Summary: This is a sequel to Savage Son. It is a bit of a Christmas story but more a story about Tanner helping his father initiate a romance and of Tanner learning about living in his new home.
Word Count: 14,724
At dinner his first night on the Ponderosa, Tanner wanted to show he was ready to fit into the white culture. He followed Adam’s lead in everything as they began the meal. He bowed his head for the blessing and waited for food to be passed to him. He looked around the table though and then around the house drawing Ben’s attention.
“Tanner, is there something I can get for you?”
“No, I have what I need.” Then he remembered his father’s coaching. “Thank you, Grandfather.”
“I noticed though that you were looking around as if you were missing something.”
“No, I am not missing something. I was wondering. I was wondering about the women.”
“You were wondering?” At that point, Ben should probably have thought about what his eldest son was like as a boy and what his questions could be like. He didn’t consider that though and simply went ahead ignoring or not noticing the warning gestures from Adam who wanted him to stop. “What about the women?”
“Yes, I was wondering about the women. Father told me the woman who was to be his wife would not leave her tribe to marry him because of me. I feel bad about that, but then I think she must not be a good woman if she could not accept his son.”
Giving up on stopping his father, Adam was sipping his coffee and some nearly came out his nose at that part. Hoss and Joe snickered a bit when he had to wipe his nose and chin. He glowered at them, but Tanner missed it all intent on talking with their father. He was listening to Ben’s response.
“That may be true, Tanner, but that is something between a man and a woman. It doesn’t seem to be the thing that others would discuss.”
“Oh, I did not know that. But I was wondering where your women are. Are there only men in this house?”
It was Adam’s turn to snicker as his brothers and father stammered in their predicament of not having reasons they could easily express to a nine-year-old why there were no women in the house. Ben was finally able to end that line of discussion by explaining that men made those decisions as a personal decision not a family one and usually did not discuss them in advance. Tanner looked to his father as if he was going to say something more, but Adam told him they would talk later. Tanner held any further questions he had about the topic then knowing his father wished to speak privately about those matters. He was beginning to understand that much at least. His mother had been like that too preferring to discuss her relationships with others privately. So he decided to move in another direction.
“Father, you said you had some of Mother’s things and that I could have them. When could I see those?”
“We can go up to my room after dinner and I’ll show you. They’re stored in a trunk in my room.” Adam looked to his family then. “If everything is still in my room?”
“Pa ain’t let anybody touch a thing. He was hoping you’d come home at some point. So it’s all there jest the way you left it. Hop Sing cleans now and then, but that’s it.”
“After you look at all that stuff, Tanner, mebbe you’ll let me teach you how to play checkers. I’m looking forward to having somebody to play who don’t cheat.”
“Hey, I don’t cheat. I’m just better than you at checkers.”
Joe looked affronted to be accused of cheating but Adam and Ben laughed. Tanner asked them why they were laughing, and his father answered.
“Because Joe cheats, and we all know it. It’s like another game to figure out how he does it sometimes.”
“So it is like the counting coup that some tribes do.”
“Huh? Counting what?”
“In some tribes, it is considered more brave to outsmart the enemy, to be more clever than it is to kill or wound him.”
“How could that be more brave?”
“Well, once our men snuck into an enemy’s camp and took their horses. In the morning, they lined up on a ridge out of range of their weapons and waited for the men in the camp to be able to see them. Then they laughed loudly and rode away with their enemies’ horses.”
“I bet the men in that camp were mighty mad.” Hoss was impressed.
“Yes, and on foot and not so able to take care of themselves. It is a great danger to be in the mountains and not have horses.”
“So they defeated their enemy without anybody firing a shot. Nobody got wounded or killed and they won the battle anyhow. That’s pretty smart.” Joe was equally impressed.
“Yes, but when they do that to white people, they call them thieves.”
A small boy had more understanding of the clash of cultures in the west than most people there did. Adam put a hand on Tanner’s shoulder to show he empathized with him. Tanner had another question.
“Why do they have to be locked up on reservations?”
It wasn’t easy to admit but Adam gave him an honest answer. “People give a lot of reasons for that. Some say to protect them from whites. Others say they have to protect whites from them. Most though want their land. That’s probably been the most important reason behind it all. They pushed them west and west until there was nowhere left to push them so they had to corral them onto land they think whites don’t want.”
“But the chiefs say they don’t keep their word.”
Adam had to agree with that too. “Yes, often then they find something they want on the reservation land so they want more of that too or they want them to move to a different reservation.”
“They get sick a lot too. The people were sick often. My mother said I was lucky to have a white father because it made me stronger when the sickness was there.”
“Were you ever sick, Tanner?”
“Yes, I had the red spots once. They itched. But I wasn’t so sick as the others.”
Nodding, Ben remembered Adam having illnesses too when he was that age. “Yes, probably measles or chickenpox. If he itched but wasn’t feeling too sick, it was probably measles. You were like that when you had measles.” Ben thought he needed to bring up another subject. “Adam, I am concerned about Tanner having a rifle.”
“He knows the rules, Pa. He is only to use it with me or another adult present. It will stay in the gun rack otherwise. He can clean it, practice with it, or go hunting, but only with an adult.”
Turning to Tanner, Ben asked if he accepted those guidelines.
“Yes, Grandfather. It is an honor for me to have the rifle. I will not do anything to lose it, and Father has said if I break those rules, I will lose it probably until I am sixteen years old. I don’t want to do that.”
Hoss chuckled though. “Pa and Adam, I think we oughta make an exception to that there rule though. How about he kin use it without adult supervision ifn he’s got ta save his pa’s life again. If Tanner hadn’t shot those two sidewinders, Adam woulda bin a goner for shur.”
With that, Joe had to join in. “Yeah, Pa, you never know when Adam might run into some dastardly villains trying to do devious deeds of mayhem to him.”
Tanner began laughing. “You’re right, Father. They talk just as you said they would.”
So Adam got to do one of his classic smirks, and Ben did his famous eye roll. Tanner laughed even more when Hoss leaned over to him with an observation.
“See, I told you they’d do that.”
“You were right too. You’re all so funny.”
In a jovial mood then, Adam led Tanner up the stairs and to his room where he showed him a trunk in which he kept all his most valued possessions. He pulled some of them out now that he was home again and then found Ruth’s Bible handing it to Tanner who took it reverently.
“Go ahead. Open it.”
Inside, Tanner found the same notations Adam had when he first found the Bible at her camp. It was a tie to the rest of Tanner’s history. Adam pulled out a small cloth and unwrapped it showing the small carved ring he had given to Ruth and that she had left behind.
“You can take these things to your room. If I can’t find an empty trunk for you to use, I’ll buy one or make one for you.”
“Father, I would wait for it if you would make one for me. Would you make it large enough for the leather bag and the bowl that belonged to my mother too?”
“I’ll make it larger than that, son. There may be other things you want to save. It’s how Ruth is still alive in my memory.” Once more, Adam saw how Tanner seemed startled that he had said his mother’s name and decided it was time to ask why.
“Among the people, it is not customary to use the name of one who has died. Even when alive, the name is not spoken often.”
“Then how do you ask about someone or call for them?”
“They said to get the old blind woman or the healer woman or most just asked for the healer.”
“The healer’s son or the curly-haired one.”
“So if I said your mother, that would be better for me to say?”
“Yes, that would be better.”
With that settled, they headed downstairs for Tanner’s first checkers lesson and matches first with Hoss and then with Joe. He caught Joe cheating except Joe said he only bumped the piece and was replacing it and must have moved it to the wrong square when he did so. No one believed that. Tanner watched him very closely after that.
Then it was time to head up to bed. Adam showed Tanner the chamberpot and explained its use. He told him about the pitcher of water and washbasin and how that was different from the glass of water on the bedside table. He asked if the room was warm enough and Tanner wondered what he meant to do about that.
