Memories of Love #1 (by Diana G)

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Summary: Adam meets the love of his life.

Rating:  T  (14, 095 words)

Memories of Love Series:

Memories of Love
The Future of Love
Love’s Rewards
A Time to Heal
The Unlooked for Saviour
To Rage in Heaven

Memories of Love

It was late in the afternoon on a day that had been fine and clear. One of those summer days that made you feel good to be alive, the sky high above was deep blue, unbroken by cloud, and a light breeze played through the trees, wafting the scent of pine through the air.

Adam Cartwright, a slim, dark, handsome man dressed all in black, was riding slowly home towards the Ponderosa. He knew he would not make it back to the ranch before nightfall, so he did not hurry. He was enjoying the feeling of being back in the saddle travelling the land he loved, among the tall ponderosa pines with the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. He pulled his horse to a standstill, looking out over a view of the forest spread before him, green and dark, broken occasionally by river or meadow. He sat there for a long time, thinking and remembering.

Adam had recently returned from travelling the world. Ever since he had gone east to college as a young man, he had had a yearning for the world outside the confines of his home. Although the ranch covered a thousand square miles, he felt hemmed in by thoughts of what lay beyond. As he passed his thirty-fourth birthday, he realised that if he didn’t leave soon he might never go, and would always regret it. His two brothers, Hoss and Joe, younger than Adam by six and twelve years respectively, had enough experience to help his father, and they no longer needed Adam as a surrogate father, so he had left. But the urge to wander had exhausted itself, and he found he longed to return to his home in the high sierras. He had seen the world, and now knew that it held nothing for him that he had not got right here.

He turned Sport’s head to the east and continued until he found a place to camp for the night. He stopped just off the trail beside a small stream and dismounted. The forest was still, the occasional birdsong or rustle of small animals only adding to the atmosphere of tranquillity.

He was about to unload his camping gear when he heard a noise that shouldn’t be there, and he cocked his head to listen. It came again, a sound like soft humming. Curious, he followed the sound to the other side of the trail, where a shallow bank fell away through the trees towards a steep ravine. The sight that greeted him made him run down the bank, sliding to a stop before falling over the edge.

The wagon must have come off the road and fallen, crashing to a stop against the trees just before plunging to destruction fifty feet below. What had made Adam run was the sight of a woman lying beside the wagon, unmoving but moaning softly. He went to kneel at her side. Her face was bloody, and her left arm was bent at an unnatural angle, obviously broken.

“Ma’am, ma’am.” He said softly, putting his hand on her shoulder and squeezing it gently. She opened her eyes, and brown pools of pain looked up at him.

“Can you hear me?” He asked.

“Y…yes.” She whispered.

“Where are you hurt?”

Her eyes closed and for a minute, Adam thought that she had fainted, but then she opened them again.

“My arm.” She managed to say. “And my head.”

“Anywhere else?”

“No, I think…no, just bruised.”

“I need to get you out of here. Can you bear it if I carry you up to the road?” When she nodded slightly, Adam put his arms under her shoulders and knees and lifted her gently. She was slim and he was strong, so he carried her easily. She cried out as her arm moved but otherwise made no sound, as he carried her slowly back to where he had been planning to make camp among the trees, trying to jog her as little as possible. He laid her on the ground, soft with its ages old covering of pine needles, and rolled up his jacket and placed it under her head, then after satisfying himself that she was comfortable, he finished untying his gear from the back of his horse.

He laid a blanket over her, and she opened her eyes and looked up at him gratefully. “Thank you.” She said softly, and Adam smiled reassuringly at her.

“I’m going to make a fire and get you warm, then I’ll take a look at that arm.” He stated, and was conscious all the time of the dark eyes following him as he set about making camp, laying a fire, and putting some water on to heat.

“I’m going back to the wagon, I won’t be long.” He told her, and when he returned he had some pieces of wood in his hand, which he laid beside her.

“Right now, I’m going to try to straighten that arm. Are you ready?”

“Yes, go ahead.” She said, and Adam could see her tense in preparation for what was to come. He grasped the bones and pulled, feeling them snap back into place as he did so. She screamed and passed out. Adam quickly fixed the pieces of wood to either side of the arm to keep it straight and still, and bound them with some strips of material torn from a spare black shirt he had taken from his saddlebags. He used some of the water to clean the blood off her face, and then he made some coffee and waited.

He sat and watched her, wondering who she was and what she was doing here. Her clothing, plain cream shirt and dark jeans, said that she had probably come from a ranch somewhere, working clothes for a woman who was concerned with practicalities, not fashion. Adam studied her face and estimated her to be in her late twenties. He looked down at her hand and saw that she wore a wedding ring, there should be someone waiting for her, but until she could talk to him, he would not know where to take her. He looked again at her face; beautiful, even features outlined by long, dark hair. As he studied her, Adam realised that she seemed familiar, but he was certain that he had never seen her before.

Darkness had fallen by the time she stirred. As soon as she moved, Adam was at her side.

“It’s all right,” he said, “you’re safe. Your wagon went off the trail.”

“Yes, I remember.” She said. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes again, and Adam finished preparing some food. When it was ready, he went to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She opened her dark eyes, and as she looked at him, Adam again had the feeling that he should know her.

