SUMMARY: In this story, Adam has returned home but is not sure of what to do and if he should stay. It’s a romance, but a bumpy one as there are detours involving all consuming work, tragedy, and life threatening trouble that will fully engage his mind and his heart until he has found his place and his future.
rating = T word count = 27599
The blue waters enticed them to swim, but the group was there for a different purpose and swimming would have interfered with it. Joe Cartwright led the group to what he considered the prime spot that his brother Hoss had taught him to use and signaled for everyone to dismount to prepare for a day of fishing. His brother Adam had recently returned home, and this was the first time the two of them had been out together fishing since his homecoming. There had been some rough times as the two readjusted to each other, but for the most part, that was over, and they were spending more time talking and learning. All those years apart had left holes to be filled. Joe guessed that this day of fishing might be an opportunity to find out more of what Adam had done while he had been gone. The only difficulty was that an old friend of their father was visiting and his daughter had come along to help care for him but had also invited herself along on the fishing excursion when she heard about it. She had told their foreman who had also decided to come not knowing that Joe had intended originally for the day to be one for him and Adam only. With the four of them going, Jamie had thought the invitation was open and had decided to come along too.
However, as the day progressed, Joe found that he was learning a great deal about Adam by the interactions with the other three. To Jamie, Adam acted almost fatherly with his advice and care. The relationships with the other two were far more contentious and full of surprises. The lively discussions Adam had with Candy Canaday were fun to observe, but nothing was as entertaining as witnessing the exchanges between their guest and Adam. Kitty was clearly attracted to him and doing her best to pique his interest while he seemed equally intent on making sure she lost interest in him. Clearly though his efforts only seemed to spur her on. Then it got very interesting when she wanted to learn how to fly fish after hearing Adam describe it to Joe and Candy and offer to demonstrate it to them. Soon the two of them had bare feet and were standing in shallow water as he stood behind her and guided her arm with the rod to show her how to cast the line back and forth before releasing it. He kept one arm around her waist as he did so and her bright pink blush was probably only partially the result of the excitement of learning how to fly fish. The lesson lasted until lunch with Adam spending the last part of it sitting on the bank and watching as she fished and he offered advice as needed. Joe and Candy put the lunch baskets out and called to the two of them to come eat. Once he got his boots on, Adam suggested to Joe that they should water the horses first before eating. Candy and Kitty finished the lunch preparations and waited for the two brothers to return.
“He’s not very nice to me.”
“He showed you how to fly fish. I saw him standing there and showing you how to do it, guiding you through it step-by-step. It looked like the two of you were getting along fine there.”
“I thought so too, but then I realized it was only because he got to be the know-it-all and show me how to do it. Then he sat there and watched and told me what to do if I did anything wrong. He acted more like a schoolmaster instructing his pupil than anything.”
“I thought I saw the two of you talking after you finished.”
“Candy, there’s no hope with him. He thinks I’m too forward among other things.”
“I don’t know. It could be that he’s too reserved holding back when he could grab on to something good. And why would he think you’re too forward anyway?”
With the good grace to be embarrassed, Kitty admitted that she had suggested to Adam that they could spend more time together. He had rebuffed her offer. “He said that he thought it ought to be the man’s prerogative to initiate a relationship.”
“I guess it usually it, but I hadn’t taken him to be a man who thought that way. It seems he’s saying whatever it is he can to argue with you.”
“He said I was too young, and that he wanted someone who would support him not compete with him.” Candy frowned at that. “I said I wanted to learn how to fish as well as he does and bring back lots of fish.”
“Could be he doesn’t know you as well as he thinks he does. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share an interest.” Pausing, Candy wondered a bit before asking. “What exactly were you talking about anyway that got you so upset and him so defensive?”
Ignoring that, she continued with her complaints. “Then he said the worst thing of all. He said I had freckles because I spent so much time in the sun, and he wondered if I would ever be ‘tame’ enough. Tame! Can you believe he said that? I just know he was referring to the Taming of the Shrew.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because he had that smirk he has when he thinks he’s being so clever.”
“For someone who supposedly isn’t interested in you, he sure has paid a lot of attention to you. I never noticed until now that you had freckles, and I definitely didn’t know you knew that much about books. For that matter, you seem to know a lot about him too.”
With that comment, she looked quite embarrassed because she knew how true it was. There was more of a problem than she saw though as Candy guessed there was likely going to be trouble because he could tell that Joe was interested in her, but she was interested in Adam. He couldn’t see that this was going to turn out well and wondered too what she had said to Adam to instigate the conversation of which he had heard her side. Out of curiosity mainly, he wondered if there was a way to get Adam talking and find out his point-of-view of that same conversation. Now that might make for a very interesting discussion at some point if he could ever get the man to open up.
Apparently he and Joe had opened up but only after Joe’s temper had exploded. Adam still had some bruising on his face from that and a cut on his lip that was still healing. Strangely he didn’t seem to mind and brushed off any comments that were made about those. He and Joe were acting as if there had never been any tension between them. Candy wasn’t used to brothers like this. He remembered how Hoss and Joe had been, and this relationship was quite different from the warm, affable one between the younger two brothers. He wondered what Joe thought about all of this. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. After lunch, when Kitty asked if anyone wanted to take a walk along the shore, Adam said he wouldn’t mind and the two strolled off together. Adam’s willingness to walk with Kitty clearly illustrated his ambivalence about her.
“I may have to pop him in the mouth one more time.”
“Who? What? Oh. Why?”
“He’s tugging her one way and then the other. I like her, but she likes him. He needs to make up his mind. If he’s not interested, he ought to back off because I would like to see if she could maybe decide I’m not all that bad.”
“You do know she’s interested in him, and she doesn’t seem your type.”
“What? She likes to fish. She likes horses. What isn’t there to like about that?”
“And she likes to read, and go to the theatre, and talk politics. She wants to travel or says she does. She’s not a sweet pretty little thing who’ll be happy just to hang on your arm.”
“Maybe I’m past that.” As Candy grinned, Joe couldn’t help himself and matched that. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I am glad you’re looking again though. That talk you had with your brother did some good then.”
“Yeah, although he paid the price for it.”
“You never explained why he looks so bad and you haven’t got a mark on you.”
“That’s because he never touched me and never took a swing at me. He only tried to stop me from doing too much damage. He got me mad on purpose and let me hit him so I’d talk. Guess he knew from years ago that the best way to get me talking was to get me mad.”
“I tried to do that, but I suppose I never pushed you far enough.”
“You did, but I wouldn’t hit you.”
“Ah, that’s it, but you’d hit your brother?” Candy had an unusual combination of a smile and frown with the strange information from Joe.
“It’s complicated, but we understand each other.”
“How did he know you’d talk?”
“Because he had the same feelings inside of him.”
“What? How could he have the same feelings?”
“He was living in England and got married. They were coming back here when his wife died. They were on a ship and no one could help her. She was carrying their baby. He said he wanted to die too when that happened, so he knew what I was feeling, and we talked about it.””
As they walked nearby, Kitty and Adam had somewhat of a similar conversation first referencing the evidence of the fight that had occurred between Joe and Adam although Joe used his fists and Adam only words.
“Were you in a fight or an accident to get those bruises on your face?”
Snorting, Adam shook his head a bit too. “There’s nothing you won’t do, is there? You blurt out the most revealing things and ask the most impertinent questions.”
“And you are excellent at evading them so why are you even bothered by my questions? You don’t answer most of them. Are you embarrassed about how you got those bruises? Maybe some little old lady knocked you out for your sass?”
“You know, you should wear a bustle so that when you get spanked, it wouldn’t sting so much.”
“I don’t get spanked!”
“Maybe you should. It might tame that mouth of yours.”
“There you go again. It’s The Taming of the Shrew reference again, isn’t it? That’s what you think of me, is that it?”
“No, that isn’t what I was inferring, but now that you mention it, it does seem appropriate. It must be why you thought of it.”
“Ooh, you make me so mad. I only thought of it because you keep referring to me needing to be tamed.”
“I only say it because you certainly could use a rein on your tongue.”
“Is that how western gentlemen are taught to speak to women?”
“No, that is not, but women have to speak like women to be spoken to in a more gentlemanly fashion.”
“You are impossible. I can see why you’re not married. A woman married to you would probably kill herself to get away from you.”
Kitty was shocked then when Adam abruptly left her side pulling his hat down low and stalking off up the hill at a pace she couldn’t hope to match. Everything about his posture told her not to try. She didn’t know why he had reacted that way but she knew she had upset him. Turning to walk back to the others, she concluded that it was her last statement but didn’t know why it would have made him turn away as he had. When she got back, she repeated what she had said and saw both Joe and Jamie look very worried.
“What did I say that was so wrong?”
As Joe walked in the direction from which she had come, Jamie explained. “Adam was married and coming home when his wife died. That was less than six months ago. He’s not over it yet. Today had been one of the first days that we had seen him smiling and having fun and even talking with a woman.”
“And then I ruined it all with a thoughtless comment.”
“You didn’t know.”
That was close to what Joe said to Adam when he found him. “She didn’t know.”
With a nod, Adam acknowledged both his brother’s presence and his statement. It took Adam a short time to be able to tell his brother what he was thinking even as Joe stood by him with a hand on his shoulder. “Joe, it still hurts. I try to follow my own advice, but then there are moments like that when it all overwhelms me yet.”
“I can say what you said to me only a short time ago. I know what you mean. I feel the same way many times. It’s natural. We still carry them in our hearts. I suspect we always will. I guess we’ll have to find a way to tuck them in there warmly and be able to move on like Pa did, but we aren’t quite there yet.”
“Guess we’re not. I least, I know I’m not. It surprised me how much it still hurt when it all came roaring up at me. I had buried it too long without facing it.”
“Every night, I look at Alice’s picture and say a little prayer for her and ask her to save a place for me.”
With a little grin then, Adam couldn’t resist. “You ought to be asking her to put in a few good words too so He’ll forgive some of those youthful incidents perhaps?”
“Oh, and how about you and some of those perhaps not so youthful incidents?”
By the time they returned to the others, it was obvious that they were both in a more jovial mood and the remainder of the afternoon proceeded well although the other three were more careful in what they said. No one wanted to stir up any more bad feelings. Joe had gotten what he wanted too which was a time to speak openly with Adam as well as to spend some relaxing time with him. They even caught a few fish, which they brought home to Hop Sing who cleaned them and prepared them for the evening meal.
When they returned to the ranch house, Ben noted that although all appeared in good spirits, Kitty avoided Adam who seemed to be more reserved and quiet than usual. It was only after their guests had retired for the evening and Adam went to his room to read that Ben got the whole story of what had happened that day. Once Joe told him what had happened, he had some idea why Adam was acting as he was.
“I suppose the wounds are still too fresh. Reminders are going to do that, aren’t they?”
With experience similar to his father’s, Joe’s was sympathetic to Adam’s predicament. “They still do to me, and I’ve had longer to adjust than Adam has although not by much. It’s that sometimes it catches you when you least expect it, and I think that’s what happened to him today. Pa, I guess you would know what that’s like.”
“Yes, when you carry that kind of sorrow, it’s difficult to have someone else remind you. It’s easier, as I’m sure you have discovered, to pick the time and place to discuss it when you’re ready for it.”
“Yeah, and he wasn’t ready for it at all. I think he was getting into teasing Kitty and having a good time, and then suddenly he was reminded that it wasn’t that many months ago that he was married and expecting a child with his wife.”
“Well, Kitty knows now and feels terrible about what she said. However I told her that it would be better not to apologize because it would simply reopen the wound again. She said she had to say something though so I suggested she word it most generally and wait until tomorrow or the next day when they are away from others. I hope that is good enough.”
Joe agreed but had a qualifier to add. “It should be, but we should also let Adam know what’s coming. That will help too.”
“Letting him know is a good idea, son. You’re getting to be pretty wise.”
“I’ve had very good teachers.”
“Let’s get to bed. Tomorrow is another busy day.”
“But it’s Sunday!”
“I know it’s Sunday, but there’s the church picnic, and we have guests to bring along as well as food to deliver.”
“You’re right. I forgot.”
Chuckling, Ben put an arm around his Joe’s shoulder. “I feel better then about getting a bit forgetful as I get older if someone so much younger can forget all of that.”
As Ben walked by Adam’s door, he could see quite a bit of light showing and knew Adam was up late once again. Most nights were like that as his son seemed to stay up as late as he could to guarantee that he could sleep once he got in bed. However on this night, it turned out not to be good enough.
Deep in a dream, Adam was under water swimming toward his wife who held their tiny child in her arms. No matter how hard he swam though, he couldn’t get any closer in the dark, cold, murky water that made his legs feel leaden and his arms feel like noodles as he tried so hard to swim faster and faster. No matter the effort he made though, they were getting further and further away slipping deeper and deeper into the ebony depths. Without warning, there was a bright light and iron like bands holding his arms as he fought to be free and swim to his wife and child. He heard his name called over and over until he recognized his father’s voice and stopped struggling awaking to his father holding his wrists as his brother Joe held a lamp back a few feet.
“Son, are you awake now? It’s all right. We’re here for you.”
Getting fully conscious, Adam realized his lamp was smashed and his covers were twisted about him. He must have been thrashing about rather violently. He nodded in response to his father who released his wrists. Rubbing them, Adam dropped his head in shame over having such a nightmare requiring the intervention of his father and brother. It was then that he heard his father say something and realized that he and Joe weren’t the only ones there.
“Who else saw me?”
“Jamie was there. He was worried about you.”
“Our guests were alarmed.”
“Adam, they understand.”
Awareness of what that meant dawned on Adam after a moment. He sounded bitter when he responded. “So you told them my tragic story.”
“After what happened today, it seemed the prudent thing to do. So, yes, I did tell them the basics of it.”
“I’m all right now.” It was clear he wanted everyone to leave.
“Hop Sing went to get some towels and a broom. We have a bit of a mess to clean up here first. Don’t get out of bed yet. There are shards of glass on the floor and it’s slippery too.”
So Adam was forced to sit on his bed as Hop Sing, his father, and Joe cleaned up the broken lamp and then helped him straighten the sheets and the blankets for his bed. Hop Sing had a new rug to put by the bed and took the oil soaked one with him when he left. Obviously Adam didn’t want to talk, so Ben simply left the lamp they had brought and motioned to the door so that Joe would leave with him. As they looked back when Ben pulled the door closed, they saw Adam sitting on the bed with his head down and the blankets pulled up to his waist.