“There’s a Franklin stove there. I could start that up if you were chilled or thought you would be.”
“No, I am fine. There are many blankets on this bed too. I will be warm. I do have a question for you though.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Is it later yet?”
Although Adam would have preferred not to understand what that meant, he did. Sitting on the side of Tanner’s bed, he nodded and began the explanation he had evaded earlier. At least it was private here.
“Your grandfather was married three times. Each wife died. I told you those stories. What I didn’t talk about was what that does to a man’s heart. He becomes very sad and not so ready to open his heart to another. He has, but one woman was not a good woman, another was married to another man, and a third woman chose to support her son instead.”
“He was a bad man, and my father had to shoot him. She couldn’t get past that.”
“He didn’t pick good women for him then.”
“No, I guess he didn’t and that has happened to his sons too. We have all had that problem picking women who weren’t good women or women who preferred other men.”
“Maybe someone else should pick the women for you. In the tribe, marriages were often set up by others who decided who would be a good match.”
“That’s not how we do it.”
“Maybe you should do it that way so you would get a woman who was good for you.”
“Tanner, sons also don’t counsel their fathers on who they should be seeing.” Adam’s tone had become more firm and his voice was lower.
Tanner recognized the change and knew better than to continue regardless of what he was thinking. “Yes, father.”
“Good night, Tanner.”
“Good night, Father.” But Tanner was thinking for quite a while after Adam left his room and long after he turned down the lamp and slipped beneath those warm blankets.
In the morning, Adam and Tanner got a tour of the ranch from Ben who was eager to show the changes in the ranch to his son and to show off the ranch to his grandson. The next day, it was Joe’s turn to show them around and he made sure they spent some time at the breaking corrals so he could show Tanner his skills in horsebreaking. However he was disappointed that Tanner was not impressed.
“When I was with the people, they did it differently and not so violently. They wanted the horse to want to be with them and not be afraid of them.”
“Well, you still have to make the horse accept a rider.”
“Yes, but it is easier if the horse is tired out and the rider helps the horse.”
“They send the horse into deep water where it has to struggle to stay safe. It can fight the water all it wants but the water is too strong. When it grows weak, a man goes in and gets on its back and turns it toward shore and safety. It’s tired and the man saves it. It doesn’t usually have much interest in bucking after that.”
“Well, sure that could work, but what if you don’t have a lot of water around?”
“Yes, that happened. When there was no water to use, they ran the horses until they were very tired and then brought them to soft sand. There they mounted up on them to get them used to riders. They would buck a little like they did in the water, but it is difficult to buck much in soft sand too and they were already tired so they gave up quickly. An injury, even a small one, to a man could mean that he would die. Then his family could die unless there was another who could step forward to provide for them.”
Seeing how disappointed Joe looked upon hearing his answers, Tanner decided he better say something else. “The people don’t use saddles. Maybe it is the saddles that make you have to be sore and hurt to break the horses.”
The attempt at diplomacy though appreciated fell flat.
“Yeah, maybe that’s it.”
“Joe, have you thought about running them to get them tired before they go in the chute? That part might actually be helpful. Instead of having a lot of energy, they would already be tired and not have to get tired by bucking off one or two riders.”
“I was already thinking that, Adam. You didn’t have to say it.” Joe was irritated then even more so.
Looking over at Tanner, Adam winked at his son. “I can tell you’re my son. We both got under his skin now.”
“Under his skin?” To Tanner, these sayings were the most confusing part of moving into the white world. He had heard quite a few already but there were always more. When his grandfather had told him to go in the washroom and wash off his face, he had been shocked but his father had only grinned and told him to go with him and he would explain. He waited now for the next explanation.
“It means to irritate.”
“You’re not irritating, Tanner. I’m always interested in what you have to say.” Joe smirked at his oldest brother then getting a smile from Tanner who enjoyed the way the brothers had fun with each other. It was like they had their own family way of counting coup.
On Saturday, it was Hoss’ turn with Adam and Tanner. “I want ta take ya fishing, Tanner, and it’s about time my older brother remembered how ta do some relaxing too. Hop Sing will pack us a lunch and we’ll catch us some dinner.”
“This sounds more like you want a day to enjoy yourself.”
“No reason why I can’t enjoy myself and show Tanner a good time too. You used to like doing things like that too.”
“Didn’t say I didn’t like it.”
“Then why you jawing at me about it?”
“I think you know.”
“You’re trying for a trip to the horse trough, older brother. You better watch yourself. You ain’t above gittin’ wet ifn ya need it.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Don’t you push me then.”
“What is jawing and why would it get father put in the horse trough?”
It was probably rather lucky for Adam that Tanner had questions like that. Hoss laughed and Adam had to sit down to explain things. Hoss went in the house to talk to Hop Sing and Adam told Tanner what jawing was.
“That’s what I thought it was and that’s why I thought Uncle Hoss was getting upset with you.”
“If you knew that, why did you ask?”
“To save you from being put in the horse trough. You didn’t want to go in there, did you? Uncle Hoss is much larger and I didn’t think you would be able to stop him by yourself.”
All Adam could do was grin and wrap an arm around his son.
“We make a good team then?”
“Yes, Tanner, we make a good team.”
They had a good day at the lake then even if Hoss and Adam had a dispute over skipping stones as Hoss didn’t want them to disturb the fish and Adam complained there weren’t any fish there anyway. They compromised on waiting two more hours until even Hoss got frustrated at the lack of fish and then skipped stones. Tanner suggested perhaps it was too hot and sunny so that the fish were in a cooler spot like up the little stream and in a cool pool. They tried that and caught a half-dozen at which point Hoss decided that he and Tanner made a good team too.
To be safe, Hop Sing had roasted a chicken for dinner so they had chicken and fish for their meal. It was enough to satisfy even Hoss who declared it a feast. After dinner, Hoss talked his brothers and Tanner into a round robin of checkers with winners playing winners and losers playing losers. After an hour or two of that, they had lost count of who had won what but it had been a lot of fun. Adam explained to Tanner then that they were going to church the next morning. Tanner was nervous about that not having ever attended a formal church service, but Adam and Ben assured him that he could stand between them and they would make sure he knew what to do at every point.
“Yessirree, you jest make shur ya don’t watch what your Uncle Joe does or you’re likely ta hear from yer Pa or Grandpa about it.”
“Why? What does Uncle Joe do?”
With a scowl, Adam looked at Hoss. “You had to do that, didn’t you? Make him curious about what Joe will do. It’s going to make it harder for him to concentrate on what he should be paying attention to in church tomorrow.”
“Sorry, Adam. I wasn’t thinkin’ at all ’bout that. I’m kinda new at this uncle thing.”
“It’s all right. We’re all kinda new at this.”
The next morning, Adam helped Tanner dress for church service picking out the best of the new clothing they had purchased as they traveled to the Ponderosa from the reservation mission where Adam had picked him up. It had been quite a shock to learn that he had a son. Ruth had not ever let him know that, and now she had died leaving Tanner to his care. However he had grown up for nine years with the Shoshoni so he still had so much to learn about white culture. Meanwhile Adam had been living in the east for over four years so he had some adjusting to do as well to being back home. Attending church services together was going to introduce the two of them to a lot of family, friends, and neighbors. Adam wanted to be sure they made a good first impression. It wasn’t going to work out quite as he envisioned.
All went well at first. Ben introduced Adam and Tanner to people they met as they arrived at church. There were of course many curious glances and those bold enough to approach them to ask questions. There were friends too who were hailed by one or more of the family. Then of course in church, they were quiet and attentive. Luckily Joe was on his best behavior so that when Tanner inevitably watched him, there was nothing to see. At the end of the service, there were a lot more people in church and outside who approached the family. There were a number of youngsters curious about Tanner too and soon he was separated from the adults. Adam kept an eye on him though to be sure there was no trouble. There wasn’t with the children but he noticed that Tanner was talking with some women who stormed away. A few headed in his direction.
