Mis-everything (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Adam has trouble finding success on his terms and his family worries about him because of what they see as his strange responses.  There’s quite a bit they don’t know and surprises await them and Adam.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  12,796


Chapter 1

With a deep sigh, Adam dropped into the blue chair and stuck out his long legs trying to ease the tension in his body. He wasn’t sure if that was going to be possible for quite a while. What he had been through in the past hour was worse than any exam he had ever taken with his tutor in preparation for college. He had been in one gunfight in his life to that point, and this had been close to that in exacting an emotional toll. Ben smiled and poured two brandies walking to his eldest and handing one to him. Although he had some idea of the answer he would get, he couldn’t resist asking.

“How did it go?”

Willing himself to be civil, Adam paused before answering. “I think you know. He had a lot of questions. I did my best to answer them. I put it to him in a way I thought he would understand without making it too complicated. I spoke a lot of words. I don’t know if I spoke the truth. It was hard to find the words to explain it to him without saying too much. By the time I finished, he seemed satisfied though.”

“Thank you. He’s only six so he doesn’t need to have too detailed an account.”

“I wish you had explained it to him. I thought that’s one subject fathers handled.”

“But he asked you and wanted you to explain after he heard you talking to Hoss about him being born while we were traveling on the wagon train.”

“He looked a little sickly when he realized that what I was saying was how he was born too. I’ve talked about Hoss being born before so what made Little Joe ask me that question now?”

“It’s probably the number of babies who were in church for Sunday services and that several women were there who were heavy with child. Hoss told him too that you were going to college because you were so smart so you could learn everything there is to know. He probably thinks you have an answer to any question he can ask.”

“Well, at least I’m done. It’s your turn next.”

“It’s my turn next?”

“Yes, Little Joe asked how babies got in there in the first place. Specifically, he asked how he got in his mother’s belly. I told him you were the one who knew. He should be in here soon to talk to you.”

Adam had been so proud of himself at that point forgetting that his father held all the aces in that deck. The next thing he knew, he had the onerous task of clearing brush from gullies for a week. He should have learned his lesson then not to get smart with his father, but, no, somehow, the lesson never stuck.

*****

Here he was again with the worst job on the ranch. He’d been gone for years, but somehow on his return, things were much the same for him as when he left. It felt a lot like when he had returned from college and some of the same things that had caused him to leave years later were still happening. Frequently he rubbed his father the wrong way and got stuck with the least desirable tasks. It was the one way his father could still discipline him even at his age. His brothers had little sympathy for him claiming it was his due after all those years away avoiding all those jobs. He knew that his tendency toward sarcasm and making snide remarks had been unleashed by his sour mood, but life had treated him rather harshly for the last year or so and he had hoped to find comfort at home and not the bristling resentment that seemed to be there instead.

So far, he hadn’t made a big issue out of job assignments, but this was one of the worst. Joe got to take a string of horses over to Fort Churchill. Hoss got to do the herd count and work with their father on setting up the roundup to prepare for the next cattle drive. He got to ride up alone into the far north pasture to fix a line cabin, eat his own cooking, and sleep in the musty cabin because it wasn’t safe to sleep outdoors alone in that area. What made it the worst was that he had plans to take a lady to the church social. She was going to be upset with him and some other man was going to get lucky. Instead, he had to had to be alone, eat alone, sleep alone, and think about being alone the whole time. He had wanted her to help erase some other memories that made being alone especially hard to endure.

*****

At least Adam thought he knew what the plan was, but he must have fallen into a deep sleep after riding hard the first day out because he never heard the men come up behind him and never knew what hit him. Luckily, they didn’t hit him too hard and in his groggy state, he heard them talking.

“Them’s mighty fine horses he’s got there.”

“Even the packhorse is better than the broke down horses we got.”

“He’s about my size, ain’t he? I think I’d like his clothes too.”

The taller of the two men began stripping Adam of his clothing as the other man claimed Sport and transferred his gear to the horse. Although Adam wanted to object and fight back, his feeble attempts were easily rebuffed and the blows he received only aggravated the injury he had gotten from the initial attack. He was only vaguely aware of the second man rifling through his saddlebags finding a book among the clothing and other items.

“Lookee here. He’s got more clothes. I kin put on a clean shirt too. Ooh, clean socks too. He even has a book.”

Paging through the book, the man found a letter. Looking at it, he whistled and it wasn’t because he was happy or impressed. “Oh, Rafe, we maybe got ourselves a bit of a problem. Look.”

“What about it?”

“Adam Cartwright, Ponderosa Ranch, Virginia City, Nevada. Rafe, he’s one of them Cartwrights.”

“You sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure. Look, it says so right here.”

“You know I cain’t read.”

“Well, it says it plain as day. We’re gonna be in big trouble if anybody finds what we done to him.”

“We could kill him.”

“We do that, and they’ll track us down and hang us. I heard about ole man Cartwright. You don’t never do nothing to his without him making you pay for it.”

“Bern, what we gonna do?”

“Let me think. Go ahead and get dressed.” After a few moments, he stood and pointed at the filthy clothing his partner had discarded. “Dress him in your dirty old clothes you done took off.”

“Why?”

“We’ll take him with us over the mountains. First town we come to, we’ll tell them he tried to rob us; tried to steal our horses. You know how serious that is. They’ll jest lock him up.”

“He’ll tell them he’s Adam Cartwright.”

“We can make sure he’s in no shape to tell them right away. He’s already pretty well on the way. We can say we had to beat on him some to defend ourselves. By the time they get it all sorted out, we’ll be long gone. He’ll be safe, and there won’t be no worries about them trying to track us down. At least, I think so. But we’ll have his horses, his supplies, and we’ll be all set and head on up to Oregon like we planned. Or maybe we’ll go to Montana. Nobody is gonna look for us there.”

By then, Adam was regaining his senses and heard what the man said. Knowing he was in trouble, he decided to try to negotiate with them.

“How about we make a deal?”

“Deal? What have you got to deal?”

“Your future. You’re on the Ponderosa. You get caught here with what you’ve done, you know what’s going to happen.”

“So, what’s your deal?”

“You can take the food and supplies, but leave my horses. I’ll have to head back home to get supplies again. That will give you a big head start. Use it wisely, and you get away clean.”

Thinking about it, Bern looked at Rafe and then back at Adam.”

“Listen to me. I’ve got a wedding to attend. My brother is getting married at the end of next week. All I want is to be able to be there for that. I don’t care about you two.”

“No, you’re trying to trick us. We’re doing it our way.”

Attempting to stand to object strenuously to that, Adam was restrained by Rafe and had his hands tied behind his back. It was clear he had lost the argument. Rafe and Bern began trying to figure out the logistics of their plan. They decided that Bern was going to ride Sport, but that didn’t work out the way they had hoped. Sport didn’t like being ridden by a stranger and soon was acting up rather vigorously. The more the rider fought him, the more he shied and tossed his head. In general, he became almost uncontrollable, and the line was crossed when after a few hours of that, Bern used his spurs to punish him and force him to go forward. Sport lurched forward, but began bucking wildly tossing his rider before speeding off. Clearly they were not going to be able to retrieve him. Rafe ran to Bern’s side.