“Can you sit up?” He asked. She nodded, and with Adam’s help sat with her back against one of the pine trees. He dished up a small portion of the stew he had cooked, knowing that she probably did not want to eat, but trying to encourage her to manage something.

“Thank you.” She said, smiling faintly as he handed her the plate.

“Would you like me to help you?”

“No, I can manage.” She insisted, laying the plate in her lap and taking the fork Adam held out to her.

“My name’s Adam Cartwright.”

“Rebecca Anderson.” She said, “Becky to my friends. Are you related to the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa?” She recognised the surname, but knew of only three Cartwrights, Ben and his sons Hoss and Joe.

“Yes, I’m Ben Cartwright’s eldest son.” Said Adam smiling. He was aware that any newcomers to the area would not know who he was. He was pleased to see that as Rebecca talked, she was eating.

“Oh, I didn’t realise that Mr. Cartwright had three sons.” Rebecca glanced up at him as she took a mouthful of food, studying the man who had rescued her.

“I’ve been away for some time, I only returned last month.” Adam explained. “Are you the lady that bought the Gordon place?”

The Gordons had sold their ranch, which bordered the Ponderosa, and had moved back east having decided that ranching was not for them. His father had told Adam that it had been bought by a woman, and Adam recognised the name.

“Yes. My husband left me quite comfortably off when he died, and I’ve always wanted to come west, so I thought that I would see if I could run a small ranch. We had a plantation in Georgia before the war, but I was never comfortable with the way the slaves were treated. I tried to get Robert to give it up, but it wasn’t until he realised what was coming that he sold it and went into manufacturing, building a prosperous business. But I couldn’t run it after he died. As a woman it would have been impossible, and I couldn’t just sit back and let someone else do it, so I sold up and here I am. It seems that in the ‘uncivilised’ west a woman can try to do most things, and men will respect her for it.” She suddenly looked up at Adam. Why was she telling all this to a total stranger? As she stared at him, she realised that she felt comfortable with this man, as she had not done since her husband had died, two years ago.

“Well, if you need any help you know where to come.” Adam said, aware that he was under scrutiny.

“You say that you just got back last month. Where from?”

Adam told her of his travels and the feeling that, no matter where he was, the Ponderosa was pulling him back, until he finally gave in and returned. He told her that he felt that he had seen enough of the world to know that he belonged right here. He confided to her that at thirty-seven, he had finally reconciled the fact that as a boy he had had to mature early, helping his father in their westward journey, then building the Ponderosa, and caring for his brothers. That it had left him feeling that he had missed out on the years when he should have been able to go about his life carefree, and that was where the desire to travel had come from.

He stopped and looked at Rebecca, wondering why he was telling her things that he had not even told his father. He knew he felt at ease with this woman, there was a calmness and intelligence in her that matched his own.

“Rebecca…”

“Becky, please.” She instructed. Adam nodded in acceptance of the inference.

“Becky, I’ll take you into Virginia City tomorrow. We aught to let Doc Martin take a look at that arm.”

“Very well, if you think so, though it feels fine, just throbbing a bit.” Adam looked at her, admiring the way she shrugged off her injury, which he knew from experience must be very painful.

They talked long into the night, Adam telling Becky of his travels, she telling him how she had sold the business and of trying to find some purpose to her life, before she came west. Until finally Becky’s head nodded and Adam eased her down to sleep, covering her with his blanket.
Chapter Two

Adam and Becky rode double on Sport the following day. Adam took her to see Paul Martin, who pronounced himself satisfied with the treatment Adam had given her, but replaced the makeshift splint that Adam had put on her arm. When the doctor had finished, Adam went to the livery stable and hired a buggy to take Becky home. He also persuaded Jake, the ostler, to come with them to take it back. He tied Sport on behind and when they arrived at the small ranch house, Adam helped her inside. He made her sit down and rest while he rustled up some coffee, then they sat together on the swing seat outside on the porch, looking out over the lush meadow in front of the house.

“What are your plans for the place?” Adam wanted to know.

“I thought that I would get a few cattle and a couple of hands to help me, and see where it went from there. I don’t really have any particular plans. My husband left me very well provided for, so money is not my first consideration. I just wanted to see if I could make a success of this, being on my own as I am.”

“Well, you could buy some cattle from the Ponderosa. It’s good stock, and I wouldn’t have too far to drive them.” Adam laughed, thinking of lengthy cattle drives he had been on in the past.

“I might just do that.”

“I’d better be getting home. Pa will be wondering where I am. Remember if you need anything just send for me.” Adam stood and prepared to leave.

“I would like to repay your kindness in helping me. Would you come over for supper tomorrow night?” Becky asked a little nervously, not sure that he would want to accept an invitation to dine with a woman alone.

“I would like that very much. But are you sure that you want to go to the trouble, with your arm as it is you should be resting.”

“My arm is just fine, don’t you worry about that. I’m sure I can find us something to eat.” She stood to face him. Adam held out his hand to say ‘goodbye’, but Becky put her hand on his arm, and stretching up, kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thank you again, Adam.”

“You see that you rest.” He instructed, smiling, and tipping his hat to her, he mounted Sport and rode away.

Adam was deep in thought on the short journey and he suddenly found himself riding into the front yard of his home. He stabled his horse and went into the house to tell his father he was back.

“Hi Pa.” He said.

