The Dance stories (by BettyHT)

SUMMARY: This is a series of three stories. The first is The Dance — Adam meets a lady with clumsiness issues but other attributes he finds attractive and that make him act out of character; Hoss meets a woman very different from himself but the two bring out the best in each other; Joe’s romance is the one with more obstacles.  In Children of the Dance — First came the romances and then the natural next step although there are some events and problems as not all goes smoothly of course because these are Cartwright romances.  Last is Dancing Bear — It’s five years later, and there are children to bring to school, to teach lessons and guide, and to protect, and still have the rest of the family dynamic to withstand because it never is easy on the Ponderosa. 
Category: Bonanza
Genre: Western
Rating: T
Word Count: 66,302

Chapter 1

The golden horse raced over the ridge in the distance with its rider hunched over its neck with her long blonde hair trailing behind her in the wind. Joe nudged Cochise into a gallop as soon as he saw her. This new girl in town whom he had been seeing was always full of surprises. Once he caught up to her, she had already dismounted and stood grinning.

“Liz, I thought you were going to meet me at the crossroads?”

“I was, but wasn’t this more fun?”

“It was, but you scared me jumping those two rock piles. How did you know what was on the other side?”

“I didn’t. I trusted this horse to know. He hasn’t let me down yet.”

“That’s crazy! How could a horse know what’s ahead. That’s so dangerous. How could you risk both of you that way?”

“Oh, Joe, don’t be upset with me. I’ll try to be more careful, I will.”

Joe couldn’t resist those eyes and that pouting face with the puckered lips and downcast eyes.

He wrapped his arms around her.

“Well, it’s just that there’s the dance tomorrow and I want a gal on my arm who will be able to dance every dance with me.”

“Oh, and have you asked anyone to this dance yet?”

“I thought I just did.”

“No, that was a speculation. You still have to ask.”

Joe grabbed Liz in an embrace and kissed her.

“Will you do me the honor of attending the dance with me?”

“Oh, when is it?”

Pulling Liz close, Joe kissed her again, and she nodded yes before moving back for more kisses.

At the same time at the mercantile, Adam was distracted by the long list of supplies he needed to get and the many errands on the list his father had given him. Concentrating on the paper in his hands, he bumped into a lady who was bent down and putting cans on a lower shelf. Startled, she rose quickly just as Adam was bending down to say he was sorry for being clumsy, and the top of her head connected with his jaw knocking him backwards. As he fell, he reached out and the only thing to grab was the lady in front of him who toppled on top of him on the floor driving most of the air from his lungs. As he recovered his breath, she was still on top of him.

“Miss, if you wanted me flat on my back, all you had to do was ask.”

The young woman was startled and embarrassed.

“Oh, I am so sorry. I just seem to do things like this all the time. Oh, you’re not hurt are you? Oh, Mr. Davis is going to fire me now, I just know it.”

“Miss, could you get up please? I promise I will assure Mr. Davis that this was all my fault.”

Adam was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what he was saying as all her soft feminine parts seemed to be pressing on him in all the right places not that there would be a wrong place. She scrambled to her feet.

“Oh, I am so sorry. I just ramble on and on when I’m nervous or upset. You are all right, aren’t you?”

“I assure you that I am fine. There’s no need to be upset.”

Adam stood slowly and worked to regain his breath and his composure. As he did, he took a good look at the lady in front of him. She had amazing green eyes with dark brown hair and skin that was slightly olive toned giving her a somewhat exotic look.

“Miss, my name is Adam Cartwright, and I am delighted to meet you.”

“Hello, Adam. My name is Miranda, but it seems my family has always called me Andi probably because my younger brothers and sisters couldn’t pronounce Miranda.”

“You do talk a lot when you’re nervous.”

“How did you know I’m nervous? Of course I said I was, and now I’m talking so much. Oh my, I don’t know how to stop myself when I get like this.”

Adam took her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed the back of it very gently. Andi’s heartbeat began to race. Now she was really nervous. Then Adam did something that would have been more expected of his youngest brother. He asked a complete stranger to be his date for the dance the next day.

“Would you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to the dance tomorrow night, Andi?”

“My goodness, I just met you and not under the best of circumstances. I don’t know you really, and my parents would want to meet you first.”

Mrs. Davis, who had witnessed the entire event, walked over and whispered in Andi’s ear. Andi looked back at Adam.

“Yes, I would be delighted to go with you.”

Leaving the list with Mr. Davis, Adam went about his errands in a much better mood than he had been in earlier. Once he arrived back at the ranch, Joe walked over to help him unload the wagon expecting a snide remark but instead got a thank you from Adam for offering to help. Ben walked outside also expecting a sour Adam after everything he had asked him to do so he could entertain their houseguests and was quite pleased to see Adam and Joe working together and talking. It was a surprise but one Ben wholeheartedly welcomed.

Spending the morning showing his houseguests around the Ponderosa had left Ben with a headache. Marcus Wendt was here at the invitation of the Mineowners’ Association to see if he could recommend a solution to the steam vents that plagued some of the mines creating difficult working and sometimes unsafe conditions. The steam vents made it hard to hire miners and keep them working there. Marcus had a degree in geology and had studied volcanoes. With a background working in mines and consulting, he was a rare find. However as a person, he was difficult. He constantly asked the w questions: why, where, when, and what. He had an inquisitive mind that analyzed everything. In a conversation, he was persistent to the point of rudeness to get his questions answered. His wife was quiet and shy, his young son could best be described as surly when you weren’t thinking spoiled rotten brat, and his daughter was so reserved as to considered haughty and cold. Ben was looking forward to lunch and an end to his inquisition at the hands of Marcus Wendt.

Lunch was actually entertaining. After the food was served, Marcus started asking about the food and its preparation. Because that was Hop Sing’s responsibility, Ben called him out to answer the questions of his guest. Hop Sing launched into a long tirade in Chinese. When he finished, he stomped back into the kitchen. Mrs. Wendt smiled as did her daughter Felicia. When Adam asked why they were smiling, Mrs. Wendt had to answer.

“Apparently, Hop Sing does not like being queried on his food preparation. If my husband is not gone from here by end of next week as promised, he will quit and go back to China. Meanwhile, we are to keep our questions to ourselves if we want to keep eating.”

Ben was a little embarrassed but Marcus told him not to worry. He said lots of people reacted to him that way, but he found it nearly impossible to control his curiosity about everything except somehow he had never acquired the same feel for the social graces.

“I tend to be loud and say things I shouldn’t. I have tried to change but nothing seems to work for me that way. I’m lucky that I found a woman who would tolerate my poor social conduct.”

After lunch, Ben’s sons headed out to the barn to do some chores. Ben had his guests seated in front of the fireplace to relax a bit. He said he needed to talk with his sons about some business issues and excused himself. Once he got to the barn, he asked Joe if he was taking Liz to the dance, and of course, he was. Then he asked Adam if he would escort Felicia to the dance and was shocked by his answer. Adam had not been seeing anyone for many many months since Laura had left with Will.

“I’m sorry, but I met a young lady in town and asked her to go with me to the dance.”

Because of Felicia’s persona, Ben wondered if this was subterfuge on Adam’s part to avoid going to the dance with their guests’ daughter.

“Who is this young lady, and why haven’t we heard about her before?”

“Her name is Andi, short for Miranda, and she works for Mr. Davis at the mercantile. She literally knocked me off my feet today, and I felt almost obligated to ask her after our shared experiences.”

Ben knew there was a lot more to this story. Adam began to relate the tale but it was hard to hear all the details after a moment with Joe’s giggles and Hoss’ belly laugh. Adam always did spin a good story but this one sounded true. Joe could hardly talk.

“Pa, Pa, you just gotta picture that: Adam laying on the floor with this gal on top of him and he says, oh geez, he says ‘If you wanted me on my back, all you had to do was ask’ oh man, how can you not laugh yourself silly every time you think about that.”

Ben had to laugh again, and Hoss had his head down laughing. Joe slapped Adam on the back and started his uncontrollable cackle again. Ben waited for the cacophony to quiet down before he made his next point. He had to get Hoss to escort Felicia to the dance. Hoss was nervous around women in the best of circumstances. This would be especially difficult. Mentally girding himself for the battle, Ben waited for his sons to stop laughing and then he asked Hoss to do this favor for him and their guests. Joe started laughing again, and Adam almost joined in until he saw Hoss’ face. There was no picture of abject terror that would adequately convey what was in those blue eyes and that look. Hoss shook his head negatively, but Ben insisted that one of them had to escort her. Adam and Joe told Hoss they would do whatever they could to help but they already were committed to their own dates. Hoss reluctantly agreed then if Ben would do the asking. Felicia’s standoffish attitude had effectively negated any interest Hoss might have had in her, but he had to admit she had done nothing mean nor antisocial. She had been civil at all times and relatively quiet so the others assured Hoss it would not be too painful. Hoss took a deep breath and sighed. He got a commitment from each brother to dance at least once with Felicia to give him a couple of breaks.

Chapter 2

The next afternoon, Joe and Adam were in good spirits as they dressed. Adam had a nice bruise on his chin but didn’t let that bother him at all. Hoss acted like he was preparing to attend his best friend’s funeral. After helping Hoss with his tie, Adam put his hand on his younger brother’s shoulder and said he was sorry but it was only one night. Joe was going to tease Hoss but he already looked so miserable, he relented. Joe was expecting the best night of all three as he was escorting a beautiful, talented, exciting woman. Adam was escorting a talkative accident-prone woman who apparently had to work because she wasn’t married. Hoss was stuck with a haughty cold fish so it seemed mean to rub it in. Adam and Joe were to ride in as their dates lived in town. Hoss had to take the carriage so the plan was that he would follow and they would all meet at the dance.

When Joe arrived at Liz’s house, her parents met him in the parlor. He made small talk with them for over an hour until Liz finally finished dressing. She made no mention of the long delay when she entered the parlor and took Joe’s arm. Joe still expected to have a good evening but his high spirits had been brought down a little.

Meanwhile, Adam had arrived at Andi’s parents’ home and was soon brushing dust off his trousers. Andi had been so excited to see him, she rushed down the front steps and tripped falling into Adam’s arms causing them both to topple to the ground. It was an unusual way to be greeted but unlike Joe, his spirits rose. Twice he had already had Andi in his arms. It had been a pleasant experience overall although he could do without the falling as his back was getting sore. Andi’s father smiled at Adam and hoped he would be forgiving. He had seen so many beaus who had simply found her clumsiness to be too much to tolerate. Adam seemed to find it rather endearing. Once they brushed the dust from their clothing, Andi introduced Adam to her parents. Then he offered her his arm, and they walked off to the dance.

Andi’s parents and her siblings watched them and each took a deep breath when nothing else happened. They all went back to their normal routines hoping that this was one man who might be on their doorstep to see Andi more than one time. Her looks got her a lot of attention, but her clumsiness had always driven them off. So far he had taken her clumsiness with grace and humor.

Back at the Ponderosa, as Hoss drove the carriage, he noticed that the horse seemed to have developed a limp. He pulled up and got down to check finding that the horse had lost a shoe. On this road that would mean a strong likelihood of a stone bruise or even a split hoof. Felicia had climbed down from the carriage seat on her own and stood behind Hoss. When he told her Betsy had lost a shoe, she knelt down and felt the horse’s leg running her hand up and down the leg.

“Well, it doesn’t look like it was without that shoe for long. We should unhitch her though and walk her back.”

Hoss was amazed not only at her statement but her gentle care and concern for the horse.

“Miss Felicia, we’re at least three miles from the house. I could walk back and bring another horse out here for the carriage.”

“Well, then, I would sit here by myself for a few hours. I would much rather walk with you. We could talk. It could be fun.”

Hoss smiled at Felicia and she was taken with his sweet grin and twinkling blue eyes. She reached out her hand and Hoss helped pull her to stand.

“Miss Felicia, I would be honored to escort you on a walk back to the ranch house. Now if you would excuse me, I need to unhitch the ole Betsy here and we can be on our way.”

Felicia nodded but also moved to help Hoss unhitch the horse. Hoss smiled even more. They began to talk about horses, and as they walked with Betsy walking behind them, they talked of dogs too, and then cats and other ‘little critters’ which made Felicia laugh. By the time they got back, Hoss was wishing that the walk had been longer and he hated to walk normally. Walking Betsy into the stable, Hoss was even more surprised when Felicia followed him.

“If you waited, I could change into some riding clothes and go with you back to retrieve the carriage?”

“Nah, Miss Felicia, you don’t need to do that.”

“Hoss, please call me Felicia or Lisha as my mother does, and I know I don’t have to. I want to.”

Hoss smiled his biggest grin and agreed that would be wonderful. Felicia gave him a smile in return, and as soon as he had Betsy in a stall, Hoss took Lisha’s hand and they walked to the house to let everyone know about their change in plans. Inside, Ben was amazed. It was as if Hoss had returned with a different woman. His son had worked something magical.

At the dance, Adam was having his own magical night. Andi proved to be unsure of herself dancing and as nervous as she was doing anything else. Adam had to hold her close to prevent any unfortunate falls or bumps into other couples. He found her to be a pleasant companion who let him be relaxed and comfortable. He remembered how on edge he had always been with Laura waiting to see what the next thing that would disappoint her or make her show her disapproval. With Andi he was relaxed and enjoying every moment. Pulling Andi close during a waltz, he put his face into her hair and inhaled her scent. If a dance made her this nervous, he wondered how nervous she would be on her wedding night. Then he was wondering why he thought of that. He had to stop thinking like that though or he wouldn’t be comfortable and relaxed for long. Andi distracted him from that line of thinking.

“Adam, I keep getting these looks. Why are so many women looking at me as if I did something wrong? Is there something wrong with my dress? Have I broken some Virginia City rule I didn’t know?”

“No, sweetheart, it’s just that there were a number of women who thought I should have asked them to the dance tonight. I haven’t attended one for quite a while and a number of women had mentioned that they would be willing to be my escort when I next decided to come here. Don’t worry about that at all.”

Well Andi had stopped worrying about that long before he told her to stop. He had called her ‘sweetheart’ and lacking experience in romantic encounters, she didn’t know what to make of that although she did like it. No one had ever said anything like that to her before. She let Adam pull her close again and just moved her feet wherever he was taking her. He really was a graceful dancer, and she felt graceful in his arms.

Joe walked over to cut in on Adam with Andi. Adam was reluctant but Joe looked so forlorn, he let him. He had introduced them earlier so he walked to get some punch and to watch the dancing. Joe was having a difficult time. He was trying to dance with Andi as if she wasn’t nervous and stiff in his arms. He was also watching Liz dancing around the floor with another man. Now Adam understood his sad puppy dog look. He had brought Liz to the dance, but she was enjoying the attention that apparently many other men were showing her. However Joe’s lack of concentration and his inability to adjust to Andi’s nervousness was a recipe for disaster. As Joe and Andi neared Liz and the man with whom she was dancing, Joe leaned toward Liz to say something and that was all it took. Andi fell against Joe who fell against Liz and her dance partner and all four fell to the floor in a jumble of arms and legs toppling several other couples dancing nearby.

Several of the men jumped to their feet blaming each other for the mess. Joe stood among them trying to explain it was all an accident, but fists started flying and once struck, he was into the fight with the rest of them. All of the women scurried to the sidelines to cheer on their men except Andi who seemed to have no idea what to do. Adam was trying to get her attention when a wild punch decked her. He rushed to her side to pick her up in his arms and carry her out of harm’s way. Once they were at the door, he set her down and took her arm to guide her outside away from the melee. It was a little cool and during the fight, her dress had slid a little down her slim figure exposing quite a bit more of her décolletage than had been visible while they were inside dancing. Adam slipped off his coat and put it around her shoulders. It would keep her warm in the cool night air, and stop those thoughts he had of kissing that newly exposed skin. He walked her away from the social hall to sit on a bench. Andi started to cry.

“I’m sorry. I ruined your evening. I ruined everything.”

Adam gathered Andi into his arms and tried to soothe her.

“You didn’t ruin anything. You made this a wonderful night. This was the best night I have had in at least a year. Thank you.”

As Adam tipped up Andi’s chin, he wiped the tears from each cheek. Then he leaned down and kissed her very gently. He leaned back and looked at her wondering how she would react. She didn’t react at all. She acted as if she was in shock.

“Are you all right? I’m sorry if I was too forward with you.”

“Adam?”

“Yes?”

“Would you please do that again? I did like that.”

Adam kissed her in a longer and more sensuous kiss and then pulled away.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“Not at all, Andi, but if I am going to continue to be a gentleman, I need to walk you home now. You might want to do something about your dress too because it seems to have slipped down a bit in all the commotion.”

Adam raised his right hand and wanted to run his fingers along the neckline of her dress. He knew if he slipped his fingers just inside that neckline that he would touch her intimately. It was much too soon for that although he was sorely tempted. Instead he tugged her dress helping her adjust it and get it up where her modesty was once again intact. He kissed her then gently until he pulled away again.

“I really need to walk you home now.”

Andi stood and smiled. But he was looking at her with a frown.

“Oh, now what’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?”

“No, not at all, but how are we going to explain that bruise along your jaw? I don’t think I ever brought a lady home with a fresh bruise like that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. My family is used to me coming home with all sorts of bruises and scrapes. I’ll just say I fell when I was dancing with Joe and leave out all those other details. They won’t be surprised at all.”

When Adam and Andi reached the front gate of her parents’ home, he stopped her and took her hands in his. He leaned down and brushed his lips across hers before kissing her cheek. She looked up at him wondering why he was being so reserved. Quietly he whispered that there were witnesses at the windows of her home, and she blushed.

“I would like to call on you again. Things are very busy at the ranch right now, but when I can get away, I would like to see you. Perhaps we could have a picnic or a ride in the country or dinner?”

“I would like that.”

“Good night, and thank you for a most wonderful evening.”

Andi said her good night to Adam, handed him his jacket, and turned to run to the house. Adam held his breath, but she managed to get up the stairs and through the front door without any mishaps. Then he smiled and walked to the livery to get his horse.

At Sheriff Coffee’s jail, Joe was paying his fine. There were a number of men there doing the same or facing a night in jail until someone could pay their fine and get them out. Liz had said she would get home with friends as Joe was being ushered out of the social hall after the melee. Roy was not happy. Their explanation didn’t please him either: there had been an accident causing some to fall and the result was fists flying and a dance all but ruined. So the fines were the highest he could charge under the circumstances.

When Joe got home, Adam was just finishing grooming Sport. Adam asked Joe how his evening had been and got a growl in return. He turned and walked to the house where he found Hoss sitting in front of the fire. Suddenly it dawned on Adam that he had not seen Hoss all night.

“Hey, big brother, why didn’t you get to the dance?”

“Oh, Betsy lost a shoe and we had to walk back here.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Adam, don’t be sorry. I had a wonderful time. That Lisha is really something. We talked about all sorts of stuff. She’s really a nice gal. How about you? Did you have a good evening?”

So Adam told Hoss about the dance and what happened during and then after. He also mentioned that Joe was going to be inside soon and wasn’t in a good mood. Just about that time, the front door banged open and Joe was there. He shut the door and locked it before heading upstairs without any acknowledgement of his brothers. After a short time, their father was coming down the stairs in his robe.

“What’s all the racket about down here?”

Adam and Hoss explained about the dance and why Joe had slammed the door.

“So, let me see if I understand this. Joe went to the dance with a lovely, vivacious girl he has been seeing for a month. Adam went with a woman he met yesterday who has now knocked him to the ground twice, bruised his jaw, and caused a major ruckus at the dance. Hoss went under protest with our guest, the horse lost a shoe, and the two of them had to walk over three miles back here. Yet, Joe is miserable, and the two of you are insufferably happy at the moment?”

Adam and Hoss looked at each other and then back at their father and nodded yes.

“I will never understand you boys. Goodnight. I need to get some sleep. With everything that happens around here, I’m exhausted just hearing about it.”

Chapter 3

As Ben walked up the stairs, he had to smile though. Adam had not been this relaxed and mellow for a long time. If this clumsy but apparently sweet-hearted and gentle woman could do that in two days, he was looking forward to meeting her. As to Felicia, he wondered if living with her socially inept father who must have caused a lot of problems for his family had caused her to be so withdrawn. Certainly she had not shown much of her personality before tonight, but he was so relieved that Hoss had enjoyed his evening. He would have felt so guilty if he had pushed his son into an evening that was terrible. As for Joe, it was so hard to understand what was going on with that mercurial, impulsive son of his. Tonight he was glum, but by morning, who knew how he would be.

Unfortunately, the next morning at breakfast, Joe was not in a good mood. He was quiet and taciturn which was a bad sign for the day. Joe was sporting a pretty dark shiner too, but both Hoss and Adam managed to keep their comments to themselves probably out of respect for their guests who didn’t need to be treated to a Cartwright insult fest. After breakfast, Adam and Hoss went to get the carriage ready to take the whole group to church. Hoss also hitched up the surrey, which made Adam smile for he knew that Hoss wanted some time with Felicia. He was also mentally kicking himself for not asking to see if Andi would have liked to accompany him to church. He hoped to see her again.

Everyone climbed into a carriage except for Joe and Adam who rode their horses. There was room in the carriage and surrey but both were hoping that they would be spending extra time in town and would not have intruded on Hoss regardless. It didn’t take long for Hoss and Felicia to fall behind the others as Hoss spent so much time looking at her that he had to slow the team so he could be sure to stay on the road.

“Lisha, you sure are a great talker. I never would have guessed that before last night. What made you decide to talk?”

“Oh, I love to talk but it has to be with the right people.”

“Ummm, what do you mean by ‘right’ people?”

“Oh, well, you see, your father is really loud when he talks and that is kinda scary. Adam is just plain scary. One of his looks could kill a person, I think. And he’s so smart, I would be afraid to say anything because he might know what I said was wrong. Joe is so fast. Before I can even think of what to say, he’s moved on to something else, and then I just have to start thinking all over again.”

“But I don’t do that?”

“No, of course not. You’re always so sweet and gentle and not scary at all. You wait for me to say something, and then you think about what you’re going to say next. That gives me time to relax and not be so on edge. I’m really comfortable talking with you so that’s why I talked so much last night. I had all this stuff waiting to be said, and I never had a chance before last night.”

Hoss smiled and sat up a little straighter in the seat. He had an admirer which warmed his soul and made his heart swell. Finally there was something about his personality that a woman liked better than his brothers. In fact, she had mentioned several things she liked better. He was looking forward to a lot more talking with her, but then his heart dropped a little when he realized they planned to leave on Friday. He had less than a week left with her.

“What’s wrong? You were smiling and now all of a sudden you lost your smile.”

“Well, you’re leaving on Friday, and I was hoping to be spending a lot more time with you. We have less than a week.”

“I know. I have to go back too. I only got two weeks off from my job. If I’m not back, I could be fired.”

“Well, there’s something we didn’t talk about. Where do you work?”

“At the hospital in San Francisco. The one right in the center of the city. I’m a nurse there.”

“And I bet you’re a darn good one too!”

Now it was time for Lisha to smile. Hoss was an admirer. She had not had many of those and usually they were put off when they found out she worked. Most men seemed to want a wife to stay home and take care of as many children as he could father. Hoss was different. He saw her as a person in her own right, as a person of value. She sat up a little straighter in the seat and smiled. She was wondering if there was a need for a nurse in Virginia City.

As the group reached the church grounds and Joe dismounted, he saw Liz walking to the church with her parents. He hurried tying off Cochise and rushed to Liz’s side. He wished her a good morning that got a polite reply. Then he asked her parents if it would be all right if he escorted their lovely daughter into church, and they smiled and walked ahead.

“First, I want to say how sorry I am for what happened last night. I have no excuse for my behavior. I just let my temper get the best of me.”

Liz gave him an appraising look. He appeared to be sincere. He wasn’t making excuses.

“I’m sorry too. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized my actions had made you jealous and angry. I was just so thrilled to be asked to dance by so many handsome men. But I was there with you and I should have declined some if not all of those invitations. If I had, none of that terrible brawl would have occurred and Adam’s poor date would not have been so embarrassed.”

“Why should she be embarrassed any more than anyone else?”

“Well, afterwards, everyone was saying how it was all her fault. That she started it by falling on you and the two of you fell on me and my dance partner, and then all heck broke loose.”

“It wasn’t her fault. I should have been paying more attention to her instead of letting my jealousy rule my brain. She fell because I leaned, and she wasn’t ready for it.”

“Well, that may be true, but I think she’s going to have a hard time of it this week. The gossips are going to be talking about this every day until something else happens to gain their interest.”

Joe shook his head. Sadly he knew she was probably correct in her assumptions, but on the other hand, Adam was good at coming up with a plan for disasters like this. When Adam and Andi got together, Joe was sure that things would get better for her.

Meanwhile Adam had been looking and didn’t see Andi or any member of her family. The more he thought though, the more he realized they had not discussed religion. To Adam, believing was what was most important not which particular church building one entered. So he realized he had no idea which church her family might attend. Apparently it wasn’t this one. He expected that he would find them home after services, and then perhaps he could spend some time talking with her and finding out more about her. At least that was his expectation.

What was unexpected though was the messenger who arrived at about that time. There had been a freak storm the night before up on the timber slopes they were currently working. The sudden heavy downpour had loosened some soil and started a mudslide. The flume had been damaged, and a couple of men had been hurt trying to clear away debris. They were facing a contract deadline and someone had to go deal with the emergency. As soon as it was all explained, Ben, Hoss, and Joe looked at Adam who nodded his head. He was the logical one to go. He said his goodbyes and rode off heading to the ranch to pick up things he would need before heading to the camps.

Chapter 4

After church, Hoss got to take Lisha on a wide-ranging tour of everything that could be seen on the Ponderosa if you were heading for the ranch house but taking the most scenic routes. It was nearly dinnertime when they arrived at the ranch house, and Lisha’s mother was fighting panic. She wasn’t used to such wild country and that it took so many hours to see the views of the lake was incomprehensible to her. Lisha assured her that they had been completely safe the whole time, but her mother was still fussing over her at dinner. Ben had spent the afternoon with Marcus and his son which meant that he was looking forward to a full day of work on Monday. Joe arrived home just in time to be seated for dinner before Hop Sing brought in the food. Hoss sat next to Lisha but she hardly spoke during the meal.

“Joseph, does you late return mean that you and Liz are back on good terms with one another?” Ben wouldn’t have asked in front of everyone except that big grin Joe was sporting indicated he wanted to tell them.

“Yes, it does. We’re having dinner with her parents on Wednesday. Her father is inviting a few friends as well.”

“Well, son, that sounds wonderful, but did you forget that we sent Adam up to the camps, and he may not be back by then?”

Joe groaned. Adam had been going to make a delivery of horses to Reno because he had some contracts to deliver and payments to collect there. If he didn’t make it back before Wednesday, Joe would have to do it. The plan had been to leave on Wednesday and return on Saturday. Hoss was supposed to go along so he groaned too when he remembered. Then they had to explain it all to the Wendts. It was unlikely that Adam would return in time to do it, and Ben would be reluctant to send him right out again anyway. They all knew he would be putting in long days at the camps getting everything up and running again and would deserve some time to rest up when he did get home.

“I’ll have to get over to Liz’s house and see if they could reschedule for Saturday. Could we leave on Tuesday and plan to be back on Friday?”

“Pa, is there any way that some one else could go with Joe?”

Ben suddenly had what he thought was a wonderful idea. He suspected that Hoss would be willing too under the circumstances. He didn’t even feel badly about it because Hoss would benefit even if he would also bear the burden of Marcus and his son.

“Well, Hoss, if you were willing to host the Wendts, I could go with Joe. We could leave on Tuesday so Joe could be back for a dinner with Liz’s family on Saturday. I could handle the contracts and payments that Adam was going to do while Joe could deliver the horses and get payment for those. You’ll have to get them to the stage depot on time Friday for their trip out.”

“I can do it, Pa. Adam can help me when he gets back.”

“As long as you give your brother some time to clean up and rest. He’s working very hard up at the camps so I don’t want you handing over this responsibility to him as soon as he gets back.”

“Oh, I would never do that to Adam, Pa.” But Hoss was already thinking that with Marcus gone to town every day, he would have time with Lisha only if her mother and brother were kept busy. Adam could take over hosting them, and Hoss would handle the hosting duties for Lisha and Marcus. That’s what he was going to tell Adam as soon as he got back.

With the major issues settled, Hoss invited Lisha out to the barn to see the litter of kittens Hoss had seen in the barn while they were harnessing up the carriage and surrey that morning. She ooohed and aaahed as he expected. Then he took her arm and guided her to the garden behind the house. Once they got to the bench there, he asked her to sit.

“I really want to spend all the time I can with you, Lisha. It makes me feel real awful when I think of you leaving on Friday.”

“Hoss, I feel the same way. I wish there was some way I could stay. But I have a job, and Mama needs me. You saw the way she was so upset when we got back. I know she was worrying about me, but also about herself. You’ve seen how my father is, and my brother is a spoiled brat because Daddy gives him everything he wants. Could you imagine living with those two?”

“But, Lisha, she already does.”

“Yes, but we have each other. Without me, what would Mama do?”

“So, you’ve been thinking on this too?”

“Yes, and yesterday all I could think about was finding a way to live here closer to you. But today, reality hit, I guess. There are so many others affected by the decisions we make. Hoss, you are the most wonderful man I have ever met. You have the most beautiful eyes I could imagine. You are so sweet and gentle and kind. I will never find another one like you.”

Hoss leaned over and kissed Lisha who responded enthusiastically. They hugged and kissed and whispered endearments. Hoss had tears in his eyes as he thought of her leaving. He was glad it was getting darker for Lisha wouldn’t see them. What he didn’t see was that she had tears in her eyes too. She had looked a long time for someone who was the opposite of her father, and now that she had found him, she was going to lose him. Hoss said they ought to go inside for they had been outside for hours and the family would be worrying. Lisha shrugged and walked to the house with him. The rest of their time together would be bittersweet. Hoss would take her on a picnic, up to see his part of the Ponderosa where he hoped to build a house someday, and to the meadow where fawns and other critters would cavorting through the wildflowers that were in full bloom.

After seeing Liz on Monday and explaining the problems, Joe left with the horses and in the company of his father early on Tuesday. Late on Tuesday, Adam returned. As expected, he was grimy and tired. He could have spent the night at the camp and returned the next morning but had thought his father would be expecting him back for the trip to Reno. He was immensely relieved to find he didn’t have to go. He asked Hop Sing to draw a bath and then headed up to his room to get some clean clothing. His bellow could have been heard for a mile or more if someone had been out there listening.

“Who was in my room? There’s ink spilled on my drafting table, some of my tools are damaged, and there are ink stains on my guitar which now has a broken string.”

Adam was saying each of these things very slowly and deliberately as he moved down the stairs like a cougar stalking its prey. His eyes never left the young Wendt who stood and moved behind his father. Marcus had a very worried expression on his face but thought it better that he not interfere with Adam who was quite intimidating when he was angry apparently. When Adam got to the chair where Marcus was sitting, Marcus junior was standing behind his father with a smug look on his face. He was sure his father would protect him from any retribution for he always had. Adam took the chair Marcus was sitting in and slid it out of the way. Marcus junior suddenly lost his smug look. Before he could escape, Adam grabbed his wrists and turned his hands over. They were predictably stained with ink.

“Adam, I’ll pay for any damages he’s done. He didn’t mean any harm by it. He’s just always been so curious. He takes after me that way, I guess. Adam, did you hear me?”

“Marcus, when you were a child, did you do anything like this?”

“Well, yes I did but perhaps not quite so often or as badly as my son does.”

“And what did your parents do when you did those things?”

“Oh, my father used to give me a good hiding.”

“Did that help you remember not to do those things?”

“Well, yes, of course it did. Oh, oh, you don’t want me to do that to my son, do you?”

“You can do it, or I will. Perhaps we should let Marcus junior decide which one of us he wants to administer his punishment?”

“Papa, I want Papa. He won’t hit me, will you, Papa?”

“You or me: you choose.”

“Marcus, go to your room.”

“No, you can’t make me. I’ll stay right here.”

Adam nearly grabbed him at that point, but surprisingly, Marcus junior also had a mother who had a backbone it seemed. She walked up and took her son by the arm and started pulling him to the stairs. He shoved his mother away, and that was what it took for Marcus to see what kind of son he was raising. He walked over and forcefully marched his son up the stairs. The sounds of the spanking weren’t heard but the cries of the boy were. Marcus came walking down the stairs a short time later.

“I’m sorry. I should have seen it. I guess my lack of social graces extends to what is happening in my own family. There will be no more behavior like that from my son if he knows what is good for him.”

Lisha and Hoss walked back in about that time and wondered what had happened. Adam was clearly angry, and Marcus and his wife looked worried. Adam just said he was going to take his bath, and left the Wendts to answer any questions. Hoss decided he better wait until the next morning before telling Adam he was responsible for Mrs. Wendt and for Marcus junior. He would just have to tell him it was Pa’s idea.

Chapter 5

At breakfast the next morning, Adam’s mood was poor to begin and only got worse when Hoss informed him that he would be hosting Mrs. Wendt and Marcus junior. Adam had hoped to ride to town to see Andi and explain why he had not seen her since Saturday. Well he supposed he would have to do this because Hoss told him it was his father’s idea. He did get suspicious with cause when Marcus left for town for meetings with the Mineowners’ Association and Hoss drove off in the carriage with Lisha. This had all the signs of a set-up. He was looking after the departing carriage with a frown when Mrs. Wendt walked up behind him.

“Don’t be too angry with them. They only have two days left together and they have been manipulating everyone in order to spend as much time together as they can. It actually has surprised me that Lisha hasn’t asked to stay longer. I did have the feeling that she was feeling pretty strongly about your brother, but she’s talking about leaving Friday anyway.”

“Well I was hoping to find a little time to visit my lady too, but I guess I understand that Hoss’ has less time than I do, so I’ll be gracious.”

“I have to tell you that my son is afraid to come out of his bedroom this morning. If you could talk to him and tell him what is expected of him exactly, I think that you will find he is a much better behaved boy than you would expect.”

At Adam’s skeptical look, she felt she had to continue.

“He is a lot like his father. What makes Marcus so good at what he does is that he sees everything in black and white, in solids and liquids or vapor. I have always tried to talk with him that way. Abstractions are not something that he readily understands nor is nuance. As a parent, that is not a good thing though. He saw his son as either being good or bad. Because most of what he does is acceptable, he labeled him good and thought there was nothing more to do. The experience last night shook his belief in his son. It needed to happen and I thank you for doing it.”

Adam looked at her and nodded. He walked into the house and up the stairs where he knocked on Marcus junior’s door. There was no answer so he tried the handle to find the door locked. He gave him one minute to open the door before he broke it in and then timed it on his watch. At just under one minute, Adam heard the lock click and he opened the door.

