Summary: Adam suffers the consequences of a man trying to get revenge on Joe, but it’s the secrets that are revealed in the aftermath of that which cause Adam to temporarily leave the Ponderosa to heal emotionally as well as physically. His sojourn leads him to discoveries and opportunities as well as danger that helps him understand what happened.
Rating = T WC = 29,938
How Do I Tell Him
Sitting up against a tree with his left arm dangling at his side and a rope tying him to the tree, Adam was rapidly losing consciousness. He had a question that he hoped the man would answer. “Mister, what did I ever do to you? I don’t know you.” The man he addressed had ambushed him, tied him to a tree, and then without saying anything, shot him in the left arm and left hand. He had been shot before, but he had never been shot so deliberately and with malice as those two shots had been performed. He had writhed in agony from the first shot before the man pressed his hand to the tree with a pistol as Adam pleaded with him not to shoot again. The pain from his upper arm had been excruciating, but the man pulled the trigger and Adam almost passed out from the pain at that point. He found it extremely difficult to speak as the pain grew like a forest fire devouring his strength as it did. The man at least finally agreed to say something as he mounted up on his horse and looked down at Adam.
“No, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but you knew my son at least for a while. You shot him down in that saloon like some rabid dog. Man as good as you with a gun didn’t have to shoot him in the chest. You coulda just winged him. He woulda come to his senses soon enough. Now I can’t murder you in cold blood because God would condemn me to hell for it, but I damn well decided that you wouldn’t ever get to do that again to anyone else. He can’t fault me none for doing justice and protecting others.”
“I didn’t shoot anyone in a saloon. You got the wrong man.”
“You’re a Cartwright, ain’t ya? And you’re riding a pinto. They told me it was the Cartwright who rides the pinto pony. They’ll like as not find you soon enough. If they don’t, well that’s up to God, now, ain’t it.”
The last thought Adam had before his world went dark was that the man had wanted Joe. Well he wasn’t going to tell him even if his first thought had been exactly that. Let the man think he had gotten his revenge because Joe would be safe from him if he did. Then Adam knew nothing more until he felt excruciating pain and tried to get it to stop. He heard his father then and Hoss and Joe as they did their best to hold him still. He felt his father’s hands on his shoulder and heard his voice in his ear telling him that it would be over soon and just to hold on. He had a bitter taste in his mouth and knew they had given him laudanum. He didn’t understand why it wasn’t helping until he heard Doctor Martin’s voice.
“Ben, I warned you that I didn’t think the laudanum would be enough. It can’t block this kind of pain.”
Then the pain got worse again, and he couldn’t understand anything except that pain was radiating up his arm and searing into his shoulder and back and brain with lightning intensity. He knew he had started screaming, but he couldn’t stop until that blackness took him again.
Weeks later, Ben and his sons remembered the entire scene as if it had happened that same day. Ben had watched everything that Doctor Martin had done. He had watched the doctor cut into Adam’s upper arm to move the bone into position and then sew the stitches in one by one. From his position, he had seen, heard, and smelled what the doctor was doing, but what had made his heart ache was that he had felt and heard his son’s anguish. Joe had held down Adam’s legs by laying over them and Hoss had pressed his body over Adam’s torso. Both Joe and Hoss had their heads turned away from the awful scene of the doctor working on Adam’s arm. Joe had retched on occasion but there had been nothing left in his stomach by that time. Ben had felt tears on his face and had known his sons were doing the same. Doctor Martin had avoided looking at them or he wouldn’t have been able to continue. He had to manipulate the bones in Adam’s hand to try to set them so that when they healed, Adam would have some use of his hand and fingers. When he had told Ben that he might not be able to save Adam’s arm and his life, Paul had felt the pain of it almost intensely as Adam’s father. Ben told him to try so he had done everything that his training and experience told him had to be done. He couldn’t imagine the evil in someone’s heart to coldly do this to another man who was tied to a tree and as helpless and defenseless as Adam had been.
Now it was weeks later. Adam had survived the blood loss, the pain and the shock, and the fever and infection. Just that day, Doctor Martin had removed the last of the stitches and the largest of the splints. Adam still had his arm immobilized and in a sling, but it wasn’t as unwieldy as it had been. Paul had told him he could get out of bed and move around but under no circumstances to do any work or even think about riding. After dinner and bidding Paul goodbye, Ben had been opening the mail when he came across a large envelope addressed to Adam. It was new music for the guitar which Adam had ordered a month or two earlier. After opening that envelope, Adam had silently left the house. When he didn’t return in a half hour, Ben went to find him and found him standing at the corral fence looking at the stars. Adam’s left hand and fingers were stiff, but he had his right hand on the top rail. He probably needed to hang onto something because he was still weak from the blood loss he had suffered and then the fever and infection he had endured. Ben put his hands on the top rail of the fence and looked up at the stars too.
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened out there that day?”
“You know I don’t want to tell you.”
“Because it was Joe the man wanted?”
Adam nodded but kept his eyes on the heavens. “I should have known you would figure it out. Joe doesn’t know, does he?”
“No, but he’ll figure it out too. It may take some time, but it’s the kind of secret that can’t be kept. I think Hoss already knows by the way he looks at Joe whenever he says anything to you about your arm and teases you about using it to get out of more work. That day when you were shot, you borrowed Joe’s horse because it was already saddled, and you left your gunbelt behind because you were making a quick trip to bring some nails to Hoss who was working on the fence. You didn’t bother to make the trip into the house to grab it, and I suspect that was crucial to what happened. The man who did this to you meant to disable you, but he shot up your left arm. So it wasn’t you he wanted.”
“I didn’t figure it out until after he shot me. Until then I had no idea what he wanted. I never expected him to shoot me like that. It was such a cold act. It was a nightmare only I was awake. I never saw it coming. When he walked up to me with his pistol drawn, I thought he was going to question me or tell me what he wanted. He shot me in the arm and then pushed my hand down and pulled the trigger again. I couldn’t stop him because with the pain in my arm, I couldn’t bear to move it. After he shot me and I was able to suck in enough air, I asked him why he did it because I didn’t know him at all. It was the father of that kid Joe shot in the saloon.
Pausing because he was worried about the next answer, Ben finally had to ask. “Do you blame Joe?”
Adam was quick to respond, and Ben had to wonder later if it wasn’t too quick. “No, I blame the man who did this to me. In a way, I’m glad he shot me and not Joe. I still have my right arm and can do most of what I did before once this all heals up. I can’t imagine Joe with a useless left arm. Can you?”
“No, but the man who did it needs to be caught and punished. The only way to do that is to tell the truth about what happened.”
“The man who did this thinks he got his revenge and is probably on the run now thinking the law is after him.”
“I understand why you told Roy you couldn’t remember what happened. But it’s time to tell the truth now.”
“Pa, how do I tell Joe? How do I say that the man meant to do this to him?”
“Let’s go inside now. We can do this. We’ll tell him together, and then together, we’ll talk it all out.” Ben remembered those words later too, and wondered how he ever thought it would work out so well. He remembered talking to Adam about a gunfight he had only a month earlier just before Joe got into that altercation in the saloon that ended up having such dire consequences for Adam. Then he thought about the conversations with Joe about him shooting someone in a saloon over a card game. How he had ended up with two sons so talented with firearms was a mystery to him.
“Well, I never would have had to shoot him if you had ever told me about you and Julia Bulette. You must have had a few good laughs about that one. Well you never let me in on the joke. I fell in love with her and never knew she was your castoff. I had to find out in a saloon. You know I thought it was a joke except I looked around and nobody was laughing except maybe laughing at me for being such a fool.”
“You weren’t a fool, Joe, and she wasn’t my castoff. I saw her a few times, and we mutually agreed that it wouldn’t go anywhere. She wasn’t about to give up the Palace, and I wasn’t willing to be with a woman who had a house like that. It was as simple as that. We had spent some time together and then we didn’t.”
Adam knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful, but there was no one alive who could dispute what he said. His father and Hoss probably had wondered just how involved he was, but neither had ever asked although Hoss had said some crude things about what Adam was doing when he was in Miss Julia’s office. If only he knew, he probably would have said a lot more. He remembered very well the first time he had seen her. He had decided to check out the Palace because he had needs like any man, and if the women were as clean and beautiful as some had said, he wouldn’t mind spending a bit of his hard-earned money. When he walked into that front parlor of the house though, he had eyes only for Julia. He had seen her walking around town dressed in the latest fashions and looking haughty and unapproachable, but when he saw her that night in her house, he could only describe the feeling as rapture. He hardly noticed the other women there although most were scantily dressed with their hair loose and flowing which normally would have been all it took to gain his interest. He walked to Julia and introduced himself.
“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I know who you are. One can’t be in this city more than a day or two and not know about the Cartwrights. I had wondered if any of you would ever set foot in a place like this. I knew your self-righteous father wouldn’t ever set foot across my threshold, and your younger brother Hoss would need someone to lead him into my house as you did tonight. I had thought that your dashing younger brother might be the first one whom I would see.”
“What about me?” It wasn’t until much later that Adam wondered how she knew his father’s attitude toward such houses of pleasure and sin.
“Oh, I thought I would see you here. You have too much passion to be satisfied herding cattle and waiting for some proper young woman to agree to be your wife. In fact, my guess is that you find proper young women a bit boring and stifling. You like bad girls, don’t you, Mr. Cartwright?”
“And, are you a bad girl, Miss Bulette?”
“Oh, yes, I am very bad. Just ask anyone in town. They’ll tell you that unless it’s later at night and they’re one of the gentlemen being entertained in a room upstairs.”
“And do you like bad boys, Miss Bulette?”
Julia was intrigued, and it was a rare man who could get her interest the way this man did. “Yes, I think I do. Would you care to step into my office? We can share a brandy and talk about what we like and dislike.”
Dutifully, Adam had followed her into her office. She asked him to sit on a large divan as she poured two brandies. She brought that tray and set it on the table in front of the divan. She sat beside him then expecting him to take a brandy and offer her the other. Instead, Adam put his hand behind her head and drew her to him. She was ready to call it off until he gently caressed her cheek and ran two fingers along her lips and then her jawline before sliding his hand to her neck and softly caressing that. He leaned forward next and let his lips follow the map his fingers had made. She felt his warm hand caress her as he kissed her gently and then more insistently. She opened her mouth to his tongue and let him plunge inside over and over until her whole mind was preoccupied with his kiss. She hardly realized that he had unbuttoned her dress until she felt his hand slip inside to caress her skin directly. It was even more exciting that way. He kissed his way down her cheek to her neck. Julia could never remember a man being this gentle and passionate at the same time. She gave herself over to his ministrations and was determined to enjoy every second. He was still kissing and caressing her when he pulled one of her legs up over his lap. She felt his hand slide up her leg until he was above her stockings. There he caressed the soft tender inner thighs as she almost begged him to move higher.
“Patience, patience. I’ll get there, but half the fun is getting there, and I don’t want to sacrifice a moment of it.”
It had been a very long time since a man had at all been concerned with her enjoyment and never as much as this dark-haired man with the passionate gentle touch. She rested against his chest then and began unbuttoning his shirt as he reached under her dress and slid her stockings down and off. She helped him remove his shirt and then unbuckled his belt and went to work on his buttoned fly. He did his best to lift his hips a little as she slid his trousers down and off. She removed her dress and undergarments, and without a word, he moved his hands to caress her more. She watched his face to see his smile. He never closed his eyes but watched her. His hands were working magic at the same time as she felt herself feeling more pleasure than she could remember. When he pulled her close, she heard his moans building deep in that broad chest. Afterwards, he rested his head on her shoulder and caught his breath. He sat back and pulled her onto his lap before kissing her.
“I wouldn’t mind that brandy now.”
Smiling, Julia leaned toward the table and got one of the glasses. She took a sip and offered the glass to Adam. He took it and sipped a little. She had never felt so relaxed and satisfied.
“Mr. Cartwright, I hope you can come back for another talk in my office. I have found it most entertaining.”
“I think you can call me Adam now.”
“And you can call me Julia. It’s been over an hour. I do need to see how things are going, and I’m guessing you need to get back to your ranch.”
“I do, but tomorrow is Sunday. That can’t be such a busy day here, can it? How about a picnic? Bring some blankets.” He dressed slowly as she watched, and then he helped her dress except eventually she had to decline his help or she suspected that she never would have finished dressing.
So the next afternoon, Adam and Julia had repeated everything from the night before except they waded in the waters of Lake Tahoe before dressing. When Adam brought Julia back to town, she knew she could fall in love with him. He might already be falling in love with her, and she knew that it had to end. He would never accept her lifestyle, and she would never give it up. She told him that then and felt the pain as she saw the look he had. He said goodbye like a gentleman though. He kissed her softly and told her that he would be waiting if she ever changed her mind. Then she was cruel because she couldn’t bear the thought of him waiting for her and not finding a woman to love. He was hurt but accepted her statements without arguing although it was doubtful he believed a word that she had said. It was over between them, but it had been a wonderful two days.
When Julia saw Adam in town after that, he would tip his hat and move on as if they had never been so close. In time, she got a bit irritated by that even if it had been exactly what she had told him she wanted. She took up with Little Joe trying to get a reaction from Adam. It hadn’t worked. She had been fond of Little Joe, but he lacked the great passion of his brother that she missed that so much. Little Joe had taken up with her to try to prove a point to his father, and that wasn’t a good prescription for a relationship either. When she was dying, and Joe was there, she had hoped that Adam would come to see her, but not knowing how she felt, he had not been there. Adam had wished too that he could have been the one to be at her side and offer her comfort, but she had expressly told him to keep his distance so he had. Now Joe wanted to resurrect that painful time, and Adam didn’t even want to discuss it. Joe however wasn’t going to give him a choice.
As they talked, Joe went on the attack because he was so upset thinking that he was the cause of Adam being shot and suffering through a long and painful recuperation with no guarantee that he would have full use of his arm and hand, Adam tried to explain. He wanted so much to defuse the situation even as memories of his short time with Julia scrolled through his mind.
“Joe, she wasn’t my castoff. We saw each other twice and then mutually agreed to end our relationship. It was only two days.”
“So you must have gotten real friendly in those two days. Did she go to bed with you? Why did she break it off with you?”
“Joe, it really is none of your business.”
“None of my business. You slept with her, didn’t you? Then when I got interested in her, you never told me that. You must have had a few good laughs knowing that I was trying to get what you had already had.”
Ben and Hoss were speechless. Hoss had known that Adam had spent some time with Julia, but then it had been over so quickly. He had never suspected that they were that intimate, but Adam wasn’t denying it. He wouldn’t lie, so apparently he had slept with Julia. Ben was aghast. He knew of course that Adam had been with some women, but he had never thought that he was as willing to bed a woman as he must have been to become intimate with Julia Bulette when he first met her. There were more revelations to come though because Joe was hurt and wanted to hurt back in retaliation.
“When Julia was dying, she said that her greatest regret was that the baby she was carrying was going to die with her. Now I knew it wasn’t mine, and she had told me that she hadn’t been with a man for months until I tried to romance her. So, was it yours?”
Ben and Hoss noted how Adam suddenly got very pale. Joe’s news had clearly shocked him. Joe was too upset to notice.
“She told me that she would never let a man plant a seed because she would never bring a baby into that life. But she also told me that she had slipped up once and let a man into her heart and into her womb. That must have been you, and then you walked away from her and your baby without a second thought.”
Running out of things to say, Joe halted. Neither Ben nor Hoss knew what to say so there was silence for the next couple of minutes. All that could be heard was Joe’s breathing as he sought to calm himself. Adam stood and looked at the fire in the fireplace.
