him it was too soon and he was chagrined to see her watching him as he closed the book and set it aside.

“Oh, all right. You’re the doctor. I’ll listen.”

Cici walked over to him and suggested that perhaps checkers would be a better pastime. She went inside to get the new set that Hoss had purchased for playing outside. The board and the checkers were much larger and would be easier for Adam to look at. For a few hours they had a pleasant time playing and talking. It was the most relaxed they had been able to be for a long time. Finally Cici said she needed to go inside to check on Davy. Hoss had come outside and offered to take Cici’s spot playing checkers and Adam was only too happy to oblige him because it meant he could stay outside longer. Anna and Bethany came outside and asked Hoss if they could go look at the new kittens in the stable. Hoss gave permission but told them to stay back a bit as mama kitty was a little overprotective of her newborns. Joe rode in about an hour later and asked where Rachel and the girls were. In a short time, Joe came storming out of the stable with his daughters.

Anna had told him a story about what she had seen Adam and Cici doing. He challenged Adam for being so public in his affections. Cici asked Hoss to help Adam inside even as she asked Joe to please be quiet so they could talk about it. Joe didn’t want to wait but Rachel saw how red Anna was and she too asked Joe to wait. Once they had a chance to talk quietly, Joe said that Anna had seen Adam touching Cici intimately and had asked her father about that. Cici looked at Anna.

“The only place that has ever happened has been in our bedroom. How did you see that, Anna?”

“It’s your fault. You’re the one who didn’t close the door tightly enough and there was an opening that I could see through.”

“Especially after you pushed on the door a little?”

Caught, Anna didn’t have anything more to say because it would be a lie. She wasn’t very good at lying and knew what would happen if she tried. She knew too that she was in a lot of trouble already for being so curious and in asking questions she shouldn’t have asked. Cici went inside. Later, Anna came in the house with a tear-streaked face and apologized to everyone one-by-one in the great room. Then she went to sit on a chair near the stairs, and the pained look on her face as she sat was evidence enough that her parents had done more than talk with her. Joe and Rachel stood by the door and watched to be sure she did what she had been instructed to do. Joe asked if Cici was in with Adam and got a yes. He went to the door and knocked softly. Hearing a quiet ‘come on in’, he entered.

“Adam, I am so sorry. I had no right to say what I said. I hope you can find a way to forgive me.”

“Joe, could you sit with Adam for a bit. I need to check on Davy.”

Adam was sitting in bed leaning back into pillows piled up to the headboard. He lifted his hand to signal Joe to come closer. In a whisper, he made a request.

“Sit next to me so you can talk more softly. Talking loudly makes my head hurt.”

Joe sat on the bed and leaned back to sit at his brother’s side. In softer voices, they conversed.

“Adam, you are so lucky to have a boy. These girls are something else. Scares me all the time what could happen to them. My fear makes me act stupid some time, and I need to ask your forgiveness again.”

Adam smiled and laid his head back more.

“Never did take much to make you act stupid.”

Joe knew from the gentle jibe that all was well between them. Hoss peeked in the door and Joe signaled him to come in. In a soft voice, he told Hoss why they were being so quiet. Hoss came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Looks like everything’s all right with you two again.”

Without opening his eyes, Adam addressed Hoss.

“Joe thinks you ought to have a boy. With the way his girls act, I’m thinking all boys is not a bad idea.”

“Well it shur worked out all right with us, didn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I’m thinking about some of the things I did, and we both know some of the things Joe did.”

Joe snickered at that. All three were quiet for a time until Hoss offered something that they could agree to. “Maybe girls ain’t such a bad idea.”

*****

To Trust Again revised

chapter 1

The straps on his wrists were pulled tight. Sometimes they weren’t so tight and then the lash didn’t bite so much. But this huge man who tied his wrists wanted them tight so he knew this set of lashes would slice open his back, and he would be unlikely to be able to hold back the screams it seemed they always wanted. The ties were so tight they had pulled him up on his toes as his wrists had been tied to the rings in the wall that had all the brown stains on it. How many men had stood here like this? Like a pig trussed for slaughter. He was helpless and afraid. His back was bare because they had made him remove his dirty shirt first. A bucket of cold water was thrown over him to soften his skin. The lash could bite even better now. His heart began to race and his breathing became more shallow and rapid. Soon, soon, he would feel the first bite of the lash. How many had they said? Was it five or ten this time? He couldn’t remember as a panic began to settle in. It made it hard to think. Then the first lash hit and he tried not to scream but a groan escaped his lips. Then another lash and another and another hit and then he screamed. And he screamed again with the next lash. Through his tears he looked back to see Ben Cartwright, his father, holding the bloody lash and looking so proud of himself for what he had done. At each side stood a son: Joe on one side and Hoss on the other.

“Wake up, Adam, wake up. You’re having another nightmare. Please wake up.”

With a fierce shove to Cici, Adam woke. As consciousness returned, he was mortified by what he had done, and reached out his arms to pull his beloved wife into an embrace. Cici rested her head on his damp shoulder and held him close. She could feel his heart beating rapidly and his breathing was ragged yet.

“Was it the lynching nightmare or the whipping one?”

Pausing before he spoke, Adam took a few deep breaths first. These nightmares seemed to be dogging him. It had been years now and he couldn’t get away from the awful memories of almost dying in a lynching and then suffering the lash in prison.

“The whipping.”

“And your family was there again?”

Although he had been able to tell her his family was present in his nightmares, Adam had not been able to ever tell her the whole story of his nightmare that his family were the ones doing those things to him. He knew they had nothing to do with any of it, but in his nightmares, it was different. Cici had guessed a long time before though. She had seen the looks he sometimes gave his family on the day after a nightmare. She knew, but she was struggling with finding a way to help him. Finally she decided the direct approach was the only way. Davy was asleep down the hall, and they had built a small cottage house for Mrs. Bayer nearby so she could help during the day, but they had their family privacy at night. Kim had a room off the kitchen, which was a long way from the bedrooms upstairs. They could talk, and Adam had his nightmares, and no one else knew.

“Is it your family who do these things to you in your dreams?”

Adam looked at Cici in amazement. He had to wonder how she had guessed. He should have known though. He married her for a lot of reasons, but some of it was her intelligence and curious mind.

“Yes. I don’t know why. The nightmares would be bad enough, but with my family, it is so much worse.”

“They trust you now, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I think they do.”

“But you don’t trust them, do you?

Adam paused before responding. He had thought about this too. He trusted them, but in a crisis, Cici would stand with him, but his father and his brothers sometimes questioned him first. He wasn’t as sure of them as he needed to be. He also didn’t want to test the hypothesis. “I’m not as sure as I would like to be. I do trust them though.”

“Is that why you have taken on no projects lately. You have rarely gone to town and spend time working with the mines and the timber only. You’re healed from the concussion, but you begged off the cattle drive even though Hoss desperately wants you to go so he can be here when Barbara has that baby. If there’s a confrontation or a crisis, you’re afraid of what could happen, aren’t you?”

“I am not afraid. I worry about you and Davy. If something happens to me, what will happen to you? That’s what worries me.”

“Do you trust me?”

“How can you even ask that? I trust you with everything I have: my heart, my son, everything.”

“Trust me now. You need to go on that cattle drive. You need to face the trust issue with your family. At some point, you will make some mistakes. They will help you.”

“And if they don’t?”

“I know they will! They wouldn’t dare face me if they didn’t!”

Adam looked at her and smiled. His petite wife had the heart of a lion. She was fierce in protecting her own.

“With everything that’s happened, this drive is a little late in getting started. I’ll have to help them finish the roundup first. Hoss’ baby may be here before the drive even starts.”

“Doesn’t matter. Hoss will need to be with his wife and child.”

“How about me? Don’t I have to be with my wife and child? I have needs too.”

Cici smiled as Adam gave her that full dimple smile she loved so much, and she snuggled into his embrace. She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest. It tickled her all the time, and she loved it. She loved the feel of his chest on hers. She whispered that in his ear, and soon she had her wish.

The next morning with the dawn light breaking, Adam heard his son whimpering. After pulling on a pair of pants, he went to Davy’s room and changed his diaper. Then he took Davy to the kitchen and fed him a little rice cereal that Kim always had ready in the early morning. Once he cleaned his son’s face, he carried him upstairs and laid him in bed next to Cici. Davy loved these mornings and snuggled in next to his mama. After Adam finished dressing and checked to see that Davy had fallen asleep, he left to go see his brother.

At the Ponderosa main house, Adam arrived to find that only Hop Sing was already busy. He gave Adam a plate of eggs, ham, biscuits, and fried potatoes. Adam ate in the kitchen and chatted with his old friend. After about a half hour, Ben arrived at the kitchen door looking for a cup of coffee. As he greeted Adam, they could hear Hoss clumping down the stairs.

“What brings you here so early?”

“Came to tell Hoss that I’ll boss the cattle drive for him.”

“That is great. Hoss needs to be here, and Joe is so busy with the horse contracts, we can’t spare him. Everything is going well with the mines and timber then? And your head?”

“Cici gave me the go-ahead. Yes, the mines and timber operations are running smoothly. Wouldn’t hurt if someone would take a ride up to the camps though just to be sure. We’re almost done with our contracts for the season with ample time to spare, but I would hate for something to happen that could cause a delay.”

“Did I hear you right, brother? You’re gonna do the cattle drive?”

“Yes, but I hope it’s the last one I have to do.”

Hoss slapped Adam on the back and almost made him spit out his mouthful of coffee. He choked a little and then grinned at Hoss.

“You need to work on that backslap a little. Slap your baby like that, and it’ll want to go back inside.”

Joe walked in and found out the news.

“Got a good remuda for you. Candy is ramrod so the two of you should have no trouble. We were short of help but hired a few men yesterday who seem to know what they’re doing.”

“Good. So as soon as the roundup is done, we’re good to go.”

*****

Chapter 2

On the Sunday before the drive was to begin, Hoss brought Barbara to see Cici for a check up to see how she was doing. She was due to deliver soon and as far as Barbara was concerned, any time would be a good time. She was tired of being huge and carrying all the extra weight. Fatigued, grumpy, hungry, and moody was not how she wanted to live. She had been having backaches too which added to her general discomfort. As Cici closed the exam room door, Hoss sighed in relief and looked at his older brother.

“Adam, how did you ever do it? This is killing me. I would rather live with a grizzly bear than Barbara lately. Marie was never like this, but she was a real quiet woman about everything.”

“Hoss, Cici never got that large. Davy came a few weeks early. Your child is going to be a lot bigger than he was. I hope you’re ready for a tough time when Barbara has to deliver. It isn’t going to be easy.”

“Well, what do I have to do?”

“Hold her hand and comfort her until Cici gets there to take charge. Then listen to the things she says blaming you for putting her in this position, and you can’t say anything right, so say nothing.”

“Aw, Adam, now Cici didn’t do none of them things.”

Adam raised his eyebrows at Hoss in a way to indicate that he was sugarcoating what actually happened. Hoss gave him a questioning look, and Adam shook his head yes. Hoss dropped his head and sighed. The cattle drive was looking like a better option all the time. Then Hoss noticed a large pile of books on the table, just before the door opened and Barbara came out. As she waddled over to Hoss trying to maneuver her huge stomach around the dining room table, Hoss pulled out a chair for her to sit. Cici walked out to tell him everything was fine, but that she thought the baby could arrive very soon. Barbara noticed the stacks of books too.

“What are all these books here? Looks like you raided the library.”

“I’m teaching drawing and architecture to Cici, and she’s teaching medicine to me. We think this may be a great way to spend the winter months.”

“Only the two of you woulda thought that book learning was a great way to spend the winter.”

“Cici, I would love to see your drawings. I’m sure Hoss would be interested too.”

Cici started to get a little pink in the face. She did not want them to see what she had been drawing. Adam had suggested that with her knowledge of anatomy and physiology figure drawing would be the way to start, and he was the only candidate for a model because Davy would never sit still for more than a minute. All the drawings so far were of Adam, and he wasn’t clothed in any of them.

“Sweetheart, why don’t you show them your drawings?”

“Adam, you know I can’t.” Cici paused and thought a little. “Of course, if you want to show off a little by having your student show them what I’ve learned so far, I would do that.”

Cici smirked, and Adam started to get a little nervous. When she started walking to the stairs, he grabbed her around the waist and turned her back to the dining table. He was vividly remembering that morning’s session.

Her instructions had surprised him. “Don’t get dressed. Just lean back against the headboard and let the sheet lay over your legs just like it is.”

“This is not a usual pose for figure drawing.”

“I want something to remember you by when you’re gone. I would like to do something to enhance what I’m drawing, but if I do, I’ll never get back to my sketchbook here.”

So in Cici’s sketchbook, there were side views and back views of a naked Adam seated on a chair. However now there was also a full frontal view of him in bed with the sheet covering only his lower legs. He was not going to let anyone but her ever see that. He would burn her sketchbook first.

“No that’s all right. Maybe when she starts doing some landscapes, she can draw one for you. So far she only has beginner’s sketches.”

Luckily for Adam, Davy started to wail about that time and Cici went to get him. As she appeared at the top of the stairs a little later, he checked to make sure there was no sketchbook in her hands. Once downstairs, she set Davy down and he crawled over to his Uncle Hoss and grabbed handfuls of pants to pull himself into a standing position.

“Well, lookee here, Davy can stand all by himself.”

“Yes, it’s something he just started this week. Now he can get into even more mischief especially with his height. I think he may end up taller than his father.”

Adam was proud of his son who had turned to smile at his father. Davy liked to show off a little and reminded Adam of Joe when he did that. As soon as he saw his father smile at him, Davy dropped to the floor to crawl to Adam. Adam sat on a chair and Davy pulled himself up to stand at his knee where he grinned in delight.

“You two have such a happy child. There’s no indication that he was hurt at all by that ugly incident. I hope our baby can be that happy.”

Hoss wrapped his arms around his wife as well as he could. Suddenly, Barbara leaned back into him with a grunt, and wrapped her arms around her middle. Cici walked over to see if there was anything she could do.

“Do you want to have the baby here or at the main house?”

“It’s coming now?”

“I thought she was very close based on the exam, and based on what is going on, it’s now.”

“Is there time for me to go back to the main house? I would rather be in my own bed.”

“There’s time. Adam can you get our carriage ready. I’ll go along, and I think I may be there a while.”

Hoss helped Barbara out to their carriage, and Cici brought out some towels just in case. She expected Barbara’s water would break soon and she would need the towels. Once back in the house, she packed up medical supplies and an overnight bag for herself. Adam brought the carriage up and once she was on her way, he picked up his son and headed over to ask Mrs. Bayer to take care of Davy. Then he saddled up to head over to the main house.

Late that night Adam rode home alone. Cici was still busy with Barbara. It was going to be a marathon labor by all indications. Adam needed to get some sleep before he left on the drive the next morning. Hoss and Ben were there and Hop Sing was helping. It was just a big baby and it would be a difficult delivery. Cici had said everything appeared normal though so he wasn’t expecting anything but a good outcome.

At the main house, Hoss was wearing a pattern in the floor with his pacing or at least it seemed that way to Ben and Joe. After Adam left, he was worse. Adam always had a steadying influence on his younger brother. As the darkness gave way to daylight, there was still no baby. Suddenly Hoss stopped and groaned.

“Dadburnit, I never did tell Adam about those two jaspers we hired. It’s too late now. Knowing him, he already is out there getting ready to move.”

“Son, Adam isn’t going to hold a prison record over their heads. He’s worked with people like that before. He’ll judge them on their work.”

“Ya, Hoss, that Bud has a prison record, and he’s one of Adam’s best friends.”

“Oh, I ain’t worried so much about Adam. I’m worried about them two. They was both in Nevada Prison. What if they were in prison the same time he was? What if they try to use that against him?”

“He’s right, Pa. Those two are pretty young so they had to have been in there recently and unless they had very short sentences, they were there when Adam was.”

“I’m sure Adam can handle them.”

The conversation was cut short with a loud wail from upstairs. Hoss ran to the foot of the stairs anxiously waiting for permission to go up. It seemed to him that it took hours but it was only about five minutes and Cici came to the top of the stairs to tell him to come upstairs and meet his son, Gabriel Michael Cartwright. As Hoss entered the room, Barbara was holding their precious Gabe and smiled at her husband. She was very pale, her hair was wet, and she looked about ten years older at that moment, but her smile said that none of that mattered. Hoss sat on the edge of the bed and Barbara told him to take the precious bundle. Hoss gently picked up his son and held him to his chest. He may have been nine pounds, but was still a fragile gift. Hoss couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. Ben and Joe crowded the doorway to see the newborn. Hoss turned and showed off his son. There was a lot of noise from downstairs which was explained when two blond heads rushed into the room to see their new brother. Rachel was right behind them with her two girls.

“They couldn’t wait. I’m not sure they slept last night. We had to get here as soon as the sun rose this morning.”

“Hoss has a beautiful baby boy.”

“Maybe that’s what our next one will be.”

“Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

“Oh in about seven months, we ought to have the answer.”

Ben looked on proudly as Joe hugged his wife and then looked to his two girls.

“We’re going to have a baby! We’re going to have a baby.”

One would have thought it was his first instead of his third they were celebrating. Ben ushered Hoss’ children out and Joe did the same with his family so that Cici could examine Barbara and talk with Hoss and Barbara. After a brief exam, Cici wanted to be sure that they both understood that Barbara was not to get out of bed to do anything except use the chamber pot and that she needed someone with her when she did that.

“Yours is the most difficult delivery I have ever done that wasn’t a breech. There was some bleeding that has stopped, and the last thing we want is for that to start again. Anything you need will be done for you. Is that understood?”

Barbara nodded yes, and Hoss reinforced Cici’s statement by repeating it. Cici made them aware of what could happen if Barbara started bleeding again. She knew she was scaring them, but it was one way of insuring that they would do as instructed. Then Cici left for home. It was a short ride, and she wanted to see her son and sleep in her own bed, which is what she told Ben when he suggested she rest at the main house. She was disappointed but not surprised to find Adam already gone when she got home.

Out on the drive, things were going smoothly too for the first morning. Candy and Adam had agreed that they would push the herd hard for the first two days through the area badly affected by drought. There was little grazing to be done and precious little water. Once through those areas and into the more lush valleys beyond, they would slow to a leisurely pace or even stop for a day. The cattle would get the feed and water they needed, and the rest of the way should proceed without a problem they hoped.

As soon as Adam had started to help with the roundup, the two new hands had recognized him. They had been in prison with him and had participated in attacks on him. It had been a disappointment when he was released and the benefits they had been receiving for their work were no longer available. They blamed Adam for that in the illogical way many criminals thought. They grinned at each other when he showed up to boss the drive. They decided they would have some fun and get payback too as soon as they discussed how best to do it.

*****

Chapter 3

Staring at the barrier of flimsy fences ahead of them, Candy and Adam weren’t sure how to proceed. If they moved forward, it was trespassing and could cause all sorts of trouble. However, going around it would be prohibitively expensive.

“Adam, there were no fences here last spring.”

“Well, there are fences here now. If we have to go around these, it will cost us at least a week because there isn’t any water in either of the valleys near here. We have to head back east, go south, before we can move west again. Then we’ll be well south and have to head directly north before heading west again.”

“The cattle don’t have that much extra on them because of the drought. They’re gonna be downright skinny by the time we get to the ranches that ordered them. We’ll have to renegotiate the terms.”

“Candy, I know that. I’ll head out to see if I can negotiate a fee for letting us pass through. Hold the cattle here. I should be back by nightfall.”

It wasn’t that long though. As Adam and Candy moved to make a space for him to ride forward, shots were fired at their feet. Both of the men held back and waited as a group of riders approached.

“This is Fuller land. You ain’t got no right to take down that fence!”

“I wasn’t going to take it down. If I was going to take it down, I would just run the cattle over it. I wanted to talk to the owner of the fence about a fee for letting the herd pass through here.”

“No fee because there ain’t gonna be no passage.”

“Could I speak to the owner please?”

A young man rode forward and identified himself as the owner.

“Could we talk please and come to an understanding? We’ve driven cattle through here for twenty years. This is open range. It isn’t supposed to be fenced.”

“You got a badge to back that up? I didn’t think so. Now you just ride outta here. You come back and we’ll shoot any man or any cow that crosses this fence line. Unless of course, you wanted to sell them cows to me. I’m paying three dollars a head.”

Now they knew what the fence was about, but without a lawman to help, they were stymied. Adam and Candy rode back to the herd. There didn’t seem to be a good option open to them. They didn’t want to start a range war, they couldn’t sell at such a ridiculously low price, and any shooting would scatter their herd all over these hills. If they headed south, there was going to be a severe monetary loss, but it seemed the least awful of the choices they had. The trip had been plagued with trouble. Somehow some of the cattle had gotten some loco weed and went wild. After they seriously injured a drover who was now riding in the chuck wagon, they had to shoot several of the ones most affected. They had found several water holes fouled with the entrails of animals. They had had to push on those days in order to get to the next watering hole. The men were grumbling and a few threatened to quit but promises of a bonus if they got to their destination in time had quieted them. Now with this delay, there would be no bonuses and they might lose a few men. It would cost them a lot of their cash on hand and leave them shorthanded as well.