“You need to tame that child. I can’t believe you let him loose to behave in such an uncivilized manner.”
“I never have been spoken to in a more disrespectful way. That boy needs a tanning.”
“He needs a horse whipping.”
“I suppose we ought to remember who the father is and the circumstances of the child’s birth. After all, what could one expect.”
As Adam’s temper rose, the ladies departed in a huff. Adam walked stiffly to where Tanner stood with one woman who was trying to console him. He was visibly upset. She turned to Adam when he approached.
“I know that many were outraged, but I think it was endearing and sweet that he cares so much. He simply doesn’t understand how things are done. I can see he has a good heart, and I hope you remember that as you talk with him.”
She reached over then to brush away a single tear that had escaped from Tanner’s eye and slid down his cheek. She wanted him to know she was not offended by what he had said. Then the woman turned and walked away in a dignified way as Tanner looked at his father. He was scared. He knew he had done something terribly wrong but he had not intended for it to be a bad thing. Although Adam knew that there had obviously been a major breach of social norms, he didn’t want to discuss it in front of all the people who had gathered. He took Tanner by the arm and marched him to their carriage. Without a word, he climbed in too and waited silently for his father. Joe and Hoss had their horses so they didn’t need to wait for them. Ben wisely sat in the back of the carriage and Adam snapped the reins to take them home. When they were a mile from the church, he finally was able to speak.
“Tanner, what did you say to those ladies?”
“Father, you know how you told me why there are no women on the ranch. I thought I could help. I did not see any men with those ladies so I asked if they had husbands. They teased me and said I was too young. I said I was not asking for myself. I said my father is a good man but lonely. I asked then if any of them wanted to be the one to warm your bed. That is all. They got very angry.”
In the back of the carriage, Ben was so glad he didn’t have to deal with that situation. Perplexed by all that the situation entailed, Adam was silent for a time. Tanner got more worried.
“Are you very angry with me too? I do not understand. I was being honest. I thought that was what I was supposed to be.”
“Son, there is honesty, and then there is something called diplomacy.”
“What is that?”
“It is that sometimes you keep your honest thoughts to yourself because others do not want to hear them or they do not want you to share them.”
“Because there are things that are true but we don’t like talking about them.”
“I don’t understand. If it’s true, why wouldn’t we talk about them?”
“Should we tell everyone we meet your mother’s name?”
Tanner got a rather horrified look at that and it made him sit and think for a time. In the back, Ben smiled for his son had chosen perhaps the one thing that would make Tanner understand this. Adam had explained to him and to his brothers that they should not talk about Ruth by using her name and explained why. So they had found some creative ways to refer to her in conversation. It had been a concession to the sensitivities that Tanner had. Now it was useful in getting him to understand it was not all right to discuss everything with anyone.
“I understand. I should not have said that to them. I should have let you say it.”
“No, you understand only part of it. Yes, you should not have said that to them, but no, I would never say that.”
“Don’t you want a woman to be with you?”
“Yes, but remember, I told you that was not something that I thought I should be talking over with you.”
“Yes, I forgot that.” After a brief pause, Tanner had a question. “Am I going to be punished?”
“Do you think you should be?”
“I never got punished before unless I did something wrong that I knew was wrong.”
“That’s probably a good rule for us to continue because you’re still learning the rules around here. No, you will not be punished.”
The rest of the ride was pleasant. About a half hour later, Adam had a question for his father. “Pa, do you know who that last lady was who was with Tanner when I walked up to them?”
“That’s Karen Calaway. She’s opened several businesses in town. She is quite a hit with the single women in town, but she isn’t very popular with the married women. She has rebuffed all attempts by men to court her and yet she’s so pretty that many a man has a second or third look when she walks by.”
“There are other attractive women. Why would the married women not like her?”
“She has also turned down all invitations to women’s groups as demeaning and has told people that she will not marry because she will not give fealty to any man.” Ben was curious. “Is this idle interest in her or do you have a purpose in mind?”
“I thought that I might thank her at some point for showing some kindness and understanding to Tanner. He is still quite new to white society and what is expected of him, yet she was nice to him and seemed to find more humor than offense in his social error.”
“Yes, she is an intriguing woman.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Not in so many words. She’ll be a challenge too to any man who tries to get close to her.”
Shaking his head, Adam turned his attention back to the team of horses and concentrated on his driving. Tanner turned back to look at his grandfather who gave him a thumbs up. Tanner grinned. Perhaps he had done some good after all and might have even found a woman for his father. He didn’t plan to do anything more though. Instead, he thought he should talk to his grandfather or his uncles about the situation so that he could understand it better.
Unfortunately for Adam, Tanner sought his uncles’ advice first. He told the whole story to Hoss and Joe up to the point at which they were back in the carriage and headed back to the Ponderosa.
“I bet ole Adam looked like he was poleaxed about that time. Can you believe it, Joe? His young’un is asking women to sleep with him.”
Hoss laughed loudly and Joe giggled.
“I know. I wonder if it could work if he could learn to say it more diplomatically.”
“So I told him that I had said the truth, and I thought I should always say the truth. Father explained how sometimes it is best to keep the truth to yourself. He talked about being diplomatic but it didn’t seem like he wanted me to talk to the ladies any more.”
“No, I bet he didn’t.” Joe continued to giggle on and off about the whole situation.
“What does it mean to be poleaxed?”
“If Hoss hits someone, they would likely be laid out cold on the ground and that’s one way of being poleaxed. When you shock somebody so bad with a question that they don’t know what to say, that’s just like being knocked out by Hoss hitting you. You’re poleaxed one way or the other.”
“Oh, I think I understand. So I poleaxed Father by what I said?”
“Ya shur did, and that ain’t all that easy ta do. You should be proud of yourself.”
“I don’t know. I think I did it wrong because Father said I shouldn’t say anything like that ever again.”
“Next time, you come to Joe and me, and we’ll tell you what to say.”
“All right, I guess I could do that.” Tanner was still frowning though.
“Something else on your mind that Hoss or I could help you with, Tanner?”
“Well, I have heard the two of you talking of Christmas. My mother used to talk about it too although we didn’t have that celebration with the people. The two of us had a little private celebration. Now you say that you want to get the perfect gift for each member of the family. I only know one perfect gift and I can’t get that. For the rest of you, I don’t know the perfect gift.”
“Well, now, you see, what we mean by the perfect gift is something that would make the person happy. Ifn I was ta give you a pocketknife, would that make you happy?”
“Yes, it would. I do not have one.”
“You see, then that would be a perfect gift.”
“I understand then. It is not so hard as I thought it was. I only have to find something to make each person happy with the gift.”
“Yep, ya got it.”
However Joe had picked up on something else that Tanner had said and guessed that he knew what it was. He questioned his nephew though to test his idea. “You said you only knew of one perfect gift but couldn’t get that. Would that be arranging a wife for your father?”
“Yes, I am sure he wants one.”
“Now, how can you be so sure? I know my brother and he doesn’t talk about these things. Well, maybe with Pa when he really needs to let some of it out, but not with anybody else less’n he has to.”
“Uncle Hoss, I am sure because I heard him talking. We were together on the trail for a long time as we traveled here. On many nights, he talked while he was sleeping. It wasn’t a lot of talking; only a little mostly. It wasn’t loud either, but I was beside him. He wants very much to marry but now the woman he was supposed to marry is not here.”
“You know why, dontcha? She forced him to choose between you and her. He chose you.” Hoss put a hand on Tanner’s shoulder. “He made the right choice too.”
As the three worked the rest of the morning, there was more conversation, but Hoss and Joe didn’t realize how little Tanner was participating as he talked when necessary and asked about the work they were doing and why it had to be done. He kept them talking with strategically placed questions so that he didn’t have to talk.