Ben Cartwright looked at his son from under stern grey eyebrows, his strong face and ebony eyes reflecting his concern over Adam’s late return. He stood up from behind his desk, leaving the paperwork with which he was struggling, and said abruptly, “About time you got home. I expected you this morning.” Then regretting his sharp tone added, “Sorry son, I was beginning to get worried.”

“Pa, three years ago you wouldn’t have been concerned. I haven’t forgotten anything about this country, or its dangers. Will you please stop fussing if I’m a bit delayed.”

Ben had made it plain that he worried every time Adam was out of his sight for more than a few hours.

“You’re right, I suppose it’s because I have just got you home, I can’t bear the thought of losing you again.”

Adam put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “I understand. I guess it’s going to take both of us a little time to get used to my being here. I got delayed because I met our new neighbour, Mrs. Anderson.”

“Oh?” Said Ben interested, going across to the large wooden table in front of the fireplace that dominated the room, to pour two cups of coffee. Adam took one from his father, and they both sat down.

“She had an accident with her wagon, and I helped her. Nice lady, she’s got ideas for that place of hers, going to run a few cattle. I thought that we could sell her some to get her started.”

Ben was about to reply when he heard footsteps coming towards the front door, and it was opened to reveal his two younger sons, Hoss and Joe.

“Well it’s about time you got home.” Said Adam’s youngest brother, Joe. He was smaller than either of his brothers, but with a love of life that shone from his handsome face.

“Yeah, just got home and already leaving all the work to us.” Accused Hoss, Ben’s middle son light heartedly, helping himself to a couple of small cakes from the tray which Hop Sing, their cook, had left for Ben, along with the coffee. Hoss was a big, gentle man and reckoned that his large frame needed regular intakes of food to maintain it, much to the amusement of his family.

“I have had a very difficult trip to Sacramento. You have no idea how stubborn some cattle buyers can be. I had to give them the best meal in the finest restaurant, before they would agree to our price.” Said Adam laughing.

When he had returned, Adam had taken up where he had left off, as his father’s right hand man. He had worried that his brothers might object to this, but they had been happy to hand that job back to him. They both enjoyed the outdoor life, Joe with the horses and Hoss with the stock. Neither one liked the paperwork nor negotiations involved in running the ranch, jobs which Adam relished, and he also took on the job of looking after the logging operation, leaving their father to oversee everything, doing as much, or a little as he wanted.

All through supper and the rest of a quiet evening, Ben could see that Adam had something on his mind, but knew from past experience that his son would not talk about it until he was ready, so did not press him.

If he had been asked, Adam would not have known quite what to say to his father. He was thinking about Becky, and recognised the stirring of feelings that he had not had for a long time. She was a beautiful woman, but beyond that, there was independence and intelligence, virtues that he found more attractive than mere beauty. He went to bed still thinking about her, why did he have the feeling that she was familiar?
Chapter Three

The following evening Adam arrived at Becky’s house, tired after a long day’s work at the logging camp. He still wasn’t used to the physical side of the work on the ranch, and found that jobs which he would have taken in his stride three years ago, left him aching. But that would pass, and he was enjoying the challenge of such work.

Becky answered his knock. She was wearing a soft, peach coloured dress, which complimented her dark hair, and showed off her trim figure. She opened the door to allow him inside. The sitting room was Spartan, though comfortable, the few pieces of furniture that Becky had brought with her were well chosen, making the room welcoming and warm, a good place to relax after the days work.

“How are you?” Adam asked. He could see that she was a little pale, and was concerned that he should not have accepted her invitation for this evening.

“I’m fine, my arm is a bit of a handicap, but I’m managing very well. Please don’t concern yourself. Would you like to eat now, or would you prefer a drink first?”

“A drink sounds fine.” Becky started towards a small table that held decanters, but Adam made her sit down on the green upholstered sofa in front of the fireplace, while he poured them both a drink, then sat down beside her.

“I told my father about your plans and he agreed that you could buy some of our cattle.”

“Well, I will take a look at them, but I may get a better price from someone else.” She teased. “I’ll have to see what kind of offer you give me.”

“Then I’ll have to make sure that I give you a good deal, I suppose.” Adam laughed.

Becky became more serious, “The thing that really concerns me is where to get good hands. I don’t know anyone round here to ask.”

“You know me, I could help, if you like.” Suggested Adam.

“It seems to me that you have already helped me rather a lot.” Said Becky smiling.

“But I’d like to. I’ll go into town tomorrow and ask around, see if anyone is looking for work. Now how about supper?” He drained his glass and stood, telling Becky that she was to stay where she was while he served supper. She protested but he stood firm, telling her that he would leave if she didn’t rest and let him help, so she gave in to the inevitable. She watched him as he went about the house between the kitchen and the living room, seeing the easy assurance with which he moved, the black clothing that he apparently habitually wore, adding to the feeling of quiet strength that emanated from him.

They ate supper, talking quietly. When Becky found that he appreciated music and literature as she did she was surprised, she had taken it for granted that people out here in the rough country of the west were uneducated in appreciation of the arts. Adam discovered that she had a love of this country, which he shared.

They sat on the porch after supper, drinking coffee and watching the stars appear one by one. Becky sighed contentedly.

“What are you thinking?” Asked Adam.

“Oh I was just remembering evenings I spent with my husband, very like this one.”