“You all right?”

“Damn, Rafe, I’m all right, but now what we gonna do?”

“Well, you kin ride your old horse.”

“What we gonna do with Cartwright?”

“We’ve gone far enough, I think. We’ll leave him here. He ain’t shot, and he ain’t dead. There’s no reason for them to track us down.”

*****

They left Adam then with nothing except their old clothing. No matter how he objected, they refused to change their minds. Fuming, Adam watched the pair go knowing he was in a lot of trouble with no horse and no weapon high up in the mountains and his hands tied behind his back. It was going to be a struggle to survive. It took him over a half hour to get his hands free. However, things got quite a bit better only a few hours later when he saw his familiar chestnut horse grazing in a meadow. Walking up to him, he got a bit of look until Sport realized it was him.

“I want that packhorse back and the rest of my gear. I’m plenty mad too. There’s no point in going to the line cabin now. I can’t do anything without those supplies and tools. I don’t know why I’m talking to you though. We can ride for hours yet. By now, they’ve probably made camp and are enjoying my food.”

Ignoring all the protests his body made as well as the nausea, Adam pushed on until it was dark, made a cold camp, and was ready to go as soon as it was light enough to see where he was going. It took another full day of doing the same until he thought he was getting close. All he had to eat was one skinny squirrel he managed to snare at night and roast before he left in the early morning. Riding out as soon as he finished eating, he smelled their camp after only an hour. The wood smoke drifted up the slope he was on and gave him a good idea where they were. Tying Sport to a tree, he took the rifle from the scabbard and began to slip down the slope as silently as he could. The pine needles made it easier, and Bern and Rafe were talking and too unaware that they should be at all concerned. Adam had them disarmed in moments. He tied them securely to trees and went to retrieve Sport. The two were relieved he didn’t shoot them as angry as he was because they knew he had heard them talk about killing him even if they hadn’t done it. An hour later, they were headed down the trail toward a small town.

*****

By midday, as they neared the outskirts of the town, Adam knew he was going to have a problem. It was his word against the two of them, and he wasn’t known here. He ordered Bern and Rafe to get down from their horses. He told them to back away from their horses. Then he untied only Rafe’s hands keeping both of them covered with his pistol never letting his eyes wander.

“Take off my clothing and toss it over here. Then toss the bedrolls here too.”

Once that was done, Adam tied Rafe’s hands again, and untied Bern’s hands and had him take off his shirt, collected his clothing, and put it in a pack on the packhorse. He made Bern strip the rest of his clothing off too. He put the men’s weapons in the packs rolled in Bern’s clothing and tied their bedrolls on top. He mounted up then and prepared to leave.

“Hey, you gotta leave us something. You can’t leave us here like this.”

“You did far worse to me. I’m leaving you with your horses and with a town right there in sight for you to go to for help. I haven’t stolen anything from you except what is necessary to keep you under control. I figure without clothes, bedrolls, and weapons, you’re no threat to me and probably no one else though so I don’t have to do anything more. Follow me, and that could change.”

Adam’s voice changed for that last line, and Bern and Rafe heard it. He was telling them he would kill them if they followed him. They had been thieves, rustlers, and any variety of low life criminals, but they hadn’t outright killed anyone and weren’t ready to start. They also weren’t the type to take on dangerous men either. Both were already thinking of how they could steal clothing to get out of their predicament. It was how they usually handled things. It was if Adam could read their mind and knew he was setting thieves upon the little town. He changed his mind about how he was going to leave the two men. He told both men to mount up as he drew his pistol again to cover them. He took a rope and tied it from Bern’s wrists through the stirrup and over to Rafe’s stirrup and up through his bound wrists tying it off on the other stirrup. Once that was done, he wait until he mounted up, and he escorted them nearer the town where he told them to ride on. Rafe understood what he was doing.

“You can’t do this. It’s too damn mean.”

“No, setting you loose on this town would be that. This way they will know exactly what kind of men you are because they will know why I sent you into town trussed up like this.”

With that, Adam slapped one of the horses on the rump to send it on its way. The horses began their awkward walk into town. Even from a distance, Adam could hear the commotion as the people saw the two naked men tied to their horses as they walked into the town. He had to smile. Justice had been served even if it was in a highly unconventional manner. He had a headache though and was two days ride from the line cabin. He had lost four days and even if he worked hard, he wouldn’t finish even minimal repairs before it was time to head back home. Nothing much was working out for him. He was going to arrive home late and have to admit he hadn’t finished the job.

Telling the story of Bern and Rafe might get a few laughs, but Adam wondered if anyone would believe him. He had a difficult time believing it had really happened, and he had been in the center of it. However, he was looking forward to washing out his clothing so he could get out of these filthy ragged clothes and at least wear his comfortable clothing. That was about all the comfort he was going to get. There was bound to be some recrimination over how he had handled the situation and for even letting himself get ensnared in it at all although he didn’t know how he could have avoided the two bushwhackers. He could only imagine too how Hoss would guffaw and Joe cackle when they heard what had been done to him. It was the main reason he didn’t tell them the story of why he had abandoned his career in the east and come back home. It was a serious and unpleasant time for him, and he didn’t want to see the looks and hear the comments from his family when they heard the story.

*****

Chapter 2

Arriving home on a Friday morning expecting to be grilled by his father on his progress or in this case, lack of progress, Adam was grateful to find preparations for the drive slightly behind schedule. With that reprieve, he barely had time to grab some breakfast and hurry his brother, Hoss, out of the house to get to the work their father insisted had to be done quickly.

“Hoss, you need to hurry. Pa wants us to have that herd down here before the storm hits. It’ll take us at least two hours just to get to them. Then round them up, turn them, and get them down into the lower pasture for the crews to work on the final branding. It looks like a big storm too. We’ll probably be pushing them through mud by the time we’re done today anyway.”

“Dadburnit, Adam, I know that, but Hop Sing made hotcakes for breakfast this morning. He ain’t made those for weeks now. I shur hate to miss out on any hot cakes. You know, it’s gettin’ mighty chilly with that wind. Some of those hotcakes woulda shur helped keep us warm enough to do our work.”

“We don’t have the time. C’mon, I got some lunch from Hop Sing, and if we go fast enough, maybe we can take time to brew some coffee before we turn the herd down slope. Right now, we need to get moving. The men are waiting for us by the corral.”