During the morning, Adam had been talking with Ben and going over ledgers and contracts trying to get a feel again for the business side of the Ponderosa and what he might be able to do. At lunch though, he noticed that his son was sober and quiet. He asked him if he was feeling all right. Getting a positive response to that, he asked him what was wrong and got nothing. That alerted him to something being wrong and made him look to his brothers for some insight. All they could do was shrug not having any idea why Tanner might be upset.
“We can talk after lunch.”
“I’m supposed to go help Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe after lunch.”
“I’m supposed to work with my father too, but until you tell me what’s wrong, neither of those is going to happen.”
Knowing then that he had to admit what was bothering him, Tanner simply blurted it out. “I didn’t know I was the reason why you didn’t get married. I guessed that it might be a some of it. I didn’t know it was the whole reason.”
Looking daggers at his brothers, Adam took several breaths to try to calm himself. “You were never supposed to know that. It was between me and a woman who wasn’t mature enough to make a good decision. She wanted a boy not a man. She wanted someone she could control. When I made a decision without her approval, she tried to make me change it. I wouldn’t and that was why she decided she wouldn’t marry me. It was the best thing that could have happened. If I had married her, I would be unhappy.”
“So it was a good thing?”
“It was a very good thing. However, I do not wish to discuss it again with anyone here especially without me bringing it up first. It is not something for idle conversation or amusement. It was a serious matter for me and I would prefer that my privacy on that matter at least would be respected.”
Wincing a little, Hoss apologized and then Joe did as well. They hadn’t considered the consequences of their talk with Tanner nor thought about its impact on Adam. As they thought about it, both realized they wouldn’t have wanted anyone talking about it if it had happened to them. Neither of them knew how to mention that they had talked about him wanting a wife but decided that perhaps that could be left to a later occasion. Tanner however did not let them off the hook on that one.
“Is it all right to talk about you wanting to get a wife because we talked about that too?”
“No, that is not all right.”
“That one lady was nice though.”
“Yes, she was.” But Adam realized he was doing what he didn’t want to do and discussing his potential romance with his son and in front of his father and brothers. “That doesn’t mean anything though. Lots of people are nice.”
“She was pretty too.”
Recognizing that tone of voice, Tanner decided to concentrate on finishing what little was left of his lunch. It seemed his uncles had the same inclination, and the rest of the meal was relatively quiet. Adam decided it might be best though if Tanner did not spend the afternoon with his uncles and decided to take him to town to buy some additional clothing for him as Hop Sing had already complained that he had to do laundry for the boy too often to keep him in clean clothing.
On the way to town, father and son found all sorts of things to talk about other than the topics discussed at lunch so the conversation was relaxed and actually fun for both.
In town, Adam found that stores weren’t the same as he remembered. He asked at the mercantile where he would find the best selection of clothing for a boy and was sent to a new clothing store. He did find the selection was quite good and the prices reasonable. When he and Tanner had gathered quite an armload of clothing, they were surprised to find that the woman who showed up to check them out was the nice lady from church. Adam recalled that his father had said her name was Karen Calaway. He wasn’t sure exactly how he should address her though so he simply used the most polite form of address he knew.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m pleased to see you again. I do wish to thank you for being so kind to my son.”
“Good afternoon, Mister Cartwright. Yes, I have heard now about your son’s story. Even without that, I thought the whole incident was rather charming. I think those who were so offended lack any sense of decorum or empathy.”
“Well, Tanner won’t be holding any such discussions in the future so I hope there won’t be any need to test their sense of decorum or their empathy again.”
“You didn’t punish him, did you?” Karen had a look that said she thought he had.
“No, ma’am, Father talked to me. He talks to me a lot about how things are. He would only punish me if I did something wrong after he told me it was wrong.”
Smiling at Tanner, Karen addressed him. “That is an enlightened attitude. I see many parents in here who could stand to use such an approach. Now you certainly have a lot of clothing here.”
“Yes, ma’am, Hop Sing doesn’t like doing my laundry so often. I have to work, and I get my clothing dirty. Father wants me to be in clean clothing.”
“You have to work? Aren’t you going to school?”
“Not yet, ma’am. Father says I’m not ready for school yet.”
Considering what had happened at church, Karen quickly thought about all the things that could go wrong at school. “Yes, I can see where it could take some time to get ready for that.”
“There’s a lot that I haven’t seen around here yet too, and Father has to get used to things again too.”
“Get used to things again too?”
“I was living in the east for a few years. I came back when I heard about Tanner. We’re going to live here now.”
“Ah, I see.” Except she didn’t see at all. Karen found that one of the negatives of refusing membership in the women’s groups in town was that she was not privy to the gossip and stories. Men didn’t confide in her and the women as a whole didn’t talk to her. Mostly she associated with some of the younger single women and many of them were as much on the outside as she was. Certainly they were much younger and not as likely to be interested in a man of Adam’s age. If she wanted to know more, she was going to have to ask and that would likely lead to some gossip so she couldn’t. She knew her curiosity was going to lead to trouble. While having all those thoughts, she finished tallying up the prices for everything Adam and Tanner had picked out, and she handed the bill to him.
Whistling a bit, Adam took out his wallet and paid for the items. She wrapped them in brown paper bundles and father and son took them out to their wagon before heading to the mercantile to get a list of supplies Hop Sing had asked them to get. Watching Adam walk with his son and enter the store across the street, she knew she wouldn’t mind more attention from him. She had felt his eyes on her as she worked and his interest was welcome because he wasn’t intrusive or pushy as some men were. In fact, he was the opposite. However, she didn’t want marriage because she valued her independence too much and wondered if he could accept a relationship that wouldn’t lead to anything permanent. Considering that he had clearly made quite a sacrifice already for his son, so she guessed he most likely would want a mother for his son as well as a wife. She sighed and went back to work as her assistant smiled.
For Adam, she was intriguing but perhaps too much of a challenge. He had shown interest and she had smiled at him, but that had been the extent of her response. Nothing in her conversation or her manner had been at all inviting. After what his father had said about her, he didn’t want to make an overture that she would rebuff. Fairly quiet on the return trip, he listened as Tanner talked about all that he had observed in town and what he thought about all the people with whom they had interacted. No one seemed to notice how introspective he was, but that wasn’t unusual either. He had a lot to think about that night as he lay in bed trying to think of a way to approach a seemingly unapproachable lady.
For weeks, Karen was only a daydream subject as Adam was busy with work and with teaching Tanner. About six weeks after returning to the Ponderosa, his father asked him to go to a meeting in Sacramento. Reluctant to go because he didn’t feel he knew enough about Ponderosa business yet, he was assured by his father and Joe that this meeting was mainly to get to know the representatives who would be buying their timber and to get to meet their competitors. Nothing substantive was going to be done at the meeting other than the contract offers would be handed out. Those Adam would bring home for bids to be worked out and submitted by mail. With that settled, he packed up to go and reminded Tanner to follow his grandfather’s rules and advice.
Getting on the stage in town, Adam was pleasantly surprised to find that Karen was traveling too. She was on a buying trip and was also going to Sacramento. They spent the first day talking about general topics such as business in Virginia City and what they had to do in Sacramento. As they became more comfortable with each other, the subjects gradually became more personal until they were talking a bit about their histories although in general terms. Karen was fascinated with Adam’s stories of traveling west and of building the Ponderosa for she had come to Nevada via California and had arrived there by ship. Travel for her had been fairly easy in comparison to the things Adam described.
“Weren’t you terrified of Indian attacks?”
“Actually, I was far more worried about animals and of the rivers and mountains we had to cross.”
“But you said your stepmother was killed.”
“Yes, but that problem was instigated by a white man. If he had not harmed them, they would have left us alone. Most of the time, Indians came up to us to demand payment for crossing their lands or they wanted to trade meat to us for things like knives or other things they found valuable.”