“I’m sorry, Joe. You wanted her, and it was tragic what happened. But I have to tell you. I loved her, and she told me to go away, so I did. It was a huge regret of my life that I did that, but I did because it was what she wanted, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. Now, I can only hate myself for agreeing to her idea. It’s probably my fault that she and the baby died. I can never forgive myself for that.”
Without another word, Adam turned and walked slowly up the stairs. When the door to his room closed, there was silence for a time until Ben asked a question. “How did the boy you shot know that about Adam and Julia?”
Joe felt guilty then and hung his head. He had hurt his brother and now had to hurt his father because he couldn’t lie to him. “He said he was in jail sleeping off a drunk when he heard you and Roy talking. He said that you said that Adam always seemed to be attracted to women who were bad for him and that he didn’t seem to mind the gossip. Then he said Roy said he knew that when Adam had taken up with Julia Bulette. When he said it, no one in the saloon disagreed. I looked around, and some men looked away and others nodded so I knew it was true. I didn’t know the rest of it, especially how Adam felt about her, until just a few minutes ago. I thought it was just another one of his conquests.”
Unsure of how he could help but determined to try, Ben turned his back on his youngest and went upstairs and knocked on Adam’s door. There was no answer so he knocked again. Adam asked him to let him be at least for the night. It was a reasonable request under the circumstances. Adam had suffered so much. Ben thought that he would give him some time to recover although he thought it was unlikely that he would get much sleep in his current state. Most likely none of them would.
The next morning, Hoss was up early. He had a suspicion as to what was likely to happen that morning but wasn’t sure which brother he would find preparing to leave. He was a bit surprised to find that it was Adam. He was still pale, and it was clear he hadn’t slept well. Saddling his horse with one arm was a big challenge to him as well and probably causing him a great deal of pain.
“Maybe ifn you can give me one good reason why you got to go, I could help you with that.”
Adam wasn’t startled as he had heard Hoss coming. He had known it was him and was glad it wasn’t his father. He couldn’t take any more emotional scenes. “I need some time away. I feel smothered here. It’s like I can’t breathe.”
“You don’t have to go. Joe will get over it. He was feeling all guilty like cause he knows now that you got shot up because of him. He was only trying to push the blame off himself. He’ll get over it, but Pa’s gonna be hurting something fierce to know that you’re gone.”
“It won’t be forever. I’ll be back when things are better.”
“Where you gonna go?”
“I was thinking Timbertrack.”
“Because I don’t know anyone there, and it’s a beautiful part of the world. I need some beauty right about now.”
“That’s a hard ride for a man with one good arm who ain’t supposed to be riding anyway.”
“I’ll go slow.”
“You’re right about that. I ain’t gonna let you do too much. Let me go inside and get my stuff and some food. I’ll tell Pa we’re going and that I’m gonna watch out for you.”
“You don’t need to come with me.”
“No, I don’t need to stay up there with you, but I do need to go with you. Ain’t none of us getting any rest around here if we have to worry about you till you come back. You hang on there for a bit, and I’ll be back to get our horses ready. Don’t even think of trying to leave before I get back. The shape you’re in, I’d catch up to you before you got more than a couple miles out.”
Unhappy with Hoss’ news, Ben reluctantly agreed. He sat at the table sipping his coffee hardly aware that he was drinking it as he heard Hoss and Adam ride slowly out of the yard. When Joe walked down the stairs later, he noticed the two empty chairs and the lack of place settings where his brothers usually sat.
“Where are Adam and Hoss?”
“Adam felt the need to leave for a time. Hoss went with him to make sure he got to his destination safely. Hoss should be back by the end of the week. There’s a lot of work to be done around here while he’s gone.”
Joe dropped his head. “I know it’s my fault they’re gone. You should know that if I could take back everything I said last night, I would. I was way out of line. I felt guilty for getting Adam hurt and tried to shift the blame. I suspected that I was the reason he got shot, but I didn’t want to believe it. Then to know that he knew that all these weeks and never said anything, well, that made me feel even guiltier. Then I acted like a stupid kid and tried to get out of just saying how sorry I was. I really am sorry, Pa.”
“I’m not the one who needs your apology. I hope that when Adam feels ready to come home that you’ll remember how you feel at this moment and sincerely apologize.”
“I will, Pa. Where is he going?”
“Timbertrack: it’s a little town not far from Alturas. I know he was there once for our timber business when the railroad men had the meeting there for offering bids. I guess he thinks it’s a nice quiet spot where he can recuperate better than he can here.”
“Pa, I’m sorry. I know how much you’ll worry while he’s gone, and I know it’s my fault.”
“It was my idea to have Adam talk to you and explain what happened. I wish that I had never suggested that, but at least everything is out in the open. It is ironic that he worried so much about telling you that the man who shot him meant to shoot you. He said he was glad it was him though because he couldn’t imagine you without the use of your left arm. He didn’t know his heart was going to be so wounded too.”
“Pa, I’m so sorry. I know what Adam went through because of me, and then last night I added to it. I’ll live with this guilt forever.”
“It’s done now. Let’s look forward and not back. What you have to consider now is what will you do to make things better?”
A few days later, Hoss was back. “I got him settled in a boarding house up there. He’s got his books, and there’s a couple of other men staying there. I’m guessing that the checkers board and chessboard in that parlor get a good workout. There were some books on a bookshelf there and Adam looked real interested. She fed me a good lunch the day we got there. Adam’s gonna like eating there too.”
“It’s a clean place, and the woman who runs it is friendly?”
“Yes, Pa, it’s a right nice place. Lots of businessmen passing through stay there. It’s a nice, quiet, peaceful kind of place, and every which way you look, there’s mountains and trees and green grass. You don’t have to worry so much, Pa, cause Adam’s going to be just fine.”
“Of course Adam’s going to be fine. I only wanted to know where he was and that he had all that he needed. You know he wasn’t supposed to be riding.”
Hoss nodded, and they both knew they would worry. “I made him take it easy, and I did everything I could to make the trip as easy for him as I could.”
But now Adam was alone in Timbertrack, emotionally suffering, and still recovering from debilitating wounds. They would worry, but they also knew that Adam needed this time away. Their next task was dealing with Joe. Now his surliness of the past two months was explained. He had not only killed a young man in a saloon over a card game, but the young man had goaded him with the story of Adam and Julia. Instead of confronting Adam and talking it out, he had let it fester and then the poison of that had come out to hurt Adam. Joe would be carrying a load of guilt and some of it was justified. That he killed the young man who drew on him without warning was something he should let go, but his unjustified anger at his oldest brother and what he had done to him in revenge was cause for remorse.
All of them would have been pleased to know that Adam was laughing at that moment. He and the owner of the boardinghouse were getting to know one another. She had asked some pointed questions and Adam had bristled at being interrogated. After a few days of that though, he decided to tell her the bare bones of his story, but as soon as he did, her sympathetic but no nonsense responses made him tell all until she knew all about Julia, his wounds and why he got them, and how his younger brother tended to make him see red. He had evaluated her as well. Mrs. Lydia Hanson looked to be about fifteen years older than he was, but it was so hard to tell with women in the west especially those who lived in areas where the living was so difficult. She used no makeup and kept her hair neatly bound up in a bun. It probably made her look older than she was too, although he found her freckles to be charming. She asked him then if he planned on staying in Timbertrack.
“No, I needed to get away for a while.”
“To sulk and lick your wounds?”
Adam knew enough about Lydia’s way of speaking by then not to take offense. “To give my youngest brother time to think through what happened, and for me to recover from my wounds.”
“Well, too bad you aren’t staying.”
“Why? It seems that this town is mostly men already.”
“Yes, and there’s not much for female companionship except in that big tent at the edge of town.” Adam smiled because he recalled seeing the sign that said a bath was fifty cents and a bath and a woman was four dollars. Obviously there was an entrepreneur there who understood the concept of supply and demand in the marketplace. “Who would think that with that many men in town, there would be such a good supply of ugly and such a tiny supply of handsome.” Adam began laughing. He did love the way she was so direct and sometimes a bit sarcastic but never directly to someone when it would do any harm. “You laugh well. It’s a sign of a good heart. A bad man laughs darkly. You laugh with your whole being and should do it more often. It sure brightens up the place.”
“You should smile more too. It makes you look younger especially with those freckles. If it wasn’t for your hair pulled up like that, you would remind me of a schoolgirl.”
“Well, I suspect you’re trying to guess my age. How old are you, Adam?”
“Well, I am older then because I recently had a birthday. I’m thirty-seven and I know that surprises you. Losing a husband and four children wears on a person.”
“Dealing with smelly, ugly men on a daily basis doesn’t help either, I suppose.”
Lydia began laughing again. “You are good for me. You remind me to see the humor in life. Sometimes up here, I forget to appreciate what I have, and I think only on what I’ve lost.”
“Tell me your story. I told you mine so it’s only fair.”
“That does sound a bit like schoolchildren, don’t you think?” She was smiling though. “My husband died in a logging accident up here. It only takes one mistake to take a life up when you live so far from the nearest town of any size. I did my best to support the children and myself, but there was nothing to help when fever broke out at the timber camps and then in town. There’s no doctor, and I did my best, but all four died. I had no family and nowhere to go so I turned my house into a boarding house. With no decent hotel in town, I had customers right away. Some thought that there were benefits to which they were not entitled. It’s because of having to turn a few of those kind away that I had a room for you.”
Trying to lighten the mood, Adam commented on the lack of a hotel.
“Oh, the saloon has rooms upstairs, but I doubt you would get much sleep there. It’s like an Army barracks with bunks in each room. You never know who else might be sleeping or snoring in your room. Usually it’s men who have recently arrived and are looking to get hired on.”
“But only ugly, smelly men come here?” Adam got the smile he had been seeking.
“Yes, that seems to be so until just recently. I do require my guests to visit the bathhouse as least once a week. I know I didn’t tell you that, but I assumed there was no need.”
“You’re sending men off to sin in the bathhouse?”
“I send them to get a bath. Whatever else they do is their own business.” She grinned then. “They do bother me a lot less for a few days after their bath so you may be right. Now I need to get dinner. The other guests eat a lot more than you do.”
“I can help, if you wish?”
“A one-handed man in my kitchen wouldn’t likely be much help, but I wouldn’t object to the company.”
As Adam sat at the table and talked with Lydia as she cooked, she noticed him grimacing on occasion when he thought she wasn’t looking. It happened each time he moved his left arm in a sling as if he was trying to get it into a more comfortable position. It hadn’t hurt this much in quite a while, and he thought it was a result of his two-day ride with Hoss and sleeping on the ground for one night. But he had been in the boardinghouse bed for two days already with no relief. In fact, he was fairly certain his arm hurt more than it had when he arrived. Finally Lydia had everything simmering or baking and only needed for her boarders to arrive for dinner. The time varied from day to day so she tended to make a lot of stew dishes that could stay on the stove if necessary.
“All right, why don’t you take off that sling and your shirt to let me see what’s wrong with your arm.”
Slightly surprised, Adam raised his eyebrows and looked up at her. “I was shot and the bone was broken. I would think that would be enough explanation as to what’s wrong with my arm.”
“By what you told me, that happened over a month ago. Your arm should be nearly healed by now but instead I saw that you clearly have a lot of pain there yet. Now do as I say, and we won’t have to waste breath on more useless talking.”
“I wasn’t talking. I was arguing.”
“And not very well which tells me you’re a mite worried about that arm too. Now do you need some help?”
Schooling his expression so that Lydia could not see his discomfort, Adam slipped his arm from the sling. He was wearing one of his father’s old shirts because with the straps on his arm, he couldn’t get his own shirt on by himself. His father had graciously supplied several of his old shirts that were nice and soft from years of washing by Hop Sing. Adam unbuttoned the shirt easily enough, but found it very difficult to slide the sleeve from his arm. Lydia stepped in then and without a word slid it down his arm and off. She had to school her own expression then as she saw his bare muscled chest with all the curly black hair and his powerful right arm. She began to examine his arm and didn’t take long to discover the problem.
“Did you get some stitches out recently?”
“Yes. Some of the original stitches had torn loose and the doctor put in a new set. Those were removed less than a week ago.”
“Well, you should have been washing that area. You have a little infection that probably got in to one of the places where a stitch was. It looked like a small abscess. It needs to be drained. You aren’t going to like this much.”
“Lydia, compared to what they did when the doctor first set my arm, it won’t be that bad.”
It may not have been as bad but it was not easy either. By the time Lydia finished, Adam was pale and shiny with sweat. She noted how he had endured what she had to do without a sound except for an occasional sharp intake of breath, but she could tell he had suffered a great deal.
“I’m sorry for that. I’m not going to close up that area. I’ll pack some soft cloth and let it drain. Twice a day at least, I’ll wash it again with that solution and pack clean cloth on it until there’s no more drainage. By tomorrow morning, you should have a lot less pain.”
About that time, three of the four boarders entered the kitchen. They had already washed up outside because that was another of Lydia’s rules. There might have been some ribald comments about Adam shirtless and sitting at Lydia’s table, but it was so clear that she had been taking care of his wound.
“I’ll clean this up, gentlemen, and have your dinner on the table in just a few minutes.” Lydia quickly helped Adam get his shirt and sling back on. “Now sit there until you feel a bit better. Would you like to eat right there? I can serve up a bowl of stew for you.”
Adam nodded, and a short time later, all of them were enjoying their dinner. The four boarders in the dining room were quietly discussing what if anything might be happening between the new boarder and their landlady who was having her dinner in the kitchen with him.
Later that evening, Adam had been sleeping but awoke when Lydia knocked and then pushed his door open. She had a lamp in her hand but had it turned down so that it was just enough light for her to see her way. He asked what she wanted, and she walked to the bed. He felt the bed shift a little toward her as she sat beside him and then her cool hand touched his brow.
“Good. I wanted to make sure you weren’t developing a fever. It was too difficult to tell after I cleaned the wound for you. Enduring that made you quite warm, but your temperature feels normal now.” Her hand rested on his bare chest then making it difficult for him to think, but he managed to thank her for all that she had done. She said she could clean the wound in the morning by coming to his room before he dressed, but he said the kitchen would be fine. He hadn’t been touched by any woman for quite some time, and having Lydia sitting on the side of the bed was making him have all sorts of thoughts he determined were best kept private. With a slight pressure on his chest when she rose, Lydia was gone. Adam breathed a small sigh of regret as the door closed and she was gone. Then he chastised himself for desiring her especially after only a few days of knowing her, but he supposed that was the way of men. However he thought he needed to make sure he didn’t let himself get carried away by desire. He was here to heal, to clear his head, and decide on his future. He hadn’t disclosed that part to Hoss and felt a bit badly about that, but he didn’t want any undue pressure as he contemplated what he should do.
In the morning, Lydia again cleaned the infected area of Adam’s arm and packed it with a fresh bandage. There was a little drainage but she smiled when she saw it because it was much less than what she had feared. “It’s already starting to heal. Perhaps tomorrow I can see about sewing it shut. I’ll clean the area again before you go to bed tonight.” Then as Lydia pulled out a large pan and mixed ingredients for bread, she and Adam talked about all sorts of things. She was most intrigued by a gunfight he had had about a month or so before he was shot by the father of the man Joe had killed. For some reason, she could tell that gunfight had been a pivotal event for Adam so she asked him why that was.
“I asked him over and over not to draw. I didn’t want to kill him. I could tell he was scared, and if he was scared enough to show it, he was too scared to be in a gunfight.”