Charlie was cooking and as they got back, he walked over to Adam and Candy to tell them of trouble in camp.

“Some of the men are saying this drive is bad luck cause we got a jonah in charge. They’re saying if Hoss or Joe was bossing the drive, none of this would’ve happened.”

“That’s not true, Charlie. None of this can be blamed on Adam.”

“Course I know that. Just wanted you to know what the talk is. It’s getting nasty. Gonna be a mess soon. Almost all the talk that gets started is from those two new jaspers that got hired just before we left.”

Adam and Candy went to confront the men who were talking. When they got there, the men focused in on Adam.

“So the girlie boy is ready to talk to us. Hey, Nance, we’re real afraid now, ain’t we.”

Adam’s temper was on the rise, and Candy put his hand on his arm, but he jerked it away.

“You have something you want to say to me?”

“Oh yeah, Jess and me was wondering if the men here felt safe with you around seeing as what happened in prison and all with you and other men. We all know about the two men you hired to work for ya. Must make it real convenient for ya to have them so close and all right there when you feel the urge. Course they ain’t here now so maybe the men here don’t feel so safe around you.”

“Well, they should feel safe around me. I don’t know about you two though. In prison, I got beaten and held down so men like you could have their way. In fact, I seem to recognize you two now. If there’s anyone here they ought to worry about, it’s the two of you. I got a wife and a son now. You two just seem to have each other. What conclusion should we take from that? Who’s the girlie boys now?”

Adam had slowly moved so that the chuck wagon was directly behind him. Adam was baiting the two men, and Candy stepped back. He wanted to see what was going to happen first. Nance lost his cool and lunged forward and swung at Adam who stepped aside and propelled Nance into the side of the chuck wagon using his momentum to make him hit hard. Jess charged and Adam met him with a left upper cut and a vicious slam of his right arm across the back of the man’s neck. He was down and out. Nance staggered up from the ground next to the wagon, but a couple of blows to his midsection and his chin, and he joined Jess on the ground. Charlie walked over with a bucket of dirty dishwater and dumped it over the heads of the two men. As they gradually regained their senses, Adam told them they were fired. He reached into the chuck wagon and took some money from the cash box to throw on the ground next to them before he turned and stalked off.

For the next week, things went smoothly on the drive. As they approached the town of Sequoia, Adam and Candy rode in to talk to the sheriff.

“That damn Fuller. He’s tried that with the last several herds that moved through here. He’s hurting businesses in town. Nobody’s gonna want to drive a herd through here, and we used to get a lot of money with bosses buying stuff on the way through and letting the men have a night in town. I’ll ride out there with some deputies and tear that damned fence down one more time. If you would press charges, we could try to stop him from doing it again.”

“I’m sorry, but we have to make up time, and we can’t afford to wait. If it will help, I’ll try to ride back here when the herd is delivered.”

The sheriff nodded. He didn’t expect them back. He would need to find a way to stop Fuller from ruining this town. Adam and Candy rode back out to the herd, but Nance and Jess had been in the saloon and saw them. They started to plot revenge. The entrails and the loco weed hadn’t been enough. Now they really wanted to make a mess of this drive, and maybe get a chance to take some more direct revenge on Adam Cartwright who they blamed for all their troubles now.

That night, storm clouds started building. The herd was restless, and even with extra men out trying to settle them down, they kept milling about. Adam rode out and tried singing, but it had little effect. These cattle had been through too much and were on edge. Adam and Candy were taking turns sleeping. As Adam headed out to relieve Candy for the last nighthawk shift, shots were fired and his horse fell. He kicked his foot out of the stirrup at the last second and pushed free just as the horse hit the ground. The next words he heard made his heart race. ‘Stampede!’ He had almost nowhere to go. A tree nearby was his only refuge and he climbed as fast as he could. He felt the tree shake a number of times as the herd rushed by him, but his luck held and the tree remained standing. He climbed down and walked back to where the camp had been. The chuck wagon was destroyed and there were bodies around it. He assumed Charlie and the injured drover were dead but he would have to wait for daylight to be sure. Adam stood with his head down ad pressed his hand to his brow. This was it. The disaster he feared. He wondered what his family would think of the mess this drive had become.

“It’s not your fault.”

Adam turned to see Candy sitting on his horse behind him. He had another horse on a lead rope. He handed the lead rope to Adam and headed to where Adam’s dead horse lay. Between the two of them, they pulled off the saddle and tack and saddled the new horse.

“How bad is it?”

“We lost a lot of them. I’ll show you if you want. There’s a small draw up ahead that would have been a difficult climb down and up the other side, but running full out, the cows broke legs and necks as they went over. We shot the ones who weren’t dead already. We probably will have about two hundred fifty head when we round up those that scattered.”

“Any idea who shot my horse and started the stampede?”

“Didn’t see anyone. Coulda been Fuller. Coulda been Nance and Jess. Who knows. Somebody wanted you dead and made a good try at it.”

They buried the men who died. They salvaged what they could from the camp. The cash box had survived as well as some pans, pots, and such. With some beef from the cattle that perished, they would have enough food to finish. Adam paid off the men who had been hired only for the roundup and drive and sent some of the regular Ponderosa hands back home with most of the remuda. They were no longer needed. He and Candy and a few drovers would deliver what was left of the herd and then return as well. Adam wondered how his family would take the news of this disaster. Mostly he didn’t want to think about that too much. He and Candy helped round up the strays, and they moved out with the remnant of the herd the next morning.

*****

Chapter 4

On the Ponderosa, the drovers arrived back and debated which one of them should go to the main house and tell Ben Cartwright what had happened. No one wanted to do it so finally they all went to the house. One knocked and then stepped back to stand with his fellows. Hoss answered the door and was surprised to see the hands back. They weren’t expected for another two weeks or more.

“What you boys doing back so soon?”

But even as Hoss asked, he knew the news wasn’t good. The men were back early and they looked like somebody had shot their best friends. The men slowly filled him in on everything that had gone wrong and the role they suspected that Nance and Jess had played. They told him about the fences Fuller put in their way. Finally they told him about how someone had tried to kill Adam and sparked a stampede.

“None of it was his fault, Hoss. Things just went wrong one after another. It was like somebody was out there making sure we had lots of trouble. On the way back, we talked on it a lot and we think that them two new men was behind some of the trouble if not all of it. They never seemed as surprised as the rest of us with the messes we had, and they laughed about all of it too.”

Hoss knew he should have warned Adam about those two. Now he would have to tell his father about this when he got back from town and hope he would handle things all right. He thanked the men and said he would have their pay from the drive as soon as he could get into town for some cash. If they wanted to head to town, he would use the cash on hand to make sure they had a good night back. The men agreed that was a grand idea so Hoss retrieved the cash from the safe and paid each man twenty dollars.

When Ben arrived home, Joe rode in with news that the horses for all the contracts were ready to go. Ben and Joe were smiling until Hoss walked out to talk with them. Hoss told Ben he ought to sit down, and he did with apprehension when he saw some hands from the drive walk out of the bunkhouse and grab their horses to ride out.

“Is Adam all right? Why are those men already back?”

Hoss repeated all that he had learned and waited to see what the response would be.

“We’ll head out tomorrow morning. It’s too late now to make much distance unless you two would rather start now. We can be with Adam in about a week if we leave now and ride hard. Maybe a bit more if we leave tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll head home to tell Rachel, and be back here with my saddlebags packed in less than an hour.”

Hoss was already heading inside to pack his saddlebags and tell Barbara where he was going. Ben headed to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing to pack trail grub for them. They wouldn’t stop any longer than necessary. Adam’s life might be in danger, and they were going to be there to help him as soon as they could.

On the drive, Candy and Adam talked about their families and their travels. It seemed that they were growing closer by sharing the misery of this failed drive. After several days, they were nearing the stockyards where they would sell the cows they had. The grass was lush and water was abundant so they halted for four days to let the cattle recover somewhat from the trip. They had not pushed them for the last part of the drive so they were looking much better especially considering the trouble they had had. Once the four days were up, they moved the cattle to the stockyards. The owners who were expecting the herd came out to ask where the rest of them were, and Adam had to tell him of their losses. They commiserated about Fuller and his tactics that were costing the stockyards money too. This was the last straw. They decided they were going to send the marshal who could handle this as it was interference with interstate trade. He would back the sheriff and Fuller would be out of his tawdry little business.

Adam took the bank draft for the sale of the cattle. He went to the telegraph office to wire for money out of his personal accounts to pay the men. Once he had that, he went to the bank to get cash. He paid for rooms for the men and arranged for dinner for them.

“Then have a good time, but don’t get arrested because I don’t have enough money to bail you out.”

With a chorus of agreement to that, the men headed out to have a good time and Candy went with them. Adam headed to the bathhouse where he planned to soak for a bit to ease his tired muscles. Then after dinner, he planned to head to his room with a bottle and sleep once he had drunk enough. He had not had much to drink in years but felt that tonight he would make an exception. He had told Candy that he was heading out the next morning. Candy was to stay until all the men were ready to go and then ride out with them.

Adam had his bath and his dinner. In his room, he stared at the bottle of whisky he had purchased. He decided not to drink more than a shot. It wouldn’t help anything, and he would likely have an excruciating headache the next morning. Riding in the hot sun with a headache did not seem like a good idea at all, so he rolled the blanket on the bed back and lay down. Sleep was elusive, but he managed to get a few good hours. By dawn, he was ready to go. At the livery, he paid the fees for all the horses so that Candy and the men would not have to pay anything, and then he rode out. A few miles out of town, shots were fired and four men rode out from the trees on either side of him. They had rifles and pistols trained on him. Jess and Nance appeared to be in charge.

“Hand over that bank draft.”

Adam remained silent. Nothing he said would matter to these men. He had given the bank draft to Candy last night. They wouldn’t believe him or if they did, their anger would lead to the same result as if he had it. He felt he was a dead man at this point and thought only of his wife and his son. One of the men rode over and knocked him from the saddle with a rifle butt. Then two others dismounted and grabbed him by the arms. Jess walked up and demanded the bank draft again and then struck him in the abdomen. He doubled over with the pain but still said nothing. Nance pulled the quirt from his horse and told Jess to ‘ready the prisoner’ so Adam knew what was coming. That’s what they had said in prison just before a prisoner was whipped. Whippings took place with the other inmates watching so all were familiar with the routine.

“Take off your shirt!”

Adam stood and refused to do so. Jess ripped the shirt down his back. The two other men grabbed his arms and pulled him toward a tree. Adam tried to fight, but it was hopeless. Within minutes they had tied each of his wrists to the tree and now he was trussed and ready for the lash. The same feelings he had had in prison and the same feelings he relived in those nightmares were there. His heartbeat was rapid and his breathing became ragged. Adam squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears that were threatening. He waited for the first lash but there was none. What he heard was a familiar bellow.

“Stop! The first man who touches him with anything is going to be shot. Drop your weapons and move away.”

Nance dropped the quirt and tried to draw but was no match for Joe. He fell and groaned with a bullet wound to his chest. Jess dropped his weapon and the front of his pants suddenly got much darker as the odor of urine assaulted the noses of the men next to him. They dropped their weapons as well. Adam twisted around as much as he could. There was his father with his pistol in hand and a self-satisfied smirk on his face. On either side were his sons: Hoss on one side and Joe on the other. Hoss dismounted and walked over to loosen the bonds on Adam’s wrists.

“Heard ya had some trouble, older brother. We came to see if we could help out.”

“Thank God.”

“Nope. Thank Pa. He heard from the hands what happened and said we oughta head on out.”

*****

Chapter 5

Hoss noticed that Adam’s hands were shaking as he undid the ropes. He put his arm out to steady his older brother and Adam leaned into him.

“Let’s get you sitting down, older brother, and take a look at them scrapes you got. None look too bad but we don’t want any infection setting in. Pa, would you get an extra shirt for Adam as soon as you get those jaspers tied up.”

“There’s a bottle of whisky in my saddlebags you can use. I don’t have any clean shirts left. This one was but it’s a mess now.”

Hoss had raised his eyebrows at the news of the bottle.

“I was going to drink it, but I didn’t.”

Once Hoss had the whisky, he started to dab at the scrapes on Adam’s face and hands. Adam winced with each dab.

“Dadburnit, Adam, sit still. I seen you hold still with a bullet in ya, and for these little scrapes, you’re a squirming all over the place like a girl.”

Adam glowered at his younger brother who laughed.

“There, I knew my older feisty brother was in there.”

Ben walked over and handed a light grey shirt to Adam. “Might be a bit large but better than ripped or dirty. Heard you had quite a rough go out here this time. The hands told us about all the trouble, and that they think the two new hands were behind it all.”

“I’m so..”

“Don’t say that, son, none of this was your fault. Tarnation, if I was in charge, I think I would have blown my top like a volcano with everything that happened. The men said you kept your head and never took it out on anyone. Well except maybe those two, but from what we heard, they had it coming.”

“Pa, Candy has the bank draft. It isn’t much. I paid the men with my own funds. I didn’t have enough with me to pay the ones I sent back.”

“We’ll reimburse you out of the Ponderosa accounts. With the timber contracts and the mines paying out this year, we have enough, and that’s because of you so don’t worry about this any more. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Adam, I’m plumb sorry I forgot to mention that those two jaspers were in prison and mighta knowed ya.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. I thought they looked very familiar but didn’t take the time to think about how I knew them. I should have, but some of the memories from that time are missing details like clear views of faces. When I challenged them in camp, I remembered, but by then, it was too late.”

Joe walked over and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Sure glad it was you and not me on this drive. I think I would’ve shot someone, and probably would have been that Fuller fella. You going to go back to do anything about him?”

“No, the ranchers who run the stockyards are sending the marshal to handle it. Fuller is probably out of his sorry little business by now.”

Adam stood and put on the clean shirt. As he buttoned it up, Ben placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam looked at his father and then reached out to him. Ben wrapped his arms around his oldest son who laid his head on his father’s shoulder. Hoss and Joe each put a hand on Adam’s back. After a minute, they broke apart. Each of the men dabbed at eyes that were brimming with tears. Adam nodded at them.

“Let’s go home.”

“As soon as we get these three in to the sheriff and bury that one.”

At the sound of horses, all four men turned to see Candy and the drovers ride up. They were curious as to what had happened, and as soon as the story was shared, they helped dig a grave and then got the three prisoners on horseback. Adam and his family rode to town with them. The others waited at that spot until they returned, and then the whole group rode back together. That night in camp, the bottle of whisky was passed around, and the men regaled each other with stories of their travels that became more and more exaggerated as the bottle slowly emptied. By the end of the night, it wasn’t clear if Adam or Joe was the best story teller, but it didn’t matter as everyone laughed until their ribs ached as the brothers tried to outdo each other with tales of derring do.

As the group approached the main house of the Ponderosa, Adam was going to split off to go to his own home, but Joe stopped him.

“The ladies were planning to stay together at the main house. Should have been quite a treat for Hop Sing with three ladies, three girls, a boy, a toddler, and a baby.”

As they rode into the yard, there was a stampede from the house. Cici and Barbara were carrying their babies so Rachel was the first to reach the riders. All were relieved to see everyone back and safe. Adam swung down from the saddle to embrace his wife and child. Hoss rushed to Barbara who stood with a beaming Mark and Iris. Joe pulled Anna up with him and walked to the stable before dismounting. He kissed Rachel and Bethany and smiled.

“He’s back. I think he was worried about how we would react. But we’re good. One of the men who did it is dead and the other is in jail. The hands were right about those two.”

Similar stories were told by the other men. All of the family trooped back into the house. Adam greeted his sisters-in-law and then looked at his wife. He whispered in her ear.

“Is there a reason why I am embarrassing Barbara and Rachel? I looked and my pants are buttoned.”

Cici started to turn a little pink, and Adam got worried. He knew this news couldn’t be good.

“Well, Adam I was packing to come here, and the ladies were there because they came to get me after your father and brothers left. Davy was sleeping so I asked if they wanted some tea, and they did. So I went in to the kitchen to get the tea service and ask Kim to brew some.”

“Enough of the unimportant details. What happened?”

“Well, I had been working on shading the drawings I made, just like you taught me, and the light in the dining room is so much better than in our bedroom so I had the sketchbook with me, and I guess I left it on the table.”

Cici winced as she looked at Adam. He would know now wouldn’t he? Did she actually have to say it?

“Cynthia Catherine, are you telling me that my sisters saw those pictures of me?”

“Well, I guess so. Apparently, Barbara saw the sketchbook and told Rachel that I was learning to draw and you were teaching me so they opened the sketchbook. I don’t think they stopped at the first page.”

Joe’s giggles in the background that were soon joined by loud guffaws from Hoss let Adam know that his brothers now knew the story too.

“Well, perhaps it would make you feel better to know that they were quite impressed.”

“Please say they were impressed with the skill of the artist.”

“Well if that’s what you want me to say.”

Adam was quite a bit taller than Cici but at that moment, he felt smaller. Joe walked over and slapped him on the back.

“Well, Rachel thinks that Cici is one lucky woman!”

“Joe, not another word!”

Ben was mystified as to what was happening until Hoss walked over to him to tell the tale. Ben couldn’t help himself and started laughing too. Hop Sing was giggling as he stood at the kitchen door as the ladies had shared the story as all had worked together for the past ten days.

“Dinner served. You all eat now when food is hot. Eat now. Eat.”

Adam and Cici grabbed plates of food and Davy to head out to the porch to eat as there wasn’t room at the table for all of them.

“How are you feeling, really?”

“Better. No nightmares for the last three nights. Memories are flooding back in though. Things are more clear now. It’s not that I’m remembering more that happened but the details are showing up.”

“That’s good. Your mind is healing too.”

“No more headaches either.”

Joe could be heard from inside doing his best to use Adam’s story to entertain.

“He didn’t need to fight the men to be ‘bull of the woods’. He could’ve just showed them.”

Adam grimaced when he heard that and even more with the laughter that followed.

“Well except for that particular headache.”

Adam noticed that Cici’s plate was piled high with as much food as he had taken, and it wasn’t for Davy because he had his own plate. He had a suspicion that he might know the reason.

“Is there something you would like to tell me?”

Cici smiled at him and stood next to him, pulled his hands to make him stand, and wrapped her arms around him.

“In about six months, Joe and Rachel will be welcoming a new baby. So will we about a month later. And yes, I am feeling fine. Hungry as a bear and no nausea.”

Adam kissed his wife passionately and whispered in her ear what he wanted to do when they got home. Davy wanted in on the hug so Adam picked him up. Ben walked outside as Adam and Cici were each kissing one of Davy’s cheeks.

“Sandwich kiss!”

Davy laughed and grabbed their chins to pull them in for another. Ben smiled and walked over to the happy family who filled him in on their joyous news. After heartfelt congratulations, he hurried back in with permission to tell the news to the others. Soon there was a chorus of cheers from inside. The future looked bright and rosy again.

*****

Rambling Rake revised

Chapter 1

Was there a special place in hell for any child who would kill their father? The court had said the killing was justified, but would any father out there truly accept that verdict? Would any mother? Repentance was elusive and forgiveness absent. Chris had tried but would try no more. Chris would live life and accept fate. God would decide. He was merciful was He not? Perhaps He could forgive even if this soul could not forgive itself. Their father had been an evil man. Their father was caught raping his daughter whom he had beaten nearly to death to force her. Their father had stood with pants around his ankles and had turned to snarl a “Get out of here” command, but that time, Chris couldn’t obey. There had been too many awful orders. Too many beatings. Too much blood. It had to end. Chris had raised the shotgun and fired without a comment, without torment. That would all come later and haunt the dreams of every soul searing night.

Chris’ pretty sister was never so pretty again. They moved from Lexington to Louisville but it wasn’t far enough. Next they moved to Paducah that was far enough away that none had heard the tawdry tale. Chris found work. Chris’ sister had caught the eye of a man with wanderlust, and he had followed them from Lexington. The dark haired man with the gorgeous face and dazzling smile was also kind and good hearted but Chris had refused his offer to marry the younger sister so traumatized yet. But he came back intent on getting a positive answer and more forceful and determined so Chris had blessed their desire to marry. The couple had wed and traveled west to go to his family’s ranch in Nevada. Maybe he could bring peace and security back into Chris’ sister’s life. Without the responsibility, Chris’ nights became longer with dreams and nightmares, so after selling what little that was owned, Chris booked passage west to hope to lose the dreams and the nightmares. Many careers were tried and most would have been amazing to former friends. There was work as a shopkeeper, a barkeeper, a wrangler, and most outrageously as a minister, the damned father’s first career before he took up horse farming. None of them gave any satisfaction or peace. So when the offer to work for the U.S. Marshall’s service had come, agreement had been easy. They wanted Chris because of the possibility to work undercover as disguises had been necessary for many of those previous jobs. The ability to shoot anyone who needed it without remorse was an added benefit.

That’s how Chris ended up on this snow-covered hilltop with the only friend Chris had in this world since leaving Kentucky.

“Chris, do you think we can take them if they ride up here in force?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have enough ammunition over there?”

“Yes.”

“See anything moving yet?”