“But didn’t you need those things?”
“The wagonmaster would go around to people and tell them the things they had that they were most likely going to be throwing away when we got to the toughest parts of the trip. He’d tell them to trade for meat if they could to save our stock and ammunition for later. Most did. Others ended up throwing things away and getting nothing for them.”
“So someone could pick up all those things and start a store.”
“You’re quite a businesswoman. Always thinking. No, most of the time items were tossed in the most inhospitable places like the shifting sands of a desert or the worst parts of a mountain crossing or even occasionally as we were crossing a river to make a wagon float better.”
“In some cases, yes, when they had to. We would have to unload them completely and cork the cracks. It would never have held for long, but it only had to work for fifteen or twenty minutes at the most. We would do it almost every time we crossed a river even if the wagons didn’t have to float. It kept things inside from getting wet.”
“So you traveled all the way like that to Nevada?”
“Oh no, there were no wagon trains that went to Nevada then. No, we went to Oregon. Pa worked there for a while to make some money and then we went to California and he worked for his friend John Sutter. That’s how he got enough money to buy the land here in Nevada that was the start of the Ponderosa. Land here was cheap then. We got a lot for a little.”
“And kept adding more.”
“Yes, we put our profits back into the Ponderosa and made it bigger. We still do. I imagine that’s what you’ve done too to build your businesses. It’s the smart thing to do.”
For a moment, Karen had nothing to say. For a man to tell her she was a smart businesswoman and say it with genuine respect for her accomplishments was such a rarity that she didn’t know how to respond. Finally she simply nodded and said what was in her heart. “Thank you. Not many men would acknowledge that a woman could be smart enough to do that.”
“Then they are not very smart. It is ignorance defined to ignore facts that you can observe while clinging to opinions that are little more than prejudice.”
“Please do not be offended. Women generally are not as strong as men physically although I know a few to whom that does not apply either. However in general, it holds true. What many men therefore assume is that physical strength has some correlation to other abilities when it does not. How much a man can lift doesn’t tell you the strength of his character or his intellectual ability or his moral fiber. Each of those has a different test.”
“I do like the way you think.”
That earned her a full dimpled grin and he got her broad smile in return. The other three people in the coach were fascinated by the drama playing out before them. Not only were the stories being told fascinating to hear, but the ongoing development of a relationship between the man and the woman was as good or better than any play any of them had ever seen. By the end of the day, they were secretly cheering on the couple hoping to see them get together. It certainly had been a far more interesting day on a coach than was usual.
The passengers spent the night in a newly constructed stage station in the Sierras. It had recently been painted and the rooms still smelled of the new wood that had been used in construction. The food was better than usual for a station. It was larger than usual too and served as a roadhouse too so there were guests there who were not riding the stage. Karen stuck close to Adam for the evening to avoid the other men there. Most who saw them probably assumed they were married at least until they went to separate rooms when it was time to retire. Then it was clear she was a single woman traveling alone.
In her room, Karen felt the hypocrisy of her opinions. She disdained the company of a man and claimed she would never offer fealty to a man yet she had willingly let the rough men in this place assume she was with Adam because it made her feel safer. It wasn’t only a feeling though. In her heart and mind, she knew she was safer because she was with Adam. Inexplicably that irritated her. In the morning, that irritation spilled into some barbed comments sent his way. He was understandably surprised.
“I’m sorry, but did I do something to offend you. I certainly did not intend it if I did, and I sincerely apologize. If you would inform me of what it was, I would surely not repeat it.”
“Do you always have to be right and so insufferably polite?”
Standing silent and shocked, Adam watched as Karen stormed out to the stage. The lady who had been a passenger the day before and part of the audience to the drama between the two of them walked up to him and touched his arm.
“I think she likes you a great deal, young man.”
“Really? It’s very hard to tell, and I am not a young man any more.”
“Oh, being young is here.” She put her hand across her chest. “And your heart is still young as is hers. She likes you very much and it scares her. Don’t give up. From what I saw yesterday, the two of you will have many good years together.”
“We had one day of conversation and you see us married?”
“It is sometimes easier to see that when you’re not part of it. Now go after her and do what comes naturally.”
“Thank you, ah, I’m sorry, but I do not recall your name.”
“Abby. Everyone calls me Abby.”
“Well, dear Abby, thank you for the advice and for the prediction. We’ll have to see what happens.”
“You’ll need a more positive attitude than that to win her heart.”
“I’m not sure that’s what I want to do.”
“It is. You haven’t accepted it yet, but it’s what you want.”
Abby’s husband came up then. “I hope she’s not bothering you. She can’t help giving advice to people. I’ve told her that she has to stop meddling, but she means well.”
“Phil, you don’t have to speak for me. I can speak for myself.”
“Yes, dear, now let’s get on the stage before it leaves without us.”
On the stage, Karen wasn’t inclined to speak with Adam hoping to find some emotional distance. However when he pulled his hat down over his face and leaned back to sleep, she was irritated. If she had known he was tired because he had been thinking about her for much of the night, it might have softened her sharp opinions. At one point though the coach swerved to miss a hole in the road and she fell against Adam who reflexively wrapped his arms around her. Startled awake, he did take quite a bit longer than necessary to help her regain her seat and get settled before he removed his arms. She noticed and noted the small smile too as he did so. At first, she didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended. As she evaluated what happened though, she decided on pleased as he had not violated her in any way and had helped her. Politely thanking him then, she asked a few questions about their route reopening their line of communication. The rest of the day went well as did the days after that until they reached Sacramento.
There, Karen expected to be left on her own. She had done it before, but would have preferred some company. However she knew Adam had extensive meetings to attend. She prepared to bid him farewell when he asked if they could have dinner together.
“I’ll be done with my meeting by six. After that, I have no plans and no one with whom to dine.”
Karen agreed to dinner, and that began the pattern of their stay in the city. They each had business to conduct during the day, but they had dinner together and attended a few performances at the theater as well as taking walks and carriage rides. There was nothing romantic in any of their activities so Karen was able to relax in Adam’s company. She extended her stay in Sacramento by a day so that she could travel back to Virginia City with Adam.
On the trip back, they found they had developed an easy camaraderie with each other. Both sensed that there was likely going to be more between them soon as their friendship was already strong. Adam’s respect for her business acumen had gone a long way to resolving her general mistrust of men and worry that he would try to dominate her. That was something she could not tolerate. When they arrived in Virginia City, she saw Adam’s father and son waiting for him at the stage depot. There was a woman standing beside them. She had never seen her before but clearly Adam had for he let loose with an expletive, and she hadn’t even heard him use an unkind word in the time she had been with him. Apologizing to her, he was short telling her he would be by to see her as they had discussed. He stepped from the stage then turning to help her climb down before turning to the trio who awaited him. Karen noted how his son greeted him enthusiastically, but his father had a more worried look as he said hello. Then the woman who had regarded her coolly stepped forward.
“Well, Adam, don’t you have anything to say to your fiancé?”
“I do not have a fiancé.”
“You didn’t, but you do again.”
“That is not a unilateral decision. It requires my participation, and I do not agree.”
“Oh, Adam, don’t be so difficult.”
“I am not being difficult. I am being honest.”
“Son, perhaps it would be best not to air these disagreements in public. You can hold this discussion at home.”
“At home? Don’t tell me she’s been staying at the ranch!” His father’s look said she had. “That needs to end.”
“I can’t kick her out after inviting her to stay. She’s been our guest for almost a week now. She arrived soon after you departed on your trip.”
“I’ll get her a room at the hotel right now. I can bring her things back to town today yet.”
“That may not be possible. There’s bad weather brewing, and it’s already past noon.”
Stymied, Adam had to concede that one. “All right, then, tomorrow, I’ll take her back to town.”