*****

Riding out from the stable, Adam had a bit of a grin. Hoss was perturbed because he thought Adam was smiling because he had made Hoss miss out on those hotcakes. They had ridden only about a mile when Adam couldn’t hold the secret any longer. He reached inside his coat and pulled out a large napkin. He called to Hoss who pulled up beside Adam who had to smile again at the sour look on his brother’s face. Leaning toward Hoss, he handed the napkin to him. Hoss’ grin couldn’t have been bigger when he opened the napkin to find three hotcakes each wrapped around a breakfast sausage.

“Hoss, I’ve been watching out for you since you were born. You didn’t think I’d miss an opportunity like this, did you?”

With cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk who’s found a cache of nuts, Hoss could only nod and do his best to smile with a mouthful of delicious hotcake and sausage. It seemed that finally something was going right for Adam. It didn’t last. They did spend much of the day working in the rain and the mud.

*****

When the work was finally over, they were all supposed to go to town with the men to make sure there was no trouble. They couldn’t afford to have any hands hurt or in jail with the drive about to begin. When they were going to leave, Ben called to Adam.

“Son, can I talk to you about that line cabin?”

Swearing under his breath, Adam wondered how his father had already found out. It didn’t take long. Rafe and Bern had escaped and come looking for him. They settled into the line cabin and were using the supplies he had left there. Some of the hands bringing cattle down had found them and evicted them but not before hearing the whole sordid story. Ben of course questioned the hands thoroughly and found out about the partially repaired line cabin as well.

When Adam saw his father’s brows pulled down low over his eyes and that set to his jaw, he knew he was unhappy. Guessing that anything he said to his angry father would be taken as an excuse rather than an explanation at that point, he refused to say anything at all. It only made his father even more angry. He made a few statements he most likely regretted about the time he made them, but he as a proud man who had an extremely difficult time withdrawing those kinds of statements even if his father was upset.

“I don’t want to say anything more about this before the drive, but when you return, I think the two of us should have a long discussion about your role here on the Ponderosa.”

“If I have one.”

“So you’re going to use that. You’ll leave again if you’re unhappy with me.”

“It’s not you. It’s the situation. I was on my own and I liked it. Taking orders like a boy, being called on the carpet and being made to feel like I need to justify every action, that I don’t like at all. I’m a man. I want to be treated like one.”

Wisely Ben refrained from any comment in response to that. It could have severed already frayed ties between them. Instead, he did what he should have done initially.

“We should talk when we have cooler heads and a chance to think about all of this. All I want you to consider is whether you did the best thing in how you handled those two men. I’ll think about what you’ve said to me too. We’ll talk. We’ll talk honestly to each other. It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“It’s what I want.”

*****

Hoping that he had made progress, Adam hurried to try to catch up to his brothers and the other men. It was not to be. A short distance from town, he came upon a carriage that had rolled off the side of the road. When he got there, introductions were made and he heard the sad story. A freight wagon had come barreling down the road and they did their best to avoid a collision sending them straight into the dire straits they found themselves in when he arrived. The momentum of the coach had caused the front wheel to roll up and over a stone but that had used most of the energy and the back wheel was stopped by the large stone. It now prevented them from going forward or backward and would have to be moved or dirt would have to be shoveled either in front of it or behind so the carriage could be moved.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a shovel in the boot, would you?”

When the two ladies in the carriage stared at him as if he was talking nonsense, he knew the answer. Walking into the trees, he found a stout branch laying on the ground and brought that back. He collected stones and used the branch to push dirt until he had a nice ramp for the wheel. Then he asked one of the ladies to drive the carriage forward.

“I’ll push and that should get it out of the trap it’s in.”

Soon, the carriage was ready to go. Adam got a kiss on each cheek from the ladies before they climbed into their carriage and headed for town. Looking down at himself, he sighed and decided the bath house would be the best place to start his night. He got there a short time later and found that it was a good idea not only to wash the dirt from his hands and the sweat from his body, but all the aches and pains were eased immeasurably too.

With the delays speaking with his father and then helping the ladies with their carriage, and then the relaxing time in the bath house, Adam realized as he dressed that it was nearly time to go home. He hadn’t had a drink. To him, it was all right though because he was relaxed and rejuvenated which was the purpose of the night in town anyway.  He pulled some coins from his pocket and paid the twenty-five cents the bath had cost.

*****

As Adam walked out into the street, he was accosted by several men who claimed they had been cheated at cards by two women he had sent into town.

“I didn’t send any women into town. I helped two women whose carriage was stuck.”

“Well, they cheated us out of our money. We figure you’re the one at fault because they used your name to get us to trust them.”

“Wait a minute! How could that be my fault? And how can you be so sure they were cheating?”

“You saying we’re stupid and can’t tell when somebody’s cheating? Of course they was cheating. You’re defending them too. Ain’t no way two women like that was gonna be winning pots from us the whole time.”

“I wasn’t defending them only saying they could be good enough to beat you at cards. If you hadn’t been drinking while you were playing, you might have noticed.”

“Now you’re really insulting us on top of everything else. We’re not good enough and we can’t hold our liquor either?””

Once more, Adam never saw that first blow coming. He tried to defend himself against the rest, but it was only the timely intervention of Sheriff Coffee that prevented him from getting another beating.

“Thank you, Roy. These men need to be locked up.”

“Adam, you was fighting too. You need to come with me too.”

“Oh, hell, what’s the fine?”

“Ten dollars for disorderly conduct or a week in jail. Your choice same as it’s always been.”

Reaching to pull his wallet from his jacket pocket, Adam realized that it was missing. He remembered the kisses on his cheeks and how the ladies had pressed against him to do it. At the time, he had enjoyed the sensation but now realized that was probably when he had lost his wallet.

“Uh, Roy, you may find this hard to believe.”

*****

That was almost exactly what Hoss and Joe said to their father later when they had to tell him that Adam was in town in jail. By the next morning, Adam rode home to find his father fuming. Although he explained, it didn’t seem to help.

“Roy finally had time to listen to me. I had nothing to do with starting that brawl. All I did was defend myself. The other men involved backed me up once they sobered up. They admitted they had accosted me and accused me of doing things for which they had no proof. They were upset, and I was an easy target.”

“Certainly you could have talked you way out of it.”

“Pa, I didn’t even know what I was talking myself out of before I got hit. I was asking questions, and they took that as being insulting as if I should have already known the answers.”

“I only hope you do better on the cattle drive getting along with everyone and making good decisions.”

“You don’t think I can get along with the men and make good decisions?”

“You’ve been gone a long time. We’ll see.”

Although Adam didn’t like the answer, arguing the point wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He wanted a change of clothing after a night in the jail so he headed up the stairs leaving his family to talk about what had happened. They were quiet at first until Hoss spoke.

“Pa, dontcha think you was awful hard on him when he didn’t do nothing wrong?”

Looking sharply at Hoss, Ben held back some of what he wanted to say. “He left here because he was unhappy with how we did things, but he clearly didn’t do so well away from here. He came back and now still wants to tell us how to do things. He hasn’t changed at all.”

“Pa, you’re still upset about him leaving?”