“You will not enter my room. You will treat your mother with respect which means no talking rudely to her and no pushing, shoving, kicking, or any other threatening behavior. That also applies to every other person on this ranch. You will ask before doing anything outside. Is that clear?”

The boy shook his head yes.

“Now Marcus junior is an awkward way to address someone. I will call you Marc and you will answer to that. Is that clear?”

Again, he nodded yes.

“Now, are you hungry? You missed breakfast but I know the cook and he’ll make some flapjacks for you if I ask.”

Again, he nodded yes.

“All right, then. Get dressed for outdoors and be downstairs in no less than five minutes. I will tell Hop Sing to prepare some breakfast for you.”

Adam turned and left. He heard some rustling in the room and smiled to himself. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. The next thing he knew, he was facedown in the hallway. The little brat had thrown a brass candleholder and hit him in the back of the head. He heard footsteps and as Marc tried to run around him, he grabbed his ankle toppling him to the floor. He got to his feet, and pulled Marc up by his arm and marched him down the stairs and to the guest bedroom down there. He pushed Marc into that room and pulled the door closed. He stood there for a moment holding his throbbing head.

“You’re bleeding!”

“Your son’s response to my direct and clear instructions was to throw a candleholder at my head. Now if you would watch him and make sure he doesn’t go anywhere, I’m going to get Hop Sing to see if he can stop the bleeding.”

Adam came out of the kitchen after about ten minutes with a bandage wrapped around his head holding a wad of bandage on the back of his head. He got his hat and gunbelt on, and then went to the spare bedroom.

“What are you going to do?”

“”I am going to administer his punishment. He’s going out to where a crew is clearing brush and he’s working there today.”

Adam opened the door to find Marc stretched out on the bed with a smirk on his face. Adam ordered him off the bed and he refused so Adam grabbed an ankle and pulled him off the bed to land with a thump on the floor. Then he ordered him to stand and Marc did after thinking about it only briefly. Adam marched him outside and pushed him up onto the seat of the buckboard. He pulled Sport from the hitching rail and tied him behind the wagon. Then he climbed in the seat and snapped the reins to get the wagon moving. After about twenty minutes, they arrived at the area the men were working where Adam ordered Marc out of the wagon. Then he gave instructions to the foreman.

“This is Marc. If he doesn’t work this morning, he doesn’t get lunch. If he doesn’t work after lunch, he walks back to the ranch house. It’s only about three miles and he probably won’t get lost and there probably aren’t any wolves or coyotes around today because it’s hot. He can start by unloading the tools from the wagon and putting them where you want them.”

Adam untied Sport and rode back toward the ranch house leaving Marc in the hands of the veteran crew. They wouldn’t put up with any of his nonsense especially after Adam made it clear that he was to be treated as any other parolee on the payroll. Later that afternoon when the crew arrived back at the ranch, Marc hopped off the back of the wagon to walk to the porch where Adam and his mother were enjoying some lemonade and resting in the shade. Shorty called him back and told him he wasn’t done until all the tools were unloaded and back in the tool shed. The men unhitched the team and took care of them leaving Marc to unload the wagon by himself. When he was finished, Shorty walked over and slapped him on the shoulder and said he did a good job. Marc asked if he was done, and Shorty nodded yes. Marc then walked over to the porch where his mother said he needed to apologize to Adam. He said he was sorry and then sat in a chair next to her. He was too tired to fight back. Adam handed him a glass of lemonade which he gulped down and then was reminded by his mother to say thank you. He choked that out and Adam poured another glass of lemonade for him.

Hoss and Lisha drove into the yard about that time. They had spent the day exploring the Ponderosa and each other. It had been warm enough that they had ended up swimming in the lake. They had no swimwear so they had stayed out long enough for their undergarments to dry so no one would guess what they had been doing. One more day was all that they had, and Hoss was having trouble even thinking about that. He was feeling as if Lisha was the only one for him, and that he would love her forever. Yet on Friday, she was leaving probably forever. Adam saw the wistful look Hoss gave to Lisha as she went inside to change. He decided he would do nothing to interfere with his brother’s plans even if he had been pushed into it.

That night, Adam heard footsteps creeping down the hallway and correctly assumed it was Lisha going to Hoss’ room. He guessed that she had done that every night since Saturday but he had been gone and the night before he had been dead tired. Tonight he was his usual alert self, and his thoughts turned to Andi. He was looking forward to seeing her again and hoped she wouldn’t be too upset with him for not contacting her for a week. Something about her sweet and gentle nature appealed to him on a visceral level. He decided he would see her on Friday no matter what.

Chapter 6

At breakfast on Thursday morning, Adam asked Marc if there was anything he would like to do that day. Marcus had announced the previous night that his work was done. When Marc said he would like to try fishing, Marcus agreed it sounded like a wonderful idea. When his wife agreed to the idea, it was unanimous. Adam couldn’t help but tease Hoss by asking if he and Lisha would be going with them. Hoss stammered and finally was able to answer.

“We planned to go check out the rock paintings up on the bluff and we’ll be gone all day.” Adam smirked.

“That’s too bad, Hoss, I know how much you like fishing and hauling in the big one. I bet Lisha would like to help you with that too.”

As Lisha and Hoss walked outside to get the surrey ready, Lisha whispered to Hoss.

“He knows, doesn’t he?”

“Oh yeah, he knows. He doesn’t miss much that’s going on around him. I’m just glad your family don’t have that talent.”

After readying the surrey, they left and Lisha was pressed up next to Hoss on the seat. She wanted as much physical contact with him today as she could. It was their last day together. Tomorrow morning, they would be heading to town to catch the stage for home. She got a tear in her eye just thinking about it so she resolved not to think about it and just enjoy the day. She looked up at Hoss with a smile and he grinned down at her. Gosh she loved that smile and those blue eyes.

Back at the house, Adam was hitching up the carriage when Marc asked if he could help. Adam looked warily at him but seeing no guile, thanked him and told him what to do. Soon they were ready to go with Marcus and his wife in the back seat, and Marc next to Adam on the front seat. As they drove out of the yard and onto the road, Adam handed the reins to Marc who looked at him in surprise.

“To go faster, snap the reins. To slow down, pull back. To keep going the same speed, just hold the reins firmly but don’t pull on them. We can speed up a little so snap the reins once.”

Marc did that and looked at Adam with a big grin when the horses sped up a little. Adam nodded at him.

“Things will go just fine today if you remember to follow instructions. I’ll tell you to do things so that you can be successful and to do things that need to be done. Anything else, please ask first.”

As they neared the turnoff, Adam asked Marc to slow the team and then put his hands on top of Marc’s hands and showed him how to turn the horses. Once on the rougher road to the river, Adam asked him to keep to the slower pace because of all the things that could go wrong with this type of trail.

“Just enjoy the ride now. The horses know the way. Keep a firm hold of the reins, and they’ll get us there soon.”

Marc was still a little afraid of Adam, but when he did what he was told, he found that the going was a lot more pleasant. Although he would not likely admit it, it had been fun working with the men the day before. As he had worked, they had talked with him and told jokes. Some of those jokes would have highly offended his mother, and the men had been careful to warn him about whom not to tell those jokes to. He felt more grownup by the way they talked with him, and nobody yelled at him either. Now today, Adam was treating him more like a grown-up too. He wished his father would treat him this same way, and that was the exact same thought running through Marcus’ head. He had seen the results of just two days of Adam’s more forceful and energetic handling of his son. Marcus’ natural inclination to analyze everything already had him deciding to watch Adam and copy this style of his in dealing with Marc.

Fishing was a success. Both Marcus and Marc were able to land several large fish under Adam’s tutelage. Mrs. Wendt sat under a tree reading and occasionally watching the two men and her son fish. By the end of the day, they had a nice stringer of fish for dinner and Marcus and Marc both had acquired a mild sunburn. Back at the ranch house, Hop Sing gave them some salve to spread on the burn and soon they were much more comfortable. Hop Sing was happy to be able to serve fish for dinner. He prepared rice and vegetables to accompany the main course of fried fish. Hoss and Lisha arrived just before dinner. Adam nudged Hoss out onto the porch soon after the couple had entered the house and told him to be more careful at night before the two of them got caught. Hoss blushed as Adam smirked.

“I hope it’s been worth it because you owe me big time for this.” And with that Adam turned and went back into the house.

After dinner, the whole group did some singing and then the Wendts all retired early. They had a long trip ahead of them, and it was difficult to get any good sleep when traveling by stage. Adam sat with a book and Hoss asked him if he was going to bed. Adam said not for at least an hour or two because he was so engrossed in his new book. Adam saw Lisha peeking around the corner at the top of the stairs and knew she had heard too. He would be sure to give them enough time to make their rendezvous before he headed to his own bed. After Hoss went upstairs, Adam found he couldn’t concentrate on his book as a certain dark-haired woman with beautiful green eyes kept intruding in his thoughts.

Upstairs Lisha slipped down the hallway and into Hoss’ room for their last night together. They kissed and hugged and touched each other intimately. Hoss asked her to stay but she said she couldn’t. She wondered if he meant tonight or if he meant for her not to leave on the stage. It didn’t really matter though. Her answer had to be the same either way. She kissed him passionately one last time and slipped out of his bedroom to return to hers. There was still light from downstairs so she knew Adam was not yet in his room to hear her. He probably knew too that she had spent some time in Hoss’ bedroom each night too. Tears were running down her face before she reached her bed as she thought this would be the last night she would see Hoss, and it was breaking her heart.

The next morning after breakfast, Hoss hitched up the carriage to take his love and her family to the stage lines. Nothing could make him smile this morning not even the scrumptious breakfast Hop Sing had prepared for their guests last morning. Adam was gone with the hands finishing up some work for the week. Hoss took the family to the stage depot and waited until the stage was rolling down the street before he climbed into the carriage for the long lonely ride home. His heart had broken and it seemed there was nothing to help him now. He had kissed her softly in goodbye and then had let her go. Once he got home and had unhitched the carriage, Adam was just getting back.

“Adam, I’m heading out to the western lineshack. I plan to spend a few days there by myself. Just let everyone know I’m all right, but I just need some time. I’ll be home early next week I think.”

After a short time and with saddlebags packed, Hoss mounted up to ride off. Adam offered his help if it was wanted but Hoss just said ‘thanks, but not now’ before wheeling Chub and heading out. Adam felt very badly for his brother but couldn’t see a solution. He stood and watched his brother until he was a speck in the distance. Adam planned to go inside to bathe and dress for a trip to town to see Andi. He wanted to make sure his back was loosened up after all the work he had done and smiled as he thought of the last two times he had seen her and ended up flat on his back. He was rather looking forward to that happening again. Whistling a tune, he entered the washroom to start heating water for a bath.

In less than an hour, Adam was saddling up Sport preparing to go to town to see Andi when a carriage pulled into the yard. He walked out to see whom it was and was shocked. Lisha was there with a big grin.

“What happened? I thought you would be halfway to Placerville by now.”

“On the stage, Mama asked why I wasn’t asking to stay with Hoss. I said I couldn’t leave her alone. She said, ‘Nonsense, I’ve been alone before. Your father will hire a companion for me like he did when you were little. Nancy wasn’t your nanny although I suppose you had no reason to understand that. Your father has always understood that he is not good company. You luckily did not inherit whatever makes him so but of course you can see that Marc did. You should stay with Hoss.’ and that was that. Papa said ‘Of course’ and paid for me to take the next stage back and gave me money for expenses. I took a room in a boarding house in town and rented a carriage and here I am. Where is Hoss?”

Adam took a deep breath.

“He rode off to be by himself for a while. Don’t look so upset. I know where he’s going and I’ll take you there. I don’t suppose you have any riding clothes with you?”

At her response, he explained what they were going to do.

“I’ll get some of Joe’s clothes and a valise. You can change in the washroom and pack your dress in the valise. We won’t be able to catch up to him, so you will have to spend the night at the line shack. I’ll tell everyone you stayed here at the house until Hoss got back. All right?”

Lisha smiled again, and Adam set off to get the tasks started. Once Lisha was changed with extra bedding rolled up behind the saddle on another horse, they headed out to surprise Hoss. Several hours later as they crested a rise, the line shack could be seen in the distance. Smoke was curling out of the chimney and they could see Hoss moving around the front of the cabin. Adam pulled his pistol to fire three times. He told Lisha to hold her horse so he wouldn’t bolt. Then he fired and they saw Hoss react immediately. Adam waved his arm and Hoss waved back.

“Now go on. No matter how pleasant it would be to see this reunion, I think Hoss especially would appreciate the privacy. I’ll see the two of you tomorrow.”

With that Adam wheeled Sport to ride back home, and Lisha began to gallop toward the cabin and the love of her life. Once Adam returned to the Ponderosa, it was dark. Lights were on in the house so he knew his father and brother had returned even before he saw their horses in the stable. He unsaddled and groomed Sport before trudging to the house for the inquisition. He walked inside to find his father and brother at the dining table.

“All right, here’s a synopsis. Hoss and Lisha are in love. The Wendts left this morning. Hoss headed out to the western line shack to be alone for a while. Lisha changed her mind and came back. I took her out there for their reunion. Expect wedding bells soon. By the way, if anyone asks, Lisha is here tonight waiting for Hoss to return. Tomorrow I am going to town to see Andi and earthquakes and floods are not stopping me so don’t even think to suggest anything else. Goodnight to you both. I’m tired.”

Hop Sing came out of the kitchen when he heard Adam’s voice.

“Miss Miranda was here to see you. I tell her where you go. She not want to wait.”

With a deep sigh, Adam turned and went up the stairs to bed. He planned to get an early start in the morning.

Chapter 7

In the morning, Adam didn’t get as early a start as he wished. His father was not satisfied with his ‘synopsis’ and wanted to know more. By the time chores were done and all the questions were answered, it was nearing noon. Adam finally headed out for town and when he arrived, he went immediately to Andi’s parents’ home. What he found when he got there was a huge surprise. The house was empty. He asked two men who were there what had happened, and they said the family had moved on. He sat down on the front porch steps and wondered what the heck had happened. Finally, he walked to the mercantile to ask Mr. and Mrs. Davis if they knew what had happened.

“Excuse me, could you tell me where Andi and her family went? I just stopped by her house and there’s no one there any more.”

Mrs. Davis walked into the back room and finally Mr. Davis turned toward him.

“She blames you. She figures you shoulda been here helping the poor girl out.”

“Helping her with what?”

“Well, with the rumors and the gossip and such. It got so bad she was a nervous wreck. We had to let her go. The breakage was worth more than the work she did for us. Then her father lost his job and the family had to move on looking for work. We woulda liked to help them out but we can’t afford it.”

“All of this happened in a week? Where did they go?”

“Well, Andi said we wasn’t to tell you cause she didn’t want to see you again.”

“Why? What did I do?”

Adam’s thoughts turned to his behavior with her after the dance. He thought that perhaps after she had a chance at reflection she had decided he had not acted like enough of a gentleman. But what Mr. Davis said next floored him.

“The missus saw her last night after she found out what you did. She won’t likely be able to forgive you for that. To lead her on like that, then ignore her like she don’t exist, and then less than a week later, you’re with another woman, well that just don’t sit right with either of us. I expect her parents feel the same way, so you shouldn’t be thinking to chase after her. You hurt that sweet woman pretty badly. I never thought you were that kind, but I guess one never knows.”

Not knowing what to say, Adam said nothing. He understood that she didn’t know him very well but if she thought he could act that way, she didn’t think too much of him or his character. There was no trust, not even a hint of it. He turned and walked out without saying a word but his scarred heart was cracked again. He really wondered why no woman ever stayed with him. He lost them all. This time it hurt more than ever though because he had thought that sweet and gentle woman would return his feelings. He knew it was sudden and impulsive but his feelings for her were strong and genuine. His father was likely to accept that as true, and the thought of going home and seeing the joy that Hoss and Lisha had just made him cringe. Not seeing a good alternative at this point, he rode home seeing Joe on the way.

“Back so soon, older brother? I thought you would be home late after seeing Andi.”

“Didn’t see her. She’s gone.”

“Well, where did she go?”

“Don’t know. No one will tell me. Apparently, I’m a selfish two-timing yahoo who doesn’t deserve her.”

With that Adam spurred his horse on leaving Joe sputtering with questions. Joe continued on then not letting Adam’s quandary affect his plans. He arrived early for dinner and was able to visit with Liz and her parents before dinner. He hoped that would mean that after dinner, he could take Liz for a walk out in the moonlight and spend some quality time with her. Things worked out just as he hoped. He had the feeling that her parents were encouraging him which made him feel just a little uncomfortable.

Once they were walking, Joe wrapped his arms around Liz to pull her in for a kiss, but she resisted. He leaned back then to look at her wondering what had happened.

“Joe, I’ve seen no one else for the last six weeks except you. I’ve been wondering about our relationship. Do you plan on courting me, or do you plan to keep seeing me the way you have?”

“Well, I had been thinking of courting, but I hadn’t made up my mind yet.”

“Joe, I’m not sure if I will love you. I like you more than anyone. You’re cute, and clever, and funny, and exciting to be with. But it seems something is missing. I’m not the most important thing in your life, am I?”

“Well, of course you are. I’m here with you and no one else.”

“But last Saturday at the dance, you let the fight come first.”

“Now, honey, all the men got involved in that fight. It wasn’t like I had a choice. If I walked away, I would have been called a coward. No one respects someone who doesn’t stand up for himself.”

“But, Joe, Adam got Andi out of there. He waded into the middle of that fight just to rescue her, and then he got her outside. No one thought any less of him, and he had only known her for two days. We had been together for over a month, and you weren’t bothered at all when I said I would get myself home. You kept on swinging until Sheriff Coffee showed up.”

As Joe thought about what she had said, he had to admit that the fight had been as much fun as being with Liz at the dance. And he hadn’t thought of her at all during the fight. It was only afterwards that he felt bad about abandoning her.

“What are you thinking then? Do you want to stop seeing me?”

“I’ll still see you. You are fun to be with, but you need to decide if I’m the one for you or not. Unless you say you want to court me, I will entertain offers from other men to go to dinner, or for a walk.”

“Other men have been making offers?”

“Of course they have. I turned them all down of course. I had to talk to you first and see how you felt. But unless you’re willing to make a commitment to me, I can’t make a commitment to be here for you exclusively. I do want to get married at some point. If you aren’t interested in that, I understand. Maybe we just don’t have strong enough feelings for each other.”

After this conversation, Joe’s whole plan for the evening was ruined. He couldn’t in good conscience try to seduce her after this. So instead, they walked and talked. Joe got the whole sorry story of what had happened with Andi and her family. Liz said she had looked so forlorn the last time she had seen her. It had made her wonder if what she felt for Joe was love or infatuation because Andi looked like a woman who had lost in love. After a long walk, Joe kissed Liz goodnight on the porch of her home and said goodnight. He told her he had a lot to think about and wanted to talk to her again on Sunday after church and wondered if they could go on a picnic together in the afternoon. She agreed and smiled at him then hoping the two of them could figure out their feelings for each other.

Once Joe arrived home, he found his father and Hoss deep in conversation. He grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table and sprawled on the settee. Hoss was asking if he thought it was too soon to propose marriage and if it was, how long did he have to wait. Ben said by the way he phrased the question, he ought to just ask because obviously he already knew he wanted to ask her.

“Well, maybe there’ll be a double wedding then.”

“Joe, are you going to ask Liz? I would be so proud to see both of you married.”

“Nah, not me, Adam. He’s got it bad for Andi.”

“But he came back here early and never said a word to us. He just stormed up those stairs like a storm marching over the mountains. Pa and I didn’t want to get struck by lightning so we just let him go.”

“Andi left. She heard from Hop Sing that Adam was with Lisha and assumed that the two of them were, you know, together. She had a rough week with all the talk about her during the dance and after.”

Ben and Hoss were surprised by that, and Ben had to ask.

“What happened after? Adam never said anything about after.”

“Well, Liz said that a number of ladies had expected Adam to ask them to the social. When he didn’t and asked a newcomer to town who worked at the mercantile, they were upset. You would think he asked a saloon gal to go with him the way they were talking about her. Anyway, they were curious about the two of them and there’s no polite way to say it, but they spied on them. Apparently they got very, ahh, cosy with each other after the dance. When he didn’t see her on Sunday and wasn’t there at all during the week, the gossip really got into gear about this supposedly loose woman who works at the mercantile. Got her so upset, she couldn’t work without breaking something so they let her go. Then she came out here Friday night to see if Adam had any honorable intentions because her family was pulling up stakes. I guess she wanted to know if there was a reason for her to get a room in town and stay. Hop Sing told her then that Adam went riding with Lisha.”

“Well, little brother, where did she go?”

“The family went to Reno. Her father has an offer of a job there which includes housing.”

“You gonna risk entering the lion’s den and tell older brother?”

“You think he’s still awake?”

At their looks, Joe knew what a silly question that was. Adam wouldn’t likely sleep at all after the evening he had had. Joe walked up the stairs and down the hall to Adam’s room where he knocked softly and then more forcefully. Still no hearing a response, he tried the door and it was unlocked.

“Apparently, you still don’t understand when I would rather be alone.”

Adam was laying on his bed in the dark. With light from the hallway, Joe could see he was still dressed.

“I thought you’d like to know that Andi is in Reno.”

“Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want to see me. She thinks so little of me that she was willing to believe the worst without ever asking me about it.”

“Don’t be so selfish. That poor girl had a horrible week. You were seen together after the dance, and there was a lot of talk about her in town. She was a nervous wreck because of it. She had to be so upset then to learn her father was moving the family. Think about it from her side, would ya?”

“Just leave me be.”

“Wallow in it all you want, but you could go see her and make things right.”

With that, Joe walked out slamming the door behind him. Unlike Ben and Hoss, he expected immediate results from his common sense approach. Downstairs, Ben and Hoss discussed whether the news would get Adam to think it through and make the right decision by morning or would it take him until Monday. Then they both went to bed too.

Chapter 8

Early on Sunday morning, Ben walked downstairs in his robe to have breakfast before dressing for church. First he planned to have a nice cup of coffee and sit on the porch to enjoy a quiet morning. He was surprised when he got to the porch to see the stable door open, but then he thought a bit and assumed he knew which son was out there. He wasn’t wrong. Adam came walking toward the house a short time later.

“Good morning. The chores are done. I’m going inside to get cleaned up and change.”

“Well, that was nice of you to do for your brothers. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Have some energy you needed to work off this morning?”

Adam’s small crooked grin was all that Ben needed to see to know that his son had worked through things in his mind.

“Going to church with us this morning?”

“Nope. Going to take a little trip. Might be home tomorrow. Not sure.”

“While you’re in Reno, you could spend a little time meeting with our brokers there and go to the Parley ranch to see how we’re doing with getting an agreement with them on those bulls we want.”

Adam nodded. He should have known his father would know what he planned. He walked into the washroom just before Hoss walked out to the porch still buttoning his shirt. Ben told him the chores were done and was rewarded with a huge grin and Hoss wheeled to go back inside undoubtedly straight to the dining table. Adam was on his way before the three of them left for church. Joe took the carriage because he had high hopes for today, and Hoss drove the surrey for the same reason. Ben thought they made a funny looking caravan but understood why.

Once they were at church, Hoss and Joe gathered their ladies and sat next to Ben in their usual spot. Everyone in church was guessing at the significance of that. Hoss was planning to ask Lisha to marry him. He hoped to take her for a ride in the surrey to where he wanted to build a home for them and ask her there. He was pretty sure she would say yes or he would have asked her in town so he could escape quickly if she said no, but there seemed to be no need to do that. After the service, Hoss planned to introduce Lisha to Doctor Martin to see if there was a chance that he would like to hire a nurse.

On the other hand, Joe was ready to establish a different kind of relationship with Liz. He wanted to continue to see her when they could, but he would no longer dominate her time and would curb his jealousy. He thought they should keep their relationship as is and not get any more deeply involved physically with each other. He hoped she would agree and then after a month or so, they could re-evaluate how they felt about the situation. She was exciting, vivacious, pretty, and smart. She was everything he thought he wanted in a woman, and yet there was no spark. His father had said that perhaps they needed time for love to grow so Joe wanted it to give it that chance.

Both Hoss and Joe found that their plans were well thought out. They worked. Bu the end of the afternoon, both were driving back to the Ponderosa grinning. Hoss had spent most of the afternoon with Lisha in his embrace. Joe had talked with Liz until they were comfortable knowing what each other were thinking. They did kiss quite a bit as well but their passion was restrained by the knowledge they had shared. At some point, Hoss and Joe thought about Adam and each hoped that things were working out well for him in Reno too.

Late Sunday afternoon, Andi was pulling weeds in front of the house where her family was now staying. Her father had gotten the job with the Parley ranch handling their books and contracts. There was this extra cottage on the ranch, and he had been offered the chance to have his family live there as part of his compensation for the job. He had readily agreed. It would be the first chance at a relatively permanent home for his family since they had arrived in Nevada nearly twenty years earlier. Andi had seen these small rose bushes that had been planted in front of the cottage. She thought if she pulled the weeds and perhaps enriched the area with some more fertile soil, she could have a pretty rose garden.

“You look like you know what you’re doing with those roses.”

The rich baritone voice drilled right through her and her heart began to race. She looked over a few feet and saw the black boots and the black striped trousers. It was him but what was he doing here was her only thought.

“Will you at least look at me?”

Standing quickly, Andi looked at Adam and then turned away.

“You weren’t very interested in seeing me last week. It was awful. People saw us together and said the most terrible things about me. And then you weren’t there at all and they said even worse things. They said you didn’t care about me. That you got what you wanted and I would never see you again. I got fired, and we needed that money. When I knew Papa was making us leave, I went to see you and your cook told me that you were already with another woman. So why are you here now?”

Whirling away from Adam with tears in her eyes, Andi snagged her dress on the rose bush, and as she bent to unsnag it, she started to fall forward and her dress ripped free of the thorns. Adam reached out to throw his arms around Andi to stop her fall and pulled her to him. He kissed her but got no response. He kissed her cheeks then and then her forehead before pulling her resistant body into his embrace and just holding her. Slowly she relaxed. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him too.

“It wasn’t true, was it? None of it was true?”

Adam kissed her again and this time she responded.

“You wouldn’t hold me and kiss me like this, if it was true. You wouldn’t have come all this way to see me if it was true. Oh, Adam. I’m sorry I doubted you. I was just so hurt. This is all so new to me, I didn’t know what to think.”

“Sweetheart, if we trust each other, no one will be able to pull us apart. If you’re going to be with a Cartwright, you will need to be ready for stories and gossip all the time. But I will always be there for you in the end. Sunday I was called away for three days to the timber camps. Then when I got home, I was manipulated into playing host for our house-guests. On Friday as I was getting ready to come see you, I ended up having to escort Lisha to go see Hoss. On Saturday, I did make it to town to see you, but you were gone. That was the first I knew of what those jealous women had done. I had no idea they were spying on us on Saturday and that they would tell tall tales to harm your reputation. I am so sorry about that.”

Then Andi kissed Adam. She wanted him to know that she desired him too. He smiled after their kiss and asked if there was somewhere they could go to talk. She said they could talk on the porch but his raised eyebrow let her know that there was more he wanted to do than just talk. She smiled and went inside to tell her parents that she and Adam would be taking a walk. She picked up a throw on the way out the door. Her parents were very confused at this point, but she had promised them she would explain everything to them this evening. Adam and Andi walked up to a grove of trees on the hillside behind the cottage. The spot was shielded from view by low growing bushes. Andi spread the blanket on the ground and Adam sat and she stood until he took her hand and pulled her down into his lap kissing her passionately as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Will you come back to the Ponderosa with me?”

“Mama and Papa would never approve of that.”

“Will you come back to Virginia City then?”

“I can’t afford to do that and my parents don’t have any extra money either.”

“What if I can get you a job? I know I can’t pay your expenses because people would see that as something wrong, but I could help you get a job.”

“Yes, that would work. We could take the stage so no one would think anything was wrong in our behavior.”

“Oh, so we can’t do this any more?” and Adam pulled Andi down beside him and leaned down to kiss her as passionately as he knew how. He pulled her body close so that it molded to his. He pressed his kiss and she reciprocated.

“Oh no, you can do this as often as you want as long as no one can see.”

Laughing, Adam squeezed her in his embrace as she snuggled into his chest. He knew what he wanted to say next but was having a hard time actually saying the words. He began humming a tune.

“What song is that? I don’t think I ever heard that one.”

“Well it’s a song I was writing in my head as I rode here. It’s pretty rough. It’s a song for you, but it isn’t finished yet.”

“Please sing it for me.”

“Well, the words and the music may change but this is what I have so far.” And he sang to her softly.

Dance with me in the dance of love

Dance with me and be my loveDance with me in love today

Dance with me to our wedding day

Dance with me to the end of day

Dance with me to heaven my love

Dance with me in the dance of love

When Adam finished singing, Andi was in shock. His voice was beautiful. The song was sung with heartfelt emotion, and that fourth line had taken her breath away.

“That song is for me?”

“Yes, every word of it was written for you.”

“Then?”

“Yes, I want you to marry me.”

There were no words that were necessary. Andi grabbed Adam with a hand on each cheek and kissed him soundly with tears running down her face. Adam smiled.

“I take it that was a yes?”

“But this is so sudden. I don’t know what my parents are going to say.”

“After the stories they heard this past week, I would imagine they might be relieved to find that I am an honorable man, and I would do nothing to hurt you. I love you. I know it happened fast, so fast I still don’t understand it, but that doesn’t really matter.”

“I guess so. We’ve already suffered through problems and difficulties and ended up in each other’s arms. That has to be a good sign, don’t you think? When would we marry? Where are we going to live? Is your father going to be all right with this? He must have heard some stories about me by now and I bet they weren’t good ones. I’ll need to get a dress. Oh Adam, I can’t afford a new dress and to pay for a place to live.”

Adam stopped her with a kiss.

“You do talk a lot when you’re nervous. I want to marry you as soon as we can. In a week, two weeks, whatever it takes. As for expenses, the wedding bills will be mine so you don’t have to worry. You’ll charge everything in my name. It won’t be a problem. My family will love you.”

The next thing they heard was Andi’s father calling out that dinner was ready. Adam smiled and took Andi’s hand to walk her to the house where they would tell her parents that they were getting married. Andi’s mother almost fainted in relief at the news which meant her father automatically added his blessing.

Chapter 9

“So, I just want to be sure I understand all of this. Adam, my sophisticated, rational, logical oldest son who has a university degree, has traveled widely, loves Shakespeare and the arts, and is thirty-four years old is marrying a woman twelve years younger who hasn’t been outside the state of Nevada since she was two and has never seen the inside of a theatre and whom he met just over a week ago. Hoss, my calm, sensible middle son who loves nature and every ‘critter’ he’s ever met is marrying a woman who has traveled abroad, been to college in the East, loves the theatre, and has a career as a nurse which she has no intention of quitting and who has barely stammered out two words to me in the few weeks we have known her. And my youngest son, whose moods change in the blink of an eye and who has fallen in love with every beautiful young woman he has ever met, wants time to work out his feelings about the lady he has been seeing for nearly two months who matches him in personality and likes as much as anyone possibly could. Is that about it?”

Adam, Joe, and Hoss looked around the table at each other and then back at their father.

“That about sums it up, Pa. Hoss wants to marry first, so in two weeks, there’ll be the first wedding here. Andi wants some time to prepare, and she’s working at the bookstore now so there’s no chance of breakage so she won’t be fired. In two months, we will be married. Both she and Lisha are at Clementine’s boarding house so they’re getting to know one another too. Lisha will start working for Paul on an as needed basis for now. And Joe will continue to see Liz and see how things work out.”

Ben leaned back in his chair. Adam had returned the previous evening with his news. Hoss had told him his news on Sunday night. Joe had just explained his relationship status that morning at breakfast.

“Is there anything else I should know?”

“Well, Pa, Adam is gonna design a house for me and Lisha. I’m going to build in that meadow where I proposed to her. I told her then, that’s where we was gonna live and she likes that spot.”

“I’m designing another home for me and Andi. I want to have the central section done by the time we marry so we can live there right away. I’m designing it so that a wing can be added to each side and the back when and if we want to do that. Hoss’ house will be designed the same way. Each house will have just three rooms at first: a kitchen, a great room in the center, and a bedroom that can be converted to a study or guest room when bedrooms are added to each.”

“Son, how did you work that fast? You just got home last night.”

“Actually, I’ve been working on these ideas for some time, but now they have a practical application. There will be some innovations like pocket doors and a water closet with a washroom off the kitchen. I’m hoping that some others like the idea too, and then maybe I’ll get some work to do designing homes and other buildings. It will give me something to do over the winter months.”

“Ya, Pa, can Adam and I have some time today to go into town to order stuff we’re gonna need and hire some men to get started on our projects?”

“And if it’s all right with Hop Sing, I would like to bring Andi out her this evening for dinner so that you can meet her.”

“Of course. I can’t imagine either of you getting much work done around here anyway with everything on your minds, and I would like to meet the young lady who has mesmerized my son.”

Joe was about to suggest he could ride in with his brothers when Ben silenced him with a look. He wanted some work done that day.

“The good news, Joseph, is that for today, you are in charge. Hand out the work assignments and then go work where you think you’re needed most.”

Having the status of being in charge almost made it worthwhile for not being able to go into town. He would be his own boss for today. All three saw the look Joe had as he sat up a bit straighter, and they smiled. He was still such a kid at heart.

Hitching up the wagon and the carriage, Adam and Hoss divided up the responsibilities. Adam would hire some men to get started clearing the sites and putting in foundations by the end of the week. Hoss would take the list of items they needed and get as much as he could fit in the wagon, make arrangements for others to be delivered to the building sites, and order those items that were not in stock. Adam would see about ordering some special champagne for Hoss’ wedding to Lisha. Hoss would send the telegrams to Lisha’s family and to other friends who might want to attend the wedding. Hoss and Lisha would meet with the minister by day’s end to confirm their wedding arrangements. Adam would find Andi let her know that the tentative dinner was now confirmed, and he would wait for her to finish work and change. With their plans set, the two headed off to Virginia City.

By noon, Adam had hired a basic crew. He had some time so he headed to the bookstore. It was new and his friend Barbara had opened up just a few weeks earlier. Adam had asked her to hire Andi, and agreed to pay her wages secretly. Barbara adored the romantic nature of his plan and enthusiastically agreed to it. It would be another of their many secrets kept as friends. Adam greeted Barbara with a hug and looked to see where Andi was. Andi was behind a bookshelf and as she came out, Barbara noted what appeared to be a little jealousy in her glance. Adam quickly walked to Andi and took her hands in his.

“I talked to my father and Hop Sing, and the dinner I tentatively invited you to is now a formal invitation. Can you be ready to go by five?”