“You miss him, don’t you?” Adam could tell by her tone, tinged as it was by remembered love.

“Yes, but that is in the past, I have a new life now, and should only look forward.” She shook herself back to the present.

“But you have memories to treasure, you must never be afraid to recall them. They are what makes us the people we are today.” Said Adam, his voice low and thoughtful.

Becky looked at Adam, wondering what had made him say that. What memories did he have to make him as he was now? She suspected by the look on his face that they were not all easy ones.

“I suppose you’re right, but I must admit that I am a little frightened of the future. Have I made the right decision in coming out here? I know nothing about this country, or this life.” She shivered and Adam put his arm round her to reassure her.

“I’m sure that you will do very well out here. It requires determination and resolve to conquer this country, but I’m certain that you have both.”

She put her head on his shoulder and they sat in silence. Slowly they both fell asleep.

An hour passed and they hadn’t moved, then Adam stirred. He looked down at her where she lay with her head on his chest, her injured left arm resting on his stomach. He shook her gently and she opened her eyes, sitting up suddenly when she realised what had happened.

“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.” She said embarrassed at what she had done.

“Don’t be, I was asleep as well. I guess we both have to get used to the life here.” He smiled as he looked into her eyes, then slowly, uncertainly, leant towards her and kissed her lightly. He pulled back suddenly because he felt that something was very wrong, that he shouldn’t have kissed her. Adam looked at Becky intently, she wasn’t upset with his kiss, so what was it that gave him the feeling that he shouldn’t be doing this? He removed his arm from her shoulder, and she gazed at him wondering what was wrong.

“Adam? What’s the matter?”

“I…Nothing. I think I’d better be going.”

“Adam, please. If you imagine you shouldn’t have kissed me, please don’t worry.” She looked up at him from below long, mischievous eyelashes. “I quite liked it.”

He smiled without humour, just wanting to get away from her, before he kissed her again.

“Yes, but it’s late, and you need to rest.” He stood and she followed him, putting her hand on his arm.

“Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Yes, if you like. I’ll go into town in the morning and come by to let you know about the hands.” He was torn between wanting to be with her, and being afraid of what he was feeling towards her, a feeling that seemed so wrong. He picked up his hat and took his leave. She stood and watched him go, wondering what had made him leave in such a hurry.

Adam rode home thinking deeply about what had happened between himself and Becky. He was falling in love with her, but why did that make him uneasy?

He stabled Sport and went into the house, and was not surprised to find his father still up, along with his brothers. No doubt they were waiting for a progress report on his evening.

“Had a good evening son?” Ben asked.

“Yeah.” Said Adam smiling. He was not giving anything away.

“What’s Mrs. Anderson like? Do you think that she can make a go of the place?” Ben asked, trying to get Adam to open up to him.

“She’s very nice.” Said Adam nonchalantly. “She’s interested in some stock, and I told her I’d find a couple of hands for the ranch. If it’s OK, I’ll go into Virginia City tomorrow and see if I can find anyone interested in the work.”

“Of course, the sooner she gets started the better, she aught to have it up and running, before the winter sets in. I expect you’ll be seeing a lot of her then, if you’re helping her.” Ben probed, but Adam didn’t rise to the bait. Ben decided to change the subject.

“Adam, I know it’s late, but would you take a look at that new contract for the timber, I’m not happy with the wording, and I need to send it off tomorrow. And if you’re not going to be here in the morning…”

“Sure Pa, I’ll do it now.” He went to his father’s desk and sat down, glad that his father’s interrogation had ended.

Adam was halfway through the contract and was looking up, concentrating on rephrasing a part of it that seemed ambiguous. His eyes went absently to the three photographs that his father kept on the desk. They were pictures of Ben’s three wives, each mother to one of his sons. All three women had died tragically, Elizabeth, Ben’s first wife, in childbirth, then Inger, slain by an indian’s arrow, and finally Marie, killed in a riding accident. Adam sat unmoving as he looked at them, and the colour drained from his face.

Ben became aware of an unnatural stillness in Adam, and looked over at him sitting motionless behind the desk, his eyes staring at the photographs and taking quick shallow breaths, his face pale. Ben rose and went to his son.

“Adam, what is it, what’s wrong?” Adam did not answer, but kept staring at the pictures. “Adam.” Ben said again, moving round the desk to put his hand on his son’s shoulder to get his attention. Hoss and Joe looked at Ben, realising that something was wrong.

“Pa? What is it?” Asked Joe, concerned.

“Hey, Adam, you OK?” Asked Hoss coming to stand in front of his brother. Both Joe and Hoss could see that their brother looked ill.

Adam stirred and became aware of his father standing near him.

“Pa, I…” He shook his head unable to continue. Ben went to the table beside the staircase and poured Adam a glass of brandy, meanwhile Hoss had taken Adam’s arm, and lifting him to stand on unsteady legs, helped him to the sofa, making him sit down. Ben handed Adam the brandy and he drained it. He put the glass down on the table in front of him, and they could see that his hand was shaking.

“Pa, I need to talk to you.” Adam said quietly, looking into the fire that was burning in the grate.

Ben was worried, it was unusual for Adam to want to share his problems, but it seemed that now he needed help. Ben asked Hoss and Joe to leave them alone, and they went upstairs with anxious backward glances at their brother.

Ben came to sit beside Adam, and put his hand on his son’s arm.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” Ben asked.