“No.”

“Can you say more than one word at a time?”

“Yes, David.”

“Ha, very funny. You remind me of another marshal I worked with. He was as taciturn as you, but he was a lot more fun in a bar fight. I didn’t have to watch out for him.”

“Adam Cartwright?”

“Of course.”

“You see him any more?”

“No. I’m afraid to go see him after what I did. I should have known better, but Darcy was so upset. The evidence seemed overwhelming, and I knew the temper he had. I should have questioned it a lot more, but I didn’t. He spent two years in hell for something he didn’t do while the guilty parties got to enjoy themselves. How do you apologize for something like that?”

“All I know is that I wish my sister had never met him. She’d be alive today if not for him.”

“Now, Chris, they were in love. He spent years tracking down her killers. You don’t know that she would have been safe staying in Kentucky. You know why too. Harm can come from anywhere even within your own family. My guess is that she was truly happy with Adam even if it was only for a few months.”

“Maybe my sister was happy for a bit. Perhaps I ought to go see him. Ask him to tell me what her last months were like. Find out where she is buried so I can at least go pay my respects.”

“Oh, oh, here they come.”

David King stood behind the boulder he was using for cover and prepared to fire at their assailants, but he never fired a shot. Chris heard him grunt and looked to see him fall to his side. Behind them was one of the antagonists they had been hunting until the hunted became the hunters. Chris fired from the hip and he fell. Turning to aim carefully, Chris fired round after round with a Henry rifle at the charging men who had been so confident of their plan that they had not prepared a contingent plan for cover if the assassin they sent above the two marshals failed. Chris shot each man then calmly walked out to assess the damage. Two were dead and the third was gut shot and wouldn’t last long. Chris knew David was dead the moment she had seen him fall with blood spurting from his chest over the snow. No one could survive such an injury out here with no medical care and maybe not even if a doctor had been right there. Chris buried all of the outlaws with rocks and stones after removing enough to identify each. With some difficulty, David was tied over his horse. He would be buried with dignity in the nearest town. Telegrams would have to be sent. And a letter of resignation had to be written. With adequate funds in the bank, a trip to Nevada to meet Adam Cartwright would be the next order of business.

*****

Chapter 2

Joe was excited and grinning impishly too when he addressed his father. “Hey, Pa, I hired a new hand. It’s a friend of Adam’s. Great with the horses. Gonna be a great asset to the Ponderosa. Name’s Chris. I bet you are really going to like this one.”

Ben heard the words but was more interested in the look. “Joseph, what is it you are not telling me?”

“Aw, Pa, didn’t you put me in charge of the horses and the wranglers? Haven’t I been doing a good job with them for years now? Hey, you know by summer, we could have enough horses to try for an additional bid this year. What do you think? Should we go for it? Could be a lot of extra profit. What do you think?”

“I think that you are not as good as your brother Adam in evading my questions. Now, what is it you don’t want me to know?”

“The new hand’s a gal, Pa!”

“Aw, Hoss, did you just have to blurt it out like that? Now, Pa, she comes with a lot of background experience. She grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky and really knows horses. She’s worked as a wrangler before too. You shoulda seen her quieting down some of the horses we were trying to break.”

“Joseph, I do not want a girl working with the men. And where would she stay? She can’t stay in the bunkhouse.”

“Well, Pa, she ain’t exactly a girl.” Hoss leaned against the desk and waited for Joe to explain the rest.

“How is a gal not a girl, ‘exactly’?”

“Well she’s old. She’s older than even Adam, I think. And she dresses like a man, and she carries a sidearm too.”

“If she is female, she is not staying in the bunkhouse!”

“Well, that’s just what I thought, Pa, so I thought we could fix up a bunk in the tack room, and she could stay there.”

Joe looked with a self-satisfied smirk at his father and at Hoss, but his expression turned to a bit of dismay as he saw how his father looked. He tried his best sad puppy dog look, but it hadn’t been working as well lately. Probably because he was almost thirty years old, and his father no longer thought of him as a kid which was great in some ways but weakened his bargaining power in other ways.

“Pa, this is important. Can we just give her a chance?”

“If Adam will let her stay in his bunkhouse, yes. Otherwise, I can’t see it working out. He added a room to his and it’s separated from the main part so if she could stay there, I guess we could give it a try. If she is a friend of his I don’t see that he would have a problem with it.”

Joe was a little nervous on this point because although Chris had said she knew Adam, he wasn’t exactly sure if they were friends and had exaggerated that point with his father. Well, he would have to bring Chris in to meet his father anyway, and then go see Adam. Joe walked to the front door and asked Chris to come in. As she entered, she was shocked to see Ben Cartwright. He reminded her so much of her father at that moment that she had trouble speaking. Ben was courteous to her and explained his objections to her staying at the main house, but that he thought she could stay at Adam’s place. Ordinarily, she might have objected to his suggestion, but thought it would be best to be as far away from where this man slept as possible under the circumstances.

Ben had the opposite reaction. He found himself staring at the dark haired woman who had been introduced to him. She wore men’s clothes and carried a sidearm but there was no doubt that she was a woman. Her walk and her speech were feminine. He wondered why she dressed as she did and worked as she did. In fact, after she and Joe left, he spent quite a bit of time thinking about her. Hoss poked him in the arm once as he sat at his desk.

“Pa, did you hear me?”

“No, Hoss, I’m sorry, I guess my mind was miles away.”

“I was asking if you wanted to go on a picnic with us tomorrow after church. Barbara wants to greet spring with a picnic and if the weather holds, I think we would like to do that tomorrow.”

“Are your brothers and families invited too?”

“Well I asked them, but with the babies so little yet, they both wanted to wait to make sure their wives thought it was a good idea before they came with the babies. Adam will bring Davy regardless and Joe is going to bring Anna and Beth.”

“Well, then, I will definitely be there. Can’t miss a picnic with my grandchildren.”

Barbara came downstairs then with Gabe who was getting very heavy at eight months of age. She set him on the floor as soon as she could, and he crawled to his father. Barbara had been feeling fatigued and a little nauseous lately and was worried about what it meant. She and Hoss had been careful, but only abstinence could prevent a pregnancy, and they were unwilling to consider that. Oddly but understandably, she was hoping that perhaps she was ill but no one else in the family was feeling down so it was likely she might be pregnant. It hadn’t been long enough for her to forget the difficult delivery she had with Gabe. Looking into the future with another one of those was a little scary. Hoss saw her look and asked how she was. In a rather distracted way, she answered that she was fine, but both her husband and her father-in-law suspected too that she was with child.

Ben felt that the risk was too great, but knew the difficulties in avoiding a pregnancy especially with two who were married just over a year now. And with Joe’s new son, Benjamin Daniel, and Adam’s new son, Jacob Anthony, there were plenty of grandchildren in the family. Hoss had very mixed feelings as he feared for his wife’s health but would be overjoyed with another child. He didn’t know what to say so said nothing. It would be that way until Barbara found out one way or another if she was pregnant or ill.

Another unusual conversation in several parts was going on at Adam’s home. Adam did know Chris, but the whole situation was very messy. The meeting between Adam and Chris was a bit cool as neither showed much enthusiasm to be in the other’s company. He graciously accepted that Ben wanted Chris to stay in the bunkhouse, but wondered what Cici would say when he explained the entire situation to her. No one in his family knew this whole story, and most knew very little actually about his first wife. Both Cici and Joe saw him put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and knew that there was a lot he wasn’t saying. Chris had an enigmatic look on her face that none could read. Joe helped her get settled in the bunkhouse and then walked back to talk more with Adam. Adam opened the door before he could knock. He had been expected. Adam addressed his wife and brother without them having to ask.

“I know that I need to explain some things to both of you, but please bear with me if I can’t finish this story. Please have Mrs. Bayer take care of both of the children, and we’ll go in the study to talk.”

Adam had reclaimed his study from Cici after building her a small office on the end of the house with a separate entrance. Cici was also spending one or sometimes two days in town working out of Doctor Martin’s office. That helped the doctor to be able to travel to see some of his patients who lived a long distance from town and gave regular office hours to Cici so some patients could schedule visits with her that were more convenient than traveling to her home. Some patients who lived west of town still came to the house first. It was near the road so it was still convenient for some. So the study was now an area of the home where there was privacy when needed for situations like this. Adam pulled the door closed and told them to sit. He took a moment to steady himself before he began talking.

“I met Chris when I was working in Lexington on a horse farm that was owned by a man I met in college. Chris worked on her father’s horse farm. It was her sister to whom I was attracted though. We spent a lot of time together and were talking of a future together, but she was brutally attacked by her father and Chris shot him. They held an inquest and Chris was cleared as the verdict was a justifiable killing. Chris and her sister left though after selling their farm. I followed them to Louisville and then to Paducah. I spent time with Victoria and tried to help her recover. If that was all I was able to do, it would have been worth it. She healed and we again made plans to marry, but Chris talked her out of it. I think Chris actually forbid it. Eventually I came back here, but when I left again, I went back there determined not to take no a second time. I didn’t and was bringing her here as my wife when …”

Adam couldn’t talk. He had never in his life yet told this story to anyone. He had written much of it down in a journal that had been read by a few. That had been cathartic in some ways but not enough. Ann had read it as had David, and Hoss first and then the rest of Adam’s family had read it. Cici had read it as well and found it heart wrenching. Adam continued the story in bits and pieces as he managed to talk in ragged fragments. Arriving in Nevada, they had helped a Shoshoni boy who was being brutalized by several white men. They had helped the boy, bandaged the most serious of his injuries, fed him, gave him water, and laid him down to sleep. The next morning, he had been gone. The evil men who had attacked him though, bushwhacked Adam and Victoria and severely wounded him and brutalized her before their attack killed her. They left him lying there next to her body. A Shoshoni party showed up to show their gratitude for what Adam had done for one of theirs, but instead they rescued Adam and did a traditional Shoshoni burial of Victoria. Once recovered, Adam spent years seeking the men who had done this terrible thing. Now Chris had shown up, and Adam wondered what she had in mind.

“We wondered about you saying the Shoshoni had rescued you because that was never explained in your journal and none of us ever wanted to question you about anything you had written in there.”

Cici had wondered too, and Adam had given her only a vague explanation. This story was far worse than anything she had imagined. She sat next to Adam during the entire telling of his tale and held him. Joe moved to sit on Adam’s other side.

“Adam, I am so sorry. If I had known that hiring Chris would cause you this kind of pain, I never would have done it.”

“It’s all right. Once she showed up here in any capacity, the story would have to be told. It was one of those things I thought I could keep buried, but now it’s out. I don’t think I could have said this much if you had asked me a few years ago. Having you with me, Cici, has made me stronger. It is the only way I could face this.”

Cici didn’t know what to say so she kissed him. She had to let him know that she would stay by his side through anything. Joe put his hand on his brother’s shoulder to show the same support.

“Adam, can I tell Pa what you told me?”

Adam nodded yes. Hoss would be there too and could hear the telling of the rest of the story. The whole family would know. In some ways, it was a relief, but he didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it. He asked Joe to let their father and Hoss know that too. If he talked more, it would be with Cici. Joe nodded and took his leave. Adam and Cici sat in each other’s embrace for a long time. Finally Cici broke the silence.

“Under the circumstances, should we invite Chris to stay here in the guest bedroom?”

“I think we need to find out what Chris’ agenda is. She showed up here for a reason. Let’s wait until she let’s us know what it is.”

Adam and Cici stood and went to retrieve their sons from Mrs. Bayer. Her day would soon be done, and she would retire for the evening to the small cottage that Adam had built for her between the house and the bunkhouse. She felt safe there, but also had her privacy. Both of them were starting to think of her as a grandmother to their sons. A widow with no children living in the area, she doted on the boys as if they were hers. On days like this, Adam and Cici appreciated her all the more. Adam took Davy who hugged his father and looked at him quizzically as if he realized something was wrong. Cici took Jacob and sat in a rocker to nurse her son. Adam’s mind whirled as he wondered if his peaceful family life could remain this way or if Chris meant turmoil. All he could do at this point was wait.

*****

Chapter 3

That night’s dinner was more somber than usual at Adam’s home until both Adam and Cici realized their moods had affected the children. Cici began by teasing Adam a bit and he responded to her gentle words with some of his own teasing back. Soon laughter replaced the serious tone and Davy was asking to sit on his father’s lap. Jacob was cooing in his mother’s arms. Adam sat back as they finished dessert and realized that with Cici, he could face anything. She noticed the look on his face.

“What are you thinking?”

“I am thinking that I must be the luckiest man in the world right now. I have a beautiful wife and two precious sons. What treasure could there be on earth that is worth that?”

“What brought that on?”

“Today. I was worried all these years about facing my memories but sharing with you and Joe helped. I feel like a weight has been lifted. Tomorrow at some point I need to go talk with Chris. I need to tell her about her sister. I hope she understands. That woman has suffered a lot of loss in this life. I would like to see her find some happiness too. If that’s here, then I’ll help her all I can.”

“Why not talk with her tonight?”

“A man knocking on her door at night is probably the last thing she needs. We’ll let her settle in and talk tomorrow. She has Matt and Jed next door in the bunkhouse to talk with if she wants. She’ll likely want to get to know some of the people she is going to be working with on Monday.”

“Do you think that what happened to Victoria happened to her?”

“I suspect it may have. Why do you ask?”

“Well it could be why she dresses the way she does and works a man’s job. She may be trying to hide away from being a woman so no man will treat her like her father did. She did seem very reticent about talking with you and Joe. Her words were clipped and the sentences only as long as necessary. You two made her uncomfortable it seemed.”

“She has always dressed and talked that way since I have known her. There might be some truth to what you said. She was taller and stronger than Victoria. Maybe she fought him off and then used her men’s clothing and manner to keep him away from her.”

Adam saw the thoughtful expression on Cici’s face and worried what she might be thinking.

“Don’t start plotting now of ways to ‘fix’ things. Chris has the right to live any way she wants. If this is what’s right for her, then we should accept it. She’s older than I am so she has settled into her routine. Let’s not mess that up for her. She’s a strong woman. If she wants to make a change, she will.”

“We could help.”

“Only if she asks.”

Cici knew that Adam was correct in this reasoning but couldn’t help thinking that as a doctor she had a duty to heal. She was sure that there were wounds that Chris had been suffering from for years and her heart went out to her. Then Cici focused on one of those things that Adam had said.

“Older than you, huh? Well it’s a wonder she can even walk much less ride a horse. Perhaps we should just get a rocker so she can rest her old bones. Perhaps you would like one too, and then the two of you could rock and watch the clouds go by.”

“Woman, when we get these two children to bed, I’ll give you some idea what these ‘old bones’ can do.”

“Promises, promises.”

Cici started to giggle as Adam tickled her then and Davy helped. She set Jacob in his cradle and then whirled on the two with some tickle plans of her own. Soon the three of them were in a pile on the rug in front of the fireplace laughing. With the warm night, the windows were open and the joyous family noise traveled. Chris stood outside the room she had and listened. He seemed happy. Did he deserve this happiness after what had happened to her sister? She would watch and listen. She remembered David’s words but also needed to take the measure of the man for herself. The next morning she was up and having coffee with Matt and Jed as she saw Adam go to the stable to get his carriage ready. After a short time, he and his family left for church. Matt and Jed had worked for the Ponderosa for a number of years and filled her in on the recent family history. She was able to fill in a lot of holes in the story that David had told her and learned more about the other members of the family.

It seemed these Cartwrights had committed many necessary acts of violence destined to prepare the way for civilization to develop here. But what was the cost? How had it changed these men? She had done the same and knew that it had changed her in fundamental ways. Now she wondered if there was a place for her in this changing world. She was not a proper and chaste woman and would be shunned if she chose to act the role of a woman in this society. But she wasn’t even sure if she could now if she wanted to try. Her father’s violent assaults had tested her character and found her to be tough and resilient. If only she had realized years later that her victory over him had meant that her much younger sister would be subjected to the same assaults. Then when Victoria asked her how to keep him away because she wanted to be with Adam only, Chris had told her to fight. If only that had turned out better but Victoria was no match for her father’s strength and fury. His assaults on Victoria left great guilt in Chris’ heart.

Chris was beginning to think that her anger at Adam for her sister’s death was a way to avoid her own heartfelt guilt at her sister’s fate. She had seen the resemblance Cici had to Victoria but also that Cici was a strong woman despite her size. What she learned this morning from the two men reinforced her first impressions. As she watched Adam with his family, she realized that is what Victoria could have had. The other first impression that kept slipping in to her thoughts was that of Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of this empire. He had an uncanny resemblance to her father especially with that booming voice that sounded like a fire and brimstone preacher even as he spoke more softly. Yet, she found that she had been attracted to him immensely and that upset her more than anything. How could she be attracted to a man who resembled her father so much? She tried to banish those thoughts but they kept intruding.

At church, Ben Cartwright was having some of the same problem. Chris was not at all the type of woman who normally attracted his attention, but there was something compelling in her look. Ben looked with admiration at his family. They took up quite a space in church now. Adam with Cici and their two sons were on his right. Hoss and Barbara with Gabe were on his left with Iris and Mark. Joe with Rachel and their three children were right behind him. And yet there was an empty spot in his life now as he watched his sons with their wives. He had thought he would never marry again, but that was when he had his sons living with him. It was so much different now. They were wrapped up in their families and had far less time to spend with him. He rarely saw Adam any more during the week as he handled the mines and the timber operations. Joe was there more often but the horses kept him busy, and he was adding on to his home now with Adam’s help so that kept him away even more. Hoss was in the house, but when he came home from handling the cattle part of the ranch, his time was spent with his wife and children. Ben was lonely and wondered if he needed more friends or if he should consider pursuing a woman to be his wife. And again Chris intruded on his thoughts. Finally he forced himself to focus on the sermon and almost groaned aloud when he realized the topic was Adam and Eve and marriage.

*****

Chapter 4

After church, the Cartwrights formed a caravan of carriages as they headed to the lake for a picnic. The afternoon was filled with the laughter of children and their parents who had spent a lot of time indoors and found this afternoon under clear blue skies with a mild breeze to be invigorating. Several times, Ben noticed Joe giving Adam looks and Adam responding with a shrug. There was something going on, but it didn’t appear to be too serious. Finally it was Adam who asked Ben what was wrong which was a big surprise to Ben.

“What makes you think something is wrong?”

“Oh, it could be the deep sighs, the glancing up at the sky looking for clouds where there aren’t any, the gazing around at the group like you’re Sheriff Coffee at the barn dance waiting for trouble.”

“All right, all right. I was a little worried about you after Joe told me what happened yesterday. You seem fine. Is that accurate or are you just covering up?”

“I have to admit it was a bit hard, but I’m all right with it. Cici and I talked more last night. She had a few more questions. I just hope it is the last of it because I didn’t sleep well last night. Too many unpleasant memories.”

“You have a gift of understatement.”

“All right, it was gut wrenching and the memories are god-awful, but once I talk with Chris, I would just like it to be a memory and not a topic of conversation.”

“Point taken. If you ever do want to talk about it though, you know I’m available.”

Adam accepted that with a simple nod. “Now getting back to you. You still haven’t said what is bothering you.”

Ben wasn’t sure to even bring up this topic. He knew however that Adam would be relentless until he got a satisfactory answer so he needed to find a way to express his feelings.

“Lately, it seems I am alone quite a bit. Even here today, parents are playing with their children, which is as it should be, but I feel like I’m missing something. The grandchildren do spend time with me, but it is always a short visit. Gabe is the only one I see quite a bit of. I would like to spend more time with my family, but don’t see a practical way of accomplishing that. It’s pretty quiet in that big house much of the time.”

Adam leaned back on his elbows. There was more here than was being expressed so he needed a moment to think.

“So, you’re lonely. Perhaps thinking about pursuing a relationship? If you do, Pa, don’t worry if she’ll make a great stepmom. I think we’re all past that stage.”

Ben’s mouth almost dropped open in surprise. His oldest son had an uncanny knack for reading his mind sometimes not that he wanted to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

“Now where would you get a fool notion like that? I was talking of missing my grandchildren, and they are growing up so fast.”

“Of course, father. Now I shall have to go rescue my brothers from Davy as I see he has them engaged in what will soon be a disaster.”

With a smirk and a smug look, Adam stood and walked down the slope to where Davy had convinced Hoss and Joe to help him find frogs. It would soon be a mess as Adam was sure someone would end up in the lake but little did he understand it would be him. As he neared the lake’s shore, he called to Joe to be careful. Joe looked up and the frog in his hand leaped toward Hoss to get away. Hoss grabbed for the frog, but Davy did too and was headed for a fall into the water. Adam dove to grab Davy and twisted his body to push Davy back toward Joe. Joe caught Davy and pulled him back to safety however Adam’s momentum couldn’t be stopped and he ended up sitting in the water. Joe started his cackle, and Davy started to laugh too once he realized his father wasn’t hurt. Hoss started to guffaw like only he could which drew the attention of everyone else.

“Adam, sweetheart, if you wanted to go for a swim, you should have taken off your boots I think.”

“Son, did you tell Cici to bring the sketchbook? This would be a very interesting pose.”