Andi glanced to Barbara who nodded affirmatively before walking into the back room to give the couple some privacy. There were no customers in the store so Adam pulled Andi to him and kissed her. Then he said he had more errands to run, and would be by the boarding house by five to pick her up. Adam had some champagne to order and then planned on some shopping. By five he pulled the carriage to the front of Clementine’s boarding house, and Andi came walking down the steps from the porch immediately.

“I’m so nervous, I couldn’t sit. Mrs. Hawkins kept telling these stories about your father and the more I heard, the more nervous I got. She has quite a few stories about you too and if they’re all true, you’re even more amazing than I knew.”

Adam grabbed her at the waist and helped her into the carriage before walking to the other side and climbing in. He snapped the reins and they were on their way.

“Why are you so nervous? It’s just me. We have a lot of time before we get to the ranch so you can relax a bit.”

Andi grew quiet and pensive.

“All right, what’s wrong?”

Andi knew they needed to talk about this but she hated sounding so petty and jealous.

“I saw you hug Barbara today. Are you going to be hugging a lot of women? Because I have to tell you that was hard for me to see.”

“I’m twelve years older than you. Twelve years is a lot of time especially as young as you are. In that time, I have made a lot of friends. And yes, I will hug many of those.”

Adam pulled the carriage to a stop, and tied off the reins. Turning toward Andi, Adam wrapped his arms around her and drew her in tight to him as he kissed her passionately. He ran his fingers through her hair and caressed her cheek. He held the kiss as long as he felt he could and then released her and kissed her neck so they could catch their breath. Finally he sat back and looked directly at her.

“But I will never hug and kiss anyone but you like that. There’s a big difference between a hug for a friend and a hug for the love of your life. Are we all right with this now?”

“Yes. But could you do that again. That was wonderful.”

So Adam held her and kissed her again. Then he pulled away and said that although it was wonderful, they needed to get going to make it to dinner by seven. Andi leaned into him and held his arm with her hands. He glanced down at her as she looked up at him. He grinned and she smiled back. They were good again. Adam had known that he was going to have to teach her a lot, and needed to remind himself how young she was, and how sheltered she had been by her parents. He grinned a little thinking of some of the more delightful things he could teach her. If asked, he would of course have said the theatre and music, but he had more romantic thoughts at the moment. He had to stop thinking like that so he asked Andi about her day at work, and about staying at the boardinghouse. Andi loved her new job, and she liked Barbara a lot and even more now that she understood better the relationship Barbara had with Adam. Andi had never been on her own before so it was all a grand adventure to her. She said it was nice having Lisha at the boardinghouse in the evenings, and she wondered if she would be lonely in two weeks when Lisha would be married to Hoss and living on the Ponderosa.

“Perhaps, you could come to live on the ranch then too. You could ask your parents if having Lisha in the house is enough of a chaperone for you.”

Andi’s face lit up at the prospect. That would be fun she thought so she promised to write her parents a letter and post it as soon as she could. Then Adam asked if she was planning to go shopping with Lisha, and found they had plans for all of Saturday already. Sunday afternoon, Clementine was hosting a wedding shower for Lisha and had invited a number of ladies including Andi of course. Adam sighed. It would be a lonely weekend for the two oldest Cartwright brothers. Then he thought about the following weekend that would be Hoss’ wedding and realized he wouldn’t have time alone with Andi then either. He started to think they ought to be married sooner.

Adam had told Andi how large the Ponderosa was but it was something that she had trouble understanding as there was nothing like this in her life before now. She had grown quiet as they drove on and on and Adam told her it was all Ponderosa. By the time the house came into view, she was completely awestruck. She looked at him and then back at the house. Adam was thinking that she was going to be terribly nervous and he needed to be next to her at all times to avoid any catastrophes. He didn’t quite manage to do that. As they arrived at the house, he climbed out and then walked around to help Andi out of the carriage. Hoss was the first to come out of the house to greet them. Andi stopped almost dead in her tracks and looked up and up at him. He said ‘Howdy’ and she jumped which made Hoss laugh. She walked forward to take the hand he offered in greeting, tripped on the step, and fell forward into his arms.

“Adam said you were a big man, but I had no idea. You’re the most powerful man I have ever seen, and I’ve seen some big men on the ranches and in the towns where we’ve lived. I thought Adam was tall but you’re even taller. Lisha is darn lucky to have you. No one is ever going to mess with her if they know she’s married to you. And you’re so handsome too. You have the bluest eyes I think I have ever seen. Adam never mentioned your eyes but he should have, because they are as blue as a summer sky. Lisha said she loved your eyes and now I know why.”

“Andi, let’s go in the house and you can meet everyone else.” Hoss just grinned at Adam who had told him that she talked and talked when she was nervous. That and she would inevitably trip or fall or drop something. Hoss had found out that he wasn’t exaggerating. Hoss had kidded Adam about his upcoming wedding night and how he might never get to do it if she talked that much when she was nervous. Adam had just given him one of those exasperated looks of his and refused to rise to the bait.

Introductions to Ben and Hop Sing went better than the introduction to Hoss. Andi already knew Joe after their unfortunate dance, and she kept up almost constant chatter through dinner. Ben was amazed at how different she was than Lisha who had yet to have a conversation with any of them except Hoss. Apparently Lisha and Andi were fast becoming friends and Ben supposed that made some sense. They certainly complemented one another in that they were nearly opposites in every way. Although he would never have chosen a woman like Andi for Adam, he found her delightfully witty and vivacious. As Adam smiled indulgently at her nervous chatter, Ben realized as did Hoss and Joe that Andi stimulated that protective urge in Adam and also brought out his sense of humor and fun. No wonder he always seemed to be in a better mood and happier when he had been with her or even when he talked about her. She was the other side of his coin.

After dinner, Ben invited everyone to sit around the fireplace. He offered drinks and Andi jumped up to help. Unfortunately, Ben was standing next to her with an open wine bottle and she bumped his arm upward causing him to spill a generous amount of wine on his shirt front. She stood there in complete embarrassment until Adam moved her to sit on the settee and Joe went to the kitchen to get a wet towel to help his father. Andi apologized profusely, and Ben graciously accepted. Wine was finally served and after more conversation, Adam said he needed to drive her back to town. If she arrived much later at the boarding house, there would be even more gossip about the two of them. On the way back, Andi was very quiet. Adam tried to get her to talk but she was morose. He thought he knew why.

“Pa is not going to think any less of you. I warned him of your unfortunate habit of falling or bumping into people especially when you’re nervous. We all knew tonight would be difficult for you, but now it’s over and everything will be better next time.”

“So there’s still going to be a next time?”

Shifting the reins to one hand. Adam wrapped his arm around Andi and pulled her close to him on the seat. She felt a little chilled to him so he reached into the back of the carriage and pulled up a box which he handed to her. Looking at him quizzically, she opened it. Inside was a beautiful silk shawl. She gasped and looked at him.

“I noticed you didn’t have anything to wear when there was a slight chill in the air. I got that for you to wear when we’re together in the evenings and there’s a bit of a chill. If you look, there’s another box inside that one.”

Andi found a small square box and opened it to find an emerald and diamond ring. She gasped and nearly dropped it. Adam pulled the carriage to a stop and tied off the reins.

“I thought my betrothed deserved an engagement ring so that no one has any questions about my intentions. Would you wear that please?”

Sliding the ring on her finger, Andi looked up to Adam with tears in her eyes. She had thought everything so far had been like a dream and it just kept getting more magical. When Adam kissed her, she would have done anything he asked. He was a gentleman though and soon had the carriage rolling again so that he could get her home by ten. They had not had much time together but it had been a wonderful night. After Adam kissed her goodnight and left, both Lisha and Clementine wanted to know what had happened. Laughter, hugs, and oohs and ahhs went on for almost two hours as Andi entertained them with the stories from just one night at the Cartwrights.

Chapter 10

As Hoss and Adam worked together on Thursday, talk inevitably concerned their upcoming weddings and the women they were marrying. Both missed their ladies immensely. Amazing to both of them was how content they had been to be single just a few weeks earlier and now all their thoughts centered on being a couple. Adam told Hoss that one way or another, he was seeing Andi on Friday night and maybe Saturday night and Sunday night too. Her days were busy but he wanted to make her evenings busy too. The alternative was sitting home alone or hanging out in a saloon with other single men. Hoss agreed that he felt the same way. They worked hard on Thursday hoping to get done a little earlier on Friday. For a change, nothing unexpected happened and they were able to bathe, dress in clean clothes, and head for town by late afternoon. Ben was going to ask them to do another task on Friday afternoon but didn’t have the heart to interfere in their plans.

At the bookstore, Andi was sitting on the floor unpacking books and placing them on the shelf near the front of the store. She was arranging the books so that the cover was fully visible to any buyer who could stand in this spot and see all the new books which had arrived. There were more than one of each but only one was on display. She had convinced Barbara that more people might buy if they thought it was the only copy available because they wouldn’t want to come back and find it gone. Barbara had tried it for two days and already had seen an increase in sales. Andi had also suggested they offer to buy used books for a dime and then sell them as used for a quarter. That was the next project they planned to work on. But on this afternoon, Andi was setting out the newest arrivals using their new strategy when she saw those black boots and striped black pants and her heart started to race. She had only hoped Adam might be in town and here he was. She jumped up but didn’t kiss Adam because Barbara was right there smiling. She excused herself to get her wrap from the back room. Barbara took the opportunity to tell Adam he would not need to subsidize Andi’s wages for she had already increased the shop’s sales and profits. Adam smiled. The more he knew about Andi, the more he admired her and loved her. As she came hurrying back, he told her his plans to see if she agreed.

“I have the carriage. In it are a blanket and a picnic basket loaded with wonderful items Hop Sing packed for us including a bottle of the same wine we had for dinner on Wednesday.”

“That sounds wonderful. Where are we going to have our picnic?”

Adam showed her about a half hour later. They had driven out of town until they were just on Ponderosa property. High on a hill, they could see Virginia City in the distance, Lake Tahoe over the towering pines, and of course the mountains that were the backdrop for the horizon. Adam spread the blanket and set down the picnic basket. Andi turned to him, smiled, and rushed into his arms.

“I missed you so much and it was only two days. I can’t imagine my life without you any more.”

“Do you suppose we could move that wedding date up a little closer? Waiting another seven weeks seems so long when all we want to do is be together.”

“I thought you wanted the house to be ready for us?”

“I’ll live in a tent until the house is finished if it means I can be with you sooner.”

“One week from tomorrow, Hoss and Lisha are getting married. We have to give them some time to be the center of attention. How about three weeks from tomorrow. That’s a month sooner than we first thought.”

“Perfect. I can last a month if I have to.”

They settled on the blanket then to talk, kiss, hug, and have their picnic. Adam could not recall being this happy and this relaxed in his life.

A few miles away, near the lake, Hoss was helping Lisha down from the surrey. He also had a picnic basket from Hop Sing and a bottle of wine. He and Adam had flipped a coin for this picnic spot and he had won although it didn’t feel like winning when Adam said that the closer location he had meant he would spend more time with Andi. At the moment though, nothing could ruin Hoss’ mood. He had not been with Lisha since Sunday and had missed her terribly. He grabbed her around the waist and drew her to him what turned into a long and sensuous kiss. He almost forgot the blanket and basket after that but Lisha reminded him they were in fact on a picnic and he should bring those things down to the lake.

After spreading the blanket on the ground, Hoss dropped his hat and gunbelt to the side. He sat and pulled off his boots. Then he reached up for Lisha’s hand and pulled her down next to him and drawing her into another long passionate kiss. Lisha whispered a question in his ear: did he want her or the food first. Hoss smiled and pulled her to him again.

Over two hours later, Hoss was driving the surrey past the hill where he knew Adam had taken Andi for their picnic and saw the two of them walking down the hill. He waved and Andi waved to them. Hoss tied off the reins and got out of the surrey and helped Lisha down as well. When Adam and Andi arrived at the bottom of the hill, there was a flurry of talk as the ladies gushed over the good time they had had and how shopping for wedding dresses the next day was going to be even more fun now. The looks Hoss and Lisha gave each other and comments they made were clear indications of where they had been before they met up with Adam and Andi although Andi never picked up on the signals. After a couple of hours, Adam took Andi by the arm and steered her back to the carriage and helped her in. He couldn’t help but send a smirk Hoss’ way before he untied the reins and snapped them sending the carriage forward. Hoss helped Lisha into the surrey. She was as red as a tomato with embarrassment.

“Now, she’ll know too.”

“It was only a matter of time anyway. You two are almost best friends already. I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“She does talk a lot, but I have noticed she doesn’t say anything more than she wants to, and has never shared anything intimate about her and Adam, so you’re probably right, but it still was a bit embarrassing.”

At the boarding house, Hoss and Lisha caught up to Adam and Andi. The four of them agreed to dinner at the International House on Saturday night. Andi and Lisha hoped to have their wedding dresses by that time and they could talk over other plans for the weddings. Each Cartwright kissed his lady goodnight, and then they headed home expecting another wonderful evening on Saturday.

However fate intervened in an unpleasant way. Ben had meant to have Hoss and Adam fix the pulley attached to the upper barn and used to haul hay into the loft. The men who had been doing some work noticed that there was a severe crack in the wood and that the rope holding the pulley was frayed as well. Ben instead thought to have the two of them fix it on Saturday instead of ruining their Friday plans. Hoss was working in the barn Saturday morning and Adam was working at the forge. Ben was inside at his desk and had forgotten to tell them about the pulley problem. Then he heard a crash outside followed by his son calling for him. He ran outside to see that the beam had split and fallen with the pulley and chain to strike his son who was lying in the dirt with a bloody gash in his head.

“How bad is it?”

“He’s not moving, and he’s barely breathing.”

Hearing the yelling, Joe who had been returning from the breaking corrals rushed into the yard. Ben told him he needed to get the doctor as fast as he could. He asked him to tell Lisha and Andi too and arrange for them to come out to the ranch. Hop Sing had come out of the kitchen to see what the noise was about and rushed back in to get towels and bandages ready. The little he had seen told him they would be needed.

After lifting the debris away from Adam, Hoss and Ben pulled him into a sitting position and he coughed and then breathed in a deep breath which was mimicked by both as they felt relief. Hoss lifted his brother then and carried him into the house and up to his bedroom. Hop Sing and Ben pulled the coverlet and blanket back so Hoss could lay him on the bed. Then Hoss and Ben carefully undressed him as Hop Sing held a thick wad of bandages to the gash in his head. In less than an hour, Adam’s eyes fluttered open and as he grimaced, he asked what had happened. They told him and then less than ten minutes later, he opened his eyes a little, grimaced, and asked again what had happened. Hoss looked up at Ben who nodded and told Adam again what had happened.

By the time the doctor arrived with Lisha and Andi, Adam had probably asked ten times what had happened. When the doctor was told that, he was relieved and worried. Relieved because if Adam was recognizing members of his family and asking what happened, there was probably hope that he would recover. However, he did have a severe concussion and would need to be watched carefully to be sure there were no more complications. Doctor Martin stitched up the wound with Lisha’s help, and then came downstairs to deliver his diagnosis. Adam needed to have someone with him at all times for at least the next twenty-four hours and possibly as long as a week to ten days. They would know when he could be left alone when his memory returned to normal. He had to be kept very quiet and resting in order to help his recovery. Lisha volunteered to stay to help nurse him, and there was no possible way that Andi was leaving. As soon as the doctor allowed it, she was seated next to him and holding his hand. He smiled at her and closed his eyes.

Joe volunteered to go to town to get bags packed for both of the ladies. When he arrived at the boarding house, he told Clementine what had happened and what he needed. She packed up a bag for each lady, and handed them to Joe who tied them on the back of Cochise before speeding to home again. Clementine headed over to the International House for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie and her chance to reign once again as the queen of gossip in Virginia City. By that night, there were literally dozens of versions of what had happened circulating through the town.

On the Ponderosa, Lisha and Andi helped Adam drink water, and the broth and tea that Hop Sing prepared. Andi stayed by his side holding his hand. She couldn’t bear to leave. She was there when Lisha took a turn sitting with him, and then Ben, then Joe, and finally about three in the morning, it was Hoss. He could see how exhausted Andi was. He slid his arm under Adam and slid him a little to the side. Then he walked over and told Andi to get in the bed. She was so sure he was going to tell her to leave and get some rest, she almost said no until it penetrated her consciousness that he had said to get in the bed with Adam. She wasn’t sure she ought to do that either.

“Just lay on the cover next to him, and I’ll cover you with this blanket. He ain’t gonna do nothing but lay there anyhow, but he’ll feel better with you at his side and you can get the rest you need too. I’ll watch to make sure he doesn’t need anything and you can sleep.”

The next morning, Ben wasn’t so sure that it was the best idea to have Andi sleeping in bed with Adam, but Hoss pointed out that only family members would know and it was helping Adam recover. Ben agreed it was probably the best thing to do even if it was unorthodox. He sat on a chair then and watched his son and his fiancée sleep. Adam looked better already. He wasn’t so gray looking and he was breathing normally. Everything would be all right.

Chapter 11

Next up to sit with Adam was Joe who was still rubbing sleep out of his eyes when he staggered into Adam’s bedroom. Ben told him that Andi had been stirring and would likely be awake soon. Adam had moved just a little but was breathing normally and his face had a normal skin tone. Ben expected the doctor back shortly and went downstairs to have some breakfast where he found Lisha and Hoss already eating. They asked about Adam and Ben said he thought he looked better. Before he could sit though, he heard a carriage outside and opened the front door to greet the doctor. Doctor Martin went directly to Adam’s room. He was surprised a bit by the sleeping arrangement but they were after all the Cartwrights who seldom seemed to do things the usual way. He touched the bandage on Adam’s head to see if there was any drainage and Adam pulled away from him. As he did, he rolled up on his right side throwing his arm over Andi who awakened with that and the movement in the bed. The two of them were lying face to face with Adam’s arm over her.

“Did we get married already?”

“Gosh, Adam, don’t you remember our wedding night?”

Adam looked at her with a confused expression and Joe started laughing so hard he almost fell out of the chair he was sitting in. Doctor Martin looked at Joe and signaled for quiet but even the doc had a small smile on his face.

“I’m sorry, Adam, that was mean. No, we aren’t married. You got hit on the head yesterday and I was staying with you to make sure you were all right.”

“What happened?”

“Hoss was using the pulley to hold a wheel upright so he could work on it, and the beam broke and swung into the barn and then bounced off and hit you in the head. You have a concussion.”

“My head really hurts.”

“I know it does. The doctor is here and would like to check you over now. I’m going to get up now and go freshen up.”

Andi walked out of the room and then realized she had no idea where she was going. Joe guided her to the stairs leaving the doc in the room with Adam.

“Pa thought it best if you and Lisha shared a room downstairs so there wouldn’t be any talk.”

Andi nodded. That made sense. She had no idea how disappointed Hoss had been with that decision. Andi went into the downstairs guestroom to change her clothing and freshen up after she greeted everyone at the table. Ben was surprised at her calm demeanor and quietness. He hadn’t seen any clumsiness on her part either but only gentleness and concern for Adam. Joe had to explain the laughter upstairs and that story brought a smile to everyone at the table. Paul came down after a short time and sat down to breakfast as soon as it was offered. Once he ate, he sat back to tell them of his diagnosis and prognosis for Adam. By then Andi had joined them at the table.

“Adam has a severe bruise across his back as well as the head injury. I think the beam hit him crosswise and not directly into his head. Probably saved his life. He’s sore and a little confused yet but he is doing better than I expected when I first saw him. He recognized Miranda immediately and remembered too that they are getting married. He had a logical conversation with me although I’m not sure he will remember any of it. There seem to be no other problems other than the painful headache he has. Don’t let him out of bed today because dizziness could be an issue too which would lead to retching. Keep him quiet and resting for the next week. He should not walk up or down the stairs alone. No work, quiet, and someone with him at all times until you’re sure he can remember what you tell him. Felicia can take over his care. Just call me if there’s a problem, but I’m not expecting any.”

There were smiles all around the table. Things were looking a lot better than they had the previous day. The two ladies started discussing the dresses they had purchased and other items they would need for their weddings. Hoss wondered if they should postpone their wedding. Andi told him that was nonsense and Adam would be upset if he heard they did that. The next days passed rapidly. On Sunday, Andi stayed with Adam when the others went to church and Joe stayed with her so there would be no talk about the two of them left unchaperoned in his bedroom. Adam’s days were quiet as Andi or Lisha read to him because he couldn’t focus on the print. He could play checkers with anyone who had the time, and talked quite a lot until he got tired and then he napped. Lisha got over her fear of Adam as she learned how gentle he could be and that the intimidating look covered a sensitive gentleman.

On Monday, Hoss took Andi into town with Lisha’s list of things they needed for the wedding, and they had the wagon packed with boxes and bags by the end of the day. As Hoss helped Andi with the shopping, he noted how organized she was about what she did, and how she analyzed each purchase. More and more he understood how this young woman had mesmerized his brother. They had lunch together, and Andi was a charming conversationalist when she wasn’t nervous. The chatterbox, clumsy Andi showed up whenever Hoss introduced her to some of Adam’s friends or friends of the family. Remembering what he had seen Adam do, Hoss would just take her by the elbow and guide her away from the difficult situation. Andi stopped by the bookstore to explain to Barbara why she wouldn’t be at work for at least a few days. Barbara had already heard various rumors some of which had Adam at death’s door so she was relieved to find that he was recovering although visitors were not encouraged. Hoss did say she could come but just not to let people know where she was going. Andi thought that was very clever of Hoss. More and more she admired this big quiet man with the booming laugh and the gentle, caring soul. She understood why Adam said Hoss wasn’t just his brother but was his best friend.

On Friday, Felicia’s family arrived with a number of friends and other family members from San Francisco. Ben had reserved rooms for all of them at the International House, and was relieved that they were not expecting to stay at the Ponderosa. On Saturday morning, Felicia’s mother arrived to help her dress. Adam was supposed to stand for Hoss but wasn’t sure he could make it. The day was hot and humid, and Adam worried that he could topple over and ruin Hoss’ big day. Joe provided the solution. He would stand behind Adam and they would keep a chair strategically close. Joe would watch Adam and if there was a sign that he was dizzy, he would guide him unobtrusively into the chair. It worked well because that was exactly what happened. Dressed in his suit with temperatures hot and the air humid, Adam started to feel dizzy near the end of the ceremony. With all attention on Hoss and Lisha at that time, Joe took his elbow and pulled him back to sit in the chair. He stayed there until Hoss and Lisha were introduced as husband and wife and went to receive their guests.

The minister and Andi helped Joe get Adam upstairs and to a guest bedroom in back where it was quieter. As Joe left Andi and Adam, he promised to bring them plates of food when dinner was served and cake afterwards. For the time being, he would send someone up with cool water for them to drink. Andi helped Adam out of his suit and pulled his boots off when bending over seemed to aggravate his dizziness. Then she cracked the door open just a bit so she could hear someone coming. Adam laid back and fell asleep on the bed. Soon Hop Sing was there with cold tea and biscuits. He told Andi to wake Adam just to get him to drink some, and then he could sleep. As promised, dinner and cake were delivered. As the sun started to dip and the temperatures dropped to a reasonable level, Adam and Andi went outside to join the celebration.

All afternoon, Hoss had been dancing with his wife when she wasn’t whisked away by a family member or a friend. By the time Adam and Andi arrived, Lisha begged Hoss to please take her someplace quiet so she could get off her sore feet. They got to the porch about the same time as Adam and Andi and the four of them relaxed together while the party continued. Ben came over to see if Adam felt he could give the toast for the happy couple before they left on their honeymoon, and Adam assured him he could. Andi nodded. Adam had rehearsed with her upstairs and had remembered the whole speech. So Ben got everyone’s attention and Adam stood to address the crowd.

“For many years, Hoss and I would talk at night about life, about problems, and about women. Sometimes we sat up there on that porch roof and wondered why we hadn’t found that girl for us yet. I am happy and proud that Hoss has now found someone else to spend those moonlit nights with, talking about life and love, and his dreams. I am sure we are all joyful that he has someone in his life now with whom he can share his concerns, his interests, and his critters. Hoss’ life will never be the same again because we know what a powerful and life-altering emotion love is, and now his life will be better than it ever was. Although it is bittersweet, there’s no woman I would rather have him share these talks with than Felicia, for she will share his life and be by his side no matter what.”

Everyone raised a glass to cheer and then downed their drinks. Hoss and Lisha got in the carriage and drove away to cheers and wishes shouted from the crowd. Joe had offered the use of his cottage, and Hoss and Joe had been over there the day before freshening it up and preparing it for a few days of honeymooning. Once they arrived, Hoss unhitched the horse and put it in the corral. Then he returned to his bride and lifted her from the carriage where he had asked her to wait. Carrying her inside, he walked to the bedroom after kicking the door shut with his heel. In the bedroom, he set his wife on the bed and proceeded to help her remove her wedding dress and then he took off his jacket. From that point on, they helped each other disrobe slowly, kissing and embracing as each item was discarded until there were no more barriers to them enjoying their wedding night. Joyous and relaxed, they didn’t return to the Ponderosa until Tuesday evening for dinner. They would stay in Hoss’ room until their house was ready.

Both houses under construction had been delayed by Adam’s injury. Adam and Andi would be staying at the main house too when they married for their house wouldn’t be ready either especially as the couple had moved up the wedding date and planned to be married two weeks to the day after Hoss’ wedding. Andi had moved back to the boardinghouse in town and was working again at the bookstore which Adam found to be frustrating. He was restricted from doing that much riding so he wouldn’t see her again until the weekend. Joe had picked her up on Tuesday for the family dinner and gave her a ride home afterwards. Time couldn’t pass fast enough for him as he waited for the doctor to clear him for normal activities and for his wedding day to arrive.

Chapter 12

By Wednesday, Joe felt he had a major problem. He had spent about three hours with Andi on Tuesday driving her to the ranch and then back to the boardinghouse. More than once on the trip to Virginia City the night before, he had wished he could pull off the road and wrap his arms around her and kiss her. He knew he shouldn’t feel that way, but he was also rationalizing his feelings with the fact that Andi was his age and so much younger than Adam, and that her gay outlook on life was more like his by far than like his somber brother. Yet he knew in his heart, that this was just wrong. Joe knew he didn’t feel about Liz the way he felt about Andi. If he had met Andi first, he thought, it would be his wedding coming up and not Adam’s. Adam and Andi had only been a couple for a short time, and Joe wondered if they were making the right decision by marrying. He voiced that concern to Adam and got the reaction he could have expected if he had thought about it.

“Joe, it’s none of your business. I’m marrying Andi a week from Saturday come hell or high water.”

“And you don’t think you’re rushing into this? She’s only twenty-two. You could give her time to be sure she’s making the best decision for the rest of her life.”

“Joe, I told you, this is none of your business. Just stay the hell out of my life.”

Adam stalked off to the house, and Hoss walked over to Joe to ask him what had happened between the two of them. Joe summarized their brief conversation.

“Joe, Adam’s right. It ain’t your concern. Why are you so all fired ready to try to stir up doubts in Adam. Don’t you know that a man has doubts enough when he’s about to get married? Besides he ain’t in the best of moods cause the doc won’t clear him to ride yet. Says he won’t until his vision is back to normal.”

“Well, maybe I have some doubts too.”

Hoss stared after Joe as he stomped into the stable. After standing and thinking for a bit because he knew there was more to this story, he had a suspicion. Hoss walked into the stable to talk with his little brother.

“You wouldn’t be attracted to that little filly yourself, now would ya?”

“Of course not. I’m seeing Liz, and Adam’s engaged to Andi.”

“Things like that never stand in the way of how a man feels about a woman.”

For several minutes, Hoss just waited. He knew his volatile little brother couldn’t keep something like this bottled up inside for very long. He already had opened the can of worms with Adam, so Hoss guessed it would be only a short time to wait and he was right.

“What if Andi isn’t in love with Adam? What if she could love someone else?”

“You’re supposing that someone could be you?”

“Well, that wouldn’t be so crazy. She’s my age and a lot more like me than she is like Adam. She laughs and jokes around. She likes to have fun.”

“And she’s really beautiful especially when she gets all gussied up.”

“Yeah, so you’ve seen it too. Hoss, I don’t know what to do.”

“Course you know what to do. You could try to win her away from Adam, but then what would you have? You know that with the kind of woman she is: if you did get her to kiss you, she would never be able to be with you cause she would know what kind of betrayal that was, and it would ruin her relationship with Adam too. Then neither one of you would have her.”

Sitting down on a bale of hay, Joe began thinking about what Hoss had said.

“Besides, Joe, what makes you think she has any interest in you? When she’s here, where is she always looking? How did she act when Adam was hurt? You know you never could’ve pried her away from him no matter what. I spent a day with her in town last week, and I gotta tell you, she’s a lot more like Adam than you think. She’s a beautiful, attractive woman that any man would want, but there’s got to be more to a relationship than that. If there wasn’t, you’d be marrying Liz right about now.”

“You think she loves Adam then?”

“She loves him as much as a woman can. She wants to be with him all the time. She’s looking forward to their honeymoon in San Francisco with all the plays and the music he’s been promising her. She’s never been to school like he has, but she reads a lot, and she likes the things he likes. Besides, they’re good for each other.”

“So you think I should just ignore my feelings?”

“No, I don’t.”

Joe looked up with surprise etched on his face and a little bit of hope too that was soon to be dashed.

“Your feelings are telling you that you’re looking for someone to love. Andi’s right here and a damned good-looking woman too. But that should tell you that it ain’t there for you with Liz, and you oughta tell her that. Like Pa says, it don’t take much for you to think you’ve fallen in love with a beautiful young woman, but ifn you was in love with Liz, you wouldn’t even be looking at Andi.”

“How will I ever know when I’m in love, Hoss? I’ve thought I was so many times and it never worked out even when I tried so hard to make it work.”

“Cain’t say as I rightly know. With me and Lisha, it was that first time we was together for an evening. By the time I went to bed that night, I knew this was it. I was in love with her. I didn’t know how she felt and that had me right worried for a bit. But then she told me she felt the same. Every time I was with her, I wanted to be with her more. When she said she had to leave, I wasn’t sure how I was gonna handle it, but then I didn’t have to cause she came back. Just like Andi came back for Adam.”

“So I suppose I ought to apologize to Adam?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Damn, how long have you been there? Eavesdropping isn’t polite, you know.”

“I tell ya, Joe, he’s part Paiute the way he sneaks around so quiet some times.”

“I’m sorry about that. I was coming out here to have it out with you, Joe, because you really set me off. Then I heard what Hoss had to say, and it stopped me in my tracks. Joe, we are very lucky to have this big brother of ours.”

“So you’re not mad?”

“No, I’d be surprised if a man wasn’t attracted to Andi. She’s a beautiful woman. But Hoss is right. There’s got to be more, and we have more. I’m glad though that you didn’t try anything. That could have really hurt.”

“Adam, I’m sorry I was even thinking that way. I guess I’m feeling kinda lonely and it seems like I’ve spent years looking and I can’t find someone like the two of you did.”

“Years, boy! You have got to be kidding me. I spent twelve more years than you looking and it was ….”

“Adam, let the boy suffer a little, would ya? He’ll understand a lot better if he gets to thirty-four and ain’t found nobody yet.”

“Heck, it ain’t gonna take me that long. I bet I’ll be married and maybe even have a baby on the way by this time next year.”

Adam and Hoss began to laugh, and Joe joined in. About that time, Ben walked in wondering where Adam had gone off to so mad when he was supposed to be discussing contract terms. Hoss said they had just been giving woman advice to Joe. Ben shook his head and asked Adam to come in the house to discuss some points on a few contracts.

A week and a half later, Hoss stood at Adam’s side and Joe beside him as Andi’s father walked her down the short aisle between the two sets of friends and family at the Ponderosa. Andi tripped and nearly pulled her father off his feet which was only averted when Ben caught Andi. She blushed a dark red and was nearly in tears with embarrassment. Adam quickly walked to her and cupped her cheek and jaw with his left hand to tip her head up. Both Ben and her father heard what he whispered to her.

“Andi, you and I can do anything as long as we’re together. It’s just us now. Take my hand and walk with me. I love you.”

Andi’s father took her hand and placed it in Adam’s hand. She looked at her husband to be and smiled as he smiled at her. To him, none of this mattered. He saw only her. She grasped his hand tightly, and he stood next to her and she walked gracefully with him for the short distance to where the minister stood ready to marry them. Her mother started crying when her husband repeated what Adam had said. The rest of the wedding ceremony went smoothly. Adam kissed his bride when the minister pronounced them husband and wife. Then Andi walked almost regally out of the house with her dark prince. They received all of their guests just outside the door and invited them to stay for dinner and a dance.

No longer interested in Andi, Joe found her younger sister to be gorgeous. She had dark curly hair and blue eyes which seemed to shine in her dark complexion. Adam had introduced him to Midge when they arrived for Midge was standing with Andi as was Barbara. As soon as Joe could, he was at Midge’s side asking for every dance. When dinner was served, he took her arm and escorted her to a table where he had saved a place for the two of them. Before the night was over, Andi’s father was at Adam’s side asking to speak to him in private.

“Now, Adam, I know you took some liberties with my daughter. I know just because of some of the questions she asked her mother. But the two of you was getting married, and I know that kind of thing happens when a couple is betrothed, and I don’t begrudge you none for it. But my Midge is just sixteen years old, and I don’t want that brother of yours taking liberties with her. I want you to warn him off, and soon, so there’s no misunderstandings between us.”

Adam just nodded. This wasn’t anything he wanted to do yet Midge was part of his family now, and he needed to protect her even if it was from herself. He agreed to tell Joe to back off. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation, and got loud enough to draw attention. Ben and Hoss walked over to intervene with Hoss thinking that it was somehow about Andi. When they heard what Adam said, they both sided with him saying Joe had to respect the father’s wishes. Somehow all three knew that this was just like making a challenge to Joe. For propriety, he would back off this evening, but he would be scheming to see her at the first opportunity. Off limits was like telling him she was the one for him.

Hoss gave his wedding toast and Adam left with Andi for Virginia City. They would spend the night in the International Hotel and leave by stage the next morning for San Francisco on their honeymoon. Adam told his father they would be back in two weeks. Ben had wondered what would take so long and Adam just raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Ben shook his head. He knew he wouldn’t change Adam’s mind anyway. At the hotel, Adam had left detailed instructions for roses, chocolates, and champagne. He wanted to make sure Andi’s wedding night was special and that she would remember it forever. He succeeded.

Chapter 13

As Adam and Andi rode the stagecoach out of town, Andi was yawning. Because it was still quite early in the day, the lady riding with them enquired why she was so tired.
“I just got married yesterday. It was a late night.”