Adam hesitated, he didn’t know how to say what was on his mind. He stood and paced round the room, then came back and sat on the heavy wooden table, in front of the fire. He put his feet up on the hearth and rested his elbows on his knees, in a pose that his father had seen many times before. This was where Adam sat when he had a problem to sort out. He would sit there staring into the fire, as though the dancing flames held some mystic power to help him.

“Pa, you know how you can look at something for years, and because you are so familiar with it you don’t really see it, until something makes you look at it with a new eye?” Adam asked, his voice low and uncertain.

“Yes.” Ben had poured them both a brandy and handed one to Adam, before sitting in the blue armchair beside the fireplace.

“Well that’s what just happened to me. I have seen my mother’s picture so often that I don’t even realise it’s there. Then suddenly I saw it, saw what she was like, how she looked.” Adam stared into the glass in his hand before taking a swallow of the fiery liquid. He shivered as it hit his stomach.

Ben did not say anything, waiting for Adam to explain what he meant, why seeing his mother’s picture should have upset him so much.

”Pa, I think I love Becky Anderson. But when I saw that picture…” Adam stopped and shook his head, he wasn’t sure he could put his fears into words.

“Son, what do you mean, what’s wrong with that?” Ben was surprised at the news, but he was also concerned. Of all his sons, Adam was the most eloquent, yet he seemed to be having trouble making any sort of sense.

“Have you ever met her, ever even seen her?” He asked, staring into the flames.

“No, she hasn’t been here long,”

Adam turned a troubled gaze on his father. He didn’t know how to explain, but he had to try, had to tell someone, and his father might understand.

“When I saw my mother’s picture I realised…” He stopped and took another drink. This time it seemed to calm him, and he started again.

“When I first found Becky injured, I felt that she looked familiar. I’ve had the feeling ever since, but I couldn’t think why. Then I saw the picture, and realised that she is the image of my mother.”

“Dear God.” Whispered Ben, suddenly realising what the problem was.

“Yes, quite. I say I love her, but is it her I love, or some imagined memory of my mother?” Adam paused trying to find the words to explain to his father the horror he felt. “But the feelings I have for Becky are not the kind of feelings I should have for my mother, but can I separate the two?” Adam hung his head. He had spoken out loud what he feared in his heart.

They sat in silence, Ben not knowing what to say, this had come so suddenly.

“Pa,” said Adam, turning anguished eyes towards his father, “Have I fallen in love with my mother?” Ben could have cried, his son was asking for an assurance that he could not give

“I don’t know.” Ben said honestly. “Only you can answer that, but you must find the answer somehow. Perhaps if you give it time, this is very sudden, you have hardly had time to get to know this woman, yet you say you love her. Perhaps it is because she reminds you of your mother, but that is no reason why you shouldn’t love her for herself.”

“No, I know that, but how can I ever be sure?” Adam whispered, gazing again into the flames.

“Son let me ask you something.” Adam turned to look at his father, waiting. “When you think of your mother is it with the same feelings that you have for me? Think carefully.”

Adam turned back to the fire and didn’t speak for several minutes. When he really thought about his mother, there was a warmth, but not the depth of love that he felt for this man, nor the feeling he had for Becky. He looked again at his father, and to Ben’s relief, he smiled

“You’re right. I never knew my mother, never knew the love that she should have given me, or that I would have given her. I guess I love the idea of a mother, but I can’t love her as I would a living, breathing person. You can’t love someone you’ve never met, never known. I only know her through things that you have told me about her, how warm and caring she was, and how much you loved her. But I can’t share that kind of love, I can’t love an image.”

“So what about Becky Anderson?”

“She’s here now, living and breathing,” Adam reasoned, “and I love her, I know I do, but am I trying to put her in my mother’s place. And if so why do I feel towards her as I do?”

“Son, listen to your own argument. You say that you never knew your mother’s love, and never gave it to her, and no matter how much Becky reminds you of her, she is her own person. You say you love her, and I’m sure you do, you’re too sensible to let your heart take over your reason. When you next see her, look for the differences, and there will be many. Concentrate on those, not on the similarities, then if you still love her you will know it is for herself alone.”

Adam thought about this for a minute, then got to his feet and stood in front of his father, who rose to stand with him. Adam put his arms round his father and Ben reciprocated.

“Thanks Pa. I’m sorry if I worried you, it was just the shock of realising how much she looked like Elizabeth.”

“That’s all right, I understand, and I’m here if you need to talk about it again.” He held Adam at arm’s length. “I’m looking forward to meeting Becky. It should be very interesting.”

Adam nodded and started towards the stairs, turning with one foot on the bottom step. He looked down at the floor and then up at Ben, holding his father’s eyes with his own.

“Pa, I love you.” Then embarrassed at the outright admission, hurried up the stairs before his father could reply.
Chapter Four

The following day Adam rode into Virginia City. He went first to visit Sheriff Roy Coffee in his office. Apart from being the sheriff, Roy was also an old friend, and Adam valued his advice.

“Hi Roy.” He said as he walked into the sheriff’s office.

“Hello Adam, what brings you to town?” Asked the elderly man, who despite his advancing years still kept the streets of the town safe for decent people to walk.

“I wanted to ask you if you know of anyone in town looking for work. Mrs. Anderson, out at the old Gordon place, is looking for a couple of hands.” Adam sat down opposite the sheriff, at his desk.