“Pa, you think he’s going to be all right?”
“Yes, he obviously had a nightmare that unnerved him. He needs some time to adjust to that. He may not sleep much more tonight. We’ll see if he wants to accompany us tomorrow.”
In the morning, Ben’s prophecy proved to have been correct as Adam looked and acted exhausted. When Kitty offered to stay at the house with him, he snarled at her.
“I don’t need anyone to stay with me. Go have fun.”
“I only wanted to help.”
“I don’t need any help.”
After that, no one else said anything, but when the others climbed into carriages, Jamie stood by Adam who looked at him. Jamie shrugged.
“I’m not helping. I’m just being a brother.”
Sitting in the larger of the two carriages with their guests, Ben waited expecting a rebuke from Adam to Jamie. Instead, Adam put an arm around Jamie’s shoulders and waved goodbye with his other arm. Although Jamie had looked worried, he sported a grin at that point waving goodbye as well as the two carriages pulled out. With a grin at his father’s shocked look, Joe drove the smaller carriage loaded with food for the picnic. Once the carriages were out of sight, the two brothers went in the house with Jamie suggesting that he could do the kitchen cleanup by himself if Adam wanted to relax and do some reading.
“I have a book I want to finish too so I’ll join you for some quiet reading time as soon as I’m done. It’s hard to get time to read around here some times.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that, Jamie.”
“You’re welcome. You know how Pa teaches us to respect our elders.”
That parting shot might have gotten something thrown in his direction if he hadn’t ducked into the kitchen immediately after saying it. It did get Adam to grin though as Jamie suspected it would. By the time Jamie came out to clear the dining table, he saw that Adam had nodded off already with the book he was reading resting open on his chest. Congratulating himself on a second job well done, Jamie was especially quiet as he finished up in the kitchen and then went to sit on the settee and read his book. Two hours later, Adam awoke and the two of them decided that perhaps they could ride into town and attend the church picnic. Jamie was feeling proud of himself but was startled by comments Adam made after they saddled their horses and prepared to mount up. Adam paused and looked at his new youngest brother.
“You are a heck of a lot better at scheming than Joe ever was and doing it at a much younger age. I wonder what you’ll be like in five or ten years.”
With his mouth open, Jamie made it clear that he had thought he was cleverer than he was. Adam could only grin at that. The two rode in companionable silence for most of the trip to town and got to the picnic not long after it had started. Somewhat surprised to see the two of them, Ben walked over to greet them away from the crowds of people attending the picnic.
“I didn’t expect to see you two here.”
“Jamie is persuasive in his own way.”
“Ah, I see.”
Although Ben didn’t, he hoped Jamie would talk more once Adam was otherwise engaged. That didn’t take long as Joe saw Adam too and signaled for him to come over to the shooting contests. That gave Ben a chance to question Jamie.
“What kind of magic did you work on your oldest brother? He even looks happy.”
“He needed some sleep and nobody, you know, mollycoddling him. I just gave him that opportunity.”
“How did you do that?”
“I knew he’d want to clean up if he was home alone so I volunteered to do it all. He sat in his chair to read, and well, that didn’t take long.”
“You know, Jamie, someday, you’re going to be a wonderful father.”
“Thanks, Pa.” Jamie felt more a part of the family than he had since the day he was adopted. Having Adam accept him and speak to him as he had that day had further cemented his place as a Cartwright. He wondered where his brothers were though.
“They’re both at the shooting contest, I believe. Want to go there and watch with me?”
So they were in the audience as the first group fired at the target. Joe easily defeated the other two and stood back for the second group to try. One shooter defeated the other two and stood aside for the finals. Then the third group came up and Adam and Candy were both in that group.
“Good luck, old man. I would guess you’re a little rusty after all these years so don’t worry if you can’t hit anything. I’m sure the laughter will die down quickly.”
Getting the scowl he expected, Candy only grinned in response. From behind them, Kitty called out some encouragement.
“You can do it, cowboy!”
Assuming it was meant for him, Adam scowled again at the attention in front of all those people. The three of them shot and Adam and Candy both hit the center so they had to shoot again. Both hit it again, so they judges decided that both could go on to the finals, which would have four shooters instead of three.
“I knew you could do it, cowboy!”
The fourth man was quickly eliminated in the finals when the target was moved back twenty feet. That left Joe, Candy, and Adam to compete. The target was moved back another twenty feet and that left Adam and Candy because Joe’s shot touched the line instead of being completely in the center circle. The judges ruled he was out. The target was moved back once more until it rested on the bank of the small stream. Candy and Adam tied again.
“Well, gentlemen, we can’t move it back any further. You’ll have to hit a different kind of target now.” He held up two peach cans that had been hastily retrieved from the picnic area. “These will be thrown in the air. Whoever hits their target the most times before it hits the ground will be the winner.”
“What if no one hits the target?” Candy thought someone should ask the most practical question.
There were snickers in the crowd and the judge turned to Candy. “Then we’ll do it again.”
It was over though on the first try. Adam hit his can twice and Candy only once. Candy congratulated Adam and turned to leave. As he did so, Kitty came up to him and laced her arm around his.
“I’m sorry, cowboy. I thought you would win.”
“It’s all right, Kitty. I got the best prize of the day. Let’s go for that walk now, all right?”
Holding back a grin at the scowl Adam had at observing that, Joe walked up to his brother to congratulate him on his win. However Adam didn’t seem as happy about it as he should have been even as he pocketed his winnings. Ben and Jamie noted that too. As they walked back toward the picnic area, Joe pointed toward where Candy was walking off with Kitty. Ben smiled and raised his eyebrows as he looked at Adam’s back. Apparently there was some feeling there that his son wasn’t acknowledging. Kitty’s father, Jerome was sitting beneath a tree enjoying the shade when they returned.
“Have you seen Kitty?”
“Yes, she and Candy are taking a walk.”
However Jerome didn’t seem too happy about that. Ben assured him that she and Candy were only friends. He guessed that Jerome was hoping that something would develop between Kitty and Adam or between Kitty and Joe. By the cough he had, Jerome was not a healthy man and probably was worried about his daughter’s future. Ben understood that. He liked Kitty too, but he didn’t know if her somewhat abrasive personality was suitable for Adam at this stage in his life. It was as if Jerome could read his mind.
“She’s not always like this, Ben. She’s actually quite sweet and charming when she’s comfortable around people and has the time and inclination to think before she speaks. When she gets nervous, she’s more brash blurting out what’s on her mind without any reserve. Dragging her away from her home and unsettling her this way, has put her on edge. It shows in everything about her.”
“I had wondered about that. I remember her mother quite well, and she was so quiet in comparison.”
“Kitty can be quiet too. She normally is much more quiet and quite pleasant, but she has this unfortunate tendency to act this way when she’s nervous. It’s as if she strikes out in fear. When she feels more confident, she doesn’t do that. I must say it’s unsettling.”
“I imagine it’s part of the reason why she’s still unmarried then?”
“Oh, I think it’s the main reason. Every time there was a suitor, this Kitty emerged. If only one of them would have stuck around long enough to get to know her and let her get to know them so she would relax in their company. She can be quite fun with her tendency to tease and her willingness to listen. Not many have that ability.”
“Is that why you asked for an extended stay here? It wasn’t for your health but your hope that Kitty would relax around us?”
“Oh, it was for my health. The clear air up here has helped. I feel stronger than I have in a long time. I think I ought to consider moving to some place with air like this. I could probably live quite a bit longer if I did so. The additional benefit that Kitty might learn to relax a bit and become more comfortable around all of you was something only I hoped might happen.”
“She seems comfortable around Candy.”
“Well, yes, and that is unfortunate.”
“Why? Candy is a good man.”
“Would he be able to manage my businesses and see to Kitty’s future? I have extensive holdings in banking, railroads, and shipping. I doubt he has much experience in any of those areas.”
“Well, we’ll have to see.”
But Ben could hear all the doubt in his voice. Jerome didn’t want Kitty to get serious about Candy. Ben worried too about what Adam was feeling about all of this. He doubted that his eldest would talk about what was going on as he probably hadn’t sorted out his feelings for himself yet. Ben did hope that Kitty would find time to talk with Adam because if Jerome was correct, she could change Adam’s perception of her. She certainly had charmed Candy already.
Before the trek home, Candy helped Joe load the dishes, pots, and pans left from the food brought from the Ponderosa. That gave them a chance to talk, and it wasn’t at all what Candy expected.
“I suppose your older brother is a bit jealous now.”
“No, I doubt it’s that. Most likely he’ll stay away from Kitty now so you’ll have a clear field.”
“What! I don’t want a clear field. I was only keeping her company today because she didn’t have anyone. You were busy with that new gal, and she looked kinda lonely so I offered to keep her company for lunch and then for a walk. She told me she was relieved to have someone to be with so she didn’t have to walk around alone which frightened her a bit.”
Although Candy had mentioned several things, Joe focused on only the one thing that had surprised him. “You’re not interested in her?”
“No, I mean she’s nice enough and all, but she’s not my type. We could probably be friends, I suppose, but nothing more. Damn, I didn’t want to ruin anything. I figured Adam would be man enough to want to step up and ask to keep company with her if he was interested.”
“Well, he never had her so he can’t take her back, and now, I don’t think he’ll even think about being with her.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that. It was never my intent.”
“Of course, maybe if you were to say something.”
Seeing that look on Joe, Candy was quick to tell him to back off. “Oh, no, don’t get me involved in one of your schemes. You let all of us alone. Every time you try to do things like this, it only makes it worse.”
“Aw, c’mon, Candy. All you have to do is tell him something like she was only talking about him when the two of you were walking. You know, something to get him thinking about her again.”
“Well, that’s not too far from the truth. She did ask questions about him, but she asked a few about you too but mostly about you and Adam.”
“There you go. She’s still interested in him. Don’t you think he ought to know that?”
“Yes, he probably should, but maybe he ought to find out for himself without anyone else getting involved.”
“Why? Don’t you like him?”
“Oh, I like him well enough.”
“Well enough that you’d like to see him happy?”
“Not well enough to go along with one of your schemes and get involved in somebody else’s romance or whatever it is.”
About that time, Ben came over to see what was taking so long as his guests were ready to go, and Jamie and Adam had left at least twenty minutes earlier. They finished up securing the dishes, pans, and pots. With a smile, Joe climbed into the seat trying to think of a way to get Candy to change his mind. He hadn’t thought of one by the time they arrived at home. Once there, they found Adam packing saddlebags and getting supplies from the kitchen.
“When Jamie and I got back, there was a messenger from the timber camps. They’ve had some trouble. I’m heading up there now.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“The main sluice line collapsed. I won’t know how bad it is until I see it.”
“You won’t make it there by dark.” Ben was concerned by the lateness of Adam’s planned departure.
“I know, but I can get over halfway there and camp. Then I can be there by early tomorrow and get to work. Hopefully I can get the main problem resolved quickly. The messenger said there are a few other issues too. I’ll stay then and do some marking. It was coming up in a couple of weeks anyway.”
“You could come back and go back there in a few weeks to do the marking.”
“Pa, there’s no reason for me to do that.”
“Adam, we have guests.”
“They won’t miss me. I’ll be back in a week or two, Pa. Don’t worry.”
Life had become rather complicated at the ranch with Kitty and Candy spending time together at the picnic which had disturbed him more than he wanted to admit. Of course, her witnessing the aftermath of his nightmare and that his father had divulged why it occurred made him feel both embarrassed and vulnerable. He didn’t like feeling that way either. Too much was happening on the ranch making his life unpleasant in many ways. He was attracted to Kitty in some ways but felt guilty about that. Memories of Marlene and the voyage home had disturbed his dreams too much lately making it difficult for him to sleep, and his exhaustion made it difficult to cope with all these issues. Adam hoped that sleeping on the trail would be better, and he was looking forward to dealing with a straightforward work crisis that he could look at in practical terms and devise a solution. There would be no complex problems where the solutions would elude him nor would there be situations with complicated moral questions to ponder. Working from dawn to dusk at hard physical labor was likely to make sleep come much more easily too and probably without any disturbing dreams. Despite the hard work, he expected to come home feeling better in two weeks. What he found when he got to the timber camps though was a bigger problem than he expected.
“Why are you hauling logs up the mountain to slide them down a sluice?”
“It’s the way we always done it. Your brother built that, and we been using it ever since.”
“But that must be ten years ago now. The cutting has moved a long way from that area now.”
“Yeah, but that sluice was still working slicker than a greased pig ’til we had that rain and one of the supports gave way.”
“The sluice may have worked well, but that’s a lot of wasted labor to get the logs to it and that means a lot of wasted money and time.”
“It would cost a lot of work to move that sluice and that’s a lot of money and time too.”
“But in the long run, it would save a lot more than it would lose.”
“Maybe, but we’re under orders to get as much done as fast as we can to finish up this contract. Moving that sluice ain’t gonna help us finish on time.”
“It could. Listen, that sluice can’t be used now anyway, and we have to spend a lot of time repairing it. It wouldn’t take that much longer to move it to a better location and put it together there. It would likely be shorter too and that would save us some time.”
“I reckon I won’t do that unless Mister Cartwright tells me to and that’s gonna take three days more that we’d be wasting to get the word to him and wait for his answer.”
“We don’t need to ask my father. I’m here now and I can make that decision.”
“Listen, you been away too long to think you kin do that. You ain’t no bull of the woods here no more.”
So once again, Adam found himself forced to prove that he had the right to make decisions in the timber camps, but he was older and the fight was more difficult. He fought the foreman first and then the assistant. A third man was going to step up, but the foreman told him to back off as Adam leaned against a pile of logs wiping his bruised knuckles with his bandana. Out of pride, he didn’t put a hand to his aching ribs or sore back. His chin and cheeks sported some colorful marks that were going to be bright blue and purple in a short time.
“He proved his point. He got a right to make the call.”
So after rising before dawn after sleeping on the hard ground, riding for hours, climbing up and down the slope where the old sluice was located, and then fighting two men and defeating them, Adam worked until dusk directing the men on dismantling what was left of the old sluice and moving the material several miles down the slope to a better location. That night before he could sleep, he drew up the dimensions of pieces he was going to need to finish the new sluice. It was well after midnight before he dropped into a bunk, but only five hours later, he was awakened by the foreman to start his day with coffee and breakfast.