“Oh, you poor thing.” And the lady gave Adam one of those looks usually reserved for drunks in the street and lecherous old men. There was a possibility she did consider him one of the latter. Andi wrapped her arm around Adam’s and leaned in to his shoulder as if to sleep but was really trying to stifle her laugh. Her head moving the way it was convinced their fellow passengers that she was crying. Then all three gave Adam one of those looks. Adam thought Andi was enjoying this way too much but could do nothing without revealing how amorous his wife had been the night before. Although she did blame him in mock anger this morning for walking stiffly when she first got up, and then she asked him to help her get in the stage because she was sore, but of course never said anything loud enough to be overheard. Oh she was going to pay for this was his only thought until he remembered the night before and everything that they had done, and then he took off his hat and put in on his lap. Andi saw that and it made fight her laugh even more.

“Aren’t you going to do anything? That poor child is crying her eyes out and you just sit there like you don’t care. You would think you would have more consideration for your young bride. How much younger is she than you?”

Now the men were apparently going to join in as the lady’s husband had now challenged him. Adam thought he better say something.

“She’s not crying. She’s being shy and she’s tired. It’s just nervous laughter. She’ll be fine if you would just let her have a little peace and quiet so she can rest and be comfortable. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”

Looking down at the top of Andi’s head, Adam could only hope that she would answer and stop his inquisition before it got too invasive. She shook her head yes, and he looked at the other three who seemed unconvinced but were affected enough to hold their tongues for now. The rest of the trip was very quiet as Adam got suspicious looks from the other three passengers while Andi slept snuggled against his arm. He would have placed his hat over his face and napped too except he kept having these recurring thoughts that meant the hat stayed put on his lap. They had a room in Placerville and continued their honeymoon discovery of each other and almost missed the stage connection the next morning. Adam was relieved when they climbed into the stage to find they were the only passengers on that run. The others had continued on the night before so he was safe from their accusatory stares and questions.

In Sacramento, Adam escorted Andi to the home of some friends of his for dinner. They were thrilled for Adam and adored his bride. Late that night they returned to their hotel, and again nearly missed their departure the next morning, but the steamer had some problems with the rudder and had been delayed so they were able to get aboard. Now Andi was getting very excited about their honeymoon because she had never seen Sacramento, never been on a steamer, and couldn’t wait to see San Francisco for the first time. They stood at the rail and Adam described each area as they traveled through it. As they neared San Francisco, it was nearly night and the lights of the city were lit up. Adam hired a hansom at the dock to take them to their hotel and engaged the man for the next day so they could go sightseeing.

By the end of the week and a half they had in the city, Andi had decided she liked Shakespeare very much, chocolates and champagne were delicious, Italian food was fantastic, but oysters were yucky. She liked Mozart but not Beethoven, loved the vaudeville style shows but not opera, and thought that living near water would be the best as the sound of it was so soothing.

“Why do they call it vaudeville?”

“Some say it is the voice of the city, the voix de ville, but no one seems to know. The term has been around for quite a while but only recently have people been describing shows like this as vaudeville.”

“Why did you say I could see those shows here but not at home?”

“Here, most of the shows are alcohol free and both men and women attend. At home, there is often a lot of drinking involved and mostly men attend. The women who attend are usually saloon girls or other women paid to be there with a man.”

“You mean a painted woman? A soiled dove? Adam, were you ever with one of them?”

Adam scrunched up his eyebrows and forehead so Andi knew he didn’t want to talk about this. She had her answer anyway.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live here and have all these wonderful things to do all the time?”

“Yes, but wouldn’t it seem more ordinary if it was here all the time. You’ve heard some of my friends say they haven’t been to some of the performances we’ve seen.”

“I’m looking forward to going home though too. I can’t wait to talk with Lisha and Barbara and tell them everything we’ve done.”

“Everything?” Adam needed to be sure what she meant.

“Well, everything I can tell them.” She smiled at the look he gave her. He worried about things like that because they didn’t know each other that well yet. She began to wonder how she could use this bit of information too. She loved teasing him, and although he acted as if he was angry, all he did was to kiss her and love her when he said she had to pay for what she had done.

Back home on the Ponderosa, Hoss was directing both building crews using the detailed instructions Adam had left. Hoss had the simpler home by choice so his was almost ready. He thought Adam would want to do the finishing touches on his home and it would be ready for him to do that when he got back. Hoss was anxious to be in his own home. It seemed like he was finally a man on his own, and he wanted his own house. He had thought at one time that he would like living in the big ranch house with his father when he got married. Reality was entirely different than his previous musings though. He and Lisha had some things they liked and wanted as part of their home, but Ben had been reluctant to even consider any changes which made Hoss happy that he had decided to build. There was also the issue of privacy. He didn’t feel that he and Lisha could act the way they wanted with three other men living there so they had to be circumspect in what they did, and it was almost like dating. Based on what Lisha had told him that morning, they might have to add on that first addition fairly soon. She was late, and they would be waiting now to see if she was just late or was it something more. Hoss had his prayers and hopes going and now waited to see what it would be.

Meanwhile, Joe was morose. Liz had already found another beau. He had wanted to take some horses to Reno, but Ben had said he could wait for Adam to get home because he might want to go there to see his in-laws who lived on the ranch where the delivery would be made. In fact, Andi might want to go with him. And as hard as it had been to see Andi there with Adam, Joe found it almost as difficult to see Hoss and Lisha every day as they kissed and hugged. They didn’t do anything that they shouldn’t if front of him, but he still found it difficult to watch when he had no one. Joe just found that since Lisha had lost that cool demeanor and opened up to all of them, that she was a darned attractive woman too. He couldn’t believe that those two gorgeous women, who were closer in age to him than to his brothers, had chosen his brothers instead of him. He wondered sometimes if there was something wrong with their vision. Every pretty female he knew always said he was the handsomest Cartwright brother, and some of the men even called him ‘pretty boy’ which irritated him but at the same time, he understood them to say he was the handsomest. No one who valued their skin would dare call Adam ‘pretty’ and no one would think to call Hoss ‘pretty’ so he wondered what had gone wrong. Hoss kept telling him that there had to be more than looks but he was only attracted to pretty women so he thought Hoss had it only partially correct. That should mean that women were attracted to him too. He decided it was time for a trip to town to find one of those women. So by the next day, Joe officially had a new girl. Tricia was a beauty with long blonde hair and blue eyes. He was in love.

By the next day, when Adam and Andi arrived home, Joe and Tricia were helping Hoss and Lisha move into their new home. Lisha ran to Andi as soon as she saw her to tell her she was having a baby. Adam slapped Hoss on the shoulder and grinned at him. Joe offered his congratulations and introduced Tricia to Adam and Andi. She seemed nice, but Adam caught the looks that Hoss and Lisha were exchanging and wondered at what they were thinking. Adam brought out a bottle of champagne he had brought from San Francisco for the house warming, and Andi gave them a brass horseshoe to hang over the front door for luck. Her family had done that with every house they lived in. By that night, Hoss and Lisha were securely settled in their new home and loving it.

At the big house, Ben was thrilled to have Adam and Andi back. He had thought it would be so lonely with Hoss and Lisha gone but now Adam and his wife were there with all the tales of places they had gone and food they had eaten. The night was very enjoyable. Tricia seemed to hang on every word, but complained to Joe later that no one had paid much attention to her. Once Joe left to take Tricia home, Adam looked to his father to see if he had anything to say.

“Let’s just say, I hope she’s not the one.”

Chapter 14

Within a month, Hoss and Joe were helping Adam and Andi move into their new home. Ben was there too and feeling a little melancholy. His sons were still close as each home was no more than a twenty-minute ride, but he wouldn’t be seeing either of them at breakfast or at dinner any longer except on the special occasions they would be invited to dinner. It seemed so strange to think of having to invite his sons to dinner, but that’s what it would be now. Ben would see them often because they were still working on the ranch, but he knew there would be many days when he would not see them.

“Pa, you knew this day would come. Ifn ya wanted them grandchildren you was always talking about, this had to happen.”

“I know, Hoss, I know. But somehow, the two concepts never really connected until I saw you loading your belongings in a wagon and heading out. Now this morning, it was Adam taking all those familiar things with him. It’s not just you boys leaving, it’s all the reminders I used to see all the time. Now they’re gone too.”

Ben wasn’t the only one to feel a little melancholy over the next months. After a Sunday dinner with all of the family, as Adam and Andi went to bed at home, Andi seemed sad. That had been happening a lot but when Adam would ask her, she would claim there was nothing wrong. She couldn’t tell him why she was being quiet and withdrawn so often. It just wasn’t like her, and after a bit, Adam was determined to get her to talk to him. They were spooned in bed and he had his arm around her which he used to pull her to face him, but she resisted which was a first.

“Did I do something or say something to upset you? I’m so very sorry if I did. Please talk to me.”

Andi remained silent but put her hand to his cheek. Adam leaned toward her to kiss her and tasted her salty tears as he did.

“Sweetheart, you’re crying. Please tell me what’s wrong.”

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a baby. I see Hoss and he’s so proud. Lisha is so happy and it makes me sad.”

“Just gives us some time together. It’s not bad having time for us to get to know each other better and enjoy our time together.”

“But it’s been months and still nothing. Lisha was with child right away.”

“Well they did have quite a head start on us.”

“It was only two weeks.”

“No it was much longer than that.”

“What!?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Adam had succeeded in getting her mind off the baby issue. He did want to be a father, but he had a good life and would accept that perhaps they would not have children. Of more concern to Adam was that frequently Andi would be feeling ill and would get quite emotional. He suspected she might be with child but each month she had her flow although only for a day or two that she said was normal for her. He was determined now to demand that she see the doctor. With this latest emotional bout, he was going to be more insistent. She had resisted him so far but perhaps this could be the issue that could change things.

“I want you to see the doctor tomorrow. He might have some answers for us. I’m still concerned with how often you feel ill.”

Andi nodded her head. Adam kissed her again as he pulled her into his embrace. She snuggled against him once again reassured of his unconditional love. Then she began kissing his chest and one thing turned to another as they expressed their love for each other. Both slept very well after that.

The next morning they went to visit Doctor Martin and the doctor’s visit created tumult in their lives and resulted in both Adam and Andi having to make significant changes.

“I’m sure this will surprise you, but I think that Andi is probably three months along. The womb opening or cervix has not completely closed and there’s some bleeding too. This often happens early in a pregnancy, but with the cervix slightly open yet, this could be a high-risk child bearing.”

Adam felt his heart begin to race and Andi was shaking which he could feel with his arm around her. The doctor’s next words helped a little.

“She may have some difficulty carrying this baby to term. I don’t think there is any undue risk to Andi. I want her to rest for the next several weeks to see if that helps. No strenuous activity which includes any bumpy rides to town or anywhere else. No housework. And certainly no working at the bookstore. Can you do that?”

Both Adam and Andi sat with shocked expressions. Of all the things they had worried about, this scenario had not even been considered a possibility. Adam pulled Andi tighter into his embrace.

“We can get someone to help you. I don’t want you to be alone in the house.”

Shaking her head affirmatively, Andi suggested they could hire Midge. Adam thought for a moment and agreed. She already knew them of course, and the family could use the money. They sent a letter to Reno before leaving town. They would send a letter as soon as they could to explain in more detail. Once they arrived at home, Adam carried Andi into the house.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I want to. You’re going to be a great mother.”

Despite their concerns, Andi and Adam couldn’t help grinning at each other. Somehow they knew that everything would work out. Adam wrapped his arms around her as he set her on her feet and gently kissed her. Andi relaxed into his embrace until he said it was time for her to sit and rest. Normally she would have bristled at being ordered to sit, but she had already committed herself to doing everything she could to continue her pregnancy. Again, unforeseen circumstances were going to alter their plans.

The response to their query about Midge helping out resulted instead in Andi’s parents and Midge arriving at their door looking decidedly unhappy. Later after Adam had gotten Ben and Joe to come to the house, there was a heated, emotional conversation, which was the very last thing that ought to be happening for Andi, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Pa, I never touched her. Well I never touched her in a way that she could be pregnant. I swear I can’t be the father!”

“Joseph, …” Adam interrupted his father.

“Pa, if you and Mr. Madison would please speak with me outside, I can explain some things.”

Grudgingly, David Madison walked outside with Ben, Joe, and Adam.

“Mr. Madison, you asked me to talk with Joe on my wedding day. I did find him but he was not with Midge. She was with another young man. I told her you were looking for her and she ought to get her clothing in order and go see you. I told Joe what you suspected, but he wasn’t with her then and hasn’t been with her since. Joe cannot be the father.”

David Madison was quiet. Ben suggested that perhaps Andi should talk with Midge to try to find out what had really happened. Adam was concerned that would be too much for his wife so asked if he could try talking with Midge first. Adam walked into the house and asked Midge if she would please step outside with him. He grabbed her shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders before escorting her outside. They were outside probably about an hour before Adam came inside alone to speak to the others who had gone inside to wait.

“There was an itinerant cowboy working at the ranch where you live. He gave the name John Henry but that’s likely an alias.”

“Yes, I remember him. He was always around, it seemed.” Suddenly it dawned on Patricia Jane Madison that she now knew the name of the father of her daughter’s baby.

“He gave unwanted attention to Midge and she tried to avoid him. He caught her alone once. Then he quit his job at the ranch and moved on. She didn’t know what to do. She hoped Joe would want her so she wouldn’t be shamed.”

Patricia quickly left the house to go comfort her daughter who was facing a lot for a sixteen-year-old.

“Midge would like some privacy until the baby is born. I told her I will find a place with friends for her to stay that isn’t too far away but far enough so that her reputation will not be unduly harmed. She’s about four months along so she needs a place to stay for at least five months.”

“What about the baby?” David knew Midge wasn’t ready to be a mother, but he couldn’t bear the thought of losing his first grandchild either.

“She wants to place the baby for adoption.” Adam looked to Andi who correctly read him.

“We could adopt the baby.” Andi spoke with assurance. She saw Adam nod and smiled at him.

“Andi, you’re going to be having your own baby about that time. Are you sure about this?” Ben said it but David’s look mirrored the Ponderosa patriarch’s thoughts. Both Ben and David were concerned that as new parents they would be taking on too much. In addition, both knew the doctor had concerns about Andi’s pregnancy. Andi and Adam were both strong people though so the likelihood of changing their minds was limited especially if they agree with each other.

“It’s what Midge wanted, wasn’t it?” Adam nodded yes to Andi’s question. Andi wanted to go to her sister, but Adam insisted that she stay seated.

“You’ve had enough excitement for one day. You’re going to stay put for now. There’s plenty of time to talk with Midge.”

Adam sat next to Andi as she wrapped her arm around him. The next five months were very busy. The addition to their home had to be put on a fast track out of necessity. Adam arranged for Midge to stay with long-time friends Annie and Swede. They were far enough away for Midge to have anonymity, but close enough for family to visit. Annie enjoyed being a mother even if it was only for a short time. Family members visited often so Midge didn’t feel abandoned. Adam had hired a housekeeper to help Andi through her pregnancy, but she was unwilling to stay to help care for two infants. Hop Sing of course had a cousin who would so Meiling was hired to start helping out about a month before Andi’s expected delivery date.

Chapter 15

Watching his sons branding cattle, Ben sat atop his horse and reminisced. He rarely saw all three of his sons together any more. Hoss and Lisha were expecting the arrival of their baby any day now, and Adam spent a lot of time with Andi as well even though she had a month to go. Both of his older sons were finishing up additions to their homes too helping each other as much as possible. As for Joe, he went to town more often than ever before. Ben suspected that Joe was lonely. Despite all the arguing that could occur between his oldest and his youngest, when Adam moved into his own home, Joe had become much more restless than was usual even for him. He needed some outlet for his energy and was gone almost nightly, although Ben did not suspect the jealousy that bothered Joe over the changes that had occurred in his brothers’ lives. Joe probably didn’t recognize it in himself either, but he so very much wanted what his brothers had.

For months now, Joe’s thoughts had returned to Liz. In comparison, Tricia just didn’t measure up in terms of excitement and interest for Joe. She was pretty enough but so self-centered that Joe was having a difficult time maintaining a relationship with her. He suspected his father didn’t think much of Tricia either although Ben was far too astute to say anything like that to Joe. Ben was well aware that his disapproval of Tricia could drive Joe even deeper into that relationship which was the very last thing he wanted for Joe now. Ben too wondered about Liz and if she still had any interest in Joe, but his youngest insisted that Liz had moved on with her new beau.

After filling his mind with images of his sons, Ben rode to the branding corral with the lunch that Hop Sing had sent out for them. Adam was the first to see his father riding up. He had seen him sitting on the ridge overlooking the corrals and correctly surmised what he had been doing. As he had earlier alerted his brothers to his father’s presence near by, he now let them know that he was riding in with their lunch.

“Well, boys, I brought a surprise. Hop Sing packed a wonderful lunch for us to share.”

“Ain’t too much of a surprise with ole eagle eyes here watching all the time. He told Joe and me about twenty minutes ago that you was up there. My stomach’s been asking when you’d get down here ever since.”

Joe and Hoss both had to laugh at the look that their father gave to Adam for ruining his surprise. Then he dismounted and pulled the basket from behind the saddle before walking to the shade of a nearby tree. Adam very gingerly settled himself against the trunk of the tree which got a quizzical look from his father.

“Andi tripped and fell into me last night. I am so glad I didn’t build a second story on my house. I would worry all the time about her if I had. Anyway, I caught her but she’s a bit heavier now, and it threw me off balance so I hurt my back. Not that my brothers here would give me any slack today.”

“Hey Adam how was Joe and me to know if that really happened or ya was just trying to get out of a little work?”

Joe snickered as Hoss laughed and Ben smiled. This was the type of conversation Ben missed so much. When his sons were over for Sunday dinner with their ladies, they tended to be polite and considerate of each other. This was more like the relationship they had of teasing and trying to one-up each other.

“I hope you brought enough food, Pa. Hoss says he has to eat for two until the baby’s born, although he ate for two already so now he must be eating for three or four.”

Adam almost spit the water he was drinking out his nose when Joe said that. Hoss had gotten a bit bigger during Lisha’s pregnancy and it was a constant source of amusement for Joe especially the day before when Hoss split his pants while branding. For the rest of the afternoon, Joe had giggled every time Hoss bent down to apply a brand until Hoss threatened to brand him. Adam had seen the look on Hoss’ face and traded places with Joe letting him lasso calves for the rest of the day. Adam fully understood Hoss’ predicament as Andi was eating at least six times a day now and her tastes had turned to sweets especially biscuits with preserves. It was hard for him not to indulge with her every time she offered food like that, and he suspected it was even more difficult for Hoss to say no with his appetite and his empathy for his wife’s condition.

Both Hoss and Adam had been able to be intimate with their wives that morning, and in each case, it was the last time for quite a while. Hoss knew that with the arrival of the baby, they would have six weeks of enforced abstinence at the doctor’s insistence. For Adam it was longer because Paul wanted them to abstain for the last month of the pregnancy to avoid stimulating an early labor for Andi and then it would be six more weeks after the baby arrived. Both Hoss and Adam had arrived at the branding corrals in a mellow mood that morning until Joe’s constant teasing had things back to normal for the three brothers. Good-natured banter had been the standard for most of the morning. Now that their father was here though, Joe was ready for a new target.

“Hey, Pa, Adam and Hoss can’t go to any of the dances in town any more. How about if you go with me this Saturday? Lots of widows been asking about you every time I’m in town.”

Ben was thinking because there certainly were women who attracted his attention but they were all married. He had not seen a widow in town that set his heart racing but he hadn’t checked lately either.

“So, Pa, you thinking about checking out the ladies with our little brother here? Hoss and I could come along as chaperones if need be, ducky.”

Now it was Joe’s turn to spit water. He hadn’t been thinking of Clementine until Adam’s reference. The look on Ben’s face was priceless though. Hoss actually had to stop eating to laugh.

“Dadburnit, Adam, ya done cost me some time with this lunch, and I don’t want to miss a bit of it. This is dang delicious. It’s the thing I really miss about leaving: Hop Sing. Pa, do ya think you could do without him so he could come work for me?”

Their fun was interrupted by one of the hands riding in at a fast pace. He told Hoss that Lisha had started her labor. Hoss hurriedly mounted up asking Joe to get the doctor and Ben to get Hop Sing. They left Adam in charge of the branding and rode off. Adam wasn’t needed at Hoss’ house and Meiling had to stay with Andi so he finished up work that afternoon before heading home to tell Andi what was happening.

By the time Adam got home, Andi was upset anyway. Joe had been stopped in town and given a telegram for Andi and Adam: Midge had gone into labor too. Andi wasn’t allowed to travel to see either her sister or her sister-in-law so she was nervous and upset. Adam did his best to keep her in one place so she wouldn’t fall or do something else to harm herself. Meiling brought in some tea that calmed her. She smiled shyly at Adam later as Andi rested up against him. He suspected she had put something calming in the tea. Mrs. Burke had dinner on the table but it was getting cold. Meiling asked if she should prepare sandwiches with the meat so that he could eat while sitting with his wife. That was apparently Mrs. Burke’s last straw because she informed him it was her last day as they had Meiling anyway. He didn’t mind her leaving. Although competent, Lily Burke was difficult to take on a daily basis as she acted as if it was her household. Meiling was a better fit for their household. Now that the addition was completed, Meiling could have one of the bedrooms there and stay with them full time.

At Andi’s insistence, Adam rode over to Hoss’ house after dinner. He found what he expected. Hoss was a nervous wreck. Joe was cracking jokes, and their father sat calmly and gave fatherly advice to Hoss who said he didn’t know what it was like. That got a round of laughter started and Adam explained to Hoss why everyone was laughing. He just said ‘oh, yeah’ and then continued peering at the closed bedroom door as if staring at it would miraculously at some point let him see what was happening inside. Occasionally there would be a moan or a scream and Hoss wanted to rush right in there, but Ben said they would call out if they needed him. Hop Sing was helping the doctor, so they were all treated to the coffee that Ben made. Most declined after the first cup. Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. When Adam answered he was surprised to find Marcus and his wife at the door. He turned and announced them to Hoss who suddenly had a very scared look on his face. He had forgotten they were coming and he was supposed to have picked them up in town that evening.

“Don’t worry, Hoss. When you didn’t show up, we asked around and a very nice man, Sheriff Coffee, said that Joe had raced into town to get the doctor for Lisha. Where is she?”

Hoss pointed to the bedroom just as another loud moan was heard. He cringed but Marilyn just set her coat and hat down and headed to the bedroom to assist. After a few moments, Hop Sing came out. Adam almost pleaded with him to please make some of his coffee. Hop Sing complained but anyone could see that he was pleased to be so needed. Soon there was freshly brewed coffee and then the smells of dinner being prepared. Adam took his leave to be with his wife. He said he would be back the next day to find out if it was a boy or a girl, but as it turned out, he was back much sooner.

As Adam rode into the yard by his house, which was still muddy and cluttered with the debris from the recent addition, Meiling opened the door to yell to him that Andi’s water had broken. Adam dismounted and ran inside to find Andi lying in their bed looking scared but all right.

“It’s too soon, Adam, it’s too soon.”

“I know, but the doctor said it could happen. I’ll ride to get him if you think you can do all right with Meiling here.”

“Yes, the contractions are still about five minutes apart but the baby is coming. Oh, Adam, I wish I could stop but my water broke, and there’s no stopping it now. Oh, the baby just has to be all right. I hope nothing we did made this happen. Oh, God, please get the doctor now.”

Adam leaned into Andi and kissed her to get her to stop talking.

“Just stay where you are. I’ll be back as soon as I can with help.”

As Adam arrived at Hoss’ house, he was greeted with the news that Hoss was a father of a handsome young boy named Eric Benjamin Cartwright. Adam hardly heard what they said, and Ben noted how worried he looked.

“Adam, what is it, son? Has something happened?”

“Andi’s water broke, and we need the doc to head over to our house now. Please? I need to get back there.”

Doctor Martin heard what Adam said and rushed to the bedroom to get his bag and his coat. He asked Joe to make sure his rig was ready to go. He grabbed a sandwich from the table and headed out the door that Adam had left open. Within a short time, he was at Adam’s house where he had come at least once a week for the previous month to check on Andi. He had suspected she would deliver early, but just yesterday he had seen her and had no idea it would be this soon.

Before heading to Adam’s house, Ben and Joe spent some time admiring Hoss’ son and congratulating the new parents. Joe had told his father that Midge was also in labor which just intensified Ben’s worry about his son and wife taking on two infants. Now both babies would both be there at the same time creating a sudden dramatic increase in work and stress. By the time they arrived at Adam’s house, it was much the same as it had been at Hoss’ except Adam was far more worried. The baby was arriving a month early. Adam had managed to keep his worry under control or at least under wraps for the previous months but now was pacing and looking as worried as any expectant father in these circumstances could look. Meiling was helping with the delivery but had prepared coffee and sandwiches before the doctor arrived. Andi’s parents had originally been scheduled to be here for her delivery but undoubtedly were with Midge now.

Pacing back and forth across his large sitting room, Adam was making both his father and his brother more nervous, but he couldn’t relax. All the stress of worrying and now not being able to do anything to help had him filled with nervous energy and no outlet. Joe went out to take care of the horses, and Ben tried to reassure his son.

“But Pa, you better than anyone should know what could happen. This is much too early. So many things could go wrong. And we don’t know what is happening with Midge either.”

“It’s less than a half day’s ride. I’ll send Joe tomorrow.”

A baby’s weak cry cut off all conversation, and for Adam, stopped his breathing as he waited for another sound. Soon there was more crying and at a greater volume and Adam visibly relaxed just as Joe re-entered the house and asked what was up.

“You’re an uncle again. Let’s see, it’s twelve fifteen. Hoss’ baby was born yesterday, and Adam’s today. We’ll have to wait and see about Midge. Joe, could you ride to Swede’s house in the morning and let us know what happened there? They’re not going to want to send a bunch of telegrams. Even the one today was coded. Adam showed me. It just says Midge has started labor on the last part of the project.”

The bedroom door opened, and Paul summoned Adam into the room and then closed the door. That made both Ben and Joe worry a little but they could still hear the cries of the infant.

“Adam, you have a son. He’s small but about five pounds so he’s big enough. Ben had told me that you were born early and were small too. You can see it won’t make a long-term difference. I would like you to limit his contact with others for some time so that he isn’t exposed to any illness. I would like only you, Andi, and Meiling to hold him. Others can look at him but should not touch or get too close. Your family is going to understand this so there should be no problem.”

Adam sat on the side of the bed then looking at Andi who was holding her small son cradled against her chest.

“He will chill easily so always keeping him close to your body like that is what I suggested to Andi and to Meiling. Now take your son and say hello. What will you name him by the way?”

“Adam Marcus Cartwright. We plan to call him AC and not junior.”

Andi carefully extended their son to Adam who picked him up marveling at how small he looked in his hands. He pulled his son to his chest holding him close with both hands.

“Exactly. Now other than the limited contact with others, he should need no special care. His color is good, his lungs are good, and soon we’ll have him suckling. He needs to eat as often as possible of course. Meiling will prepare some cow’s milk if Andi doesn’t have enough right away. Her breasts are heavy and full though and she said she has had some leakage the past few days. That’s colostrum and the baby will suckle that. There should be no problem producing milk for your son and as much as he needs.”

Trailing Meiling out the door, Paul told Andi to try the baby at suckling and that he would be back as soon as he explained to Ben and Joe what he had told them. Adam held their son until Andi had unbuttoned her gown to expose a breast. Then Adam settled his son against Andi’s breast as she encouraged their son to suckle. After some abortive attempts, AC got some and then worked to suck more. He was a bit messy with it and had a little trouble coordinating sucking with swallowing and breathing, but he was eating. When Paul came back he was pleased. He said a premature baby sometimes did have trouble with doing all three things. He suggested that Andi could let him suck and then pull his mouth free so he could swallow and then breathe before placing the nipple in his mouth again. It was time consuming but as Andi tried it, it worked well although she had leakage because of it. Paul said that was all right because she probably had more than his little stomach could take at this point anyway.

Once AC refused to suckle any more, Adam took him as Andi readjusted her gown and buttoned it. Then Paul called out to Ben and Joe to come see the new baby. They stopped in the doorway as Adam tipped the baby toward them even as he held him close. The grin on Adam’s face was the largest he could have. Both Ben and Joe grinned back at him.

Then it was time for all of them to get some rest. Adam offered the guest bedroom to Paul who accepted immediately. Ben and Joe headed home, and Meiling went to her room. Adam sat by Andi’s side and told her to sleep. He said he would keep the AC warm by holding him close. Andi could do the same whenever she awoke which was when Adam would sleep. Adam stood and sat in the rocker holding his son and Andi smiled at them both before closing her eyes and surrendering to exhaustion.

Chapter 16

The next morning, Ben had to wake Joe so he could ride to Swede’s house. He knew how worried Adam and especially Andi was about Midge and her baby and how they were doing. Joe was tired but set out for the ride because he knew how important it was. By late afternoon after some hard riding, Joe was at Adam’s house with news. Midge had delivered a healthy baby girl at about one that morning. As soon as possible, David would have them all at Adam’s house because Midge did not yet have milk to suckle her infant. The sooner they got that little girl in Andi’s care, the better. Adam asked Joe to stay and have dinner, but he was anxious to be on his way.

After a brief stop at Hoss’ house to let him know what had happened, Joe headed to home but didn’t make it. Cochise startled at a wolf that loped across the meadow in front of them. It was not threatening but it was a surprise. Joe was very tired and distracted thinking about all that had happened and ended up flying off his horse when he made that sudden stop toppling Joe into some brambles. His right leg twisted as he fell because his foot got caught in the stirrup. Both his knee and his ankle were wrenched before he was free of the entangling stirrup. He had numerous cuts and small puncture wounds on his face, neck, chest, arms, and hands. Luckily Cochise didn’t run far and he was able to coax him back. Pulling on the stirrup, Joe was able to get upright on his left leg. He used that to jump up as he pulled on the saddle. Once he had his left foot in the stirrup, he almost screamed as he dragged his right leg over the saddle. Leaning over Cochise’s neck, he knew he might pass out if he tried to ride with any speed so he urged the horse into a slow walk. Over an hour later, he thought he was close enough to the house to try to summon help. He pulled his pistol and fired three times. Urging Cochise to keep walking, he had to pull back on the reins as the horse heard his stable mate’s neigh. Joe’s wasn’t aware of much and didn’t know his father had arrived until he felt arms pulling him out of the saddle. Later he would have no memory of how he got home, cleaned up, and into his own bed. By the time the doctor arrived, he had been dosed with laudanum. After cleaning every small cut and wound, and binding Joe’s knee and ankle, the doctor was able to tell a very worried Ben that there wasn’t any great cause for concern.

“He’s going to look terrible for some time. He has numerous tiny cuts and puncture wounds. There will be some swelling, some bruising, and some redness. He’ll be a fright to look at for the next few days especially, but every one of the injuries is superficial. Even tiny wounds on the face and hands tend to bleed so much they look much worse than they are. Hop Sing will keep them all clean and he has salve to apply.”

“What about his leg?”

“He wrenched some muscles, but again, there’s no serious injury. He’ll be up and around although a bit stiff within the week if he lets the muscles rest so they have a chance to heal.”

When Joe awakened, he was very uncomfortable of course. He asked his father to send a message to Tricia that he would not be able to take her to the dance on Saturday. Then Ben gave Joe more laudanum and he went back to sleep. Ben had one of the hands let Adam and Hoss know what had happened, and both came to visit to check on their little brother who was quite groggy when they were there. Ben shared with them the note Tricia had sent saying that if Joe was going to stand her up on such short notice, they were through, and she would go to the dance with someone else. Adam couldn’t help but grin at his father’s expression.

“I know, I know. I never thought she was the right one for Joe so at least one good thing came out of all of this. What about Midge and the baby?”

“We’re expecting them tomorrow. They’ll stay just one day and then take Midge back to Swede’s house. Annie has been teaching her to cook, and if she learns enough, they may set her up in a restaurant or as their cook so Annie can relax more. She’s gotten along very well there, and this might be what she needs.”

“Hey, brother, what about her baby?”

“Healthy and dark like her mama. We’ve picked out Elizabeth Inger as her name. Patricia Jane never liked her name and asked us not to use it, so I used the names of my two mothers.”

Hoss had tears in his eyes at that. His ma who had loved Adam too was a bond between the two brothers that could never be broken. That Adam had acknowledged that with the baby’s name meant a lot to Hoss.

“Hey, I got the biggest and the oldest grandchild then!”

“Yeah, but I got two grandchildren for Pa.”

“So only Joe’s left out. Sure hope he finds someone. Hey, Pa, do you think Joe and Liz might ever get back together. I shur liked that gal.”

There was a knock at the door, and when Ben answered it, all three men were surprised. Liz had arrived and was carrying a valise.

“I heard what happened and with all the babies too, I thought perhaps you could use some help. I came prepared to stay if you want me to. My mama said she would stay to help too if you would like another set of hands.”

Behind Liz, the men saw Liz’s mother who was an older version of Liz but had her long blonde hair secured in a braid.

“This is my mother, Mariah.”

Ben almost stammered his hello, and Hoss elbowed Adam who grinned back at him. Once all the introductions were made, Adam and Hoss headed back to their homes. Ben showed the ladies up to Joe’s room warning them about his appearance first. Joe was surprised but very happy to see Liz who managed not to show her shock at how Joe looked. Mariah and Ben returned downstairs to let Liz and Joe talk.

“I know I’m awful to look at. I got one look in a mirror and scared myself.”

“That doesn’t matter, Joe, I’m just glad you’re going to be all right.”

“A beautiful woman like you should be with a handsome man who can take you to the dance instead of sitting with an ugly invalid like me on a Saturday night.”

“Oh, Joe, you still don’t get it, do you? I’m sitting with my good friend and it doesn’t matter how you look. Heck if it was looks that mattered most, I would have gone after Adam.”

“What?”

“Well usually I like the tall, dark handsome men like him. But he’s so serious and smart, it just wouldn’t have worked. I like having fun, challenges, and taking some chances. He would have been mad at me all the time.”

“Well I was a little upset with you too when you were jumping those rock piles blind. Not only you but that beautiful horse could have been seriously hurt.”

“Oh, Joe, I was out there earlier and we knew exactly what we were doing. I just said those things because I was showing off for you and trying to get a rise out of you.”

Leaning back against the pillows propped against the headboard of his bed, Joe was looking at Liz and thinking. He was already in a better mood just because she was here. He never felt that way around Tricia. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to stay and keep talking with him. He remembered what Hoss and Adam had said about being pretty but there needed to be more. Was this more? He was thinking that he had been waiting for some fireworks show or something like that to tell him which one was the one for him, but maybe the message came more quietly. Liz watched him until she had to know.

“What’s wrong? Are you in pain? You have such a frown and you aren’t saying anything.”