Not knowing what else to do, Ben put up his hands and moved toward the carriage. Tanner climbed up on the driver’s seat beside him as Mercy got in the back leaving only one place for Adam. He reluctantly got in and sat beside Mercy who put a hand on his arm. It would have been churlish for him to throw it off so he endured it. However that was what Karen saw as the carriage left town: Adam sitting in the back of the carriage with Mercy and she had her hand rather possessively on his arm. Adam had never mentioned having a fiancé so Karen felt a bit betrayed by that reinforcing her earlier assumptions about all men just when she had been starting to think there could be exceptions.
On the ride to the Ponderosa, Mercy kept the conversation light trying to reinforce the impression she had built in the previous week with Ben that she was a sweet, charming woman and that his son had been foolish to reject her so easily. However Ben had already seen how she had tried to manipulate Adam at the stage depot and had misgivings about having invited her to stay at the ranch. She had misrepresented herself on that score leading him to believe that Adam had some idea that she might come to visit. That apparently had not been true at all based on Adam’s reaction to seeing her. Tanner had his hopes up that Adam might reconcile with his former fiancé because that would reduce his feelings of guilt. Ben hoped that whatever happened, Adam would make Tanner realize he was not the root cause of it. On the ride though, Mercy made that more difficult.
“Now, Adam, Tanner and I have been getting along quite well. He’s not at all what I expected after he lived with those savages all those years. He’s really quite civilized in most regards. I’m sure he will learn more manners as he spends more time with your father.”
“I’m his father. He will spend much of his time with me.”
“And he did not live with savages. He lived in a rich culture but one with a long tradition and history even if quite different from ours.”
“Oh, yes, of course, I did not mean to be impolite and be disrespectful. I’m certain there must be some things about which they can be proud. They do after all have magnificent horses or so I’ve been told. And they didn’t kill Tanner and eat him.”
“That’s enough. Your ignorance is only surpassed by your rudeness.”
“You’re a fine one to talk about rudeness insulting me like that. You’ll need to improve you manners to be a better example for the boy. He can hardly be expected to learn how to live in polite society if his father cannot behave properly.”
“What do you mean by ‘live in polite society’ now?”
“Well I assume you’ll want him to come live with us when we get married.”
“We are not getting married.”
“It was never formally announced. You called it off before it was official. We are not betrothed and we are not getting married.”
“I could sue you for breach of promise. My father’s attorneys could ruin you.”
“For what purpose?”
“Why would you do that? Vengeance? Surely you know that if you did that, there would never be a chance we would marry so why would you do it?”
“Take me to town. This is never going to work, is it?”
“No, it isn’t going to work.”
“You just won’t change. You’re so stubborn. Can’t you see that life would be so much better for you back home?”
“I am back home.”
“You live in the wilderness with nothing when you could live in the city with all the finest things. Why?”
“Because it is an empty life with no freedom, no value, and the people are sad imitations of family and friends caring more for power, money, and possessions than anything else. Here, there is freedom, a life worth living, and family and friends who mean something to each other.”
“Out here in this emptiness with almost no people, you see that? I will never understand you, but I will accept that you are a lost cause. I feel sorry for your son. He could have had so much more but you condemn him to this too, and yet you claim he is the reason you do it.”
That last part was something that Adam wished she had never said, but he couldn’t make an issue of it without putting even more emphasis on it. Instead, there was near silence as they finished the trip to the ranch, got her things, and Adam turned the carriage around for a return trip to town. Hoss helped him put on a fresh team of horses.
“Now ifn the weather looks bad, you stay in town. You know as well as me that there ain’t no proper place to take cover for most of the way back.”
For the ride back, Karen sat in the back of the carriage and pouted. That was pleasing to Adam who didn’t have to talk with her then. In town, he dropped her off at the International Hotel and carried her luggage into the lobby. He let her take it from there exiting as fast as he could.
Although he considered stopping in to talk with Karen to explain what had happened, he saw the dark clouds building up even more over the mountains and decided to go home as fast as he could. He didn’t make it before the storm hit. The winds were strong and nearly blew him off the road several times before he gave up and drove off the road and toward a line cabin, which was the first homestead they had on the ranch.
After getting the horses in the lean-to stable, Adam headed to the small cabin. It still had only a dirt floor and the ceilings were low often trapping too much smoke inside, but it was dry and would protect him from the wind. It was too bad that he didn’t get there a little sooner though as the wind blew a large branch from a tree which hit him in the head and shoulder stunning him. He managed to get inside, closed the door, and then got to the cot. He laid there and knew he would have to wait for someone to come find him because he was going to need some help. He was dizzy and nauseated which was bad enough, but the blow to his arm had left it partially numbed. Closing his eyes, he fell into welcome healing sleep as rain pounded on the roof and the winds increased in intensity.
On the Ponderosa, when Adam did not return, the assumption was that he stayed in town because of the weather. However, when he did not return the next morning, Hoss especially was worried.
“Pa, he was concerned about Tanner. I figured him ta be here as soon as he could. Now it’s getting to be ten and he ain’t back yet. I’m getting worried.”
“Now that you explain it that way, so am I. Why don’t you go take a ride and see if you can meet him on the way?”
“Yeah, why don’t I do that. Maybe Joe would like ta come wit me so we can really enjoy each other’s company.”
“Yes, that’s a good plan.”
It would have been a good one too except Tanner invited himself along at that point, and there was no good way to tell him he couldn’t go without telling him that they were worried about his father. If Adam truly was simply delayed, it would all right for Tanner to be there, but if there was anything wrong, they worried about having him with them. Tanner resolved that for them.
“I’m worried about Father. I think he might have gone out in that storm. If he did, he could be hurt.”
With a smile at Ben, Hoss nodded. “Yep, and we better get going then.”
As they headed down the road, Hoss had one of those famous gut feelings that made them check out the old line cabin. It was rarely used and not in good repair. Even as they approached it, they could see that there was no smoke from the chimney and were about to reverse course and head toward town again when they heard the horses.
“We found him.”
Kicking his horse into a gallop, Tanner raced ahead of them toward the small cabin rushing inside before Joe or Hoss could get there. Luckily, Adam was only mildly injured. He turned to greet his son and then his brothers. The dried blood on the side of his forehead told them most of what they needed to know. Joe went to get a canteen while Hoss lit a lantern and asked Tanner to start a fire in the fireplace. Hoss cleaned up the cut on Adam’s forehead and declared that the small cut and ugly bruise didn’t look too bad. He helped Adam remove his shirt when the cabin warmed up. Assessing the damage to the arm was important. They all sighed in relief when it was determined that the arm wasn’t broken.
“Ya got a mighty big lump there and it’s causing your arm to be numb. I reckon some ice when we kin get it back at the house and resting it a few days, it oughta be better pretty quick.”
“Do you think you can handle a ride in the carriage?”
“Of course. I’m fine.”
Rolling his eyes, Joe looked at Tanner. “He always says that if he can talk. Apparently he’s fine if he’s awake. But, it’s his choice. Let’s go harness up the horses.”
Once Joe had Tanner outside, Hoss turned back to his brother. “You’re not fine, are you?”
“No, but I won’t eat or drink anything so I won’t have anything to retch up. I want to get home.”
“I know that feeling. We’ll take it as easy as we can. You know the drill. Keep your eyes shut and try to breathe regular like. Sleeping would be the best way.”
“Let’s get you in the carriage before they’re done harnessing it up. It’ll give ya a chance to settle in before it starts to moving.”
It didn’t take long to get Adam to the Ponderosa and settled in his bed. The adults were amused when Tanner appointed himself the main caregiver for his father. He did everything he could to make him more comfortable until Adam called a halt.
“Tanner, I have minor injuries. I need to sleep and that’s about it. I do appreciate that you want to help, but the biggest help you could be right now is to leave, close the door quietly, and find something else to do for the next few hours.” Talking that much made Adam’s headache worse. He put a hand to his head and wished he could hug his son and tell him how much he loved him because he could see he was hurt. “I’m sorry. I know you only want to help.”