“I’m not upset about him leaving. He had that right. I’m not happy that he came back and still has ideas about changing how I run this ranch.”

“He’s still part of this, ain’t he?”

“He is, but I want him to realize that things are different than when he left. He gave up his position. Just like on this drive. Joe is bossing the drive not Adam. If he had stayed, it would probably be different. I don’t know how he’s going to act in this new way of doing things.”

“He’s been fine so far.” Then Hoss thought he understood. “Is that why you been giving him the jobs you been? You wanted him to know what you just said?” When Ben said nothing, Hoss knew he had the answer. “Pa, he’s a proud man no matter what happened when he was gone. Don’t go pushing too hard.”

Silent to that point, Joe said only one thing. “Hoss, maybe we ought to wait to see if Pa’s method works out.”

Hoss shrugged not knowing what to say in the face of their determination. It didn’t matter much though as Adam was soon back and sat at the table hoping there would be some breakfast left. Hop Sing brought out a plate without the usual complaints for someone who was late for a meal. After Adam thanked him, he ate quietly not wanting any more dissension.

*****

Things stayed quiet then and for the first few days of the drive. Returning to the ranch had been difficult on many levels for Adam. One was that he had never expected to return. Another was settling in to take orders again or discuss decisions when he had been on his own for so many years. Not sure he would be staying, he had agreed to help with the cattle drive which was likely to be the last one they did. The building of more spur lines meant that they were probably going to ship their cattle to market in the future as needed. As people settled in the valleys, it was getting more difficult to move those cattle anyway.

Sitting at the campfire in the evening about halfway through the drive, Adam got a chance to talk with his brothers and the foreman, Candy. The drive was a good chance to get reacquainted with his brothers in a more relaxed atmosphere and to get to know Candy. He had noted there were some odd nicknames for some of the men and he questioned the three about them.

“Oh, we got one hand, Chipper Dawkins, who thinks every man ought to have a nickname and gives you one if you don’t have one.” Candy grinned then. “He didn’t think my name required any improvement.”

Curious, Adam wanted to know the method the man used. “How does he pick them?”

“Older brother, I’m not sure there’s any system to what he does. He finds something about you that he thinks stands out and uses that. He don’t mean no disrespect, but some are a mite irritating to folks.” Hoss was grinning and looking at Joe.

At that point, Adam didn’t want to ask Hoss what he meant by that because he guessed that Joe didn’t like the nickname he got. He wondered if Hoss liked his.

“Like Candy though, he decided my nickname was good enough and didn’t need no improving on.”

That answered that, but looking over at Joe, Adam cocked his head to the side waiting for his younger brother to admit whatever name it was that Chipper had bestowed upon him.

“Don’t go there, Adam.”

Hoss and Candy began snickering so Adam knew it had to be good.

Hoss pointed at Joe. “Aw, tell him, Joe. He’s gonna find out.”

Joe said it softly. “He calls me Dolly.”

Not sure he could have heard that correctly, Adam had to ask. “Dolly?”

“Don’t ever say that again.”

“Yeah, he figures Joe has so many gals on his arm all the time that he’s a real doll for the ladies so he calls him Dolly.” Hoss couldn’t help grinning broadly.

“Adam, no one else dares call me that, so you keep that in mind.”

With the good grace and common sense not to do so, Adam continued. “Why is Billy called that when his name is Stanley?”

Hoss explained. “Cause he’s stubborn as a goat just like Bob is called Cincinnati ’cause that’s where he’s from.”

“Am I going to get a nickname too?”

Hoss got a serious and somewhat worried look. “You had one, Traveler, while you were gone. You got a new one now that you’re back.”

“What’s the new one?”

Hoss and Joe seemed very reluctant to say anything. Adam looked to Candy who shrugged.

“Baldy.”

There was a slight pause before Adam answered. “Chipper is going to have to work a bit harder than that.”

“Well, he can’t call you Traveler ’cause you’re back.” When Adam said nothing in response to that, Hoss got worried. “You are back, aren’t you?”

“I’m back now.”

“Damn.”

“It’s late. I think I’ll find my bedroll and get some sleep. The boss and the ramrod on this drive work a man pretty hard.”

With that, Adam stood and walked to the supply wagon for his bedroll. It was clear he didn’t want to discuss the topic Hoss had brought up. The other three did though quietly for a few minutes before they went to get their bedrolls too.

“I was worried that Pa riding him so hard might lead to that. He’s thinking on leaving again. I wanted him to stay.”

“Hoss, from what I could tell about your brother, I think he was thinking of leaving from the moment he got back. He hasn’t done anything to show he plans to make this permanent.”
“I think Candy’s right, Hoss. He hasn’t been at all like we expected. He’s been way too mellow like it doesn’t matter.”

“Joe, why do you figure he came back home then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe to lick his wounds before he makes another try at it on his own. Must be hard for him coming back here to be just one of us again when he had such big dreams of what he would do on his own.”

Candy was curious. “You two have never really explained. What did he want to do?”

“Oh, he had some idea about having his own business and building buildings and doing stuff like that. Wanted to be somebody who left a mark, ifn you know what I mean.”

“You two seem to think he’s a beaten down man, but I have to tell you that isn’t what I see. He seems more like he’s amused by things you say. He’s got an edge to him too like when he said Chipper better work on a better name for him. It’s not the way of a beaten down man. Seems more a man with something he’s chewing on and doesn’t have the right of yet.”

As Joe thought about what Candy had said, it made sense. Adam didn’t have that look of a man who was unhappy but looked much more like one who was troubled. “Hoss, I think we need to get him to have a few drinks at the end of this drive and maybe he’ll start talking some.”

“I don’t know, Joe. He ain’t one to let anybody steer him where he don’t want to go.”

Hoss was correct. It didn’t work. Adam had never been one to drink much, and he didn’t fall for the obvious ploy. They went home with the younger brothers as much in the dark about Adam’s future plans as they had been before the drive.

*****

Chapter 3

There was one change that occurred because of the drive. The men referred to Adam as Traveling Man as Chipper had decided that was a more appropriate name for him. He was wise enough to know not to irritate one of the boss’ sons or more accurately not the oldest son. Chipper wasn’t worried about Joe and the name he had tagged him with, but Adam was a more intimidating man. Chipper had learned many years earlier that the most dangerous men were the quiet ones who didn’t visibly react much one way or another. While others showed fear or bravado, those quiet men calculated the costs and worked out their next steps. Chipper didn’t care to have Adam thinking about him in those terms.

While Ben heard the name, he didn’t have any idea why Adam had that name other than the years he was gone. Hoss and Joe didn’t discuss their worries with their father expecting him to be quite upset if they did. However, they did talk about it between the two of them and occasionally with Candy so it was inevitable that Ben would overhear one of those talks. When he did, he had the predictable reaction. Adam walked into the middle of it and heard his father proclaim that he thought Adam had failed in his dreams and now had come home to recover. Ben said he thought Adam’s reticence in talking with them about his time away was because he couldn’t admit that he had been unable to achieve his goals.