“Do you think we could try again? To be a couple, I mean.”

Liz walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, leaned forward, and kissed him gently. It was a great way to answer his question. Tricia would have looked at him and been grossed out. Liz saw her friend Joe and not the swelling and discoloration.

Downstairs, Ben and Mariah were getting to know one another. Her husband had died the year before. She had sold their substantial estate and was hoping to find a small quiet ranch where she could raise horses. She didn’t need the money but would get bored with nothing to do. Ben was also impressed that she would come with Liz to help out when she had not even met them yet. It was very generous and kind-hearted. It didn’t hurt either that she was quite attractive. She was only six years older than Adam, but she didn’t seem to think that age mattered much based on the conversation they were having. Ben offered to put their horses in the stable, and Mariah suggested they do it together.

Before going outside, Ben told Hop Sing they would have two guests for a while. Mariah apologized to him for giving him no warning, and said she would like to help out in any way she could. Hop Sing smiled at her for considering his feelings. He decided he liked this woman and assumed his boss did too by the look he was giving her.

At about six, Hop Sing served dinner to Ben and Mariah at the dining table and to Liz and Joe in his bedroom. Joe wasn’t ready to navigate stairs yet and needed to stay in bed to rest. After dinner, Ben brought the ladies’ valises upstairs and showed each one which bedroom to use. Hop Sing brought up pitchers of water and towels for them to use.

The next morning, there was a vase of wildflowers on the dining table, and another in Joe’s room. Liz and Mariah had gotten up early and gone for a walk collecting wildflowers on the return walk. There was a woman’s touch and women’s laughter in the house again, and Ben liked that very much. He liked Mariah very much too, and told her that exact thing in the evening as they walked into the garden and sat on the bench. He leaned forward to kiss her and she leaned to him to receive his kiss. Ben wrapped his arms around her and relished the feel of a desirable woman in his arms. Mariah loved the feel of those strong arms around her holding her close. They sat and talked and kissed until it started to become chilly. Inside they went to their bedrooms as it was already late. As Ben undressed for bed, there was a knock on his door. He hastily donned his robe and tied the sash. When he opened the door, Mariah stood there in her gown and robe.

“May I come in? I’d like to talk.”

Chapter 17

In the morning, Mariah apologized to Ben for visiting him in his bedroom the night before saying she had been too forward considering she had just met him. Ben assured her there was no problem and that sometimes lonely people needed the reassurance of another. He told her not to worry about it because he felt there had been nothing improper on her part and that he had enjoyed her visit. She smiled sheepishly then, and he smiled.

Over the next week, Liz spent much of her time helping to care for Joe and making sure he wasn’t bored. An apt pupil, she learned from Hop Sing how to clean each small wound and then apply healing and soothing salves. She learned too to watch for signs of infection no matter how small so it could be dealt with immediately. In the process, she developed a knack for knowing when Joe was suffering silently and then doing what Hop Sing had told her to do. She unwrapped, and bathed, and then re-wrapped his ankle and knee each day after tenderly massaging the muscles to aid their healing.

Meanwhile, Mariah helped Hop Sing by gathering eggs, milking goats, and feeding both sets. She said it was all fun thoroughly amazing the long-time cook who had always looked at these tasks as necessary but never fun. When not helping out, Mariah went riding with Ben. On the first full day they went to see Hoss’ and his new son. Eric was a big baby but adorable with blue eyes and blond curls. Mariah said she hoped she could have a beautiful grandchild like that someday.

On the second day, Ben and Mariah rode to Adam’s house where they found a lot more turmoil than they had when visiting Hoss. Both babies were being nursed by Andi, but although they looked like twins, they were on entirely different schedules it seemed. Ben got his first look at his granddaughter who looked so much like Andi, most people would assume she was the birth mother. He knew instinctively that it would reduce the teasing she might get for being an adopted child. Adam said they would tell her as soon as she could understand that Midge was her birth mother and that they had adopted her. He was opposed to any kind of secrets within a family and Andi agreed with him. However they didn’t think they needed to share the information with anyone else. They would let Beth decide, when she was older, to whom she would tell her story.

AC was growing already it seemed. “He wants to nurse almost twice as often as Beth. Both are suckling well and I was worried about that. Now if they would let me sleep more than about two to three hours at a time, I would even be happier.”

“Pa, it may be a day or two more before I can get back to work. I want to make sure everything is all right here first.”

“Not a problem, son. You wouldn’t be able to work well anyway if you were worried about your family constantly. Mariah has been helping me as well as Hop Sing, and Hoss said he would be back to work tomorrow. This has been a momentous week for me, and I just want you to take good care of my grandchildren for me.”

Andi went to the bedroom with AC who wanted to nurse. Mariah carried Beth in after getting her from her grandfather’s arms. Andi kept AC with her and Mariah settled Beth in her other arm when she was ready. When Beth finished nursing, Mariah put her in a cradle as Andi put AC in the other.

“How’s your sister doing? This must have been very difficult for her.”

“Yes, she cried a lot while she was here. She told us not to worry though. She said it hurt so much to say goodbye to her baby, but it was a relief too. She said Beth would have reminded her of what had happened to her, and she also knew she wasn’t ready to care for her the way she needed. Placing her baby with us helped too because she can still see her grow, and Beth will know that Midge is not just her aunt but is also her birth mother. Adam and I agree on that completely. Beth will have a brother to grow with, play with, and lean on as needed. Adam said he missed that in his family and wished he had that when he was a boy. I’m sorry but I do tend to talk a lot when I’m nervous like when I’m meeting new people. At least I can’t fall down on someone or trip someone lying on the bed like this. Otherwise Adam would be hovering around trying to prevent a disaster in the making.”

Mariah had to cut in before Andi could catch her breath and keep going.

“Ben told me how the two of you met. That is an endearing tale your children will love to hear when they’re older.”

“You and Ben seem to be getting along very well.”

Later, Andi would get to tell Adam that Mariah appeared to blush at that statement before she got around to answering it.

“Liz and I are just helping out. The Cartwrights are a generous family and someone ought to help them when they need it too.”

“Uh-huh. And the men are quite attractive too.”

At that point, Andi was sure that Mariah was blushing.

“Well, you should take advantage of both of your babies being asleep and get some rest. I hope I can visit again soon.”

Closing the bedroom door behind her, Mariah returned to Ben and Adam to tell them that mother and babies were sleeping. After seeing how beautiful Andi was and taking a good look at Adam who was such a handsome man, Mariah thought these babies were going to be gorgeous as adults. She said that later to Ben whose chest swelled with pride at that thought.

After a week, Liz and Mariah prepared to return to their rented home. Joe finally had come to realize that his feelings for Liz were love, and he knew how much he would miss her now. Ben tried to deny it but he too had to admit that he was in love with Mariah after only that one week. He asked if he could call on her and she kissed him and said he better do that. So Ben wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with passion just as Joe and Liz walked outside. Neither of them was surprised but Joe couldn’t wait to tell his brothers. Ben knew that he would and did not relish the response he absolutely knew he would get from his oldest sons. It didn’t take long. As soon as Adam and Hoss and their families arrived for Sunday dinner, Adam started.

“Pa, now are you sure it’s love? Sometimes a lonely man can think it’s love when it really is just a chance not to be alone any more.”

“Oh, Adam, ya gotta let me do the next part. It’s only been a week. Do you think that two people can truly fall in love in just a week? Perhaps you should see each other longer before declaring your love and making this commitment.”

Giggling almost uncontrollably, Joe was waiting for more of his brothers’ comments. He knew they were using Ben’s own words and mimicking his voice repeating what he had said to them just less than a year earlier. Adam continued as Ben began to glower.

“She is a beautiful woman, but what do you really know about her? The two of you hardly know each other at all.”

As Liz and Mariah walked up to them, the teasing stopped but not the laughter. Andi explained what had happened and Liz and Mariah were soon smiling about it too. Dinner was a happy time for all although Andi had to excuse herself during dessert because AC was hungry again. Beth was content resting in Adam’s arm as Eric rested in Hoss’. Ben marveled at how well his sons had adapted to being fathers. He guessed that as men older than the usual for marriage and fatherhood had given them more life experiences on which to draw.

For the next several months, this scenario played out nearly every week. Adam and Hoss brought their families to Sunday dinner, and Mariah and Liz were always included. At least twice a week, Joe and Ben would meet their ladies in town for dinner. Each couple took long rides, had picnics, and attended church and social activities together including dances. Word in town was that the last two Cartwrights were spoken for. Tricia had tried approaching Joe to reconcile but he was still angry that she dumped him because he was injured and told her to stay away from him but didn’t say it that politely.

After several months, Joe made it official by asking Mariah if he could court her daughter. He had come to realize that at twenty-three, he didn’t have to hurry. He and Liz would get to know one another well and make plans before they married, and he had every intention of marrying her eventually. He thanked his brothers for confronting him and getting him to think about love and relationships. Once he experienced it and understood what love was, he wondered why he hadn’t understood it from the start. Joe started teasing their father that also was a great source of amusement for his brothers.

“Hey, Pa, if I marry Liz, will you be my father-in-law if you marry Mariah? Cause I’ve heard some terrible stories about how a father-in-law can act and how difficult they can be.”

Both Hoss and Adam were chuckling as they worked and waited for their father’s comment. It took a long time and wasn’t at all what they expected to hear.

Chapter 18

When the response came from Ben, it wasn’t with the bellow the sons expected. Instead it was in a gravelly voice harsh with barely controlled anger. Obviously the topic had upset their father far more than they had thought.

“Mariah and I will not be marrying. She doesn’t want to give up her freedom and is afraid if she marries me that I will dominate her too much. She wants to keep our relationship as it is, and at this point, I’m considering it. Now, I would appreciate it if you could let the two of us work out our relationship without all the commentary and definitely no suggestions. I think I’ve heard enough.”

With that said and before any apologies could be made, Ben stalked to his horse and rode off. Adam tipped his head to the side and scratched his ear as Hoss and Joe just stared after their departing father.

“Do ya suppose one of us oughta go talk with him?”

Hoss said it but both he and Joe were looking at Adam who shook his head.

“Maybe, but not now. He just asked us not to do that.”

Joe’s “but, Adam” got Adam to agree he would try to talk with his father soon. He wasn’t at all sure what he would say, but his father at least deserved some support in what was apparently a difficult time. At lunchtime, Adam put up with his brothers’ silence as long as he could.

“All right, I’ll go see how he is. But if he doesn’t want to talk, I’m not forcing it. He has as much right as the rest of us to keep his love life private.”

Both of his brothers snickered at that. The way Andi talked, Lisha and Liz had both let them know a bit about Adam’s love life, and it was actually quite impressive but hardly private. Adam shook his head again. He knew that when Andi was nervous, she started talking and sometimes things were said unintentionally. She always felt badly about it and would apologize to him profusely because she knew how much he valued his privacy. He always forgave her immediately too because he loved her more than anything in the world and knew she didn’t have a mean or malicious intent ever. At the moment, he was also hoping fervently that Mariah had never been part of those conversations but he knew she probably had.

“You know this could all be an intricate plot by Pa and me to get the two of you to do some real work without us around to push you.”

Wheeling Sport around, Adam rode off leaving Hoss and Joe to wonder. They looked at each other and said “No’ but it was decidedly without assurance. They did know just how sneaky their Pa and Adam could be.

“But Adam would never tell us if he was pulling one over on us, would he, Hoss?”

“No.” But Hoss stood in thought. “But what if that’s part of the plan so we think it ain’t part of a plan?”

“Dang, that older brother of ours is still the dang sneakiest man we know.”

The subject of their conversation rode slowly to the ranch house unsure of how to approach their father on this one. He was obviously upset, and had said no commentary and no suggestions. There wasn’t much left. By the time he reached the ranch house and saw Buck outside, he had a plan but still wasn’t too sure it was right to approach his father so soon. He walked through the kitchen and asked Hop Sing if Ben had gotten a cup of coffee. He had not, so Adam asked for a tray because Hop Sing always had coffee brewing. Several minutes later, he walked over to the desk and set a cup of coffee and a sandwich next to his father.

“Well, I knew it would be you. Your brothers are a lot easier to scare off. You have never had the good sense to leave me alone when I’m like this.”

“Just here to let you know we care. You can talk if you want, or we can just have coffee together.”

Drinking his coffee and eating the sandwich, Ben watched Adam who acted as if he was lost in his own thoughts. ‘Boy would have made a good lawyer’ was Ben’s thought. He didn’t let much show unless he wanted it to. It was too bad that his wife was so talkative. Mariah had told him stories he knew would embarrass Adam if he knew. The slight crook of his lip though gave it away. Adam didn’t miss much either. He saw the hint of a grin and correctly surmised that Andi had talked with Mariah present.

“So, you know some of my secrets, it seems. Want to let me in a little on yours?”

“Oh, I was just wondering when I could expect the next grandchild.”

Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, Adam propped his chin on his fists. It was a pose that always showed a deep sadness in his eldest son.

“There may not be any more children for us. Paul told us that there is a high probability of miscarriages for Andi. We were lucky to beat the odds with AC. She’s having a tough time accepting that so please don’t tell anyone including Mariah.”

“Of course not. But if you need to talk, I’m here.”

Adam looked at his father intently, and whether by design or not, he had gotten Ben to the point where he was ready to talk. Ben leaned back which was a sign he would talk but didn’t want an interruption.

“Mariah loves me. She has told me that and I have no reason to doubt her. I love her. But my personality frightens her a bit it seems. She says I am so forceful, she is a little afraid of me sometimes. She worries that if we marry, I’ll make all the decisions and she will lose any independence she has. The Hawkins ranch is for sale, and she would like to buy it to raise horses. It’s too big for that, so she would let us use the rest of it for cattle. It’s only about a thirty-minute ride from here in good weather. That’s how she wants our relationship to be. Living separately but still being a couple, and I have no idea how long she intends it to be that way. She doesn’t see that far ahead herself. I don’t know if I want to do that indefinitely.”

With the end of his soliloquy, it was clear that Ben was now open to Adam’s thoughts. But Adam waited a bit before saying anything. He knew he had to do this well or risk angering his father and shutting down the conversation.

“You love her, and there’s no one else in the picture. Would you be able to agree to this for a trial period?”

“Well, what if I don’t like the idea at all? What if I don’t accept the reasons she has given me for doing this? Why can’t she trust me when I tell her she would have as much say if we are married as she does now?”

Recognizing the anger and the hurt in his father, Adam decided to be blunt.

“You’re a strong and powerful man, Pa. You can be quite intimidating to some people.”

“Well, I never was to you. For that matter, you can be quite intimidating yourself, and yet Andi agreed to marry you after knowing you only a short time.”

“Andi is a lot younger, and she had not been married before. She had never been on her own. To her, marriage was a lot of theory. Mariah has been through marriage and the death of her husband. She has been on her own now for over a year and apparently enjoys that. She has a dream now that she would like to pursue. Giving in to her on this point at least for a time could let her know that you do trust her and accept that she can make decisions. Love is built on trust, and letting her do it her way for now might help her trust you.”

“How did you get all this wisdom about relationships and marriage?”

“I had great teachers.”

“Teachers?”

“You and the Lord. I have called upon each of you for help many times. You have always been there for me.”

“Thank you, Adam. Now I think I have a ride to town I need to make. Could you finish up these ledgers while I’m gone?”

Ben laughed at the groan he got.

“You should have known there would be a price to pay for being the one getting out of the brush removal and fence repair. Oh, and one bit of advice. Watch out for flying elbows when in bed.”

Ben laughed heartily as he left the house. That story that Mariah had told him about how Adam had gotten that shiner a few weeks earlier had been hilarious. Later that afternoon, as Hoss and Joe walked to the house to see how things were going, it was clear that they had heard that story too. Through the window above the desk, Adam could hear Joe quite clearly.

“Yeah, that’s the gist of the story. You knocked on the door that afternoon, and Andi sat up fast in bed just as Adam sat up, and she clocked him in the eye with her elbow.”

Once inside, Adam glowered at them and Joe noticed the open window.

“Sorry, Adam, but that is a funny story.”

“I would appreciate it if my private life wasn’t discussed especially where others could overhear.”

Now Joe really was sorry. He had been talking with Hoss and hadn’t thought about the hands or even that Hop Sing might hear. He hung his head because he really was sorry. Adam shook his head. Some things just never changed.

“Pa went to talk with Mariah. I think they’ll work it out. But no talk about it unless Pa wants to talk.”

Chapter 19

Over five years later, Ben kissed his wife Mariah and headed out to hitch up the carriage. They were going to town to see their oldest grandchildren start their first day of school. The years had been good to them. Everyone was healthy, and Hoss and Joe had added more grandchildren. Hoss and Lisha had two little girls who were blue-eyed with blonde curls and were likely to break some young men’s hearts someday. Joe and Liz had two little hellions who gave endless amusement to his father and brothers who could never resist comparing the little rascals to Joe as a toddler. They were impulsive, fast, and decidedly unwilling to listen to rules and instructions. They were however as cute as could be and no one including their parents could ever be angry with them for long, although almost on a daily basis they had Hop Sing threatening to quit and go back to China.

At the dining table, Joe and Liz tried to get their little boy and little girl to sit and finish their breakfasts, but all they wanted to do was clamor to go with Grandpa and Grandma in the carriage. It wasn’t going to happen, but they refused to give up and likely wouldn’t until Ben and Mariah were gone from the yard. Knowing that, Mariah finished her breakfast quickly and grabbed her hat and shawl. Once she was out of the house, Joe and Liz would likely be able to settle the two youngsters down.

At Hoss’ house, there was a similar scene. His two daughters wanted to accompany them to town, but Hoss and Lisha wanted this day to be special just for Eric. With his blond hair and blue eyes, Eric resembled his father a great deal. He was strong young boy and although big for his age, he wasn’t as broad as his father or as large as Hoss had been at that age. Hoss had confided in Adam how grateful he was for that, as his son would not have to endure the teasing that he had while in school. Adam still felt badly that he had been unable to stop that. He had intimidated a number of the boys into withholding their nasty barbs but knew that Hoss had still suffered at the hands of some of those bullies. Lisha had taught Eric to read, and he would be on a par with AC and Beth in that regard.

At Adam’s house, AC and Beth were getting final instructions from their parents. AC was told to do his best and try to listen to the teacher even if he already knew what was being taught. The teacher would learn that and give him more advanced work as he realized the gift for mathematics that the boy had. Like AC, Beth was very smart, but her talents were more in the range of music and drawing. Both AC and Beth could read and were taking a book with them to school in case there was a time for reading built into the school day. AC was as tall as Eric but dark in color and slender. He would likely resemble his father a great deal as he grew older. Ben already said he looked like Adam did at that age. Beth also resembled her parents even though she was adopted. She had similar dark coloring, dark hair, and green eyes. Of course, because her birth mother was her mother’s sister, that was understandable: Midge and Andi looked enough alike that anyone could tell they were sisters and some might even think that they were twins if they didn’t know of the six year age gap. Beth was advised to hold her tongue and only speak when it was permitted. Adam told her to make sure she gave the other students a chance to answer questions before she jumped in. Everyone referred to the two children as the ‘twins’ even though they were born to different mothers in different cities it had been on the same day. Their parents told them they did not need to explain that to anyone unless they wanted to.

When Adam and Andi arrived at the school with their children, the others were already there waiting. Andi was going to climb down on her own but Adam grabbed her elbow. She knew exactly why he did that and waited until he got to her side of the carriage to help her down. Once she was firmly on the ground with no chance of falling or tripping someone, he let her go. AC and Beth had climbed out and were already over talking with their grandparents. Ben children a small leather satchel with their name engraved in the leather with the Ponderosa brand on each side. Each satchel was large enough to hold their books, papers, and their lunches. All three children were smiling and expressed their thanks. Beth hugged them both handed each of the, but when Eric reached out his hand to shake Ben’s, that is what AC did too. All the adults had to smile. Their little boys were growing up. With final instructions from their parents, the three walked to the school together. The two boys were talking and Beth was skipping between them.

Once the three youngsters disappeared into the schoolhouse, Lisha, Hoss, and Andi turned away to wipe tears from their eyes. Adam was grinning. Hoss had to ask.

“How can you be so happy when the rest of us are feeling a bit sad?”

“I get to go home where there are no children in the house.”

Hoss looked perplexed for a moment and then rolled his eyes. Adam might not have any more children but he sure didn’t seem to mind trying. He would have said that to him but not in front of Mariah. It was funny because even though she was only twelve years older than him, she still felt like his mother now, and he frequently found himself holding back what he was going to say in deference to her. Adam thought it was funny but touching that Hoss could feel that way. Adam and Mariah were more like good friends than anything with only a six-year gap in their ages. However, Joe was married to Mariah’s daughter and was young enough to be her son. Joe had to be on his best behavior around Mariah because she wasn’t afraid to let him know what she thought. They lived in the same house too so she had plenty of opportunity. Joe thought on occasion about getting his own place like Adam and Hoss, but then he thought what it would be like to take care of Maria and Marc without some help, and then he decided he was living in the right place.

Mariah had the last word before they left.

“Next year, Maria and Inger will start school, and the year after that it will be Marc and Rebecca. We’ll have seven grandchildren in school. Won’t that be wonderful?”

Everyone broke out in laughter at the look of relief on Ben’s face. He would get some precious quiet time without Joe’s children. He had to grin sheepishly that his inner thoughts had been so transparent. Hoss and Adam slapped him on the shoulders and then climbed into their carriages to head home. Life was good.

Children of the Dance

Chapter 1

“You’re adopted. It’s MY papa and MY mama.!” AC smirked.

“They had to take you. They wanted me!” Beth replied with her chin raised in defiance.

It was an exchange that had happened before, but each time when Beth and AC had taunted each other with this argument it had always occurred well outside the range of the superlative hearing of both of their parents. This time, Andi was on her way to the stable to remind the children that they were having dinner at grandpa’s home that evening and to be careful not to get dirty. Too overcome with emotion to say much, Andi entered the stable and ordered the children to the house and to their bedrooms until their father got home. She hated that she would dump this in Adam’s lap but worried that she couldn’t handle the situation. She sat on a bench and cried, and on the bench was where Adam found her when he arrived home nearly an hour later. No longer crying, Andi nevertheless was still distraught and her red and puffy eyes told that tale better than any words. Adam hurried to his wife’s side, sat down, and pulled her into an embrace.

“Tell me what happened.”

“We’ve tried so hard to have AC and Beth be brother and sister, but what I heard today makes me think we’ve failed.” Andi told Adam what she had overheard. From his reaction, she knew he was as upset as she was. Adam took a deep breath and said he would talk with each of them.

Once in the house, Adam paused and breathed deeply to calm himself and reminded himself that his children were only six years old. He did not want them to have to grow up too fast for he was well aware of the consequences of that. Once he believed he had a good plan to deal with the situation, he walked to AC’s bedroom first and knocked. Hearing a muffled ‘Yes’, he entered the room to find that his son was facedown on the bed. He sat up when Adam sat on the bed beside him.

“Mama overheard something that upset her very much. Would you please tell me about it?”

“It really was nothing. Beth and I say that to each other a lot, well not a lot, but we say it when we’re mad. Some kids at school said things like that to us, and I guess we picked it up that way.”

“What did you say to her?”

“You already know. Mama told you.”

“Yes, but I want you to say it here so we can talk about it.”

“I told her that she was adopted and you were my papa and mama is my mama.”

“So, you were telling her that we aren’t really her parents but just yours?”

AC hung his head in shame.

“How does it sound when I say it like that when you’re not angry at Beth? You said you have said it before and more than once so why haven’t we ever heard it before?”

AC started to cry softly.

“I said it to be mean. I wanted to hurt her because she made me angry. I never said it in front of you or mama because I knew it was wrong to do. But she said mean things to me too!”

“What do you gain from hurting your sister?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“When I was much younger, Joe used to say mean things to me when he was angry.”

AC snickered. “He still does.”

“No, he calls me Yankee granite head, and stubborn mule and things like that. Those things don’t hurt. No he used to say things that hurt me. He said he hated me. He said that he wished I had never come back from college, or he would say that I ought to leave because the family would be better off without me. Those hurt.”

AC reached up a hand to touch his father’s cheek. “Uncle Joe really said those things to you?”

“Yes, those and a few more. He would say them when he was mad. He was upset so he wanted to hurt me. Usually it was because I criticized him or told him to do something. He resented that a lot, and I wasn’t very good at working with him, I guess. All these years later, the hurt is still there a bit. And what did he gain by saying those things? Did it make him feel better? Or did he feel bad about it later?”

“What kind of things did you and Uncle Joe have those arguments about?”

“AC, I can’t really remember any of them. I remember the hurtful words but not why they were spoken. They are sad memories I cannot seem to forget.”

“So if I’m mad at Beth, I should just talk about what made me mad, because we’ll forget all about that someday. But I should not say mean things because she might never forgive me?”

“Oh, she’ll forgive you because she’s your sister. I forgave Joe every time. It’s the forgetting that’s hard to do.”

AC nodded in response impressing Adam with how quickly he had understood and accepted the concept of the golden rule. Looking at his father with tears in his eyes, AC had one more thing to say.

“I’m really sorry I said mean things to Beth. I should go apologize to her, and promise I will never say mean things to her because she’s my sister.”

“What about your mother?”

“Papa, I’ll tell her I’m sorry too. And Papa, I’m sorry I said those things. Please forgive me?”

“I forgive you. Now you need to go see your sister and your mama. I’ll be talking with Beth as soon as you’re finished with your apology.”

Later, when Beth walked into the stable ahead of her father, she broke into tears when she saw AC sitting with their mother. AC jumped up to run to her and take her by the hand, leading her forward to where Andi waited. He held her hand as she apologized to him and then to their mother with tears streaming down her face. Her voice was barely audible as she choked back her sobs. Soon all three were in a big hug.

“Hey, don’t I get to be part of this?”

AC and Beth jumped up from the bench to give their father a hug. Andi walked up to the three of them with tears still falling. She grabbed Adam’s face between her hands and kissed him making both of their children turn away.

“It’s just a kiss. Now you two could kiss your father too. What he had to do wasn’t easy for him to do.”

As Adam knelt down between his children, they sandwiched him in a hug and each kissed a cheek. Adam told them then to hurry to the house to change so they wouldn’t be late to Grandpa’s house. As they arrived there later for dinner, it was still obvious that Andi had been crying. When Ben noticed and looked at Adam, he told them there had been an issue with the children but it had been resolved.

Dinner with the daughters-in-law and seven children had to be buffet style. The children sat on the steps leaving room on the opposite side for others to walk up or down. The dining table was loaded with food and the adults filled plates for the youngsters and then filled plates for themselves. Hop Sing was really in his glory every Sunday evening with fifteen Cartwrights to feed. There was always some leftovers but the older sons were more than happy to take those home with them. Ben could swear that Hop Sing made too much just so that Adam and Hoss would have leftovers to take with them.

After dinner, Joe offered to show a new colt to AC, Beth, and Eric, but Beth and AC said they would rather go to the stable with Hoss who had offered to show them kittens he had seen when he arrived. Ben saw Adam drop his head down and put his fingers to the bridge of his nose signaling to anyone who knew him well that he knew what the problem was and was worried about it. After the three oldest left with Hoss, the younger children asked if Joe would show them the colt. Joe agreed to do that and smiled for the children but sent a frown toward Adam who wasn’t even looking at him.

When Joe and the children had exited, Ben had to ask, and Adam filled him in on the whole conversation. Andi sat by Adam, and Lisha, Liz, and Mariah listened in.

“I thought it was settled. I never meant for them to be angry with Joe. I’ll talk with them again and straighten that out.”

As it turned out, Adam didn’t have to do that. Hoss asked AC and Beth why they had come with him when Joe had invited them to see the colt, and they told him the whole story. Unlike Adam, his children were not reticent at all and were quite willing to tell their Uncle Hoss the story. When Joe brought the other children to the stable to see the kittens, Hoss pulled him aside as all seven children were engaged with the four black kittens. Hoss repeated what he had been told.

“Why did Adam have to bring this up after all these years?”

“Joe, he was just trying to teach his children a lesson. It was a good one too, but those children love him dearly and now they have a little grudge against you. I think it would help a lot ifn you was to apologize to them for those things you said to their daddy.”

“They weren’t even around then, and I was a lot younger.”

“Yeah, and I told you then that those things you said hurt our older brother a lot, and you told me every time that it never bothered him cause he was cold as ice inside. You know better now. So it’s time to make it right and let it go.”

“He didn’t tell them that I used to say he didn’t have a heart and was cold as ice inside with no feelings.”

“That should tell you something right there.”

“Well he used to make me so mad.”

“Yup, and then you’d try to hurt him. And it worked too, didn’t it? What would Pa have done if he had ever heard those things you said to Adam?”

“Pa would have blistered my behind as well as my ears, wouldn’t he?”

Thinking about Hoss’ words for just a moment, Joe walked over to the children and asked if he could speak to AC and Beth. Hoss watched them as they talked quietly, and then he grinned as he saw the three hug. With big smiles, AC and Beth rejoined the children then. As the whole group moved toward the house later, Adam was leaning on the corral fence and asked to speak to Joe.

“It’s all taken care of, older brother. AC, Beth, and I talked. And if I didn’t say it enough, I am sorry for all those mean things I said to you when I was younger. I’ll be sure to teach my children not to do that to anyone. I love you, and I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

Adam was speechless which was something Joe had seldom accomplished in his life. He had to rub that in a little which got both of them laughing. They entered the house that way and with arms around each other’s shoulders which made everyone inside relax. There had been a lot of lessons learned by the Cartwrights that day, and it made them even stronger as a family.

Chapter 2

“But I want to go too. I want to hunt with you, Papa!”

“Beth, only men and their sons are going hunting. You will stay home with your mother. All the girls are staying home with their mothers.”

“But the other girls are younger than me. I’m the same age as Eric and AC so why can’t I go if they’re going?”

“There will be no women on the hunt. The only way any girls are going is if the women come along and they’re not coming.”

“Why aren’t they going with you?”

“None of the women in this family can fire a rifle and none of them hunt.”

“If Mama could fire a rifle, then could we go along?”

Hoss started laughing then and Joe could no longer restrain the chuckles. The thought of Andi with a rifle in her hands was so very funny to both of them. If she actually held a rifle, it might be downright scary though.

“Yeah, now, older brother, Joe and I would just love to hear your answer to that one.”

Andi came walking outside of the house and asked what the merriment was about.

“Nothing for you to be concerned with, Andi. Our daughter is not accepting very well that she cannot go along on the hunt with her brother.”

“Well, why can’t she go?” Andi was sincere in her question. She liked to tease Adam but this was not one of those times. Adam bent his head and put his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Now everyone there knew he was upset and trying to think carefully of how to answer the question. For a man reticent at sharing his feelings, he really did need to come up with a new repertoire of body language because every member of his family knew what each gesture or pose meant now.

“Andi, Beth doesn’t know how to use a rifle. I have just started to teach AC and I will be by his side every moment he carries that firearm. I can’t watch out for Beth at the same time.”

“Well, I could go along and watch out for Beth.” Then Andi scowled at her brothers-in-law who started laughing uproariously. She wasn’t sure what was so funny but knew it was about her because they started laughing the moment she had said that she could go along.

“Andi, you don’t know how to use a firearm either. We’re going to be up in the northwest part of the Ponderosa. There are wolves, coyotes, bear, and cougar there. If you go, we would all have to stay in the cabin to be safe. There isn’t much point to a hunting trip if we can’t go hunting. Hoss will be with Eric and I will be with AC. There are four bunks in the cabin.” Thinking that he had explained everything he needed to, Adam paused, but he got very nervous as he saw the expression on his wife’s face.

“Well, if you taught me how to shoot, then I could go and be with Beth.”

That caused both hands to go up and Adam massaged his temples with his fingers. He was trying to think of how could he possibly extricate himself from this conversation without making his wife angry.

“Sweetheart, it takes more than one lesson to learn how to shoot. I’ve been teaching AC for months now. He has moved on from target practice to shooting rabbits and squirrels, and you know that he has already bagged a few for our dinner table. Eric has done the same with Hoss teaching him. I cannot teach you to shoot well enough to protect yourself and Beth in just a couple of days.”

“Well, then we should get started so that by the time you take your next hunting trip, Beth and I will be ready.”

Adam nodded. Andi was no longer the sheltered young woman he had married. She had a strong will and determination he admired, and she was an amazing wife and mother. She was his best friend and he needed to accept her decision. Hoss and Joe stopped laughing when they realized Adam was in fact going to teach Andi to shoot. With the issue settled as far as Andi was concerned, she took Beth by the arm and walked into the house with her.

“Adam, now Joe and I was laughing, but you can’t really be serious about giving Andi a rifle. She could really hurt someone.” Hoss loved his sister-in-law but in seven years had seen enough of her clumsiness when she was nervous or upset for him to be very worried about her handling a firearm.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be with her. We’ll start with a shotgun and see what happens.”

“Hey, Adam, you being with her might be why Hoss is worried. If anything happens, can I have that fancy Henry rifle of yours with all the engraving and everything?”

Joe hurried to get away from the horse trough when he saw the look on Adam’s face. His brothers used to toss him in there far too often he thought. Usually it happened when they were perturbed about something he said and remembered that their father had always said they couldn’t discipline him so a dunk was the next best thing. He began to hurry toward his horse as Adam advanced on him.

“Hey, Adam, now you wouldn’t want to do anything like that and maybe hurt yourself just before your hunting trip now would ya?” Joe hastily mounted up and headed for home where he had been going until he had stopped to listen in on the conversation between Adam and Beth. As he rode off, Hoss walked up and slapped Adam on the shoulder.

“Kinda nice we don’t actually have to throw him in there any more. Just making him think we will is good enough.”

Adam laughed then and walked into his house with his big brother.

On Saturday morning, Adam pulled the shotgun out of the locked firearms cabinet in his study, cleaned and oiled it, and checked it over before taking some shells and putting them in his pocket. He walked into the kitchen carrying the firearm and saw Andi’s eyes get very big. He had known that reality was going to be a bit of a shock for her. He handed her the shotgun.

“It’s not loaded. Just lift it and hold it and get used to the weight of it first.”

Holding the gun like it was a broom, Andi did lift it several times.

“Now hold it like you’re cradling a baby. Keep the stock down and the barrel up. That’s it. Now carrying it that way when you’re hunting can keep you from accidentally discharging the weapon into yourself or your companions should you trip or fall.”

“You don’t always have to think that I’m going to trip or fall.” Andi was a little short with him mostly because she was nervous just holding the unloaded weapon.

“Mama, Papa said the same thing to me when he first handed me the rifle to hold. Keep the barrel up and cradle the weapon as you walk.”

Then she was a little embarrassed for being oversensitive.