All the comments did was to increase the laughter. Adam sighed and raised an arm looking for a hand up. No one trusted him so he had to turn and push himself up, which exposed his muddy butt for everyone’s view. The laughter seemed to be increasing exponentially. Adam stomped out of the water, sat in the grass, and pulled off his boots, which drained a substantial amount of water. Adam did one of his best scowls. The laughing was getting almost hysterical at this point until Davy punched Joe in the leg.

“Hey, what was that for?”

“You hurt papa.”

Davy stood there with his legs planted firmly apart, his fists on his hips, and a scowl on his face. There was a moment of silence until no one could hold back and the laughter erupted.

“Oh, my God, oldest brother, that is definitely your son. I can’t believe he did that.”

Adam held out his hand for Davy who grabbed it and then walked back toward their carriage with as much dignity as he could muster.

“Thank you son. It is good to have someone on my side even if you are sixteen months old.”

Cici walked up behind him with Jacob. Even though it was a warm spring day, it was too cold to be out here all wet. She had a change of clothing for each of the children but had brought nothing for Adam. They would have to leave. Ben wiped the tears from his face and packed up their basket and blanket. At the carriage, he wisely remained silent until Adam and his family started to leave. “Be sure to take a warm bath. After that cold swim, you’ll need it.”

Adam did not rise to the bait, and Cici was wise enough not to even smile as they rode home. At his home, the men were sitting outside the bunkhouse visiting with Chris. When they saw that Adam was all wet, they volunteered to take care to of the carriage and the team. Because of the looks they gave him, Adam felt he needed to give them some explanation especially as they were being so nice.

“Let’s just say it had to do with frog catching, Joe, and Hoss, and you can fill in the rest.”

Adam went inside to get that warm bath because he was already shivering. Later he and Davy had a fun conversation about the whole event not that they would ever let Joe or Hoss or anyone else know that. Cici put the children to bed for their afternoon naps and then sat on the arm of the leather chair where Adam was seated wearing his robe.

“As the family doctor, I think I ought to take you upstairs and do a thorough examination to be sure there are no injuries.”

“This is one time I won’t mind having the doctor examine me. Lead on.”

Later as they lay in each other’s warm embrace, Cici put her hand on Adam’s forehead and then his cheek. She brushed her lips over his ear as well. Adam looked at her with a bemused expression.

“Checking to see if I have a fever? I don’t think one little spill in the lake is going to make me sick.”

Cici smiled at him, and snuggled in closer. She knew he would speak with Chris later and wanted to be sure he was feeling well. She was sure now.

Late in the afternoon, Adam walked to the bunkhouse. The men had gone inside, but Chris was sitting outside.

“Thought you’d be here at some point. This is sooner than I expected though. You got more backbone than I realized.”

“I assume you came here because of your sister. Would you like to go inside so we can have privacy.”

By then, Adam was at her side, and took her by the elbow to walk inside. Joe had been riding in to see Adam. He had gotten his family home but worried about Adam. He heard the last part of what Adam said and then saw him take Chris by the arm and escort her inside and close the door. Joe wondered what was going on and planned to wait for him and find out when he came out.

Inside, Adam had a similar conversation with Chris as he had had with Cici and Joe the day before. Most of what he said was accepted by Chris until she asked him where Victoria was buried.

“I don’t know.”

“How can you not know? You were there! I want to pay my respects, and I have to know where it was.”

“Between Wells and Elko in the Ruby Mountains. We were on the trail, but the men took us south. I have been back there and couldn’t find the spot. I’m sorry.”

“You did look?”

Adam nodded. “I wanted to do the same thing you want to do. I know it hurts, but there’s no way to find the spot.” From his expression, Chris could see that he was sincere, or he was the best actor in the world. She accepted the sincerity of his words. She had learned all that she could learn from him. There wasn’t anything left to ask.

“Will you be staying?”

“If it’s all right with you, I would like to stay. So far this is one of the nicest places I’ve worked, and the accommodations are far better than I expected. I don’t have any family left. This is as good a place as any I have, and I enjoy working with Joe. The pay is good too.”

Adam stood to leave and as he opened the door, Chris reached out to hug him. Not usually one to be demonstrative with anyone other than his wife, Adam saw the tears in her eyes and knew she needed the reassurance so he hugged her. Then he put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes.

“Anything you need, you ask! Please?”

“Thank you.”

Adam walked from the bunkhouse toward his house and was surprised to hear Joe call out to him from his stable. He wondered what was up and walked over to talk with Joe. When he got there he couldn’t see Joe’s expression because he was in the shadows and twilight was approaching. Joe’s words stunned him as his brother asked in an accusatory tone what he had been doing with Chris and then shoved him. As he realized what Joe was insinuating, he got mad.

“What the hell do you mean?”

“You and Chris right here where Cici could know! How could you do that?”

Joe hardly had the words out when Adam threw him up against the wall of the stable. He was shocked and furious.

“Don’t you ever accuse me of being unfaithful to my wife. I am not you. I will never touch another woman in my life. You are a fool.”

“You said you wanted some privacy and you took her inside. You’ve been in there over an hour. You hugged her. I saw you.”

“I don’t owe you an explanation but I’ll give you one. I told her about her sister. I told her what I told you yesterday. I didn’t want to talk where I could be overheard so I asked her to go inside. When I was leaving, she was understandably upset, and I gave her some comfort. She is my sister-in-law. That’s all. Now it’s time for you to leave before I say something more or do something more that I may regret tomorrow.”

Adam released Joe before turning to walk away. Joe realized his error and hoped it wouldn’t take too long for Adam to forgive him for this one.

“Adam, I’m sorry.”

Adam just raised his hand and kept walking. The last two days had taken an emotional toll, and he had little energy left to deal with Joe. Joe mounted up and rode home, embarrassed, and not knowing how he was going to fix this latest mess he had created.

*****

Chapter 5

The morning broke with sudden shafts of dazzling sunlight as the clouds which were hanging low on the horizon were breached by the sun. Cici had walked out to feed her small flock of chickens and was unaware of a devilish husband sneaking up behind her as she was lost in thought. Chris was sitting on the bunkhouse porch enjoying coffee and got to be the audience. Adam grabbed Cici around the waist and she shrieked. When she turned, she had a good pout on and marched toward Adam who backed up until he was nearly at the garden bench, which was the point that Cici wanted. She pushed her hands into his chest and he took one more step backward and tumbled over the bench.

“That’s what you get for sneaking up and scaring me.”

“Ah, wench, that’s how it’s going to be, is it?”

Adam scrambled up, and Cici got a worried look and raced toward the house. It was no contest with his long stride against hers. Adam caught up to her before she got to the door and grabbed her before turning her. He pressed her up against the wall of the house. Chris was looking on with a bit of alarm worried that he might hurt her. Chris stood and was thinking of heading up there when Matt and Jed came out. They saw where she was looking.

“Geez, those two at it again. You would think they was just married by the way they act.”

The two men headed off to the stable to get to work for the day. Chris watched for a few more moments and then went to get her horse to head over to the breaking corrals. She had seen enough to realize that it was two lovers playing, and she wondered if that could ever happen for her.

At the house, Adam bent to brush his lips over Cici’s. He released her wrists and she wrapped her arms around his neck. They kissed deeply, and then Adam picked her up and carried her to a chair where he sat with her on his lap.

“You’ll just be gone one night?”

“Yes, probably. I have to make sure the tree marking has been done properly. That will take my time today and then tomorrow, I’ll work with the foremen to set a cutting schedule and see what else we may need to finish the contracts we have. If there is a problem with either of those, I may have to stay another night, but there is a very good crew now in each camp so I don’t anticipate any issues that would cause a delay. You never know though. If I am not home tomorrow night, don’t worry.”

“Easy for you to say, but hard for me to do. How would you feel if I told you something like that?”

Adam kissed her again and then held her in his arms until the door burst open, and Davy announced his presence. Adam had to hold him and kiss him then as Cici went inside to get Jacob. The family walked to the stable to see Adam off on his trip to the timber camps. As they neared the stable, the memory of last night intruded and Cici saw Adam’s expression change.

“Joe’s always been impulsive and acts without thinking. You are always telling me that. Please remember that so you can forgive him.”

Adam nodded and mounted up on Sport. He would be better able to handle this by the time he got home. He had a wonderful wife and two precious sons. He needed to remind himself that what one hotheaded brother said wasn’t that important.

A few hours later at the Ponderosa main compound, Hoss was questioning Joe because of his obvious discomfiture this morning.

“Joe, what’s got a burr under your saddle this morning, anyways?”

“Hoss, I ah, I put my boot leather in my mouth to chew on a bit again with Adam.”

“What now?”

“I accused him of cheating on Cici with Chris.”

“Lordy, you’re lucky to be standing there. I would have expected him to explode with something like that.”

“Well, he kinda did. He pushed me up against the stable, and I swear, Hoss, I don’t think my feet were touching the ground at all. I was afraid to say anything. He may be forty-two, but those arms of his are like steel yet when he’s mad. He may have changed a lot, but that temper of his is as explosive as ever.”

“You’re lucky that’s all he did. You accused me like that, you’d be sporting some bruises this morning. Besides, if’n you wanted to accuse anyone of being with Chris, you shoulda been looking closer to home.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Pa seems to be making a lot of trips down here to the breaking corrals since Chris started working.”

“He just had messages to deliver to me, and today he said he’s bringing lunch too.”

“Oh, yeah, and how often in the past did Pa bring messages to you here or bring you lunch?”

“Well, never, I guess. But, hey, that doesn’t mean he’s interested in Chris.”

“You just watch to see where he’s looking when he’s here, and it ain’t gonna be your sorry face that has his interest.”

“Oh, heck, I guess it could be Chris. And here he comes again.”

Now that Hoss had brought it up, Joe started to think this was kind of funny. There ought to be some good moments for teasing in this scenario was all he could think. That was abruptly halted though when Hoss noted that Cici was also riding in.

“Joe, you better find something to do right quick. I seen that little gal get so feisty she got Adam to back up, and that ain’t easy to do as you well know.”

“Oh, damn, and then Pa’s gonna hear all about it too, and he’ll have something to say to me too. I should have stayed home.”

Cici and Ben arrived about the same time. She dismounted as Ben climbed out of the buckboard. He told Joe that lunch was in the back for all of the hands. Then he walked around the wagon to say hello to Cici, but she was marching toward Joe who had a rather sick look on his face.

“Cici, I am really sorry. I will go apologize to Adam again when he gets back from the camps. He went to the camps, right? I just didn’t understand what was happening. I was only there because I was concerned about Adam, and I overheard just enough to get my temper riled, and you know I don’t make a lick of sense when I’m mad.”

“Joe Cartwright, you know how much your brother values his integrity. He has lost a lot in his life but that he still has. You attacked that, and you should be ashamed of yourself. When has Adam ever intentionally done anything dishonorable? You hurt him a lot with those accusations!”

“Well, it was only the one, and I said I was sorry.”

“When are you going to get it through that thick skull of yours that saying ‘Sorry’ just isn’t enough sometimes. Everything else you say and do is more important than that one word. Adam’s has to be gone for two days, and what memory of you did you leave him with? He’s going to be hurting for the next two days, and you are responsible for that.”

Joe wanted to say he was sorry, but he knew that wasn’t what he should say. At this point, he didn’t know what to say so wisely just hung his head and said nothing. Cici greeted Hoss and Ben then, mounted up, and rode off. Ben walked over to Joe and wanted to know what had happened so Joe was forced to recount the whole embarrassing episode to his father as well. He got the reaction he expected.

“Just when I thought the three of you had made peace with each other, you have to throw this mud at your brother and stir up trouble all over again. When will you ever learn?”

Ben stomped over to the corrals to watch the horse breaking. Soon as he watched Chris calm each horse before the wranglers rode them, he got a smile on his face again. Hoss walked over to stand beside him.

“Adam will be all right. He has Cici, and he has us. He’ll forgive Joe.”

“I was just hoping that there could be peace in this family. I wish we could just move on without these fights.”

“Well, the good news is that Adam didn’t pound him into the ground. I woulda done that I think if he said something like that to me. Seems that Joe always has to learn things by doing ’em wrong first.”

Joe was climbing onto a horse in the chute. Chris told him to back out, and she stood by the rails and moved to quiet the horse again. Then she had Joe ease himself down and sit very still as she once again quieted the horse. Then slowly she had Joe get a firm hold of the reins and set himself for his ride. Once she felt the horse was ready, she pulled the gate open. The horse moved out and bucked a few times but then stopped as if evaluating the situation. He began bucking again but not with much enthusiasm. Soon Joe had him walking around the corral and stopped to hand him off to the wranglers.

“Pa, with Chris’ help, we’re getting these mustangs green broke with one ride each for most of them. It’s amazing. Saving us a lot of time and money.”

“Yes, I can see that she is amazing.”

Hoss had to hold back a snicker, and Joe hid his behind a big grin.

“Joe, perhaps you could ask her to have lunch with us and tell us more about her experience with horses.”

The altercation with Adam was forgotten, and as Joe brought Chris over to have lunch, Ben greeted her courteously and with a big smile. With the good mood of the three men, Chris was able to relax and the four of them had an enjoyable lunch and a long conversation that touched on many topics eventually. All of them were a little disappointed when it was time to get back to work, but none were as disappointed as Ben. He felt better now than he had in months, and he knew Chris was the reason. From the looks his sons gave him, Ben realized that his interest in Chris was known, but her reaction was more neutral. He would have to wait and see if his interest in her would be reciprocated. He was patient. He had courted and married three women and knew that each was different and needed different responses from him. He would learn what Chris needed. Suddenly Ben realized that he was thinking of courting Chris. The idea was appealing and he smiled all the way back to the house and for the rest of the afternoon.

*****

Chapter 6

At the timber camps, Adam was concerned by the dry conditions. Apparently there had not been adequate snowfall in the winter and now with light spring rains, the area had not greened up as well as it should have. He and the foremen worked out a plan to try to prevent an accidental fire that in these conditions could quickly become dangerous and threaten many lives. He changed where he wanted them to do most of the cutting and with everything extra that had to be done, he was a day late coming home. Ben rode over on Wednesday afternoon to chat with Adam about the timber contracts for which Ben had received notification. There were some additional bids that they could put out for the season if Adam thought they could meet the deadlines. What he found was a very worried Cici. They ended up chatting for hours as the children napped. There was no reason to expect trouble, but a day’s delay made both of them nervous after what had happened there when Adam had been kidnapped. As Ben was preparing to ride home, Chris came riding into the yard and moved to the stable to unsaddle and groom her horse. Ben decided it was a good time to talk with her. Cici noted his move to the stable and wondered what was up.

“Joe let you off early today?”

Chris was startled but didn’t want Ben to know that. She kept a carefully neutral look and tone of voice. Never letting anyone see her true feelings had served her well in the past. Ben intrigued her as much as he frightened her. She thought that he didn’t need to know that.

“Oh I’m sorry I didn’t notice you there. Yes, we finished green breaking the rest of the mustangs and he wanted them to settle down a bit before we started in on additional training.”

“Perhaps one of these days, you could have dinner with us. Hoss and Candy and their wives and children have dinner with me on most Thursday evenings. If you were free tomorrow, perhaps you would like to join us?”

“Do the hands usually get a dinner invitation?”

Ben was caught out in that one and wasn’t sure how to respond. Finally, he decided to try a bit of the truth.

“Hoss and Joe are quite impressed with your work. I thought perhaps you could share some of your experiences working with horses. I’m sure we would be very interested in anything you could share. Sometimes Joe will be there too.”

Chris was nervous about this. It sounded a bit like a summons, but on the other hand, he was being very gracious about it. It couldn’t hurt and she had found that Matt and Jed were not any better than she was at cooking. Although Kim sent down food from the kitchen for dinner during the week, it wasn’t the same as sitting at a table for a meal with all the fixings either. There would be a lot of other people at dinner as well so she had some insulation from Ben’s attention if she needed it.

“Yes, thank you. That would be nice. I don’t have anything other than the clothes I wear for working. I hope that’s all right?”

“Certainly. You will find that all of us will be dressed that way as well. See you tomorrow then. You can clean up in the washroom at the main house if you wish. The door locks and you can have all the privacy you need.”

“Won’t that inconvenience your family?”

“No, Adam built us another washroom on the second floor which is very convenient, and there’s a separate washhouse for the bunkhouse.”

“Thank you then. I will see you tomorrow at dinner.”

Ben mounted up and rode off. After a few minutes, there was the sound of a horse and a man walked into the stable. Chris thought it was Ben and embarrassed herself a bit.

“Ben, did you forget to tell me something?”

“If he did, you can probably still catch him because he’s only about a mile away by now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Adam. Your father was just here inviting me to dine with him and Candy and Hoss tomorrow and I thought he might have forgotten to mention something about that.”

“Ah, a dinner invitation!”

“It’s just to talk business.”

“Of course. You don’t have to get upset. I’m just teasing you a little. And what would it hurt if he did mean a little more by it than just business?”

“I don’t want anything more than business.”

“Why not?”

“I just want to be like you were when I met you. Just a rambling rake running about the country and enjoying yourself.”

“I’m not sure that is an accurate description. I was traveling, but I was looking for something and wasn’t sure what it was. I thought I found it with Victoria, but that wasn’t meant to be. I kept looking and found what I wanted by coming back home, and marrying me a pretty little wife and having children although it took me a lot of years to accomplish that and there were some, ah, obstacles to overcome first. I needed a different role on the ranch than I had when I left, and I have that now too.”

“Well, I’m not looking for anything.”

“Sure you are.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You’ve been looking for years to escape the hell your father created. I was running toward something. You’re running away from something. You want to be happy, but the only way to do it is to start running after something instead of away.”

“You think you know me so well?”

“Well enough, I think. Take a chance. You might find the life you want. You might find happiness.”

Adam finished grooming Sport and left to walk to the house. Cici was already at the stable but had not entered when she noted how serious the conversation was. As soon as Adam stepped outside though, she rushed into his arms. After kissing and hugging, they walked to the house. Chris had heard them and waited inside the stable until she heard them walk away. Adam had given her some things to think about.

That night Chris had a hard time sleeping. She was evaluating what Adam had said and although reluctant to accept it, she knew he might be accurate in his assessment of her. The next morning she packed some extra clothes so she could be clean for dinner and the toiletries she might need and her hairbrush. All day while working with the horses, she was distracted by thoughts about Ben Cartwright. Joe even asked her at one point what was wrong, but she snapped that she was tired, and he let it drop. Joe did tell her that he and Rachel would be at dinner but that Candy and his wife would not as their child was ill. It was nothing serious but they wanted to be together and not expose anyone else to the cold their child had.

After cleaning up in the washroom at the end of the workday, Chris nervously opened the door to the kitchen. Hop Sing had a big smile and told her to go through to the great room. She was a little hesitant, but as soon as Ben and Joe spotted her by the dining room table, they called to her to come and meet everyone. Joe introduced Rachel and his children, and then Hoss introduced Barbara and his children. Barbara immediately took a liking to Chris and asked if she would be willing to help get the table set for dinner. Once they were near the table, Barbara pulled two hair combs from her pocket. They were tortoiseshell with some gold decoration.

“If you want, you can use these. These accents will look wonderful with your dark hair.”

Chris didn’t know what to say. She had not used anything like these since she had been very young and her mother was still alive. After her mother’s death, the attacks by her father had begun and she had shunned all things feminine in an attempt to keep him away. But she remembered what Adam had said and decided to give this a try.

“Thank you, but could you help me. I have never used anything like this in such a long time.”

“Oh, I would love to help.”

Barbara positioned one on each side to pull her hair away from her face but let it hang long in back. Her bangs hanging over her forehead gave her that soft look, but her hair pulled back at the sides emphasized the pretty shape of her face. The effect was noticed at dinner by all of the men, but had Ben the most mesmerized by it. He had a hard time not staring at Chris throughout the dinner and had to keep reminding himself to participate in the conversation. After dinner, Joe and his family left early so they could get their children especially the baby to bed. Shortly thereafter, Barbara took Gabe upstairs for the same purpose, but she told Chris to keep the hair combs before she left with her baby. Hoss sat with Chris and Ben enjoying brandy before he too headed upstairs taking the other two children up to bed.

Chris found herself sitting on the settee with Ben. She was nervous, and wondered what she should do now that she was alone with him. She didn’t want to leave right away and appear frightened of Ben, but in fact she was a little afraid of what would happen. Ben continued to ask about the variety of jobs she had held. Soon Chris was feeling comfortable again. He wasn’t doing anything to make her uncomfortable. Finally though it was time to go home. Ben said he would walk with her to the stable. There, she saddled up her horse. As she was walking out, Ben placed his hand on her shoulder. She tensed a little but waited to see what was next.

“I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your company at dinner tonight. I hope you will consent to dinner here often. I hope that you had a pleasant time.”

“Mr. Cartwright I did enjoy this evening very much.”

“Please call me Ben.”

“It would be a bit awkward when we are working down at the corrals. I don’t want the other men jumping to any conclusions.”

“You can call me Mr. Cartwright there if it makes it more comfortable for you. But when you are at the house like this, please call me Ben.”