“Why can’t he let go of his impossible dream and stay here where he belongs? He’s already found out that he can’t make it on his own out there.”

“Is that what you thought? Is that why you’ve been acting the way you have?”

Embarrassed to have Adam overhear him, Ben wasn’t willing to take anything back either. Hoss and Joe waited for the eruption that might be the trigger for Adam to leave, and their fear was that it would be permanent. They thought that surely Adam would be deeply upset that his secret was so boldly stated and in such unflattering terms. Instead, Adam started laughing, turned, and walked up the stairs with hearty laughter continuing even as he reached the hallway upstairs and headed to his room. They had been concerned about him because he hadn’t talked much about his time away from the Ponderosa, but getting this laughter instead of his temper was unnerving.

“Do you think he’s kinda losing his mind?”

No one responded to Hoss’ question, but Adam’s light-hearted response to such serious issues had them all concerned. Ben and Joe were equally worried about Adam’s state of mind wondering if the problems he had experienced away from home had left him in a state of melancholy. Ben had seen men go from deep sadness to giddy elation when in the midst of melancholia and thought the symptoms applied to his son. All of them felt they needed to be careful not to add to Adam’s mental instability by pressuring him in any way. His brothers talked it over and decided they could probably make his life go a lot smoother too. For a few days, the whole mood in the house was subdued. Adam was aware of the nearly constant scrutiny by his family, but chose not to tell them why their ideas were so off base. He did wonder what other strange theories they might have developed. No matter what he was doing, it seemed one of them was staring at him when he looked up. It was beyond the usual strangeness.

There was a welcome change though as Ben thought he better alter what he was doing and assigned much lighter duties for Adam and even asked him what he would like to do. His brothers spent as much time with him as they could often helping him by working side-by-side with him. It was more of what he had hoped would happen when he came home as he got more quality time with family members, but he didn’t understand why it had suddenly occurred. There were comments made to him too that he found unusual as they asked if he felt better or just if he felt all right.

*****

A week or so after the laughing incident, Adam got some visitors and his family got some answers although they could hardly believe what they learned. Two well-dressed gentlemen drove up to the house one morning and asked to see Mister Cartwright. When Joe led them into the house to see his father, they were apologetic but were more than clear then in their request.

“I’m sorry that we did not know there was more than one Mister Cartwright here. We have come to speak with a Mister Adam Cartwright. If he is here, we would like to speak with him, please.”

A trip to the barn to summon Adam who was making a few repairs to the back of the structure, and the rest of Adam’s family were treated to an eye-opening experience. Adam looked disconcerted to see the two men, but greeted them by name and told them to sit. With his family hovering within easy listening distance, Adam took a seat near the two. The older of the men spoke.

“I’ll dispense with any pleasantries and idle flattery. I know how you hate those. Adam, we need you back working on projects. Your skill and planning made everything run so much more smoothly. We haven’t been able to find anyone who can match what you did for us on every project we had going.”

“What about the demands I made for changes?”

“I’ll concede everything except the negotiations. I will still handle those, but you can sit in, and we’ll discuss what to do. It’s still my company, and I have to make the final decision.”

“Then my company would still have the option not to participate.”

“Yes, that would be your bargaining position. I think that would make us equal even if the final decision would be mine.”

“It’s tempting, but there are still some personal issues to be settled.”

“Yes, well, Melissa came with us. She’s in town.”

Silence greeted those statements although Adam showed no outward signs of shock. Clearly he was wrestling with some internal demons and took some time to say anything.

“Why didn’t she come out here with you?”

“She, or we, wanted you to know that the two issues are separate. It was painfully obvious that we should have done that much sooner. She would like to see you and talk with you, but not with this discussion hanging over the two of you. She’ll wait for you to pick the time to talk with her. We thought it best that we discuss this with you first and get an answer. I know the answer I want, but I’ll accept whatever you have to say. You know the options from our last discussions so I won’t go over them again. We’ll be in town as well hoping to hear from you. I don’t want to impose on you any longer, and I do apologize for simply dropping in on you like this without any warning.”

“Why did you? You could have sent the offer by mail or telegram.”

“Yes, and you could have simply thrown it in the fire there. No, I wanted you to know how important it was to us and how sincere I am in what I’ve said. You know that no matter what I do, I have always been truthful with you. You wouldn’t have worked with me these past years if I wasn’t.”

“That’s true.”

“Besides, with the trains running the way they do, it was only three days to get here. We had a private car so we were quite comfortable. I must say you were right about that too. Having an office in Denver and one in San Francisco will certainly help us insulate ourselves from economic downturns as well as give us more opportunities. I wish I had listened to you sooner on that idea. We’re getting started on those plans now. Perhaps you would be willing to discuss the preparations we’ve made with us before we leave regardless of your decision. You must have thought about it for some time so I would appreciate your ideas on the preliminary work we’ve done.”

“I’ll be in town tomorrow to have dinner with you. There’s a private alcove at the International House dining room. Ask them to reserve it for us.”

Then seeing his family still hovering in the background, Adam knew he needed to introduce his guests.

“Pa, this is Matthew Pierce. The younger quiet man is his son, David.”

David signed to Adam who signed back. Both smiled.

“I’ll walk the two of you outside, Matthew.”

The carriage was ready for them. Hands had taken care of the horses and made sure they were well watered and fed while they waited. Adam said nothing more until Matthew and David were in the carriage.

“You can tell Melissa that I’m glad she’s here, and she’s right. We should get this business out of the way before she and I talk.”

“Thank you, Adam. She’ll be happy to hear that. I look forward to our meeting tomorrow. I’m hopeful.”

“I’m not making any promises, but I will consider everything that was said here.”

“That’s all I can ask.”

Watching the carriage until all he could see was the dust lingering in the air, Adam knew he was delaying his return to the house. He didn’t want to answer the questions there would be once he walked back inside. It would be more like an interrogation. Thinking back over the previous few months, he wondered if all the painful memories were tamped down enough for him to talk about it all dispassionately enough. He knew his family had thought he came home because he failed and was nearly destitute. In some ways, he was but not in the ways they envisioned. With plenty of money and business success, they might have marked his sojourn away from the Ponderosa as a validation of what he had said he wanted to do, but he didn’t see it that way. Some significant deficits existed in the life he had led, and those had driven him to seek a respite from the life he had created. Now he had to decide whether to return to that one with its problems or to remain here with the same issues he had always had with ranch life and living under his father’s authority. Smiling slightly, he guessed he already knew the answer but would have to work out the details. That meant he was ready to go inside and face the questions too so he turned and headed into the house.

Adam’s answers probably made Joe the most incredulous. “You owned your own business?”