“So you were sure you could outdraw him?”
“I’m always sure. You can’t face someone in something like that if you aren’t sure of yourself. Otherwise, I’d be like that scared kid, and I’d be dead now.”
“Have you been in a lot of gunfights?”
“Enough that the young man thought that by killing you, he would have a reputation as a fast gun. What did he have against you?”
“That’s just it. I didn’t even know him. He called me out in the middle of the street. He knew who I was, and he thought he could goad me into a fight by calling me names. I didn’t want to fight. I prayed that the sheriff would get there in time and stop it, but I couldn’t turn my back or walk away. He said he’d shoot if I tried to do either of those things, and as emotionally wrought as he was, I had little doubt that if I tried to walk away, he would draw. I didn’t want to kill him, but I wasn’t ready to die for it.”
“So you killed him?”
“I tried not to. I shot him in the side, but he got an infection and died less than a week later. As far as we know, he had no family around. I don’t know why he felt a need to challenge me, but then I got to thinking that perhaps I was developing that kind of reputation. I don’t want to live out here if I’m going to face that kind of situation over and over again until I run up against the man who is faster than me.”
“What else could you do?”
“I studied architecture and engineering. I have very good math skills. I have experience in mining, timbering, and lumbering besides working with cattle and horses. I’ve made investments with the money I earned working on the Ponderosa. There are a lot of possibilities, and yet I’m not sure what I want to do. I would miss my family very much if I left, but I don’t like how things have been going there lately. I can’t leave and I can’t stay.”
“Well, you can stay here as long as you need to. We can talk if that helps you.”
“It does. Having someone who isn’t trying to steer me in one direction or another is very helpful. Thank you.”
Lydia cut off a small piece of the dough she was kneading. She rolled it in flour and opened Adam’s left hand and dropped it there. “Your hand is healed but it needs to recover. I have seen that you don’t use it for anything. It won’t get any stronger that way. Try working that dough. It ought to give your hand a good bit of work to do.”
That first morning, Adam could barely close his fingers around the dough. It became a challenge to him as Lydia had suspected it might. Over the next week, he kept at it as she mixed up dough for him every morning even when she wasn’t baking bread. By the end of the week, Adam was able to maneuver the ball of dough into various shapes and then reshaped it again and again. He smiled when he realized how much stronger his hand was getting. The infection in his arm was gone too so that he began to take his arm out of the sling more often and began to move his arm around too. Adam had brought several books along to read, and Lydia had more on her bookshelves, but somehow found little time for reading. They often sat together in the evenings discussing books they had read. Lydia had been her children’s teacher and had felt she owed it to them to be well read and used the books for lessons too. In a timber camp, she had not found many who could read so it was a delight to her having Adam as a boarder.
About two weeks after Adam arrived at Lydia’s boardinghouse, he had slipped into bed one night but heard a knock, and Lydia opened his door. She stepped inside closing the door.
“I don’t have a fever or an infection.”
Lydia never said a word.
“Lydia, I don’t think we should do this.”
“No declarations of love. No commitment. I’m only proposing that two lonely people take some comfort with each other. I want this and I think you want it too.”
“I may want to, but it still is not a good idea. I’ve been involved much too fast with women before. It hasn’t ended well. You know that what happened once led to the problems I had that led to me coming here. It may seem only that we’re taking some comfort and satisfying some very normal needs, but the consequences can be substantial. I don’t want to hurt you by saying no. It has nothing to do with your desirability. It has to do with me needing to take some time before I commit myself to any course of action especially in creating a relationship.”
“I have to say I am disappointed that you said no, but I understand and find that you are more a man of morals and integrity than anyone I’ve ever known before. I know my husband was not above sampling some of the delights of the bathhouse. He thought I didn’t know, but I could tell just by the way he acted when he came back. I guess I thought that men were like that. I’m sorry if you find that insulting.”
“Not at all. I understand, and if I had not had some bad experiences that taught me to be more careful, I would have pulled you into this bed as soon as you let me know what you wanted. But I’m older now, and I’ve learned from my experiences.”
“Well, I know I won’t fall asleep right now no matter how hard I tried. Do you have some time to talk? I’d like to know about those experiences. You can tell me and get it off your chest if you want.”
So Adam told her more about Julia and then he talked about Sue Ann. Over the next few nights, he talked about more of his failed relationships. He found it helpful to be able to say to someone the things that he had been thinking. Not knowing any of those women, Lydia was able to ask questions for clarification that made him think more about what had happened and to put some closure on those experiences. It was a type of intimacy but there was no physical relationship. She and Adam thought they were fooling the four men, but Adam found out that they were not one morning as he tried his hand at chopping some kindling. The men must have been aware that she went to his bedroom late at night, and probably assumed there was more to their relationship than there was. One of them stepped up to him as the other three watched.
“Don’t you hurt her none. We like her, and we wouldn’t take kindly to anyone hurting her.”
“I will never do anything to hurt her. I can swear that to you.”
“Good. We wanted you to know where we stood. She’s a good woman. You’re a lucky man to have her liking you so much.”
As the men left for work, for the first time, Adam questioned how close he was getting to Lydia and wondered if it was fair to her. He knew she had said no declaration of love was necessary and that there was no commitment, but he wasn’t sure either of those two things were true any longer. Having to face his dilemma was postponed when he had a caller later that day. Lydia answered the door and showed a gentleman into the parlor where Adam was reading while waiting for Lydia to finish up some laundry. She must have been on the way up the stairs with the clean sheets because her hair looked a bit windblown and her cheeks were rosy. However her expression was a bit grim, and Adam had no idea why except that she must not like the man who had come calling. He knew he would have to speak with her about that later. His caller, who was the local timber baron, introduced himself.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Cartwright. I’m Cyrus Felder. I own most of the timber in this region either in one of my companies or with partners in others. Some of my employees have told me that you and they have discussed the logging and lumber business. I’m having a problem with some of my timber and thought perhaps you could help me out, for a sizeable fee of course, if you’re successful.”
“I had not planned on working while I was here. I still don’t have full use of my left arm and hand.”
“Oh, what I’m asking of you won’t require you to do physical labor. No, I have some timber on a steep slope, but the area down below is impassable with boulders the sizes of small houses. I need a way to get those logs out of there and with your experience, I had hoped you might know of a solution.”
“I would have to look at the site to see if there is a solution.”
“Yes, of course, I had anticipated that. I would like you to come stay at my home, and tomorrow at first light, we can head up to that area if you are agreeable. My wife and daughter would be most pleased to meet you as you might start working for us soon.”
“Yes, of course, working with us. I meant no disrespect by my phraseology. I hope I did not offend you.”
“No, not at all. Let me explain to Lydia, and I’ll pack a bag. Will we be riding there or taking a wagon or carriage?”
“We have a rough road close enough that we can take a wagon. That way, I’ll be able to have the men load surveying equipment and such into the wagon. I’m sure I would have everything you might need. I’ll have a foreman and another man come with us to do any physical labor that you need done. I have my carriage outside to give you a comfortable ride to my home which is some miles distant from here and that much closer to the site I wish you to evaluate.”
Telling Mr. Felder that he would be right back, Adam went up the stairs to pack and to tell Lydia what was happening. It felt good to have a purpose, but he didn’t like leaving things between them so unsettled. When he got upstairs, he found her sitting on his bed waiting for him.
“Be careful what you agree to do for that man.”
“I had the feeling you don’t like him very much.”
“He was the man who brought my husband here to work. He had recently completed his new house up on the mountain and away from the squalor of the town. He offered my husband this house which used to be his as part of his compensation for coming here to manage the operations. After Luke was killed, he tried to take the house back. I had four children at the time, and he tried to make us homeless and destitute. The men of the town were outraged that he would do it so he backed down, but I will never forgive him for it.”
“I’ll be careful. I will miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Adam, but I knew you would be leaving. It’s only a bit more sudden than I expected.”
Smiling as he packed a bag with some of his clothing, Adam kissed her on the cheek and took his leave. Lydia felt a tear fall as she watched him walk out the door. She thought that Cyrus probably had another scheme in mind. He had a marriageable daughter, Janelle, who had come back from school in San Francisco escaping some kind of scandal. No one in Timbertrack knew what it was, but Cyrus had refused to let her travel anywhere since unless accompanied by him or by her mother or by both. The family spent a few months traveling every year so she did get away to escape her isolation occasionally. Lydia suspected that Cyrus might think Adam would make a good husband for her. Janelle was beautiful, well educated, and charming. Trapped as she was by her parents’ restrictions, she might be more than willing to see Adam as a potential husband especially in this backwoods area with no acceptable suitors. He was quite a catch and could help her escape her parents. Lydia stood and looked at her reflection in the small mirror in Adam’s room. She sighed knowing that she could never compete with Janelle Felder in looks, money, or education. She knew that life would be a lot less interesting again without Adam there and realized that she had been falling in love with him, but it was over now. All that she had were wonderful memories.
When Adam met Janelle, he felt as if he wouldn’t mind spending his life staring at her and enjoying her. As soon as he was able to pull his eyes away from her, he realized that all men probably regarded her that way. She was a nearly perfect beauty with a smile that could make a man’s blood boil. She took his arm to lead him into their parlor to visit with her and her mother as Cyrus made plans for the next day now that Adam had agreed to go to the site to see if there was a way for him to make more money. Janelle sat beside him on a formal settee as her mother looked on disapprovingly at first and began questioning Adam in what could best be described at first as a polite interrogation. However as he answered and talked about the Ponderosa and his time in college as well as his love of the theatre among other things, she warmed to him rapidly. She had never thought that she would ever meet such a man out in the backwoods where Cyrus insisted they live so he could be near his wealth of property and was very pleasantly surprised to find that she approved wholeheartedly of the man Cyrus had told her might be the answer to their prayers. She had found his story of a knowledgeable rancher with sophisticated tastes and business acumen to be difficult to believe.
“He lives on a ranch in Nevada far from anywhere that Janelle could get in trouble. His family is one of the wealthiest in Nevada if not in the west. He’s well educated and not prone to indulging in bad habits. Who knows? He may even be sleeping with Lydia for all we know, but that will end. He won’t want Lydia when he gets one look at our daughter. Four of my men live in that boardinghouse and have told me all about him.”
Having met Adam and seen how her daughter seemed delighted with him, Jewel Felder began making wedding plans. The sooner her daughter was married, the better she would feel about everything. She would spare no expense either. Later that night, she began to look through some catalogs she had to that she could begin ordering items that might take a long time to arrive in such a remote location as Timbertrack.
Dinner was an elaborate affair as the Felders did their best to impress Adam. He found the company very pleasant, but he was tired by the end of the evening and asked if they would mind much if he retired early as they needed to make an early start in the morning. As he slid into the bed in the guest suite, he relaxed in the soft thick mattress and luxurious sheets and throw on the bed. He couldn’t help but be reminded of the thin mattress and well used blankets of the boardinghouse, but he did miss having someone with whom to chat until he grew drowsy enough to sleep. There was something so comforting about having a good friend nearby while sleeping. He did his best to convince himself that he didn’t miss her that much and fell into a restful sleep with the satisfaction of knowing that Felder wanted him for a job and it had nothing to do with the Ponderosa. It would be something he would do or not do based only on his own thoughts and desires. It felt very good to him.
The next morning, Adam was invited by Cyrus into the kitchen for a quick breakfast before they headed up to the site where Cyrus hoped Adam had a solution for him. Adam was impressed that despite Cyrus’ wealth, he was not afraid of being on site as well. Dressed appropriately for the conditions, Cyrus drove the wagon too as his foreman and another employee rode in back. Once they got to the site, Adam was a bit dismayed at the terrain. He wasn’t sure that he should be walking through rocks and slippery slopes like those he saw because his arm was not fully recovered yet and was very weak. Cyrus noticed his hesitation.
“I heard from my men that you were recovering from a broken arm. That’s why I asked Jack to bring Rolly along. The man is the strongest I’ve ever met and as sure as a mountain goat in terrain like this. He does most of the topping of trees for us. He’ll walk with you and help you as needed.”
After a long morning of hiking along the steep hillside and viewing not only the stand of timber but the boulder strewn valley below, Adam was ready to make his evaluation. “I guess I won’t be making a commission from you after all. There is no good way to remove that timber, and if you do manage it somehow, you will jeopardize the removal of all the other timber on the lower slopes. That slope has obviously had avalanches before and the only thing preventing the next one are those trees. Another large avalanche and that valley will be blocked probably preventing the outflow of water from the spring snowmelt and keeping the river down below too shallow to float logs. It would be best to leave this slope as is and tackle the slopes lower down.”
“Even there, how do we get the logs past the boulders at the bottom and out to the river?”
“The slope is steep enough for a dry flume. You probably will need two because of the terrain. You can’t make the logs take a ninety degree turn. But you could log out the bottom area first and send all those logs to the river. Then log out the higher slope and send those logs to the bottom slope and then load them into the flume there to send them to the river. The last step would be dismantling the flume from the top down and sending those logs down as well. It’s probably at least two years of work to get the trees you want to cut.”
“I thought we would cut them all.”
“Some are small, but in ten or twenty years, they would be a good size for cutting. You could profit twice from the same area. It would be like money in the bank growing and becoming worth more.”
“Adam, I like the way you think. Now this is too far from town and too difficult to reach from any other timber camp. We’d have to set up a new camp down there. Would you be willing to design the flumes you mentioned and then stay there to oversee the construction of the first one?”
“I’ll need a site map.”
“Are you capable of drawing one?”
“I can do that too, but I’ll need some help.”
“Very well. Jack and Rolly will be at your disposal as long as you need them. Let’s get back to the house, and we’ll write up a contract. You have negotiated contracts, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have. I would like to make a trip to town too to get some clothing more suitable to this work.”
“That will work out fine. Janelle had said she wanted me to drive her to town so she could pick up a few things too. If you don’t mind, would you drive the carriage? That way, you can both get what you want. You can drive a carriage with one arm, can’t you?”
It had been less than a day, but Adam already knew that Cyrus Felder was interested in him for more than the work that he could do. He felt as if he was being auditioned for a role in the Felder empire and eventually marriage to the Felder daughter. He wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea nor was he enthralled with it. He was willing to see what he could learn about both. He thought it would be fulfilling to do the work and probably very entertaining to see about the latter proposition that he was sure would come his way before too long. Janelle made it very clear on the trip to town and back that she was claiming some kind of proprietary rights over him. She slipped her arm through his as he drove the carriage and he had to ask her to release his arm because it was still too sore. She pouted a little and asked when he thought his arm would be healed.
“I was shot and the bone was broken. The doctor had to operate to reposition the bone so it has only begun to feel reasonably comfortable in the last week or so. I’ve had infections and that slowed the recovery. I would think that it would be tender for another month at least, and it’s very weak because I haven’t been able to do much.”
“You were shot?”
“Out of all of that, the only point of interest is that I was shot?”
“Was it a gunfight? I so love the romance of a gunfight. It reminds me so much of the great tragedies of Shakespeare. You are familiar with Shakespeare, aren’t you?” Adam nodded. “Your hand is scarred too. Were you shot there too?” Adam nodded again. “Now will you tell me? Was it a gunfight?”
“Actually I was tied to a tree and shot when I was completely defenseless. The man mistook me for someone else.”
“I like it better thinking that it was a gunfight. What you described is simply ghastly.”