Chris nodded yes and Ben dropped his hand from her shoulder. Chris mounted up to ride back to her room at Adam’s place. Ben inwardly was kicking himself for not being a bit bolder and perhaps placing a kiss on her cheek. What he didn’t understand was that he had done it exactly right. Anything more might have scared Chris away. His reserved yet gentle demeanor had alleviated a lot of her concerns, and she would have very pleasant dreams this night and most of them featured a distinguished silver haired rancher.

The next morning, Ben asked Hoss and Barbara if they thought another picnic after church on Sunday might be possible. His excuse was that Adam and his family had to leave very early on the previous Sunday so he thought that they could have another where all the families could be there. When Hoss and Barbara agreed, Ben headed down to the breaking corrals ostensibly to tell Joe about the picnic plans but in reality, to invite Chris to attend as well. Just to make it more plausible, he invited Candy to bring his family too if everyone was feeling healthy by then. With his plan moving forward, Ben walked back to do some paperwork that he did with a smile for the first time in a long time. In fact, he was still smiling when Hoss got back from his day’s work. Ben made some excuse to Hoss that his smile and happy demeanor were all about the books balancing without Adam’s help for a change. But Hoss and Barbara weren’t fooled at all. Ben had all the signs of a man falling in love. They liked Chris so they chuckled a little in private at his attempts at subterfuge but began plotting too how they could help push the two together.

The next day, Chris sought out Barbara at lunchtime.

“If I go to this picnic, am I expected to be at church with everyone too? Cause I ain’t been to church in a lot of years. Dressing as I do I draws enough stares and comments that it detracts from the service if you know what I mean.”

Barbara thought a moment and then told Chris they were going upstairs. She led Chris to Adam’s old bedroom with its large closet. Opening that door, she pulled out several dresses.

“These are some of my pre-baby dresses. I don’t think I will ever fit in any of them again. You should look great in them though if you want to try.”

After some initial awkwardness with the dresses, Chris found one she liked, and Barbara folded it carefully and packed it into a small valise along with the basic undergarments that would be needed. The next problem was footwear. Barbara rummaged in the closet and pulled out a pair of old moccasins. She handed those to Chris who tried them on and found them a perfect and comfortable fit.

“There, now there’s no reason for anyone to stare on Sunday. You can ride in with Adam if you like or Ben can pick you up. Just let us know which would be the best for you.”

A little shy about letting Barbara know how she felt, Chris held back at first. But Barbara had been so nice to her, she took a chance and trusted her.

“I would like Ben to give me a ride to church. I like talking with him, and he is the one who invited me.”

Barbara was so happy she couldn’t help herself. She pulled Chris into a hug, which after a little initial reluctance Chris returned. Chris was making friends here on the Ponderosa and it felt very good. That darn Adam was right again. She wasn’t a rambling rake or anything like one, but then she wondered what she was. At this point, she was determined to find out though because for the first time, she realized she wasn’t afraid.

*****

Chapter 7

On Saturday, Barbara talked Hoss into making a visit to see Cici and Adam. Barbara wanted to talk to Cici about Chris and what they could do to help her out on Sunday. The more that Barbara had thought about it, the more she thought that Chris might need some coaching. Once Barbara was in the house, she passed Gabe to Hoss and Adam raised an eyebrow as he wondered what was going on. Cici handed Jacob to him and headed into the study to talk with Barbara.

“What are the ladies up to, Hoss?”

“Darned if I know. Barbara just had a bee in her bonnet since yesterday that she had to talk with Cici. Next I’ll have to head over to Joe’s so’s she can talk with Rachel. Them gals have been snickering together since Sunday. You got any idea what they’re planning.”

“Oh, I don’t think they’re planning anything in particular. Just helping something along.”

Hoss thought for a moment and then smiled. “Nothing like a little romance to get them gals all fired up, is there?”

“Nope. I think Pa needs to take it slow with Chris so I hope their enthusiasm doesn’t make things too difficult for either of them.”

“Why, is there something wrong? She seems real nice to me.”

“She is, but I think that she has a lot of memories she needs to exorcize before she can be free to move forward in a relationship.”

“Exercise?”

“No, no, she has some demons, some bad memories, bad experiences. She has to get past those first. I talked with her a bit, but she needs to do this herself.”

“You speaking from experience here?”

Adam pursed his lips and nodded. He well understood how tormented Chris might be, and how she would have to reinvent herself. He was sure that Barbara and Cici and Rachel too meant well, but they needed to give Chris some time to readjust as well. Even then, she might never be the woman that she would have been because she would never forget her experiences. Those things had shaped her, and there would be a limit on how much she could change.

“Do ya think that maybe you oughta have a talk with Pa about Chris?”

“I think it might be a little late to talk about the birds and the bees with Pa.” Adam smiled at that thought, but a look at Hoss, and he realized Hoss must have been serious. “A talk about what?”

“Well, I’m thinking that you better than anyone would know the best way for him to approach her so he don’t scare her off. To me, she seems as skittish as a new fawn. I see it, but I don’t think Pa has. Maybe you could explain it to him and why she’s that way.”

Adam was lost in thought for a time. He agreed with Hoss that he was the one who knew Chris best. Perhaps it would help, but he wasn’t sure how well his father would accept advice from him. They were getting along much better now that Adam worked independently. If he still had the day-to-day contact and orders to follow, he was sure that he and his father would have been at odds more than they were in agreement. He never wanted to return to those times. So the key issue was how to approach his father so that they could converse instead of argue. He shared his misgivings with Hoss who agreed with his assessment and wondered too how the two of them could do this.

Before they could go further in the discussion, Barbara and Cici came outside. Gabe and Davy had been chasing each other up and down the hill in front of the house. Davy was a lot faster and naturally graceful. Gabe was learning to walk and still had the drunken sailor gait so it was entertaining to watch them. Jacob was sleeping in Adam’s arms. Gabe was getting tired and toppled over and rolled down the hill. He thought it was so much fun, he climbed up the hill to do it again. Barbara encouraged Davy to do the same but he declined and instead just stood and laughed at his younger cousin

“Barbara, he won’t do anything like that. He won’t try anything where he is out of control.”

“Oh, Cici, that is too bad. He’s so serious sometimes for a little boy.”

“Well, older brother, I wonder where those traits came from?”

“Ha, ha, ha.”

Adam had always thought that the trials of his youth as he lived without a home and without a mother most of the time had caused him to be the way he was. As he watched his son grow though, he began to consider that perhaps some of it was just the way he was meant to be. So then he considered how much of Chris was meant to be and how much was because of the experiences she had. As Barbara and Hoss took their leave, Adam told Cici that he was riding over to talk with his father. When she asked why, he told her.

Davy wanted to ride along and he walked with Adam to the stable. After Adam saddled Sport and led him outside, Davy climbed up on the back of the buckboard. Adam mounted up and then walked Sport next to the buckboard where Adam reached down to pull Davy aboard. Cici watched from the door of the house admiring her guys and waved when they turned to the house to wave goodbye. Even from there she could see the huge grin on her son’s face. There was nowhere else he wanted to be than with his father. She hoped that he and Adam would have a closer relationship than the troubled one that Adam had often had with Ben when he was younger. Once at the Ponderosa, Adam lowered Davy with one arm and then dismounted. By then Ben was outside to see who had arrived. Davy ran toward him, and Ben set his coffee down in a hurry so he could hug his grandson.

“What brings you here on a Saturday morning? Not that I mind of course, just curious.”

“I came with Papa.”

“Yes, I saw that. I was wondering too why your Papa came.”

“I dunno.”

“Well, Davy wanted to come. And I wanted to talk with you about something.”

“That sounds a bit serious. Let me take Davy inside. Candy is finishing breakfast and Hop Sing made doughnuts. Davy, would you like a fresh hot doughnut?”

Candy’s family was visiting friends so Ben had invited him to share meals with the family until his family returned. Davy liked Candy because he talked to him just like he talked to the hands. It made Davy feel grownup so he behaved very well with him. Ben walked back outside to find out what Adam wanted to discuss and was surprised at the topic.

“I didn’t think that you knew all of her history and how it might have affected her. You see her as a beautiful woman, but she is carrying some memories inside that have affected her.”

With a bemused expression, Ben asked Adam what he thought he should do.

“I know you think this is kind of funny, but I mean it only in the best of ways. I like Chris, and I think the two of you could be very happy. I also believe that one wrong action could send her flying away. She’s suffered some trauma in her life, has no ties here yet, and could leave if she felt at all uncomfortable. I’m just asking for you to take it slow with her for her sake. She told me she likes it here and has no plans to leave. I’ve seen how gentle you have always been with any woman you cared for. I’m just saying that you have to be extra gentle here.”

Adam leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. Ben noted the furrows in his son’s forehead and knew he was uncomfortable or even worried. Ben took time to think before answering his son’s concerns.

“You are probably right. The only time I touched her was to put a hand on her shoulder when I was speaking to her. It felt that she was shivering. Now I think it might have been fear and not the cold.”

“Pa, her father was a big man like you, and he had a full head of silver hair and a booming voice. He was a preacher for a time before he gave it up to pursue horse farming full time.”

“So tomorrow could be a very important day.”

Without betraying any of Chris’ confidences, Adam felt that he had said enough for his father to understand. He nodded in response to his father before he went inside to collect his son. After cleaning him up, he mounted up on Sport, and Ben handed Davy up to him. Davy was having a grand day, and his beaming smile was all the evidence anyone would need to know that. Adam told him that on Sunday after church, there would be another picnic. Davy started clapping his hands.

“Catch frogs. Daddy fall in water.”

“Oh no, if anyone goes in the water this time, it’s you!”

Adam tickled his son a little and then pulled him into a tight embrace. He hoped, as his son grew older, they could keep doing things together like this and keep talking. He had been surprised that his father had taken his comments so well. Other than a bit of a smirk at first, he had listened.

How much he had listened was evidenced the next day. Ben acted with the utmost chivalry toward Chris. By the time they arrived at church, he helped her down from the carriage and then offered his elbow. Chris placed her hand in his elbow and they walked to church. On the way he introduced Christine to any who greeted him. That was one thing he had learned as they drove in. Her given name was Christine Catherine which had caused Ben to chuckle and Chris to wonder what was funny. He explained that Cici was Cynthia Catherine and he wasn’t ever going to call Chris by her initials as it would be too confusing. Chris told him how Cici had come to her room the day before with a shawl, purse, and a necklace to complement the dress Chris had picked out from the selection Barbara had given her. Everything the two ladies had done for her made her feel more comfortable even though it had been a long time since she had worn a pretty dress like this. In church, Ben walked up to his normal seat. One by one, his sons’ and their families joined them until they had most of the first two rows on the right side filled. There was quite a bit of chatter in church, and although it was whispering, the volume of it made it audible. Adam leaned over to Cici to say that he was glad to know it wasn’t about him any more. His father had taken the spotlight.

Later at the shore of the lake, Ben guided Chris to the picnic area the family used. He put his hand on her elbow as they walked to be sure she didn’t trip over any of the rocks or stones in the uneven path. The afternoon went much like the previous Sunday except no one fell in the lake. Hoss and Joe had learned that hunting for frogs in your best clothes was not something the wives appreciated. They would do it one day soon when they got a chance to go fishing. As the sun started to descend, the families packed up their picnic stuff and their children to head home. As the last of the three carriages drove out of sight, Ben sighed. He had watched them go with pride but also longing for more time with all of them. Chris walked up to him and took his hand. Ben smiled down at her and they walked to the carriage. After he helped her up and they drove nearly back to Adam’s place, Ben pulled the team to a stop. He looked at Chris who shrank away from him just a bit.

“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just wanted to say that I enjoyed being with you today and I would like to do this every Sunday in the foreseeable future if you don’t mind.”

Chris relaxed. Men she had known would have wanted something much more from her by this time, and she would have already ended the relationship as a result.

“Ben, can I ask you something?”

“Certainly.”

“Why haven’t you tried to kiss me? Every man I have ever been with has tried that almost from the start.”

“And what did you do?”

“I sent them packing.”

“That’s why. I had the feeling that it wouldn’t be welcome yet. I want you to stay. I want you to be my friend and maybe a lot more. I am willing to wait and see. I want you to be comfortable with me and not afraid of what I might try. When you want me to kiss you, you let me know because I would certainly like to do that.”

Chris leaned back with a hand to each cheek. Ben recognized it as the way she would get anytime she was thinking. After a few moments, she looked at him.

“Could we try a little kiss now? It’s my idea so I won’t send you packing if I don’t like it.”

Ben leaned down and gently kissed her lips. Then he sat back up. Chris leaned back in that thinking pose again. Ben started the team up again and they arrived at Adam’s place a short time later. Chris hadn’t said anything. Ben climbed down and helped her out of the carriage and she remained silent.

“Well goodbye for now. I hope you’re not upset.”

“Goodbye, Ben. Until we meet again.”

Chris smiled at him and Ben beamed.

“And Ben.”

“Yes?”

“I liked it.”

Chris turned and walked into her room and left Ben sitting there with his mouth open. He wanted to say something, but not a single thought was in his head now except the kiss and what she had said. When he saw the lamps light up the interior, he turned his team toward home. An hour later as he was putting the team in the corral, he still had that smile on his face.

*****

Chapter 8

Monday morning was a routine day for the Cartwrights. Adam went to town to conduct some mining business, get some cash from the bank to take with him to the timber camps on Tuesday, and pick up the mail. Hoss was busy directing the spring roundup and moving of the herds to the higher pastures because the big drive of the year was about to get under way. Joe was busy at the breaking corrals training the horses needed to fulfill contracts. Ben was at home but had no ledger work because it was Monday, and he would have no paperwork until Adam arrived with the mail. So Ben decided to take a trip down to the breaking corrals to see how everything was going and of course to say hello to one of the hands of whom he was growing very fond. It was a pleasant spring day.

Once Adam arrived with the mail, Ben’s mood changed dramatically. The cattle buyers in Salt Lake City wanted to renegotiate the price per head of cattle, and the horses they were to deliver to some ranches in Wyoming had just increased their order, but had not changed the time limits that were in the contract. Someone would have to go work out the details with all of those parties, and Ben realized it would have to be him.

“Pa, at least the ride is more pleasant than going over the summit to California with the spring storms we’ve been getting from that direction.”

“You can sugarcoat it all you want, Adam. This is not a pleasant trip.”

“And the timing stinks too.” Adam smiled at his father realizing the true reason he was reluctant to be gone for the next two to three weeks. Ben looked at his oldest son and knew he wasn’t able to fool him a bit. “You really are beginning to like Chris a lot, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I find her easy to talk with and pleasant to be with.”

“She might want to go with you.”

Ben looked a little happier for a moment but his demeanor grew serious again. “Even at my age, it would not be seen as proper to travel with a single woman and no chaperone.”

“I don’t think Chris would worry about that.”

“I would.”

“Because, if things work out, you would want the people here to show her respect?”

“You know it can be a bit irritating when you try to read my mind like that.”

“I didn’t think I was trying; I thought I was succeeding.” A ‘hmff’ was the only response he got to that. Adam had to take his leave to get some things done before he left the next morning. “I’ll see you when you get back then. Good luck with the trip and other things!”

Ben picked up a book like he was going to throw it, and Adam rushed out the door but was laughing. Ben shook his head and smiled at his son’s antics. He liked this new relationship with Adam. And he couldn’t stay in a sour mood for long: all he had to do was think of Chris and his spirits rose. He decided that he would go tell her he was leaving for a few weeks. He wanted to be sure she knew he cared about her feelings. That evening he sat with Joe and Hoss to get all the information he needed to settle the issues with their buyers. He left early on Tuesday morning.

For the next week, all went normally as Hoss left on the drive, Joe worked with the horses, and Adam made a trip to the timber camps and then inspected all of the mines they owned in whole or part. It was on the following Monday, that everything fell apart. Adam went to town to get the mail as was his usual pattern on a Monday. Seeing his father’s handwriting on an envelope though caught his attention immediately. The envelope was addressed to ‘Cartwrights, Virginia City’, which was very unusual. He tore the envelope open expecting some unpleasant news but found worse than he expected.

Sons: I’m being held by some men who want ten thousand dollars to let

me go. They bushwhacked me and would have killed me except they

wanted more money than what I had on me when they found out who I was.

Please send money as I am expecting they will let me go on to Ruby.

Money can be sent to the following address:

Travers, Littleton Branch Bank, Elko.

Once the money is there, they will let me go.

Please don’t do anything foolish as these men mean business

so my life depends on your cooperation.

I am well so don’t do anything stupid. Pa

Adam went to the bank to make arrangements for the money to be sent but told them to delay it until he notified them to do so. Then he raced out of town to let Cici and Joe know what was happening. After retrieving what he needed from his house, he headed out to see Joe. Cici went to tell Rachel and Barbara what was happening. Within hours, they were all at the Ponderosa main house waiting to hear what Adam and Joe had decided to do.

Adam had spoken to Joe at the breaking corrals where many of the hands heard what was happening. When the two decided to ride out to Wells, many volunteered to join them but Joe asked if they could please handle all the work with the horses so he could help his father. Chris volunteered to come along. Joe was going to say no until Adam intervened.

“When I resigned my marshal’s position, they refused to accept it and officially made me retired. How about you?”

“The same. I still have my badge. How about you?”

“Yes, I still have it as well. It will help if we go back to active duty temporarily.”

“Well, will someone tell me how that helps?”

“Joe, Adam and I will have authority over local sheriffs and can demand things that a civilian can’t. We also can take custody of anyone who is taken alive. It was clever of Ben to put his location in that letter. With what he did, they still feel they have him in an unknown location but ‘I am well so’ and that he can go ‘on to Ruby’ is all we needed.”

“What does that mean?”

Adam answered that one. “They’ve got him held between Ruby and Wells. There aren’t that many places between the two and we can question people about any unusual activity. It shouldn’t take long to find where they are.”

“You don’t think they’re going to let him go, do you?” There was no answer, which was an answer in itself.

At the house, Candy joined them and insisted on joining the rescue party. The four said their goodbyes. Adam had sent a telegram ahead of where he thought Hoss was hoping to let him know what was happening. If it failed to reach him, they were moving in the same direction and would go get him. Adam wrote a letter explaining what was happening to Roy and asked him to notify the marshals’ office in Sacramento that he and Chris were on active duty for a time so that if they needed verification along the way, they could get it. Adam pinned his badge on as did Chris. The four mounted up and headed toward Wells and the Ruby Mountains, a place that held painful memories for Adam. He pushed the thoughts of those aside so he could concentrate on what they had to do now.

In a small cabin in the Ruby Mountains not far from Wells, three men sat at a table enjoying a meal of beans, potatoes, and bacon. On the floor, Ben sat with his hands and feet tied. His hands were numb and he was beginning to worry if he would lose some function in his hands if they kept him tied like this much longer. Twice a day, they untied him so he could relieve himself, drink some water, and eat what little they gave him. He realized he was only alive because they might need another note written. He had no doubts that he would be killed as soon as they had verification that the money had been sent. He had seen all of their faces the first day and could identify them. He would walk out of this cabin alive only if his sons could manage a rescue. Ben knew the odds were against him but knew his sons had beaten the odds many times. He hoped there was one more ace in that deck.

Once near Wells, the men split up. Hoss had joined them in Elko. He brought Jed with him. Jed was part Paiute and would help with the tracking if needed. Adam and Chris went to town and took a room at the hotel across the street from the bank. The others camped just outside of town and Joe came into town to act as a lookout for Adam and Chris. He understood now why Adam had asked him to pack his suit. He dressed as a businessman and sat in the bank at one of the desks doing his best to look like he belonged there. Adam sent a telegram instructing their bank back home to send the money as previously arranged. Adam and Chris took turns watching the bank from the window of the hotel. Chris had notified the sheriff that they were in town and what they were doing. He agreed to help them with anything they needed. They waited for a man to enter the bank to check on the progress of the wire transfer. As soon as they saw someone fitting that description, they planned to follow him and apprehend him to get more information about who was holding Ben. The others were waiting and watching the town and would join them when they saw them leave. It didn’t take long. Early the next morning, a rather scruffy looking man entered the telegraph office and then headed to the bank. He came out of the bank with his saddlebags looking much fuller than when he had entered. Joe walked out of the bank and casually took off his hat and wiped his brow. It was the agreed upon signal. Chris went down to the street to be sure to follow. Adam watched only long enough to see that she was following and then he left as well. He was fuming and guessed that Joe would be as angry as he was. The man was riding Buck.

The rescue mission went into active mode. Adam and Chris rode to the right of the man they were following and stayed in the trees and on the high ground. If he looked back, he would not realize he was being followed. Joe followed far behind having taken off his suit and put on his other clothing after leaving town. The rest were set up to work a good tail that the man would never see. By having one ride ahead to pick him up at a more distant point, the one in closer pursuit would then switch and ride rapidly ahead to pick up their quarry further along. By leapfrogging like that, they were able to keep him in sight of one of them throughout the morning until Adam spotted a ramshackle little cabin. He began to work his way down through the trees toward the rider. Chris saw him moving down and headed that way as well.

