Broken (by BettyHT)

Summary:  A sequel to The Haunting. Adam and Savannah have to face a villainous foe in this one who will stop at nothing to get a major part of the Ponderosa for the timber there.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  11,947


Chapter 1

After pouring a glass of brandy, Adam sat at the table and stared at it before throwing it at the wall instead of drinking it. It wasn’t his way to drown his sorrows or troubles. It was if there was a voice there telling him not to let the demons in. He faced them and fought his demons head-on, but he didn’t know how he could fight what wasn’t there. She had left. That much was clear. Her clothes were gone as were the children and their clothing. They must have left in a hurry not wanting to be there when he returned. It was too late to go to town to find them. At this hour, he would only upset a number of people and do no good. In the morning, he would be there though and find her to demand to know what she intended to do.

After only four months of marriage, it looked like it might be over. He found it hard to believe. Although they had disputes, he thought they had been working them out one-by-one. He had compromised on living in the Marquette house although it still made him somewhat uneasy with the bad memories it brought up at times. However she had worked hard to make it a home for the children and didn’t want to uproot them again so soon. Knowing how much a home could mean to a child, he had agreed to that. It surprised him that she had left her home instead of asking him to leave if she was so upset with him. He guessed she thought he would be too stubborn to go. He had to admit that was probably true, but it was because he loved her and the children and didn’t think there was any problem they couldn’t work out if they tried.

The biggest problem had been the amount of work he did. He had promised her though that with winter, that would cease and he would have more time for her and the children. For the time being though, he was building a new stable on the Ponderosa, had added a room to their stable for a hired hand, and taken over the timber and lumber operations. First he had to work on the lumber operations. That was where he had been working on a plan to upgrade the lumber mill and streamline the transportation of the logs to the mill.

*****

On his return, his hired man, Isaac Jenkins, had come out of the stable and told him that Savannah and the children were gone. The man had awakened and done chores that day, and on his return from the Ponderosa after delivering eggs, butter, and milk, he found the carriage and the three of them gone. They had not returned. Usually Savannah fixed meals for him and he had not had anything to eat that day. Adam told him to come into the kitchen and get some food. While he did that, Adam had gone to their bedroom and was shocked at what he found. Drawers on the bureau were open and empty. He rushed to the children’s rooms and found the same. When he got downstairs, he asked Isaac if he saw which way the tracks had gone.

“I dunno. I assumed to town. I never looked. Then it rained, and I worked in the stable all afternoon cleaning up in there and taking care of tack and such. Beau’s kept me company. He was sure glad to see me this morning.”

“That’s good.” Adam’s response was automatic. He didn’t even think about it for several minutes with the worry about Savannah and the children. That niggling thought though about Beau kept intruding until he had to consider it. He looked at Beau tied with a leash near where Isaac was working. “Why is Beau on a leash?”

“That’s how I found him in the stable when I got back. When I went to take it off, he growled at me. Fact is, he growled at me a few times anyway. I don’t know why.”

“I thought you said he was glad to see you this morning when you got back.”

“Well I thought he was. He perked right up when I opened the stable doors. When I went to put the horses away from the wagon though, he got right ornery. He barked at me.”

“Maybe he wanted to be let loose.”

“I thought so, but when I went up close to him, he acted like he was gonna take a piece of me, so I left him tied there. He got tired of barking eventually.”

“Isaac, why are you lying to me?”

“Lying? I’m not lying. Why would you say I’m lying? I told you everything just like it happened. I didn’t make none of that up.”

Staring at him, Adam noted how nervous he looked and seemed to be getting more so by the minute. Then he thought about what he had said. Yes, I believe you told everything just like it happened. I believe you didn’t make any of that up.”

Isaac relaxed then and even managed a bit of a smile. It didn’t last as Adam changed his demeanor and the tone of what he had to say. He advanced on Isaac looking like a mountain lion approaching a wounded rabbit.

“But what aren’t you saying? What else happened that you haven’t told me, and why haven’t you said that? You need to tell me that now or I swear you will be begging to tell me in a few minutes.”

If anything, it looked like Isaac got shorter and smaller. He began to shake. “Honest, I ain’t lied to ya.”

“But you haven’t told me the whole truth either.” Grabbing the smaller man by his shirt front, Adam pulled him up so that only the toes of his boots had any contact with the ground. “Tell me what else you know or the sheriff is going to be questioning a bloody sack of bones to get that information.” With Adam’s fist back and cocked ready to smash his face, Isaac knew the jig was up.

“They said they’d kill me if I said anything. They gave me twenty dollars to keep my mouth shut. It ain’t the twenty dollars, Mister Cartwright, honest. I want to live.”

“If you do, you need to talk and soon.”

“Three men came and took ’em. They took their clothes and stuff so it would look like they left on their own. They said they wasn’t planning on hurtin’ ’em, but needed ’em to get you Cartwrights to act reasonable like. They made me tie up Beau in the stable ’til they left. I never seen ’em before, and that is the God’s honest truth. I don’t know any more.”

“Describe these men to me.” Adam got out a sketch pad and began doing drawings as Isaac described the men. Then Isaac told Adam what was right and wrong with each sketch until there were rough sketches of each of the three men. “I’d like to fire you. I should fire you. But they kidnapped my wife and children. They’re probably watching me to see what I’ll do. If I fire you, they’ll know you talked. I’m going to bring these drawings to Roy tomorrow. You’re going to do what you do every day when you work here.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I’d throw you in jail if I had a free choice in this. But you probably didn’t do anything that was illegal. Don’t even think about leaving though. If what you said is true, that would put my wife and children at risk of being killed, and if anything happens to them, I will kill you. Is that clear?”

With a nod and still shaking, Isaac went to his room. Adam wanted to go check on him, but he was worried that he was being watched. Any action such as what he contemplated doing would be suspicious. He couldn’t do anything like it because it would potentially put his family at risk. He did nothing, literally nothing.

*****

In the morning, stiff from sitting all night, he arose and made coffee. As expected, Isaac came to the house for breakfast. He said nothing and averted his eyes. Adam fried up some eggs and bacon but couldn’t bring himself to eat any. Isaac ate all of it when Adam told him there probably wasn’t going to be any lunch. After cleaning up, Adam got his horse and rode to town to see Roy.

“I gotta say, they don’t look at all familiar to me, Adam.”

“I was afraid of that. Whoever did this probably brought people in who can handle this kind of thing. That makes them even more dangerous.”

“Why don’t you and me make a little tour around town looking like we’re making some discreet inquiries. Anybody watching will think that. Other folks will think two old friends is just passing the time of day.”