“Yes, I worked for Matthew, but he had some policies I didn’t like. He was willing to work with men whose ethics were questionable at best and outright criminal at worst. So, I left and formed my own company. That meant he had to contract with me for the services he needed, and there were certain jobs I refused to do. He wasn’t happy about that and made some threats about what he would do.”

Although Ben was hesitant to ask, he was also concerned and curious. “And Melissa? I heard her name mentioned, and she seemed important to you.”

“She was; she is, but we need to talk. We were betrothed but that fell apart. There are some issues that need to be worked out. I’m not sure they can be worked out.”

There was no more discussion as Adam poured himself a small brandy. He took a sip and stared into the fireplace as his family absorbed all that they had learned. Setting his half empty glass on the table, Adam walked to the kitchen and they could hear him asking Hop Sing to heat water for a bath.

“I have a lady to see and I would rather not smell like horses or worse.”

His explanation to his family was simple. He gathered up clean clothing and went to take a bath and shave. When he came back out, he told his father he wouldn’t be there for a couple of days and headed up to his room to pack some clothing and other items. After he had packed his valise and returned down the stairs, he asked his brothers if they would hitch up a carriage for him. Then he headed into the kitchen to talk with Hop Sing and get a sandwich and cup of coffee before he left. His father walked in as he was finishing those.

“I want to say that I hope you can work out whatever it is that you have to work out. You have my complete support in whatever it is that you want to do.”

“Thank you, Pa. It’s what I was hoping to hear since I got home.”

Once Adam packed his valise in the carriage and drove off toward town, his family realized they still didn’t know much about what had happened to make him come home and why he had apparently broken off his relationship with Melissa. They were guessing that Melissa was Matthew’s daughter but couldn’t be sure of that. Adam was still very good at keeping secrets.

*****

Chapter 4

When Adam got to town, he made a few stops and then signed in at the International House taking a suite. He told them there would be a few deliveries made and to send them up as soon as they got there. An hour later, everything he had ordered was in the suite. He was ready so he made his way to the room number he had gotten at the desk. He knocked and when the door opened, Melissa was there. She was as surprised as he expected her to be but not as shocked as she was a moment later after she invited him in and closed the door.

“Marry me. We can go see a minister today. There’s still time.”

“Regardless of what Matthew would say? Without my parents being here or even knowing if they will approve. Without your family even?”

“Yes.”

Adam was as sincere as he could be and waited. Melissa stared at him and knew the rest of her life depended on her next words.

“I didn’t trust you enough before, and you left because of what I said and did. You’re giving me a chance here to show I trust you. You want me to marry you before you give your answer to Matthew. You want me to marry you and say I will stand with you against my parents if need be. You want me to go with you, live with you, wherever you need to go because two will be one when we’re married. Is that what you’re asking?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m asking.”

Taking a deep breath and then smiling, Melissa gave her answer. “Yes, I will marry you.” Her voice was shaky and Adam took her hands which were none too steady either. “You are a challenge, but I do love you.”

“You’re terrified though, aren’t you? As long as you said yes, we don’t have to get married right away if it scares you so much.”

“Oh, no, after you did that, we should. I can’t take the pressure of wondering when and if any more. You shook me to my toes a moment ago so I do expect you to carry through on what you said.”

“You aren’t shy about stating what you want, and yes, I do want to carry through on what I said. I didn’t want to abuse you though however much it seemed like it by my words.”

“I know you won’t. Let me get my shawl.”

*****

A short time later, Adam walked Melissa up the walk to the minister’s house. The minister was surprised to see them, but he asked them to come into his office when Adam said they wished to marry. He expected that they were going to make the arrangements and was shocked when Adam told him it was to be immediate.

“Is there a reason it has to be today? Adam, don’t you want your family here? And Melissa, how about your family?”

Adam was as direct as usual. “There’s no reason other than it is what we wish to do.”

“My father and mother are in Europe. It would take a long time to contact them and get them to make the trip. I am of age and can make this decision on my own authority.”

“My family will understand when I explain it all to them. There may have to be another public ceremony to satisfy them, but we want the marriage to be today.”

“Very well, then, I will. You two aren’t youngsters who need anyone’s permission even if I do think you’re making a mistake by rushing like this. I’ll go get my wife to be the witness.”

Snickering a little after the minster left the room, Melissa looked at Adam. “You do have a way of making people react like that. I trust you will face Matthew before I have to see him? Maybe you can make him see reason.”

“Yes, I plan to do that. However not before we have a night all to ourselves without any intrusion.”

“I hope so, but he is certain to wonder about that note I left at the desk for him especially why I wanted to have dinner in my room and be left alone.”

“I thought what you wrote sounded plausible. You’re tired from your trip and you wanted time to think about tomorrow. Now both of those things are true. And you will have dinner in your room. It simply won’t be the room he thinks you’re in.”

“He could see us come in when we get back.”

“He won’t.”

Melissa frowned and thought about that wondering how Adam could be so sure of himself on that and finally had to ask. Adam dug into his pants pocket and pulled out a key.

“I got a key to the back stairs. We’ll go in that way and have privacy.”

“I don’t like sneaking around on my wedding day like I did something wrong.”

“The alternative is to risk seeing Matthew and having a major confrontation in the lobby of the hotel.” Adam simply stated the obvious and waited for her to process the information trusting that she would draw the same conclusion he had.

Frowning at Adam, Melissa didn’t say anything at first until he grinned at her. “You don’t have to be that way. All right, it does make sense, but it is unseemly, and I don’t have to like it.”

“It works better if you try to think of it as an adventure. Didn’t you ever break rules your parents set?”

“No, not like that. I’ve done things they didn’t know about and wouldn’t have approved if they did, but not by sneaking around.”

“All right. We’ll walk in the front door and take our chances. Is that better?”

Pursing her lips and thinking, Melissa was torn. She didn’t want a confrontation with Matthew either. So it was sneaking in and an uninterrupted night with her new husband or walking in the front door as a respectable woman would but risking a row with Matthew that could ruin the whole night and perhaps the next day as well. Then she had an idea.

“How about if I go in first. If I see Matthew, I can say I stopped at the store for some peppermint. He knows I like it. You can come in later or by whatever door you wish. We can meet.”

“I’m not sure that I see how this is much different, but if it makes you happy, then we can do it your way. As long as I spend the night with my wife, I’ll be quite happy about the situation.”

The look Adam gave her then with a wicked grin and a waggle of his eyebrows got her smiling and then chuckling. She slapped his arm lightly, and he knew his strategy had worked. She was no longer worrying so he began planning.

“To make this work, you need to go get some peppermint, and I should probably take a long walk.”

“You could sit on the bench here until I get my peppermint and head into the hotel.”

“No, sweetheart, I need the walk.”