By the end of the week, the new sluice was operational. Logs were moved from the previous location and sent down the slope quickly. The foreman reminded him that they were several days behind on the contract though at that point. So Adam began working on plans for how to speed up operations by marking trees closer to the new sluice. By the end of that week, they were getting closer to being back on schedule, so Adam kept up the marking to ensure that the contract would be met.
Another problem in addition to moving the sluice was the location of daily operations and the time they lost each day because they were working so far from the camps. The solution was obvious but would take too much time from the schedule to have the men move the camp so Adam decided he would do it piecemeal. He began by moving the storage for equipment that was used each day and the spare parts and extra items. That saved some time each day as the equipment didn’t have to be hauled to the job site and then hauled back. Then he moved the supplies for the horses and mules so that they could be kept at the job site too. It meant though that one or two men had to stay there to guard them so he moved a tent there as well.
It was well over two weeks that he was gone from home so he shouldn’t have been surprised when a rider from the Ponderosa showed up. What did surprise him was who it was. He had expected Joe and said as much.
“He’s busy, and these days, I don’t think your father much likes having too many sons away. Besides, we hadn’t gotten word of any trouble up here so he mostly figured you had more work than you expected and sent me to help out.” Looking at what Adam had already accomplished with the move of the camp, Candy frowned a bit. “I don’t think he expected you to move the camps though.”
“They’ve been in one place too long. I had to move the sluice and the camps were much too far away too so I moved them too.”
“You moved the sluice?”
“Yes, it wasn’t in the right place.” Candy whistled but said nothing more. Adam read into the whistle exactly what Candy was thinking though. “Joe shouldn’t mind. That sluice was there for almost ten years and did its job, but now the cutting is not near there any more. It will work better here.”
“Don’t want to be the one to tell him. Glad it’s going to be you. He was pretty proud of that and always told people that he built it.”
Shrugging, Adam had nothing more to say on that topic. “If you’re here to help, we’re going to need to move the cabins next. It will take a couple of days at least. The weather looks good for it now so we’re going to set up tents here for the men and then dismantle the cabins. We’ll rebuild them here. It will give us a chance to fix any problems in them too.”
Before Candy had a chance to say anything more, Adam was busy talking to the men who were setting up the tents. They planned to have the men in the tents by that night so all their personal gear was already on the wagons along with the bedding. Once the tents were up and the materials in the wagon stowed inside them, the crew would head back to the cabins and begin dismantling them. Candy asked what he could do.
“The cook and his helper didn’t want us messing with his stuff, but you could go see if he needs any help now. If not, wait until he’s got all his stuff loaded and then begin dismantling the kitchen. That’s the first building we’re going to put together over here.”
“Where are the tools?”
“You’ll find a box of tools that you need right at the front of the kitchen.”
Lunch was cooked over an open fire, but by that night, they had the kitchen set up and the cook was back at work at his stove. Dinner was later than usual, but the food was good and no one complained too much especially as they didn’t have to make the long trek to the old camp. It was a Saturday night and Adam asked the cook to open a few bottles and give every man a portion of whisky in his cup if he wanted some. They all did and were grateful for the extra favor. As they headed to bed in the tents, Candy came up beside Adam.
“That was clever. Not only are they in a better mood with the whisky, but they should all sleep better even if they’re on the ground tonight because we didn’t get any cots over here today.”
“Most won’t see the connection, and they’ll only be happy with the unexpected ration.”
“Wish we could send a message to your father to let him know things are going all right up here.”
“About the only way would be by smoke signal. I need every man up here working.”
“By the way, I saw some smoke on the way here.” Alert then, Adam sat up but Candy put up his hands in a gesture to minimize what he had said. “I should have said I saw smoke on the eastern horizon. Looked like there was some kind of fire down where the homesteaders are trying to make a go of it.”
“I hope there’s no trouble.”
“Could be one of them leaving. Sometimes they fire their place when they leave.”
“I hope that’s all it is.”
Yet Adam felt unease about the situation and didn’t know why, but something didn’t seem right. Then he remembered the men saying that the stewpot had been short on meat because there had been little in the way of game to hunt in the hills. It was only when beef was delivered from the ranch that they had plentiful supplies of meat. He worried that the shortage of game might have driven the Paiute young men to raid again. The last time that had happened, there had been a lot of trouble and death. He hoped it wouldn’t happen again.
There was nothing to suggest any such trouble in the week that he and Candy stayed at the camps to finish the move of the cabins because Adam’s estimate of a few days was too optimistic. When they finished that, the timber camps were again operating smoothly and almost on schedule. With the marking that Adam had done and the move closer to the sluice, which was also closer to the cutting, the foreman admitted they should have no trouble making up the lost time and probably finishing the contract ahead of schedule.
“We’ve got almost a month now to make up two days. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Good. My father will be pleased to hear that.”
“You know, you take big chances. I never took you for a gambler.”
“I’m not a true gambler. I only see what I think will work and do that. I don’t draw to an inside straight.”
“You think fast then.”
“Maybe so, but I don’t gamble much.”
“Give my regards to your father. I’ll send word when we’ve sent the last of the contract timber off to the mill. It shouldn’t take long if the weather holds.”
With that, Adam and Candy began the trek home. For the first time since he arrived, Candy had some time to talk candidly with Adam but wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. It was Adam who opened the topic though making it easy for him.
“I suppose Kitty will be happy to see you after a week away.”
“Not nearly as happy as she will be to see you.” Surprised by that, Adam didn’t know what to say and his expression showed both reactions. Candy had guessed that Adam had misinterpreted the relationship he had with Kitty seeing it as serious when it was nothing more than casual. “We may have spent a bit of time together at the picnic, but that was it. It was a pleasant afternoon but nothing more. In fact, she asked questions about you. Well to be fair, she did ask about Joe a little too.”
Nothing more was said about Kitty, but Adam had a lot on his mind as they traveled home. Not only would he have to explain and justify the move of the sluice to his father and Joe, he would have to re-evaluate his relationship with Kitty. He had tried to dismiss her from his thoughts because he assumed she had chosen Candy but she was frequently there anyway. In his dreams, she had become a welcome visitor because those dreams always ended pleasantly. When they had spent time together, he knew she could be abrasive and brash, but he found her honesty refreshing and she could talk intelligently on almost any topic. She was willing to try new things and not shy about asking for help. She was not a classic beauty, but she had a physical allure that did get him feeling warm whenever he was around her. Now that he knew that he wasn’t correct about her interest in Candy, he had to decide if he was interested in her for more than a physical relationship. Candy left him to his thoughts. After the relentless work schedule of the camp from dawn to dusk, it was pleasant to relax in the saddle again.
When Adam and Candy returned home, there was one concern that Adam didn’t have to address. Jerome and Kitty had left, and Ben explained why.
“They went to look at some properties in Carson City. With the convenience of the rail line now and the telegraph, Jerome thinks he can operate his business interests from there as well as from anywhere. He can have the convenience of the clean, dry air and yet have quick communication with his various investments.”
“But they didn’t want to live in Virginia City?”
“We talked about the winters, and it does have steep grades, so he decided that Carson City was more suited to year round living.” Detecting a bit of disappointment in Adam’s comment, Ben refrained from saying anything about Kitty and his eyes and eyebrows communicated to Joe and Jamie not to say anything either. He could see that both wanted to say something. He guessed they might talk about it later when Adam wasn’t present.
Then they got into a discussion of the more sensitive topic as to why Adam was gone for so long. Joe started that one.
“I built that sluice in less time than you were gone. I can’t believe you had to mark trees for two weeks.”
“As it happened, I did a lot more than repair the sluice and mark trees.”
Adam’s reticence to say what he had done alerted Ben that he might not like to hear the rest so he asked.
“And what was the lot more that you did other than repair the sluice and mark trees which is why you went up there in the first place?”
Deciding to lay it all out at once, Adam began with the sluice and told the whole story. “The sluice was badly damaged and needed to be completely rebuilt, but it was also quite a distance from where the cutting was. They were actually hauling logs up to the sluice to slide them down the slope. It was a lot of wasted labor. They had to travel quite a distance from the camp to cut as well.”
Both Ben and Joe frowned but for different reasons at this point in the story. Ben because he expected that Adam had taken on a huge task and worried that it may have delayed the contract, and Joe worried that his sluice no longer existed.
“I moved the sluice closer to where the cutting is now which is quite a distance from where it was, and then I moved the camp there too. It’s all done, and the foreman thinks the lost time can easily be made up by the increased efficiency.”
Ben exploded. “You did all of this without asking either of us for input. Now we’re behind on the contract too.”
Joe agreed with his father. “That sluice worked fine for almost ten years where it was, and you’re back a short time and suddenly it’s in the wrong place?”
“I could have come back here and had this discussion and wasted a lot of valuable time, but we would have reached the same conclusion.”
“Discussing things with me and your brothers is wasting time? That is rather arrogant of you. It seems not much has changed with you.”
When he entered the house, Adam had put his hat and gunbelt on the credenza. He walked slowly to the credenza, picked up both, and walked out the door without saying another word. There wasn’t much anyone could say to his back. After a full two minutes of silence, Ben asked Joe to see if Candy would come in to talk with them. They asked him about the changes and how well they were working.
“It looks real good, and we were able to make that sluice work as well as when it was first built. It might even work better because it’s shorter now. Adam had it in working order by the time I got there, but we worked on it again and smoothed out a few spots until it was slick as a greased pig. The men sure appreciated not having to hike a half hour to get to the cutting site and then back for lunch and then back to cut and so on. It’s a lot better set-up now. You’re saving almost two hours of work time that used to be used for the men moving to and from the camp. There’s also time saved with every log that’s cut and sent on its way because it doesn’t have to get hauled so far before it’s sent down the sluice and on its way.”
That’s when Ben realized why the timber foreman was so sure he could make up the lost time. The two days lost could be made up in just over a week simply in the time saved by travel and that didn’t count the time saved in hauling logs. Joe heard too that his sluice had been salvaged and given new life in a new spot. It would be there probably another five years or more. He had been too quick to judge but so had his father.
“Looks like I’m not the only one who owes Adam an apology this time.”
Candy should have been surprised but wasn’t because he was used to these two volatile men. He guessed though that Adam had hoped for a more favorable response than he had gotten. “If that’s all you needed, I would like to get my bath now. I hardly had time to wash up with the work schedule your son keeps, Mister Cartwright.”
With a wry smile, Ben nodded. “I can only imagine. Thank you, Candy.”
The sound of many horses in the yard though stopped any plans they had. They went to the porch and found the captain leading an Army patrol already talking to Adam. He turned to the others to explain.
“Some homesteaders have been hit by an Indian raiding party. They think they are Paiute but aren’t sure. The captain here wants to ride to the Paiute camp up on the bluff to ask.”
“If he does that, they’ll most likely think they’re being attacked. It could start a war.”
“Maybe I could go ahead to the camp and explain what’s going on. I could probably convince them to send out a group to talk to the captain.”
“That’s a better approach than letting the soldiers approach the camp with no warning, but it could be dangerous, Adam. If they did have some young men go off to do some raiding, they’ll want to protect them.”
“I know, but I don’t think it was them. Candy and I just came through the area between the Paiute camp and where the homesteaders are. We never saw the tracks of any group of riders. Unless they took a very long way around, there was no Paiute raiding party.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it? You’ve had a grueling few weeks.”
“It’s important. I’ll manage. I don’t think Sport can manage though. I’ll need another horse and some supplies.”
“Perhaps someone else should go.”
“I said I was going.”
The sharp edge to Adam’s statement wasn’t missed by anyone. Ben and Joe knew they had pushed him too far inside when talking about what had happened at the timber camps, and both felt a bit guilty about him going with the cavalry unit. They suspected he might be going because of how they had acted. However there wasn’t any way for them to fix things if that was the reason. Adam was a man and had made a decision. The Army captain agreed with the logic of it so there was not going to be any talking him out of it. All they could do was wish Adam well and pray he returned safely.
However there was one thing that Ben could do to improve the situation for his son. There were some civilians riding with the cavalry unit. Ben was concerned about that having had bad experiences with angry men in such a meeting. He asked the captain about their presence.
“They volunteered to lead us to the camp, but because we were going across your land, I thought it best to stop here to inform you. I’m glad we did. I would much rather have your son guide us and arrange a parley than to trust these men. I’ll send them home now.”
It didn’t go well though as the men were itching for a fight and revenge for what had been done. They reminded the captain of their losses, but he was adamant that he could handle it, and they were dismissed. With a lot of grumbling, they did turn to leave, but once out of sight of the ranch, they turned and headed toward the Paiute camp expecting to join in on the fighting they expected and wanted to occur. Their leader told them they would take the high ground and be ready to support the captain’s forces and show them what westerners could do in a battle. Careful to keep far enough away from the soldiers not to be detected, they headed to the hills above the valley through which Adam intended to lead the unit. It was tougher travel for them, but the next day when Adam rode ahead to the Paiute camp to explain the situation and to convince the chiefs to return to parley with the captain, the ragtag force was able to catch up and get in position on the cliffs above where the Army unit was camped.
Riding into the Paiute camp with his right hand in the air, Adam got curious stares from some and smiles from a few who knew him. He dismounted and waited for those who knew him to greet him and welcome him.
“Adam Cartwright, I heard you had returned. It is good to see you.”
“It is good to see you too, Iron Bear. It has been too long since we hunted together.”
“I would like to say sit and enjoy a meal with us, but I see worry lines on your forehead.”
“Yes, there has been trouble.”
“Some have said it was Paiute.”
“That is not the truth. It is a group of renegades. Mostly Ute from up north but a few banished from the Washoe and Bannock too.”
“I knew it was not Paiute, but the Army does not know this. They sent a patrol to find out. They wait in the valley below.”
“You led them to us?”
“The homesteaders were going to lead them here to fight. I told them I would lead them here to talk. The captain agreed and sent the homesteaders home.”
“We can talk. But we will not talk here. I do not want the white soldiers to come to our camp. I am afraid of what they might do.”
“I understand. I suggested you might go to the valley to talk to the captain there. You can tell him what you told me.”
Looking around, Iron Bear got the nods of the other leaders. They agreed. All would go to talk to avoid a fight. The younger men didn’t like it so Iron Bear told them what to do.
“You get your weapons and your horses and stand ready like the soldiers will stand ready. You will not have to fight, but looking ready to fight gives us strength.”