But it was too late. Tanner was already out the door and pulling it closed. Adam lay back and stared at the ceiling before falling into a fitful sleep. Downstairs it was Ben’s job to explain things to him.
“Tanner, when people are sick or hurt, they can be irritable. Your father is especially that way. He doesn’t like to be fussed over. He wants only the simple things.”
“A cool glass of water when he’s thirsty, a warm blanket within reach if he’s cold, and maybe a hand on his arm to let him know you care.”
“So doing all those other things especially talking was probably irritating him?”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure it was. He probably feels quite bad about saying something to you about it too.”
“I should say I am sorry.”
“Yes, a simple apology like that is best. But wait until he wakes. Right now sleep is the best thing.”
So Tanner waited a few hours. When he entered Adam’s room later, he found him sitting on the edge of the bed. He asked for help with the chamberpot.
“When I bend down to reach for it, I feel like I’m going to tip over.”
“I can get it for you.” He did. “I’m sorry too for pestering you earlier.”
“And I’m sorry for speaking harshly to you when you meant so well.”
When Adam finished, Tanner helped clean up and then helped his father dress because Adam said he wanted to go downstairs. He leaned on his son to steady himself but otherwise felt all right. Ben didn’t think it was the best idea, but as long as he settled into a chair and stayed there, he accepted it. His brothers were surprised to see him downstairs for dinner when they got back. Mercy had left a few things behind, and they had brought them to her so she didn’t have an excuse for a return visit. They had a good story to tell too.
“Seems Karen Calaway and Mercy got into it.”
“Got into it?”
“Yeah, Mercy went to the clothing store to get some things to wear for her trip home. She saw Karen and she said she could tell the two of you had been friendly just by the way you acted when you got off the stage. She said she could see why a salesgirl would be interested in snagging a Cartwright but that she shouldn’t be so obvious about it.”
“What did Karen say?”
“Apparently not much which didn’t stop Mercy. She threw in some more insults and then Karen kicked her out of the store. Mercy said she couldn’t because she would go to the owner and have her fired. That’s when she found out that Karen was the owner.”
“So what happened next?”
“Mercy said she’d go to another shop in town as they would be better anyway. Karen said she owned most of them and none of them were going to sell anything to her. That Karen has got quite the temper. She let loose then with a string of things that made some of the men blush ta hear folks tell the story.”
Grinning, Adam waited to hear if there was more.
“Yeah, Adam, the best part was the next part. She looked around at all the people staring at her and kind of shrugged her shoulders. She said. “Sorry, but a witch like that brings out my inner bitchiness. As my penance, there’s a sale at all my stores for the rest of today. Ten per cent off on anything you buy.”
“She did. She turned it into a chance to make more money.”
Adam laughed. Tanner was confused wondering how taking money off would make more money. He had to ask.
“Son, with all those people there listening, she had quite a crowd. So she was likely to sell more. Even with ten per cent off, by selling more, she made more money.” Tanner was still frowning. “If you have ten customers and make two dollars each, that’s twenty dollars. But if you have forty customers and make one dollar each, that’s forty dollars. You made twice as much. A sale works best if it means you get a lot more customers.”
“Oh, so she was very smart?”
“Yes, she is very smart.”
And it was clear to everyone there how much Adam admired and respected Karen. He seemed to like her a great deal too. However they had to wonder if there was going to be anything more. No man had managed to get close to her, so the bigger question was whether Adam was up to that challenge.
On Sunday, Adam didn’t feel that he was up to attending services. Although he was a bit nervous about it, he reluctantly agreed that Tanner could attend under the supervision of his grandfather and uncles. He admonished him not to have any conversations with people especially women about things that should remain private.
“What if I don’t know that it should be private?”
“Just stay with the family then and they can guide you or stop you if necessary.”
“All right, Father, do not worry. It will be fine.”
Tanner walked out with his grandfather who had a big grin as did Hoss and Joe who smirked at Adam first before following them out the door. They didn’t know if Tanner had used the word purposefully or accidentally, but it had been funny especially in the reaction it got from Adam.
For hours, Adam tried to read but found it difficult and managed only to do it in short spurts. Mostly he relaxed or tried to relax and thought about things. He worried too about Tanner and hoped there would be no more incidents such as had happened at church that first Sunday service they had attended. Then he realized that Tanner must have attended at least two more in his absence when he had been on his trip. Mentally chastising himself, he smiled though that no one had thought to point that out to him. Everyone had been on their best behavior around him as he recuperated even though his injuries were minor. He knew he had a good family and decided he ought to tell them that when they returned, but he hardly had the chance as Tanner had so much to tell him.
“There was a lot of singing in church today, and lots of people asked about you and why you weren’t there. I let Grandfather explain it to them so I wouldn’t say it wrong.”
“You know, he likes it if you call him Grandpa.”
“I do, but it is more respectful to refer to him as Grandfather when I talk, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it is. Now, you’re so excited. What else happened?”
“Well, we saw that nice lady again.”
“Yes, but I don’t know what to call her. It is not polite to use her name, is it?”
“No, I guess not unless you use the whole name. You could say you saw Karen Calaway again and that would be respectful.”
“Oh, then we saw Karen Calaway again. She asked about you too. She said she missed talking with you and playing chess. When did you talk to her so much and play chess?”
“We never got much of a chance to talk about my trip. She was on the stage too so we talked quite a bit. Then she was in Sacramento the same time I was there. We spent the evenings together as our work kept us busy only during the day. We took the stage back together and had more time to talk.”
“Is she good at playing chess? Is she better than me?”
“She is an excellent chess player. We played some long matches and she won some.”
“Two of four, I believe. Would you like to go for the tiebreaker? With your injuries, I have you at a disadvantage. I like that.”
Adam whirled around and had to pause and put his head down. When he looked up, he saw that Tanner, his father, and Karen were concerned.
“Sorry, I know better than to move my head so fast, but you surprised me.”
“I should apologize. I hadn’t thought about that.” Karen was sincere.
Hearing Adam talk quite normally, Ben was relieved. “We talked to Karen at church and she told us she missed talking with you so we said you wouldn’t mind a visit. She didn’t know the way here though so I suggested she could follow us, and she did.”
Karen moved to sit with Adam. Tanner was going to join them but Ben put a hand on his shoulder to steer him toward the kitchen.
“Let’s see how close Hop Sing is to having lunch ready to serve. I’m hungry. Aren’t you?”
“I guess so.” Unsure of what had just happened, Tanner did what he often did and followed along with the adults.
In the kitchen, Ben explained. “We want to give Adam and Karen some private time. This is not a time for his son or his father to be there.”
Sympathetic but needing space, Hop Sing put cookies, coffee, and milk on the small table in the kitchen as a not so subtle hint to get out of his way. Then he continued to bustle about without speaking. A half-hour later, he was ready to serve lunch and Tanner and Ben helped carry the meal to the table. Adam and Karen joined them there as Ben went to the front door to call to Hoss and Joe who had discreetly taken a long time caring for the horses. Lunch was fun with all the stories that were shared.
After lunch, Adam and Karen put on coats to walk outside in the brisk air. They took refuge in the stable after a short time as the wind was too cool to spend much time standing outside. Sitting on a bench there, they were able to talk more. Karen finally got around to admitting something she had thought about for a couple of days.
“When I saw Mercy at the stage waiting for you and she said she was your fiancé, I was jealous. I know you may think that is funny, but it shocked me. I have never been jealous before. I never had reason to be jealous. I tried to convince myself that there was no reason to be jealous, but when you brought her back to town and I heard what was said, I was happy.”
“You were happy that my plans to marry had shattered?”
“Well, it does sound harsh when you put it that way.”