As they expected, they found nothing. However their little foray into detective work satisfied their watchers that Adam did indeed believe that his wife had left. Isaac had not informed on the three who had kidnapped Savannah and the two children. That’s what they would tell their boss, and he would be free to use his leverage as he saw fit. Everything was going according to plan as far as they could tell. One went to report to their employer as the other two continued the surveillance.

Looking as dejected as he could manage, Adam rode out of town toward the Ponderosa. Roy had told him that he looked terrible and should get some sleep, but he had news to tell his family, and all of it was bad. Two hours later, he was explaining it to his family who were dumbstruck and then angry that someone would do such a thing.

“We should get some men together and go after them. I can’t believe we’re sitting here doing nothing.”

“Where do we go, Joe? Who do we suspect?” Ever since Isaac had told him that Savannah and the children were going to be used to make the Cartwrights act reasonable, he knew it had to be someone who wanted to do business with them or it was a competitor who wanted an edge. He had tried to think of who it could be but had come up with too many names. “I want to do something too. You can’t know how much I want to do something. But I can’t do anything rash that would put them in danger.”

“Joseph, Adam’s right.”

By the use of his formal name, Joe knew his father meant that he needed to listen and hold back that flood of thoughts and feelings that such news unleashed in him. It was always difficult. Hoss put a hand on his shoulder to try to steady him much as he had put one on Adam’s shoulder to give him strength. Ben looked at his sons linked that way and hoped their unity in the face of adversity was going to be enough.

“How soon you figure we’re gonna find out who the varmints is?” Hoss was ready to take action as well, but knew they needed to know who the adversary was before they could begin planning.

“We have to wait now for them to make their move. I doubt we will have to wait very long.”

Except Adam knew that every minute of every hour was going to be agony for him as he imagined the suffering of his family at the hands of unknown assailants. Meanwhile he was going to have to play the role of the deserted husband until someone told him he wasn’t. Then he was going to have to show the requisite shock that they hoped to use against him and his father as well as holding his family hostage. He guessed that Roy would be doing some work behind the scenes but knew he wouldn’t tell anyone in Virginia City. They couldn’t afford to let any of this news leak out early.

*****

Chapter 2

Over the next two days, Ben and Adam had some business meetings. They attended them without making any adjustments. Adam played his role mostly by remaining relatively silent and appearing morose. No one at these meetings was a personal friend so they weren’t going to make any inquiries as to why the oldest Cartwright son was acting the way he was. If they were innocent of any wrongdoing, they might certainly try to take advantage of him when he was so clearly not motivated to negotiate on behalf of the Ponderosa but they wouldn’t be able to say anything to make him feel any worse. It was the second meeting on the second day that they found out the identity of their adversary. At a meeting to discuss selling some of their timber to a railroad conglomerate, they were given an alternate proposal.

“Why don’t you simply sell us that land? You have a ranch to run. There’s no need for you to split your time between ranching and timber interests. I’ll buy up all your trees and take that concern off your hands. There won’t be any more deadlines and contract penalty clauses to worry about.”

“Mister O’Brien, we have plenty of energy to handle all of our interests. You don’t need to be concerned about us. If you would like to make an offer for our timber, put a price per board feet on the table and we’ll consider it.”

Thaddeus O’Brien put two pieces of paper across the table to Ben and Adam then. One was an offer to purchase timberlands and the other was an offer to purchase all the board feet of lumber the Ponderosa could produce in a year. Both offers were ridiculously low. Ben got angry.

“You called us to a meeting to waste our time. These offers aren’t serious. They’re insulting.”

“I do have other valuable merchandise that I’m holding in reserve. Three items that Adam seems to be missing, I believe.”

Furious, Adam jumped from his chair intent on putting his hands around O’Brien’s throat. Ben’s hands on his arms and two pistols pulled by O’Brien’s guards and aimed at his chest stopped him.

“Now, Adam, why don’t you sit down so we can discuss our business in a civilized manner.”

“You’re not civilized.”

“You need to sit down or this meeting is over.”

“Adam, please, sit. We need to hear what he has to say.”

At his father’s urging, Adam sat, but he was barely keeping his temper under control. Ben was angry too but knew they had to remain calm to have any chance of besting this man.

“After what you’ve admitted, we could go to the law. You could be arrested.”

“For what? What would you have me charged with? With making claims that I have something that belongs to Adam? That could be anything. I can take my offers and leave. You have no evidence of anything. You have no proof that there was any wrongdoing and nothing that would show I was any part of it even if you could find a hint that anything happened that wasn’t proper. Keep my offers though. I’ll be magnanimous. The offers are good for two days. I’ll let you think about them that long. Within forty-eight hours, be back in this office with one or the other signed or else.”

“Or else?” Ben was worried about what he would say.

“Or else the offer won’t be as good and the guarantee on the merchandise remaining in good condition won’t necessarily be honored.”

Feeling the muscles in Adam’s arm tense, Ben knew he had to get him out of there and fast. He pushed him to get up and said nothing more other than to his son. “Adam, we need to go. We need to talk outside.”

“Oh, and I don’t need to tell you, do I, that any effort to bring in a third-party of any kind will cause me to rescind all offers.”

O’Brien had a look that almost made Ben wish he could let Adam go, but the safety of Savannah and the children were more important than smashing that smug look off that man. It would come though. If there was a God in heaven, Ben thought it would come. Once they were outside, Ben released Adam’s arm.

“Now what? I’d like to shoot him down in the street like the damn sidewinder that he is. He only looks civilized. He’s the worst kind of animal that there is.”

“He is, but Adam, he’s a dangerous animal and he has your family. Let’s go home and talk to Hoss and Joe. We need to work out what we’re going to do.”

*****

Knowing he needed to get his anger and his fear under control so that he could think through this problem didn’t help. Adam was still almost as upset when they got to the Ponderosa as he had been in O’Brien’s office. Hoss and Joe both did their best to assure him that they would help all they could and tried to calm him down too. He wanted to go against O’Brien with force. Joe leaned toward helping him with that.

“Adam someone like O’Brien will have hired ruthless men. You’ll get yourself and your brothers killed if they help you. And then what? You know what O’Brien will do. Men like that won’t leave any witnesses behind. Your family won’t survive any rescue attempt.”

“Pa, they won’t survive any of this. They already know too much. When he gets what he wants, what’s to stop him from killing them?”

“We’ll still be alive then.”

As Ben’s words hung in the air, his sons were quiet. All of them thought for some time about what their father had said and all drew the same conclusion. Although spoken quietly enough, the words had the force of a pile driver. Hoss was the one to express the thought.