The Paiute leaders rode down to the valley with Adam in the lead. The young men stayed a good distance behind and waited in a line. As Adam and the Paiute neared the soldiers, the captain and his lieutenant rode out. The soldiers were all mounted and in a long line across the valley as Iron Bear had predicted. As the two small groups approached each other, rifle fire from above hit Adam’s horse and hit the Paiute leaders and their horses causing a general melee as some of the soldiers began advancing thinking there was a battle starting and the young Paiute began to race forward to defend their leaders and up the slope to attack those who were firing those rifles. Adam hit the ground hard and was stunned. As he rose, he was hit on the back and then on the head before being dragged away by two Paiute. That’s what the soldiers saw in the midst of the battle that ensued. The battle wasn’t much as the captain and his lieutenant were wounded and rescued as were most of the Paiute leaders. With the soldiers and young Paiute left without directions, both retreated with their wounded. The only part of the battle that continued was up on the hill where young Paiute pursued the homesteaders who fled the counterattack. None survived. However both sides thought Adam had led them into a trap.
The Paiute young men strung Adam up by the arms to a tree branch. He was abused as he hung there helplessly. Still affected by the fall and blow to the head, he was unable to make sense of all that was happening and unable to tell them what he had seen. It was only those who knew him well and knew Ben Cartwright well who managed to convince them not to kill him. They decided instead that it would be up to his God whether he lived or died. Some didn’t know what that meant, but others feared that they did. Some of the angry young men cut Adam down and threw him over a horse tying his wrists to his ankles under the horse’s belly. He had a terribly uncomfortable ride until they reached the Humboldt Sink. He was disoriented by his head injury and in great pain from the blows he had received while strung up. He received no more injuries, but they stripped him of everything and then left him in the desert with nothing. There were no words said because nothing needed to be said. They expected him to die, but it wouldn’t be by their hand. They had freed him.
By the time those young men returned to the camp, it was moved. They followed the trail and went to the new site deep in the mountains. Only the most skilled trackers would have any idea where the Paiute had gone. It was a difficult move for the wounded, but those left in charge had decided it was the only prudent move. They expected the Army to retaliate and wanted to save the lives of their women and children. It would be many days before Iron Bear recovered enough to tell them that it wasn’t the soldiers who had opened fire. He had seen the homesteaders before he had fallen victim to their bullets.
In Virginia City, the same scenario played out. The initial report was that Adam had led the patrol into an ambush. However when the bodies were retrieved, they found that those who had opened fire up on the hill were the homesteaders who had been told to go home. The captain and lieutenant both survived their injuries, and once they were able to talk, they agreed that the shots had come from up on the hill and not from the Paiute. In fact, they reported that the first shots were at the Paiute.
For Ben, the outrage at the unjust accusation made against Adam was minor compared to the mystery of where his son was. No one could find him. No one knew if he was alive or dead. It was going to take time to get someone to find the Paiute to get any information from them. Before they heard the new information from town, Joe and Candy suggested the only solution was for the three of them to go to the Paiute and ask.
“We can’t track like Hoss, but we’re pretty good as a team. Candy has had some experience doing this kind of thing. We need to do this, Pa.”
So Ben, Joe, and Candy headed out on a trek to find Adam who was in the opposite direction at that moment stumbling into a southern Ute camp. He had thought he was going to die in that great expanse of nothing all alone leaving only bleached bones. However once he staggered far enough and saw those little mounds in the distance, which he could recognize, he knew if he could only struggle to walk that far, he wouldn’t die alone. He guessed that they would at least bury him or pack his body off to the nearest white settlement. Until that time in the Humboldt, he had not known how much he abhorred the idea of dying alone with no one at his side. Once he managed to put one foot in front of the other to get to the camp, he collapsed.
The people there didn’t want to approach the filthy naked white man with the terrible sunburn and scruffy growth of beard laying at the edge of their camp. They talked among themselves wondering what to do. A young girl of about ten years took the decision out of their hands taking a container of water to him and dribbling small amounts into his mouth to see if he would swallow. He did so she continued her ministrations until he didn’t swallow any more. He never opened his eyes either so she wet a small piece of cloth and laid it over his eyes.
They left him there and retired to their dwellings for the night whispering about him. Some wished to abandon the camp after the ‘white devil’ had invaded, but others thought him only an unfortunate man who they might help. That night, the rain for which they had been praying for months, came down gently for hours. In the morning, with the rising sun, a hint of green was already showing all around them as the plants began to react to the bounty of the rainfall. That settled the issue for they decided that Adam had brought the rain as a reward for the water the little girl had given him. It had washed him clean enough at least on three sides and cooled the pain of much of his sunburned skin. Several men took Adam by the arms and legs and moved him to a shady spot where they propped him up and covered his nakedness with a light blanket. Women came with food for him but he was too weak to take it. The little girl returned and fed him a piece of the food but he found it extremely difficult to swallow. Seeing that, she softened the food as she would for a small child and then fed that to him.
Adam’s voice was barely a whisper and hoarse. She couldn’t understand his words, but the kindness of them and the intent were clear. She smiled. For the next few days, Adam recovered slowly from his ordeal resting beneath the small tree that shaded him and getting meals there. At first he got help from the men to do his necessary business, but by the third day, he could walk on his own keeping the blanket wrapped around him. Even though he realized they had all seen him naked, his natural modesty wouldn’t allow him to continue to be seen that way. On the third day, one of the women came to him with some basic clothing to wear. There was no shirt, but the pants would cover him well enough, and he had the blanket to use as needed around his shoulders when it was cool at night.
As he was thinking of how he was going to manage to get back home, a surveying group arrived and greeted him surprised to find a white man with the Ute. Once he talked with them, he wasn’t so sure he was going back home.
Note: The Humboldt is what travelers on the California Trail often called about forty miles of desert they had to cross that had no water of any kind. They could go further north and follow the Humboldt River until it dried up in the Sink but it was shorter to go non-stop across the desert. That was typically how people traveled that stretch whether moving west by wagon train or later delivering freight, horses, or cattle – they went straight through without stopping because there was no water there. So it was a traveler’s term from the wagon train days not an official map designation.
There were only four men in the surveying party. One was a cook, one was a general laborer and translator, and two actually were surveyors. There was a lot of land yet in the west that had not been mapped even superficially. It was their job to do that in this region. They had ten sections to do or three hundred and sixty square miles to ride and record for official government records. There were some markers they would place in some spots to identify map coordinates and geographic reference points. They were not armed and would rely on the small Army patrol that was coming to take care of protection as well as bringing supplies. Once the men in the surveying party dismounted and greeted the Ute, they turned to Adam. The man who was obviously in charge, took his hat off and slapped it against his thigh to dislodge some of the dust.
“We’re rather surprised to find a white man here.”
“I was rather surprised to end up here too. They saved my life. I got stranded in the Humboldt.”
“Not a good place to be stranded. Looks like you might have lost everything you had.”
“I did. I’d like to get home, but I don’t have any way of doing that right now.”
“We only have the two extra horses and we’re going to need those.”
“If I could get to a town, I could bring the horse back here. I would need to wire home for some money to buy what I needed, and then I could bring it back.”
“I’m sorry, but we’re headed deeper into these hills. An Army patrol is supposed to meet us here tomorrow, and two of the Ute men here are supposed to act as our guides. That’s why we need the horses. Those two men will ride them. Can I ask what you were doing out in the Humboldt alone?”
“Some of the young Paiute thought I had led them into an ambush. I didn’t, but I had no way to try to talk logically with them with their leaders laying wounded and perhaps dying not too far away.”
“Wait a minute, what’s your name?”
“Adam Cartwright, but why the sudden interest in who I am?”
“We heard about you. We were in Virginia City a few days ago when an Army patrol brought their wounded in. They said you led them into a trap.”
“I don’t know why they would think that. The first shots fired were at the Paiute.”
“They said they got charged by a force of Paiute and had to rush in to save their officers before retreating.”
“I suppose the young men charged in order to protect their leaders who were shot. Some of them may be dead. I don’t know. My horse went down with the first shots and then someone clubbed me over the head. I didn’t see what happened next.”
“They said they saw the Paiute haul you off with their other wounded.”
“Yeah, and then they strung me up to a tree and pounded on me for a while. Some of them spoke up for me saying I wouldn’t have lied to them. They compromised on dropping me in the Humboldt to let God decide whether I lived or died.”
“I don’t know about the Army being so understanding. The penalty for treason is hanging or a firing squad.”
“I didn’t commit any treason.”
“I don’t know as how you can prove that.”
Out of touch with any official community, the surveyors didn’t know that the captain and lieutenant had recovered and given their accounts which helped clear Adam’s name. Their accounts and the homesteaders’ bodies from up on the hill helped clarify what had happened. Word was sent to the Ponderosa but Ben, Joe, and Candy were already up in the mountains searching for the Paiute and hoping to find Adam. Jamie sent two hands with the information to try to find them and to let the Paiute know that they were not being held responsible for what happened. However none of that news had yet percolated out to as far as the Ute and certainly not to the surveying party.
Somewhat ill at ease with Adam, the members of the surveying group did give him a shirt to wear from their supplies. The Ute provided him with moccasins too so he was clothed decently if somewhat eccentrically. He ate as much as he could when given the chance, and waited for the camp and the newcomers to go to sleep. Then he took his blanket and walked as softly as he could to the edge of camp. Although he wished he could take a horse, he wasn’t going to add horse stealing to the list of charges that might be leveled against him. He walked out of camp headed north. The leader of the surveyors watched him go thinking that it truly should probably be up to God, and guessed Adam might not survive the week. However he hadn’t seemed like the kind of man who would do what some had said he had done. His story was plausible too, and they could all see the old bruises on him. That he was stranded in the Humboldt fit well with his story too. The leader thought then that he well could be an innocent man so he wasn’t going to alert anyone that he was leaving. By morning, it would likely be impossible to find his tracks in the sand.
On the opposite side of the Humboldt, Ben, Joe, and Candy plodded out of the dry sands on exhausted horses that could go no further. They had pushed them as hard as they could but had found no sign of Adam. After getting information from the young men who had stranded Adam in the Humboldt, Iron Bear had told them where to look, but as soon as he had given them the location, they had known it was probably hopeless.
“Pa, maybe we can come back with more men and look.”
“Joe, it’s been more than three days now. No one can survive out there in that heat with no water. There’s no water in the Humboldt.”
“Your pa is right, Joe. By the time we got back with men and fresh horses, it would be nearly six days. There’s no way to survive out there.”
“What if he’s not out there? What if he walked out?” Joe couldn’t bear to see what the loss of hope was doing to his father, and the pain he felt at the thought of losing Adam was more than he could face at the moment too.
With Joe so desperate to believe Adam had found a way to survive, Candy was willing to consider the possibility. “Do you think he could do it?”
“You don’t know Adam like we do. If there was any way that it could be done, he would do it.”
“Even if he was beaten first before being hauled out there? Iron Bear told us he was in bad shape when they took him from the camp.”
“Remind me to tell you some time about him dragging a dead man from the desert once when we were sure he couldn’t be alive any more. Oh, never mind that now. He’s got an iron will. He’s the most stubborn man I have ever known. He wouldn’t give up just because it looked hopeless.”
With a new commitment to finding Adam, Candy had an idea. “Then you stay here with your father, and I’ll ride for fresh horses as soon as my horse has recovered enough to carry me. I’ll take your horses too and use them as a relay team. By the time I get back, you two should be rested enough to go. I’ll be as fast as I can.”
“Thank you, Candy. That should work, and it’s all that I can ask. It’s going to give my father hope at least.”
After Candy left, Ben and Joe ate a light dinner and then rolled out their bedrolls. Once they were laying there in the dark, Ben had a question for his son.
Did you believe what you said to Candy or was that for my benefit? You can be honest with me. I want to know what you’re really thinking.”
For the previous two hours, Joe had been thinking about that because he had expected the question. “Pa, remember when we didn’t hear from Adam once for a long time, and you worried that something terrible had happened. Hoss said it couldn’t have because he felt that Adam was all right. He said he’d know if something terrible had happened because he knew he’d feel it. Well, I feel that Adam is all right somehow. I don’t know how, but I feel it in my gut.”
“Thank you, son. I have the same feeling, and I thought I was a bit crazy to be thinking that way. I feel better about it now. We’re going to have a rough time of it trying to find him. Crossing the Humboldt even with fresh horses isn’t easy.”
“I figure if all goes well, Candy should get here later tomorrow. We should rest up until then and leave when he arrives. We can travel through the night and finish the next day. We’ll drink a lot of water before we go and carry as much as we can without loading down the horses too much.”
“Now that sounds like a good plan. It will be easier on the horses and on us. If Adam is all right, he’s got to be on the other side.”
“Yes, he has to be.” Knowing his father couldn’t see, Joe looked to the heavens and offered up a prayer that they were correct. It was about the seventh time he had done that since Candy had left. All he could do was hope those prayers would be answered.
It was arduous, but it worked as they had planned it. They arrived on the other side of the Humboldt in fairly good condition and began looking for signs of life or any sign that Adam may have been there. Evidence of a camp of any kind was the clue they sought. What they found instead was a small camp of Southern Ute who looked alarmed when Ben and Joe approached. They held up their right hands to show they were unarmed and meant no harm. Finding someone who knew any English proved to be more of a problem, but then they found that one man knew some Spanish and with the Paiute that they knew, Joe knew enough that the two were able to do some basic questions and answers. Within a few minutes, Joe turned to his father with a grin.
“He was here, Pa. He was here!”
“Where did he go?”
“I’m not sure. Another group of whites were here including some soldiers. Maybe he went with them. I don’t know enough Spanish to get a clear understanding of what he’s saying. But we can follow their tracks out of here and find out. They only left yesterday. We should be able to catch up to them.”
“Our horses need to rest.”
“I know, but from what he said, I think these must be surveyors. He said they’re drawing the land or something like that. That must mean they’re making maps. If that’s the case, they won’t be traveling fast.”
“So catching up to them won’t take long.” Ben had an answering grin then.
They did have to rest for a few hours and gave what they could to the people there to repay them for their information and the apparent hospitality they had given to Adam. Because they couldn’t afford to give up their food supplies, Ben suggested they offer one of their jackknives and a frying pan. As warm as it was, they gave up one of their blankets too with Joe doing his best to explain that is was their gift to them for their gift of helping Adam who was his brother and the son of the man with him. Eventually the people seemed to understand and accepted the gifts. It was unusual for them to have so much friendly contact with white men. When Ben and Joe left, they smiled and waved at them and wished them well even if father and son didn’t know what the words meant. They could read the intent by the expressions and actions of the people.