“Well, Jeb Turner has just given up his job at the Yellow Jacket mine, the dust was affecting his chest. A job like that would suit him, and he has a youngster to feed. Apart from him, I don’t know.” Roy furrowed his brow thinking. There were always a lot of itinerant workers passing through, but there was no one that Roy would suggest to work for a woman on her own.

“What about young Andy White. Is he still doing odd jobs for Jake down at the livery?”

“Yeah, he would probably make a good hand with some guidance. He’s certainly a hard worker.” Roy agreed.

“Right I’ll start with those two then.” Said Adam standing.

“How’s it going with you?” Roy was pleased that Adam had returned, he had seen how Ben and the boys had struggled at first when Adam had gone away. But they had settled into a new working routine without him. Then Adam had returned, and they had to readjust to that. He was worried that the family he had come to know and love would find it difficult to accept Adam’s return to his old role.

“It’s fine. Joe and Hoss are back doing the things they like, leaving me with all the jobs they hate. But I have no complaints about that, and as far as I know neither have they. I was worried that it might be difficult for all of us, but they are still the family I left behind. You know, it’s strange but you don’t really appreciate what you have until you leave it. My father and brothers are the most kind and generous people you will ever find, they have welcomed me back, and it feels as though I have never been away.”

Roy came round the desk to stand with Adam.

“I’m glad. They missed you, you know.”

“I know, but I’m not going away again, I know now where I want to be.” Said Adam with certainty. Roy shook his hand, smiling, and Adam left to look for the two men who might be suitable for Becky.

He found Jeb at home, and he agreed that he would take the job, once he had met and been approved by Mrs. Anderson. Adam found Andy in the livery stable, and after some persuasion and with Jake’s approval, he said that he would try the job for a couple of weeks, see how it went.

Adam rode out to see Becky, to tell her of his progress. He found her trying to hang out some washing, but she was hampered by her arm, now in a sling to give it some support, and Adam gently pushed her aside and finished the job for her. They went together back into the house, where Adam sat her down on the sofa and went to make some coffee. She rose and followed him into the kitchen, watching him, as she loved to do.

“What about the hands?” She asked.

Adam was startled to hear her voice so close, he had not realised that she was standing there. He turned to look at her, not speaking, until Becky became uneasy.

“Is anything the matter?” She asked, looking at him.

“No, nothing.” He continued to stare at her, studying her face intently.

“Adam, what is it, what’s wrong?” Asked Becky, becoming nervous about Adam’s close scrutiny of her.

“Nothing’s wrong, everything is very much right.” His father was right, while she may look like his mother, there were differences. Her nose was broader, her eyes more almond shaped, and her lips, oh her lips were so kissable. With that thought, and with no hesitation, he went over to her and holding her shoulders gently, kissed her slowly and deeply.

He pulled back not sure of her reaction, then she put her arm round his neck and pulled him towards her, returning the kiss. His arms went round her waist and a thrill ran through him as he felt her close to him. She had slipped her left arm out of its sling so that she could hold him. They separated and gazed at each other, not speaking.

Becky had thought that there could never be another for her since Robert had died, but this man had captured her heart. Ever since she had opened her eyes, when he had come to her rescue, she had thought of little else. Wherever she looked, all she could see was his handsome face, with its dark eyes and gentle smile. She leant towards him, encouraging him to kiss her again. Adam accepted the offer and he tasted the sweetness of her lips, felt the gentleness of her touch.

They stood together for a long time, Becky with her head on Adam’s shoulder, his head resting on hers.

“Oh Adam, what’s happened?”

Adam lifted her chin and gazed tenderly down at her.

“Don’t you know?” He smiled the smile that she loved to see, and her heart missed a beat.

“But we’ve only just met.” She argued.

“Time has nothing to do with it. Haven’t you ever met someone that you disliked immediately, without knowing anything about them? Well this is the same, only in reverse.”

“Do you mind?”

“Mind?” Adam asked puzzled, why should he mind?

“But you’ve only just come back home. You must have things you want to do, things that I will only complicate.”

“There’s nothing I want to do except be here with you.” He kissed her swiftly to reassure her and hugged her to him for a long moment. Then he straightened, remembering why he had come.

“Jeb and Andy are coming out tomorrow morning to see you, perhaps after they have been you could come over to the Ponderosa to look at the cattle.”

“Sounds good, I’ll come over after lunch.”

“Why don’t you come and have some lunch with me, then we can check the herd together afterwards?”

Becky agreed, and Adam poured the coffee and they went outside to sit on the porch. They sat close together, and Adam put his arm round her shoulders. They sat quietly, until Adam turned towards her and took both her hands in his. He looked deep into her brown eyes, understanding what he saw there. He leant down and kissed her softly, then spoke what was in his heart.

“Becky, I love you. I think I have since the first moment I saw you, bloody face, broken arm and all.” He smiled, remembering. “I loved you even before I knew anything about you, before we’d even spoken.”

“And I love you. Like you, it was instant, as soon as I opened my eyes and saw you bending over me, I knew that I wanted you.” They embraced, holding each other tenderly.
Chapter Five

At breakfast the next day, Adam told his father that Becky was coming over for lunch and to look at some stock.

“Will you be here?” Adam asked Ben.