“You think he means to kill us all at some point.”

“Yes, I think that’s his ultimate plan. A contract made under duress will not hold up in court. We could successfully fight it. As soon as Adam got Savannah and the children back, we could go to court and invalidate anything we signed in order to get them back. No court here in Nevada would turn us down.”

“But if we’re dead, there wouldn’t be anyone to contest the documents so as long as they’re legally signed and notarized, they would hold up. He would have most of the Ponderosa.” The grotesque evil of the scheme had finally settled Adam down. He was in more of a chess mode now thinking about how to defeat the enemy. “We need to find out what he already has so we know what we can do against him.”

“What are you thinking?”

“There’s some daylight left. Hoss and I could scout out his properties and see what kind of security he has. We might get an idea where he’s holding Savannah and the children by where the security is the heaviest.”

“Hey, I can help too.”

“All right, Hoss, Joe, and I can scout out O’Brien’s properties. But Joe, you can’t ride Cochise.”

Although Joe wanted to object, he quickly understood why and agreed. They all would ride horses that were not easily identifiable. Joe looked at Adam and tried to lighten the moment.

“And don’t wear your yellow coat either.”

He got a soft smile in response as Adam appreciated the effort if not the humor. However Ben didn’t see any humor in the situation.

“Son, if they spot you, if they suspect that you’re spying on them despite the warning we were given, this could get much worse very fast.”

“Pa, I know, but it’s already pretty awful. We need to do something. We can’t let him run the table and stand idly by.”

Soon the three brothers were on their way to scout out the O’Brien properties. It didn’t take long for them to find out that they weren’t going to find out much. When they got home that night they gave the bad news to their father who had been anticipating that it wouldn’t be good news he would hear.

“We couldn’t get within a mile of a building on any one of his properties, Pa. The best we could do was look toward them from high up on hills. We’re gonna go look tomorrow with your spyglasses ifn we kin borrow them.”

“You’ll have to be very careful. That polished glass is highly reflective. Any light shining off of them will flash very well. They might see that.”

“We’ll be careful, Pa. We’ll look at maps tonight and figure out where to be.”

Adam’s voice was so flat and unemotional that they all knew he was holding back how he felt. The turmoil inside of him had to be nearly unbearable. Ben especially understood how he must feel. With a hand on his son’s shoulder, he urged him to stay at the house.

“No, I want to be in our house tonight. I need to feel a bit closer to them right now.”

Ben and his younger sons were quiet as Adam walked out and left a short time later after studying the maps and determining which spots would be best for reconnaissance. After he left, Joe had a suggestion.

“O’Brien has so many men working security, I wonder if we can’t get somebody hired who would be on our side.”

“That would be wonderful, but who could we get?”

“Pa, we’ve hired Pinkertons before to help out. Why not ask them again?”

“I agree with Joe, Pa. It shur couldn’t hurt to have a coupla man in there who was on our side.”

“Yes, that makes sense, and I’ve got another idea too. We can’t do it though. They’re probably watching us to see if we try anything like that. We’ll have to send someone else to make the arrangements. Someone they would never expect could get that request to San Francisco without sending a telegram or going there himself.”

“Who do we know kin do that, Pa?”

“Hop Sing, I know you heard us. Would you come out here and help us finish the planning?”

*****

While the mood on the Ponderosa improved because they thought they were making some progress against O’Brien, at Adam’s house, Isaac waited for Adam to return home. It was getting late though, and he worried that he might not return that night. Finally he heard a horse and then saw his employer riding slowly toward the stable. He swung the doors open and the light from the lantern made an inviting opening for Adam.

“Thank you, Isaac. If you could take care of my horse, I’m heading for the house and some sleep.”

As Adam turned to do that, Isaac hit him from behind stunning him and then hit him again when he realized the first blow hadn’t been enough. Without wasting any time, he pulled Adam across the saddle and tied his wrists together pulling the rope under the horse and tying it around his ankles as well. Then he tied off a portion of it by running it through Adam’s belt and around the pommel of the saddle.

“There, you ain’t going nowhere.”

Isaac got his horse and put out the lantern, closed up the stable, and rode for O’Brien’s ranch. He was stopped on the road that led there and escorted to the house. O’Brien himself came out to see what he had delivered.

“Very good. Now we have the whole package. You can go back now. Remember what you need to tell them. He never made it home last night. You didn’t see him and you stayed up late waiting. Right?”

“Yes, sir, I’ll tell ’em.”

After Isaac rode out, O’Brien turned to the men around him. “Put Cartwright with the others. Make sure the locks are secure. As for Isaac, he’s a weak link. After he tells his story tomorrow about how Adam Cartwright never came home, he is of no use to us. He needs to have a fatal accident. And make sure it looks every bit like an accident. We don’t need anything that brings the sheriff into this.”

Awake for most of the trip to O’Brien’s home, Adam couldn’t do anything about his situation in the condition he was in and as helpless as he was. All he could do was listen and gather evidence that he hoped to use at a trial in the near future. In his mind, that was the best scenario. The men were not gentle with him when they dragged him from the horse and into the bunkhouse. He guessed he was going to be locked in a storeroom and was surprised instead to be shoved into the foreman’s quarters. He groaned in pain when they dropped him on the floor.

*****

Savannah and the children were awakened by the door being unlocked and something large being dumped into their room. Then the door was closed again and they heard the locks click once more. They didn’t have a lantern or lamp and there was only one small window high on the wall. The small amount of moonlight only showed vague shadows in the room, but they heard moans from whomever had been dumped in the room. The children were frightened, but Savannah moved swiftly to the man as soon as she heard him.

“Adam? Oh, my Lord, Adam, what happened to you?”

Groggy, Adam tried to sit up but failed. “Savannah?”

“Yes, yes, we’re here. We’ve been held here since they took us. Adam, why are we here?”

“My head hurts.”

Touching his head gingerly, Savannah found two lumps and one was rather sticky with what she assumed had to be blood. She raised her skirt and ripped her petticoat to get a bandage and pressed it against that spot.

“I’m sorry I can’t do more for you. If Owen and I help, can you move about ten feet? There’s a bed there.”

“I think so.”

So they got Adam into the bed and Savannah moved to pull off his boots. He was aware enough to tell her not to do that.

“I’ll explain tomorrow. For now, leave the boots on.”

“All right. You sleep now. We’ll all sleep now, and we’ll talk in the morning.”

Despite their grave situation, Savannah felt better having Adam there with them. It was a comfort and somehow she felt more confident that they would get out of this mess now that he was there. She didn’t know how, but he had a way of making things work out. She, Eva, and Owen snuggled up on the bed next to Adam and fell asleep.