Late that day about the time they thought they would have to give up and begin their trek again the next morning, they smelled smoke. It was all they needed to inspire them to keep moving. About two miles further on, they found the surveyors’ camp. The men there were as surprised as the Ute had been to have two men ride in.
“Halloo in the camp.” Knowing it wasn’t wise to surprise anyone at dusk in a camp, Ben called out to the men in the camp as they approached. He and Joe then waited for an answer. When the call came, the men there asked who they were.
“Ben Cartwright and my son, Joe. We think you may have met my son, Adam.”
With that information, they were invited into the camp passing a sentry they had not seen. It was at that point that they realized that there were still soldiers with the surveyors. They rode in slowly even though they were anxious for the information they assumed the men had. They were greeted with what seemed to be rather mixed emotions by the surveyors and didn’t know what to make of it until they heard the story. The leader of the surveyors told them to sit down and have dinner with them and he would tell them what happened.
“Adam isn’t with you?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Where is he?”
“We don’t know, and that’s why I need to tell you the story. Please, you must be tired, hungry, and thirsty. We can take care of those things and explain what we know.”
Although anxious to hear what the man had to say, Joe convinced Ben that he was correct. They did need food, water, and some rest. Their horses were cared for too while they were given water and plates of stew. Then the leader of the surveyors began to tell the story, which he found somewhat embarrassing to share, and he expected Ben to be upset with him too.
“When we met your son, we had recently been through Virginia City. In fact, we were there when that patrol came in and said they had been attacked by the Paiute. The story was that Adam Cartwright had led them into a trap. We left to come here and never heard the rest of the story. When we met Adam, we told him what we knew. That night, he left the Ute camp on foot. When the soldiers arrived the next day, we found out that we were mistaken and that the officers once they recovered enough had cleared him of any wrongdoing and placed the blame squarely on some homesteaders who ambushed the Paiute leaders who came out to talk after Adam convinced them to do so. Adam doesn’t know that.”
“So my son thinks that he has been accused of a terrible crime, and that soldiers were coming to the Ute camp.”
“Yes. I’m sure he thought he would be arrested. We searched once we learned how we were mistaken, but your son is very good at hiding his tracks. We couldn’t find a trace of him once we were a hundred yards from the camp.”
“We were told by Iron Bear that the young Paiute took every thing from him when they abandoned him in the Humboldt. What does he have?”
“I’m afraid he doesn’t have much. He has a shirt we gave him, and he has the pants, moccasins, and a blanket he got from the Ute. That’s it as far as we know.”
Dropping his head into his hands, Ben couldn’t hide his dismay. Putting a hand on his father’s shoulder, Joe had words of encouragement though.
“Pa, he’s alive. Yesterday, we were only hoping that he was. Now we know it.”
Looking up to face Joe, Ben nodded. “Yes, he’s alive.” Then he looked north. “Adam, I’m sure you have a plan. What is it, and when will it bring you home?” The dark sky gave no answer and there was no way to know where his son had gone and what he was doing. He knew he would have to wait but was relieved to know at least that Adam was alive.
For the first full day of his travel after leaving the Ute camp, Adam had taken care not to leave any track to follow. Although he didn’t think the Army patrol that was assigned the surveyors would come after him, he was taking no chances. He found enough water and set snares to catch small game. It wasn’t much but enough to sustain him for a few days. By the time he saw his first occupied dwelling, he was relieved though because the worries about predators and finding water were exhausting. Walking up to small house, he expected he would have to answer many questions but found the couple who lived there were used to finding people passing through with dubious backgrounds. Arnie and Mildred Perkins were friendly enough but became more so when he kept his word and worked hard each day. Staying in their small stable for a few days, he completed a number of tasks for them to earn meals and the right to continue sleeping in that stable safe from any predators. It was a welcome relief from traveling unarmed and worrying each time he fell asleep about an attack by a hungry beast while he slept. Rested and well-fed after four days, he asked the man if he knew of any ranch in the area that needed help.
“You don’t rightly look like a ranch hand.”
“I may not look it, but it’s work I can do well.”
“I’ve no reason to doubt you especially after the fine work you’ve done for me. I’ll give ya a ride on over to the Jensen ranch. He raises some cattle but horses mostly. You work much with horses?”
“Quite a bit.”
“We’ll go tomorrow. The missus will want to go too.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar to Adam, but offhand, he couldn’t remember any Jensen he had met. With a good growth of beard already and if he used his mother’s maiden name, he didn’t think anyone would know him in this area. He felt comfortable going to the ranch, which turned out to be about three hours from the small place where he had first stumbled in. As it turned out, the man’s wife was a sister to Jensen’s wife so they were happy to have a reason to visit. Gabe Jensen sized up Adam with a skeptical look especially because of how he was dressed but seemed to take Arnie’s word that he was a good worker and competent at a lot of tasks.
“You say you can work with horses?”
“I’ve done my share.”
“I pay regular hands a dollar a day, but I pay my top hands with the horses two dollars a day. Horse breakers get five dollars a day when they’re breaking horses. My horses are that important to me. I can sell my best horses for as much as four hundred dollars each, and the good ones for at least two hundred a piece. I don’t let just anyone work with my horses.”
“I wouldn’t expect you would.”
“I got a mustang in the other day that has bucked off three different riders. I’m about to give up on him, but I’d like to see what you can do with him. He’s got good lines, and I’d at least like to use him as a stud, but I can’t use him unless he gets tamed down some.”
“You think that temperament could be passed down the line.”
“I think it is, and I have to see if it’s spirit or if it’s outright uncontrollable fight in him.”
“I’m willing to give it a try.”
“Not in those moccasins. You’ll never sit long in the saddle with those. I’ve got some old boots that should fit you. I’ll send someone to get them.”
A short time later, Adam was by the shoot as they put the mustang in it. The animal’s eyes were wide and wild as he was clearly highly agitated. Adam stood down below and asked the men who had saddled him to get down and move away. He leaned on the boards of the chute by the horse and talked softly to him for a few minutes. A few men from the other side of the corral taunted him a little asking if he was asking the horse to the dance or if he was going to ride him. He ignored all the comments and simply talked softly until he saw the horse’s eyes relax some. Keeping up the soft talking, he climbed up the fence of the chute one board at a time pausing at each and put a hand on the horse’s neck feeling the nervousness of the animal under his touch. At the top, he put his other hand on the saddle creating some pressure. All the while, he kept talking.
Slowly, he moved up until he was above the horse and lowered himself into the saddle talking all the time and keeping his hand on the horse’s neck stroking him gently. He wrapped the thick reins around his hand and nodded to the men who controlled the chute to move closer but told them to walk in slowly.
Once they were in position, he asked them to open the chute slowly. He guessed he was still going to be in for a wild ride, but hoped the calming he had done would mean a less explosive exit from the chute. It was as the horse seemed uncertain, but once the chute was fully open, he decided to make a run for it and that meant getting Adam off his back so the bucking began. However everyone there noted that it wasn’t as ferocious as it had been with the other riders, and the mustang stopped twice too as if uncertain if it wanted to continue. Each time, Adam waited knowing it wasn’t over because the horse’s ears were back and his head was slightly lowered. Then finally it was over. The horse simply gave up and relaxed. Riders came in and helped an exhausted Adam from the animal’s back. Jensen walked up to him when he climbed over the corral fence.
“I don’t know what you said to that beast, but that was one heck of a show you put on there. You earned five dollars already. What did you say to him?”
“It didn’t matter what I said. When I got close, I could see that he was afraid so all I had to do was get him to be less afraid of me than of anything else. I got him to think he could trust me so that put me in charge. He finally accepted that.”
“You got a strange way of thinking, but it worked so I ain’t going to complain. That horse is probably worth a few hundred dollars so the five I’m paying you is money well spent. You stay on here and by the end of the month, you’ll earn enough for a saddle and gear, and I’m sure we’ll find a horse for you too.”
“I don’t think I can afford your prices for a horse.”
“You’ll get an older one. One of the studs or mares that is ready to retire from breeding but still has some years for riding left should suit you and get you wherever you’re going next.”
“Thank you. That’s more than fair.”
“I’m thinking you probably don’t plan on staying here.”
Smiling because of the man’s perception, Adam nodded.
“Meanwhile, you can do a lot of good work here, and I’ll get you outfitted pretty well before you move on. Now, you can take that mustang over to the corrals and walk him around a bit on a lead. Get him to know you better. I want you to ride him again tomorrow so you can start putting him through his paces. Like you say, he trusts you now so you’re the one who’ll train him.”
“In a few days, we’ll have a new batch of horses in here for breaking. You’ll take your turn with the other horse breakers then. Later today when you hear the dinner bell, you head on over to the bunkhouse. You’ll get your dinner and then they’ll assign you a bunk for your stay. You’ll meet the others there, and you’ll find out your what duties you’ll have from the foreman in the morning.”
That night at dinner, Minnie asked her husband Gabe about the new hand. “Gabriel, I thought we were full up with hands. I was surprised you hired that man.”
Hearing her use his full name, Gabe knew she was displeased with him. “He’s a good man, Minnie. He’ll give us more than our money’s worth while he’s here.”
Frowning and pursing her lips, Minnie looked at her husband. “I saw you and Arnie with your heads together before he and Millie left. Now what were the two of you talking about? It was that new hand, wasn’t it? You know him, don’t you? What’s his name?”
“He said Adam Stoddard.”
“That’s not it though, is it?”
“No, I’d bet this ranch that we have Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa working for us. Now I don’t know why he came to us the way he did and why he’s going by another name, but by golly, I’m going to get a lot of good work out of him while he’s here. He’s one of the best horse trainers in Nevada. He and his father sold us the horses we used to start our spread when we first got here.”
“I remember that now. He doesn’t remember you?”
“That was more than twenty years ago. He was pretty young then and probably paid more attention to our daughter than to us when they brought those horses here. We didn’t have this house or the stables then that we have now. The place isn’t the same at all.”
“But you still knew him?”
“The voice, the walk, and mostly the way he rides gave it away. Even as a young man, he had quite a beard growing every day. Yeah, that’s him.”
“Maybe you should let his father know where he is.”
“I don’t know why he’s hiding who he is. Maybe it’s his father he doesn’t want to find him. It’s his business. He’s old enough to make those decisions for himself.”
For a month, Adam worked at the Jensen ranch breaking and training horses. It was the kind of work he enjoyed, and while he was doing it, he could forget that he might be a wanted man hated by whites and Paiutes alike. Near the end of the month, some strong thunderstorms blew through the area and took down one of the main stables on the ranch. Gabe stood staring at it the next morning trying to calculate the cost of building a new one to replace it when Adam walked up beside him.
“I don’t suppose you’re a master carpenter who can build me a new stable?”
“No, I can work as well as any man on a building but I’m no master carpenter. But why would you build a new stable? Why not salvage this one?”
Incredulous, Gabe stared at Adam as if he was a fool. “Because it’s laying on the ground in a pile of rubble, that’s why!”
“No, you were lucky. Those winds came in a straight line and toppled it because the interior bracing was too weak. The lumber isn’t shattered. The walls are mostly intact. They could be salvaged. All you need to do is rebuild the interior supports but use better timbering so that there’s something to hold the walls against a wind next time.”
Frowning, Gabe stared at Adam. “How would we do that?”
“You’ve got teams of horses that pull carriages. Use them to pull the walls away one by one. Then get some solid timber and rebuild the frame to the same size you had before. Pull the walls back into place and use poles to push them back up into position and then nail them into place. Some outside supports anchored to the interior posts should hold the whole thing together just fine. You will need to put a new roof on it, but buildings need new roofing rather often out here anyway and there’s probably enough material there to get a good start on it too.”
“All right, then talk to the foreman and get what you need. You’re in charge.”
“I don’t want to be in charge.”
“Do this project and you’ll have a rifle, pistol, and whatever supplies you need when you ride out of here.”
It was an offer that was too good to refuse. Adam accepted and two weeks later, rode away from the Jensen ranch with a new hat, pistol, rifle, and fully outfitted for the trail on his new horse. It was an older horse and a used saddle, but it was far more than he had when he had been dumped into forty miles of desert and expected to perish. Unwilling to face crossing that expanse again, he rode further north planning to make a circuit around it and head home. He didn’t think he would be recognized as long as he stayed out of bigger towns and traveled alone.
On the Ponderosa, Ben, Joe, and Jamie anxiously awaited his return. Minnie Jensen had waited until he left their ranch, but then she couldn’t hold herself back. She went to her minister and asked him to write to the minister in Virginia City with news of Adam for his father. Thinking that Ben ought to know at least that Adam was well, she recounted briefly what had happened while he was at their ranch. About a week later, the minister in Virginia City made a trip to the Ponderosa.
“Ben, I received a most unusual letter, and I came out here to tell you the contents. A minister had a woman come to him and ask him to write a letter to you. Do you know a Minnie Jensen?”
“I seem to remember a Jensen family from long ago. We sold some horses to them. They lived across the Humboldt.” Suddenly Ben wanted to know what was in that letter. “My God, what did she say? It must be about Adam. He was with me when we delivered those horses.”
“Yes, Ben, it is. She says first of all that he’s well. He worked for her husband until about a week ago apparently, but he wasn’t using his own name. Adam Stoddard is what he called himself. She said he has a beard now and left their place headed north as far as they could tell.” Ben looked so relieved that the minister had to ask. “Ben, what’s going on here?”
“Do you remember the story that Adam led that Army patrol into an ambush? Well, he doesn’t know that he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing in that case. He doesn’t know that he can come home.” There were some questions then and Ben explained the situation more fully including what they had learned from their trip to the Ute camp and talking to the surveyors. The minister promised to pray for Adam’s safe return.