“No, I was teasing. It was the best thing for me. When I found out about Tanner, it opened my eyes to what I had become or was about to become. It wasn’t what I wanted to be. Having her give me that ultimatum that it was her or Tanner was a good thing. I got to choose the right path.”
“It’s funny how life gives you those moments.”
“You did have quite a moment too with Mercy from what I’ve heard.”
“Oh, you heard about that. I am embarrassed. I do have a bit of a mean streak in me when people start acting like she was acting.”
“Like a pain in the ass?”
“You are direct, aren’t you? Yes, she was that. She was insulting, arrogant, petty, and oh so many things that it is hard to name them all. I had to do something.”
“At least you didn’t dump her in a horse trough.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t think of that.”
Laughing, Adam wrapped an arm around Karen’s shoulders. It was the most physical contact they had ever had. She stiffened for a moment and he thought about releasing her, but she relaxed into his arm then and leaned back against his chest.
“I don’t trust men. My father was not a nice man. Many men since then have not been nice. I found it was easiest to simply keep all men away, but I don’t want to keep you away. The only thing is, Adam, I don’t know much about being in a relationship with a man. I think you want to be with me, but I don’t know much about that.”
“I do want to be with you. I like you. I like spending time with you. For now, how about we take it from there. We’ll go slowly like we did today. I am enjoying today. I hope you are too.”
“I am. Usually I sit alone on Sundays after church and read or do some sewing. Most people have family on Sundays.”
“From now on, how about we have Sundays although Tanner will have to be part of Sundays. It’s also my day to have more time with him.”
“I like Tanner. He’s a very sweet boy.”
Neither knew it, but that sealed their future. Tanner had brought them together much as he had separated Adam and Mercy. Accepting his son went a long way with Adam to accepting him because it told him that she was accepting him for who he was.
“Now, would you stay to dinner if I can convince Joe to help guide you back to town later?”
“I would be happy to have dinner with you and your family. Hop Sing is such a wonderful cook. I was amazed at lunch.”
“Please tell him that.”
As they stood to walk to the house, Adam tipped her chin up and leaned down to gently kiss her. She waited then for the arms to wrap around her, the crushing kiss to her lips, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. It never happened. She opened her eyes to look up into his gentle face as he smiled at her. He touched her cheek.
“You’re trembling. I hope I didn’t overstep. I don’t want to do anything to make you back away from me.”
“No, it’s that, oh, it’s nothing.”
Suspecting he knew why she had reacted as she did, Adam made a promise. “I will always respect you and treat you accordingly. I will never do anything that you don’t want me to do. That’s a promise.”
“And you always keep your promises. Your son told me that.”
“Yes, I do.” Hoping to regain their earlier mood, Adam had a comment he thought might do that. “You were jealous?”
“Yes. You had to remind me of that, didn’t you?”
Then she punched him in the arm but not too hard. They laughed and went to the house entering through the kitchen. Karen gushed to Hop Sing about his culinary skills and Adam told him there would be one more for dinner. Hop Sing said she ate like a bird so it would make no difference, but he would have food to make her eat more. He was smiling broadly when they left his kitchen, which wasn’t the usual response when he found out he had more work to do.
There was still time to visit with family so Karen got in on the checkers round robin with the whole family showing them it wasn’t only chess she knew how to play. When she went to play Joe, Tanner warned her to watch out for ‘his cheating ways’ as he said his Uncle Hoss called them. Joe promptly objected causing his other family members to join in and agree with Tanner. It made him nervous and he lost his game to Karen who took advantage of his looking around to cheat on him in order to do it. Adam and Hoss nearly fell out of their chairs laughing, and Joe wanted to know what was so funny. They said they were talking about what had happened in town as Karen sat on the settee looking innocent. Tanner frowned and looked to his grandfather for advice. He simply told him it was a joke, and they would tell Joe later.
Sundays that fall went very well with Adam and Karen getting to know each other better and beginning to talk of a future together. Once he formally asked her to marry, her great concern that she be allowed some independence. That was not an issue with Adam although he had reservations about her traveling to town alone every day. She admitted that bothered her too until they discovered the obvious solution. Tanner was going to start school. He would go to town with her every day during the school term and attend school. During the rest of the year, he would go with her and work in her businesses. He was agreeable to the idea as it gave him a great deal of responsibility as well as the opportunity to learn so much. It resolved the issue of how to get Tanner to school safely as well. Both Adam and Karen intended that there would be time in every day when he would be able to play with boys his own age in town as well as time to read or draw or do other fun things. Then Adam brought up another concern.
“Karen, what happens if you have a child? We’re going to be married. It could happen.”
“I’ve thought about that. I already have staff running each store. I would have to decide who would be able to handle more responsibility, but I have several who have shown some good aptitude for business. Would you consider a home closer to town?”
“I’ve been thinking about that too. I think we should do that. We can’t start now as it’s too close to winter to start building, but we could pick out a site and I could draw something up. It won’t be ready when we marry, but within a couple of months, we could move in. We could buy things for it when we take a honeymoon.”
“We’re taking a honeymoon?”
“Yes, or no, if you don’t want one.”
“I do, but perhaps we could combine it with a buying trip?”
“Of course, my practical business lady. My father will likely have some ideas for ranch business I can do too.”
“Adam, I’ve been thinking. I don’t want to wait until May to get married. I think we could get married sooner.”
“Are you sure? Nothing would make me happier, but I don’t want to rush you into anything.”
“I love you. I trust you. I don’t see any reason to wait. We’ve worked out everything that needs to be worked out.”
“So all we need to do is pick a new date and make the plans.”
They kissed, and it was far more than the gentle kisses with which they had started. The more they were together, the more Karen wanted from the relationship and she sensed that Adam did too. He certainly had no reservations that she could tell about moving up the wedding date by five months. The only one they told of the new date was Tanner. Adam said he was the one most affected and deserved to know. Everyone else except one principal participant was in the dark.
On Christmas Eve day, Adam told his father that he had invited a few more people to the party. Ben was concerned that Hop Sing would be upset, but Adam assured him that he had cleared it with Hop Sing. It made Ben wonder what was going on, but when Adam wanted to keep a secret, there was no getting anything out of him.
When all the guests had arrived that afternoon, Ben wondered where Karen was. Adam said she was upstairs in a bedroom getting ready. It was then that Ben got a bit suspicious especially as their minister and his wife were two of the extra guests. He thought he knew what was going to happen. When Karen appeared at the top of the stairs in an elegant green satin dress and the musicians played a tune usually reserved for weddings, Ben smiled. Tanner went to the top of the stairs and escorted his future step-mother down the stairs to take his father’s arm at the bottom. Then he walked at his father’s side to where the minister stood in the center of the assembled and astonished guests. The minister announced that they were going to witness the wedding of Adam Cartwright and Karen Calaway. He proceeded then with perhaps the shortest wedding ceremony conducted in a formal setting. It concluded with cheers led by Hoss and Joe who had gotten over their shock to heartily congratulate their brother. Tanner stood with his parents then as the guests congratulated all of them. The party was a rousing success with champagne for all.
After the guests had gone, things were cleaned up, and Adam and Karen had gone up to their room, Tanner sat with his uncles and grandfather. He looked at the Christmas tree and the presents underneath.
“I think Father gave me the perfect gift for Christmas. There is nothing else I want more that what he gave me tonight. I have a family now. I never had a whole family before. It feels good to have a home and a family.”
Thinking back to how Adam had arrived in the west as a child without a mother and without a home, Ben considered how much father and son were alike. Both had weathered significant losses and come out strong and independent. Yet both yearned for what they didn’t have. Now they had that. He looked up to the angel with the star on the top of the tree and thanked the Lord in heaven for the small miracles that had brought all of it about. No matter what was wrapped in those packages beneath the tree, nothing could match the gifts they already had in each other.