*****

Chapter 3

In the morning, Savannah awakened to find her two children snuggled into Adam’s embrace. He had a nasty bruise on one side of his forehead and a crusted over bloody gash in his hair on the other side. After using the communal bucket they had for waste, she waited for the children to wake and had them use the bucket too. If they were cooperative, the bucket would be removed when their breakfast was delivered, and a clean empty bucket was given to them with a bucket of clean water too. Adam slept for a couple more hours. They had to wait to find out what was going on.

*****

At the Ponderosa, they didn’t have to wait. A messenger brought a letter from O’Brien to Ben. After he read it, he looked up in anger at his sons. He knew what their enemy had done.

“We could go check, but it’s not likely to do us any good. He says in the letter that he has the ‘complete package’ now. He addressed the letter to me only and told me to meet him at one today to sign the tender offer, which is now half of the original offer. He said we didn’t abide by the terms he set. His men must have seen you yesterday. They’ve got Adam now too.”

Any doubt about that was gone when Adam didn’t show up to do the surveillance. They knew he would have been there early for that and by nine, it was clear he wasn’t coming. Isaac showed up and they asked him if Adam had come home the night before. He said no but had a guilty look about him. Hoss had enough of him. Adam had told them about Isaac’s involvement, and Hoss guessed that Isaac had something to do with Adam being abducted. When Isaac said Adam never came home, he grabbed Isaac and lifted him off the ground pushing him up against the side of the house.

“What happened to Adam? You tell me or I swear I’ll break your neck, you scrawny sneaky little bastard.”

Ben was going to step in to stop Hoss from doing anything like he had threatened but Joe grabbed his arm and whispered to him. “Do you think Hoss would ever do anything like that?” And Ben understood.

Isaac was thoroughly terrified though and begged Hoss not to kill him.

“There’s one way you kin live. Tell us what happened to Adam and you tell us exactly what you done to him.” Hoss had guessed that the guilty look was because Isaac had done something illegal and worried about being caught and going to jail or worse. He meant to get that information out of him.

“I only knocked him out, honest. That’s all I done.”

“Except what happened to him after you knocked him out?”

“Well, I took him over to O’Brien’s place. That’s what they said to do.”

“What’d you get paid for this stunt you pulled?”

“They gimme twenty dollars.”

“That’s it? You did all of that for twenty dollars? You must have known we would have paid you twice that or more for jest tellin’ us what O’Brien wanted you to do.”

“Yeah, I knew that, but he woulda killed me for not doing it, and you wouldn’t.”

Almost feeling a bit sorry for him at that point, Hoss had one more question. “What are you supposed to do next?”

“This was it. I was supposed to tell you that Adam didn’t come home and if you got upset or angry with me, I was to tell you what really happened.”

“Damn!”

Hoss may have said it, but the other two were feeling it. They had played right into O’Brien’s hands every step of the way so far. They needed to break that trend.

“Where you supposed to go now?”

“Back to my room. They’re gonna stop by and pay me for what I did today.”

“You know what that’s gonna be, dontcha?”

“Probably another twenty dollars.”

“No, you’re like as not getting about one ounce of pure lead I’d say.”

“What?”

“You’re no good to them no more. You done all they wanted you to do. All you are to them now is a witness for the prosecution.”

“No, I’d never turn on ’em. I know they’d kill me.”

“Isaac, you already turned on ’em.” Hoss released the man. “Go on home if ya think it’s safe enough.”

With that, Isaac started to look panicked. “No, you have to protect me.”

“Why?”

“Like you said, I’m a witness for you. I’ll tell anything I know.”

Hoss looked to his father who nodded before issuing a directive. “Put him in the bunkhouse and have a man keep guard. I’ve got to go to that meeting. I’ll find a way to let Roy know what’s happened.”

“Can’t we take all our men and ride into O’Brien’s ranch and get Adam and his family? We know they’re there.”

“Joe, the first thing he would likely do is kill them and hide the bodies. With no witnesses, we’d have no case against him and he’d simply walk away. We need some men on the inside to protect Adam and his family when we move against O’Brien. Don’t worry. You’ll get your chance at them. I can’t wait to do it myself, but I won’t put Adam and his family at risk to get revenge on O’Brien or because I’m furious.”

When Ben went to put on his gun and hat though he was met by Hop Sing. “Hop Sing’s cousins better to talk to Sheriff than Mister Ben. Already got friends in Mister O’Brien’s house. Will get more if we can.”

“How did you already get friends in his house?”

“Cook say he cannot cook and clean and do laundry. Need cousins to help. Mister O’Brien not care. He say hire them then. He not think Chinese anything to worry about.”

“Say, that was real fast work, Hop Sing. You’re a real good friend. Heck you’re part of the family here.”

“Not be able to talk with friends there but when time comes, they help.”

“All right, Hop Sing, you get word to Roy and let him know what’s going on. I’ll meet with O’Brien and buy more time any way I can. And thank you.” Looking at his sons, Ben had only a simple request. “Please stay put. I can’t have any more sons fall into his hands.”

“Pa, I was thinking. Once you sign those papers, they might come after us. You said he might want us all dead. How about if Hoss and I rig up some booby traps around the place so they can’t get too close without us knowing.”

Pausing only briefly, Ben considered that and accepted it. “All right, you can set some booby traps around the place, but nothing dangerous. I don’t want any of our hands to get hurt accidentally. Make the traps the kind that make a lot of racket. That way no one will get too close without us knowing, but there won’t be any traps out there that could harm a friend.”

“You can count on us, Pa.”

“I’ll make sure Joe don’t do anything crazy, Pa.”

“Thank you, Hoss. There’s far too much of that already.”

*****

In town, Ben found out just how crazy things had gotten. When he got to O’Brien’s office, the paper he was handed now had him selling nearly half of the Ponderosa at a few dollars per acre. He was furious and threw the paper down on O’Brien’s desk.

“This is ridiculous. No one would ever believe I signed this other than under duress. It would never hold up on court.”

“You plan to take me to court over this? Now, Ben, that wouldn’t be good for the merchandise you would like to receive in good order. I was thinking of shipping that merchandise out to another client if you aren’t agreeable. In fact, if you were to go to court, that would require me to do so.”

“But if I sign those papers, you said you would be giving them back to us.”

“I will give the merchandise to you, but I never specified a timeline. I’m thinking that once production has begun and you haven’t begun any legal proceedings, oh, let’s say for sixty days as we harvest timber, then any court would likely say you had accepted our offer in good faith, wouldn’t you say.”