After the minister left, Ben and Joe discussed the situation. They both agreed that Adam would likely come home thinking no one would recognize him. He wouldn’t let them know in advance and wouldn’t come by any conventional means. They would be waiting though. So for a few weeks, every day, their eyes would stray to the horizon fairly often as they waited for that lone familiar rider to appear. Each day he didn’t, they worried and hoped and waited. More than a few prayers were offered up each evening, and more than a few complaints about the wait were muttered in frustration. When Adam finally arrived, they never saw him coming. They awoke one morning and came downstairs to find a bearded man sitting at the dining table having coffee and eating biscuits. Ben almost stumbled down the first few steps when he realized Adam was home, but luckily Joe was there to steady him. Adam was thinner, tanned, but still had that half smile. He stood as his father approached and the two embraced. Joe had tears in his eyes at the sight knowing how his father’s heart must feel at that moment because his was bursting with love. Putting a hand on Adam’s shoulder, he got his brother’s attention.
“Welcome home. We’ve been wondering when you’d get here.”
Shocked was too mild a word for how Adam felt when told what had happened. Incredulous probably was more accurate. He heard how it took many days for the conflicting accounts to be reconciled and how his family had been part of it by tracking down the Paiute and getting the firsthand accounts from Iron Bear and the other leaders. The Army was on the trail of the renegade band that had caused the initial trouble too. What surprised Adam most was that his family had known he was alive and well long before he arrived home. Ben explained about the minister’s visit and the news they had received.
“The Jensons knew who I was?”
“Yes, apparently they remembered you from all those years ago when we sold horses to them. You couldn’t have been more than about seventeen. It was before you went to college, and I was getting together the last of the money for you to go.”
“I do remember that now, but I didn’t remember him.”
“I’m not surprised. As I remember, there was a daughter who was quite stunning and the two of you didn’t have much time for the rest of us while we were there.”
There were plenty of snickers from Joe and Jamie on that one as Adam’s eyes rolled.
“Ah, now it’s coming back more. It was a hard trek bringing those horses there, but he paid top dollar, and he was starting out then. He planned to sell to people coming through who needed horses. He’s got a lot bigger operation now.”
“Apparently he remembered you because of your skill with the horses. He had no concern about what you were doing going under another name and thought it was your business. Once you left though, his wife asked their minister to write to our minister so he could tell us that you had been there and were well. We hoped you were on your way home.”
At that point, Joe picked up the narrative. “Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t want to cross the Humboldt again after what happened so I mapped out the route you would likely take and calculated the time, with a little help from Jamie.”
“Then we waited. Pa must have spent about two hours a day wandering out to the porch to look up to the hills to see if there was a rider coming in. Joe was usually right there next to him.”
Looking over at Jamie, Adam had a question for him. “But not you?”
“No, I figured you’d get here and surprise us pretty much like you did.”
Once more, Adam was impressed by the perception Jamie had. He was a careful observer of those around him and carefully calculated how others would act based on his own conclusions. He liked that about the young man. “You are a very wise young man.”
Basking in the praise, Jamie smiled and looked to Ben and Joe who smiled. Both liked that Adam and Jamie seemed to have developed a warm relationship. However after all that talking, there was almost no more discussion about Adam’s experiences. Ben thought he needed time that day to rest and begin to recuperate. Anyone who looked at him could see how tired he was.
Freed from any concern about his legal jeopardy, Adam collapsed into his own bed that night and slept until late the next morning luxuriating in the feel of being home and safe. He shaved in the morning too after cutting off his beard. Hop Sing trimmed his hair for him. Dressed in his own clothing, he felt more like himself too. His father couldn’t seem to spend enough time with him, but he didn’t mind that at all because he wanted to spend time with his family too. For several days, Joe and Jamie found all sorts of things on which his opinion was required as well. Gradually, the old familiar routine was re-established and they began to relax into the comfort of ordinary daily tasks.
As the days went on, Adam did talk to Joe about the horse operations at the Jensen ranch, but he said nothing about the rest of the experiences he had while he was gone. Ben and Joe worried that he had buried too much deep inside as he had often done in the past. On a Saturday afternoon about a month after his return, Ben decided to broach the subject to see how Adam would respond.
“You haven’t said much about that attack that began all the trouble for you. You haven’t expressed how you felt about how you were treated after the attack. Yet you haven’t been to town or gone to visit anyone either since your return.”
“Getting tired of having me around, Pa?”
“Now you know that’s not true, and don’t try to change the subject. I’m concerned.”
There was only silence for a time as Adam thought about how to answer. “I haven’t gone to town because I wanted to relax here with family. Going to town means answering a lot of questions probably. I didn’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. The less I have to relive that experience, the better. The longer I put it off, the less questions there will be.”
It was Ben’s turn to be quiet. Although he wanted to dispute what Adam had said, there was a lot of truth to it. Time would make people less curious about what had happened as they moved on to the next juicy story. Instead, he moved on to the next topic. “How did you feel about how you were treated after the attack?”
“That’s rather easy. Bewildered.” Adam saw his father’s confusion. “That look you have is probably close to what I was feeling. I hit my head when my horse went down and took another blow when someone clubbed me. They dragged me back to camp and strung me up to a tree. There were more blows. Of course I knew I was being beaten, but I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. I had all these images of events, but it was a confused mass of things. It wasn’t until I was in the Ute camp and the surveyors told me what I was suspected of doing that the pictures all fell into place.”
“So you were confused. Anything else?”
Again Adam paused not sure of how to admit the rest, but wanting to tell his father. Ben was patient though knowing how Adam struggled at times to express his emotions. “When I was being beaten, I thought I was going to die, but I did hear some speak in my defense so I knew that I at least had some friends there. When I was in the Humboldt, I was alone. I don’t think I ever felt that alone in my life. I expected to die, and I didn’t think anyone would even find my body. I knew I didn’t want to end things that way. When I saw those little domes in the distance, I knew it had to be a camp. Even in such desperate circumstances, I still felt relieved. Even though it was so far away, if I got there, I wouldn’t die alone. They would at least bury me or pack my body off to the nearest white settlement.”
Feeling his heart race to hear Adam talk about his own death in such matter of fact tones, Ben wanted to yell that he shouldn’t ever talk like that. However he knew that Adam probably had to talk about it that way in order to get it out. Like usual, he had most likely tamped down the emotional aspect of the narrative so he could tell it. Ben used all of his willpower not to say anything but only to listen so Adam could talk.
“It took everything I had to put one foot in front of another and keep going. I was so tired and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, but I knew if I stopped to rest, it would be over. I wouldn’t have the strength to get up again.”
Knowing what strength of will it must have taken to do that, Ben wanted to say something about that but was afraid that if he said anything even if it was supportive, Adam might stop talking. He let him continue uninterrupted. It was as if Adam was seeing it all in his mind again or feeling it and telling the story that way. As Adam talked about how his mouth was dry and had sand in it and that sand irritated his eyes and was between his toes and other places on his body from a few times he had fallen in it, Ben could feel the discomfort. He imagined how it must have felt to have those things in addition to the heat, the exhaustion, the loneliness, and the fear of dying too. In Adam’s voice, the memory of that suffering echoed in the narration of what had happened to him and the memories he had of those awful times.
“I fell as I got to that camp. I had no strength left to even utter a word. I lay there and couldn’t even open my eyes. It hurt too much. Then someone dribbled water into my mouth. I don’t think I swallowed any of that first portion. I think all of it was used to wet my mouth and tongue enough so they could work again. Then there was more and I swallowed that. Mouthful after mouthful was given to me until I would be sick if I took any more. Then I don’t remember anything until I woke up. It was probably the next day. I had a wet cloth over my eyes, which had done a lot to help them. I could open them a little without too much pain. They gave me more water and some of the men dragged me beneath a small tree and gave me a blanket to cover myself.”
At that point, Ben wished that he and Joe had given more to the Ute for their help. Hearing of how Adam had suffered and the comfort they gave, made him eternally grateful that they would help a complete stranger as they had.
“Because I knew quite a few words in Paiute, we managed to communicate. Some of their words and some of the Paiute words were similar enough. For a couple of days, I stayed there under that tree except to do my business. When I needed something, I had enough words to call for someone to help me. Food and water were brought to me as needed.”
“They saved your life.”
“Yes. From what I could gather of the little of their language that I could understand, it rained the night I came into their camp. It was nice and green around there when I was there. They thought the water they gave me helped bring the rain.”
“The rain probably helped you too. I can imagine you were very hot and sunburned by then.”
“Yes, I imagine it did help. My memories of that night are blurry. Anyway, by the time the surveyors showed up, I was able to walk. They had given me a pair of pants to wear and a belt to hold them up. I was starting to think I needed to find a way to get home.”
“But then they told you the bad news which was already old news except they didn’t know that.”
“Yes, and you pretty much know the rest of the story. And now so do Joe and Jamie because they’re outside the window listening.” Ben was surprised as Adam smiled rather indulgently. “Joe never could sneak around very well, and there are some squeaks in those porch boards too that told me there were two out there.”
In a louder voice then, Ben directed his comment toward the open window. “Well, you two may as well come in here instead of standing out there eavesdropping.”
Once inside, Joe and Jamie both had the good grace to look sheepish about the eavesdropping at least. With the hint of a smirk that Adam had, Ben could tell that his eldest wasn’t upset. He had known they were out there and continued talking so obviously he had wanted them to know too. For Adam, letting them eavesdrop had probably been easier than having them present and reacting directly to what he was saying. However Ben wasn’t going to simply ignore what they had done so he asked them to explain their behavior.
“Pa, I was sitting at that table right outside the window cleaning my pistol when you and Adam started talking.”
“Yes, you may have been sitting outside the window cleaning your pistol, but you could have said something to let us know our private conversation was being overheard.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t think of that.”
“Oh, you didn’t think of that. It seems you thought enough to have your brother join you in the eavesdropping.”
Turning his attention to Jamie, Ben simply raised an eyebrow to invite him to provide a rationale for his behavior.
“Uh, as I walked up to the house, Joe signaled that I shouldn’t go inside and then when I walked up to him, he signaled that I ought to be quiet. It was then that I could hear you two talking.”
“And I suppose you didn’t think of telling us either that you could hear our private conversation?”
“No, sir, Pa, I guess I didn’t. I’m sorry about that.”
Dropping his head, Adam rubbed his neck in that familiar gesture that said he was uncomfortable with the conversation. Ben thought it best to drop the topic and wait to see what Adam would say next. It didn’t surprise him to hear the next statement.
“It’s all right. Now everyone who needs to know, knows. I’d appreciate it if this was kept private. It’s not a topic for discussion.”
They knew he meant not only not to be discussed with others but also not among themselves. Adam wanted the topic dropped. They agreed. To lighten the mood because he thought it needed that, Joe had a suggestion.
“You know, Adam, you ought to come to town with me and Jamie today. We’re planning to have dinner and then go to the social. There will be all sorts of people there and no conversation is likely to be particularly serious. You could have some fun.”
“Aren’t you escorting someone there, and I thought Jamie was meeting someone too?”
“That shouldn’t make any difference. It’s not like we’re courting them. It’s only social for now. In time, I may decide to move things on to a more serious note, but I’m sure Jamie isn’t thinking that way yet.”
Surprised by that, Jamie was still quick to agree that all he was interested in was a fun relationship. He too encouraged Adam to accompany them. Without a logical reason to say no, Adam agreed to their request. Within a couple of hours, they were on their way to Virginia City and the first time Adam had been to town since Kitty and her father had been with them.
With a small smile, Adam remembered the feisty young woman fondly even though they had often been at odds. Then he wondered what kind of women he would meet at the social that evening. He met all kinds of women that night and became reacquainted with many others dancing and conversing for hours. His brothers thought he had a great time seeing him with so many people through the evening and attributed his quiet reserve on the ride home as being due to exhaustion. Joe even made a joke about that but got no response so he didn’t bother following that with another. When they got home, Adam went up to his room immediately and said little to their father who looked at Joe and Jamie as if to ask if there was anything wrong.
“I don’t know. He seemed to be having a good time. He sure had a lot of attention from ladies all evening.” Joe had nothing more to add.
“I don’t know if he had a good time. His smile never seemed to reach his eyes tonight.” Jamie seemed less certain that Adam had enjoyed himself. “Another thing I noticed was that I don’t think he ever danced with the same lady twice. He kept switching partners all night long.”
“Any idea what may have bothered him?” Ben queried Jamie because Joe clearly hadn’t been aware that there might have been a problem.
“I only know that as soon as we walked out of that hall, he stopped smiling and stopped talking. I figured that was a sign that something was wrong.”
“I guess we’ll find out when he’s good and ready to tell us.”
As usual, Adam kept his feelings to himself until he was ready to share them. However this time they would not have to wait long. It was the next morning at breakfast when he let them know that the dance had been enlightening perhaps but not entertaining for him.
At breakfast, Adam said nothing at first as Jamie and Joe talked about the fun they had had. Joe tried to give Adam an opening to talk about what he had done, but Adam ignored the comment. Finally Ben was more direct and questioned him about his evening. Aware that his family must have guessed that he had not been pleased with the turn of events at the social, Adam decided to be brutally honest.
“I met many women. There were pinch-faced spinsters, desperate widows, and any number of young women hoping to find a wealthy husband, and all of them seemed to have an opinion of how I should live my life. None of those opinions seemed to have any regard for how I wanted to live or any choices I preferred to make. It seems the women of the town believe they have the prescription of how to cure my life of all its ills. Each of the women with whom I danced thought that they were the perfect answer to my prayers. That would be true only if I prayed for penance for all my sins. The reason I danced with so many women was that I couldn’t bear the thought of dancing with any one of them more than once.”
“There wasn’t one you found at all attractive?” Joe was astonished having seen the beautiful women who had been in Adam’s company all evening. He could not have heard the conversations so didn’t know the shallowness of those women.
“Physically they were all interesting, but there has to be more than beauty on the surface. If all I wanted was a pretty bauble on my arm, there were plenty there for the taking, but the mindless drivel to which I was subjected made that all that loveliness seem like a waste of God’s resources. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll spend some time alone reading, and no, I do not plan on attending church services today as any number of women threatened to see me there today. I would prefer not to have to repeat the misery of last night’s experience even to a smaller degree.”
With that, Adam excused himself and settled into a chair by the fireplace with a book in his hands and his eyes focused on that. He paid no more attention to the others making it quite clear he was done talking about the previous night and about church services. Ben shrugged and walked out the door with Jamie and then Joe following behind him although both looked back at Adam wondering if there was anything they could say to improve the situation. Outside, Ben counseled them.
“He’s upset mostly at himself right now. My guess is that he allowed himself some high hopes for last evening and it fell far short of meeting those expectations. He’ll talk later but he has to get over being upset first and probably needs some sleep too.”