“It is what it is.” Adam already knew that there was no future with Janelle. She was shallow and probably too adventurous for his tastes. She was very forward with him, and he had to wonder just how many men she had already been with and would that continue after her marriage. At his age, he didn’t want a naïve young lady who had to be schooled in the arts of romance and love, but he didn’t want someone as willing to be with a man as Janelle seemed to be, but he also wasn’t going to be the poor slob who found that out the hard way. He would be civil and finish the work because that excited him far more than spending any more time with Janelle.
The only sour note was that Janelle played the role of a young lady being courted the entire time they were in town. She had her arm in his arm or stood by his side close enough to maintain contact no matter what they were doing. She asked him to accompany her to the sections where she picked out ribbons, hairpins, and some lace. He got several shirts, some pants, and a heavier jacket as well as a thick blanket. As he was paying for his purchases, Lydia came into the store, and Janelle immediately asserted her rights to Adam as if she had a right to do so. Adam ignored her and addressed Lydia who seemed taken aback to see him with Janelle on his arm not that he could have pried her away with a crowbar. Adam could see that Lydia was unhappy to see him with Janelle, but he was a bit irritated thinking that she too seemed to be trying to assert some rights over him. She never said anything negative though she did have a request.
“A man stopped by today and asked to rent a room. Now are you coming back or is that room available?”
“I’ll probably be gone for as long as a month so the room is available if you want it to be. I could pay you to hold it for me until I get back.”
Janelle interrupted. “Oh, Adam, that’s silly. You know father expects you to stay with us. You have such a nice bedroom at our home. Why would you ever think to return to that boardinghouse and all those common laborers who live there?”
“The rest of my things are at the boardinghouse.”
“We can go get them right now. Then you won’t have any reason to return.” Janelle was trying to manipulate the situation and Adam. He didn’t like it at all.
“Lydia, could you store my things for me? I could pay you a fee to do that. It isn’t that much that I brought with me.”
“If that’s what you want. You can pay me when you pick up your things.” With that, Lydia moved further into the store to do her shopping. Adam wished he could say more, but with Janelle there, it was not likely that he would get to talk privately with Lydia who was the one who had said no commitments. He had to rationalize his lack of communication with that although he hoped she hadn’t been hurt. He didn’t want her to feel badly about anything. He finally decided that he had to tell her one more thing.
“Lydia, I’ve taken on a project for Mr. Felder. I’ll be living in a timber camp on some of his property for the next few weeks. That’s why I’m here today. I didn’t have the proper clothing to be out there. It can get rather cold at night, and the mornings aren’t much better.”
Adam could swear that he saw the hint of a smile when he told her that, and he felt a bit of relief seeing it. He had to be satisfied with her thanking him for the information though he could guess what she must be thinking. At least she knew he wouldn’t be spending the next several weeks with Janelle, but he did however end up spending that evening with her. She insisted on a walk after dinner, and although very tired from his hiking up and down that steep slope that morning, he didn’t want to offend his hosts by refusing their daughter a small request.
“Adam, I know my father has thrown us together, but I do find you very attractive and wouldn’t mind at all spending time with you.”
With that, Janelle turned and pressed herself up against Adam. He let her do that but when her hand began roaming, he took it firmly but gently in his.
“We don’t know each other well enough for that. Now, let’s walk, and then I do need to get inside to get some rest. I have a difficult few weeks coming up.”
Janelle was disappointed, but he hadn’t rejected her outright so she hoped that she had a chance with him. He was the kind of man she wanted as a husband, and as often as he was probably going to be gone away on business, she thought she could have the best of both worlds with a wealthy handsome husband and the opportunity for her to have lovers to keep her life exciting. She wasn’t nearly as clever as she thought however as Adam noticed that her look was more calculating than amorous and knew that she was doing her best to manipulate him. She managed to keep herself as close to him as he would allow as they walked and then asked for a kiss before they entered the house again. Adam leaned down to kiss her but she pulled him to her and plunged her tongue into his mouth as a clear invitation to more.
“You have a wonderful bedroom, and that bed is big enough for two if you wish. Mother and father would never know as your bedroom is on the opposite end of the hallway from theirs.”
“Yes, but I would know, and I won’t take a woman to my bed after knowing her less than two days. I do not mean to offend you, but I need to know more about a woman before I make that decision.”
Shocked was probably the best way to describe how Janelle felt at that point. For years, she had easily manipulated men by using her looks and her body. One kiss had been all it took to get them to do her bidding, but this man challenged her. She had never had to work to seduce a man, and it angered her a bit too. She was determined that she would be in his bed and in control of him as soon as she could manage to find a way to do it. Seeing her look, Adam was a bit worried but not about whether she would be successful for he had already made that decision. No, he was more concerned because he did want to do this project for Cyrus, and Janelle could ruin this opportunity for him. Once he managed to disengage himself from her, he took his leave to go to bed. As he entered the guest bedroom and closed the door, he paused, and then locked the door. He had no doubt that she would not be averse to ending up in his bedroom later and claiming something had happened that had not. He was relieved to have made that decision when he heard someone trying the doorknob later. He smirked just a little as he lay in bed and pictured Janelle’s face and the disappointment she must be feeling.
In the first few days of surveying the site, drawing plans based on those measurements, and marking where each support post for the flume should go, Adam found how soft he had gotten during his recuperation. By the end of the third day, he could barely summon the energy to climb back up on Sport at the end of the day and head back to their temporary camp. It didn’t help that Sport was in high spirits to be out of the livery and being able to graze on fresh grass. When he finally arrived at their camp and dismounted from Sport, he was ready to sleep but still had a lot of work to do. He began to remove the saddle from his horse and nearly fell with it. Jack and Rolly rushed over to see if he was all right.
“Hey, Boss, you been pushing right hard. We know you had a rough time of it lately. You ain’t gonna get it all back in the first week.”
“Rolly’s right, Adam. Why don’t you find a place to settle and we’ll take care of things?”
A measure of Adam’s fatigue could be made by the silent acquiescence he made to that request. He nodded and trudged to their campsite. He did start the fire going with kindling and wood they had already collected so that it was burning well by the time the other two men joined him. He was afraid that if he stretched out on his bedroll, he would fall asleep immediately so he sat leaning against a fallen tree as the two men cooked up some dinner for them. As soon as he ate, he crawled into his bedroll and fell asleep. The next morning, the two men let Adam sleep. When he awoke, the sun was already high in the sky.
“It must be ten already. Why did you let me sleep so late?”
“We figured on it being Sunday, you could sleep in a little. You needed it. Jack figured you could probably work better if you didn’t look like you was gonna topple over at any second.”
Twisting to loosen his back muscles and rubbing his neck to try to relieve the stiffness there, Adam nodded. They were right. There had been times the previous day when he had to stop to try to remember what it was he was supposed to do next. Up on that slope, it wasn’t safe for him to be in that state. “Good thinking. Now is there any breakfast left or do I have to wait for lunch?”
Smiling, Rolly pointed at the pot next to the fire. “Don’t expect me to serve you breakfast in bed. There’s plenty of beans and bacon there for ya. Jack would like some fresh meat for dinner today so if you happen to see something that looks like we could get it, just give us the word.”
“Is that what he’s doing now?”
“Yeah, he’s trying to set some snares, but I don’t think he rightly knows how to do it. He did it yesterday too and got nothing.”
The image of fresh meat roasting over the fire that night was appealing to Adam too. After he ate quickly, he went to find Jack and helped him set snares. As Jack saw how Adam did it, he handed over that responsibility to him recognizing superior woodsman skills when he saw them. That night they had roasted squirrel for dinner. Adam mentioned that he had seen signs of larger game, and if they were interested, the next day, he could do some hunting. He hadn’t done anything like that in some time, and it held a strong attraction for him. The next day, they had more meat than they could probably use. Rolly took about three-fourths of it to the timber camp that was nearest them making the men there happy too. Adam was turning out to be an asset to all of them, and when Jack said something to that effect, Adam asked him why.
“The timber that was easy to get, we’re nearly finished with. If you hadn’t found a way to get this timber to market, a lot of men woulda been outta jobs. Now, Mr. Felder ain’t a bad boss, but he don’t know as much about stuff like that as you do. Lydia’s husband set up the first cutting schedules and plans, and we been working off those ever since he died. Now it’s getting to where we can’t follow the patterns he used so we needed more input. I hope you worked out a good contract with him cause you’re worth a lot to this operation.”
“I did get a good deal or I wouldn’t have taken this job. I don’t need the work. Now I understand why he was so generous in the terms.”
“Well, I’m glad of that anyway. He pays a decent wage to the men. We hardly ever have anyone quit so we got real experienced crews working. I know that most were hoping that there would be a way for them to keep working here.”
“I wondered too how he could spare a foreman and his top tree topper to help me, but it makes a lot of sense now. We should get a camp built here and get some men to start cutting what we need for the flume. We’re ready to start building.”
Three weeks later, Adam rode up to the Felder home. He had waited a few extra days in camp to be sure that all was working well. He felt pride to see the first logs slide down the slope on the flume he had designed. He had supervised the building and helped create a cutting map to do as he had explained to Cyrus would be the most profitable in the long run. As he watched, he had another idea he wanted to try out on Cyrus before he left. He didn’t have to knock as Janelle rushed outside as he climbed the steps to the wide veranda on the front of the house. She embraced him and kissed him on the lips before he could stop her. Cyrus and Jewel were at the door a moment later and smiled to see how much their daughter obviously liked Adam but were a bit concerned that Adam certainly did not seem to welcome her attention. He hurriedly disentangled himself from Janelle in order to shake Cyrus’ hand.
“It’s all working as planned, Cyrus. The first logs are on their way downriver.”
“Thank you, Adam. I got a report from Jack just yesterday saying that the cutting was underway and that you had marked out cutting maps for them. Now that wasn’t in your contract, but I’ve added a bonus to what we agreed would be your payment for this job.”
“Thank you. That’s very generous of you. I would like to talk to you about another idea I had before I leave.”
“Leave? Why you can’t leave yet. Jewel has been planning this lavish dinner to celebrate the success of this endeavor. You wouldn’t want to disappoint her now, would you?”
Conceding such a small request was the only polite thing to do, but Adam was determined to head for home as soon as he could. He missed his family and wanted to make sure any breach in the family was healed. He could only do that by going home. Cyrus escorted him into his den and poured drinks for them.
“I know you don’t drink much, but I assume you have nothing against an occasional celebratory drink?”
“None at all, and your choice of brandy is excellent.”
“Now what was that idea you wanted to discuss?”
“Watching those logs go down to the river gave me an idea. That river has enough current to power a lumber mill. You could mill some of the logs yourself and then ship them downriver on log rafts saving on transportation costs too. You could corner a good share of the lumber market because your overhead costs would be so low.”
Cyrus was quiet for so long Adam thought that he didn’t like the idea, but Cyrus was as plan oriented as Adam was and needed time to process each part of that proposal. When he looked up, he was smiling but had a question. “How much would it cost to get the saws that we would need, and would you be willing to design and oversee the siting and building of it?”
Smiling, Adam nodded. “I was hoping you would say that. Yes, I want to go home to be with my family, and it would take some time to draw up the plans, order what was needed, and get all of it shipped here. I think it could be six months or more before we would be ready to build.”
“But that would be winter. Could you do it in winter?”
“I don’t see why not. We would be building it on a rock foundation so there’s no worry about frost slowing us down. I could send you some specifications for some wood that I would need. It could be roughhewn so the men could do it at the site. I already mentioned to Jack where that would be if you gave your approval.”
“You plan and organize well. I like that. You know that you have a position in my company if you want it?”
“I already work on the Ponderosa, but thank you for the offer.”
“I take it that Janelle has not entranced you either?” Adam shrugged not knowing what to say. He didn’t want to offend Cyrus but didn’t want to spend any more time with Janelle either. “Don’t worry. I understand completely. I was hoping, but my daughter is going to be a difficult one for whom to find a husband. You’ll throw a royal tantrum, I’m sure, and probably demand that I do anything I can do to make you suffer for having scorned her. However, I know my daughter well enough by now to know that she’ll be waiting for her next conquest before you’ve gotten more than a day or two away from here. I do get tired of her tantrums though.”
Smiling, Adam did have a thought. “The lumber mill will need some experienced men to run it. Perhaps, you could find a manager for the lumber operation who would be attractive to your daughter. The two of them could build a house nearby, and you could continue to hold her dear and close to your heart.”
“You have a poet’s way of describing a situation, and I can tell that you understand the situation quite well. I didn’t know that my daughter was that obvious, but I guess a father only wants to think the best about his child. Your idea has merit. Jewel and I will discuss it. Arranged marriages aren’t the style any more, but for Janelle, that may be the only way to accomplish it. I know she will be disappointed by your decision because she is quite impressed by you. I hope you find a lady more to your liking soon, and if you have any recommendations for a man to manage my new lumber operation, please let me know as soon as possible.”
“I’ll do that. Now, I will stay for dinner because I wouldn’t want to disappoint your wife. She is a lovely lady.”
“Yes, I wish somehow that would have been transferred to my daughter, but perhaps it’s not too late if she lives here with us. Sending her on a grand tour of Europe turned out to be a very bad idea. She has been incorrigible since.”
“Perhaps a good spanking would help.” Cyrus turned in surprise to stare at Adam who was smiling and then told him the tale of Margarita and his failed matchmaking efforts. He explained that in the end, it all worked out well even if he got wet in the process. Cyrus was laughing very hard by the time Adam finished.
“Now, if that would work with my daughter, I would be very pleased. Perhaps I should tell the next suitor to do just that.” That made Adam join in the laughter. Jewel came to tell them that dinner would be ready in two hours.
“Then I have time to go to town to pick up the rest of my things. That would give me the chance to get a very early start tomorrow.” So Adam rode Sport to town and up to Lydia’s boardinghouse. He saw a man sitting on the porch there but paid little attention to him at first until the man spoke to him.
“You’re a very difficult man to kill.”
Shocked, Adam turned to look at the man who slowly rose from the rocking chair where he had been sitting. “I could say the same for you because I thought you were dead.”
Lydia walked outside then and was surprised to see Adam and Tom Wilson squared off against each other. “Adam, you know Tom?”
“Yes, he’s wanted for murder in Virginia City among other places and for other crimes he’s committed. The last I saw of him, he was shot and fell into the river. We searched for the body and never found it. We thought it must have gotten caught in some debris. In the rocks and current, we never found his body.”
“I saw you looking. I was bleeding pretty good and I could have used some help, but avoiding a neck stretching is a powerful motivation to keep quiet. I was under that big willow in a pool of calmer water. The reeds and brush there gave me good cover. Nearly freezing to death apparently is good at stopping blood from leaking out. I managed to pull myself up on the bank and that was that. A family traveling through to California found me. I told them I’d been dry gulched by some men from Virginia City. I convinced them that I never wanted to go back to such a lawless place, and they took pity on me.”
“Did you steal from them or kill them?”
“Neither. They had nothing I wanted. Well except for a horse and saddle. They got me to California and took care of me. When I was healthy enough to go, I did.”
“Now, what do you want and why are you here?”
“Well, you see, you’re the one man who stands in the way of me not looking over my shoulder to see who’s chasing me. No one else is going to be looking for me or probably would even recognize me except in Virginia City, and I have no intention of going there. No, I wanted to get you out of the way. That first young man I sent after you was fast. I thought he was fast enough to take you.”
“You set that up? I wondered why that kid wanted to fight me. Tom, he was a scared kid. You have another death on your conscience, or it would be if you had one.”
“No, it was his choice. I only gave him the incentive telling him how fast you were and how you had already beaten a professional gunfighter. Then I sent a second one, and the fool took on your brother instead of you. It still could have worked out. Lydia here has told me all about you getting shot in the arm and hand. Too bad that infection didn’t take care of business for me.”