“Two months!”

“Surely you believe I can keep the merchandise in good order for two months, don’t you, Ben. I mean, do you have any other choice? There are, after all, two other parcels that you hold dear. You wouldn’t want to lose those too, would you?”

“You dare to threaten my family?”

“Ben, I’m not making any threats.” O’Brien looked to his men who stood to either side of him. “Did either of you hear me make a threat?” They shook their heads. He turned back to Ben. “You see, no threats. We’re talking business here. I have accumulated quite a lot of property by talking business. Rarely have I had to dispose of merchandise that was damaged beyond repair, but alas, it happens. Now if you wish to avoid that particular unpleasantness, sign the paper.” His voice had taken on the timbre of steel with the last three words.

Ben signed. “You won’t get away with this. You know of course that this paper won’t be worth anything until my signature is notarized and accepted at the land office. They will want to hear me confirm that I signed that damned paper.”

“You will go with me then and we’ll get that done.”

“You may not have noticed, but everyone else in town will have. It’s Saturday afternoon. Those offices are closed. They won’t open until Monday morning.”

“Well, your delay in coming in will likely cost you some concern then over your merchandise then, won’t it?” O’Brien was smirking as Ben wheeled about and left, but he was a bit worried. Somehow, Cartwright wasn’t as cowed as he should have been nor as worried sick as he should have been. That was the first hint that he had that something wasn’t going well. The second issue was presented to him when he arrived at his home.

“What do you mean Isaac didn’t have an accident? What did happen to him?”

“Nothing, boss. We can’t find him.”

“Can’t find him? There aren’t that many places he could be.”

“There’s one that he could be that we can’t go.”

“The Ponderosa! Damn, they know. I should have had you eliminate him last night. Having him tell his little fable wasn’t worth the risk, and now he’s likely gone and told the whole tale to them. No wonder Cartwright seemed so confident. He might have the law already set to come here. Go get them. We’re moving them. Tie him up and bring the lot of them.”

“Where should we take ’em, boss?”

“Put them in the sump shaft at the mine. Tie them and gag them.”

“Kill ’em?”

“No, I might need to trade them later.” O’Brien thought for a few minutes. “Send a few men to the Ponderosa to sneak in to eliminate Isaac. After he signed that paper today, I doubt he thinks I’ll make a direct move against him like that.”

*****

In the bunkhouse, Adam had spent the day explaining what he knew about the situation to Savannah and trying to help the children by telling stories and hugging and holding them to reassure them. He knew that he probably had a mild concussion but as long as he sat and didn’t move much, he didn’t have any symptoms except a mild headache. He had explained to Savannah that the reason he didn’t want her to take his boots off that night was that he had a boot knife for which they had never checked. He had a jackknife in his pocket too as well as a tin of matches. Not used to holding prisoners, they had not searched his pockets. They weren’t much for weapons, but they could be useful.

The loud knock at the door startled them. They were told to step back. It was the usual command when a meal was brought to them or water and other necessities. They already had their allotment for the day though so they found this development ominous. They backed away though because they had no choice. Once the men entered, they held their guns on Adam and told him to lie on the floor on his belly. He wanted to resist but one man pointed a pistol at Eva. He laid down and his hands were bound tightly behind his back and then the rope was looped around his ankles and tied again. After he was carried out and deposited in a wagon, the others were ordered out and told to get in the wagon with him. They were driven off into the night.

In the house, the cook told Thaddeus O’Brien that one of the Chinese men there to help him was sick.

“Well send the damn Chinaman back to town. I don’t need him here making everybody sick. Don’t bother me with these silly things. Take care of it. Just get another one. They’re all the same.”

The cook bowed and left the room smiling slightly and thinking how much he was going to enjoy watching this white man be destroyed. The ‘sick’ man was sent back to town to tell Roy Coffee what had happened and where Adam and his family were going to be put. Hopefully a rescue could be organized before O’Brien figured out that he had been fooled.

That was the third bad bit of news for O’Brien. His men came back from the Ponderosa with two wounded and the others worried what their boss would do when they told him what happened.

“We never got near the place. It was booby trapped. There were cans and things hanging up in the trees and strings all over the place. Wherever we walked, we tripped over the damn strings and made a horrible racket with those cans rattling up in the trees. Next thing you know, there were bullets flying all around and we had to hightail it out of there.”

“Damn them, they’re pesky. Well, I’ve got the paper I need. What I need now is to scare them.”

“I’ve got an idea, boss.”

Soon they were busy putting together a plan to try to intimidate Ben Cartwright. They didn’t know that Roy was finding out that Adam and his family had been moved. He had gone to wake the judge to get a warrant to do a search. Meanwhile, Savannah and Owen had managed to get the knife from Adam’s boot to cut their bonds. They were working on a plan to escape.

*****

Chapter 4

The first thing Adam and his family had to do was to get out of that sump shaft. Adam was too affected by his concussion to climb but had another idea.

“These sump shafts are rough cut because they’re only meant to collect water if there’s a flood. They expect that no one will look down here and that’s probably true. However it means too that the sides are rough enough to climb.”

“You can’t climb. As dizzy as you are, you’ll fall. It may only be fifteen or twenty feet but that could be enough to do some serious damage if you fall awkwardly.”

“I wasn’t thinking of me climbing.”

“Adam, I don’t think I can do it.”

“I wasn’t thinking of you either.”

“Oh, no, you can’t be thinking of sending Owen.”

“He’s strong and agile. I’ll stand below and catch him if he falls.”

“How will you see him?”

“There’s enough debris down here to have a small fire. I have matches. We’ll start a small fire so we can see well enough. You keep Eva back and I’ll stand below Owen if he’s willing.”

“I’ll do it, Adam.”

“Adam, he could be hurt.”

Saying nothing in the darkness, Adam let her think for a short time. Owen stood to be hurt seriously if they didn’t get out of this predicament. She had to let him try.

“All right, but you better catch him if he falls.”

“Now everyone gather up debris. Try not to pick up anything wet. We want dry pieces of wood mostly.”

Soon they had a small fire going that cast that dim light. Adam coached Owen on climbing and then lifted him up for the first part. Owen began climbing with Adam continuing to help him see where to place his hands and feet. Finally he got to the top and pulled himself over the edge. Adam threw him the rope they had made from the bindings that had been used to tie them up.

“Is there anything up there to tie that to?”

“There’s an old ore car.”

“Tie it to that.”

When it was secure, Adam helped Savannah use the rope to climb out. Then Savannah pulled Eva out. Finally with the rope and Savannah and Owen helping, Adam climbed up even with the concussion.