“He did look tired. I suppose he didn’t sleep much last night. Jamie and I had a good time so we fell asleep right away, I guess.” Looking over at his younger brother, Joe had a questioning look, but Jamie nodded in agreement. “So I suppose we never heard Adam if he was pacing around after we got home.”
“I have to admit the same. Once the three of you were home, I went to bed and almost immediately fell asleep. Based on what we saw and heard this morning, I would bet that Adam didn’t. So, let’s finish with these horses and get to church. By the time we get back here, things may have improved.”
As Adam had expected, there were a number of women at church curious as to his whereabouts. Ben politely explained that Adam was not attending church that morning and left the cause of it vague. When he, Joe, and Jamie returned home hours later, they did find Adam asleep in that chair with his book resting open on his chest. Hop Sing had lunch ready for them and told them Adam had slept almost the entire time they were gone. He didn’t even wake while they ate their light lunch as Ben cautioned them to be quiet. After lunch, Joe and Jamie headed out to visit with lady friends leaving Ben to wait for Adam to wake. All hoped he would talk about what was truly bothering him, but Ben wished to handle that conversation as he thought he knew what the problem was.
“You wouldn’t think a crinkly newspaper would be more irritating that clinking flatware, but it is.”
Looking over the top of the issue of the Territorial Enterprise that he was reading, Ben smiled at his eldest son who was blinking his sleepy eyes. “I didn’t realize you heard us having lunch.”
“Only a little. You must have cautioned them well. I was able to ignore it and fall back asleep.”
“But not the newspaper. That noise you could not ignore. Perhaps you have had enough sleep now to make up for what you missed last night.”
A raised eyebrow was the only answer to that one. Adam stretched the kinks out then and set his book aside noticing that Joe’s hat and Jamie’s were gone from the hat rack and credenza.
“It seems you have me all alone again. Is there a purpose to that?”
Smiling gently, Ben didn’t have to answer that one because it was phrased more as a statement than a question. “I thought perhaps there’s a conversation we could have that might be beneficial. We’ve never talked about the shared experience we’ve had.”
Knowing where his father was going with the conversation, Adam wasn’t sure he even wanted to venture there. He said nothing hoping to stifle it before it began by being indifferent. That didn’t deter his father.
“I never met Marlene, but I can imagine how much you loved her. I know you would never have married her unless she had captured your heart. You don’t give it easily, but when you do, you give it completely. She must have been quite a woman.”
Unsure of how to respond at first, Adam finally could only say the truth. “She was everything I ever hoped to find. She was my partner, my support in tough times, and my best friend when I needed one most. I don’t know how I could have survived the news about Hoss without her there. She was gentle yet strong.”
“I’m glad she was there for you. At different times in our lives, we may need different kinds of people in our lives. You needed Marlene then. You may need a different kind of woman now. That’s probably a good thing. If we tried to find a replacement for our lost love, we would always be comparing the new person to the one who was lost, and of course there is no way anyone could ever measure up.”
Pausing then, Ben waited for Adam’s reaction not sure if he would be cross to have his father speak to him that way or if it would get him to open up and begin talking. One way or another, he needed to get through to him. He had gotten Joe to see that he needed to start living again when he was letting one part of his life remain dormant. Ben was fairly certain that Marlene would not have wanted Adam to remain alone yet he wasn’t sure how he could impress that upon his son. What happened was something Ben had not expected. Adam stood and walked to the front door silently, took his hat and gun belt, and went out the door without saying a word or even looking at his father. A short time later Ben heard him ride away. That part he had expected once Adam walked away as he had.
For his part, Adam was overwhelmed. Unprepared for the torrent of emotions his father’s words had unleashed, he had not known whether to yell out in anger, cry, scream, or rage in frustration. With an iron will, he had kept himself under complete control and not allowed any emotional release that would have shown how weak he was. Even in the desert, he had held himself together emotionally and not yielded to what he perceived as weakness. Now those floodgates were open and the rush of emotions was pouring out and he had no way to stop them. Pulling Sport to a stop after riding hell bent for leather for a few miles, he dismounted and nearly fell to the ground. Shaking, his muscles didn’t obey his commands as he wished, and it took a great effort to walk a few feet. He fell to his knees in the grass first retching and then crying before raising his head and screaming into the air. Luckily the horse didn’t bolt. He led him to a stream nearby and watered him before dunking his head under the icy cold water several times. Taking large gulps of water, he rinsed his mouth and drank quite a bit too. Moving into some shade, he leaned back against a tree and cried but softly this time.
“Oh, God, Marlene, Pa’s right. How I wish you were here. I need you now. What do I do though? There’s no woman like you. None of those women who want to be by my side could ever match up against the memory I have of you. I know what Pa meant. He’s told me about my mother, and I remember Inger. They were not at all alike, but they were both wonderful women. Then there was Marie, and she was quite a woman too but so different.”
Smiling, Adam thought about her. When Marie had arrived, he had compared her to Inger and found her completely wrong for his father or so he thought at first. Then he saw the joy she brought and the sheer energy she had. Over weeks and months, he observed how she could revive the spirit of almost anyone but made his father seem younger and more joyful than Adam could ever remember him being.
Now he fully understood what his father had meant with his advice. He thought Adam should stop looking for a woman like Marlene and look instead for a woman who made his heart warm and his soul sing. None of the women at the social had done that. The women there had bored him.
Perhaps it was too soon to think of a relationship with a woman. As he thought that, a pinecone fell from the tree and hit him on the leg. Looking up, he saw a squirrel on a branch above him. It scolded him making him smile. He remembered how Marlene could softly scold him when he doubted himself. He was doubting himself now and she wouldn’t like that. If he was thinking of having a relationship, he knew if she could she would tell him it was obvious that he was ready to have a relationship. There, it was done. Resting under the tree and thinking, a smile slowly played on his lips. He had a plan or the seeds of one.
Arriving home late for dinner, Adam apologized and sat at the table immediately. He was sincerely contrite for having caused his family to worry and for delaying their meal. Looking at him, Ben could see a difference in him but didn’t know what to make of it. Adam didn’t explain, and didn’t say anything about what had happened that day. Yet that week, he was pleasant and carried out his work without complaint. Each day, he looked good and the only conclusion his family could draw was that he was sleeping better. He certainly seemed to have an appetite again and was in a better mood. For the time being, they decided to accept it and go with it. As usual, Adam wasn’t going to tell them anything until he was ready to tell them something. On Saturday, Joe and Jamie had plans again to go to town. Rather tentatively, they asked Adam if he would like to accompany them.
“No, thank you for the offer though, but I have other plans.” Saying no more, Adam waited to see if his brothers would be satisfied or if they would grill him for more. They wanted more information.
“Yes, Joe, that’s what I said.”
“What kind of plans?”
“If you must know, I’m going to Carson City. I’ll be staying overnight there.”
“What are you going to be doing there?”
“Oh, chasing a rainbow, going fishing, and maybe catching a good one. We’ll see.”
Frowning, Joe looked at Jamie and then at his father who shrugged. The younger brothers were frustrated with the oldest one. When Adam was in a mood like that and talking in riddles, it did no good to try to make sense of things. All they could do was wait and see what he did by what happened which they would know about after the fact.
“Well, son, I wish you well in whatever endeavor you have in mind.”
“Thank you, Pa. You’re the reason I’m going. I’m going to take a chance on different unless different already moved on.”
“Have you had enough time, do you think, since it all happened?”
“I had a talk with Marlene, and I think it’s time. It will take some adjusting but I think she will understand, well, both of them will.”
“You’re right about that. If she feels the way I think she does, she’ll be patient.”
“I hope she has been. So, I’ll be home soon or I won’t.” With that, Adam walked out the door and headed to the stable as Ben smiled.
“Good luck to you, son. Good for you.”
Joe frowned at the strange communication between his father and Adam, and the reaction his father had to Adam’s cryptic parting comment. Jamie walked out with him.
“Joe, do Pa and Adam sometimes seem to be talking in another language that nobody else understands?”
“You know, Jamie, that’s a good way to put it. I think those years they had with just the two of them caused it. Adam and Hoss used to do that to me sometimes too. They’d seem to have a conversation without saying what they meant. They knew, but I didn’t. It used to bother me, but then I finally realized it was because they grew up together when there was no one else around. They spent their days and nights together and got used to knowing what the other one wanted or needed without asking.”
“Yeah, I used to be that way around my Pa. I’d know what he wanted and give it to him before he asked. I could tell by the way he was acting and what he was doing.”
“There you go. I guess it isn’t so odd even if it seems that way when you’re on the outside of it. Now, let’s go have a good time in town, and tomorrow, maybe old sober sides will be ready to tell us what all that code talk was about.”
When Adam arrived in Carson City, he got a room and cleaned up after putting Sport in the livery stable for the rest of his stay. Then he found out what house Jerome had purchased and rented a carriage to go there. Although he knew he was being overconfident, he had to do it or give up. He wasn’t about to give up. So a short time later, he was knocking on the door of a large home near the outer limits of the city. The house was built of stone, and he was admiring the lintels and other nice features when the door opened. The short woman there looked at him with suspicion, and he realized he probably didn’t look at all like the men who were likely guests at that house.
“I’m sorry to call without an invitation, but I only recently arrived in town. Could you please tell Kitty and Jerome that Adam Cartwright is here?”
Without a calling card to give to her, Adam knew she might not accept his request, but despite her clear disdain for him, she turned back to the house to deliver his message. Left to stand on the porch like an unwanted guest or worse a pesky intruder, he could only practice in his mind how the first conversation might go. However it wasn’t what he expected. Kitty came to the door with a guarded expression and looked past him to the carriage behind him.
“I’m still the same person. I still have freckles and still talk a lot when I’m nervous.”
“I like the freckles, and I’m looking forward to some honest conversation.”
Pausing in silence, Kitty studied his face for any hint of sarcasm and found none. His expression looked as hopeful as a young boy asking a girl on a first date. She couldn’t refuse him.
“Did you have plans? What am I saying! You always have plans.” She noted his grin and that nearly melted her heart. “What I should have said was: what are your plans?”
“If your father doesn’t mind, I hoped to take you to dinner and then perhaps a short ride before the sun goes down.”
“Father is confined to bed these days so he won’t mind.” She saw Adam’s response to that. “You didn’t know. Yes, he became ill soon after we arrived here. I’ve been running things for him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I thought he was feeling better since he arrived in the west.”
“He was, but he was doing too much. The doctor thinks he’ll be fine when he has enough rest. We’ll have to hire more people to get everything done. If you would like to come in and wait, I can change into something more appropriate for dinner and a ride.”
Dinner and the ride were pleasant. Although Adam knew she had to be bursting with curiosity about what had happened to him, she asked nothing about that. She must have sensed that topic was a difficult one. Instead, she asked about his family and then his family history giving him ample opportunities to pick the topics he wished to discuss. With no one else around, he noted how much more relaxed Kitty was and how her conversation with him seemed more reserved. As they neared her home later that evening, he had a few questions for her.
“Have you gone fishing at all to try out those skills I tried to teach you?”
“Oh, I haven’t had time to do things like that, and I really do think I need more lessons on something like that before I could feel confident in trying to do it by myself.”
“I’m available to give lessons tomorrow.”
“It just so happens that I’m available to have a lesson tomorrow. I can have our cook pack a picnic basket too if you would like to make it more of an excursion.”
“I like the way you plan too.”
When Adam walked Kitty up to her door, she expected a kiss. She got one but not the one she had anticipated. It was a chaste kiss. It was only later that Kitty realized neighbors were probably observing them as were the servants and possibly even her father. Then she understood the light kiss and gentle touch. She had thought she had ignited more passion than that in him and only realized after analyzing the situation that he must have reined it all in. If she was correct, she expected that special kiss of his the next day to be one that would be memorable and looked forward to their time together. Her musings about what it might be like meant that she got very little sleep that night.
In the morning, Kitty spent some time with her father who saw her agitated state and asked why she was upset. She explained that she wasn’t upset but excited. Then she had to tell him about Adam showing up at their door and that she had spent time with him the previous evening and planned to spend the day with him. The huge grin her father had at that news relieved any anxiety she had about whether he would approve of her seeing Adam. Apparently he thought it was a very good idea. However, when she was with Adam, again, for the first two hours they were together, there was no kiss. She was beginning to think she would have to kiss him because she was getting frustrated with no outlet for the feelings she was having. It was when Adam suggested it was time for the fishing lesson that things changed.
“The best way in this shallow water is to wade out into it.”
Sitting down on a fallen log, Kitty began undoing the buttons on her shoes so she could remove them. Surprised, Adam sat down beside her and removed his boots before rolling up his pants. Waiting, he stared as her lower legs were revealed to him when Kitty removed her shoes and then her stockings. Aware that he was staring, Kitty did nothing to hide anything from him. They waded into the stream together and Adam wrapped an arm around her waist and used the other arm to help guide her cast. She only made two before twisting her head back to look at him to see his expression. It was all it took with their faces only inches apart and their bodies already pressed together. He took the pole and tossed it to shore as he captured her mouth in a kiss pulling her into his arms as she slid her arms around his neck. Picking her up in his arms, he carried her to shore and to the picnic blanket they had used earlier and lowered her there gently before settling in beside her. They kissed again and she opened the top two buttons on his shirt and caressed his chest because that was something she had longed to do. Adam pulled back then and watched her face as she touched him and he saw love there.
“Why didn’t you tell me how you felt?”
Reluctant at first to tell him, Kitty decided to be honest. Trust was important in a relationship, and she very much wanted that with Adam. “I didn’t think you felt that way about me. I thought you loved your wife so much yet and would compare me to her and find me lacking.”
Moving to lay on his back then but pulling her to his side, Adam stared at the blue sky and the thin wispy clouds moving fast across it. “You’re very perceptive. I was that way. I’ve come to understand that I can still love Marlene, and yet open my heart to another woman, a different kind of woman.” Turning to Kitty, Adam smiled and touched her cheek gently caressing it. “I do not find you lacking. You are not like her, but you are a wonderful woman. You’re the woman I need with me now if you’ll have me. You’re capable and strong. I’m not an easy man to love, I think, but I will try to be the best that I can be with you.”
“Tell me about her. I want to know about your family too. Everything about you is something I want to know now.”