“I came here looking for you. It took a little bit for me to find out where you had gone to lick your wounds. But then I got here and you were gone up into those hills for a month. I have had a good time here though being entertained by Miss Lydia.”
Lydia blushed, and Adam knew that she had been taken in by Tom’s charm. He didn’t blame her. He had fallen for Tom’s trickery himself. The man had a black soul inside a smiling shell. He worried now though about Lydia’s safety. “Lydia, get back inside.”
Tom reached out though and pulled Lydia to him with his left arm before she could retreat. “No, no, she’s my lucky piece. You see, you and I are going to have a gunfight, all fair and square except she’s going to be standing in front of me. We’ll see how good you are. You may be fast, but can you draw and hit the few small parts of me that you can see without shooting her?”
“Lydia, I’m sorry. He’s got the drop on me. I wanted so much to come here and talk with you, but it won’t be happening now. You can relax. I won’t shoot you. I only hope you remembered to drop the letter in the mail that I left with you to drop in the mail. If you didn’t drop it, that’s all right. You can relax about it if you forgot to drop it.”
Tom was a bit confused about why Adam would be talking about a letter when his life was about to end. It wasn’t until Lydia relaxed her whole body and slipped from his grasp that he knew what Adam had been doing. It was too late. They drew, and this time there was no doubt that Tom Wilson was dead.
A number of people came running and were still there a half hour later when the four other boarders arrived. Adam was sitting in Lydia’s parlor holding her. She was still sniffling but had managed to get reasonable control of herself. Adam explained to the men what had happened and asked if one of them could ride to the Felder house to tell them that he wouldn’t be there for dinner after all.
“Adam, I don’t want to go to sleep tonight. I’m afraid of what I’ll dream.”
“I’ll stay with you. I’ve been by your side since it happened. I won’t leave you until you’re sure you’ll be all right by yourself.”
With an arm wrapped around her, Adam had walked Lydia into the house after it happened. He had sat down with her as she sobbed into his chest and her body shook with the aftermath of what she had seen and suffered through. Even when the other men who were staying in her boardinghouse came in to say that everything had been cleaned up and that the body was at the livery stable, she didn’t want to leave the security of Adam’s arms.
“What will they do with him?”
“He’ll be buried with a simple wooden marker and no coffin, I assume. An ignominious fate for a man who wanted it all.”
“Adam, I’m sorry.”
Although Adam was fairly sure what she meant, he asked anyway. “Sorry about what?”
“Tom was so charming and I was feeling so lonely that I spent time with him. I never thought you would come back. I thought you would be with Janelle. She’s everything that I’m not.”
“Yes, she is. She’s beautiful, young, and well-educated. She’s also vain, selfish, shallow, and wholly unsuitable as a companion, a friend, or a wife.” Lydia had been heartbroken to hear Adam’s first descriptions of the woman she thought of as her rival, but shocked to hear him say the rest. She pushed away from Adam to look at his eyes to see if he was serious. He was.
“But what do you think of me then after I let Tom romance me?”
“I can’t hold that against you. I know how charming Tom could be. He had me fooled more than once until I finally saw through the façade. You can’t blame yourself either. He’s pulled the wool over more eyes than anyone else I’ve ever met.”
“You don’t think I’m a silly fool then?”
“No, you’re a good-looking woman, and I can’t blame Tom either for being attracted to you. Your heart is all gold and your soul is pure. You give of yourself to those around you and ask nothing in return. Any man would be proud and grateful to call you his companion, his friend, or even his wife. I don’t know where I’m going with this exactly, but I’m going to be working on another project for Cyrus. I’ll probably be here for the winter. You wouldn’t mind holding that room for me, now would you?”
“It will be ready for you whenever you want. Now, what about you and Janelle? You looked so close in the general store when I saw the two of you.”
“No, she was close to me. I had a leech attached. She offered me everything except it was nothing. When I was much younger, I might have fallen under her spell for a time because of her beauty and her willingness to share it, but not now. I want depth and inner beauty now as well. She doesn’t have either of those.”
The discussion could have gotten even more personal except that there was a knock on the door interrupting their conversation and Cyrus Felder asked if it would be all right if he came in. He carried in a big covered basket and set it on the table in front of Lydia.
“Lydia, I’m sorry that you had to endure this, and Adam, I’m very grateful to see that you’re not injured. When I heard, I was upset for both of you.” As Cyrus had entered and talked, Adam had felt Lydia stiffen at his side. He hoped she would say nothing until Cyrus spilled whatever it was that was making him so nervous and self-conscious. “Lydia, what happened today reminded me of what an ass I’ve been to you. At first, it was because of shock. I never expected your husband to be killed in his job. It was a freak accident, and then I felt desperate not knowing what to do next. I feared the business would be lost without his help. Then later, I felt guilty, and I’m ashamed to admit that I wanted you gone because then I wouldn’t have the constant reminder of how badly I had acted. Finally, we built that house far out of town, and I was insulated from seeing you so often except I deprived you and my wife of the companionship you both needed. When your children came down with the fever, I was sick too. I would have helped then if I had known. I hope to make amends now. I know I’ve waited far too long, but you are a formidable woman, and I was afraid to approach you to try to right things. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
It had been a long confession, and Lydia’s first thought had been to tell him to go to hell. However Adam at her side reminded her that she was a better person than that. Cyrus seemed sincere so she decided to give him a chance. “I couldn’t afford markers for my children when they died. They only have little wooden boards showing their final resting place next to their father.”
“I’ll take care of it, Lydia. I’ll do it as tastefully as I can. Now the basket has food that the cook was able to throw together on short notice. We’ll bring over a full dinner tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Cyrus, and thank Jewel for me.”
“You can thank her tomorrow. She wanted to come with me, but I was worried that you would kick my sorry butt off your porch without hearing me out. Again, I underestimated you. I should have known better. I have a feeling that Adam knows you better than I do after only the short time he’s been here. Adam, can we talk some business tomorrow before you leave?” Cyrus said his goodbyes then when Adam agreed to meet with him. Lydia turned to Adam.
“You’re leaving tomorrow?”
“I was planning to do that. I thought we would have tonight to talk. I need to go home to settle things with my little brother and to come to an understanding with my father about my future. But you already know I’m coming back.”
“You don’t have to talk with your brother Hoss?”
“No, Hoss understands me better than I understand myself sometimes. I’ll explain to him what I’ve decided, and he’ll probably help me get my courage up to talk with my father.”
“You don’t think that will go well at all, do you?”
“No, I’m concerned that he will see it as some kind of betrayal that I want to have a life apart from the Ponderosa.”
“But you’re only going to be gone for the winter. Surely there isn’t that much work on your ranch in the winter. Up here, it’s difficult to get around when the snows come. Most of the time, it’s so slow that I don’t even have boarders.”
“You’ll have one this winter. I’m looking forward to coming back.”
“I wish you didn’t have to leave. Will you stay just one more day?”
“Yes, I was thinking that would be the best thing to do. I’ll stay another day so we can get everything settled down before I go.”
One of the boarders poked his head around the doorframe then. “Did I hear Mr. Felder say something about food?”
“Oh, my, I forgot all about my duties. I’m so sorry. I can get some food together for you men as soon as I can fire up the stove again.”
“It’s all right, Lydia. We found the meat cooking and ate that and some bread you had baked. It was enough, but we wouldn’t mind finding out what is in that basket.”
“Well let’s take that basket into the kitchen then and find out.” Smiling, Lydia and Adam followed the man who grabbed the basket for them. They found preserves, biscuits, slices of ham, and a pie that must have been intended for the Felder dinner originally. There was talking, laughter, and general goodwill so that by the time it was ten, everyone was ready for bed. Adam walked Lydia up the stairs.
“Will you be all right now?”
“I’ll be fine, I think. If I need a shoulder to cry on, you’ll be waiting for me, won’t you?”
“You know I will. I’ll keep a dry towel handy.”
However knowing that Adam was in the room next to hers and that he would be there for the next day, Lydia found that she was able to sleep quite well. In the morning, she was up at her usual time preparing breakfast when Adam padded into the kitchen on stocking feet. He pulled out a chair and sat before he said anything. She placed a cup of coffee in front of him knowing he wouldn’t likely have much to say until he had coffee and probably something to eat. By nature, quiet and reserved, Adam was even more like that in the early morning. She continued cooking until her boarders were in the dining room. She served them and asked Adam if he was joining them. He shrugged and followed her into the room. The four men looked at the two of them, and deciding that they looked fine, they settled into their normal morning banter and discussion of the day’s schedule. The routine helped Lydia as much as anything they could have said. She was more relaxed than she would have been if there had been any more discussion of Tom Wilson. Once the men left, Lydia and Adam had a chance to talk. He told her everything he knew about Tom Wilson. She confessed to him that Tom had shown a romantic interest in her and that she had not entirely discouraged him.
“Were you falling in love with him?”
“No, but it felt good to have a man paying attention to me. I’ve been so lonely, and when you left, it made me feel even more lonely than I had been. I’m sorry if that sounds so shallow, but I wanted to tell you the truth.”
“I understand. I know what it’s like to feel alone and to be without someone to offer comfort. I hope you never feel that way again. No matter what happens between us, I want you to know that I always want to be your friend.”
“Is that all there is to be between us?”
“To be honest, I don’t know how much. I think we have something more, but I’m not sure where that will lead. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take the time to find out. I’ll come visit you as soon as I can. I know that my family is going to be expecting me to do some work on the ranch, but I will have to come back for at least one visit before I can begin ordering parts for the lumber mill I’m going to build for Cyrus. Then I’ll be back here for the winter. I’d like to stay with you again.”
“I’d like that. Do you have any idea how long it would be before you would be back for a visit?”
“It would be at least a month, but realistically probably two months. I could write letters to let you know how things are going.”
“I’d like that too, and I would write letters as well. Oh, Adam, I’m going to miss you so much.” Lydia moved to him then and hoped he would kiss her. He did. He leaned down and gently kissed her before pulling her into his arms and hugging her to him.
“I know you said no commitments and no declarations of love were necessary, but it is necessary for me to tell you now that I have no interest in any other woman. You will be in my heart and on my mind all the while that I’m gone. I don’t know if it’s enough so I won’t say that it is, but I care for you very much. When I saw Tom holding you as a shield yesterday, my heart nearly stopped. Then as I saw you beginning to understand my directions, I knew how smart and brave you are.”
“Adam, I was scared so bad that I was glad I had used the necessary a short time before. If I hadn’t, I’m embarrassed to say that I would have been a terrible mess. Afterwards, you know only too well that I was shaking for an hour and couldn’t stop crying. I don’t know how you call that being brave.”
“It’s exactly because of that. You were terrified, but you did what had to be done despite fear gripping you in its terrible clutches. That’s bravery. To face your fears and do what you know you need to do despite them is the greatest courage of all. You did it to save my life.” Adam took a deep breath before he admitted when he had been afraid to say earlier. “How could I not love you for that alone? Of course, there are other reasons.” Adam kissed her again, but it was with more passion. It might have led to even more except there was a knock on the door as Cyrus and Jewel had come for a visit.
“My dear Lydia, it has been much too long. I am embarrassed to say that I am as guilty as Cyrus for my reluctance to see you. We were quite unforgivable in what we did, but I hope you can forgive us?”
After a few hours and lots of fence mending, Cyrus and Jewel left. There was no time left for Adam and Lydia to continue anything except conversation then as the four boarders would be back and expecting dinner. Lydia was behind on her work and knew it, but she guessed she would need a lot of work to keep her busy once Adam left and she was alone with her insecurities. Adam saw how her expression changed as she worked. He moved up behind her and reached around to turn her to him.
“I keep my promises. I said I would be back, and I will.”
Suddenly Lydia remembered what he had said earlier. “You said you loved me.”
Grinning, Adam kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Yes, I did, my little freckle nose. I was wondering when you might get around to asking about that.”
“Oh, my, Adam, I’m so sorry, but it was such a surprise to hear you say it, and then Cyrus and Jewel were here, and I’m just babbling on.”
“Well, do you accept my love?”
“Of course, I do. Oh, Adam, I love you too.”
They might have sealed that pronouncement with a kiss too except the four boarders walked in then. “It’s about time! We were wondering if we were going to have to hold him down and get him to say it. Now, is dinner ready?”
That evening, the atmosphere in the boardinghouse was convivial. Adam told the men more about Tom Wilson, the Ponderosa, and his plans for returning to Timbertrack. They had a few jokes at Janelle’s expense, and then it was time for all of them to go to bed. After the four men retired for the evening, Adam was still sitting on the divan with Lydia.
“Remember that I want you to keep my room for me. I want to leave the heavy coat, blanket, boots, and pants here so I can have them when I return and don’t have to haul it all one way and then the other. I also want to send you a few things to make this place more comfortable.”
“I want to send a nice thick mattress to you. When I stay here, I would like a more comfortable bed.”
“I’m sorry the mattresses are so thin, but I couldn’t afford to buy better ones.”
“There’s no need to apologize. The bed was very comfortable for a boardinghouse bed, but I plan to be here for quite a while longer this winter and would like something more like I have at home. Of course you could sleep there too.”
“Just when you’re not here?” Lydia had a grin for him that he couldn’t resist. He knew that when he smiled and laughed with her, he felt like life was so much better.
“We’ll have to see about that. But certainly when I’m not here.”
“I would like that. It won’t be as if you’re so far away then.”
“I’ll leave some money with you to pay for my room for the next six months at least. That way I know it will be available any time I can get back here. I have a desire to be back here rather often, but I’m afraid I may not be able to get away as much as I would like.”
Lydia had all sorts of things she could have said, but she knew a lot of them were because of her insecurities which she was going to have to learn to banish. Instead all she said was that she enjoyed hearing him say that. They kissed and Adam insisted they retire to their separate bedrooms. In the morning, they were up early and Adam hugged her close and kissed her gently before mounting up to ride home. She had asked him if he was going to keep the mustache that he had started growing. He nodded and said that he would for at least a while. He rather liked it and had a small smile thinking about how his father was going to react to that as well as the other news he had for him.
As Adam neared his home two days later, the first man he saw was Hoss. That was actually a relief because he knew his big brother would welcome him home with no reservations. To Hoss, it didn’t matter whether he’d been gone a day, a week, or two months, a smile and a bear hug were in order. As Hoss rode up, he dismounted and expected Adam to do the same. As Adam swung down off Sport, Hoss noted the ease with which he did it and how he looked so much better than when he had left. Adam got the expected bear hug and then Hoss pushed him back but held onto his shoulders.
“That mountain air up there sure agrees with you. You’re looking like you feel better than you have in years. It’s not just that your arm seems healed up, but your eyes are smiling again. You make some decisions while you was gone? And I ain’t talking bout your hair and that thing you got growing on your lip.”
With a shake of his head, Adam showed his appreciation that Hoss had known how troubled he was and not only by the injuries to his arm and hand but also by his relationship with his father and youngest brother as well as by the enforced limitations of living on the Ponderosa. “Yes, I made some decisions.”
“You’re not fixing on leaving, are ya?”
“Only for the winter. I have a job designing a lumber mill and overseeing its construction. While I was there, I did a small job, and he wants me to do more. I’ll be going back to Timbertrack.”
Hoss wrinkled his nose and waited. Adam said nothing more so he prompted him. “And what else. That ain’t enough to get you looking as pleased as the canary that ate the cat. You got some extra big surprise, dontcha? I seen that smirk of yours before. You’re mighty proud of something else you done.” Hoss thought a moment. “You know, you look like you might be in love. It ain’t that boardinghouse lady, is it? I mean, she was real nice and all plus she cooked real good too.”