“I will not be making fun of you with something so serious. There is no joking with a firearm. I will teach you step by step just the way I taught AC, and eventually I will teach Beth too.”

“You will? Oh, Papa thank you so very much.” Beth had a huge grin that her father answered with one of his own.

“Not today, though. One student with a firearm in one day is enough. When I get back from hunting, I will teach you. If your mother learns, then you should too.” Adam had thought a lot about the area where they lived. Andi and Beth were going to stay with Ben and Lisha was going to be there too. Neither he nor Hoss felt comfortable leaving their wives for five days without protection so he had decided it probably was time to teach his wife to shoot at least the shotgun. He thought she might be too nervous for a rifle but knew that a shotgun was a very good defensive weapon. Just its appearance scared people who knew what they could do.

“Let’s go outside behind the stable. AC and Beth can clear the table and wash the dishes.” Adam gave his two children a pointed look, and they got busy. He opened the door and Andi walked out ahead of him. He took her arm and smiled at her. “It will be fine. If it’s too much for you at any point, just tell me, and we can wait until tomorrow to do more. I would like to get you far enough along in the lesson to try some target shooting while we’re gone, but again, if it’s too much too soon, just say something.”

Taking the gun from Andi, Adam opened it and dropped in a shell and then snapped it closed. He opened it again and the shell popped up a little, and he pulled it out. “Be careful to point the barrel at the ground when loading. Never point this weapon in the direction of a person unless you mean to shoot them or at least want them to think you will.” Then he handed the gun to her. “Now see if you can load it.”

Struggling a bit at first with the unfamiliar task, Andi got the gun open and reached for the shell in Adam’s hand. She loaded the weapon and closed it. Adam nodded and then asked her to unload it. She did that more quickly. Then he had her reload it and told her to cradle the loaded weapon. When she had done that, he walked to an old stump and placed a can on it. He walked back and told her to take the gun and put it to her shoulder but to keep her finger off the trigger. He showed her how to set the gun against her shoulder and get her cheek down on the stock to aim. Next he had her position her feet apart so that she could swing the gun from side to side without moving her feet and keeping her balance. Then he said to lean forward just a little to help absorb the recoil of the gun. Once she had done all of those things, she was ready for the last step.

“Sight in on that can on the stump. Take a deep breath and exhale. Hold your breath then and squeeze the trigger. The only thing that moves when you shoot is your trigger finger. Everything else should be still. Now, whenever you’re ready.”

Andi paused. She took several deep breaths and exhaled. Each time, Adam thought she was ready to shoot. When she finally did, he was caught almost by surprise. The other surprise was that she hit the can dead center and there wasn’t much left of it. He looked at her and she was standing very still with her eyes squeezed shut.

“Did I hit it?”

“Didn’t you see it?”

“No, I closed my eyes when I squeezed the trigger.”

Laughing, Adam took the gun from Andi. He touched her cheek and she flinched.

“Next time, hold the gun firmer against your cheek and that won’t happen. It bucked up into you a little because there was some room there. How’s your shoulder?”

“Okay. It’s a little tender too.”

“Same advice. Hold it firmly there too and let your body rock back to absorb the recoil. The best news is you’re a natural shot. You blasted that can on your first try. Good job! Next time perhaps you would consider keeping your eyes open.”

Andi smiled with pride for Adam did not give undeserved praise. He was impressed with her first lesson, and she kissed him then.

“Thank you for trusting me.”

“Enough for today?”

Nodding, Andi reached for the gun to carry it back to the house. In the house, Adam showed her how to clean the shotgun and wipe it down. Then he showed her where the key was to his gun cabinet so she could stow it away safely.

The next day after Sunday services, Adam told Andi to get the gun and three shells. He told Beth she could watch and learn but wouldn’t be using the shotgun. Then he walked outside to wait. Once she had the gun and shells, they walked to the area behind the barn and Adam instructed her to do the things she had learned the day before. After getting Beth in a safe spot to watch, he set up targets for Andi but let her do everything else. She hit all three cans and didn’t have the problem with recoil she had had the day before. After that, they went to the house where she cleaned the gun, wiped it down, and then stowed it away safely.

“When we’re gone, you can practice. Two or three shots a day should be enough. There’s about two dozen shells in there, more than enough for your use in the next five days. Beth can sit behind and watch just like today. I’ll start teaching her to shoot when I return.”

“Could you just give her one lesson today? Just do enough to let her know that this will happen. I won’t let her practice while you’re gone.”

Adam agreed and then went through much of what he did with Andi except he used the small caliber rifle that AC was using. Beth got every part of the lesson except shooting. She was very disappointed in that until AC said that was the same lesson he had gotten. Until he did everything as instructed, their father had not let him shoot so he encouraged Beth to remember each thing Papa had said. That night at dinner, the family was all smiles. It had been a good weekend and the next day Adam and AC would leave to hunt with Hoss and Eric. Beth and Andi were looking forward to the hunting trip that the whole family would take after this one.

Chapter 3

There were a lot more things to do on a hunting trip than just hunt, and that was the first lesson for Eric and AC. After spending hours traveling to the cabin, they had to stow all the gear away in the cabin, get the horses secured in the lean-to in the corral behind the cabin with grass and water, groom the horses, stow the saddles and tack in the cabin behind the door, carry more water from the creek for use in the cabin, and find a good spot and dig a hole for latrine use. When that was all done, it was too late in the day to do any hunting, but Adam and Hoss took them to the creek for some fishing. They caught enough for dinner and had fish with fried potatoes, beans with bacon, and some cornbread that they had packed. After washing the dishes and pots, they sat on the porch of the cabin until dusk descended and the bugs made them go inside. All four slept fairly well and would have slept better except for Hoss’ snoring. In the morning, Hoss got some cross looks from the boys. When the boys went outside to relieve themselves, Hoss wondered aloud.

“What do you suppose that’s about?”

“I have told you for years that you snore like a freight train. You never want to believe me or Joe when we tell you that. Well, ask the boys who had to try to sleep through it last night.”

“Aw heck, you probably put them up to it anyway.”

Shaking his head at Hoss’ denial, Adam put ammunition in his pockets, and a few other necessities for the day and made sure two canteens were full. He was heading down the valley to try for a deer. Hoss would head up the hill and try for a bighorn. They planned to switch locations the second day regardless of how it turned out. Hoss did the same. Once the boys returned, they were instructed on what to bring with them. Hoss and Eric never spotted any game close enough to take a shot but heard rifle fire in the valley and expected to have fresh venison for dinner. It was a small deer that Adam and AC brought back, and from the proud look on AC’s face and the spring in his step, they correctly surmised that he had shot the deer. He had brought the deer down and Adam had finished him off when they got close with a shot to the head.

The boys got their first lessons then in taking care of meat from a hunt. The deer was skinned and cut up. The next day, Adam planned to teach AC how to make jerky and smoke some of the meat for they had too much and the weather was warmer than they had expected. Hoss didn’t mind because it meant he could eat as much as he wanted and no one would complain. All three were amazed at how prodigious his appetite was after climbing around on the rocks all day looking for a bighorn sheep.

The next morning, Hoss and Eric headed to the valley to hunt deer as Adam and AC worked at the cabin. Adam and AC heard shots and assumed the hunt was going well but then there were more shots. Adam grabbed his rifle and told AC to get his. Stuffing ammunition in their pockets, they left the cabin on a run toward where the shots were ringing out. As they got closer, Adam got AC into good cover and then advanced. Once he was close enough, he saw that Hoss and Eric were pinned down with shots coming from two sides and a sheer rock face behind them. He circled around until he could fire at both positions where men were shooting at his brother. Then he picked targets and opened fire. He shot his first target in the shoulder and the man dropped his rifle and retreated. His companion sent some shots toward Adam before he too retreated. Adam fired at the other position then as did Hoss, and the others fled as well.

“Hoss, I’ll cover you as much as I can. Head this way.”

There were no more shots though and Hoss with Eric safely in front of him moved quickly to where Adam was. Then they retreated to where AC was covering them. All four proceeded to the cabin at a fast pace with Adam and Hoss taking turns to stop and give cover to the other three. Once they were at the cabin, Adam directed the boys to start packing up.

“What happened down there?”

“We was just walking as quiet as we could, and we heard voices. We moved that way to see what it was and found rustlers. They had some of our cows and were using a running iron on them to change the brand. As soon as one of them spotted us, they opened fire. I had to get Eric to cover as fast as I could. Figured you’d hear and come help out. Too bad we got the boys with us. Those darn rascals are gonna get away with it.”

“No, they aren’t. I recognized at least two of them. They work over at the Silver Dollar ranch. We’ll head back and I’ll go to town and give the names to Roy so the law can handle it.”

Eric and AC were wide-eyed with worry. Adam walked over to AC and pulled him into a hug telling him they would head home to get them away from danger, and he would be safe in his own bed by nightfall. Eric walked over to Hoss who grabbed his son and hugged him too. Then they hurriedly packed everything else and saddled up the horses for the trip back. Adam took them on a long route away from where the shooting had been and in the opposite direction from where the men had retreated.

Over on the other side of the valley up on the ridge, the rustlers watched them go.

“Wow, they ain’t even gonna make a try for us. We’re free and clear.”

“I don’t think so. Adam was close enough to see us. Jasp and I were in a card game with him just a few weeks ago. He’s likely to remember us, and he knew we had some money to gamble. He’s gonna know where we got that money now. He has to be stopped before he can get to the sheriff.”

“How we gonna do that? Nate is winged, and they got a big head start on us. We can’t follow too close or they’ll see us with this open valley between them and us.”

“We don’t have to follow them. We know where Adam is going. We can head directly there and wait for him. He ain’t never gonna make it to town to blab to the sheriff.”

“What about Nate?”

“We’ll get him patched up and he can wait it out at that cabin they was using. Now let’s get busy.”

Several hours later, Adam and Hoss with the two boys rode into the yard at the Ponderosa surprising Ben and the ladies who were sitting on the porch enjoying the unseasonably warm day.

“What happened? No one is hurt but the boys look like they’re in shock.” Ben was quite concerned and looked over his sons and grandsons very carefully. Adam and Hoss related the whole story, and then Adam said he knew at least two of them and would let Roy know.

“We came right back. We had to get the boys out of danger.” Adam knew that his father would have preferred to deal with the rustlers directly, but that danger to his grandsons would make him understand why he and Hoss had let the rustlers get away.

“Of course, of course. Now everyone can stay here if you want.”

“No, Pa, I think Hoss and I would like to get our families home. We told the boys that they would be safe in their own beds tonight.”

By then, Andi and Lisha had packed up their valises and were ready to leave. Adam and Hoss hitched up the carriages and packed up their belongings. AC rode in the carriage with his mother and Beth and Adam led the extra horse as they rode out of the yard. Hoss tied his horse and Eric’s to the back of the carriage and the three of them left too. Joe had come up from the horse breaking corrals and Ben and Mariah filled him in on what had happened. Liz had taken their two youngsters inside when she realized how serious the situation was that was being described.

Once Adam and his family were home, they unpacked the carriage at the house Then he sent the children inside with Andi as he took care of the horses. He finished and saddled his extra mount for a ride into town. As he exited the stable, there was a shot that hit him in the leg as he mounted up. He quickly slid over the horse and using it as a shield, headed for the stable for cover. Inside the house, Andi and the children rushed to the window to see what had happened and saw three riders brandishing rifles descending from the hill and saw Adam limping behind his horse into the stable. Andi knew his rifle was already in the house so all he had was a pistol against those three men.

Quickly giving instructions to her children, Andi ran to the gun cabinet to get the shotgun. She dropped a handful of shells in her pocket and put two in the shotgun. Two was all she was likely to use but she knew Adam would want her prepared so she took the extras. Once she was outside, the three men approached the stable. She came up behind them.

“Drop those rifles or you’ll get a load of buckshot.”

The three men turned around and smirked. They didn’t raise their weapons toward her but they didn’t drop them either.

“It’s just his wife. I bet that thing isn’t even loaded.”

“I have backup. Look at the upstairs windows of the house.”

Looking up, the men saw two windows with rifle barrels poking out.

“It’s just his brats. They’re little. Don’t have to worry about two brats who can’t shoot.”

The man who had done most of the speaking wore a hat nearly as large as the one Hoss wore. Just as he finished speaking, there was a shot from the house and his hat hit the ground. The next shot was at his feet.

In a boy’s voice they heard the threat. “Next one is in your head. My Papa taught me how to do the kill shot.”

Getting nervous, the two behind the loudmouth dropped their rifles just as there was another voice behind them.

“And if he doesn’t, I’m here, and she’s a pretty good shot with that scattergun. Heck she wouldn’t have to be at that range anyway. She’s so close, a bad shot’s going to blow you half away.”

The man dropped his rifle too. Instead of one wounded man, they had ridden up on a hornet’s nest. It was better to face rustling charges than to die. Of course, Roy was going to press attempted murder charges on them for their assault on Adam but they didn’t know that then.

“Put them in the cellar. Use that pile of rocks that we were going to use for the wall to weight down the door.”

Adam limped behind Andi as she herded the men to the root cellar. Once they were inside, she ordered them to pull the door closed. AC and Beth had gotten there by that time and Adam had them carry over several rocks and pile them against the door and then pile more on top of them effectively locking the door. As soon as they finished, he promptly fell over. All three rushed to his side. The black pants had hidden the fact that he was bleeding profusely. Andi pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and Adam pulled his too. Using those Andi pressed down on the wound and the bleeding diminished.

“Oh my God, it’s not an artery that got hit then. AC use the horse Papa saddled and ride to the main house. Tell Grandpa and Joe what happened and then get back here. Beth run into the kitchen and get some towels.”

“I don’t think I can get in the house, but if you help me, I can get to the bench over there.” And Adam pointed at the garden bench near the cellar. It took some time but eventually Adam was lying on the bench. Andi wrapped a long towel around his leg to hold a wad of towel against the wound. She checked periodically but the bleeding was minimal.

“Do you need something for the pain?”

“Not yet, but I think the bone might be broken. Paul’s going to be poking around in there and I’ll probably need something then.”

Andi started to shake then and Adam put out his arm for her to go to him. Then he saw Beth and she wasn’t doing much better so he signaled her to come to him too. They sat together like that until Ben and AC rode into the yard. Adam hadn’t talked much except to ask why Beth had a rifle when she was in the house, and laughed softly when Andi said it was to make them think all three of them could shoot. Beth’s rifle had been unloaded. She had told AC to fire warning shots and had not meant for him to shoot the man’s hat off. Both were very impressed by their son’s shooting abilities.

Ben helped get Adam into the house. Once he was in the bedroom, they managed to get his pants off and saw that the wound was an entrance wound only. Paul would have some work to do. They placed lots of towels under his leg and kept it slightly elevated to slow the bleeding even more. As was usual in warmer weather, he hadn’t been wearing anything under his pants so Andi found a pair of shortalls and they pulled them on him before the doctor arrived. Ben had rolled his eyes but Andi had smiled.

After a couple of hours, Joe arrived with the doctor, the sheriff and some deputies. AC had gathered up the firearms and tied the horses outside the stable. It was a quick job for the deputies to get them out of the cellar and mounted up. They just had to wait until Roy checked inside to make sure Adam wasn’t hurt too badly and then they headed to town.

After giving Adam some laudanum that he protested, Paul began his examination by probing the wound with his finger. Adam had been afraid that the bone was broken, but Paul’s examination showed that it had been nicked but not broken. That had flattened the bullet though and with the distance it had traveled diminishing its velocity, it was still in his leg. Paul had to open the wound further to retrieve the bullet and clean out the pieces of cloth imbedded in the wound and the fragment of bone that had chipped off his femur. Andi and Ben helped by handing Paul what he needed and keeping a good supply of towels to keep the area dry so he could work. Once Paul cleaned everything up and dusted the wound with sulfur powder, he stitched the wound closed and rebound the leg with a thick bandage.

“Make him stay off that leg for the next week. He can use a crutch to do what has to be done and then get back in bed. I’ll be back later this week to check on his progress. I know someone will get me if he has any problems. But I have to head back to town. I left two patients after sewing up their battle scars from a brawl, and I need to see how they are doing.”

“Could you tell Roy that there was a fourth rustler? Adam said he winged one of them and none of the men who were here were wounded so he’s still out there somewhere.” Paul nodded at Ben before he left the room. Ben went to tell the children about their father as Andi sat by the bed holding Adam’s hand. Tears started flowing as soon as all was quiet. Meiling came in and picked up the bloody towels. Ben returned, put a hand on Andi’s shoulder, and she turned to him sobbing.

“Now, now, you did just fine with all of this and Adam’s going to be fine. Just let it out and then you can relax.”

“I never knew how frightening it can be to hold a gun on a man. But I had to do it. They wanted to kill Adam.”

With a new round of sobs, Andi buried her face into Ben’s shoulder. The door opened and Mariah, Lisha, and Liz were there. Ben took Andi by the shoulders and pointed her at the three ladies.

“I’ll sit with Adam. You go with the ladies and get cleaned up. Get something to eat too. When you’re ready, come back here. Send the children in now though. I told them their father was going to be all right, but they’ll want to see him.”

After the ladies left, Joe walked in with Hoss and the children who sat on each side of their father’s bed. He was covered now and looked very peaceful as he slept. Ben saw both AC and Beth take a deep sigh and then smile at each other. Then they nodded and looked back at their father’s face. Ben was amazed. Everyone called them ‘the twins’, and they surely did act like it with the silent communication they were able to do.

“You two did a great job helping to save your father today. I’m am so very proud of you, and I’m sure he’ll tell you that too when he can.”

Hoss and Joe nodded as both noted how close in temperament these two children were. They had Andi’s good humor and willingness to talk but had Adam’s determination and coolness under pressure. Both could be so proud of the two children they were raising.

Chapter 4

“Wow, Joe’s gonna be thirty. It’s amazing, Adam, isn’t it, how much has changed in the last eight years!”

“Hoss, they have been wonderful changes too. You have your three children and a wonderful wife. I have Andi and the twins. Joe’s married and has two with a third on the way. Pa is busting out his shirtfronts with all the pride. Mariah has been so good for him too.”

“That dance we went to sure made a huge difference in our lives.”

“Except if I recall correctly, you never made it to that dance, Joe and Liz broke up after that dance, and Mariah met Pa later.”

“Well, ya, but it was the dance that started everything moving in that direction. Don’t go nitpicking with me when I’m trying to be, what do you call that again, philsophicant?”

“Philosophical, and yes, you are trying, however with only a slight modicum of success.”

“Now what does that mean?”

“Pa, it means he doesn’t accept what you’re saying.”

“Eric, I ain’t gonna let you go hunting with Adam no more. He’s taught you to sneak around all quiet like just like he does. It’s darn nerve wracking sometimes to have you sneak up on a body.”

“What’s nerve wracking?”

“Dadburnit, now AC sneaks up from the other side. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you done that on purpose.”

AC and Eric grinned behind Hoss’ back. They loved to play this game with him. He always enjoyed it too. It was harder to play it with Adam who often heard them coming and was ready with something by the time they were near him. It was, of course, more satisfying when they did manage to sneak up on him to surprise him. But Adam got even with AC each time he did manage to do it.

After the last retaliation, AC always looked under his bed at night before crawling in. It had been scary to hear that heavy breathing and have a hand grab his ankle and start pulling him out of the bed in the dark. Mama had given his father a tongue lashing for that one too as AC and Beth had looked on open-mouthed. Mama had gotten so scared when she heard AC hollering for help, she wasn’t happy at all to find out Papa had been the source of the fright. The next morning, Adam and Andi had been all lovey dovey as the children called it so they knew they had made up. They were always like that after an argument. Their two children just didn’t understand it, and when they asked Uncle Hoss or Grandpa, all they got were smiles and a promise that they would understand better when they grew up.

“Well, I need to get to town to pick up the last of the supplies for the party, Hoss.” Looking at the boys, “Who wants to ride to town and help me get supplies?” Seeing no answer from either Eric or AC, “AC, thank you for volunteering to help me. Let’s get going so we can get back sooner.”

AC groaned and walked out to the wagon with his father.

At the general store in town, Adam got the supplies loaded with AC’s help, but then Mr. Davis called him back into the store for another package. Adam handed AC the bag of hard candies and told him to pick one and sit outside to wait for him. In the store, Mr. Davis placed a small package on the counter for Adam.

“I almost forgot. This came all the way from England for you. It’s heavy like a book.”

“That it is, and I hope it’s the one I think it is.”

Adam opened the package immediately and was smiling broadly at the contents: Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. I’ve been waiting almost a year for this. I read it in college and haven’t seen a copy since. I thought I would read it again and then see if Joe would like to read it. If not, I’ll just keep it in my library until AC and Beth are old enough to read it. I have other stories about King Arthur and needed this one to finish my collection.”

“What’s it about that has you so all fired excited?”

Adam proceeded to tell him the tale. His excitement was contagious, and soon they were discussing the story. AC was wondering what was taking so long and wandered back to the door of the store. What he heard froze him in his tracks.

“Well of course the dark knight would fall in love with her. With her long blond hair, the beautiful blue eyes, and the way she could ride a horse, who wouldn’t?”

“Yes, but she’s married to his lord, the master of the domain. Isn’t that going to lead to big trouble?”

“Yes, it will, but first they will steal away the moments they can with each other to show their love by going for long rides away from prying eyes. That works until they are so in love, they get careless. Then it will be a contest to see who survives the battle. I can’t tell you how the story will end.”

AC walked back to the wagon and climbed up into the seat. He couldn’t believe that he had heard that his father was in love with his grandmother. He knew they spent time together and enjoyed riding together. Now those hugs took on a sinister appearance in his memory.

“Thanks, Adam. I’d like to borrow that book sometime if I could?”

“Certainly, now that I have intrigued you with the story, it would be mean not to. Well, I need to get going. AC is waiting and we’ve got the last of the supplies for Joe’s party.”

Walking outside, Adam wrapped the paper around the book again and stowed it in the back with the supplies. As he climbed into the wagon, AC stared straight ahead not saying a word.

“Now, I know I did make you wait a little, but is that enough to have you give me the silent treatment?”

Not acknowledging his father at all, AC sat ramrod straight. He was thinking of what he should do. First he needed to speak with Beth. Lost in thought, he did not see the quizzical look he got from his father who finally shrugged and snapped the reins. At the ranch, AC helped unload the wagon but maintained his silence. Hoss came out to help and asked Adam why AC wasn’t talking, and Adam said he had no idea. Hoss followed AC to the stable when they were done. Beth and Eric were already out there playing with some kittens. Hoss stopped at the door when he heard the story AC was telling.

“Papa said it plain as day. He told Mr. Davis that he was in love with Grandma. He said they steal away for the moments they can get. He said he knows there’s going to be trouble when they get found out. What are we going to do?”

At that moment, Hoss had no idea what to do. He was almost sure that AC was mistaken but there was that little niggling doubt that there might be telling the true story. Adam and Mariah did seem to go riding a lot. What if something did happen? Oh Lordy, he was thinking to himself, that this would tear this family apart. Hoss walked back to the house, and when he saw Adam, he gave him a scowl.

“Now what’s gotten into you? Fifteen minutes ago, we were talking and now you’re looking at me like I robbed the bank.”

“I just got some thinking to do. I’ll talk to ya later.”

Adam walked to the stable to get his children so that they could go home and clean up for the party. He found that Beth wasn’t talking to him either, and AC and Beth held hands on the ride back like they did when they were in trouble. Once they got home, Adam had to ask.

“Is there something you need to tell me? If you did something wrong, you know the first thing to do is to step up and say what it is that you did.”

Adam waited and there was no response. As his two children walked away, he thought he heard Beth say that he ought to step up and say what he did was wrong. Adam assumed she was giving advice to AC, and had no idea she meant him. Once Adam got in the house, Andi wanted to know what happened because the children were so morose and silent.

“Beth was almost in tears. I sent them up to change, and they said they didn’t want to go to the party. What happened?”

“Sweetheart, I have no idea. In town, AC suddenly wouldn’t speak to me. Then after he had a chance to talk with Beth, she won’t speak with me either. I guess they’ll tell us when they’re ready.”

At the Ponderosa, Hoss was being questioned by Joe who had seen how upset Hoss seemed to be. They were sampling the punch their father had made. Ben had had a few cups himself earlier just to make sure it was made well which was his excuse every time.

“Joe, I heard AC tell Beth and Eric that Adam admitted he was having an affair with Mariah.”

Joe could not have been more shocked.

“But he and Andi seem to be so much in love. How could he? AC must be mistaken.”

“Are you sure? Well they been going on those long rides two or three times a week at least. Maybe something happened when they was doing that and they can’t stop themselves now.”

Hoss had started to convince himself that Adam and Mariah were having an affair and now he was leading Joe down that same path. Unknown to either of them, a jovial Ben had come out to see what was keeping his sons from helping him with the decorations. He heard the conversation and stood leaning against the wall by the front door as his sons discussed his eldest son’s suspected treachery. Almost too weak kneed to walk, he made it to his desk and sat in his green chair. He knew that AC had to be mistaken but there was that little niggling doubt that made his heart beat faster and his palms sweat. When Hoss and Joe came in and saw him sitting so dejectedly, Hoss whispered to Joe.

“I think he knows.”

“What’s to know, Hoss? It’s just a seven-year-old’s idea of what he heard. He could be completely wrong.”

Putting on their happy faces, Hoss and Joe walked up to their father and asked what other work needed to be done.

“Do whatever you think needs doing. I think I need to go lie down for a while.”

Seeing how Ben was, Hoss and Joe both started to feel the anger rise within them. How could Adam and Mariah do this? But what if there was nothing? Mariah walked out of the kitchen and offered to help. Hoss and Joe were a little short with her and told her they didn’t need her help. Then Ben cold shouldered her as he went up to rest, and Hoss and Joe had made it clear her presence wasn’t welcome either. Mariah now felt the same way as Adam. She thought back over the day and could think of nothing that had caused these reactions.

As Adam readied the carriage for the ride to the party, he placed a cushion and a blanket on the back seat. As his family came out, he helped Andi to sit in the back. AC and Beth gave each other knowing looks. Papa and Mama always sat together in the carriage on the front seat sometimes even kissing a time or two much to the embarrassment of their children in the back seat. Now they were not sitting together, and Mama looked a little ill too. Both shot dagger looks at their father, but they still had no idea what to do.

At the party, Adam brought a plate of food to Andi who sat in a chair on the porch. Then he walked off to dance with Mariah who had been unable to pry Ben from his own chair on the porch. Adam and Mariah danced a number of times that night as their spouses sat. As he ingested more punch, Joe’s temper rose each time he saw Adam and Mariah laughing and then saw Andi sitting by herself, and Ben seated by himself except for the occasional guest who stopped by to talk. Mariah took one look at Ben’s face after the music stopped and walked to sit next to Andi.

“I don’t know what has gotten into some of these Cartwright men today. Ben isn’t hardly speaking to me, and Hoss and Joe are treating me like I committed a crime.”

“It must be catching. AC and Beth are acting the same way. I saw them with Eric a short time ago, and he looked the same. Adam has been so sweet though. He brought me all my favorite foods and got some fruit punch that wasn’t spiked.”

“Well at least Adam is being his usual charming self. Ben always told me he was the moody one, but today it seems to be the reverse.”

Adam walked up to ask Mariah if she wished to dance again as the band readied another tune. AC stalked over to him and jerked his arm away from Mariah’s hand.

“Please, Papa, stay with Mama.”

“We’re just dancing, son. Mama is fine.”

Joe walked over with Hoss then and with Hoss encouraging him, Joe felt he had to say something.

“Don’t you think you’ve flaunted it enough?”

“What are you talking about? That I like to dance?”

“You could be a man about it, and tend to your wife.”

“I am doing exactly what my wife asked me to do as if that is any concern of yours anyway.”

Unable to control his anger any longer after drinking punch for most of the evening, Joe swung and caught Adam with a sucker punch laying him out on the ground. Andi was going to jump up to help him, but Mariah pushed her back into her seat and rushed to Adam’s side. Joe’s good sense had exited as he had succumbed to the effects of alcohol. It had happened before but usually in a saloon.

“Joe, what is the meaning of this outburst? You could have seriously injured your brother.”

“Yeah, and that would have bothered you a lot, wouldn’t it? To see your precious Adam punched out. Well, he deserved that and a whole lot more.”

Walking up behind Joe, Ben and Hoss held Joe’s arms.

“This is not the place to air the dirty laundry. We will not speak of this now in front of our guests.” Ben was embarrassed not only at the fight but also that people might know now what he suspected. As Hoss saw Adam’s reaction and then Mariah’s, he knew that they had done nothing wrong, and he felt terrible at what he had helped set in motion.

“The hell we won’t.” Adam had shaken off the effects of Joe’s punch and now he was angry.

“What the hell has been going on around here? Are you people all crazy?”

“Adam, I think there’s been a big misunderstanding here. Let’s all calm down and get this all settled.” Hoss was trying to be the peacemaker, but now Adam was furious until Mariah put her hand on his arm and nodded toward Andi. That helped him get his perspective back, and he rushed to her side. As Ben witnessed all of this he realized too how foolish he had been to even consider the possibility that what he had overheard was true.

“Don’t you worry. I’m sure there is nothing seriously wrong. We’ll get it all straightened out. That is, if someone will tell me exactly what’s going on.” Adam was concerned at how this commotion might affect his wife and had walked back to find out why he had been hit.

Adam looked at Mariah who shrugged. Then he looked at his father and brothers and saw only chagrin from his father and Hoss and something else he couldn’t identify from Joe.

“What’s wrong?”

“How can you act so innocent? Both of you! AC told us you admitted to having an affair with Mariah and you didn’t think anyone was going to find out?” Joe still didn’t get it.

Something that happened rarely happened again then. Adam was speechless and so was Mariah.

“You go off on these rides together. You hug, and then tonight you dance nearly every dance with her. We would have to be fools not to see it.”

The music had stopped and everyone was riveted to the crisis. AC, Beth, and Eric were on the porch now next to Andi and listening. Adam looked at Andi who nodded and smiled a little which confused everyone.

“Don’t you think that if we were having an affair, we would know about it. Joe, I am not having an affair with anyone except my wife. Nothing even close to what you are suggesting has ever happened. Mariah and I are friends and nothing more. How could you think this of us knowing us as you do. We go riding over to my place every day or two so she can spend time with Andi. Then, I ride back with her. She doesn’t know how to use a firearm, and we thought it safer if I rode with her. We told you we were riding the whole time because Andi and I didn’t want everyone to know why she was at our house.”

“Why would she need to be with Andi that often?” Now Ben was as confused as everyone else.

Uncomfortable with sharing his private life with others in the best of times, Adam did realize the only way to defuse this situation was to explain everything. He took AC’s hand and Beth’s even though they seemed reluctant to have him do that.

“There’s something we have to share with you. This wasn’t how I thought we would tell you but you helped create these circumstances which are making it necessary. Your Mama and I are going to have a baby if we can avoid another miscarriage. Mariah has been helping her with things so she can stay off her feet. There are some things that it is hard for a man to do for his wife especially if he still needs to get his work done. We didn’t want to tell anyone else because we have suffered through miscarriages already and didn’t want to have to face all the questions if it happened again.”

“Papa, what’s a miscarriage?”

Andi answered. “Beth, it means the baby comes too soon and can’t live. We have three little babies buried on our property with little stone markers. We’ll show you and AC tomorrow.”

“But, son, what about those things that AC overheard?”

“My son has been taught not to eavesdrop and has now learned, I hope, a lesson in this. I was discussing my newest book that is about the Knights of the Round Table, and the affair that Sir Lancelot has with Queen Guinevere who was married to King Arthur. Mr. Davis wanted to know about the story in the book I have been waiting for so I was explaining it to him.”

Hoss and Ben realized that their eavesdropping had contributed as well. Both admitted what they had done and apologized.

“But why haven’t you been dancing with Andi tonight?” Suddenly Ben knew the answer to that question, and AC and Beth now understood the ride in the carriage. All three hung their heads in shame. Adam called for the band to start playing again, and the party was back on. Most of the people there were used to some ruckus at a Cartwright party, but this had been great drama as well. In addition they know had a wonderful bit of new to share in town: Adam Cartwright was going to be a father again and they knew before anyone else.

Adam sat with Andi holding her hand. They were talking quietly. Ben and Joe walked up to them to apologize profusely blaming overactive imaginations and too much punch. Then Ben walked to his wife. They needed to talk and went into the house. Joe walked over to Adam and offered him a free shot or two.

“Not now. But if you ever do something so stupid again, I’ll collect on this.” Adam grabbed Joe by the shoulder which told him he was forgiven again. He was going to have to work on his imagination and his temper because both of those continued to get him in trouble. Hoss made his amends too.

In the house, Ben was eating some crow. He had to admit a number of things that he found very difficult to do.

“I hope you can forgive me. Even after all these years, I guess I just can’t believe yet that a beautiful young woman like you fell in love with me instead of a younger, more handsome man like Adam. My insecurity made me act very foolishly. I had thoughts that I should have realized were ridiculous. Can you please forgive me?”

“Well, I hope you’re ready to take some abuse. People in town are bound to talk about this. When Adam recovers from the shock, he may have a few choice thoughts as well and you well know how sarcastic and biting those comments of his can be when he’s upset.”

“And what about you?”

“I’m hurt. But I vowed for better or for worse. These have been great years. I guess I knew there would have to be a bad time in here somewhere. Just don’t let it get to be a habit. You need to trust me if you want my love. And you will have a few fences to mend with your son as well. Give it a little time though. He is remarkably forgiving when he has time to think about it. Right now he needs some time with his family.”

“You love him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do, just as I love your other sons, their wives who include my daughter, and the wonderful grandchildren we have. But I don’t love any of them the way I love you, and don’t you ever forget that again.”

Mariah walked to Ben, grasped his face in her hands, and kissed him soundly.

“Now there’s a party out there, and unless you want to start more rumors, we ought to go out there and dance.”

By the time they exited the house, they saw most of the family sitting around Adam and Andi. Adam had one arm around Beth’s shoulders and the other around AC’s. It was clear that the children had cried but also that they were now forgiven and ready to support their father as they always had. There was a lot of talking and some laughing in the family group. Lisha and Liz were doing a little parody of their husbands and how they could act and talk when they had a little alcohol, and both Hoss and Joe had to admit they were right. The healing had already begun there. No matter what happened, in the end, they always regrouped as a strong family clan. More than ever, Ben began to appreciate that he may have been the head of the clan, but Adam was the glue that held them all together. He would be sure to tell him that as soon as he could.

Chapter 5

“Please, Papa, please. We’ll take care of him. You know we do what we promise.”

Looking down from the seat of the wagon to his young son holding a puppy and his daughter adoring the same puppy, Adam knew he could never win this one. He loved dogs too usually, but his father had been opposed to dogs on a cattle ranch. However, he had his own home now and if the dog stayed there, he figured his Pa could hardly object. Then he smiled to realize that at forty-one, he was still worried that his father might scold him. Relaxing his stern expression and nodding as if he was just barely willing to listen, he answered his two children.