A discreet glance told Melissa all she needed to know about his reason. Grinning again after the ceremony, she took her leave and headed for the store and her purchase. As soon as she had a small bag of peppermint sticks, she headed back to the hotel. Adam waited about fifteen minutes and followed never expecting to find her still in the lobby. Apparently she knew her guardian far better than he did. Matthew was concerned because of the note and that she had left the hotel unaccompanied. Now that she had the peppermint, he was also trying to get her to agree to see a doctor. When Adam arrived, it was actually the solution to the whole problem although they would never have guessed it could work out so neatly.

“Oh, Adam, I didn’t know you were going to be in town before tomorrow.” Matthew was clearly surprised so he hadn’t had an inkling that Adam had been there until that moment. Then he saw the way Melissa looked at Adam and drew the only conclusion he could. “You two have already talked, haven’t you?” Melissa couldn’t lie to him so she nodded. “I thought you had agreed to wait until our business was concluded, but I suppose that’s why Adam came to town today too.” Adam agreed as well. “David can walk you to your room. I’ll have a few words with Adam.”

Melissa shot a sheepish look at the men and agreed to be escorted to her room by her cousin. David didn’t sign anything until they were out of sight, but then he quickly signed only a few words. Melissa signed back that he was correct. He asked if he should escort her to Adam’s room. She smiled, and they continued up the extra two flights until they were outside the doors of his suite. He was there a short time later a bit surprised to see David but grinning nevertheless. When David signed congratulations, Adam gave him a hug surprising not only David but Melissa too. After David left, Melissa had to ask him why he did that.

“I can’t sign well enough to tell David what’s in my heart. He’s almost a brother to me anyway so I communicated like I would with a brother. He understands.”

“You can be so sweet sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” When Melissa didn’t answer, Adam laughed. “I know. We don’t need to list my other less favorable traits. However tonight I would like to show you some of my better qualities that I haven’t been able to show you before.”

“We’ve made love before.”

“In a hurry and in less than the most comfortable accommodations. Tonight, we can take our time and make sure it is the most enjoyable time we can give each other.”

That was what they did too with breaks for dinner an hour later, and then of course some time for sleeping. In the morning, Adam woke her about dawn so she could see her first sunrise as his wife. Then he began kissing her neck and trailed kisses down her shoulder with every intention of kissing more tender and sensitive areas as soon as he could.

“Seeing the sunrise together was only an excuse. You had an ulterior motive.”

“Yes, and no. I did want us to share that first sunrise together, and yes, I knew once we were both awake, we could make the most of the time together. I suppose the fact that I had already shaved was a rather obvious clue.”

“I am pretty smart about things like that.”

“You are pretty smart about a lot of things. Now, do you think Matthew knows we’ve been intimate before last night? He’s pretty smart too. I wondered if that might be why he brought you out here to talk with me.”

“I don’t know if he knows, but if he doesn’t, he will in about five months or so.”

“Five months?” Frowning, Adam stared at Melissa until her smile and that fact registered together. “You’re going to have a baby?”

“No, we’re going to have a baby. I literally could not have done it without you.”

“Oh, I know that, but I thought we were careful.”

“Clearly, we were not careful enough.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I did.”

“But why not before?” But even as he asked, Adam knew. She wanted his honest reaction to her not one based on a sense of obligation.

“I was going to tell you regardless of how things went with us, but the news wouldn’t have been what decided our future. And before you start saying anything about me not trusting you, it had nothing to do with trust. I knew you would want to do what was right, and I would never have kept you from your child. But, I didn’t want you to want to be with me because I carried your child. I wanted you to want to be with me because that is what you wanted, and no man, no matter how strong or honest, could deny that this could influence a decision.”

“I think you’re going to like what I want to do for the future then.”

For the next hour or so, Adam told Melissa the ideas he had for their future and how he wanted to respond to Matthew. She responded with enthusiasm and discussed the options with him helping him with how to prepare with any counterarguments Matthew might make. When loud knocking at the door announced that Matthew had arrived early, Adam guessed he had figured it all out and was there to express his opinion about all of it. He escorted Melissa to the bedroom and then closed the door returning to the sitting room to admit Matthew. The man’s face was red and he wasted no time in stating his feelings.

“This is the most underhanded thing you have ever done. I never thought you would do anything like this to me.”

“First of all, there was nothing underhanded at all about it. We talked and I asked. She accepted and we went to see my minister. Secondly, I did nothing to you as you were not part of the equation at all. Melissa is certainly of age.”

As David smirked in the background, Matthew tried to compose himself and think of what to say. He turned to his son as if to garner support and was surprised to see that smirk. He signed to David and then turned back to Adam.

“He knew and didn’t tell me. You have all turned against me.”

“Because he knew how you would react. What’s happened is the logical thing to have happened.”

“Wait a minute.” Matthew turned to Adam. “You said you saw a minister?” Adam had to grin at that before he agreed. “You got married?” Matthew sat down then with all the bluster gone. “Melissa wasn’t in her room. I asked Matthew if she was with you, and you know he never lies. He couldn’t lie to me. I came up here to, well, I don’t know exactly what I was going to do.”

“How about if you sit there while I get dressed, and when we’re presentable, Melissa and I will tell you what we want to do?”

“As usual, you have outmaneuvered me. I have no choice but to agree.”

“It’s not a game, Matthew. It’s life. Melissa and I talked. We agreed on what we wanted, and we did it because we didn’t want any outside interference. Now, I’ll be back soon.”

Inside the bedroom, Adam and Melissa discovered the great disadvantage of David’s deafness when they wanted to eavesdrop. Matthew of course was signing with his son so they couldn’t hear anything. They dressed and then walked out together. Matthew saw that Melissa was nervous about seeing him and seemingly without thought moved closer to Adam who put a hand at her waist. She apparently was reassured by that and stayed close to him. It was all Matthew needed to see confirming for him what David had told him. He decided to concede before there were any harsh words spoken.

“You’re married, and I offer my congratulations and good wishes for your future. I do wish you had thought to have included us in the celebration of your nuptials.”

“We haven’t had the celebration yet, Matthew. Adam has assured me that he is certain that his father will insist on that at least. We fully intend to repeat our vows in front of friends and family whenever that occurs.”

“I do appreciate that. Now, as to business. There is no reason to wait now, is there?” When neither Adam nor Melissa had any objections, Matthew continued. “I am accepting your recommendation to expand the business to Denver and San Francisco locations. We think St. Louis and Chicago should also be considered. We will gradually shut down our east coast operations as our projects are completed. I wish to handle the St. Louis and Chicago offices. We want you to take over either the Denver office or the San Francisco office for planning and design. There that’s the plan in a nutshell without any nuttiness, I might add. There are details to be worked out, but what do you think of the general ideas?”

“Melissa did let me know what might be coming. I agree but with reservations. I will do design work for either or both of those offices, but I do not wish to be in charge of the offices. Put some kind of bureaucrat in charge of that. I want to live here.”

“But how can you do that?”