“Yes, it’s Lydia. I am in love with her.” Adam surprised himself with that pronouncement. Until he said it, he hadn’t been sure of it, but saying it to Hoss made him very pleased. He knew then that he did love her.
“You gonna marry up with her and all?” Hoss frowned as they mounted up again to ride for home. “You ain’t already gone and done that, didja?”
“No, I haven’t asked her to marry me. I have time to think about that. I’m going back there in a month or two or as soon as I can get away again.”
“We got the roundup near done for the fall drive. Pa wants us to sell more than we have in recent years. He’s got a mind to buy some bulls to improve the herd, but we ain’t got the kind of cash on hand that we need for that.”
“I can help out with that. Where are we driving them this time?”
“We’re going to Colorado with this bunch. We can get a real good price if we get them there in good shape.”
There was no hiding the look of disappointment that Adam had to that news. He had rather hoped for a California drive because that was the shortest. The drive to Colorado was the longest that they ever did. He would be gone for two months at least.
“Don’t you worry none. If she loves you enough, she’ll wait for ya. Now, let’s go tell Pa and Joe the news.”
“Hoss, how can I tell him?”
“Pa, ya mean?” At Adam’s nod, Hoss continued. “You just tell him outright just like ya done told me. He’ll sputter and throw out sparks and smoke just like he always does when he hears something like that that he ain’t expecting. You can go right ahead and smolder until you flare up too by what he says to ya. Heck, it’ll be so normal, Pa will know it’s good for ya. You two are too much alike and too different to ever have a peaceful conversation about anything that ain’t what you been expecting. You know he’ll go along with it as soon as he gets a chance to accept it.” Hoss smiled then. “I know you purposefully get him to blow sometimes just so he feels bad and has to apologize and accept what you say in order to make peace with ya. It’s all right. I think maybe he knows you do it too. You ain’t leaving so that’s the main thing.”
“But I said I’d be gone for the winter.”
“Between you and me, I’m just as glad you’re gonna be gone then. You’re worse than a caged cougar that ain’t been fed in a week during the winter when we get cooped up at home with the snow. I’d just as soon see you spending your time with Lydia when that happens. I just hope that when she finds out what a nasty bastard you can be sometimes that she don’t turn tail and run off.” Hoss snickered at Adam’s look of surprise that he had said that as well as his attempt to look like an innocent man affronted by a scurrilous charge. It didn’t work as it made Hoss laugh more.
“It’s good to know you haven’t changed a bit while I’ve been gone.” Adam told Hoss then about the work he had done, how Lydia had helped heal his arm and got him to exercise his hand, and then told him about Tom Wilson.”
“Well, don’t that beat all. He sent them men to kill ya and than tried to set you up to be killed. That Lydia is a right smart gal to figure out what you wanted. Brave too. You got a good one there, Adam. I sure hope nothing messes it up for ya. You deserve some happiness and so does she. It’s gonna be a while then before Pa or Joe meet her, huh?”
“Yes, it will be quite a while. She has a boardinghouse to run, and then it will be winter.”
“Say, you gonna be gone before Christmas?”
“I need to be up there before the snows get too heavy, so yes, I’ll be heading out before Christmas.”
“Now that’ll rile up Joe as well as Pa. I can see why you’re a might nervous to tell ’em, but my advice still holds. Say your piece, let them fume and fuss, and then it’ll all work itself out before too long.”
When Hoss and Adam arrived at the house, Joe saw them first and yelled out to his father that Adam was back. Joe moved toward Adam with a little trepidation, but when Adam grinned and slid from his horse to greet him, Joe breathed a sigh of relief. Adam knocked his hat from his head and ruffled his hair letting him know that there were no hard feelings. When Ben rushed outside, he was at first very happy to see that Adam looked fit and healthy. Then he noticed his son’s smile and that reassured him more than anything that Adam getting away for a while had been the right choice. For the past two months, the fear had been growing that Adam would be leaving or perhaps never even come back from this time away from them. He had hoped that Adam’s love for his family and his love of the Ponderosa would draw him back and make him happier to be there, and his demeanor indicated that so Ben’s worries evaporated. He hugged his son and then all four headed into the house.
Over dinner and then through the evening, Adam told them about his work on the flumes and the cutting maps for Cyrus Felder. He explained as much as he knew about Tom Wilson and how he had orchestrated the young men coming to Virginia City to try to kill Adam in a gunfight.
“Well, then why did he take me on? He goaded me into a fight. That doesn’t make sense if he was after you.”
“Joe, remember, I didn’t go to town for that month after I killed that kid in a gunfight. It had all been so senseless that I was down about everything. I threw myself into work and didn’t take time to relax in town.”
“Yeah, I remember. You drove yourself to work every minute of every day and expected us to do the same. Me and Joe was ready to send you packing ourselves or maybe I shoulda thumped you a bit.”
“Maybe you should have if you could, but back to the main story. It seems that maybe he went after Joe because he was here for awhile and hadn’t even seen me in town.”
“Oh, so he thought he’d take me out and that would get you so upset that you would go after him. It makes kind of a crazy sense. The kid was quite the schemer then. Too bad he didn’t let his father know what he was up to. That would have saved you a lot of pain and suffering although it should have been mine.”
“So you know?”
“Adam, it wasn’t that hard to figure out especially when Pa said that you didn’t want anyone going after the man who did it to you. I got to thinking about why that might be. Now I know you don’t want him to know he got the wrong man because he might come back to get the right one.”
“That’s about it. The boy found out what he needed to rile you, and with you in town so often, he waited for the opportunity. Unfortunately for him, he neglected to find out how fast you were.”
With an affronted look that didn’t work with the giggle that accompanied it, Joe retorted. “So it was ‘unfortunate’ for him. How about for me?”
“Fortunate for you, and now we still have to put up with that crazy giggle of yours.”
“I do not giggle.” Then Joe did which led to all three of the others laughing. It might have been the pleasant end to the evening except Hoss told Adam to tell them about Lydia. That went well of course and led to some teasing, but it also led to Adam disclosing that he was going back to see her and would spend the winter at her boarding house. When Ben and Joe found that out, there were objections.
Joe was more upset than Ben and for a different reason. “But you’re part of this family not hers. We always have Christmas together. The only times we didn’t was because you had to go to college. Well, you don’t have to go this time.”
“Son, I thought you loved this family and the Ponderosa. Can you walk away so easily?”
“Pa, I’m not walking away, and it’s not easy. I have a couple of opportunities and I can’t let my family and Christmas take priority over them. I get a chance to build something and I get a chance to see if there’s enough in my relationship with Lydia for us to marry.”
“Wait, this is the first we’ve heard of any plans to marry. I know you said you were very fond of her, but it takes more than that for a marriage. I haven’t even met her yet.”
“And that’s exactly why I need to be able to spend some time with her. We need to find out if our feelings are strong enough to support a marriage between us, and if she’ll have me when she gets to know me better. You know I’ve felt hemmed in by the work on the Ponderosa. I work hard here. You can’t fault me that, but it’s not the kind of work I dreamed of doing when I went to school.”
“You can’t base your life as a man on what you dreamed of doing when you were a boy. Your blood and sweat is in this land. I don’t understand how you can turn your back on it and on us. We need you here.”
“Pa, trying to make me feel guilty is not going to get me to change my mind. I feel guilty only about having to tell you these things that I knew were going to hurt you. But you had a dream once. Don’t you remember what it was like?”
Hoss interjected that they had a lot of hard work coming up in a few days and that maybe it would do them all some good to go to bed and think on things before any more words were said. With a grudging acceptance, all agreed. For Adam, sleep came slowly but he did realize that the reaction hadn’t been as bad as he had expected it might be. He had hopes that the next day, cooler heads would prevail and the details could be worked out. Ben had similar feelings, but Joe was actually in a better mood by the time he closed his eyes. He had a scheme, and he always felt better when he was scheming.
The next morning, Adam headed out to the stable to do chores before he had a cup of coffee. He saw his father sitting at the table and didn’t want to resume the discussion of the night before until he had some time to think and perhaps to have Hoss nearby for his help in mediating. He was very surprised to find Joe in the stable and apparently in a very good mood.
“Good morning, older brother. It’s a great day, isn’t it?”
“Well, I’m glad to see you in a wonderful mood, but I’m surprised.”
“Ah, there’s more than one way to skin a varmint, as Hoss would say. I’m going to make the best of things. I decided that last night, and it made me feel a whole lot better.”
“Perhaps what I have to say to you will help too. Joe, I need to apologize to you. I should have told you about my time with Julia instead of hiding it from you. At first, I was hurt that she sent me packing after only two days, but when you got involved with her, I got jealous.”
“You were jealous of me?”
“Of course I was. Here the most beautiful woman in town decided I was only good enough for a two time dalliance but you, she kept around for days.”
“All right, weeks. I was embarrassed to have my youngest brother able to romance the woman who had spurned my efforts. If you had known about my two days with Julia, you would never have been goaded into that fight. That’s all on my head, and I’m sorry. As it turns out, I was responsible for what happened to me when the kid’s father came gunning for me. He had the right one after all because I was ultimately responsible.”
“Wow, you are good at that; even better than I thought.”
“Good at what?”
“Taking the blame for everything like the whole world revolves around you. I made my own choices and so did you. If either of us could see the future, it sure would help, but we can’t. So we do the best we can do under the circumstances and as men and we live with the consequences. I don’t blame you for what happened. I may have said I did, but that was my big mouth talking. It’s something I know I need to work on, but my mouth says things that my mind hasn’t had a chance to think through. You more than anyone should know that. Usually you give me a few days to work it out. I do, you know, work it out for myself.”
Putting his hands up in surrender, Adam had only one question. “Will you accept my apology for not being honest with you and for not telling you something that you had a right to know?”
Joe stuck out his hand and shook Adam’s. “As long as you accept my apology for shooting off my mouth too. I said things to hurt you because I was hurting. That was wrong.” Pausing a moment, Joe had more to say. “Adam, how old was Julia? I mean she seemed a lot older than me but I was pretty young at the time.”
“She was born in 1832 so she was just a little younger than me. She told me she was born in London, but I’m not sure that was true.”
“All right, I got another question, and it may seem very odd to you, but how did Pa know Julia? I mean, he would never get involved with a woman in a business like that but they seemed to know each other anyway.”
“I wondered about that too. She seemed to know Pa well, and mentioned his attitude once to me. I didn’t pay much attention to that then, but I did think about it later. It’s one of those things that perhaps we don’t want to know.”
“Yeah, like what exactly you’ve been doing with Lydia.”
Joe grinned and danced back out of Adam’s reach, but Adam smiled and when Joe got close enough knocked his hat off and ruffled his hair. About that time, Hoss came into the stable.
“Well, I like to see that you two got things worked out between you. Adam, Pa wants to see you.” Adam’s blew out his breath and looked a lot more worried than he had a second before. “Don’t worry so much. He’s got that frown on like he’s been thinking. It ain’t the one he’s got when he’s got a full head of steam. Maybe he’s only going to tell you to shave and get a haircut when you go to town.”
Somewhat reluctantly because he doubted that was all his father wanted to discuss, Adam headed to the house and what he feared was going to be another showdown with his father. It was but not nearly as contentious as he had feared.
“Adam, I overreacted a bit last night. I’ve been worried that you’re so unhappy here that you would leave, and it seemed at first as if this was step one in you doing that. I had time to think through what you said. I don’t want to be the cause for you leaving by being unreasonable. What you said makes a lot of sense. There isn’t much work to do here in the winter, and yes, I do remember having a dream and following it. I only hope that your dream doesn’t take you away from here and from us for too long.”
“Pa, I plan to be back in spring. I came back now because I thought you could use my help with the cattle drive. I had hoped it would be a short drive, but I’ll help anyway. My plan is to be here when you need me, and when things are quiet around here, I’ll be seeking out projects outside the Ponderosa. My first plan is to get back to Timbertrack and the job I’ve agreed to do there.”
Smiling a little then, Ben tried to prod him. “Going to miss the lady that much, son?”
Trying to deflect his father’s interest in Lydia, Adam tried to refocus the conversation. “Well, I promised Cyrus that I would have plans and costs to him by my next visit which I thought would be in about a month or so, and that’s going to be difficult to manage now. I can start drawing some preliminary plans, but I won’t be able to do much while we’re on the drive except sketch out ideas and perhaps look over some catalogs. I’ll send him a letter telling him that it will all be delayed some but that I still plan to be there this winter if all works out.”
Ben wasn’t going to let him move the conversation in another direction that easily. “And what did you promise Lydia?” With a sly grin, Ben let Adam know that his father suspected he had already fallen in love and that he wasn’t ready to admit it yet.
“I promised to visit in a month or two. I guess it will be more than two. I’ll write to her as well to let her know that I’ll be delayed in keeping that promise.”
“When the drive is over, you could catch a train in Denver and go to Reno. Form there, it’s not too far a ride to Timbertrack, is it? Your brothers and the men can get your horse and gear home. Pack what you need in the chuck wagon and you should be all set to go.”
“Thank you, Pa, for understanding. Now I need to go help Hoss.”
“When you go to town to mail those letters, you might think about getting a haircut and a shave.”
“Pa, I somewhat like the mustache and I might even let the beard grow too at least to see how it looks.” Knowing better than to add any more fuel to that fire, Adam headed to the stable but he had a few questions for Hoss before they did anything that day. “Hoss, how far away are those bulls Pa wants to buy?”
“Adam, they’re only over in Carson. They’re expensive so as far as I know, they’re still for sale there.”
“I need to send a few letters. Carson isn’t that far. You want to ride with me and buy those bulls?”
“What we gonna use for money? They ain’t about to take an IOU for something as expensive as those bulls, and Pa already said we ain’t taking on a loan just for that cause the might not even survive the winter.”
“How about if we put them in the corral by the hay barn, and you can bring them inside when the weather is really awful. Meanwhile you could keep some of our best cows with them to get things started. By next summer, we could see some offspring to see how things are working out.”
“That still don’t answer the question of where we’re going to get the money.”
“I got paid for my work in Timbertrack. I was thinking of using that after I buy a couple of other things I want to buy.” Adam didn’t want to say anything about buying a mattress for the boardinghouse but knew he would probably have to do that once Hoss went with him to Carson City.
“You got paid that much? Those bulls are going for a thousand each.”
“So we could buy four. Do you think that would be enough?”
“Dang, that would sure tickle Pa pink, now wouldn’t it? Say, what other things you got to buy? You getting a ring just in case?”
“You’ll see when we get to Carson. Now go tell Pa we got some errands to run before the drive. He shouldn’t object to that. We’ll have those bulls home and in that corral before we start the drive.”
By late that day, Adam and Hoss herded four bulls into the corral by the hay barn. Adam had negotiated the price down to eight hundred each and had purchased four at that price. They were strong looking animals with thick coats and wide chests. They appeared to be able to handle the cold winters of the Sierras, but they wouldn’t have to worry about it the first year. Joe rode up as they were closing the gate.
“Wow, where did you get those bulls? They look great.”
“Those are the ones Pa wanted that were over in Carson City. Adam bought ’em. He was as slick as a greased up old hog and he go them to lower their price by two hundred each so it only cost thirty-two hundred instead of four thousand.” Hoss didn’t mention the mattress that Adam had ordered to be delivered to Timbertrack nor the stop at the jewelry store.