“We can take that puppy home, but if your mother objects, then I’ll have to bring him back here.”

“Yes, Papa, but I know Mama will adore this puppy just like I do.” Beth certainly had a romantic streak developing in her. She was getting to like wearing dresses on occasion too.

Adam couldn’t believe his daughter and son would soon be eight. It seemed only such a short time ago that he was getting up in the middle of the night to help Andi with her nursing. Now here they stood next to the wagon looking so mature.

“Just remember that Mama is going to have a baby any day now possibly so not too much excitement when you show her the puppy, and you need to take good care of him too so she doesn’t have to do anything.”

When they arrived at their home, Joe and Hoss were there. They had brought over baby clothing that neither needed at the moment. Liz and Joe had a baby, but she was growing fast. Hoss’ children were older and with none on the way, they had no need for the baby clothing either.

AC and Beth couldn’t wait to show off their new puppy. With the puppy in his arms, AC jumped down from the wagon and ran to Hoss with Beth running beside him.

“Now, what do you have there? Do you mean to let me know that that stodgy ole brother of mine finally broke down and said you could have a dog?”

Getting to tease Adam, Hoss had a big grin as he was able to hold the puppy too. Adam walked up to him and said he had not had a turn yet so Hoss handed the puppy to him. He snuggled up into Adam’s open shirt like he wanted to sleep.

“All that hair ya got on your chest, that puppy thinks you’re its mama.” Hoss was laughing again.

Joe walked over and wanted to hold the puppy so Adam gently handed him over. The puppy yipped and promptly peed all down Joe’s shirt-front. Adam and Hoss broke out into hysterical laughter as AC and Beth stood in shock. Joe picked up the puppy by the back scruff of its neck and handed him to Beth who seemed highly offended that he would hold their new puppy that way. With AC accompanying her, Beth took the puppy to the house to see their Mama who didn’t go outside any more. She spent her time seated in a rocking chair in her bedroom or laying in the bed. Neither of those was comfortable any more so she switched back and forth a lot.

“At least I don’t have to worry about the puppy piddling in the house. Thanks, Joe.” Adam chuckled a bit more and Hoss hadn’t stopped yet.

“It’s not funny.” Joe mounted up, swung his horse around, and headed for home.

“He sure has been grumpy lately. What do ya suppose is wrong?”

“I don’t know, Hoss, but I’ve noticed the same thing. Maybe it’s getting up at night with a crying baby again. Hard to say with Joe, but he’ll let us know sometime when he’s mad. You know it always comes out then. Either that or Pa will get him to talk.”

“Adam, he used to talk to you too.”

“Yeah, but that was usually late at night when he’d knock on my door and ask to talk. I knew it was serious whenever he knocked. Otherwise, he’d just barge right in. He can’t do that anymore so we don’t talk like we used to.”

“Ya miss it?”

Nodding, Adam let Hoss know that he did. Then Hoss said goodbye, mounted up, and headed to his house. The next day, they would all be together at the main house for the family Sunday dinner he hoped. Adam wasn’t sure if Andi was going to be able to make it. He had seen how uncomfortable she was, and with the baby expected in a few weeks, she might not want to take the carriage ride. Andi hadn’t attended church services in months nor gone to town for any other reason.

Dr. Paul stopped in on occasion to see how she was doing, and Liz and Lisha visited often. Of course, Mariah was there almost every day now and Ben frequently rode over with her. Then Adam would ride back with her. Adam asked his father why he didn’t teach her to shoot, and he said he had offered on numerous occasions, but she refused. Andi, Liz, and Lisha had all learned to shoot with their husband’s tutelage because they wanted to be able to protect themselves and their children if necessary. After the incident at Adam’s house when Andi and AC had saved his life, the others had more enthusiasm for learning. Andi still only used the shotgun, but as Adam said, it was all she needed to know. The brothers had agreed too that each of the children, both boys and girls, would get lessons in shooting at age seven although they would only be able to use a firearm in the presence of an adult.

There would be no firearms practice at Adam’s house for the time being though. Adam was doing everything possible to try to keep things quiet and calm for Andi. The puppy had been an unusually impulsive act for him, but he realized in retrospect that he had always wanted a dog and it really had not been such a surprise that he would say yes to the first opportunity. He did think that Andi would like it too. When he got inside, he heard soft talk from their bedroom and found Andi rocking the puppy who had fallen asleep on her chest with his back legs splayed out across her very large tummy. He had to smile at the sight of his children sitting to either side of her as she rocked the puppy when she was only weeks away from having a baby to hold that same way. He retrieved his sketchbook from the study and stood at the door quickly sketching in an outline of the family grouping. He could fill in the details later. Andi looked up and saw what he was doing and looked down at her children and smiled. It was that smile that Adam quickly sketched in. When he finished, he walked into the bedroom to retrieve the children and the puppy.

“We need to go get lunch, and then I want both of you to help me build a spot for the puppy to stay at night. What’s his name by the way?”

“Can we call him Puppy?”

“That’s cute now, Beth, but he’s going to be a big dog and it would be silly to call him that when he’s grown.”

“How about Not Joe?”

Adam smiled and had to tell Andi what the puppy had done. She got a chuckle from it too, and understood the reference in the name then. Andi had an idea.

“Perhaps, Nojo would work as a name though? We would all know what it meant, but it wouldn’t mean anything to outsiders.”

Liking the idea of a private joke, the children immediately agreed that his name would be Nojo. After taking the pup from Andi, Beth carried him downstairs talking to him the entire time and calling him Nojo.

The next day, Adam drove AC and Beth to the family dinner. As expected, Andi did not want to ride. Meiling was there with her, and Adam was going to leave AC and Beth at his father’s house so he could go home early. Nojo rode with them. If Ben didn’t want the puppy to stay with them, Adam would take him back with him. It was the usual commotion for the Sunday dinner with children running everywhere it seemed with the puppy, and seven adults trying to converse and admire Joe’s daughter at the same time. Liz was holding Angelica, whom everyone already called Angel of course, as the others took turns getting a good look at the baby who was growing fast. She had Joe’s hazel eyes and Liz’s blonde hair and everyone agreed she would be a beauty as she grew.

Even during all of this activity, Adam noticed Joe looking almost sad at all the conversation though and then he headed outside. Catching his father’s eye, Adam nodded toward the porch and Ben nodded back. Adam would try to get Joe to talk about what was bothering him. When he got outside, Joe was leaning against the corral fence so Adam walked over to him.

“The puppy’s name bother you?”

“No, of course not. Who wouldn’t want a dog named after them?”

“Joe, I can have the twins change the name.”

“No, you don’t have to do that. That’s not the problem.”

“Then what is?”

Adam knew that Joe wanted to talk but was having a rough time trying to spit it out. He waited quietly knowing that the pressure would just build in Joe until he had to say something. He didn’t have to wait long.

“It’s not the dog. It’s Liz and me.”

Now Adam was getting a bit worried but he had started this so he had to let Joe continue.

“Your kids named your dog after me but I can’t name a son after me.”

“Joe, you’re still young. You can have another child.”

“That’s just it, Adam, we can’t. You know how sick Liz was after the baby was born. Well it’s because there were complications. Doc Martin says we won’t be able to have any more. That her womb is too badly scarred to carry a baby. He says it will never close again. So, no, we can’t have more. You don’t understand. You have a son with your name. So does Hoss. But I never will.”

“I’m sorry, Joe.”

Adam put his arm around Joe’s shoulder and they stood like that for quite a while.

“I suppose you’ll tell Pa and Hoss now?”

“Only if you want me to.”

Leaning on the fence more than his brother then, Joe looked up to the stars in the sky.

“Yes, you tell them. Then they’ll know and I won’t get all those worried looks from them. I’ll get used to the idea, but it’s been hard.”

The two brothers stood in silent companionship then. Finally Joe said they ought to get back inside, but Adam said it was time for him to head home. Ben had agreed the puppy could stay with them because he sensed that Adam was going to be very busy soon. Joe offered to ride home with Adam and having the same feeling as his father, Adam accepted. About three hours later, Joe got back to the main house to say Andi was in labor, and that the doctor was there with her. When Beth and AC were out of earshot, he said Andi was screaming something fierce and that Meiling and Adam were assisting the doctor.

Liz stayed with AC and Beth then because she had the baby and the other two children to care for as well. Joe, Mariah and Ben headed over to Adam’s house with Lisha who would be more help in this situation than Hoss who took his children home and waited to hear what was happening. When they arrived at the house, they heard Andi yell. Then shortly thereafter, they heard a baby’s piercing scream.

“Well, that sounded healthy and very loud. You ladies can head right upstairs to see if you can help. Joe and I will go get the horses bedded down.”

When Lisha and Mariah got to the bedroom, they found Andi resting against Adam who sat leaning against the headboard holding their baby boy.

“Gosh, Adam, you even lean in bed.” Mariah’s comment got a chuckle from everyone. “Oh, my, he’s a big one, but another beautiful child. What’s his name?” Mariah expected these two highly organized people to have a name all ready to go, but Adam said they had to talk about it. Mariah saw Andi’s questioning look as Adam said that and wondered what was up.

Looking exhausted although still radiant with that smile, Andi did explain that she had no idea that labor could be so all encompassing in its pain and demands. AC had been so premature, he was very small and the delivery had been relatively quick with very little effort on her part.

“This time I feel like I used every muscle in my body including a few I didn’t know I had. I don’t think I could do a single thing right now if I had to.”

“But you don’t have to. I’m here to take care of anything I can, and Meiling will help with the rest.” Mariah was so proud of her step-son and his willingness to put his wife first. She and Lisha wanted to change the bed linens so Adam held the baby as the two ladies helped Andi roll onto her side. They rolled the soiled bedding up behind her and then stretched the clean sheet over that half of the mattress. Then they rolled Andi over those humps of linen. They pulled the soiled linen away and stretched out the remainder of the clean sheet to cover the mattress. Then Mariah stripped the pillow and put a clean case on it and put it with another pillow up against the headboard. They helped Andi pull off her sweat soaked gown and pull on a dry one that buttoned down the front so she could open it for nursing. Then once Andi was seated in a reasonably comfortable position against the pillows, she pulled a light blanket and sheet over her.

“Now the doctor wants you to try nursing right away. You’ve done this before so just see how he does.”

Everyone except Adam and Andi went to the dining table for dessert and coffee that Meiling had prepared. Doc Martin had left earlier soon after the baby was born as he had another lady he needed to help deliver a baby that same night. After a short time, Adam walked into the dining room to thank everyone for their help. He told them that Andi and the baby were sleeping.

“So, have you two decided on a name for him yet? I don’t want to tell Hoss and just call him the baby.”

“Well that depends. With Joe’s permission, we would like to call him Joseph Benjamin Cartwright.”

Looking at Joe, Adam waited to see the reaction from his unpredictable brother. Joe was looking down at the table and then looked up at Adam with tears in his eyes.

“Thank you.”

Dancing Bear

Chapter 1

Barbara Scott Hanson had developed into a very competent teacher. Gone were the days when those hellions could tie her up or taunt her. Adam had coached her very well into a strong teacher voice that could cause a girl to wet her pants or a boy to stop running so suddenly that he broke a bone in his foot. All right, there only those two incidents, but everyone knew about them. Barbara had come into the school house one morning very early in the school year to find an awful caricature of her drawn on the board with the phrase Mrs, Hanson is a witch! Now only one student in the school consistently mixed-up commas and periods, and also put a heart at the bottom of her exclamation point so it wasn’t difficult to determine the guilty party. As the students marched in snickering, Barbara had emphatically said, “Tricia Ann Nelson!” and the girl stopped still as a statue and the odor of urine assaulted everyone’s noses. The puddle at her feet was further confirmation not only that she wet her pants but that she was guilty of the offense as well.

“Are you parents at home today?”

“Mama is.”

“Well then, go home, change, and bring your mother to meet here with me at lunchtime.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A day later, Max Morrison, who was teased a lot at school because of his large size, was chasing some students whowere intent on hitting them with a stick. Barbara had yelled “Max, stop!” so forcefully that the poor boy stopped so suddenly he broke a bone in his foot and was wearing a cast for the next eight weeks. After that, no one dared to mess with Mrs. Hanson.

Well at least the children didn’t, but there were some women in town who were still upset that the school board allowed a married woman to teach. It just didn’t seem right to them even if there was no other person available to teach. When Barbara’s husband bragged at the saloon one Friday that he would be a father the following summer, all heck broke loose among the ladies. So the school board needed a substitute teacher until the Christmas holiday at least, and all looked toward Adam Cartwright who groaned and dropped his forehead into his hands. Ben of course said that with winter so near, the work on the Ponderosa had let up enough that they could spare Adam for nearly a month. When Adam got home to tell Andi, he was hoping she would say that it was impossible, but instead she thought it was a wonderful idea.

So it was that on the first Monday in December, Adam Cartwright again stood at the front of the schoolroom ready to teach. The morning went reasonably well with some math problems and then working on spelling words. They did reading, history, and geography to fill out the day and then it was over. Adam was very tired. He had worked on some drawings the night before because he had been hired to design a home and stable and needed the drawings to supplement the blueprints to finish the order. Now at the end of one school day, he was exhausted. He had heard all day about how he was doing things wrong because it wasn’t the way Mrs. Hanson would have done it. He climbed into the wagon to drive the seven Cartwright children back to the Ponderosa. The children wanted to ask him questions but he asked them to leave him be so he could drive and recover from the day. That was another black mark on his tally as far as his children were concerned.

That night, Adam was up late thinking about how he could do better. He wanted to make this a good experience for the children and couldn’t possibly do everything exactly as she had done them so he needed a new way that the children would accept. Getting up sleep deprived of course was not a good way to get through the day well. His sharp comments to the students in the morning got some pointed comments directed at AC and Beth during recess. Both sat with heads down when school resumed. Adam noticed but of course under those circumstances was unable to question them. By the end of the week, all the Cartwright mothers, two of the fathers, and the grandparents were being bombarded daily with complaints about the new teacher. There are no greater critics than your children though in a situation like that.

On Friday, Adam packed up a large satchel and put it in the wagon in the morning. Andi smiled because she knew what he had collected the night before. At school, he pulled out a chessboard, a checkers set, a backgammon game, and a deck of cards. The children wondered what he could possibly have in mind. They spent the morning learning how math was a huge part of any game. They played the games to learn the math involved. By lunchtime, there were smiles all around until a few school board members stopped by to see how things had gone. Seeing all of the children playing some sort of game in the middle of a school day was not at all what they expected from someone like Adam Cartwright. There was an emergency school board meeting called for that very afternoon. Adam was summoned to attend at the end of the school day.

“Did you hear them counting?”

“Well of course we did. It was obvious that they were counting to see who had won.”

“Well, I was teaching math with those games. From the simplest game of checkers for the youngest children to chess and backgammon for the oldest, they had to count to see who had won. They had to think of all the possible math related solutions there were in any given situation and write them down as equations.”

“Well a number of students were just watching.”

“There was a set of students watching each game to make sure that the calculations given by each player were correct. At the end of a game the students had to turn in their calculations and equations to me. Then those students who had been observing took the next turn at the game as the first set became the observers.”

The board members were not at all convinced, but Ben asked if Adam could give them an example. He called in Beth and AC and had them play backgammon using their math skills. It was just a matter of minutes before it was clear that there was in fact a great deal of math being applied.

The end result was that the board determined that Adam had done nothing wrong, but they also ruled that he could not use that method again. Ben was the only dissenting vote. The children were very disappointed. Friday had been a wonderful day. They had learned and had great fun at the same time. That didn’t happen often, and now they feared it wouldn’t happen again. However now Adam was mad, and an angry Adam is a plotting, clever man who would find a way to do what he needed to do despite opposition.

Chapter 2

By Sunday, Andi was very curious. Adam had sequestered himself in his study for a short time but otherwise had done very little to prepare for the coming week.

“What’s the plan for the week?”

“Well I am going to teach geography, history, art, reading, and writing. If any school board members show up to oversee me, they’ll see the students doing some very traditional school activities.”

“All right, that’s your cover story, but what are you really going to do?”

So Adam filled Andi in on his plans. She was so glad he was still concerned about how the children felt about school and having him as their teacher. This plan too should appeal to the other children enough so their children would not be tormented with complaints about their father that had been numerous the week before including a number from their cousins.

On Monday, Adam had to announce to the children that the school board had forbidden the games as a way to teach math. But he had a new idea. The students were going to write a play, create the scenery, draw maps of the area, and rehearse so that the could perform the play for their parents. Adam assigned the topic of Lexington and Concord for the play. On Monday, the students had to read and do research on the day the shot heard round the world was fired. Every student would write about one of the people or events of that day.

On Tuesday, the students were writing the final versions of their research. Each one had to stand and read their work to the others in the afternoon. Reading, writing, and history were being taught but very few students realized that. Using the research, the oldest students got down to work writing the basic play that they completed by late in the day. Adam took it home with him to edit. On Wednesday, the students were assigned parts and had to read through the play and discuss what happened. Eric and several of the boys did not want to be in a play. Several of the youngest said they were too shy to be in the play. Of course that was a more polite way of describing it. Actually it was more vocal.

“I don’t want to be in any stupid play. Girls like plays. Men don’t dress up and do plays.”

That statement was followed by a number of students saying yeah. Several of the younger children said they would be too frightened to be in the play. Finally Adam agreed they could do the play just for the students on Friday afternoon. If it went well enough, they could do a repeat performance on the following Friday for parents. The students voted and accepted the compromise. The concept of democracy was being taught as well.

In addition to reading and practicing their parts, students were busy drawing maps and posting them in the room. They also did some large drawings of what the area would have looked like in 1775.

“Why are we doing 1775? I thought the Revolution started in 1776?” Many students had been wondering that until AC finally asked the question. In response, Adam did a lesson on the Declaration of Independence too. Then they understood the fighting began without a clear understanding on either side of what they were fighting for except in the minds of men like John Hancock and Sam Adams and women like Mercy Otis Warren. Most students were amazed that a woman helped lead the colonies into rebellion so Adam did a little history lesson on her. Several girls clamored to be able to portray the woman who wrote so much of the propaganda and philosophy of the Patriots. The play had to be expanded to include a prologue.

By Friday afternoon, the students said they were ready. The prologue went off without a hitch as Beth eloquently spoke as Mercy Otis Warren. Paul Revere was played by AC who did a fine job. It did seem a lot of his part had been lifted from the Longfellow poem, but Adam thought he could use that poem on Monday as a reading exercise. Problems started when they got to the Minutemen waiting on the green in Lexington.

“John Hancock and Sam Adams are great men. They fill our holes with soap.” From offstage came frantic whispers. “Whaddya mean, I got it wrong. I said it just the way I been practicing it. Oh, all right, have it your way.” To the audience loudly, “They fill our souls with hope.”

There was a pause but Eric just couldn’t drop it. “Well that don’t make no sense to me at all. Preacher never says nothing about our souls needing hope.” Adam had to stop the play and explain the whole concept. Then they began again with the confrontation of the Minutemen by the British.

“Hark, I say to you, I hear a pistol shit, ah, ship, no, ah, shop. Aww, damn, I didn’t want to be in this stupid play anyway.” Max Morrison stomped away filled with anger as roars of laughter disrupted the play once again.

Two of the younger students came up to Adam and asked to go use the necessary. As soon as they mentioned that, a number of other students had the same issue. Apparently nervousness translated into trips to the outhouse. Once everyone was back, they started again. Finally the play was over and Adam was exhausted. As the students left for the day, they thanked him again for the week so he assumed he had done well enough. Adam decided it might be best not to do the play for the parents.

On Saturday, as Adam worked on some building plans he needed to finish soon for clients, he heard a knock on the door and soon his father was at his study. After greetings were exchanged, Ben got down to why he had made the trip.

“There’s quite a bit of talk about you in town.”

“Well we didn’t play any games this week. The students were reading, writing, and studying geography and history. So what are the complaints this time?”

“Only that you are promoting the right to overthrow the government and the right of the people to rebel, allowing the use of bad language, and espousing feminism to the girls.”

Adam could not have been more shocked. “What kind of preposterous stories are being told?”

“I’m not sure, but you know how children can perceive things differently than intended, and then their parents get another idea based on that, and soon the stories have little to do with what actually happened. Would you care to inform me as to what did happen do I have an answer the next time a parent or school board member confronts me? Simply saying that you would never do that hasn’t worked well.”

So Adam explained to his father what he had done. He had to do it again and again on Sunday before and after church services, and yet most walked away dissatisfied with his answers. He had no special plans for his third week in the classroom. He and Andi talked for quite a while about it but other than a lesson in poetry by reading Longfellow’s poem about the midnight ride of Mr. Revere, Adam had no inspiration.

Chapter 3

Reading the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere actually went well as the students now had some understanding of the background of Longfellow’s poem. AC was embarrassed though and eventually was shooting some dark looks at his father.

“Hey, AC, ain’t that almost the same stuff you was reciting on Friday? You musta had the idea before Longfellow did. Did he copy your stuff?” Several of the boys knew that AC had taken a short cut in writing his part for the play. Adam had thought humiliation was the way to handle it but as he heard some of the commentary, he realized he hadn’t handled that situation well. At recess, the taunting continued.

“Hey AC, maybe you could say you wrote the those Shakespeare plays too. Shakespeare is probably rolling over in his grave right now.” Vinnie stood as tall as AC but was considerably heavier and broader.

“Well, when I get to heaven, I’ll talk to him about those.” AC tried to defuse the situation with humor.

“Hey, AC, what if Shakespeare went to hell?”

“Well, then I guess you could talk to him about it.” Humor had not worked so AC mimicked his father’s method of using a snide remark to silence the opposition.

Unfortunately AC didn’t have his father’s intimidating look about him so all his remark did was start a fight. Several students joined in so Beth stepped up to aid her brother. That’s what happened until Beth and AC were lifted by their collars and forcibly removed from the fight. Then one by one the others received the same treatment. They all winced at the dark look they were getting from their teacher.

For the rest of the day, the fighters were sent to work cleaning up various parts of the town. They cleared brush and debris from the cemetery. They picked up sticks and branches that were lying under the trees around the church. Adam brought them to the jail to ask Roy if there were any more jobs that needed doing for he had some miscreants who needed some community service time to pay for their wrongdoing. Roy smiled and said he had some boxes of wanted posters and such that they could carry to the school to use to start the stove in the morning. As the older children were working, Adam sat and read with the younger children so they could learn not only about reading but about the consequences for bad behavior.

The minister’s wife saw them as they were walking back to the schoolhouse and wanted to offer cookies to the students for all the work that they had done. Adam refused on their behalf earning dark scowls from a number of them.

“Service to the community is it’s own reward. A simple thank you is all that these students want.”

“Well, then thank you so much. The grounds of the church have never looked so good. It’s a lovely day to be working outside. So unseasonably warm for this time of year. A marvelous idea, Mr. Cartwright. Keep up the good work.”

Back at the school house, the smallest children had the task of putting the old wanted posters in the kindling box. Maria wanted to know what they were so Adam explained.

“Those are drawings of very bad men. They draw their picture so that people see it and might recognize them so they can be arrested.”

“Why didn’t they just keep them locked up when they were drawing the picture?”

As Adam explained, he wondered how this story would be told to parents and members of the community.

The ride home was very quiet. Adam thought the problem had been resolved. He was very wrong. His two children were determined now to put him in his place. They talked quietly and decided Uncle Joe was the one they needed to ask for help. Eric overheard and asked to join in.

“Papa, when we get our chores done, may we ride over to see Grandpa and Grandma?”

“Of course. That would be nice. But this time, you should ride before your chores so you can get back while it is still light out.”

AC and Beth grinned and raced to saddle their ponies. About and hour and a half later they were riding back with their Uncle Joe who had told them some wonderful stories. He had told them that he made a face at Miss Jones once and she caught him.

“Joseph Cartwright, my mother told me when I was a child and did that, my face might stay that way and be ugly forever.”

“Well, ma’am, she gave you fair warning then.”

That got a note to Grandpa and a lesson in the stable. He told the twins of the time he brought a frog into school and it accidentally got loose and hopped up the teacher’s dress making her dance and jump around. He mentioned too the time he and his friends snuck into the schoolhouse and kidnapped all the books. There were lots of stories with plenty of fodder to feed the minds hungry for input so they could come up with a plan. As Joe neared the house he saw Adam.

“Hey, Adam, brought your two wanderers home. We had a good talk and Pa didn’t want them riding home alone. I’m going to head out right away so I can make it back in time for dinner.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

Beth and AC started planning. AC outlined the plan for Beth. “Where we gonna get a frog?”

“I already got em.”

“Those little tree frogs in the cage in your room?”

“Yep, just one ought to do it.”

The next day as Adam drove the wagon into town with the seven Cartwrights in the back snuggled in blankets against the sudden change in the weather, he heard a lot of whispering and giggling. Glad that the troubles from the day before seemed to have been forgotten, he whistled a tune as he drove.

In school, the children had a difficult time putting their plan into action. Finally the school day was done and they had their last chance as Adam loosed his tie and unbuttoned the button at his collar. As Adam pulled on his heavy fur jacket that he only wore in the worst of weather, AC and Beth stood before him and asked if they could have a candy from the mercantile. Eric snuck up behind Adam and when he was unaware, slipped the little frog down the back of his shirt.

Adam twitched a little when he felt a tickle on his back and then started jumping up and down and twisting sideways. The other children began to laugh hysterically. Little Molly Matthews yelled out: “It’s a dancing bear!” which made all of the children laugh even more. Finally, Adam pulled his shirt from his pants and the offending amphibian dropped to the floor. Adam stood and glared at his children for a minute, and suddenly none of them thought it was funny any more.

“We’ll discuss this at home.” The way Adam said it left no doubt for AC and Beth to know they would be punished. They had gotten their revenge, but now they faced the punishment.

“Oh, no, Mama! AC, he’s gonna make us tell Mama, isn’t he?”

At that moment, the twins could think of no worse punishment. Adam overheard them and smiled inwardly. They had just offered the perfect solution. He would have them tell Andi and then see what she would say to them. With an expression that showed none of his inner glee, Adam ordered his children out to the wagon and saved a dark scowl for Eric too. Eric decided he would just go ahead and tell his parents and get it over with. He was hoping they thought it was funny enough to make his punishment light.

Once Adam had his children home, the wagon secured, and the team bedded down, he ordered AC and Beth to do their chores and then come to the house. Two dejected looking youth trudged to the house about a half hour later and then stood with heads down in front of their mother.

“Papa told me that there is something you need to tell me.”

“Yes, Mama, and we’re so sorry. We got Eric to put a frog down Papa’s back. He jumped all around and everybody laughed, but now we know it wasn’t funny at all. It was disrespectful.” Beth had tears running down her face as she turned to Adam and said “I’m so sorry, Papa.”

“We never would have done that except Uncle Joe made it sound so funny. We didn’t think about the bad side of it. I’m really sorry too, Papa.”

Andi sent the children to their rooms. They were to do their homework and then would get a simple dinner in their rooms before they retired for the night. Then Andi pulled Adam into his study, closed the door, and burst out laughing.

“That is a great story, love. The children will be talking about this for years. A dancing bear: such a delightful image.”

“It is funny now. I wasn’t smiling at the time, but they worked together quite well, and no one was hurt. I am, however, going to ‘kill’ Joe.”

“Oh, perhaps we can come up with a plan to turn the tables on him?”

“Sweetheart, I love you and your devious mind.”

Chapter 4

On Monday, Adam went through spelling lists, worked through math problems, and then assigned reading. The students were quiet and cooperative. All of them had talked with their parents and had been told to be respectful. Finally after lunch, Adam announced that there would be a research project for each student to complete before the Christmas holiday. Each one of them would interview someone in Virginia City about the history of the town. Adam sat with each of the students working out a plan of who each would interview and then the questions they would ask. Finally, he sat with Beth and AC.

“All right, who wants Hoss and who wants Joe?”

“Aww, can’t we do Grandpa?”

“No, Eric is interviewing Grandpa.”

AC looked at Beth and then at his father. “I’ll interview Uncle Joe.”

Beth smiled for she adored her Uncle Hoss and was sure he would give her a wonderful interview. For the rest of the week, there were mostly traditional lessons interspersed with discussions of what students had been learning from their interviews of parents, grandparents, and neighbors as well as Sheriff Coffee and Doctor Martin. Adam warned AC not to share what he was discovering, and AC assumed it was because he didn’t want any more children mimicking his uncle.

Finally on Friday, the interviews were completed and the students spent the afternoon writing up the final drafts of their questions and answers that they turned in to Adam before leaving for the day. He wished them all a Merry Christmas and told them to be sure to buy the Christmas edition of the Territorial Enterprise.

All week long at home, Adam and Beth had been working on drawings of all the people who had been interviewed. Before Adam drove the children to their homes, he stopped by the Territorial Enterprise offices and handed the stack of written reports and the drawings to Dan DeQuille, the star reporter for the paper.

“Wow, I didn’t realize it would be so much.”

“Dan, I don’t expect you to print it all. There should be plenty to work with there though. Just pick the best parts according to your newspaper skills. You know what people will want to read. I just want you to be sure to use at least part of every interview. I know some of the younger children didn’t get much but a few lines would be nice.”

“Thanks, Adam. I might be able to use some of this in the book I’m writing too.”

Adam walked to the mercantile where he had told the children that each one could choose two candies and a special peppermint stick for Hoss. He paid for the candies and loaded seven very happy children into the wagon. It would be nearly two and a half weeks before school resumed again. Adam was fervently hoping that the school board would have a teacher hired by then. AC climbed up on the seat to sit with his father followed by Beth who climbed up on the other side.

“Papa, we watched out the window and you went to the newspaper office with our writing and the pictures that you and I drew. What are they going to do with them?” Beth was especially curious because of the drawings.

“Well, if you can keep a secret?” Both children nodded vigorously. “Dan DeQuille is going to publish parts of the interviews and all of the drawings in the Christmas edition. There will be many happy families who see the work of their sons and daughters published. Beth was very happy. Her interview of Uncle Hoss had been special to her and now others would read it too.

However AC was concerned. “Papa, are they going to print my interview with Joe about all those things he did when he was in school?”

“Oh yes, my guess is that Dan will want to use that.”

“Won’t Uncle Joe be upset?”

“Did he give the interview freely?”

“Yes.” The thought of forcing his uncle to talk was funny and AC smiled.

“Did you let him know, as you were instructed, that other people would be reading his answers to your questions?”

“Yes.” Suddenly AC understood and Beth got it a moment later.

“You did this to get even with Uncle Joe!” Beth almost squealed in delight. She loved a good prank, and this was a doozy in her mind.

AC wasn’t as sure, but he had to smile for this would be the first of his writing to be published.

“Are we going to get a lot of copies?”

“Yes, I ordered ten to be sure we had enough. One for each of you and one to put away for Joey. One for Grandpa. One for us. And one for Hoss and one for Joe. We’ll send one to your other grandparents too, and one to Aunt Midge. If you think of anyone else we should send to, let me know.”

On Christmas Eve, Adam went to town to get the more supplies for the Christmas feast and to pick up his copies of the holiday special edition of the Territorial Enterprise. He looked forward to Christmas and surprising his family with them. He opened one copy to see the work of his students displayed on pages two and three. There was a large article of “Ben Cartwright Remembers the Tales of Andrew Stoddard in the Revolution”, “Hoss Cartwright remembers Mount Davidson Covered in Trees and Full of Critters”, “Luella Morrison Working the Comstock for Gold”, “Doctor Martin’s Memories of the Cholera Epidemic”, and many other articles. But there in the center of the page was the best one of all: “Young Joe Cartwright, Schoolhouse Joker Extraordinaire.” Adam smiled as he saw the work exhibited and thought of all the families who would be so proud of their sons and daughters for their work. Then he smiled more when he pictured Joe’s face.

Closing the paper to put it with the others for the trip home, Adam noticed a small article on the front page. “Virginia City School Board Makes History.” The article said that for the first time ever, a married woman who was with child would be allowed to teach for the remainder of the school year. Barbara Scott Hanson had agreed to resume her duties in January as the schoolteacher. Adam smiled in relief and then felt a bit sad at losing what had become a pleasurable job. He smiled too knowing that he had written some history with his students and now had helped make history. He sighed, snapped the reins, and headed home.

Chapter 5

On the first school day in the new year, Adam drove the wagon with all the Cartwright children to the schoolhouse. He wanted to ask Barbara if she had any questions or if she needed anything done on her first day back. Barbara had a lot of praise for the work the students had put in the paper, and although she was sure that Joe wasn’t the most thrilled, she loved the story of Joe’s antics in the school as a youngster.

“Don’t tell the Board I said that. They filled my ears with how that had been inappropriate even as they praised the other pieces.”

“Any other comments on inappropriate actions I may have taken?”

Barbara was smiling at Adam’s discomfiture. “Only that I was not to use games for learning, no more tours of the town, and the students are to memorize the Declaration of Independence not discuss it. So, in other words, don’t do anything Adam Cartwright did.”

Adam tipped his head down and scratched his ear. “Well it did get you your job back.”

“Adam Cartwright, did you do all of that on purpose just to stir things up so they wouldn’t want you as a teacher?”

“Not all of it. But you do have to admit they won’t be thinking I’m a teacher in reserve the next time they want to fire a teacher.” He grinned at that. It had worked out rather well after all.

“Has Joe forgiven you yet?”

“Oh he grouses at me a bit, but I know he’s loving all the attention too. The thing he may be most worried about are those two of his following in his footsteps.” Adam grinned again at the look on Barbara’s face. She would be the one to deal with them if they did follow their father’s pattern of behavior. “Barbara, there was one idea I didn’t use because of the weather. In the spring, the children were wondering if they could do a children’s rodeo as a fundraiser to get more books for the school. There are so many wonderful books coming out and rarely does the school get copies.”

“That sounds wonderful. Who do you suppose I could get to organize that?” Barbara was looking right at Adam who grimaced. He had walked right into that one, so he nodded and Barbara smiled as she signaled one of the older children to ring the bell to summon all the children into the school. When Adam got home, he would have to tell Andi what he had been roped into.

“Adam, I do thank you for all you have done. I was looking at the work the students did in the month I was gone and some of them made remarkable progress. I know they’ll miss you. And thank you for getting this job back for me. Do you have any ideas as to how we can convince them that a married woman with a child can teach?”

Seeing the look on Adam’s face, Barbara knew there was no way to win that battle unless they became desperate for a teacher as the next school year approached. She rather hoped that is what would happen. AC and Beth walked by and bid Barbara good morning while studiously avoiding even looking at their father. Adam wondered what that was all about. As he left he had one warning for Barbara.