“You’ve already noticed how efficient the trains are. I can visit to do site assessments and measurements that I need for doing designs. Then I can work here without distractions where the air is clean and I don’t have to worry about my family. I only need a trusted partner to work with me and to handle travel with the plans to consult with the offices on a regular basis.”

“But who would do that?”

At that point, David leaned over and tapped his father’s arm. When he had his attention, he pointed at himself and smiled. He wanted to work with Adam, and it was a perfect kind of job for him. He would be involved in every project but wouldn’t have to communicate with many people. Matthew looked from Adam to David and back again.

“Have you two been conspiring behind my back?”

Adam answered for the two of them. “No, but we’re friends, and it was a logical conclusion.” Adam paused to see if Matthew had any objections. He didn’t. “Would you like to spend a day or so to meet my family and be in on the planning of the wedding celebration?”

With a rather wicked gleam in his eye, Matthew declined. “No, I think I’ll let you face your father on your own. David and I will go back to begin setting this up. We’ll be back for the party though. Let us know when it will be.” Then he turned to Melissa. “I hope you will contact your parents. I’m sure they will want to be at the party too.” She got one of those wicked grins too. Matthew’s work was done as a guardian. It was all up to Adam now to protect her and to deal with her parents.

*****

As expected, Ben Cartwright was surprised but overjoyed. His eldest son seldom did things the way his father would have liked, but at least he was married, employed, and not losing his mind. They did have some laughs over that last one. There was quite a lot to be done arranging a party, making room arrangements for some guests, and starting a house for Adam and Melissa with guest quarters for David. It was on the Ponderosa but much closer to town. Although all were busy, the new arrangements were pleasing to all concerned so Ben wondered why Adam seemed more and more worried as the date of the party approached.

“Pa, I wasn’t worried at all at first, but every time I ask Melissa about her parents especially about her father, she gets this scared look. I ask her if her parents are going to be a problem, and she usually says that she hopes not.”

“I suppose it’s natural to be worried when you do something like get married without your parents’ blessing not that my sons would ever worry about such a thing.”

“Pa, I thought you would want us married if we were going to be living together. You told me never to bring a woman up to my room who wasn’t my wife.”

“I know, son. I was teasing you.”

*****

When Melissa’s parents did arrive, Adam found out he had been right to worry. Her father wouldn’t speak to him and demanded to see his daughter. The first words he said were indicative of some deep antipathy toward Adam.

“My dear, we can have your wedding to this scoundrel annulled. We will have it annulled.”

Little Joe had gone upstairs to tell Melissa her parents had arrived. He stood behind her open-mouthed at that statement as Adam walked in the front door with his father. Hoss was at the dining table finishing lunch. They all heard it, but Melissa didn’t seem worried, and despite the statement, Adam didn’t seem overly worried either. That surprised her parents but also Adam’s family.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Yes, father, welcome to the Ponderosa. We have a guest room ready for you.”

“No, about what I said.”

“Oh, that, well, Father, I don’t think any court in the land would annul my marriage now.” Melissa flattened her hands against her abdomen and pulled her dress back taut across her body. It was clear that there was a baby bump there. “Joe, would you please show my parents to the guest room. I think they need to freshen up and perhaps take a bit of a rest. They look tired from the trip.”

After that little display, it took a moment for Joe to collect his wits and escort the couple up the stairs. Ben and Hoss said nothing but got very busy doing not much of anything. Adam paused looking at his wife intently until she smiled.

“I suppose you’re wondering if I planned that?”

“I’m wondering what else you planned.”

“I didn’t plan to do that. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It was only when I heard your father’s gasp for air that I realized that I had announced it in front of the whole family including telling everyone what we’d been doing before we married. I didn’t think about that part before I let my parents know I was carrying your child. I suppose I could have told him and let him think it was a recent development.”

“I doubt he would have believed that especially when the baby arrives in about four months. That was about the time you thought, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but now everyone knows before the party. I had hoped to do what you asked and keep it secret until after the party.”

“So far, only family knows. I think we can count on them to be discreet.”

Turning to his family then, Adam saw their grins and wondered how much was for the revelations that had been made and how much was in congratulations. He decided to let that train of thought leave the station and accepted the congratulations. Everything else proceeded according to plans with the party as scheduled. Even Melissa’s parents were joyful once they got over the shocks they had endured. Matthew was there with David who did not plan to return with him but was going to stay and learn more about the area and help Adam get an office set up.

*****

Hoss was curious about signing and began to learn under David’s tutelage with Adam and Melissa helping. When Joe realized that the others were signing help to Hoss during checkers games, he wanted to learn too seeing the benefits of silent communication. Finally Ben got intrigued and wanted to know some of the basic signs. By the day of the wedding, Hoss stood by Adam’s side and signed as much as he could so that David could understand what was being said. Adam was so proud of his brother knowing that if a big man like Hoss would sign, no one in town was likely to question David or anyone signing with him. The party was a success too, and within a week, Melissa bid farewell to her parents who were off on another trip. Adam had to ask her how they could afford it.

“Matthew’s business was started with money from my mother’s trust account so they get a share of the profits from the business. They have done that with all of my mother’s siblings and close cousins.”

“How many?”

“Oh, about a dozen or so.”

Quiet and thoughtful for a time, Adam finally responded. “You’re a rich woman.”

“No, my parents are rich. I’m not at all sure that any of that money is coming to me now that I have defied them and made my own life far from anything they had ever planned for me.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

“Why not? Do you know something I don’t know?”

“Until now, I thought what your father said to me as they were departing was just odd, but now it makes sense. As he climbed up the steps into the railcar, he paused and said to tell you not to worry about your future or your baby’s future as it was still as secure as it had always been locked away in their lawyer’s safe.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I said I would tell you, but I was confused as to what he meant. I had no idea he might be talking about you inheriting wealth.”

“It’s funny. He was so sure you were after my money.”

“You were all I ever wanted.” Adam pulled her into an embrace and a kiss. Where once it seemed everything had been going the wrong way, he felt his life had come around to richness already. Money wasn’t that important to his happiness.

On the train, Melissa’s parents were having a similar conversation. “My dear, I think he didn’t know we have so much money. When I made reference to the will in the lawyer’s safe, he looked as if he didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“Oh, I know, he assured me he was able to support our daughter and that she would lack for nothing. It was when he showed me the house plans and the things he plans to put in there for her comfort.”

“I’m feeling so much better about this whole thing now. Adam does seem like a good man, and he wasn’t at all interested in her money like we had thought.”

“Yes, and he treats her so well. I think this may work out so much better than trying to find a titled gentleman to marry her. She would have balked at that, and we don’t know how he would have treated her.”

“I think this is going to be a good partnership.”

“Adam and Melissa?”

“Us and them too.”

The two smiled happy with how life was treating all of them.

***The End***

Return to BettyHT’s home page

2 thoughts on “Mis-everything (by BettyHT)

  1. Adam and Melissa so perfect for each other. Not many stories have characters with disabilities so I really liked having David in the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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