“If you’d like me to be here, I will.” Said Ben remembering what Adam had told him about his feelings for Mrs. Anderson. He didn’t want to get in their way.

Adam looked straight into his father’s eyes. “I’d like you to meet her.” He said, and Ben understood. Adam wanted to see his father’s reaction when he saw this woman, wanted to see that the similarity to his mother was not just in his imagination.

Adam spent the morning working on some papers, until it was nearly midday, when he rose and started to pace about the yard, waiting for Becky to arrive. Ben came out and tried to talk to him, but it was clear that his thoughts were elsewhere. Ben smiled to himself, he recognised the symptoms, his son was truly in love. Ben went back into the house, and when he heard a horse in the yard, he waited for the two of them to appear.

Becky rode up to Adam and dismounted. Adam took her horse and tied it to the hitching rail in front of the house. He reached out for her and kissed her lightly.

“Hello.” He said.

“Hello yourself.” Smiled Becky.

“How’s your arm?” Adam asked, pointing to the sling. He was concerned that the ride might have made it worse.

“It’s fine, getting better all the time.” She assured him.

“Come in and meet my father.” Said Adam, as he took her hand and led her to the front door. He stopped and turned to her.

“There’s something I should warn you about. His reaction when he sees you may not be quite what you expect, but I’ll explain later.”

Becky was puzzled but followed him into the house. Ben stood up from his chair beside the fireplace.

“Pa, I’d like you to meet Becky Anderson. Becky, my father.” Said Adam by way of introduction.

Ben stood immobile, staring at her.

“My god,” he whispered, and then looked at his son. “You were right, it’s…it’s extraordinary.” Then remembering his manners, he went over to Becky and took her hand. “Welcome to the Ponderosa, Mrs. Anderson.”

Becky thanked him, and looked curiously at Adam.

“Just a minute.” Said Adam going to his father’s desk and returning with the picture of his mother. He handed it to Becky, who looked at it, then at Adam raising her eyebrows in question.

“My mother.” Said Adam simply.

“Oh my goodness.” Becky looked again at the picture, and then handed it back to Adam. “Then that’s why…”

“Yes that’s why. Pa would you excuse us for a moment?” Adam led Becky outside.

He sat her down at the table on the veranda, and took the chair opposite her, where he could look into her eyes.

“That’s why I left so abruptly the other night. I knew you reminded me of someone, only I didn’t know who. I only knew that loving you the way I did, felt wrong somehow. Then later I realised, and that’s why I was staring at you yesterday.”

“Adam…”

“No, let me finish. I told Pa that I had doubts about loving you for the wrong reasons, and he told me to look for the differences, not the similarities. That’s why you caught me staring at you. Becky I want you to know that I love you for who you are, not for who you remind me of. I want you to be very sure of that.”

“Thank you, Adam. Thank you for telling me. I believe you, I know you well enough to understand that you know your own mind, and if you say that you love me for myself then I believe you.”

Adam rose and drew her to her feet, holding her. He brushed his hand down her cheek, and she smiled at his touch as it sent a shiver through her. He bent his head and kissed her, tasting again the sweetness of her lips, and feeling the thrill of holding her.

“We’d better be getting back to Pa, he’ll think we’ve forgotten about him.”

They went back into the house and Ben was again struck by the likeness she had to Elizabeth, but he didn’t refer to it. They ate lunch together, and then Adam said that they had better go and look at the herd.

Adam and Becky rode slowly out to the south pasture where, Adam had told her, part of their herd was located. When they arrived, Becky saw a herd of about five hundred cows grazing contentedly. She looked at them, wondering what to say. She had read many books in preparation, but the reality was frightening. These seemed good stock, they were well covered, and their hides were shining with health.

“Well, what do you think?” Adam asked her.

“I think they look very good. This is a big herd. How many do you have all together?” She asked, remembering that Adam had said this was only part of their stock.

“About five thousand at the moment, that number will reduce when we sell many of them in the fall.” Adam laughed as he saw her reaction to his words.

“Five thousand.” She whispered.

“Yes, we couldn’t graze them all in one place, there wouldn’t be any grass left.”

“I was thinking that I would start with about thirty, and that seemed a lot.” Becky looked at Adam, and saw that he was considering what she said.

“Thirty sounds about right.” He agreed. “You can increase the number gradually, if you want to.”

Becky glanced from the herd to Adam and back again, grateful that he hadn’t laughed at her suggestion. Thirty head must seem a very small beginning to a man who has five thousand.

“I’ll drive them over, if we can agree a price.” He smiled at her, looking forward to the bargaining. “How did you get on with Jeb and Andy?”

“I think they will do very well. Jeb has worked on a ranch before and Andy seems very eager to learn. Thank you for finding them.”

“No trouble. Let’s go back and have some tea. Hop Sing will have made some cake especially for you, and he will be very upset if you don’t come and eat it. You must always remember that the one thing we don’t do is upset Hop Sing, or we don’t eat.” Adam smiled and Becky grinned back at him.

“Trust a man to think of his stomach.” She raised her eyes heavenward.

“Well you can’t work a ranch if you’re starving.” He said reasonably. “You’d better remember that. I need regular feeding.” Adam stopped abruptly, realising what he had said.

Becky eased her mount closer to him, and took his hand.