“Now what?”

“Everyone be very quiet. I’m going to go take a look. With us in the sump shaft, there may not be a guard.”

There wasn’t. Adam came back for his family. He picked up Eva who wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his.

“No talking. They’re not close, but sound travels far in a situation like this. We’ll walk slowly and carefully. They aren’t going to be expecting us to be walking away so if we’re careful, we can make it. If anything happens, you two children run with your mother. No questions asked.”

Leaning down, Adam kissed Savannah on the cheek. She touched his hand in the dark and squeezed. It was time to go.

*****

Hours later, Roy and a posse rode in to try to attempt a rescue. The men there were ready for that and rushed into the mine yelling to Roy to leave or they would kill a hostage. The man in charge told his men to pull one of the children from the sump shaft. They came back a few minutes later.

“They’re gone.”

“Gone? How could they be gone? They were trussed up like pigs for market.”

“I dunno. The rope is all tied together and laying at the top of the shaft. We hung a lantern down there and put down a ladder and looked around. They’re gone.”

“How the hell did they do that?” He thought about it for a bit. “Did you check him for a knife when you brought him here?”

“Yup. Found a jackknife in his pocket and took it.”

“Hm, did you check his boots?”

“His boots? Did you check his boots? Lots of men out here in the west carry a knife in their boots.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Tell you what. If we can convince that sheriff that we haven’t done anything illegal or at least nothing he can arrest us for today, we better start riding and keep on riding. It ain’t gonna be safe for us in Nevada or California for a long while.”

The men threw out their weapons, surrendered to Roy, and let him search anywhere he wanted to search. Roy found nothing. He couldn’t arrest them because he had no evidence. He told them not to leave town and to be available for more questioning on Monday morning at his office. As soon as he left with the posse who thought they had been on a wild goose chase, those employees of Thaddeus O’Brien terminated their employment and began to relocate.

*****

Miles away, Adam and his family rested in some heavy brush. When Adam heard horses, he looked out afraid that they were being pursued but smiled to see Roy. He stood and walked out to hail the sheriff and his posse who were shocked to see Adam and then more shocked to see Savannah and the children emerge behind him.

“Adam, we were told by a Chinaman that O’Brien was holding you and your family as prisoners. Yet here you are free as a bird. Course you are out here in the middle of nowhere just about and looking a mite worse for wear.”

“We escaped last night. I had to get my family out of there, Roy. You can arrest O’Brien and his men. They kidnapped my wife and children and then me. They were holding us to force my father to sign over a large portion of the Ponderosa for a fraction of what it is worth.”

“I don’t have enough men here to arrest that whole bunch. Besides, we gotta get you home. Why don’t we ride to the Ponderosa and then Ben can have his men join this here posse. That oughta give me enough to go after O’Brien.”

*****

It took a lot of time to get to the Ponderosa. One man let Adam use his horse because Eva wouldn’t go with anyone else. Another man let Savannah ride his horse as no one thought it proper to ride with another man’s wife. Owen rode with Roy, but with three riding double, they had to go slowly.

When they finally rode up to the Ponderosa ranch house, Ben and his younger sons had finished breakfast and were wondering what they should do next. With the commotion outside, they grabbed pistols only to hear Roy yell. Rushing outside then, they were overjoyed to find Adam and his family safe although tired, dirty, and a bit banged up by their ordeal.

Of course there was a great deal of fuss made over all of them and they had opportunities to clean up even as Hop Sing got busy making food for them and for the posse. It was a couple of hours before the whole group was organized and ready to ride against O’Brien. Adam stayed with his family with a couple of hands staying behind as a precaution. Roy took Isaac with them as he was going to jail anyway.

*****

When they rode up to O’Brien’s house, he walked out onto his porch defiantly challenging Roy to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. When Roy said he had statements from Adam and Savannah, the shock on O’Brien was clear to everyone. He had no idea how they had managed that, but he rushed back into this home. He had some men there with him. All knew long prison sentences or worse awaited them if they were arrested. O’Brien pointed to the rifles in the wall rack.

“Use those. They’re the latest models. No one out there probably has one as good as those.” Seeing his cook looking in from the kitchen, he ordered him to bring more ammunition from the storeroom.

“Yes sir, Mister O’Brien. I bring you what you need.”

O’Brien paid no more attention to him as he and the others focused all their attention on the men outside and the positions they had taken. The next thing anyone heard was the sound of a large cast iron skillet hitting the back of Thaddeus O’Brien’s head.

“There, I bring you what you need. My work is done. I quit.”

The cook took off his apron and walked to the front door opening it and exiting before anyone in the room could decide what to do. The next action was for each of them to turn to run out the side and back exits of the house hoping to get away before the posse outside closed off all avenues of escape. As the posse watched men skedaddle from the house, they waited for the cook to approach them and tell them what was happening.

“Mister O’Brien laying on floor with big headache. Rest run away. I go home now.” Turning to Ben, he smiled. “I do good?”

“You did good.”

“We got deal?”

“We got deal. See me on Monday morning and the contract will be drawn up and signed.”

Joe and Hoss looked at their father wondering what deal he was discussing. He looked at them and smiled back.

“For all of their help, I promised him and his family that old played out mine and camp at three forks. We can’t mine any more gold and silver from it. It’s not profitable to pay men to work it. However if some family wanted to do some placer mining, there’s still some there to find. It’s got a few usable buildings and enough land for gardens and a few animals. They agreed to watch for any trespassers on that end of our property too as caretakers of that land.”

“Well, that works out for everybody, don’t it, Pa?”

“Yes, it does. Now, let’s help Roy and his posse round up these ruffians so we can get home to see how my grandchildren are faring.”

Ben thought the worst of the episode was over. However, in many ways the most difficult part was yet to be experienced as Savannah and the children reacted to their kidnapping and confinement. Emotional and mental wounds and the pain associated with them had to be addressed so healing could begin. It wasn’t an easy process with three who had never experienced such violence or even witnessed it. Shock was another factor that affected them and would create difficulties for Adam in understanding why his wife would react the way she did. Other factors were interfering as well in a complex scenario.

*****

Chapter 5

That night, Savannah did not want to return to their home. The whole memory of being forced from her home with her children was too fresh. She didn’t believe she could sleep there. Instead they stayed at the Ponderosa ranch house. The children didn’t want to leave their parents however. It took a very long time for Adam to get Eva to go to bed as she only wanted to cling to him. Finally he was able to rock her to sleep and then roll her into the bed without waking her. He left a lamp burning low in her room and left the door ajar so he could hear her if she called for him. Owen was more stoic in his response but that told everyone how much he was affected too because the usually inquisitive boy was very quiet. He too was eventually convinced to go to bed and Adam tucked him in as well. Savannah seemed resentful that the children wanted Adam to do that instead of her. Adam didn’t seem to notice but the other members of the family did. When she followed Adam and Owen up the stairs and disappeared around the corner, Hoss turned to his father.