Riding in fast, Adam pulled up in front of the kidnapper who immediately went for his gun. Adam was faster and had his pistol pointed at the man’s chest before the man’s pistol cleared leather. The man let his pistol drop into the holster and raised his hands. He has seen the marshal’s star on Adam’s vest. Soon Chris was behind him and ordered him off of Buck. He complied, and when Adam told him to lie on the ground, he did that as well. So far he was guilty of robbery and he had spent time in prison already and knew he was looking at more time. He planned to wait to see how this turned out, but he knew that at this point, it wasn’t going to be a hanging for him; he was sure of that. His brother and his cousin in the cabin had killed and would probably hang if captured. There wasn’t anything he could do about that. He told that to the two marshals what they had done hoping to get a little better deal in the long run by cooperating. Just a short distance behind, Jed and Hoss were leading Joe and Candy and the four soon joined them. The sheriff and his two deputies rode in a short time later.

With information from the man they had captured, Chris directed Jed, Candy, and the deputies where to go and soon they had the cabin effectively quarantined. The crucial question now was what were they going to do to rescue Ben from the cabin. The kidnapper they had captured, who identified himself as Pete Logan, suggested a plan. He said he could go to the cabin without the money to tell them it wasn’t there yet. Then he would likely be the one directed to take Ben outside to relieve himself because he said he was always the one who had to do that. That would be the opening the rescue party needed. Hoss and Joe were unwilling to work with a criminal, but Adam explained why it was their best option.

“We’ve seen this in our work before. Once they know they are well and truly caught with no way out, they try to work the best deal for themselves as they can. Pete knows he’s going to prison, but his cooperation, if it saves Pa’s life, will get him consideration from the judge and a shorter sentence. He knows the other two in there have no hope at this point. If caught, they will hang for crimes they have already committed. If they stay in the cabin and shoot it out, they have a tiny chance to escape. He’s going to give them that.”

“Ya, but Adam, what if he tells them we’re out here, and they kill Pa or try to use him as a shield?”

“He won’t do that because he knows that if Pa dies, he’s a dead man.”

They all looked over to see Pete who was nodding his head. He would cooperate because it was the only chance he had. With the money removed from the saddlebags and cartridges removed from his pistol and rifle, he was allowed to ride to the cabin. Tension rose and prayers were whispered. This had to work!

*****

Chapter 9

The Cartwright brothers and their posse waited in the trees around the cabin where Ben was being held. Adam wasn’t sure he was actually breathing as he waited in his spot. He looked to either side of him where Joe and Hoss were and they looked as intent as he felt. They were ringed in a half circle in front of the cabin. Each was as well hidden as possible. Their horses tied well away from the cabin and completely out of sight. After what seemed like hours, the door opened and Ben staggered through the doorway and walked toward the trees at the side. His ankles were hobbled like you would tie a horse for grazing so it wouldn’t wander off. Obviously it would prevent him from running, but in his condition, it didn’t look like he could run anyway. Pete walked behind him with a pistol aimed at his back. They heard raucous laughter from inside and then some ribald comments directed at ‘Petey’ who yelled ‘Shut up!’ back at them. Ben fumbled with the buttons on his pants and finally was able to open them.

Adam’s anger at his father’s condition didn’t prevent a smile. Ben was standing in front of the trees where Chris was hiding, and she would not be able to avoid a view of Ben’s most private body part. Adam quickly glanced at Joe who had his fist pressed to his mouth and then to Hoss whose back was to him but the shaking of his shoulders indicated he was laughing silently. Once Ben laboriously got himself back in order, Chris ran from the trees where she had been hiding to grab his arm and pull him to cover. Pete ran behind them and the three disappeared into the heavy cover of a thick stand of spruce. There was some swearing from inside as at least one of them must have been watching. He stepped outside to fire into the trees, and Adam and Joe fired almost simultaneously hitting him and knocking him back into the ramshackle cabin.

The cabin door slammed shut. Now all they could do was wait. Adam turned and nodded to Hoss to go see to their father. He looked over at Joe and did the same. He and the rest would wait to see what the last man in the cabin did. He did nothing. Now it was a standoff, but there was little for them to lose. He would be killed, surrender, or get away but no one of the posse was in danger at this point and Ben was safe. Adam waited until he saw Hoss slipping through the trees toward him.

“That was one heck of a reunion! I hugged him and Joe hugged him but I think he and Chris are still hugging and kissing. Go say hello to Pa if you can pull him away from Chris.”

Adam followed the way back through the trees that Hoss had used to get to him. His heart was still pounding and wouldn’t slow down until he could verify with his eyes that his father was all right. By the time he reached Ben, Chris was sitting on the ground next to him giving him some jerky and water.

“Adam, son, I am so glad to see you. You boys and Chris looked like angels when I saw you.”

Ben’s voice was weak and he looked pale, but other than some bruises and abrasions, he was unhurt. Adam walked over and placed his hand on his father’s shoulder as he squatted next to him.

Chris stood. “Adam, now that you’re here, I’m going to go get some medical supplies from the saddlebags and a blanket.”

“Chris, look in my saddlebags, there’s soap, a towel, and a change of clothing all in a sack. Bring back a few of the canteens if you would, please.”

“Chris told me how you planned all of this. You saved me, and no one got hurt.”

“Well none of the good guys got hurt. I think there’s a dead man in the cabin, and the odds aren’t looking good for the last one either.”

“Ye shall reap what ye shall sow. Those men were among the worst I have ever dealt with. They would have killed me for a few dollars, my saddle, and my horse, but I was using the saddle you boys gave me one Christmas. With all the silver and turquoise on it, they asked who I was. Luckily for me, they recognized the name. They were going to kill me as soon as they got the money. They made no secret of it because you were sending the money to Elko so they thought you had no idea where I was. I was very surprised to see Chris with you.”

“Well, I think she was very surprised to see you a short time ago too.”

Adam was smiling and Ben was looking puzzled. Suddenly, he realized what had happened. If Chris was the one running out of the trees to grab him and pull him to safety, then she was the one who was closest to him when he was relieving himself.

“Adam, no!”

“Oh, yes, Pa, there was nothing between you and her, and she had to keep her eyes on you so that she could grab you at the right moment. If she had waited too long, Pete would have had to start walking you back to the cabin.”

Well, Ben wasn’t pale any more. His cheeks had taken on a very healthy rosy glow. What he was wondering was how he was going to be able to look at Chris when she got back.

“Pa, she’s forty-five years old. She’s worked a lot with men. It probably isn’t the first one she’s seen.”

“Adam, it’s not funny.”

“On the contrary, to everyone but you, it is very funny.”

“I suppose the ridicule will be with me all the way home.”

“Oh yes, indeed. In fact, this story will never die. When you start in on telling the grandchildren those stories of what happens when you changed your son’s diaper in the cold air of the trail or how some girl stole our clothes when we were out swimming in the lake, or …”

“Enough! That’s blackmail.”

“That it is, but as far as I know, in this case, it’s legal!”

Joe, Hoss, and the sheriff walked in to the clearing to ask Adam how he planned to get the last one out of the cabin. They were worried that he might find a way to slip away in the dark and his horses were tied right next to the cabin. It would be suicide to try to get them in daylight. Adam said he would talk with Jed, and they had some things they could do. Once Chris was back, they cleaned Ben up and bandaged his wrists. His hands were swollen but he had feeling in all of his fingertips so it appeared there would be no lasting problem. Chris felt his forehead to see if he had a fever because his face was so red, and Ben snapped that he didn’t have a fever. Joe snickered, and Hoss and Adam smiled. Chris looked up at the three of them and then smiled as well. Someone had told Ben what she had seen. She thought it was funny and asked Ben if he needed to relieve himself before they walked back to the horses. Ben rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“From the frying pan into the fire. I go from one torment to another.”

Chris and Hoss walked Ben back to the horses. They were going to stay there and cook up some food as Ben rested. The men watching the cabin planned to work in shifts, eating and resting when they weren’t watching. Adam did not assign any spot for him and Jed, but instead the two of them walked away together talking. Later as dusk arrived, Joe went to get some food and saw Adam’s boots and hat sitting on the ground near his saddle. Ben was sleeping and the two deputies there had no idea what was going on.

Next to the cabin, Adam and Jed, who had crawled to the cabin from the back, were lying on the ground and slipping the reins of the outlaws’ horses from the hitching rail and tying the three horses to Buck. Once all four were free, the string was led away by Jed who was walking to the outside of Buck so he couldn’t be seen from the cabin. Suddenly there was a shout from the cabin and Jed started to run with the horses. Dressed in dark clothing and hidden behind Buck, there was no target and Adam heard the man in the cabin swearing. Adam piled some brush up against the cabin wall and then crawled to the other side and did the same. Then he crawled back to the trees. Once he was there, he gathered kindling and firewood and as darkness grew, he crawled out and set up a fire ring about twenty feet from the cabin and then placed the wood in it circling a good stash of kindling. Moving back into the trees, he circled to the other side and did the same. He left the sack he had been using to pull rocks for the fire ring in the fire ring to add to the kindling. He crawled away and went back to the horses. As he walked in wearing moccasins and very dusty dark clothes, he thanked a similarly clad Jed for his help. Both men pulled off the moccasins and put their boots and hats back on. Then they sat down and each began stripping bark from a branch and then sharpening one end to make what looked like a small throwing spear.

“Are you two going to tell us what you’re doing?”

“We’re making throwing spears.”

“I can see that! What are they for?”

“Throwing.”

“Adam, I swear, I am going to punch you if you don’t tell me.”

“Joseph! Jed and Adam set up two campfires. When it’s dark, they’re going to light those spears and throw them into the kindling and start two fires in front of the cabin. That man won’t be able to get away because the area will be lighted.”

“Yes, Joe, and then we’re going to tell him we’re going to do the same to the cabin if he doesn’t come out. By then he should have enough light to see brush piled up against the side walls of the cabin.”

“But you can’t start a fire here, Adam, the timber is too dry. You’ll start a forest fire.”

“We know that, but he doesn’t. He’ll either surrender or come out fighting. It will be over soon.”

Adam and Jed started to wrap some cloth and dry material just above the tips of their spears. Nodding to one another, they headed off to start the campfires. Chris left to set up firing lines so that they wouldn’t accidentally shoot each other. It worked as expected. Less than an hour after the campfires started burning in front of the cabin, a man burst from the door and headed to the trees closest to the cabin. In that set of spruce, Chris and the sheriff opened fire. The man fell dead. Once it was clear it was over, the posse members checked the inside of the cabin. The man in there had apparently bled out with no help from his cousin.

The two bodies were dragged in front of the cabin and rolled into dirty blankets found inside. Once they were tied into secure bundles, they were placed back inside the cabin to keep them away from scavengers. The next morning, the sheriff and his deputies would take the two bodies and the prisoner back to town. The three horses and saddles would be adequate payment for their services and to pay the costs of burying the two dead men.

The Cartwrights and their friends slept well that night. The next morning after breakfast, they helped Ben to mount up on Buck and started on a direct route back to the Ponderosa. As they rode through the unfamiliar territory, Adam started to get a funny nervous feeling. He felt the hairs on his neck stand up and there were goose bumps on his arms. He didn’t know why he felt so apprehensive. He became so agitated that Hoss looked over at him and asked if he was all right. He just shrugged and said he was. They rode less than a mile when Adam suddenly pulled Sport to a stop. He looked all around in almost a panic mode. Everyone looked at him wondering what was wrong.

As Adam looked up the slope, things began to look familiar, and he rode Sport up the steep incline. He stopped in front of a pile of large rocks. Hoss rode up next to him to ask what was wrong, but Adam dismounted and stood silently in front of the rocks. Everyone in the group was there by that time. Adam turned and looked at Chris and nodded his head. Then he turned back and began pulling some of the rocks away from the pile. What he uncovered very quickly was a small cave. He pulled more rocks away, and then dropped to his knees and lowered his head. Chris was by his side and looked into the cave and saw what she expected. There was a hide wrapped bundle inside tied with rawhide and still caked with some dried mud. It had once held a larger content but now just a few bones and pieces of bright blue cloth showed. Chris took Adam’s hand and he looked at her tear-streaked face even as his tears flowed. He had found Victoria’s last resting place.

*****

Chapter 10

Adam stood and reached a hand out to Chris who took it. Ben, Hoss, and Joe had all dismounted and walked over to see what was in the cave. Adam had just said ‘Victoria’ and they had understood except for Ben who was in the dark as he had only heard the story from Joe who had forgotten some parts before he talked with his father.

“Pa, this is the gal Adam married and was fixin to bring to the Ponderosa all those years ago. She got buried by the Shoshoni who saved his life, and he never could find the burial place when he came back to look.”

Ben looked at Chris then because this was her sister. Chris took a deep breath and blew it out.

“Adam, I think we’ve shed enough of today’s tears for yesterday’s sorrows. We should close this back up and leave her in peace.”

Adam nodded his head and began to pick up the rocks he had pushed to each side and built the wall again. The others all helped until it was difficult to tell that the burial cave had ever been opened. Adam looked around for smaller stones and gravel to place in the crevices between rocks. The group helped with that too. Soon the grave was well sealed again.

“Oh, oh, Pa, Adam, I think we got trouble again.”

The group turned to see a large party of Shoshoni men riding toward them. Even from a distance, it appeared that their faces were painted, and that they were all carrying weapons of various types. Adam handed his hat to his father and walked out to meet them.

“Newe. Behne!”

“Behne!”

Adam reached the group and several of the men dismounted to greet him in a friendly fashion. They stood talking for quite a time until a much younger man rode up to join them. He jumped off his horse and ran toward Adam which made the group on the hill a bit nervous until he grasped Adam’s forearms and greeted him with a great smile. There was a bit more conversation and Adam pulled cartridges out of his belt and handed them to the young man.

“Aishen.”

Then the young man pointed at the pack horses they were leading and said ‘bozheena’ and one of the other men dismounted and retrieved a package from one of the horses. It was smoked buffalo meat and the young man handed it to Adam.

“Aishen.”

One of the men then pointed to the cave and the group on the hill heard ‘Wa’ipi’ as Adam nodded. The men placed hands on his shoulders and bowed their heads briefly before mounting up and waving as they rode away. Adam walked back to the group who stood near the small cave.

“Adam, I thought we were in bit trouble with that war party all painted up.”

“Joe, this was a hunting party and most of what you thought was paint are tattoos they have on their faces. There was a bit of paint because they were celebrating a special occasion, a wedding. They are bringing in meat for the feast.”

“Say, Adam, who was that young man and why did you give him ammunition?”

“Hoss, he is the son of one of the chiefs and he’s the bridegroom. He is also the youth I rescued all those years ago.”

“Son, is this the band who saved your life then?”

“Yes, I lived with them until I was fit to travel. I learned the language here. It isn’t that different from the Paiute I learned from Young Wolf so it didn’t take long to understand the basics.”

“So why did he give you something?”

“It is the way. Respect for one another makes it necessary.”

Adam then showed them the smoked buffalo meat and Hoss was very interested. They moved a short distance away to have lunch, and Hoss especially was glad it wasn’t more jerky and beans. Adam opened his saddlebag and tossed two cans of peaches to Hoss.

“Dadburnit, Adam, you had these all the time and didn’t say nothing.”

“Hoss, if we ate them right away, we would have a lot of days to go with only jerky, beans, and coffee. Thought I would break the routine a little at some point and now seemed to be a good time.”

“Ya got anything else in there to break the routine?”

Adam grinned and pulled out a bag of hard candies that he passed around and then told Hoss he could keep what was left. After lunch, Adam and Chris walked back to the burial cave, bowed their heads, and said a small prayer before rejoining the others for the ride home.

Ben and Chris again rode side by side. They were learning a lot about each other and their family histories. There was a lot of time to talk. Chris had been exuberant to find him alive and unharmed, but since his rescue, she had returned to a more reserved nature around him. Ben accepted that, and in his heart, was quite pleased that when she had let her guard down, it was clear she loved him even if she wasn’t ready to admit it yet. Ben had courted and married three very different women. Christine was the most unusual by far. He was calling her Christine because he felt more close to her with the more feminine version of her name. He had tried calling her Chrissy once but both of them burst out laughing at the incongruity of calling a woman like her by such a frilly nickname. His sons seemed to like her, and although just a few years older than Adam, she was old enough that there would not be the talk like there had been when people in town thought he was involved with Joan.

Adam and Joe rode side by side and appeared to have mended the tears in their relationship. Joe was very interested in the time that Adam had spent with the Shoshoni and what he had learned there. The two spent a lot of time talking about that and about their families as they rode.

Hoss and Candy seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time telling stories and trying to get a reaction from the other. There was a lot of laughter back there that caused the riders in front to turn often. Jed rode near Candy and Hoss remaining fairly quiet but being highly entertained by all the stories. As soon as they reached Battle Mountain, Ben sent telegrams home to let them know they were on their way. From there also, Hoss and Josh returned to the drive and Candy went with them to help out. Hoss would do his best to renegotiate the terms of the contract when he got the herd to the buyers. If they were too recalcitrant, there would be other buyers in that area who would be willing to buy which would pressure the original buyers to hold to the contract they already had.

The rest of the group rode as fast as the horses could carry them. After several more nights of camping, all were ready to sleep in the comfort of their own beds. Once they reached the Ponderosa, it was already dark. Ben asked Chris to stay in the guest room and his stare challenged his sons to remain quiet. They did and Chris agreed to stay. Joe and Adam rode to their homes.

At Joe’s home, his arrival caused all of his children to get out of bed even though they had been there for over an hour. Rachel had made the mistake of mentioning that day that their father might be home soon. The girls each had their own bedroom now since Joe and Adam had finished the addition to the home. Rachel had to wait for their daughters to kiss and hug Joe before she got her chance. After Anna and Beth had pestered their father with questions for almost an hour, she told them it was time to go back to bed that they reluctantly did. After they left the room and Rachel placed their son in his cradle, she turned to look at Joe with a look that could not be misinterpreted. He took her hand and with a big grin walked to their bedroom.

As Adam reached his home, he put Sport in the stable and groomed him. He was a little surprised as he walked to the house to see that it was dark. As he reached the veranda though, he was more than pleased when his wife greeted him. Cici had been waiting to see if he would reach home or if she would have to sleep alone again that night. She had just about been ready to give up when she had heard a horse and rider approach so she had waited. Dressed in robe and gown, she threw her arms around Adam’s neck and kissed him with passion. It was an hour before they made it into the house. Adam had to pick up his hat, saddlebags, and a few other items of clothing before he came into the house. He went to the washroom upstairs to clean up and shave. Then he joined Cici in bed and they slept in each other’s arms. As hints of dawn were just beginning, Adam was awakened by Cici’s roaming hands. That interlude was as gentle and slow as the previous night’s had been frenetic and passionate.

“I may have to be gone on a few more trips if this is how it will be when I return.”

“It may be this way for a few more months.”

“Ah, only a few months?”

“Well, remember when you told me that you built this house to make sure we had lots of room for children? Well we will be filling one more of those rooms in about seven or eight months. And you know how I get when I’m pregnant.”

Adam pulled her close and kissed her lips, her cheeks, her nose, her neck, and anything else he could.

“Well, my sweet, that must mean you are happy about this.”

Cici smiled in contentment. A gorgeous, loving husband, children and a baby on the way, wonderful family members and friends, and a grand home were things that she had never expected when she had chosen to have a career. Even though the career as a doctor had been adjusted to the requirements of marriage and family, she still had that too. She had married Adam when she still thought he might be a bit of a rambler but he had proven to be a solid and steadfast man and husband.

“Do you think Chris will stay?”

“How did we get from having a baby to talking about Chris? Oh never mind, that curious mind of yours is a given.”

Adam told Cici the whole story about Chris and the rescue of Ben. Cici laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks about what Chris saw just before the rescue, and then was very emotional when Adam repeated what Hoss had said of Ben and Chris’ reunion. Adam’s look turned very cool and Chris knew he was going to talk about something serious because those conversations always started when he had that face like a mask. He told Cici of finding Victoria’s burial cave.

“It’s very good that happened for you and for Chris. Wakes and funerals are really for the living so they can say goodbye and know that it is over, to close that episode so they can move on.”

Cici noted the look of worry on Adam’s face.

“I know you loved and lost. I knew about Victoria just as I know about Marlee. I know of the others too. What matters to me is that you’re still here and you love me. That’s all that matters.”

Cici snuggled into Adam’s embrace. He stroked her back and kissed the top of her head.

“So you never answered my question. Do you think Chris will stay?”

Adam started laughing then and couldn’t stop to answer the question for quite a while.

“Well, Pa calls her Christine and she doesn’t seem to mind. So what do you think?”

*****

Chapter 11

The next morning, as Adam and Cici dressed, got the children up and ready for the day, and had breakfast, their conversation about his trip continued.

“Could you get in trouble for giving ammunition to Washakie’s son? I thought it was illegal to sell or give that to Indians.”

“Washakie has never gone to war against whites. His people have always been there to help just like they did when they rescued me. They have helped many travelers through their lands. Washakie has been employed by the army on a number of occasions.”

“What would the army do employing a Shoshoni chief?”

“They scout for the army. Many of the Newe have scouted for the army and received weapons such as rifles and pistols.”