“I thought it was clear that I didn’t want to borrow money to buy these bulls. I wanted to get them using some of the extra profits from the cattle drive.” Ben had walked up behind his sons as they admired the bulls who were exploring their new home.
“Pa, I had the money from the work I did in Timbertrack. I wanted to surprise you.”
“So now you have to get the bulls for me like I couldn’t get them for the Ponderosa myself. This ranch is still my ranch, and I make the decisions. You understand that, don’t you, or do you think you’re running the place now?”
Furious, Adam took Sport’s reins, turned, and walked to the stable without saying a word. Ben called after him saying that he expected an answer, but he got nothing not even a wave or any other response. He looked at his younger two sons and knew he had overreacted and been cruel too. “I suppose you think I handled that badly?”
Silently, Joe took Cochise and followed Adam’s path to the stable. Hoss shook his head. “A simple thank you would have been all you needed to say. He’s trying to find a way to stay and to do what he feels needs to do. Seems that you ought to think about how you can help instead of how you can throw stuff in his way.”
Ben hung his head for a moment before looking up at Hoss. “You’re right. Will you walk with me so I can apologize and say what I should have said?”
“I guess that old wives’ tale is wrong then.”
“Oh, which one?”
“Oh, you know, the one about old dogs and new tricks.”
“Listen, I already have one son who can smart mouth better than anyone I know. Let’s leave it at that, please.” Hoss said nothing but gave his father one of those sideways looks that communicated better than any words he could have used at that time. “I’m sorry, Hoss. I’m not handling any of this very well.” Worry over financial woes of the Ponderosa as well as about the future of his eldest son were weighing heavily on Ben’s mind. He had not told Hoss and Joe earlier and wasn’t about to tell Adam who had enough on his mind already. The drive to Colorado was vital for repairing the cash flow for the ranch. Ben had also hoped that Adam would be able to keep the timber camps busy over the winter. There were meetings coming up in November and December for the awarding of bids for more railroad business as they prepared to build a number of spur lines. Ben thought he needed Adam for those as well, but Adam had made plans without consulting him so Ben was now in a position of having to modify his thinking which he never found easy to do. When he reached the stable and entered, Adam and Joe stopped talking. Ben knew he was why that happened so there was no cause for him to delay his apology. As Adam accepted his apology though he added a caveat.
“You need to tell us why that made you so upset out there when you should have been happy. Ever since I got home, I’ve had the feeling that you’re not being straight with us. What’s going on?”
“Yeah, Pa, cause me and Joe been wondering too what’s been bothering you. You weren’t near as happy as you shoulda been to have Adam back. All you could do was grumble about what you wasn’t getting instead being happy with what ya got. I know you’re upset about something else.”
“Yes, Pa, we’re family. If you don’t trust us, who can you trust? Now I know you might have a few doubts about me, but Adam and Hoss are rocks, especially my granite headed oldest brother.”
The sincerity of Adam and Hoss as well as Joe’s attempts to alleviate some of the tension worked at making Ben start talking. He had been unwilling to tell his sons and worry them, but he couldn’t lie to them so he had to open up about what had been bothering him. “We didn’t get a good contract for our timber this year and with the spring drive not going that well, we have a cash flow problem. We may have trouble meeting our loan payment and meeting the payroll. If our rivals find out about it, they could push the bank to call our loan. If they do, we would be hard pressed to find money to pay it without selling some of the Ponderosa.”
Joe was heartbroken to hear that any part of his father’s dream might have to be sold to protect the rest. “There must be something we can do.”
“We need this drive to be successful.”
“Pa, this is a big drive and ought to solve our money woes selling that many cows for that price. So I’m wondering why you’re so worried about it.”
“Adam, we’ll need to hire on men to finish this drive. I’m worried that our rivals could seed the new hires with some of their men.”
“Who could sabotage the drive leaving us in a position of having the loan called and needing to sell land to make the payments. I can guess the price they would offer as well as the land they would want to buy. It would make the Ponderosa a much smaller ranch without the timberlands as well as the potential gold and silver mines. The environment would be ruined because they would clear-cut the timber and use hydraulic mining to get the gold and silver which would foul the water. Does that about sum it up?”
Sitting silently, the four men thought about how to deal with the various problems presented by the cash flow issue. Hoss was the first to speak and surprised everyone with the nature of his question.
“None of the men know Adam is back, do they?”
“As far as I know, none are aware of it. He only returned yesterday although someone could have seen him riding Sport home with you.”
“No, Pa, I was coming back home from the roundup, and no one was in that pasture so no one saw us riding home unless they were spying on us. Can’t think of a reason for them to do that.”
“Hoss, why did you ask that about me?”
“Well, as far as the men know, you’re up in Timbertrack. Now, with the mustache and longer hair, you don’t look so much like yourself. If you let that scruff grow out into a beard, I doubt anyone would recognize you. You got a way of looking real different when you got a mind to. Now, ifn you wore different clothes and wore an old gunbelt and rode a different horse and maybe made your voice sound a bit different, you could be kinda like our own detective living with the hands and keeping tabs on who does what.”
“Hoss, your heart’s in the right place, but I don’t think that Adam could do that. Sooner or later, some of our men would recognize him and that could cause trouble. They might think he’s there to spy on them.”
“Pa, I think Hoss’ idea could work. We could tell a few of our trusted men who can keep a secret. I could blend into the new hires. Who would be able to guess who I am by the way I look with a full beard?”
Always ready to play a part in a scheme, Joe was enthusiastic. “We could make this work and then not have to worry about sabotage.”
More cautious by nature, Adam was less enthusiastic. “It could work, but it’s no guarantee. If I get too nosy, they’ll hide everything from me. It’s going to be a difficult job.”
“This has to be up to Adam. He’ll be the one in the middle of things and will have a lot tougher time of it because of that too. He’ll have to do the rotations like the other men. If they guess who he is, he could be in great danger as well. I’m not sure that he should even consider doing it. We could come up with another plan.” Ben was worried even more than he had been earlier.
After a short pause to reconsider, Adam looked up to see three hopeful faces. Despite his stated objections, Ben was thinking that Hoss’ idea was the best they probably had, and he hoped that Adam would consider it. He did better than that.
“I’ll do it.”
In a slouch hat pulled low, longer hair, an unkempt full beard, an old brown barn coat that had been hanging in the back of Adam’s closet for years, dark blue pants, plaid shirt, wooly chaps, and a gunbelt high on his hip, Adam didn’t look at all like Adam. His disguise was so good that Hoss nearly turned him away when he walked up and mumbled that he wanted to sign on for the trail drive. Joe hired him though and told him to join the other men they had just hired.
“No drinking either. We want everybody sober when we head back to the ranch. My Pa will fire any one of you who drinks on the job. Is that clear?” Joe liked giving those instructions and others especially because his older brother was in the group and couldn’t object.
On the drive, the beard got longer and dirtier as did Adam’s clothing, but several weeks into the drive, it had been for nothing. He had not heard a single man say anything to indicate that there was any intent to sabotage the drive. He was getting discouraged because he had to ride drag every third day, and every other night, he pulled nighthawk duty. Tired, sore, dirty, and smelling very bad, he couldn’t even scratch all the places that itched.
With nothing to report, Adam had no contact with his brothers. As Hoss bossed the drive and Joe did the ramrod duties, Adam relaxed. They did well, and he had to admit to himself at least that he had been worried about that. Both of them were in new jobs for the first time without either Adam or their father there for advice, but there were no problems. Obviously they were ready for this which actually made Adam pleased when he thought about it because it meant that he didn’t need to be on every drive. He knew his father wouldn’t be happy with that situation, but it did free up more of his time to do other projects. He hadn’t minded trail drives much in the past because they were a challenge and every day brought new problems making him use all sorts of skills, but he wouldn’t mind missing a few either if he had some other project that intrigued him.
It was several weeks into the drive when Adam got his first clue. He was on nighthawk duty with the herd spread out over a wide expanse. The browse here was very thin and the only way the cows got enough was if they spread them out at night. Because of that, the nighthawks were assigned areas and seldom got anywhere near the others on the same shift. But Adam saw three men together and then one rode away as the other two returned to their duties. There were only two men on the drive in addition to Hoss and Joe who knew that Adam was undercover. One of them was riding nighthawk duty with him that night. As they rode in at the end of their turn after having been relieved, Billy asked Adam if he had seen the riders together.
“Yes, but I couldn’t tell who both of them were who were with the stranger. One of them was Bodie.”
“The other one was Franklin. You want me to tell Joe or Hoss?”
“If you can do it without anyone overhearing you. It’s dangerous here now, Billy. Watch your back. You got a wife and two kids at home. I don’t want anything happening to you.”
“I’ll be careful. Now there they go. I bet they’ll be meeting up with whoever else is gonna help ’em do whatever it is they’re gonna do.”
“Don’t go over there. I’ll do it. You go get some rest.” Adam pulled off the wooly chaps and laid them across his saddle. He moved through the trees until he was close enough to hear the two men talking. Based on what he could hear, they planned to stampede the herd the next day. He quietly returned to his horse, pulled the saddle, and moved to camp to get some sleep that turned out to be elusive.
In the morning, Hoss announced that they were bunching the herd up tighter to try to move faster and get to better grazing. It made sense so no one thought it at all unusual, but from under his slouch hat, Adam observed the two men and watched to see who they might look at. They needed to know who their accomplices were or they would face another problem very soon. He picked out one of the other drovers who had been hired when he was hired. As he stood to go to his horse, he stretched and used it as a cover to point at the third man. Hoss saw him and stretched too moving his head up and down as he did so to let Adam know he had the third man identified. Adam was assigned to ride lead with Joe. He hadn’t ridden lead much during the drive, but if there was a stampede, Hoss wanted his two best riders there to turn the herd back on itself. He set trusted men to every flank position and made sure the three men working to sabotage the drive were not near each other. Adam had to give him credit for doing it as if it was just an ordinary day. Billy and their longtime cook were aware too that this day was going to be pivotal. Billy accepted being in charge of the drag crew for that day. Once all the bedrolls were loaded into the chuckwagon, the cook made sure to pick a route that would keep him well away from the herd should the expected stampede take place. When the stampede started, they were still caught by surprise. The first shots were sent toward Adam and Joe. Later, all of them accepted that they should have expected something like that. There was probably no better way to have a successful stampede than to take out the two lead riders so that no one was there to turn the herd. Neither Joe nor Adam though was killed so they did ride hard and fast working together through long years of practice to know what the other was likely to do. The herd was turned quickly and was soon milling around as the drovers did their best to calm them down. Adam and Joe rode slowly back to the chuck wagon where they could see Hoss and Billy tying up four men.
“You two did great. We got ’em. Exactly the three you thought was in on it, Adam and one of the shooters. The other shooter is dead. I got him before he could fire off another shot at Joe.”
Dismounting in his usual one athletic motion, Joe was ecstatic and slapped Hoss on the shoulder. “So we did it, and not one cow was lost and not a man hurt.”
Adam was being very quiet. Both Hoss and Joe looked up at him because he didn’t dismount. He said only one thing before he sagged forward and began to fall. “Except one.” Hoss caught him before he could hit the ground and do more damage to himself. His clothing had concealed what Hoss quickly found. He had a bullet wound in his upper back. It was bleeding profusely and had already soaked his shirt to his waist, but it didn’t appear to be very deep.
“Adam, I think it hit your shoulder blade so it’s shallow. You’re lucky there, but I bet it hurts like a son of a gun.”
“Hoss, it hurts like hell.”
“Well, you’re lucky he fired at you from a long way off. He hit you up close with that rifle, he coulda shattered that bone instead just letting it flatten out the bullet.”
“Yeah, I’m feeling real lucky right about now. Could you please just get on with it and get the damn thing out of there.”
Hoss and Joe kept the herd there that day despite the lack of browse. They had to get that bullet out of Adam’s back, and bandage him as well as strap his arm to his side. Then Hoss was the one who had to deliver more bad news.
“Adam, you’re gonna have to ride in the wagon. You can’t sit a horse like that especially as weak as you are now.” Adam had a few expletives to share at that news. “She’ll be waiting for ya. If she’s the kind of lady you said she is, she will. I’ll send a telegram from the next town and let Pa know what happened too so he can send some telegrams to Timbertrack. They do have a telegraph line, don’t they?” Adam shook his head but grimaced at the motion. “Well, all right, instead, you can write a letter to her, and I’ll post it in the next town. We should be there in three days. Once we get to the stockyards in Colorado, I’ll get you on a train just like we planned.”
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Adam developed an infection and fever and had to be taken to a doctor in the next town. The doctor said he would recover fully after he cleaned out the wound and bandaged it.
“You did a good job getting the bullet out of him, but there were some small pieces of bone that got everything inflamed and opened him up to infection. It’s all cleaned up now, but he shouldn’t travel. The blood loss and the infection have made him too weak. If you want to make sure you still have a brother in a few weeks, you’ll leave him here with me. That wound needs to drain, and it should be cleaned up at least three or four times a day for now. He needs lots of sleep and fluids too. I doubt you could manage all of that and a trail drive. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of him.”
Seeing how frustrated and disappointed Adam was, Hoss promised to come for him as soon as they could. Adam spent his days sketching out a lumber mill and the positions of the saws inside. It would be better than the lumber mill on the Ponderosa because he was not constrained by having to do it the way it had always been done. It was several more weeks before Hoss arrived with Adam’s clothing. Joe and Billy were there to take care of Chubb because Hoss was going to accompany Adam on his trip. First they had to make a stagecoach ride to a town on the rail line, then get passage through to Reno, and then wait for the stage that went to Timbertrack. It only went two days per week so unless they arrived on Monday or Thursday, they would have to wait for the next one. They had a lot of time to talk.
“You gonna bring Lydia back to the Ponderosa?”
“I don’t know. She needs to accept my proposal first, and then we’ll talk about it.”
“You mean you might not come back to live on the Ponderosa?”
“Hoss, I think that Lydia should have some say in where she lives. I would like her to live on the Ponderosa, but I’ll have to wait to see what she thinks about that.” Adam paused because he wasn’t used to saying the kind of thing he was about to say. “Hoss, you and Joe did a great job. You’re both ready to take on more responsibility. You proved you could do it.”
“To be honest, Adam, I didn’t like it much. I mean, all these years, I thought it would be so much fun to be sitting there giving orders and watching other people do the work, but it wasn’t that way at all. I think I worked harder on this drive than I ever have. There’s one thing after another to deal with and plan for, and then you got men complaining about one thing after another like I can take care of all that. Now Joe was a big help, but being ramrod or just a drover was a heck of a lot easier. Nah, Pa don’t want to come along any more, so you can boss the drives.” Seeing Adam’s look of disappointment at that, Hoss offered a compromise. “How about we split ’em then? You do some and I’ll do some.”
With a grin, Adam leaned back. “We could probably tell Joe that he can’t do a drive without one of there to help him out.”
“Yeah, that would do it. Pa would never go for it, but that would be sweet. He’d do ’em all ifn we said that and if he could get Pa to agree. Then he’d lord it all over us about how he could do ’em all alone.”
“Yes, it’s a good dream, but that’s all it will ever be. Can you imagine the schemes our kid brother could come up with if he had all that power? I shudder to think of the consequences. And while we’re talking about Joe, do you have any idea what kind of scheme he’s got cooking. When I first got back, he told me he was working on some kind of plan. I haven’t seen anything since so I’ve been wondering what he’s got going in that fertile mind of his.”