“Pa, you been married. Maybe you understand. Why is Savannah upset with Adam? He done everything he could and still is.”

“Hoss, she has a lot bottled up inside. Adam got to take charge at one point and get some of his frustration out. Even Owen got to be in charge for a little. But Savannah has been led through this each step of the way. She wants to strike out at those who did this to her and to her children. She was very afraid and wants someone to pay for that.”

“But they’re all locked up.”

“Yes, and that’s the frustrating part. Who do you strike out at in your anger then?”

“Oh, so Adam’s gonna get it. I hope he’s ready for it. He shur don’t deserve it after all he done and went through himself.”

“No, he doesn’t, but marriage is for better or for worse. He’s got one more storm to weather on this one.”

*****

Upstairs, Adam was beginning to get the brunt of it too as Savannah gave him an ultimatum that shocked him. He had gotten Owen into bed and came back to their room to find Savannah ready for bed. She said one thing and then curled into bed with her back to him.

“You need to consider moving away from here. We need a safer place to live. If you don’t want to leave, then I may have to take the children and leave. I can’t live here. It isn’t safe here. I had no idea that being a Cartwright would put all of us in such danger.”

Stunned, Adam was silent for a moment and then sat on the bed and touched his wife on her shoulder to try to get her to roll back toward him so they could talk. She was unresponsive. Realizing that it wasn’t a good time to try to discuss that, he lay down on the bed unable to sleep. What he hadn’t noticed was that the door was open slightly so that he could hear the children if they called for him. Owen had come to the door to ask Adam to get him water to drink. He heard his mother say she was going to take the children and leave. He didn’t hear any more. For him that was devastating news. He went back to his room and considered what he was going to do. Like Adam, he got little sleep.

*****

Shortly after dawn, with only a couple of hours of sleep, Adam was awakened by Eva crying. He and Savannah both went to her, but she again insisted on Adam holding her and rocking her. Savannah went to check on Owen but was soon back in a panic.

“Oh my God, Adam. Owen is gone. He’s gone again. Oh, I can’t take this.”

Quickly, Adam got Savannah in the rocking chair with Eva who wasn’t happy with the situation. He went to Owen’s room and found the boy’s clothing gone too but no sign that anything was wrong. In fact, the bed was made up so he had followed the rules and habits that he had been taught. Downstairs Adam found that Owen’s coat was missing and when he went in the kitchen, Hop Sing complained that someone had been there and taken food. Those were all the clues that Adam needed. He went back up the stairs to dress and alerted his brothers that he needed help. His father met him in the hallway. His brothers came out when they heard them talking.

“Adam, I think I know where he’s going. I heard some noise out back. Hoss and Joe set some booby traps back there.” At Adam’s look of alarm, Ben was quick to reassure him. “There are only noisemakers out there. They’re strings and cans and such. Owen tripped some of them as he walked away.”

Hoss took charge at that point. “Joe, you hurry and go catch up to him and make sure he don’t get in no trouble. Watch from a distance to be sure he’s safe. I’ll follow with Adam and show him the way through so Owen don’t hear him coming. We’ll get ya to ‘im, Adam.”

“I’ll dress and tell Savannah where I’m going.” Adam went to their room to dress and then to Eva’s room to explain. “Owen’s run away, but we know where he is and Joe is already out there to look after him. Hoss is going to show me where he is and I’ll bring him back. I want to talk with him first though and find out why he ran away.”

“He’s probably terrified to be here. Who knows what will happen to him next.”

*****

With a sigh, Adam left. He knew he had a lot of work to do when he got back. It didn’t take long for the two men to catch up to the small boy who hadn’t known where he was going and was already walking nearly in a circle. Joe pointed out where he was and then he and Hoss headed back to the house. Adam walked slowly toward his son and called his name softly not wanting to startle him too much. Even so, Owen whirled around but then rushed to Adam’s arms. He cried and hugged Adam seeming not to want to let go until Adam pulled him to a fallen log and sat. Owen sat beside him as Adam wrapped an arm around him and held him close.

“You want to tell me what this is all about?”

“I didn’t know what to do. Then I thought maybe you and Mama would come look for me together and that might help. But it’s only you and Mama must still be mad at you and wants to leave.”

“Owen, why do you think your mother wants to leave?”

“I heard her say that she was taking us and leaving you. I came to ask you to get me some water last night and I heard her. I didn’t mean to listen. I only came to get the water. Honest. I don’t want to leave. I want you as my Papa.”

“You’re not leaving. Your mother was upset. We’re going to have to work it out, but I won’t let her leave with you and Eva. I won’t let her break up our family. I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep us all together.”

“But what can you do?”

“Owen, we all worked together to get out of that mine, didn’t we?” Owen nodded. “It looked hopeless at first, didn’t it?” Owen nodded again. “We had resources though and working together, we were able to do it. That’s what we’re going to do again. All of us can work together to make this happen. Eva wants me to stay with all of you. You want me to stay. I want to stay. We all love each other. We have what it takes to make it work.”

“Mama loves you too. When we were locked up, she kept saying we had to be strong until you were able to rescue us. When that man O’Brien said he was going to kill you if we tried to escape or gave them any trouble, she said she would do whatever she had to do. She told us she loved you and she would do anything for you.”

“I love her very much too. I would do anything for her except let her leave. She is my life now, and so are you and Eva. We’ll work something out, but it won’t be leaving.”

“All right. Can we walk back now? I’m kinda cold and tired already.”

“I bet you are. You had a quite an ordeal and you should have slept for ten hours instead of traipsing out here in the woods, young man.”

“Am I going to get a necessary talk too?”

“No, not this time, but keep in mind that I won’t put up with this kind of thing again.”

“Yes, Papa. I won’t do it again. I know it was a wrong thing to do. I just didn’t know what to do.”

“In the future, when you don’t know what to do, what should you do?”

“I don’t know. If I don’t know what to do, how can I do anything?”

“What worked this time?”

Owen thought for a little while before he suddenly smiled broadly. “I should talk to you about what I should do. If I don’t know, you will know.”

“I might not know either, but yes, you should talk to me and talk to your mother. If we’re not available, you should talk to your grandfather or your Uncle Hoss or even Uncle Joe. But Owen, if you talk to Uncle Joe, and he’s grinning when he tells you what to do, don’t do it, all right?”