“Why do you call them ‘Newe’?”

“Shoshoni is the white name for them. Newe is their name.”

“Do you speak their language?”

“I know the basics from living with them. Not too different than the Paiute I learned as a child.”

“Teach me some, please.”

“Aishen is thank you.”

“Aishen.”

“You’re welcome. Behne is a greeting, wa’ipi is woman, dainah is man, bungu is horse, and bozheena is buffalo.”

“So as I get huge with your child, you better not call me a bozheena wa’ipi!”

“I’ll just call you weda’.”

“What’s a weda’?”

“Oh, that means sweet flower.”

But as he said it, he was laughing, and Cici knew that’s not what it meant. She chased him around the great room and Davy started to laugh and run with them. Finally Cici and Davy caught him and they tumbled to the floor laughing. There was a knock on the door and Ben opened the door and entered followed by Chris, and both had to smile to see Adam laying on the floor being held down by the petite Cici and his small son and being tickled by both.

“Did we interrupt something?”

“Papa, Adam called me a name in Newe, and he won’t tell me what it was.”

“Newe?”

“It’s Shoshoni. Cici wanted to learn some of the words. I just said that as her pregnancy advances, she’ll be a weda’.”

“Pregnancy?”

“Oh yeah. Pa, we have an announcement to make. We’re having another baby.”

“Congratulations to you both. Cici I can’t help you. I don’t know any of that language.”

“It means grizzly bear.”

Everyone looked in amazement at Chris. She shrugged. They were all going to have to learn about her now. She was staying. Ben had asked her to, and she had agreed. She had asked him to take it slowly with her, but she told him too that she had missed him when he was gone and did like being kissed. Ben had bitten back the marriage proposal he was going to make. Having her there as a friend and a companion was going to be good enough for now.

“I asked Christine to stay and she has agreed to do that. She will continue to work with Joe but will also help me with the ranch ledgers. Apparently she has some experience working as a clerk so that will help.”

Adam was greatly relieved. He had been trying to help with the ranch ledgers, but he also had the mining records to keep as well as the timber and lumber records. He told Chris how grateful he was that she would help with the ranch records of the cattle, crops, and horses.

“We’re going to town now to get some things for Christine. Then we’re coming back here to get her things. She’ll be staying in the downstairs guest room.”

Even if Chris didn’t know it, that commitment meant that there was no possible way that Ben was ever going to let her leave that house. At some point, Adam and Cici knew that Chris and Ben would be married. Cici stood and walked over to Chris to give her a big hug. Adam stood with Davy in his arms and nodded and smiled to her.

“Should we call you Christine now?”

“Cici, I don’t know. I have been called Chris for over thirty years, but when Ben calls me Christine, I kinda like it.”

Adam smirked as he saw his father blush a little. Ben was a little surprised at her statement but realized that she was always very direct in what she said. At the same time, he was pleased by the obvious affection she was showing toward him. Ben said it was time to get going, and the two of them turned to leave. Davy had the parting shot that had all of them smiling.

“Bye gr’pa, bye gr’ma.”

*****

One Year later:

Epilogue

Letter from Heaven

Winter was approaching and Joe was thinking that he might like to read that book that Adam had recommended. Now that his children each had a room of their own including the baby, the living room was often quiet in the evenings, and he would have time to read. So early in the morning on a Saturday in November, he rode to Adam’s house. As he rode into their yard, Cici was sitting on the veranda and Davy was playing on the hill in front of the house. Cici was holding her daughter Gabrielle who was swaddled in so many blankets Cici could have been holding a load of laundry as nothing showed of the little beauty. She had suffered through a bout of pneumonia at her young age that made her parents very protective of her. She was healthy now, but they were still very cautious with her especially when she was outdoors. Without a doctor in the house, she may not have survived so Adam and Cici had faced again that greatest fear of a parent. As Joe rode near and Davy yelled out a greeting, Cici stood and placed her daughter on the swing. Apparently she was sleeping so Joe spoke quietly.

“Adam mentioned that I might like that book about submarines, Under the Sea or something like that. I wanted to borrow it if I could.”

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Yes, I remember unpacking the books and restocking the shelves in the study when he finished my office. I think I know right where it is. Watch over Gabi if you will, and I’ll be back in a moment.”

Cici found the book and a multi-folded paper fell on the floor when she pulled it off the shelf. Assuming that Adam had been using it for a bookmark, she replaced it in the book and brought the book out to Joe.

“I don’t suppose I have to tell you to be careful with this.”

Cici smiled knowingly. She had heard a few rants about what Joe had done to some of Adam’s books when they were both boys in their father’s house. Adam did not ever forget when someone damaged a book or his guitar.

“He can forgive and forget a fist in the face or any number of other things, but never ever damage one of his books!”

Joe laughed and nodded. Yup, that was his brother.

“I’ve changed a lot from that six year old who took his books and used them to build a fort. Now I actually read them! I think that this will be a perfect way to spend some time this winter. By the way, where is that granite-husband of yours?”

“Where would you think? He went to town because he had some work to do, then he’s going to pick up supplies, and when he gets home, he and Davy are going to do some riding.”

“Wow, Davy, you’re riding?”

“Today I a cowboy!”

Cici and Joe laughed. Davy was wearing a dark shirt, dark hat, and blue pants. He looked like a miniature Adam which is exactly what he wanted.

“Adam got a small pony that is old but still healthy and very docile. Davy wanted so much to ride that Adam thought that this would be the best solution. One of the errands in town is to pick up this itty bitty saddle he ordered. It is quite extravagant to spend that much on a saddle that will be used for only a year or so but you know how he is about his son.”

“Well I gotta get going. I’m supposed to meet Pa and Hoss at the house to go over the plans for the spring. Tell Adam thank you and that I will treat this book as my greatest treasure until I return it to him. If he gets back soon enough, send him over to the main house. We can all have coffee, and Saturday morning is always cookie baking day for Hop Sing.”

With a pat on Davy’s head, Joe swung up on Cochise. Davy was thinking that he would be doing the same with his pony soon. Cici waved goodbye and picked up her fussing daughter. She called to Davy and all three went inside.

At the main house, Joe did not see Hoss’ horse. When he went inside, Hop Sing told him that they had been called to see a neighbor who wanted to sell out and would be back soon. Then he returned to the great room with coffee and fresh baked cookies for Joe. After a few minutes, Joe thought this would be a good time to take a look at the book he had borrowed. Retrieving it from his saddlebag, he sat in the red leather chair by the fireplace eating cookies, drinking coffee, and reading. That’s how Ben and Hoss found him when they returned.

“Hey Pa, this is a great book. I borrowed it from Adam to read this winter but I don’t think I’ll be able to wait that long.”

As Joe lifted the book to show them, a folded paper fell to the floor. Naturally curious, he unfolded it and read. After just a minute, he looked at his father and brother with a stricken look. He walked over to Ben and handed him the paper. Joe had tears running down his cheeks, and his father and brother looked at him with great concern.

I only have one sheet of paper here as there is a severe limit on what anyone can keep in a cell. It will be hard enough to keep this safe so you will have to share. I wanted to let you know what my thoughts were about all of you. I have no last will and testament as I have nothing left to give so this is all I can leave for you. I don’t shed tears anymore over my fate. I know that He gives us only what we can handle. I just wish He didn’t think I could bear so much.

Pa

I don’t expect to ever see the outside of these gray walls. Life is hard here but I wanted you to know that every day I have strength to prevail because of what you taught me: strength of character, integrity, honesty, and courage will always prevail against injustice. I fear I may never see you again in this life, but I wanted to tell you that you are in my heart every day. When the Lord sees fit to call you home, know that I plan to be waiting there to greet you.

Hoss

If tomorrow starts without me, I want you to know that my last thoughts were of you. You were always my best friend and my anchor. You may not have known how much I learned from you. You reminded me to look for the good in everyone. I didn’t always find it, but because of you, there were many friendships I enjoyed. It’s hard to find anything to be joyful about here, but when I think of you, there is joy in my heart. If I could say one more thing to you it would be to stay true to yourself: you are a precious gem.

Joe

There is so much we never got to say. I want to thank you for reminding me to laugh. So often I was worried about the next day but you got me to remember to enjoy today. Your joy of life was awe inspiring. There is so much I do not understand about what has happened, but no matter what, you should know that I love you. I never meant to be as ‘bossy’ as you sometimes believed I was. It was just that you have so many wonderful qualities with your intelligence, wit, strength, and strong will I never wanted you to sell

Ben finished reading and with shaking hands gave the letter to Hoss. As Hoss read, Joe turned and walked outside.

“Hoss, he must have written that while he was in prison. I don’t know what to say. I knew I wasn’t meant to read it, but once I started, I couldn’t stop myself.”

Ben had spoken in a tremulous voice so unlike his usual deep resonance.

“Why do you suppose he didn’t finish it?”

“There’s no way of knowing. We can’t ask him. He expected us to get this after he died! ”

Joe had returned from outside and had regained his composure.

“If I return it in the book, he’ll know I saw it.”

All three men stood silently for a bit.

“Hoss, Pa, we have to give it back. We need to give it back, and we need to admit we read it. Covering up the truth is the worst thing we can do here. He may be upset at first, but we never meant to invade his privacy, and Adam will understand. He always does.”

Ben stood with his head bowed and one hand massaging his forehead. Hoss stood staring at the ceiling. Finally, Hoss put his arm around Joe’s shoulders and squeezed.

“When did you get so smart, little brother?”

Ben nodded to Joe.

“Hoss is right. You told us exactly what we need to do.”

All three tensed a little as they heard a horse ride in. It had to be Adam. Ben and Hoss steeled themselves for what they had to do. Smiling, Joe walked to the door and opened it.

“Hey, Adam, great to see you!”

The conversation as they sat inside later was a somber one. Adam frankly did not know how to react. Through it all, Joe sat beside him and kept his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Joe knew it must be wrenching even after all these years to relive any part of that experience. When the conversation lulled, and it seemed there was nothing more to add, Joe had one question.

“Adam, you never finished my part. Do you remember what you were going to say.”

At that, Adam grinned and Joe knew just by the look to be a little worried about what he would say next.

“Hey, you said some really nice things about me. The ending had to be good? Wasn’t it?”

“Well Joe I was writing and I only had a little stub of a pencil and I wrote that part and then I couldn’t think of how to change it and have it still make sense, so I never finished.”

“No, come on, you can tell me.”

Looking at Ben and Hoss for support, Joe turned again to Adam.

“Joe, don’t take this the wrong way, but I wanted to tell you not to sell yourself short.”

It took just a moment and then Hoss started laughing followed by Ben. Joe looked at Adam who had his eyebrows raised.

“I guess I asked for that one.”

Joe threw his arms around his oldest brother for a hug he knew Adam probably wasn’t ready for, but he had to do it. His brother was back, really back, even if it had taken a long time for the whole drama to play out, and he wanted to let him know how important that was.

*****

What Else Could Go Wrong

Chapter 1

The Cartwright row at church had expanded into three rows. Ben sat in front with Christine joined usually by Adam and Cici and Gabi with Davy, Jac behind them. Hoss and Barbara sat with Gabe and Adam’s boys, and Joe and Rachel were behind them with Anna, Bethany, and Benjy. The first Sunday in February, it seemed though that many of the children in church were coming down with colds and some of the parents didn’t sound too good either. Many in church were coughing. There had been one storm after another since Christmas and with a beautiful day of mild temperatures and bright sun, everyone had wanted to get out of the house. Cici leaned over to Adam and suggested they leave early. Gabi had barely survived pneumonia the previous summer and at nine months old, was still very susceptible to illness. When the little girl started crying, instead of soothing her, Cici left with her and Adam gathered up the two boys to follow. Barbara thought she knew why they were leaving and suggested the same to Hoss. They had just found out that Barbara was going to have a second child and it would be bad if she became ill now. They soon followed Adam’s family out the door. Apparently the minister drew the same conclusion and delivered perhaps his shortest sermon ever before asking everyone to join in prayer for all those who were ill.

Doctor Martin was in his office instead of at church because a number of parents had brought children to him that morning with high fevers and sore throats. It didn’t take long for him to diagnose the malady afflicting them: diphtheria. What he didn’t know yet was the severity of the disease. Diphtheria could be a mild illness, severe, or even life threatening. All the patients who were in his office that morning had only developed the symptoms on the weekend so there was no way to know yet just how sick they were going to be. All were school age. The only conclusion to be drawn was that someone had been infected and gone to school to cause this outbreak. As soon as Roy Coffee arrived at his office because of the several carriages outside, Paul informed him that the school needed to be shut down, and that a quarantine had to be established for all school age children. Then he asked Roy if he would contact Cici as he needed some help and would need her even more over the next week. Roy had seen Adam and Cici leaving town so he knew he needed to go to their house which he would do as soon as he tacked a sign on the schoolhouse door and informed Abigail Meyer that the school was to be closed indefinitely.

Adam was not happy that Cici agreed to help. She told him she would not be home until the outbreak had ended because she would not risk infecting their children. She suggested too that Adam get supplies and anything else they needed from Carson City instead of Virginia City until it was over. Adam pulled her into an embrace in their bedroom as she decided what she needed to pack. He didn’t want to let her go but finally did. Cici had tears in her eyes as did her husband. This was going to be a difficult time for them.

“You did know what you were getting into by marrying a doctor. It hasn’t been too bad so far, has it?”

“No but delivering babies, doing surgery, patching up wounds, and setting broken bones is nothing compared to this. This is dangerous.”

“I will talk to Paul about the two of us getting enough sleep and getting good nutrition. Most of the time this is an illness of young children. Older people who have problems are also susceptible so we need to make sure we stay rested so we stay healthy. I’m sure he will agree with me.”

“How will we communicate? I need to know how you’re doing, and I’ll let you know about our children.”

“There’s the signpost just as you near town. Every day in the morning, I will leave a letter in a bottle for you. Take it and leave one for me. If there’s a reason we can’t put a message there, we should wait until the next day and explain.”

“You know I’ll be worried sick if there isn’t a note there. I’ll miss you so much. I want you to swear that you will do everything you know how to do to stay healthy.”

Cici kissed Adam then with so much emotion she started crying but knew she had to stop so that the children wouldn’t see her red and swollen eyes because it would only frighten them. It would be a difficult time for her and Adam, but hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad for the children if she could make it seem like an ordinary trip. Walking downstairs arm-in-arm, they tried to get as much contact as possible before Cici left. The children were used to Adam being gone sometimes for days at a time, but this was a first for their mother being gone. They didn’t understand that she was stepping into a dangerous situation. After she drove away in the carriage, Adam choked back his sadness and turned to the children to ask if anyone wanted to draw. The children loved to draw with him so Davy and Jacob rushed back to the house as Adam, with Gabi in his arms, took one last look down the road where his love had gone.

The rest of the day went well with the children. After dinner, they went through their usual nighttime routines. Davy was not going to school the next day so Adam allowed him to stay up a bit later than usual. The boy slept at least ten hours most nights so he went to bed at the same time as Jacob usually because he had to get up much earlier. However for the next day and probably for at least a week or two, all the children could sleep in. Adam didn’t fall asleep though. He tried but came downstairs and sat out on his veranda for a bit until it was simply too cold to stay there. Then he sat in his study and watched the embers in the fireplace gradually lose their glow. When they were nearly gone, he put a large log in the fireplace and then did the same in the parlor. It would be warmer in the morning that way when the children got up. He went to his big empty bed, and slept restlessly for the few hours before dawn.

In the morning, Adam drank the coffee that Kim had ready then, penned a note to Cici about the children drawing and headed to town with a clean bottle that Kim had given him. When he got to the signpost, Cici was walking up. He put his letter in the bottle and set it by the signpost. Then he retreated to where his horse was ground tied. He wanted to rush to her and grab her in his arms, but the risk to the children was too great. He would not violate the quarantine. Cici put her letter in the bottle after retrieving the one Adam had left. She folded it and put it in her pocket.

“We had quite a few new cases by last night. How is Davy? Is he showing any symptoms?”

“None at all. I checked him for fever last night and again this morning even though he was still sleeping. He has no sign of a fever at all and no hint that he’s developing a cough.”

“I hope that means he won’t get it. Most of the school age children’s families are affected but not every child is ill. I am hoping by getting everyone quarantined that we have seen the worst of it under control already. Please keep Davy away from Gabi as much as possible for a few days.”

“Do you still think he could have it?”

“It’s possible, but the longer he goes without symptoms, the less likely that is.”

“I told Mrs. Bayer to stay home for today. I don’t want her getting ill. At her age, it could be quite serious. Kim is checking on her and says she’s fine.”

“I had not thought about her. Thank you. I wish I could give you a kiss but that wouldn’t be a good idea. I have to get back now. I love you so much. Could you please tell the children how much I love them? I wrote something for each of the boys in the letter, and a little something for you too so please read the first page to the boys but keep the second for yourself.”

“Until tomorrow morning then. Stay healthy, please?”

Turning and walking away from each other at that point was the most wrenching thing either had done during their marriage. It hurt, but it had to be done. Back at the house, Adam helped the children dress for the day and then have breakfast. After breakfast, he read the letter from Cici to their boys. Then leaving the children in Kim’s hands, he rode to the main house to tell his father what had happened and what they were doing. He had planned to head to the mines to see how things were going there and to be sure no one was ill, but his father suggested that he should have Matt do that for a the few days it would take. He did say that he would be able to get to the lumber mill and back without being gone too long and his father agreed that should work, but the next task would be the hardest as he needed to get to the timber camps which he would not be able to do in one day because there was too much to do there. Ben offered to help with his children, but Adam declined for the same reason as he wanted Mrs. Bayer to stay at her cottage. They still didn’t know if Davy was affected, and if he was going to come down with the disease, he would put anyone in contact with him at risk. It was especially hard because, like Cici, Adam worried about little Gabi’s health. He didn’t need Cici to tell him that diphtheria could be fatal for their little girl. A few men were complaining of sore throats and being warm. Adam instructed the foremen to send anyone home who appeared ill in any way and to separate the men in the bunkhouse.

“You might even offer to let anyone who wants to camp out do so and leave those who are feeling ill stay in the bunkhouse.”

Ben and Candy agreed that was a good precaution, and some of the men thought so too accepting that sleeping under a tarp on hard ground was better than being exposed to diphtheria.

On Tuesday morning, Adam awoke before dawn. He knew he had a lot to do that day, and the nervous energy ended his sleep. As soon as he dressed, he made the rounds of the children’s bedrooms. Each was sleeping comfortably, and none showed any signs of illness. Davy’s forehead was as warm as one would expect from a sleeping little boy. Relieved at least by that, Adam went downstairs to find his breakfast already prepared by Kim who seemed to have a sixth sense about what the family needed. Adam explained he was going to pick up Cici’s note, and then he would head directly to the lumber mill probably arriving back very late. Kim admonished him that he should spend the night there, but he was unwilling to stay away from his children that long. Cici was not yet at the signpost when Adam arrived. He determined that he could ride this way that night and retrieve her letter before he went home. The problems at the lumber mill were the usual and that meant he could head directly back home after getting everything straightened out and making sure the foremen knew the expectations for production for the next week.

That night after Adam had made the long ride back, he stopped at the signpost and retrieved Cici’s letter. Everything was improving in town as no more cases had come in that day. However they knew that the second stage in the epidemic might start at any time with those who had cared for the sick becoming ill themselves. If they weathered that, then the epidemic would truly be finished. Adam hoped that was the case. Cici said if there were no more new cases, she would be home in five days. It would be a very long five days.

The next morning Adam awoke with a headache after only about six hours of sleep. He went through the routine of checking his children and found all were healthy. Based on what Cici had said, that should mean they were not infected and the fear of the epidemic reaching their home was gone. He planned to ask Mrs. Bayer to come over today to help with the children. In the dining room, Kim brought him a plate of eggs, beefsteak, potatoes, and biscuits with a big cup of coffee. Adam’s stomach recoiled at the food, and the coffee seemed to burn on the way down. He finally decided to go in the study to write a note to Cici with the good news that all three children were healthy. He rode to town to deliver his letter and found that the ride seemed to jar every bone in his body. He planned to go home today and soak in the tub and perhaps try to get a nap. He never got that far. As he put his letter in the jar for his wife, he saw her walking toward him.

“My God, you look awful. You haven’t been taking care of yourself.”

“Cici, there was so much to do. But today I will be home and rest up. I know I need it.”

Adam and Cici did the exchange of letters, and he mounted up to ride out. He didn’t turn to wave as he normally would have, and Cici with a worried expression watched him ride away. He made it to the stable at his home, but currying his horse or even unsaddling him seemed to be too much effort. He had started to cough as he rode back. Now he raised his hand to his own forehead as he did with the children each morning, but in this case, the news wasn’t good. He felt feverish even to himself, and it was a cool morning so he couldn’t blame the ride. One of his men walked into the stable and seeing his boss looking so ill offered to put up his horse for him. Adam nodded and walked toward the house. What he was thinking was how he was going to be able to manage this as well. He saw Kim in the garden and explained to him what was happening. Kim wasn’t surprised at all after how Adam had been at breakfast. He went inside with Adam and told Mrs. Bayer to keep the children away from their father. Adam climbed the stairs slowly and fell into his bed after removing his boots. He pulled a quilt over himself as he began to shiver.