Frowning, Hoss thought about that. Usually Joe tried roping him into one of his schemes before he even had it all planned out. For him not to say something for months was very unusual. “Nope, no idea, and now you got me worried too especially cause he ain’t said one word to me about any plans he might have like that.”
Hoss would have said more but noticed how Adam’s eyelids were drooping. He kept quiet and soon Adam’s eyes were closed. Sleeping through it was the best way to complete a stagecoach ride so Hoss leaned back to try to get some rest himself. They got passage on a train to Reno and arrived there several days later. Then it was a wait to get Adam on the next stage to Timbertrack. It was a mail coach so it would be stopping in every little settlement along the way. Hoss was only a little worried about sending Adam off on his own, but he had gotten stronger during the trip with good food and lots of time to sleep. Bouncing along in a mail coach wasn’t going to be comfortable, but it wouldn’t hurt him either so Hoss bid him goodbye and headed back to the train station to catch a ride for home on the new spur line. Reno wasn’t much of a town, but it was growing. Hoss looked around and decided they ought to think about selling some beef up here to the restaurants as well as hauling lumber up to sell. It looked like they were buying a lot of it.
Two days later, Hoss was home and Adam was in Timbertrack. As he stepped from the stage, he bent and twisted to get some of the stiffness out of his legs and back before he walked to the boardinghouse. When he walked up to Lydia’s place, he noticed that the door was closed as were the curtains. He knocked and there was no answer so he left his bags on the porch and went around to the back and found that door also locked and the curtains there closed as well.
“Hey, Adam, I come to fetch ya. Lydia’s over at the neighbor’s. She got hurt a bit and she’s been staying there. I saw ya get to town, but it took a minute for me to get somebody to watch the store so I could come tell ya.”
As the mercantile store owner led Adam to the neighbor’s house where Lydia was staying, he explained what happened. “Her stove blew up and knocked her clean across the room. She’s gonna be all right, but she’s been feeling a mite poorly since it happened. Her boarders had to move to one of the timber camps cause she can’t take care of them, and they can’t stay there with no stove to cook on. I got one ordered for her, but it could be a bit before it’s here.”
“How can a cast iron stove blow up?”
“Somebody soaked some kindling in lamp oil and loaded up the stove with it. She thought one of the men had been kind enough to stoke the stove with wood and kindling so she lit it. Good thing she stepped back a bit or it coulda killed her.”
Almost stopping in shock at those details, Adam was beginning to get furious. “Janelle?”
“Yup, and her pa ain’t about to let nothing too bad happen to her. He’s offered to buy out Lydia so she can leave. It seems Janelle thought that if she got Lydia out of the way, you’d come running to her. She don’t know you too well, I think.”
Nodding in acceptance of the compliment that was implied, Adam bounded up the steps of the house where Lydia was staying. The lady of the house met him at the door and escorted him up the stairs to Lydia’s room. He paused when he saw her lying in bed. She was pale and her eyes were closed making Adam’s heart ache for her. He moved quietly into the room and knelt by her bedside as she turned to smile at him.
“You came back. I knew you would come back.”
“Yes, I keep my promises. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here sooner.”
“I would have been an even bigger mess. Sometimes I can sit up in bed now without the room spinning around. This has been a difficult week. I can’t remember what happened, but Myrna explained it all to me and probably more than once.”
“I could kill Janelle for this. How did she know I was coming back about now?”
“Apparently she stole your last letter to me. Cyrus found it and brought it to me, but he won’t let anyone near Janelle. I guess Rolly volunteered to marry her.”
“But Rolly lives in the timber camp.”
Lydia smiled then before breaking into a big grin.
“Oh, and he’s a powerful man. No one would dare go near her with him as her husband.”
Lydia kept grinning.
“He told me once that he thought ten or twelve kids would be just about right.”
“Oh, don’t make me laugh. That gives me a headache, but you should know I’ve been laughing inside ever since I heard the news, and your news about Rolly just tops it off perfectly.”
“I heard that Cyrus has offered to buy you out.”
“Yes, and at a very good price. It was the least he could do, don’t you think, but I don’t know where I would go though.”
“This isn’t the romantic setting I imagined for this, but come with me to the Ponderosa. Lydia, will you marry me?”
“Oh, Adam, you don’t have to marry me to save me.”
Taking her hand, Adam placed it over his chest pressing it against the pocket of his shirt. “Do you feel that?”
“Yes, it feels like you have a pouch or handkerchief in there.”
“Take it out and look inside.”
Lydia slid her fingers into his pocket and withdrew a velvet drawstring pouch. She untied the bow holding it closed and found a ring inside.
“I bought it before I left Virginia City on the cattle drive. I wanted to be sure I had it with me the next time I saw you. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“Oh, yes, Adam, yes. It’s my fondest dream come true. My knight in shining armor has come to marry me and carry me off to his castle.”
Taking the ring, Adam slipped it on her finger to be sure it fit. It did. “Well, not my castle yet, but we can talk about that later. I hope you don’t have any objections to living in the ranch house until I can build a home for us.”
“No objections at all. Wherever you are is my home now. I love you with all my heart.”
“If you don’t mind, we’ll get that new stove and stay in your boardinghouse this winter if Cyrus will still want me to finish the lumber mill project.”
“You would still work for him.”
“If he wants me to do that, I have to because I said I would.”
“And you always keep your promises. Adam, I have to tell you that I hope he doesn’t want you to. I would like to leave her as soon as we can.”
“We can’t leave until you’re well. Now, when do you want to get married? As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a soon enough.”
“We can’t marry here. There’s no one to do a wedding. Once in a while, a traveling minister comes through.”
“What do people do when they want to get married?”
“The sheriff of Altrusa will come up here to do weddings or people go there if they want a church wedding. The sheriff is a justice of the peace for the county too.”
“Well, will you marry me here before a justice of the peace and then marry me again in Virginia City in church?”
“That sounds wonderful. I get to marry you twice. Did Mr. Pierce tell you when the stove would be arriving? I’d like to be in my house when we marry.”
“I’ll check on that, and then I need to go back to Altrusa to see the sheriff and send a telegraph to my family letting them know that I’ll be back home within the month probably. I’ll have to see Cyrus too about that project.”
“You don’t have to go to Altrusa. You can get anyone headed that way to send the telegram for you. People do that all the time. Mr. Pierce goes to Altrusa the most, but there’s someone going every day. The sheriff will be here on Saturday to marry Rolly and Janelle. He could take your letter back with him and send it off for you. He only charges a small fee for a wedding so I would guess he would that for you too for a reasonable price. The man doesn’t get paid much to be a sheriff in such a small town so he supplements his income by doing all these other errands for people up here and in Altrusa.”
Picking up Lydia’s left hand that still sported the wedding ring he had purchased for her, Adam kissed her hand. “I’ll leave the pouch and ring here so you can show it off to your friends, but I don’t want you wearing it until the sheriff has us say ‘I do’ to each other. You look like you could use some rest, so I’ll go unpack and then go see Cyrus. I’ll be back here later.” Adam stood and winced. Lydia saw it and had to ask why so he told her a condensed version of what had happened although it had more detail than the letter he had sent including that he had been the one shot. “I didn’t want you to worry too much especially because I was fine. I couldn’t travel though and it was murder to sitting around doing nothing and waiting to get back here.”
“All right, but in the future, trust me with all of the truth, please. I can handle it.”
“I promise. Now you rest, and I’ll be back.”
The lady of the house invited Adam to dinner, and when she found out later that Adam had proposed to Lydia, she decided to go all out for the meal. When Adam came back saying that Cyrus had delayed the project, Lydia said she wanted to sit at the table for dinner with everyone, and their hostess had already helped her dress for the evening. She had clearly lost some weight during her convalescence, but being dressed and out of bed put some color in her cheeks. Adam helped her down the stairs and to a chair at the table where they enjoyed their first meal as an engaged couple. Two days later they were married in that same house, but Adam carried her to her house afterwards with the smiling friends looking on. Their stove had arrived that day but needed to be installed. It was a simple job that Adam did the next morning with a smile on his face as he remembered the night before.
“Adam, I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“You won’t disappoint me. Now, c’mere.” She had come to their bed in her prettiest gown. He had said she didn’t need one, but she said part of the wedding night was unwrapping the presents. He had laughed and told her he was ready to be unwrapped. As he pulled the ribbons to untie them and slip her gown from her, she pulled back the covers on the bed exposing him to her for the first time. He smiled at her reaction.
“My dear, what big eyes you have.”
“Oh, Adam, I’m such a lucky woman.”
“I’m the lucky man, and if all goes well, I hope to be lucky at least once more tonight and then again in the morning.”
As dawn had arrived, Adam had looked down on his sleeping bride and decided it was time to get some coffee, but before he could do that, he needed to install the pipes above the stove. Someone had cleaned up Lydia’s kitchen for her so that there was only a little evidence of the fiery explosion of the stove. Adam looked around and decided that Cyrus could replaster the room and repaint it when he took it over. Meanwhile, they would tolerate it the way it was. It would only be for a week or two anyway. It took less than an hour to secure the pipes to the stove and most of that had been looking for tools to use. Then Adam got some water from the well, made coffee, and heated some water so he could shave. He took a cup of coffee and a pitcher of warm water for Lydia up to his bedroom. She smiled when he came in the room.
“I heard noises downstairs and assumed you were working. The smell of coffee preceded you by at least fifteen minutes. I was hoping you would bring some to me.”
“I wanted to get here before you were awake but it took some time to find the tools I needed for the stovepipe. It’s all set now. Do you want to stay in bed this morning? I was rather hoping you would.”
“No, Mr. Pierce said he would deliver my food order this morning, and several people mentioned that they would stop by with food. I want to be up and dressed and looking respectable when they arrive.”
“Lydia, they already know what we were doing last night.”
“Yes, but there’s no need to advertise it.”
Adam knew that Lydia needed to be sure that everyone knew she wasn’t at all like Janelle who flaunted her sexuality for all. He changed the subject then as she got up and began washing herself and dressing while taking sips of coffee.
“You make pretty good coffee.”
“Is that to say it isn’t as bad as you expected.”
Lydia tried to hide her smile but couldn’t. “Perhaps a little, but I’ve tasted far worse than this. This is acceptable. I try not to boil the coffee though it seems most men out here get used to drinking it that way.”
“How do you not boil it and get good strong coffee?”
“I boil the water, throw in the coffee, and take it off the fire to let it sit until it’s ready.”
“Good to know. I hope there will be a lot of other little tricks you can teach me.” Adam’s raised eyebrow and wicked grin gave away his true thoughts behind that statement.
“Good Lord, what have I gotten myself into?” Lydia’s question though was tempered by the hug she gave her husband and then the kiss.
“Sweetheart, you kiss me like that again, and the neighbors and Mr. Pierce are going to have to leave the food on the porch.”
With that, Lydia quickly disengaged and sauntered out of the room however not with as much dignity as she had hoped because Adam playfully slapped her on the butt as she turned from him. They were downstairs and acting the proper couple when Mr. Pierce arrived, and then it was as if most of the people in the little town had taken that as permission to come calling with all sorts of food and a few gifts. Soon there was a big party going on. It was nearly time for everyone to go home when two wagons pulled up in front of the boardinghouse. Someone called out that there looked to be three men who would be needing a place to stay.
“Oh, dear, Adam, I wasn’t planning on having any more boarders but we can hardly turn anyone away. They would have to get rooms above the saloon.”
“I’m sorry, Lydia, but they’re going to have to go there. We just got married and I don’t want three strangers sharing the house with us.” Then Adam heard some voices and amended his statements. “Of course, if they aren’t strangers, it could be an entirely different story.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve met Hoss and I think you’re about to meet my father and youngest brother too. I recognized the voices. You ready for this?”
Without a choice, Lydia took a deep breath and Adam’s arm to go meet his family. Hoss had already found the food on the dining room table. He greeted Lydia warmly before getting back to making a selection from all the dishes on the table. Adam tugged Lydia a little to step out into the parlor where Ben and Joe were introducing themselves to the people who were leaving. He introduced Lydia to both of them. She hadn’t known what to expect but found both to be warm and friendly. She invited them to go into the dining room and have some food.
“You must be famished to have made this trip so fast. You must have started out as soon as you got Adam’s telegram.”
“Yes, Pa, I’m very surprised to see you here.” Adam’s statement had an implied question, but Joe answered.
“You were planning to be up here for Christmas, and I had this great plan to take the sleigh and come up here for Christmas with presents and decorations and all sorts of Hop Sing’s special cooking. We would all be together, and it’s beautiful up here in winter, I bet. Well then you said you weren’t going to be here at Christmas, and I told Pa we ought to go get you with the wagons so Lydia could have her stuff on the Ponderosa, and we could surprise you that way.”
“It has been a big surprise. We need to put this food away and then Lydia needs her rest. She’s had a tough couple of weeks, and I don’t want her to wear herself out. In fact, she ought to sit down right now and visit with you, and I’ll take care of the food.”
Hoss volunteered to help Adam as Ben and Joe sat with Lydia in the parlor and talked. After about a half hour, Adam said that most of the work was done and the rest could wait until Monday. He told his father and brothers to get their bags and he would show them what rooms to use. He carried Lydia up the stairs while they were outside and waited in the upstairs hallway for them. Lydia made the room assignments.
“Hoss and Joe, you can each have one of the bedrooms on that side. Mr. Cartwright, you can have my room.”
Ben was momentarily shocked but had to ask. “Lydia, where will you sleep if I’m in your room?”
“Oh, I’ll be in Adam’s room, of course.”
Not understanding the look on Ben’s face, Lydia turned to Adam for an explanation. He had a sudden insight. “Pa, the party you saw was to celebrate our wedding. We got married yesterday by the sheriff. We’re planning to have a church wedding and party when we get home.”
After a few seconds of processing that information, there were smiles and congratulations all around before Adam apologized but said Lydia needed to get some rest. “I’ll explain the rest tomorrow. Good night.” After moving Lydia ahead of him into the bedroom, Adam closed the door. He could tell how tired Lydia was and helped her undress and put on a gown. He pulled back the covers and helped her slide into the bed. Then he turned down the lamp, undressed, and slid in beside her wrapping an arm around her as she drifted off to sleep. In the morning, Lydia awoke to find Adam shaving.
“It’s barely dawn. You’re not getting up for the day yet, are you?”
“No, sweetheart, this is for you. I didn’t want to give you any whisker burn.”
They made love again and then lay quietly enjoying the peace and love they had.
“Any regrets about leaving here, sweetheart?”
“No, or maybe a little. My babies are buried here, but Cyrus did keep his word and there are markers for each of them now. There might be times in the future when I would like to come visit, but no, other than that, I’m happy to leave with you. Now tell me more about the Ponderosa and anything else you can tell me about my new home.”
Later that morning, all of Lydia possessions had been loaded into the two wagons. They left the key with Mr. Pierce. Hoss invited Lydia to ride between him and Joe on one wagon.
“We want to know all about you, and you kin ask us anything about our older brother. Ifn you ain’t got no questions, me and Joe got some stories to tell.”
Adam groaned and Lydia laughed and let Hoss help her up into the wagon. Adam climbed up next to his father in the other wagon.
“Don’t worry. Your brothers love you, and they like Lydia. They wouldn’t do anything to mess this up.” Ben paused. “Adam, you’ve done well. I’m proud of you. We can talk now. You can tell me anything. I’m ready to listen.”
Next in the Lydia Series:
Other Stories by this Author
- Cliffhanger (by BettyHT)
- What Would Adam Do? (by BettyHT)
- Charity Series #4 — Let’s Do It! (by BettyHT)