There had been no direct answer to his question, but he understood that she had accepted his proposal. They were now a couple, and it was up to him to show that he could be a loving companion and trust her as much as she trusted him. “To understand why I fell so deeply in love with Marlene, you have to understand my relationship with Hoss. That goes back to when I was six years old and Pa married Inger. She was the first mother I knew.” Over the next hour, Adam told the story of how Inger had made him promise to take care of Hoss but then had been killed. As a boy, he had taken on the responsibility of an infant and then a toddler making sure that Hoss was safe and got what he needed. “Then I wasn’t here when he needed me most.”
“Surely you don’t blame yourself for that.”
“That’s why I needed Marlene. She comforted me and supported me as I worked through that issue and the sorrow about his death.”
“She was a very kind woman then?”
“Gentle, warm, quiet. I guess she was exactly the kind of woman that I wanted and needed then. I loved her very much.”
In a soft vulnerable voice, Kitty asked the question at the heart of her concern about Adam and her relationship. “Could you ever love me like you love her?”
Rolling up on an elbow beside her, Adam leaned over her with his eyes only inches from hers and his breath caressing her face. “No, I cannot love you like I love her. I will love you for you. I will cherish you for all the special qualities that you have and for the unique person you are. The love I have for you will be for you alone and not a love compared to the love for another.” He kissed her cheeks and her forehead before he kissed her lips then to seal his words. Then he couldn’t resist. “I’ll even love you for the freckles.”
“You couldn’t stop with being sweet. You had to say that, didn’t you?”
With some enthusiasm, Kitty began tickling him then, and Adam rolled to his back as she went after him. He grabbed at her wrists to stop the tickling, and they wrestled a bit before ending up locked in an embrace with her on top of him looking down into his face. It was her turn to lean down to start a kiss, something Adam found unusual but highly arousing. He knew he had to stop soon before they did more than they ought to do at this point. Breaking the kiss, he rolled her gently to the side and stood pulling her up with him. Disappointed, Kitty looked at him wondering if there was something wrong.
“You don’t have to worry. It was all good, too good. We needed to stop before I did more than what would be appropriate. I respect you, but there’s only so much temptation I can resist.”
“I tempt you?”
Shaking his head, Adam could only look at her for a moment before admitting what he had only admitted to himself a week earlier. “You have tempted me since I first met you. You have been on my mind and in my heart no matter how much I tried to deny you belonged there. Last Saturday, I was at a social in town when it hit me hard. None of those women compared favorably with you. They were kindling, and you are the match.”
“Where do we go next?”
“We’ll have to talk about that. Your father is ill and needs you. I can’t take you away from that.”
“I can talk to my father about that. There may be other solutions. I’m sure there are other ways to handle things. He would never let business especially stand in the way of my happiness and my future. There are things you do that I want to do too.”
Cocking his head to the side and with a small smirk, Adam asked the obvious question but did it so that it could have many meanings. “What did you have in mind?”
However Kitty chose to remain serious. “I want to be free to be with you to go where you go.”
“At this point, I want to work with my family. It will mean trips to San Francisco and sometimes Sacramento, Denver, and perhaps a few other places. You want to go with me when I go?”
“I’d like that, but we would have to be married.”
“You would have to ask me first.”
“I guess I would.” He paused and sighed. “I didn’t come prepared for that. But I do want to ask you. Could you wait a few days or a week or two until I can make some preparations?”
“When you’re ready to ask, I’ll be ready to answer.”
“I should by rights ask your father first.”
“He would enjoy that. I think he’s hoping you would.”
There was nothing more to be said at that point. Wrapping his arms around her, Adam pulled her to his chest and held her resting his cheek against her hair and simply reveling in the close contact. Slipping her arms around his waist, Kitty pressed herself against him hardly believing that what she had thought was lost had so suddenly blossomed like the desert flower after an unexpected rain. Over the next few days or even a week or two when he wasn’t there, she knew it was going to seem like a dream. So she had an idea.
“Adam, can you write a love note to me?”
“A note, like lovers write to each other. This week while you’re gone, I want something that I can look at and know that it’s from you and says more than anything that you love me.”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever written a ‘love note’ to anyone. I’ve written poetry and I’ve written letters, but those hardly qualify. I don’t know that I could simply produce one of those in a few minutes either.” He stood in thought for a short time before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a watch, which he handed to her. “Open it. It has three compartments. It’s why I got it.”
When she did as he requested, she found that the back of the watch was like a locket with spaces for small photos. There were three women in there and a man.
“Your mother, your brother Hoss, and Marlene?” Adam nodded. “But who is the third woman?”
“That’s Inger, Hoss’ mother.”
“Oh, I should have known with the story you told me earlier.”
“There were many details in that story for you to remember.” Closing the watch, Adam wrapped her fingers around it. “I want you to keep the watch until I see you again. You will have one of the most important possessions I have so you will know how much you mean to me. I would not trust many people with this watch.”
“I feel a little odd having a picture of your wife with me.”
“Those are all the people from my past who are no longer with me. All the people from my present who are important to me are not in there.”
Kitty understood then and accepted the watch holding it to her heart as she accepted a kiss from Adam. She was beginning to understand him better.
It was getting late though and they needed to head back to town. When Adam got her to her house, he came inside to talk with Jerome who felt better than he had in weeks after Adam asked for permission to court Kitty.
However it was too late for Adam to head home so he knew his family would worry. There was nothing he could do about that though so he stayed in the hotel one more night and left as early the next morning as he could arriving home not long after breakfast was concluded. When Adam came into the house, both Joe and Jamie prepared for their father’s reaction, but they were shocked with his first question to Adam when he saw him.
“I hope you’ve brought good news at least and that’s the reason you made us worry.”
“Yes, I’m sorry about being late, but Kitty and I have reached an understanding although that took some time, and Jerome is in agreement with it.”
“That’s great news, son.”
Momentarily baffled, Joe put all the pieces of the puzzle together rather quickly. “You and Kitty are getting married?”
“It’s not official yet, but yes, that’s the direction we’re going.”
However Jamie stood amazed at the news and at how Joe knew it. “Now you’re doing it too. It’s like you all have a secret code for talking, and I don’t know it yet.”
“It’s Adam’s fault, Jamie. For years now, our oldest brother hasn’t been telling us what’s on his mind. He drops little hints though, and you have to watch how he acts. You know, observe how he walks and his facial expressions and such for clues. I’ve had more practice than you.” Turning to Adam then, Joe had a question for him. “So, when’s the wedding, and who’s going to stand with you, Adam?”
“I haven’t asked her yet so there’s no date set yet. I haven’t even thought about the details yet. I guess both of you should stand with me if you’re willing.”
“I should probably stand closer though as I’m older.” Joe had a smirk though that Jamie couldn’t see as Joe looked at Adam when he said it.
There was a plaintive note to Jamie’s voice as he complained about that. “But if I have to stand behind you, I won’t be able to see anything.”
Shrugging, Adam offered his solution. “I don’t think it would be fair of me to have to choose between you. Perhaps the two of you should flip a coin or something.”
“All right, that sounds fair enough. But Joe, don’t use that two-headed coin of yours. In fact, Pa could you flip the coin? I don’t think I trust Joe on something like this. I mean anyone who would cheat at checkers and chess can’t be trusted with a coin toss.”
Joe decided to tease Adam too as long as he was in such a good mood. “Who’s going to be the ringmaster if the two of you start arguing?”
“Joe, Kitty and I spent a great deal of time together and never argued once. Not a cross word was uttered.”
Remembering Jerome’s words about his daughter, Ben realized she and Adam must have reached a point where Kitty felt comfortable so she could be more the woman like her mother and not the nervous young woman that many had seen. Adam didn’t seem ready to discuss any more so Ben told him the plan for the day ending with the appointment they had at three that afternoon.
“Ah, could I borrow a watch from someone so I’m not late?”
“Where’s your watch, son?” Ben knew how important Adam’s watch was to him and was surprised he didn’t have it in his pocket because he always had it in his pocket.
“I, ah, left it with Kitty. Listen, it’s a long story that I don’t want to tell. Could someone simply loan a watch to me or agree to come tell me when it’s time to go to the meeting?”
Jamie volunteered to work with Adam. “I’ve got a watch so I can tell Adam when it’s time for us to go.”
With that settled, they all went off to do their tasks. Joe had some horses to deliver to a ranch near them, Ben had papers to prepare for the meeting, and Adam and Jamie were going to do cattle counts. They had a water rights meeting with a neighbor. Every day that week was filled with tasks like that until Adam asked if he could have a day to go to town but didn’t explain why. Ben could guess though and agreed to the request. By Friday, Adam was getting a bit agitated and anxious for Saturday afternoon and a chance to go to Carson City again. Joe had a short talk with his father and then Jamie before he opened the subject with his brother at dinner on Friday night.
“So, I suppose you plan on seeing Kitty again tomorrow night and Sunday?”
“I talked to Pa, and we don’t think that’s a good idea. We looked at the work load around here and did some reorganizing of jobs for tomorrow.” Adam’s eyebrows came down closer together as he looked pointedly at Joe who was unable to stare his brother down. He never had been able to do that, and under the circumstances, he couldn’t pull it off. He grinned instead. “Yeah, we thought you might like to leave first thing in the morning. Kitty’s probably pretty anxious to see you too, ya big galoot.”
“Thank you, Joe. Thank you.” His gaze took in his father and Jamie too after he made sure Joe knew how grateful he was. He left the next morning at first light carrying a small velvet box in his vest pocket.
On Sunday night, Adam returned with good news. His family was waiting for him sitting on the porch having coffee expecting he would likely be back. The way he rode in and dismounted told them the news before his smile and his words communicated it more directly and in more detail. He had his watch back, he was officially engaged to be married, and the wedding was to be on the Ponderosa in four weeks. He and Kitty had decided on a small wedding and not a large, formal one as they thought both she and her father would be more comfortable that way though for different reasons.
“Son, have you and Kitty made any other plans?”
“Some tentative ones are settled. We have more to talk about. For now, we’ll live here during the week and leave late Friday for Carson City to stay with her father. We’ll be back here on Monday mornings. If there are times when I need to travel on ranch business, Kitty will travel with me. We’re already working on finding some people to manage Jerome’s business interests. Kitty will oversee them but not be directly managing his interests. She will have to sign any papers though so they won’t be able to steal his investments from him until he’s ready to resume managing them or is ready to sell. She’s not comfortable being the one in charge, but for the short term, she knows enough to watch over those that do.”
“It’s difficult for a woman to step into that role.”
“Yes, for some women it is, especially for Kitty who is uncomfortable under stress or meeting new people.”
“How long do you plan to keep living in two places?”
“As long as necessary. For quite a while now, the doctors didn’t seem to know why Jerome wasn’t getting worse. His condition is usually fatal, but like about one in five people, he’s getting better slowly. Week by week, he’s doing well enough as long as he rests most of each day, so we’re holding out hope that he might recover fully soon. Apparently some do and go back to their normal lives. If he does, he will take over his business interests again, and have his own staff to manage his home. Then we’ll become permanent residents of the Ponderosa although we will want our own house.”
“Is it tuberculosis?”
“They thought so at first, but now they believe it may be an infection that has inflamed the tissue of his lungs. When that happens, most people get weaker and eventually die from it much as they do from tuberculosis. However, he seems to be beating the infection and recovering. We’re praying that it continues. Rest, clean air, good food, and good news certainly seem to be good therapy for him.”
Relief was the greatest feeling Ben had although joy for his son was a strong second. For some time, he had been worried that once Adam and Kitty were committed to each other, Adam would decide to leave again. However it seemed Adam was committed to staying on the Ponderosa. His plans to build a house spoke as loudly as words that he was making a permanent home for himself there. It took a few days for Ben to broach the subject with his son. They were adding springs to the seat of the surrey. It was an easy job, but required two people to position the springs while the seat was bolted into place.
“I’m glad that you and Kitty will be staying on the Ponderosa, and I want to know if there’s anything I can do to help make the transition easier for her or to help you establish your home.”
With that little half smile firmly in place, Adam regarded his father for a few minutes as they worked. “Are you asking that or wondering why I’m not talking about traveling or going back to the home I had in England?”
A bit chagrined to be read so easily, Ben replied honestly though. “I admit I wondered about that.”
In response to his father’s openness with him, Adam was equally direct. “Wondered or worried?”
“A little of both probably but more of the latter.”
Pausing in his work, Adam looked away to be able to say what he had to admit. It wasn’t easy for him to say things like this when he was looking directly at someone. “When I was in the desert and thinking I was about to die, I was all alone, truly alone. It was a terrible feeling. I never want to feel that way again, and if I went to live somewhere with Kitty, that could happen to me again. If anything should happen to me, then she would be in that position, and I would never want to make her feel that way. It’s that simple.”
“But it’s not so simple, is it? Family is the most important.”
Pursing his lips, without a word, Adam inclined his head to agree.
“We know these things, but to experience them is when the words and the thoughts become real. They become part of our heart instead of only ideas in our mind.”
“When you came out here with the two of us, did you worry about that? Being alone?”
“Not at first. I was thinking perhaps I was invincible. Dreams do that to you somehow. They can make you forget that terrible things can happen. However after Inger was killed, my fear was that something might happen to me and then I would leave you and Hoss with no one. It drove me to create this home here that would be a safe place for my family.”
Both smiled gently then at the irony of that statement. Hoss and Marie both rested on the shores of the lake. The safe place hadn’t been safe enough, but they had never been alone. Adam and his family would never be alone either on the Ponderosa.
Four weeks after making the announcement to his family, Adam and Kitty stood in front of a small group of friends and family and pledged their lives to each other. Kitty wore an ivory dress trimmed in green satin. Adam wore a navy blue suit. At Adam’s side, Jamie stood closest with Joe right beside him. Both sported huge grins, but Jamie’s may have been a bit larger. Joe’s new lady friend, Lynette, stood beside Kitty. When the minister pronounced the couple as husband and wife and told Adam he could kiss the bride, Adam touched Kitty’s cheek gently and drew her toward him kissing her softly and whispering one word: “Always.” He had written a poem for her that she had tucked inside the bodice of her dress. The love poem was entitled with that word which was sprinkled liberally as a promise throughout the poem. When she had gotten her wedding ring, she had seen that word engraved inside it. She had tears in her eyes but none in her heart, which sang with joy as Adam slipped that ring on her finger. When they turned to their friends and family assembled for the wedding, their happiness was clear for all to see. From this day forward, they were as one.