*****

Chapter 2

In town, Cici spent the day checking on patients. As epidemics of diphtheria went, this one had been fairly mild, and they had contained it early. She hoped that one day someone would find what caused this terrible disease of children so that something preventative could be done as they already did with cholera and typhus. Meanwhile she allowed some of the patients who had been the most ill to go home with their parents. She stopped at a few homes where a number of the children had been infected and got good news at all of the stops. Finally she returned to the office to talk with Doctor Martin who was just getting up. They had split the day somewhat as they worked together. Cici slept at night and Paul slept during the day as each made sure they got at least eight hours of sleep. The evenings they both worked as well as consulted about patients. The workload had diminished greatly over the past day so they finally were able to sit together over a meal and decide what to do next. Paul suggested that he thought it would be all right for Cici to go home in the evenings if she could come back in the morning to make rounds for at least the morning. She agreed.

The next afternoon, Cici stopped at the signpost to retrieve the bottle and was surprised there was no letter. She was going home for the afternoon and would return to town the next morning to help out if she was needed. At least that was the plan. As soon as she entered her home and saw the worried looks from Mrs. Bayer and from Kim, she knew something was terribly wrong. When she heard the coughing from upstairs, she knew what was wrong, or more accurately who was sick. Cici nearly ran up the stairs after she had given a quick hug and kiss to each child. When she entered the bedroom, she rushed to Adam’s bedside. He was no longer coughing and looked at her with misery etched in his face and in his demeanor.

“I am so glad to see you but you shouldn’t be here. You’ll get sick.”

“Nonsense, I have been with ill people for nearly a week, and I’m perfectly fine. I promised to take care of myself, and I did. I should have made you promise to do the same. Now come here by the window so I can see you better.”

Cici actually had to help Adam climb out of the bed and walk to a chair near the window. She opened the curtains to let in more light and had him open his mouth wide and tip his head back. She examined his throat and then had him take deep breaths as she listened to his lungs. Finally, she helped him back into the bed.

“So what’s the diagnosis, doc?”

“You are going to live a long time and make love to your wife on a regular basis as soon as possible I might add.”

Adam knew by her bantering tone that he could not have diphtheria. He wondered then what he did have. Cici sat by him and ran her hand over his chest and tickled him a little until he smiled.

“There, that’s the best medicine of all. You have a very bad cold. There are no signs of diphtheria and your lungs sound good so it’s not pneumonia. You get to rest in bed for a few days to recover. I will keep the children away because I don’t want them all down with colds though.”

“Well if that’s all it is, will you risk your health and give me a hug?”

Cici climbed next to Adam in the bed and pressed herself against him as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close. Adam rolled her over, and the two of them relaxed in each other’s embrace.

“We could do more. I feel a lot better now.”

“No, I should go tell the children you’re going to be all right. I’ll bring a cup of tea with honey for your cough.”

“And a little brandy?”

Cici smiled as she rolled out of the bed on the other side. She had felt her husband’s reaction to her and knew things would have gone much further if it had been later that night and the children had been in bed. She went downstairs and could see the relief evident in the boys’ faces when she said their father would be fine, but he just needed to rest for a few days. Gabi held her arms up for a hug. Cici carried her into the kitchen and got the tea ready. She put a little brandy in the cup from the bottle that was in the kitchen for cooking. By the time she got upstairs though, Adam was already sleeping. She sat in the chair with her daughter then and sipped the tea. It was so pleasant to be home with family and know they were all doing well or well enough.

That feeling of bliss lasted only a few more minutes though until Cici heard a rider pounding into the yard. It was Joe who raced up the steps to the veranda and pounded on the front door. Cici stood with her daughter in her arms and headed downstairs where she handed the little girl to Mrs. Bayer. Cici opened the door to Joe who was singed and covered in soot.

“There’s been a fire. The lumber mill is partially destroyed. Where the logs go in jammed up and sparks started a fire. We need Adam as soon as possible to tell us what to order to get it rebuilt. We need his plans for the necessary repairs and a list of what we need to buy to rebuild it. We have contracts we will default on if we can’t get that mill up and operating within a week, perhaps two at the most.”

“Adam is in bed sick. He certainly won’t be able to do all those things in his condition.”

“I’ll do what I can, what I have to, so we don’t lose those contracts. There’s too much at stake.” Adam’s voice was so hoarse that he sounded more like a frog croaking than a man speaking when he said those things.

“Adam, get back in bed right now. You have a fever and a bad cough. You’re exhausted.”

“Cici, I’ll work in the study. I can sit at my desk without a problem.”

Joe noticed the looks going back and forth between the two, and decided a calculated retreat was in order.

“I’ll head back to the ranch to let them know. Let me know how this turns out. As soon as you can.”

Joe pulled the door shut and ran to Cochise. He would have to let their father know there might be another complication. Tomorrow morning, their father could head over here and play peacemaker. It wouldn’t be easy, but he thought it would be better that their father do it than him trying to do it. By the time he got back to the main house, it was late but everyone was still there and talking.

“Pa, Adam’s sick. I saw him, and he looks awful, and he sounds even worse. Cici wants him to stay in bed, but after I told them what the problem was, he said he could work on it in his study. She did not look happy about that, but I left before there were any fireworks. Maybe you could head over there in the morning.”

“Ben, I could help Adam. With some of my work, I have been able to draw up lists of supplies and materials. I could go to town and find out what was available, and what we would need to order right away.”

“Christine, thank you. We’ll both head over there in the morning to help. Joe, could you go ask Matt to come along? I think with his knowledge and skills, he might be of help to Adam as he draws up new plans. Hoss, did you get a list of the lumber and timbers that are available?”

Joe and Hoss nodded yes, and Hoss handed over a sheet of paper after he unfolded it. They had enough wood, but weren’t sure if they would be able to get enough of the other material quickly. Adam had designed and built the first lumber mill so he was the only one who had a good idea of what they needed. For the first time, the men of the Ponderosa were going up against the feisty doctor and none of them looked forward to that confrontation. She would do anything to protect Adam even from himself so it would be a most interesting next day.

Luckily, Adam had fought and won the first part of that battle with Cici. He had dug out the plans for the first mill that night. Then he had agreed to go to bed and managed to convince Cici not to let their disagreement mar her homecoming. It didn’t actually take much. With the children in bed, Adam held her in his arms and kissed her deeply and nuzzled her neck, and all their friction was forgotten as they shed clothes and enjoyed a romantic interlude. Afterwards, Adam whispered in her ear that he loved her so much and then fell asleep with his arms around her. Cici laid awake for a time worried that Adam would become sicker if he worked too hard so she determined to make a pact with him in the morning to limit his work to what he could do from home. She hoped her concession would be enough. She still had patients to tend to in town and couldn’t do that well if she was worrying constantly about her husband getting sicker. In the morning, she intended to extract a promise from him. With that thought, she snuggled in closer and fell asleep.

*****

Chapter 3

During the night, Adam awoke several times coughing. Cici got him hot tea with honey and brandy each time. Finally, she piled pillows behind him so he was sleeping upright enough that he managed to sleep peacefully in that position until dawn. She told Kim that he needed a warm bath, and she sent him to the washroom under protest to soak. She said it would help his aches and pains and the steam would help his respiratory system that would make it easier for him to work. Once he realized her concession, he could hardly in good conscience argue any more. Adam was still soaking when Ben, Christine, and Matt arrived at the house at seven. They knew it was very early, but both Cici and Adam were early risers so they also knew it would not be an imposition to be there that early. They also were working with some severe deadlines and needed to know what obstacles they faced.

Cici greeted her visitors and brought them to the study. Then she brought Adam clothing: drawers and a robe. She knew he wouldn’t dare leave the house in those so he would have to work in the study. All she got from him was a scowl but that also meant that she won this round so she wasn’t perturbed at all. She asked Kim to bring coffee and tea into the study. Once she got there, she found Adam already showing the original plans to his father, Christine, and Jamie.

Using the original plans, Christine started making a list of items Adam said would not change with new plans. Then he showed them the sketch he had made the night before for some changes in the original plans that would improve efficiency. What needed to be done was to figure in the dimensions, and then someone would have to draw the plans. First they would need the footprint of the mill so they could set cornerstones and a foundation. Then they would need the plans including the dimensions of the structure with the timbering they would need for wall and roof supports as well as floor supports for where the heaviest loads would be. There would have to be lists of supplies and materials needed for all including the machinery they would need to purchase. And of course, they needed everything as soon as possible.

“Adam, how much of this can you do? I know you’re ill, and Cici wants you in bed.”

Adam just cocked up an eyebrow at his father over the last statement, but Ben chose to ignore it. Instead, he continued to look at the plans.

“It won’t be too much trouble to figure in the dimensions and the supports needed. What will take a lot of time is redrawing the whole set of plans with the changes in them.”

“Adam, Ben said I should help with the drawing. I’m good with math and measuring and such. I never drew plans that are this complex, but if you would show me how, I could do a lot of it.”

“Matt, that would be a big help. We can try it. Chris, do you have enough on that list to get you started?”

“Pa, if you can wait an hour or two, Matt and I will get the preliminary drawings done so you can get the men to lay the cornerstones and the foundation for the new side. I would assume they are clearing out the site this morning?”

“Yes, I was hoping that we could get started today so if you two could do that much, that would be the best news we’ve had lately.”

“I think the best news is that the epidemic is on its last legs and no one in our family was infected. This is just about money.”

“I’m sorry, Cici. I wasn’t thinking. Of course lives are more important. But now that the crisis is over, this is our next problem to deal with.”

“I’m sorry if I am a little touchy. The stress of dealing with sick children and then a husband who acts like one when he is sick has made me a bit ornery.”

That got her a smile from all those present except Adam who gifted her with a scowl. She knew she would hear about that later, but at that point she had to get going to town to help Paul so he could get some rest. She kissed Adam on the cheek as he bent over the plans, but then he followed her out of the study. At the front door, he pulled her into an embrace, kissed her deeply, and whispered an ‘I’m sorry’ before releasing her and heading back to the study. Well, she hadn’t been expecting that but it brought a big smile to her face. Adam paused at the study door to turn and grin at her. Now she knew he was up to something but had no idea what it was. Before she left, Christine came out with Ben to hitch up the buckboard to take it to town to start getting supplies and materials as well as ordering those that were not in stock.

By early afternoon, Cici was back. All the patients in town were getting better or were stable, and there had not been a single case reported since she had left the day before. As she entered her home though she could hear Adam coughing in the study. He had agreed to let Matt do some of the work and get some rest but that had apparently not happened. She entered the study and Kim miraculously was there at her elbow soon after with a cup of tea with honey and brandy. Cici hoped it was a lot of brandy and with Kim’s shy smile, she assumed they were thinking alike.

“Sit on the couch and drink this. You can’t get much work done coughing every few minutes.”

“We need these plans done today if possible.”

“Drink this. Now lie down. Close your eyes. If you can lie there with your eyes closed for fifteen minutes, I’ll let you get up and continue working. Otherwise, Matt can work while you rest.”

Matt moved to the table and began to work on the drawings as Adam had shown him earlier. Within about two minutes, all that could be heard was the pencil moving across the paper on the drafting table and snores from the congested man sleeping on the couch. She had made sure he had pillows propped behind him before he lay back and closed his eyes so she pulled a blanket from the trunk in front of the couch and covered him because he was still dressed in his robe only. She left the study pulling the door closed behind her. She and Mrs. Bayer would get the children down for naps, and all would sleep well in a quiet house. Davy objected, but Cici said he could read quietly in his bed if he couldn’t sleep and that pacified him.

Late in the afternoon, Cici returned to the study to find Adam waking. Matt turned to tell them that he was almost done duplicating the work they had done so far and finishing the drawings with darker lines as well. Adam stood and walked to the drafting table and Matt held his breath knowing how much of a perfectionist his boss was. He knew from Hoss and Joe that Adam wanted any job done just right and would accept no less. Adam slowly looked through the plans page by page.

“These lines for outside walls and load bearing walls on each page need to be darker. You do that and these are ready to go. You did a great job. Thank you. You learned very well from your father, and even more impressively, remembered it all.”

Matt was relieved and very pleased to have Adam praise him like that. A ‘good job’ from Adam was like getting lavish praise from anyone else. He said what he meant and nothing more. The Ponderosa was feeling like home, and Adam was almost like a brother to him. Cici told Adam to dress for dinner because the work for the day was done so he could take care of more mundane matters. She asked Matt if he would stay for dinner as soon as he finished the drawings, and he agreed. Cici was glad to see Adam and Matt working together like this and hoped that they would do more collaborative work in the future because it was good for both of them.

As they were eating dinner, there was knock on the door. Adam went to answer it and everyone at the table heard his voice rise in complaint. Cici and Matt hurried to see who it was and met Adam and Christine coming toward them.

“It seems that the crucial things we need for the mill have been purchased by another buyer. Christine could get supplies and materials but not the things we need the most. Someone is out to ruin us. I think that fire was no accident.”

“Adam, that’s not the worst of it. When I was in town, I heard that Barney Fuller’s lumber mill was on fire today. Now that’s a heck of a coincidence don’t you think?”

“Barney stood with us against the Enders Corporation. The principals from that company are all dead or gone but I think perhaps at least one of the investors who lost money has not given up. I need to go see Pa.”

Cici was going to object but Christine and Matt beat her to the punch.

“Adam, Matt and I will go. You stay here and rest. Ben will be here to see you soon I would expect. I’ll tell Jed to keep his eyes open. Everyone needs to be on alert now.”

*****

Chapter 4

After they left, Adam worked on the drawings and then on the duplicate plans Matt had done. He darkened the lines for all outside walls and load bearing walls. Doing a final check of the plans, he rolled them up and secured them within a tube. They were ready to go to the building site. Cici was glad to realize that as he worked, he wasn’t coughing so he was already recovering from the cold, and as long as he got enough rest, he would be well again soon.

Horses were heard arriving and Adam grabbed his pistol as he went to the front door. His father yelled out as soon as he saw the door cracked to reassure Adam that all was well. Surprisingly, Barney Fuller was there. Ben and Barney butted heads a lot in business competition, but the two did respect each other. Both knew the other one would not have set fire to a lumber mill to secure a contract or ruin a competitor. Barney came inside with Ben who had also asked Roy to be there. Hoss, Joe, Matt, and Christine were soon inside as well.

“Son, we brought two more men to set a watch outside. Jed can switch off with them tonight. Whoever is doing this is ruthless.”

“I know that, Pa, but does anyone have any idea who it is?”

“Well, I might be able to shed some light on that. I got word that Sebastian Crane was seen in Carson City. Now I had put the word out that I wanted to question him about all those shenanigans what happened here, and so the sheriff there let me know he was in town. I was fixing to take a trip over there to see him when I got word of what happened here. The Carson City sheriff will put him in ‘protective custody’ as a ‘threatened witness’ if he sees him again.”

“Who threatened him, Roy?”

“Why, Adam, I believe you did say back aways that if you ever got your hands on that man, you’d take some pieces of his hide as payment for all the bad things he caused. Now, I rightly think he might just need some protecting from you. Everyone hereabouts knows that temper you have.”

The whole group laughed at Roy’s clever approach. The big question then though was why. What did Sebastian Crane have to gain by costing the Cartwrights and Fuller their lumber contracts?

“Wait a minute. Didn’t you tell me, Ben, that Crane represented investors in mines and in the Truckee Railroad. Now isn’t your contract with the investors in the Truckee Railroad to create another line so that they can make direct runs to California. You’re doing the trestles and Barney is supplying the wood for the tracks?”

“Christine’s right on that, Pa. The timber contracts are with the new rail line. That’s why we didn’t make the connection.”

Adam’s brothers were all looking as confused as was Sheriff Coffee. Ben and Barney had started to nod their heads yes. Christine and Adam were grinning. It had not taken long to figure this one out. Adam walked to the study to grab a sketch-pad. He sat in a chair and began drawing as the others discussed their theory. Ben finally laid it out for everyone.

“If we miss our deadlines on delivery, we default on the contracts. We owe them a penalty, and they get to keep all the lumber already delivered. We are two-thirds of the way done, and I would assume Barney is at about the same point.”

Barney nodded in agreement, and everyone there now had a good idea as to motive. Barney continued.

“Then they could make new contracts with us for the remainder, and we would have to bid low to get the contract because we would need the business so desperately. But if we can prove collusion, then the contract becomes void, we owe no penalty, and we get paid.”

The key then was getting Sebastian Crane in custody. Once that was accomplished, Ben and Barney could approach the railroad company with Roy helping, and lay out the charges of conspiracy and arson. They would likely back down at that point, and the contracts would be fulfilled on their original terms. But then the question remained as to how to get Sebastian Crane in custody and get evidence against him.

Adam stood and brought his sketch to the table. He didn’t think he could ever forget that face that had almost ruined his family. Everyone agreed it was a good likeness but asked what good it would do.

“I can made a dozen of these right now. You take them tomorrow to the lumber mills and find if anyone saw him near the mills. Take them to every mercantile and find if he bought coal oil or any other inflammatory material. Check with the livery stables to find if he rented a horse, carriage, or wagon and when. Offer a reward for anyone with information. In fact offer amnesty and a nice fat reward to anyone who may have committed the arson. He probably hired someone. See if any unsavory men have a lot of extra money suddenly spending it in saloons and whorehouses.”

“I told ya, Ben, this son of yours shoulda been a sheriff or a lawyer. He’s got all the smarts for the job.”

“Roy, are you forgetting that my son was, and is although retired, a federal marshal?”

“Ya know, I did forget. I got so used to seeing him as a businessman and a rancher, I plumb forgot. Well, we can get to this first thing in the morning. Who’s going to go where?”

They spent some time discussing who would do what. Finally, Ben took Christine’s hand and asked her if it was time. She shrugged and then nodded yes.

“We wanted to announce this at Christmas but so much was happening, we held off and planned to announce it at Valentine’s Day, and then the diphtheria epidemic hit. We were getting ready to announce it this Sunday and now this. I don’t want to wait any more. So I’m announcing it tonight. Christine and I are getting married on the first Sunday in April.”

Ben’s sons looked happy, but none looked surprised. Roy and Matt were the only ones who were looking a bit surprised.

“Doesn’t anyone have anything to say?”

“Pa, well, Christine and the ladies talked, and you know none of them can keep a secret from us. So Hoss, Joe, and I were just waiting for you to tell us, and it’s been two months, and I guess the excitement has worn off a little.”

Adam slapped his father on the shoulder and went to get some wine and glasses with Cici’s help. Christine was looking a little sheepish. Matt and Roy were only surprised at the timing but had also expected there would be an announcement eventually. Ben had to shake his head at his family because they were always full of surprises for him. Toasts were made, congratulations were delivered, and they all headed off to their beds with the next day’s assignments in hand.

The plan went amazingly well. Once Crane was in custody even with minimal evidence against him, the railroad investors chose to cut and run. They agreed to honor the contracts and negate the late clause penalties in order to avoid a legal battle they were likely to lose and which could potentially have led to some criminal charges. With some extra effort, materials were hauled in and both lumber mills were back in operation within two weeks. Adam had graciously offered a duplicate set of plans to Barney Fuller for a minimal fee. Barney understood that Adam was repaying past favors and accepted.

The only problem occurred when Adam had to accompany Cici to a late night delivery. Mrs. Bayer was in town visiting friends and Kim had gone with Hop Sing to celebrate a Chinese holiday in Chinatown. All the children had to be packed up and delivered to Ben and Christine’s care. Then as they were at the small homestead, the rains started. Adam and Cici had arrived in their yard when the winds picked up and lightning started streaking across the sky. Adam’s two men ran to the stable to help them with the horses that were suddenly spooked. Then they told them that the bridge on the road to town was holding but it was surrounded by angry floodwaters and not to expect anyone home from Virginia City. Adam had to hold Cici upright as they ran for the house. They stood on the veranda and shed as much of their sodden clothing as they could before entering the house. Even on the veranda, the wind was blowing rain in on them. Once inside, Adam stoked the fireplaces and the stove in the kitchen before heading upstairs to shed the rest of his wet clothing and snuggle into his robe. When he got downstairs, Cici was staring out the window with a dejected set to her shoulders.

“What’s wrong?”

“What else can go wrong? The children are stranded at Papa’s. The bridge can’t be used so Kim and Mrs. Bayer won’t be able to make it home tonight. We’re all alone here.”

Adam took Cici’s arm and pulled her around to face him. He kissed her and then grinned. She didn’t understand how he could be that way.

“How can you be so happy?”

“The children are at Pa’s and undoubtedly being pampered and soothed no end. Mrs. Bayer is enjoying her stay in town for an extra day. Kim is free to celebrate tonight because he can’t get home anyway. And sweetheart, we have the house to ourselves for the first time in five years. That’s why I’m grinning. What I don’t understand is why you’re not.”

Cici looked at Adam in amazement for just a moment. Then she grinned, grabbed his hand, and headed for the staircase.

“Whoa, whoa, why upstairs when there’s a lovely fire right here and a nice soft rug?”

***The End***

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