Owen began laughing then as they were walking toward the house. “Yes, Papa, I understand. All those stories you tell about all the trouble he gets Uncle Hoss into are sure funny though.”

*****

Inside the house, they heard the laughter and relaxed. It was clear that all was well between Owen and Adam. Things had improved at the house as well. Ben and Savannah had talked too. She had come downstairs with Eva and got her to eat some breakfast. As the little girl ate at the table with Hoss and Joe, Savannah paced. Ben asked her to sit.

“How can I sit when my son is in danger?”

“Savannah, you know he’s not in danger. Hoss and Joe both came back and said Adam is with him. They’re talking.”

“I’m not sure I’ll know he’s safe until I can see him again.”

“Owen or Adam?”

Startled, Savannah had to admit it was both of them. “I was so worried about losing him. O’Brien threatened to kill him if we didn’t cooperate. Then when he was dumped in that room with us, I thought we might all be killed. I couldn’t bear that thought. That lives, even new life, could be snuffed out so quickly. I want to live somewhere where it’s safe.”

Ben passed her the most recent copy of the Territorial Enterprise with the banner headline of the Battle of Gettysburg. The War in the east had most of the country in turmoil. There was another article about the lawlessness of the other Virginia City, which was in Montana. One more article outlined the political corruption in Sacramento and one more complained about the violence in some districts of San Francisco.

“Where would you have him take you?”

Savannah let the paper fall into her lap as she sat down heavily on the settee. Her head dropped too. Ben smiled benignly at her.

“Do you think the ultimatum you gave Adam was the result of what happened to you or was it more because of your condition?”

Savannah looked up in shock. “How did you know?”

“I’ve been married and had three sons. I guess I know the look. Have you told Adam?” However Ben already knew the answer before she shook her head.

“I was going to tell him and then all of this happened.”

“You need to tell him. It will help him to understand why you’re acting the way you are, and it will help him work out a solution. He’s not going to let you leave. You know that, don’t you?”

Once more, Savannah looked defeated. Ben got up and sat beside her to hold her hand. She began to cry and put her head on his shoulder. He put an arm around her to hold her and told her to let it out if she had to.

*****

About that time, Adam and Owen came into the house. Ben motioned to Adam to come over which he did.

“Why don’t you and Savannah go in the guest room down here. She has something to tell you.”

With tears still flowing, Savannah stood, hugged Owen, and then moved to Adam who was a bit tentative in reaching for her. She understood that after how she had acted. She put her arm around his waist to let him know that she was ready to accept his embrace if he was still willing to give it. He was and they went to the guest room arm-in-arm. To distract Eva, Hoss addressed Owen.

“You gonna be able to sit all right, Owen?”

“This time I’m good. Papa said if I ever do it again, I won’t. He said next time I better talk to him or grandpa or you or even Uncle Joe. He said if I talk to Uncle Joe and he grins when he tells me what to do, I’m not supposed to do it though.”

Hoss guffawed at that, and Ben nearly spit out some hot coffee he had just sipped. Eva didn’t know why they were laughing suddenly, but she joined in anyway. She liked laughing. Joe acted affronted at first, but then he had to laugh as well.

*****

In the guest room, Savannah told Adam the good news first and then cried for a time. He held her and let her get all of that out. They talked for a time about the ordeal and how she had felt while in O’Brien’s clutches. Adam told her that nothing was broken that couldn’t be fixed. Then it was a matter of trying to look to the future.

“Adam, I can’t go back to that house. I’m afraid to live there now. It felt safe or safe enough before. Now I don’t feel it’s safe enough and I can’t have my children there.”

“Frankly, Savannah, I’ve never felt comfortable in that house. I knew it meant a lot to you to have that house, but it always felt like Ross’ ghost was there. Sometimes I thought he was talking to me. It was eerie and unsettling.”

“You won’t mind giving up our house?”

“It was never really our house. The question then is where do we live. I don’t want to leave.”

“I know, and your father rather pointedly let me know that isn’t a very good option.” She explained then about the conversation she had with Ben before Adam and Owen returned to the house and Adam talked about the discussion he had with Owen.

“I think the children like you more than they like me.”

“No, that’s not it, but they thought they lost me so they’re only trying to re-establish that bond with me.”

“You think that’s it.”

“Yes, they love you. We’re all in this together.”

They continued to talk until they thought they had worked out a solution that would work for the foreseeable future. Adam shook his head as they stood to go out and tell the family.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong. It’s the irony of this. Pa is going to love the irony of this.”

*****

Once they opened the door to step out, Adam had to smile again at the looks of worry his family had. Although once they saw his smile, they visibly relaxed knowing that he couldn’t smile if there was bad news.

“Pa, I have a favor to ask.”

“Yes, son, anything.”

“We’re staying here now, and, well, we would like to know if we could extend our stay for a while.”

“Oh, how long would you like to stay?”

“Savannah is thinking that at least until the new baby is grown, I guess, so about eighteen or nineteen years ought to do it.”

There was silence for a moment, and then smiles, a barrage of questions, and congratulations all mixed together for about fifteen minutes until everything got settled out. Owen was amazed. He was going to have another brother or sister. He looked at Adam when there was a lull in the conversation.

“Papa, how did that happen?”

Savannah and Ben grinned broadly and then Hoss and Joe did as well as Adam sighed. He stood and pointed at the guest room. Owen wasn’t sure why they were going in there.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, but the answer to your question requires privacy.”

A half hour later the two emerged. Owen had a shell-shocked look about him. Adam asked Hop Sing for another cup of coffee. Savannah asked how it had gone.

“He may be more careful of the questions he asks in the future. Another lesson learned.”

“You gave him the warning, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Pa, I gave him the warning.”

“Warning?” Savannah was curious.

“Yes, when Adam was quite young, he asked a similar question when Hoss was born. He pestered me until I told him the truth. He was very quiet after I explained everything. Then he went and told all of his friends. You do know about his remarkable memory. He told them everything with every detail. Nothing was omitted. I had so many angry parents, I thought they were going to make us leave the wagon train. Luckily Inger was able to smooth things over. So with my younger sons I was careful to warn them not to tell anyone else.”

There was more laughter then including by Owen who hadn’t heard the reason for the warning. He understood it better after hearing that story.

“Is this what life is going to be like from now on?” Adam rolled his eyes and acted beleaguered even as Eva climbed into his lap to give him a hug and a kiss.

Joe cackled his answer though. “Oh, yeah, and it’s going to be so much fun.”

***The End***

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