“Watch out for frogs.”

“I’ll do that, Dancing Bear.” At Adam’s look of surprise, she had to explain. “That story is all over town including how little Molly called you a dancing bear and why.”

Shaking his head, Adam turned the wagon for home. He didn’t think that story would lose its legs soon enough for him. He drove on wishing that he could let one of the boys drive the children to school each day, but they were too young to handle some of the steep grades in the roads, and the traffic as one neared the town. He decided he would talk to his father about getting one of the hands to do it at least some of the time. The sky became a dark grey as he drove home, and he thought he might be making the return trip much earlier than usual.

It didn’t take long. Snowflakes were falling as he reached his home. The children had ridden their ponies to his house as they did every morning, and he went to the corral to get them into the stable. It was crowded but they had been together like this many times before due to rain or snow so they were compliant. Adam knew as soon as he got to the house, Andi would want him to return to town, and he was correct in that assumption. Andi was already stacking blankets atop a large quilt. He would pile all the children in the back so they could huddle together for warmth. He would have to sit on the seat alone so he looked for his big furry coat and his gloves. He drank down a large cup of hot coffee and took the basket of sandwiches that were already prepared.

By the time Adam was back at the school, the snow was piling up fast. He went inside to collect all the Cartwright children. Many other parents who lived far from town were there too. Children were dressing in coats and picking up all of their books and supplies. A big snowstorm like this could keep them out of school for a week or more. Barbara was letting each student know what to study while they were gone. Most would do reading and spelling. The Cartwrights were the only ones likely to advance in math with all of the educated men and women on the Ponderosa, they all had people to teach them when they were not in school.

“Hello, Dancing Bear.” was a familiar greeting. Barbara smiled at the obvious affection the students had for their former substitute teacher. The only ones not smiling it seemed were AC and Beth. Adam knew there was a story there, but as yet had no idea what it might be. He bundled all of the Cartwright offspring into the wagon and headed out trying to get as much distance covered in as short a time as possible. By the time he reached the road to his home, he turned down it surprising all of the children except AC perhaps.

“It’s too awful. Soon the wagon won’t be able to get through the snow and I don’t want to be stranded out here. You’re all staying at our house for a while.”

There were many complaints at first that their parents would be worried, but as soon as they thought about missing chores and being together, the complaints died and the children began to plan what fun they could have together. Eric climbed up on the seat next to Adam with a blanket which he positioned over their legs. Adam was struggling with the team but managed a very sincere thank you for the gesture. Once home, he sent the youngest inside as AC, Beth, and Eric helped him with the horses and collected the blankets and the quilt. There was no time better than the present to ask so he did.

“Beth, AC, is there something I’ve done that’s bothering you?”

The twins looked at each other and said nothing. Just that however let Adam know it was something. He looked at them and knew he was making them uncomfortable. Eric was the one who broke though.

“They don’t like it that you don’t want to be our teacher. You spend all the time you can with Joey, but not much with Beth or AC any more.”

Beth and AC glared at Eric. Adam frowned as he thought about the answer.

“It’s not that I didn’t like being your teacher. It’s just that the way I want to teach and how the school board looks at teaching are opposites. If I wasn’t a Cartwright, they would have fired me the first week. As it is, they have ordered Mrs. Hanson not to do any of the things I did.”

“Well, they can’t do that!” The fiery one, Beth, was incensed by that, and it made her forget that she had another complaint. AC was never the one to forget though so he brought up the other issue.

“Then why did you practically ignore us during our Christmas vacation and spend all of your time with Joey?”

“Joey was ill. He needed to be held all the time so that we could keep him upright. I’m sorry if it looked like I was ignoring you but I was scared for him. If his lungs filled with fluid, he could have died.”

Adam could see the shock on all three faces. “We should have told you what Doctor Martin said, but we wanted you to be able to enjoy your holiday.”

“But we didn’t enjoy it that much. It was like you and Mama didn’t like having us around. If you had told us, we would have worried but not about whether you wanted us or not.”

“We were so preoccupied. We waited so long to have another baby and suffered so much to get there. It only increased our stress. Your mother is only now recovering from that fear. She jumps out of bed each morning to check on him and make sure he’s breathing.”

The children hadn’t noticed that, although they had seen their mother looking worried. They knew now that they should have asked and told their father that. Adam wrapped his arms around the twins and hugged them.

“So are you going to tell Mama about the rodeo? Mrs. Hanson told us.”

With a deep sigh that made all the children smile, Adam nodded causing all three to grin. Then the four of them headed to the house to what they all assumed would be bedlam, and it was.

Chapter 6

As spring approached, the schoolchildren began looking forward to their rodeo. It was to be held the Saturday before Easter in conjunction with all the festivities of that special day. There would be Easter egg hunts, egg painting, and a big community picnic. Then in the afternoon, the children would put on their rodeo. The boys and girls who were old enough to compete were practicing their riding and roping. The younger children were being organized to put on a parade to entertain before the competitive events began.

It was the horse race that had the older children most excited. Unknown to Adam and Andi, AC and Beth were practicing their racing every time they rode to their grandparents’ home. Then they would rub down their ponies and take a leisurely ride back so that their parents would never suspect. Unlike her mother who still sat rather stiffly in the saddle when she rode and had to fight her nervousness so she wouldn’t transmit it to the horse, Beth was a gifted rider. She rode with energy that got her pony to do his best every time. In comparing her to other riders, most thought of her Uncle Joe because she had that same enthusiastic style. Her pony was Dancer.

Riding like the wind is how most described AC on a horse. He was even more graceful than his father and seemed to expend no energy as he rode looking like he belonged on that saddle and no where else. Watching him ride, one would have to believe that the horse could read his mind because there was no obvious control being exerted as he had worked with his horse so that the most subtle change could cause the horse to do his master’s bidding. Unlike his father who loved a spirited horse, AC preferred a calmer animal. His pony was Emerson, and that name only got his uncles shaking their heads every time and laughing sometimes when they heard the boy call his horse. That the horse came at the first mention of his name by AC was often overlooked.

Only a week before the rodeo, Beth and AC were racing as they often did when AC got a huge lead on Beth. Now that wouldn’t actually matter as there was to be a boys’ race and a girls’ race so they wouldn’t be competing against each other at the rodeo, but to Beth it was an affront to have her brother so far out ahead of her. She pushed Dancer to go faster and then saw a chance to obliterate AC’s lead and take it for herself. All she had to do was jump a small fence and victory would be hers. It was a predictable disaster that Beth had not considered. Dancer’s back leg caught on a strand of wire and both went down in a tangle of arms, legs, and bodies. AC saw a sight that would invade his dreams for the next months.

“Beth, Beth, are you all right. Beth please be all right. Wake up, please, wake up.”

Slowly Beth opened her eyes and then scrunched them shut against the agonizing pain in her left arm. She could feel aches and pains elsewhere, but that pain was shooting up into her shoulder and down into her hand like someone was stabbing her.

“AC, please, please, get me some help.” Tears were coursing down her cheeks as she attempted to speak more. “What about Dancer? Is Dancer all right?”

The sad grunts and heaving breath of the horse were all the answer anyone needed. Beth craned her neck to look back at her horse, and then promptly retched up her dinner. Dancer had broken his front legs and there was blood, and bone showing.

AC wanted to do something for the horse but had to care for his sister first. He took off his shirt and wrapped it tightly around Beth holding her broken arm to her side. Then he put his jacket around her to keep her warm because she was already shaking and shivering. He called Emerson who came immediately although he shied a bit at Dancer lying there next to Beth. AC helped Beth into the saddle and then climbed up behind her. The main house was closer than home so he headed there for help.

“Grandpa! Grandma! Uncle Joe! Help me, please?”

Joe raced out from the stable at AC’s plaintive cries for help. He eased Beth out of AC’s arms and carried her into the house passing Ben, Mariah, and Liz on the way. Mariah and Liz went to help Joe care for Beth, but Ben went to AC.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, Grandpa, but Beth has a broken arm and I don’t know what else. Dancer has two broken legs.”

“We’ll get Joe to go with you to take care of the horse. Now, what happened?”

AC told Ben about their racing in preparation for the rodeo, and how Beth must have tried to jump the fence to try to win the race with him. Ben held his tongue. He knew this would be something that Adam and Andi would have to handle. When Joe came outside, Ben told him about Dancer. Joe had a grim look to his face when he mounted up on Cochise and rode out with AC. Ben wondered what he would do, but thought perhaps there was going to be a tough lesson in this for AC.

Once Joe and AC arrived at the accident site, Dancer was no longer thrashing about and making those plaintive sounds. The wild eyes and heaving breaths though showed how the animal had been suffering. Joe pulled his rifle and dismounted. AC was going to turn away, but Joe stopped him.

“You need to stand right there and see what your foolishness has cost this animal. Let him look at you so he thinks things will be all right. I’m going to stand to the side so he doesn’t know it’s coming. You talk to him to keep him as calm as possible. I want to do it with one shot.”

With tears streaming down his face, AC talked to Dancer until a shot rang out and a large hole appeared in the horse’s head. It was over for Dancer, but the pain for AC and Beth would continue a very long time. Joe pulled a shovel from behind his saddle and handed it to AC. It was hours before they returned to the Ponderosa main house. By then, Adam, Andi, and the doctor were there. AC put Dancer’s saddle and tack in the back of their carriage. Then he walked inside to face his parents.

Chapter 7

As AC saw his mother and father, he could see the worry in their faces. Tears rolled down his face as he neared his mother and she took him in her arms to comfort him. Then AC looked over at his father. Adam had a concerned look but also a look that said this was far from over. Doctor Martin came out of the guest room then and everyone stood to hear his diagnosis.

“Adam and Miranda, I’m sorry it took so long. I had to sedate her to repair the arm. She has a break in the upper arm and the lower. The break in the upper arm is straightforward but the break in the lower is more complex. I’m afraid I may have to open that part of the arm up to clean up the fracture. For now, it’s stabilized and I want to see if the swelling will go down. She needs some time just to rest.”

Just then, Hop Sing scurried back into the bedroom with a large towel. He had been asked to prepare a large ice pack for her arm. The doctor went back in to help him place it, and then called to Adam and Andi to come see their daughter. Beth lay very pale and unmoving on the bed. There was a large pile of towels packed around her left arm holding the ice pack in place along the length of her arm. AC stood behind his parents until Adam pulled him forward to stand between them and gaze on his sister. Andi couldn’t hold back the tears then, and Adam moved to hold her again. Once she calmed a bit, he pulled a chair close and let her sit by her daughter’s side. Adam indicated to AC that he wanted to talk with him and ushered him outside.

“What happened?”

“Beth and I were practicing our racing for the rodeo. She was behind, and I think she thought if she made that jump, she could catch me. She’s made those jumps before with no problem. She always does it when the hill is higher on one side so that Dancer could clear the fence.” At that point, AC started crying. Adam was starting to get angry though. Apparently, this wasn’t the first race and wasn’t the first jump Beth had attempted.

“The two of you have been racing, and Beth has been jumping. You know both of those things were specifically against the rules your mother and I set for you when you got those horses. We thought you were responsible enough to handle those mounts, but apparently we were wrong.”

“I’m so very sorry, Papa. We never meant to hurt Dancer. I would never have done it if I thought anyone could get hurt.”

“So you thought the rules we set were just arbitrary and had no meaning behind them. We knew what could happen. That’s why we set those limits. I told you that anyone who is around horses knows or should know they can get hurt.”

The two sat quietly for a moment thinking. “Am I going to get a tanning for this?”

Adam sat quietly for so long, AC was getting very worried. Finally he spoke, but what he said shook AC more than any threat of a tanning could.

“You’d like that, I would guess. It would be painful briefly, but you would be absolved of all responsibility for what happened. You would have paid the price and moved on. But there would still be the risk that you would do it again.”

“Papa, I promise, I will not race. I’ll stop Beth if she tries too.”

“No. You will not ride Emerson. I’ll stable him here and let someone else ride him for exercise. I’ll borrow Old Betsy for you to ride. You will do your chores and all of Beth’s until she can resume them. Your mother will have some other tasks for you to do as well. You will not participate in the rodeo except to work.”

Ready for the chores, but surprised and then accepting that there would be no riding of Emerson as well as additional chores, AC was shocked by the last part.

“But, Papa, we’ve been looking forward to the rodeo for months. It’s supposed to raise money for new books for the school. I have to be in it.”

“No, you don’t. There are many children who will participate, and parents and others who will be there to contribute their time and money. You will still give your time. I have a lot of jobs that need to be done to make this a success, and you will be assigned one of them at least. There will be other rodeos and races in the future, but you only have one sister. Your decision to race her could have cost you that, and it did cost Dancer his life.”

“Papa, Uncle Joe made me watch as he killed Dancer. Then he made me bury her until my arms were so tired I couldn’t lift another shovel full. I’m so sorry Dancer had to die.”

“You need to apologize to Uncle Joe.”

“Why?”

“That is a terribly difficult thing he had to do. For the next few days or even weeks, he will be suffering with what he had to do because of you and Beth.” Inwardly though, Adam was feeling pride and gratitude to his youngest brother. He would have to tell him so as soon as possible. “Now, let’s get back inside to see how we’re going to handle the next few days.”

It was determined that Andi would stay with Beth. Adam and AC would go home to care for Joey and do any chores that needed doing. The next day, Adam would return with the carriage, and if Doctor Martin allowed it, they would take Beth home. Before they left, AC sought out his Uncle Joe. The more he thought about it, the more he agreed with his father that he needed to apologize to him. He found him in the stable brushing down his horse and talking softly to him. AC walked up to within a few feet of Joe. He shivered a little at what he had to do, but stood straight.

“Uncle Joe, I’m very sorry for what I made you do.” AC couldn’t help it as the tears started again. He had wanted to be strong but just couldn’t seem to hold them back. “I’m sorry I’m crying. I try to be strong but it just doesn’t work.”

“That’s all right, little buddy. Your Papa never got to do that as a kid, but I’m glad you can show your emotions. What I had to do hurt me a lot, but I’m relieved to see that you are hurting about it too. You have a good heart, AC. It was a foolish thing to do, but I understand. I did stuff like that too when I was your age. It made your Papa and mine so angry. I never understood it at the time, but I do now.”

“Understood what?”

“My mama died in a riding accident. I guess they worried all the time that the same would happen to me. It didn’t, but I killed a horse jumping just like Beth did. It made me settle down for a bit, but not long enough. I made my family worry so many times, and I didn’t understand how hard that is to do until I had my own girls.”

“You killed your horse?”

“No, actually, I killed your Papa’s horse. I took him out without permission because I thought it was stupid that I couldn’t ride a big strong horse like my brothers. I tried jumping, and he came down wrong and broke a leg. I had to walk home then and tell them what I had done. Your Papa was so furious with me, but he just grabbed a rifle and headed out there. It took a long time before I understood that he was most angry about having to kill that horse. He had to live with that pain, and it was my fault.”

“And now you have to live with that pain, and it’s my fault.”

Joe nodded, and AC wrapped his arms around his uncle trying to give him some comfort. The gesture was appreciated, but nothing would wipe that memory of Dancer suffering and then dying from his mind except time and other more happy memories. AC understood that now, and knew that he too would remember this day for a long time. He walked out and climbed into the carriage. Old Betsy was tied to the back. Adam walked over to Joe.

“I’m so sorry that you had to do that because of my children. You handled the whole thing so well. I am very proud of you as well as very grateful for what you did. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I don’t think I realized until today why you and Pa worried about me so much when I was that age.”

“And older.”

Joe smiled in response to Adam’s small crooked grin, and then grabbed Adam in a hug. “Thanks, you old stubborn hardhead.” Adam hugged back and gave Joe a pat on the back before climbing into the carriage to head home.

Chapter 8

Early the next morning, Adam was up doing chores and nearly did AC’s because he was in a hurry to go see how Beth was doing. Instead he waited until AC got to the stable and then let him start in on the chores he normally did with his sister. An hour later, AC trudge to the house. It was clear he had not slept well and now had worked hard before having any breakfast. Adam played with Joey as AC cleaned up and ate. Then the three of them headed to his father’s home. Once there, Adam walked in with Joey as AC unhitched the horse from the carriage, led him to the corral, and made sure he had water before he went to the house.

Looking every bit as exhausted as she felt, Andi met Adam in the great room and took Joey from his arms. The little boy clung to his mother and snuggled his head against her neck.

“He missed you a lot. He slept with me last night. Then AC crawled in too.”

“Well I hope you had on a nightshirt.” Andi smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I slept in the chair next to Beth. She’s awake but in a lot of pain this morning. I didn’t tell her yet about Dancer. I don’t know how much she saw.”

“Based on what AC told me, she saw enough, but in her condition, she may not remember. AC has been shaken by this. I hope he grows from it.”

So Adam told Andi about his talk with AC and the consequences he had set. Andi accepted those, but wondered what they would do with Beth who had been even more responsible for what happened but also had paid a heavy price already.

“She caused her own injury and the death of Dancer. She has to face consequences too.”

“I’m right here. You can just tell me.”

Both Adam and Andi were surprised to see Beth standing in the doorway with pain showing in her grimace and her stance. Andi handed Joey off to Mariah and AC as Adam addressed Beth.

“First, you get right back to bed. If you fall, you could get hurt worse.” Adam almost carried her back to the bed. “Now, did you hear what happened to AC?”

“Yes, and it’s not fair. He didn’t do it. I did.”

“He raced you which was against our rules for the two of you. You wouldn’t have tried that jump if you weren’t racing.”

Beth had to nod her head in agreement with that.

“However, what you did was worse. Your foolish action cost Dancer his life. Joe had to shoot him. Now he’s suffering and AC is suffering too because he had to help.” Each part of that had caused Beth to shake. Tears began to flow freely, and Andi moved to sit by her to comfort her, but Adam held her back.

“AC has lost the right to ride Emerson and will ride Old Betsy when he needs to ride. You will not ride at all except behind him or me, or in the wagon or carriage. You will be home resting when the rodeo takes place, and AC will be there working with me instead of participating. When you are healthy, we will talk about extra chores for you to do.”

By that point, Beth was sobbing and Adam reached for her and allowed Andi to sit on the other side of Beth as they comforted her. “We love you so much, but what you did could have killed you and it did kill Dancer. We have to do this so you won’t try foolish risks like this in the future.”

After about a half hour, Beth was so exhausted that she fell asleep. Adam eased her back to the pillow, and Andi covered her with a light blanket. Then the two of them stepped outside the room and closed the door.

“Did you have to be so harsh? Beth was suffering so and you made it so much worse!” Andi’s voice was low but her anger was still apparent.

“I would have waited but she overheard too much already. If I made her wait to find out the consequences, she would just have worried. Now she knows and can get used to the idea.”

Ben was still at the table with his coffee as Mariah and Liz were visiting with AC and Joey near the fireplace. They heard it all. Adam wasn’t comfortable having everyone hear, but Beth and Andi had opened discussions in front of everyone so he wasn’t able to do it more privately. The angry tone of Andi and Adam had Joey starting to cry. Adam picked him up and walked outside with him to calm the toddler and forestall any more angry words.

Because Joey had had a restless night, he was irritable and tired. Adam talked softly with him and then began to sing lullabies to him. Joey laid his head on his father’s chest as Adam sat in a chair on the porch, and then the toddler closed his eyes and fell asleep. Adam loved these moments with his children when they showed their absolute trust and confidence in him to do the right thing and to protect them. He had their absolute trust. He wondered how long it would be before Joey did something that would lead to the same kind of problem as AC and Beth had. He knew both of his older children were very upset with him at this point but felt he had done what he had to do. What he wished for too was that Andi would back him when he had to make these decisions. He heard her walk up behind him and tensed for the confrontation he thought was coming. Joey stirred in his embrace and he consciously endeavored to remain calm so his son could sleep. Andi’s words were not the ones he had been expecting.

“Your father let me know how wrong he thought I was. He said I can’t always hand over the tough discipline decisions to you and then complain about what you do. He said it must have been terribly hard for you to do what you did because you were suffering too. I’m sorry that all I saw was how my daughter was suffering and failed to acknowledge your feelings in this. Will you accept my apology?” Andi leaned down to kiss him to let him know she meant every word she had said.

Kissing his wife and then smiling in relief, Adam glanced down at his sleeping son. “He’s a sweet little boy. You may have to have a discussion with him though. He saw me using the chamberpot this morning and asked about my ‘pickle’. He wanted to know why it was so much bigger than his. I told him it was because I was so much bigger than him, but you know how he likes to question us about things. I doubt it will be the last time he asks. He is a very curious little boy. By the way, why does he call it a ‘pickle’?”

Blushing a little, Andi sat in the chair next to Adam. “We were naming body parts when he took his bath as we often do. So we did ears, nose, eyes, mouth, arms, legs, and tummy and so on. Then he grabbed it and said ‘What’, and I had to say something. I didn’t know what to say, so I said ‘pickle’ and that’s what he calls it now.”

There was nothing else to do but smile at that. Joey was curious and asked about everything with his why, what, and where questions. He was also very talkative for someone so young, and undoubtedly would ask others about their ‘pickle’ at some point. It was probably safest that Andi had given him that term.

Chapter 9

The same day, Adam was able to transport Beth home after Doctor Martin checked her out and was pleased to find the swelling greatly diminished. He re-splinted the lower arm, and wrapped her whole arm in heavy bandages. His prognosis was that with lots of rest, the arm should heal without any additional intervention by him. That relieved everyone especially the adults who knew how risky surgery on Beth’s arm would have been.

Once Beth was safely tucked away in her bed, Adam had to go to town to finalize plans for the children’s rodeo. The ladies from the church were organizing the Easter activities, and he had to coordinate with them on timing of events. He also had to make sure all of his instructions were being followed and that the volunteers were all ready to go. He arrived home after dark to find the household quiet which was a great relief after the past two days. He found his dinner was ready and waiting for him in the warming oven. He could hear Andi with the children readying them for bed. He gulped his dinner and went to see how everyone was doing.

Drowsy from the exhaustion caused by pain, Beth was already falling asleep by the time Adam got to her room. He kissed her on the cheek and she mumbled something he couldn’t understand and closed her eyes. Adam stood by her bedside watching her as her breathing indicated she was sleeping. His fiery, daredevil daughter looked like such an angel as she slept. Next he went to Joey’s room and the little boy let out a joyous scream seeing his father. Adam shushed him and held him close until the toddler snuggled into his shoulder. Then Adam laid him in the bed and pulled the covers up to his chin. Joey fell asleep faster than Adam had ever seen anyone do it. It seemed the moment his head hit the pillow, he was asleep. Andi was at the door watching. Adam pulled Joey’s door nearly closed, and then the two of them went to bid AC good night.

The next few days went by remarkably fast for everyone except Beth. Adam and AC were in town preparing the rodeo when AC was done with school each day. Friday would be a vacation day and the plan was for Adam and AC to work in town all that day. Andi had Joey to care for but also now had Beth convalescing.

“Mama, do you think Papa will change his mind and let me go to the rodeo. I know I can’t ride, but it could be a lot of fun just being there.”

“It wasn’t just your Papa’s decision. I support that punishment for you too.”

“I heard you get mad at Papa for punishing me like that. Did he make you agree with him?”

“No, and if you must know, Grandpa Ben and Grandma Mariah supported your Papa’s decision and so did I once I got to think about it. What you did could have gotten you killed. You need to consider consequences before you take an action, and we’re hoping these punishments will help you do that.”

“But AC gets to go.”

“AC is being punished as well. Don’t start complaining now. We could add to your punishment if we think it isn’t making enough of an impression on you. Keep that in mind.”

Sobered by her mother’s comments, Beth’s temper was just held in check. She had been just angry with her father but that anger encompassed her mother was well now. She thought they were being unfair. She thought her injury and the pain she had suffered should have been enough as well as the fact that she had lost her horse and couldn’t compete in the rodeo per doctor’s orders. The additional penalties seemed to be too much, and she was angry. She began to plot.

On Saturday, Adam rode out early to take care of last minute details. Andi was going to drive the carriage in with AC and Joey. Joey would love the Easter egg hunt and AC would help him. Beth sat in her room refusing to speak with anyone. Then after the hunt, there would be egg painting with prizes for each age group. AC would help Adam set up the rodeo events as the children painted. Then families would have picnic lunches just outside town where the little rodeo was set up.

In the rodeo, Eric was expected to win the riding and roping contests and the whole family wanted to be there to cheer him on. None of the children were expected to win the races, but Eric as well as Joe’s children were participating. The circuit for the older children was one half mile long. For the younger children such as Joe’s, it was only about one hundred yards. It was long enough to have fun but short enough that it was unlikely anyone would be hurt. There were pony rides for the youngest children who would be led by an older child or adult. Prizes were to be awarded in every category. Entrance fees for each event were small, but people had to buy tickets to be a spectator. No one grumbled though because they knew it was going for a good cause. Adam had Roy in charge of betting. Many of the more church going crowd would have been offended to know that there were bets on who would win, but the rodeo was taking ten percent of all bets so it was another money maker.

When it came time for the rodeo to begin, Adam was surprised to see that Eric was leading Emerson to the fenced in areas where the roping and riding events were to be held. He looked at AC wondering how he would feel about it and found his son smiling.

“Papa, I told Eric to ride Emerson. He loves to run, and he’s better trained than Eric’s horse. Eric has his horse here as a back-up.”

“That was a very nice thing to do.”

“Papa, thank you for letting me help you with the rodeo. I know that what I did racing Beth was very wrong. I’ll be better now.”

“You’ve shown an mature attitude in accepting your punishment. I’m proud of you. Now you go grab the small blackboard to announce the scores, and I’ll go make sure the judges are ready to start.”

Up in a hayloft of a stable overlooking the rodeo area was a curly headed ten year-old girl sporting a large cast on her arm. She had found it difficult to climb the ladder into the loft but had managed it. At home, she had finished lunch as expected but instead of retiring to her room for a nap as she had announced to their cook and housekeeper, she had managed to saddle Old Betsy and rode to town. It had been difficult to saddle the horse but in the week since her accident, the pain in her arm had abated considerably. She used ropes to pull the cinch tight, and had used a pulley to put the saddle on the horse. She had been grateful that her father had bought both of them small light saddles that made the task possible. Taking an indirect route to the stable that she knew overlooked the rodeo area, she had tied Old Betsy behind it and then climbed up to the loft. Almost everyone was still in the picnic area when she arrived so only a few had seen her and mostly they were men who worked here and wouldn’t be bothered by any child as they went about their business. She could see well and if she stayed in the shadows, no one would see her. She planned to ride back as soon as the races were over and no one would know she had ever been there.

Soon there was a flurry of activity as families got to the rodeo after finishing their picnic lunches. Escorted by parents, young children went to the viewing area as the older children prepared for the skill contests that would be followed by the races. As Beth watched AC hold up the board with scores, she got angry. When she saw Eric riding Emerson, she was livid not knowing that it had been AC’s idea. She was in that frame of mind when she went to climb down the ladder that turned out to be more difficult than climbing up had been. She slipped as she tried to maneuver herself back onto the ladder using only one arm. She fell and there was a sickening thud as she hit the ground. Jake had been sitting on the bench outside his stable watching the rodeo when he heard the noise. He went in to investigate and found Beth unconscious on the floor.

As Adam was being congratulated by a host of parents for the wonderful job on the rodeo, he looked toward the stable when he heard shouts from the crowd to see Jake carrying a limp Beth in his arms. He ran to Jake taking Beth from his arms.

“What happened? How did she get hurt?”

“Far as I can tell, she was up in that loft watching the goings on down here. I had no idea she was there until I heard a noise and found her lying on the floor in my stable.”

Andi came rushing up to Adam after handing Joey off to Mariah and Ben. She and AC followed along as Adam carried Beth toward Doctor Martin’s office. Andi moved to support Beth’s injured arm that was dangling loosely as Adam carried her. Once at Doctor Martin’s, Adam carried Beth into the doctor’s exam room and then came out to comfort his wife and son. Soon the rest of the Cartwright clan was there waiting to hear what the doctor would say. With everyone so quiet and after having a very exciting day, Joey was exhausted and fell asleep on Adam’s shoulder. It was over an hour before the doctor emerged to say that Beth would be fine. She had a mild concussion and had sustained no more damage to her arm

“At least she fell on the side where she wasn’t injured. I was afraid she had injured that arm more which could have led to an amputation, but luckily that won’t be necessary. Just keep her home and resting, and within a week, she should be fully recovered.”

Andi had gasped when the doctor had mentioned ‘amputation’ as had the other women. Adam and the men did not react. Adam knew he had to explain.

“Paul told me what the worst would be if that bone did not set properly or if there was infection. He wanted me to get used to the idea in case it had to happen. There was no need to worry you even more unless it started to look as if that would be necessary. I told my father and my brothers because I knew how much help we would need if it had come to that.”

A little upset at not being trusted with that information, Andi also knew that Adam would do anything to protect his family and that is what that had been. She sighed and asked if they could sit with Beth, and Paul told them that would be a good idea. As Adam and Andi sat with Beth, they discussed what they could do with their willfully disobedient daughter. Before she awakened, they had worked out a plan.

Chapter 10

Pulling the tent stake tight, Adam looked over the children who were helping him set up another tent for the families who were here. Eric, AC, and Beth were pulling as hard as they could but the weight of the canvas was just too much for them. Hoss walked up behind Beth and grabbed the rope with her and the tent was suddenly upright. The two boys quickly went inside to set the tent poles and tie them off. Then they emerged and began securing the sides of the tent to the ground and Beth went inside to put the canvas strip around the bottom that was meant to keep out snakes, rodents, and insects.

Hoss moved to Adam’s side and they watched their children work. Ben had decided that the children’s request for a camping, fishing, and hunting trip could be honored. He and Mariah had taken the line shack as their dwelling and there were three tents set up for the brothers and their families.

“Beth really has come a long way in the last few months.”

Adam had a deep sigh at Hoss’ words. It had been very difficult. He remembered sitting at the doctor’s office and wondering if that amputation would have to occur after Beth’s fall in the stable. It had not been necessary, but he had known that he had to shock Beth into change before something like that or worse happened. When he had finally confronted her, he had Beth sobbing when he had told her that amputation was a possibility. He had found out the hard way that keeping the truth from her had just made her even more reckless. He had told her in graphic detail what an amputation would be like. Then he had prevailed on Joe to describe Dancer’s injuries also in graphic detail and how the animal had suffered. He had described the sorrow and worry Andi had suffered and how she couldn’t sleep and cried in his arms almost every night. He didn’t spare her any of the horror of what had happened because he never wanted her to forget what she had done by her willful disobedience. Rules were there for a reason, and she wasn’t to forget that.

That had been part one of their plan. Then Beth had to apologize to everyone affected by her foolish actions and she had to be sincere by doing something for that person as well as saying she was sorry. She had not realized how many people had been affected by her actions until she had to do that. It seemed the list was endless from her parents and AC to Uncle Joe, Grandpa Ben, and so on including Doctor Martin and a number of other people who had helped when she was injured. When she had apologized to Jake at the livery stable and offered to wash his clothes for him that he happily accepted, her father had said he thought she was done with that part.

The third part of her consequences was still in place. Beth was not allowed to go anywhere alone except to the necessary and to sleep in her room at night. At all other times, she was to be in the company of an adult. That meant for the remainder of the school year, she had not been allowed to play or visit with her friends before school, during lunch and recess, and after school. She had to stay inside with Mrs. Hanson. On the good side of that, she had developed a good friendship with Barbara and helped her with the small children on a number of occasions. Now that her arm was fully healed and the muscles were regaining their strength, that and the earlier proscription against riding a horse that was still in effect were the daily reminders of what her foolish actions had caused.

AC’s punishment had not been as severe because he was less complicit in the original disobedience and had been sincere in his resolve to follow the rules. AC had been shaken to the core by having to help Joe with Dancer. Adam had thanked Joe several times for doing that. AC had thrown himself into working on the rodeo and making it a success even though he had not been allowed to compete. Telling his cousin to ride Emerson had shown his sincerity as well. In addition, AC had ridden Old Betsy without complaint until this trip when Adam had relented and allowed him to ride Emerson. Boy and pony had been overjoyed to be together again. Emerson was still young and playful. Adam and Andi liked the effect that he had on their serious son who acted like a small child sometimes when frolicking with Emerson.

When the families had arrived, Adam had gathered all the children around him and laid out the rules that he and the other parents had agreed were necessary. No one could go anywhere without an adult with them or AC or Eric. Beth was still restricted to being with the adults as were the younger children. She was no longer was upset by that because she felt rather grown up to be in discussions with her grandmother and aunts as well as her mother. Beth was often the one chosen to be Joey’s guardian and the two of them had become very close. All in all, things were working out rather well until no one could find Joe’s youngest daughter. Suddenly everyone was out searching for her. Joey was napping and Beth found herself alone with just him in the camp. She wanted so very much to go help, but it would break the rules and leave her little brother unattended.

Within about fifteen minutes, there was an ominous silence. Beth had been hearing shouts from the searchers and now there was only silence. She worried at what had happened. Then she saw her Uncle Joe carrying a sodden daughter to their tent. Joe was soaked as well and when her father appeared, he also was completely wet. Her Uncle Hoss had wet sleeves but was otherwise dry. She waited to hear what had happened. Her father reached their tent and suddenly realized that Beth had been left alone, but she had stayed with Joey despite what must have been a huge temptation to run to where everyone else was. Beth calmly waited for someone to explain what happened. Her father patted her on the head before heading into the tent pulling the flap closed. Andi walked up to Beth then as the other families went to their tents or the line shack.

“She fell in the stream and was clinging to an exposed tree root. When Joe jumped in to get her, he lost his footing and the two of them were washed downstream. Your father waded in to grab them but couldn’t hold them and help them out so Uncle Hoss grabbed your father by the belt and pulled him as he pulled your Uncle Joe who was holding his little darling.”

“So that’s why Papa said none of us could go to the stream without an adult with us?”

“Yes, the stream is rushing much more than usual with the heat wave melting snow up above and the rain we had yesterday. It’s too dangerous.”

“And rules are made for a reason.”

Andi smiled. Beth got it now. She had grown a lot over the last few months. She still had that temper but was amending her behavior. After all, her father, uncles, and grandfather had quite the tempers too so that was no reason to worry as long as there was a strong code of conduct to go with it. She saw Joey still lying asleep on the blanket under the tent canopy and realized Beth had fulfilled that responsibility very well. She and Adam would talk now about weaning Beth off the restrictions they had imposed. Beth would have to prove that she was ready, but Andi no longer had any doubt that she would do well. As Adam emerged from the tent in dry clothing but barefoot as his boots would need to dry, Andi smiled at him and then looked at Beth. He nodded. They were in agreement.

“Beth, how would you like to try riding Sport? He needs some exercise and my boots are wet.”

***THE END***

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