“I’ll remember.” She said, looking at him seriously. Then she kicked her horse and took off towards the house. Adam sat for a moment shaking his head, what had he done to deserve the love of this woman? Then he set Sport after her, calling to her to stop for a moment.

He dismounted, and reaching up put his hands round her waist to help her from her horse. Once she was on the ground he didn’t let go, but put his hand under her chin to lift her head so that she was looking at him.

“Becky, I mean it. I love you and want to be with you. I don’t ever want to let you go.”

“Adam I know, I feel the same. Please hold me.” He pulled her close and put his arms round her shoulders. She slipped her arm out of its sling so that she could nestle against him, her uninjured arm going round his waist, feeling the muscles in his back tense and relax as he rocked her gently to and fro.

“Oh Adam, what are we going to do?”

“I know what I’m going to do.” He said and bent and kissed her. She pulled away laughing.

“No, I didn’t mean right now. I meant about us.” She let him go and walked away, then turned back towards him, more serious. “We’ve only known each other a few days, how do we know this is right?”

“I know. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a few days or a few months, I would feel the same. Becky I meant what I said, I want to be with you, always.” He took her hand and held it against his chest. “Becky will you marry me?”

She stood looking at him, this man she had only known for five days. Did she dare to believe that what she felt for him was real and lasting? She had not felt like this since she had met Robert, but then love had developed gradually, over months. This was so swift she had not had time to think, to accept this unexpected turn of events. She had not thought that she would ever feel like this again, and yet here was a man who had set her heart racing.

“Adam, thank you, I know that you mean it, but I need time. The last thing I thought to find when I came out here was a man I could love. I have been clinging to the memory of Robert, and I need time to lay those feelings to rest. Do you mind?”

“Yes. But I will give you all the time you need. I want you to be certain that you’re doing the right thing when you say ‘yes’. But you’ll have to put up with me asking you every time I see you.” He smiled, and kissed her, and as she kissed him back, she knew that her feelings for Robert had begun to fade into memory.
Chapter Six

Two days later, Ben helped Adam to drive thirty head over to the Anderson ranch. They saw them settled and then Adam took Ben to the house.

When she heard the horses, Becky came out to meet them. Adam hadn’t seen her the day before as ranch duties had kept him busy at home. Now, as soon as he saw her, Adam felt a tightness round his heart, he wanted this woman so much it hurt.

Adam turned away from her to look out towards the hills. “We’ve left the cattle in the lower pasture. They’ll be all right there for a few days. When are Jeb and Andy coming? We need to change the brand, do you have something in mind?”

“They’ll start tomorrow. I have designed a brand and had some irons made up by the blacksmith. Would you like to see it?” She led them into the parlour, and went to her desk, then spread the papers on the dining table.

Adam and Ben looked over the sketches, and then Becky showed them the design that she had settled on. It showed a squared archway with three pillars, topped by the letter A, its feet touching either end of the arch. Ben looked at her, raising his eyebrows in question.

“The A is obviously for my name, and the archway is the emblem of the state of Georgia, where I was born. The three pillars stand for the three branches of government, legislature, judiciary, and executive. I like to think that it also stands for the motto of the state, ‘Wisdom, Justice and Moderation’.

Ben looked at his son, standing close behind Becky, and thought how those words exactly described Adam. A coincidence? Perhaps.

“I have registered the brand with the Cattlemen’s Association, and they told me it will be known as the ‘arch A’.” Explained Becky.

“It looks fine, simple but distinctive.” Said Adam approvingly.

They spent the next hour discussing plans for the ranch.

“Mrs. Anderson, if ever you need any help, you know you only have to ask.” Said Ben

“Please call me Becky, and thank you. But I must do this for myself, I have to prove to myself that I can run this place and make a success of it.”

“Becky,” said Adam seriously, “You must realise that out here we all have to help each other. It’s not so long ago that this was a lonely wilderness, and there are still dangers here that you may not appreciate. If we are to turn it into anything more it will take us all working together. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”

“Well, we still have a ranch to run.” Said Ben looking at Adam, and making ready to leave.

“OK, Pa I’ll join you in a minute.” Said Adam, and Ben took the hint and left them alone.

“Becky, come over for supper tonight, I’d like you to meet my brothers.” Suggested Adam when they were alone.

“I’d love to, thank you.”

“I’ll see you later then.” He bent down and kissed her, and then smiled. “Will you marry me?” He asked, as he had promised he would.

“Not yet.” Came the reply. Adam looked at her thoughtfully, ‘not yet’ was more promising than ‘no’.

Ben and Adam rode to the Ponderosa, and went back to work. There was not much of the day left but still chores that needed doing. As dusk crept over the land, Adam returned and met Hoss and Joe in the barn settling their horses.

“Hey Adam,” called Joe, “Did you manage to deliver the stock?”

“Yeah, no problem, I still remember how to handle cattle.” Adam replied light-heartedly, leading Sport to his stall, he would have to go out again soon to meet Becky, but the horse deserved a rest in the meantime.

“Well I sure hope Mrs. Anderson makes a go of that place. There’s good grazing there, I hated to see it go to waste.” Observed Hoss.

“When are we going to meet your Mrs. Anderson?” Joe wanted to know.

“She’s not ‘my Mrs. Anderson’.” Not yet, thought Adam as remembered her words, but the look on his face betrayed his feelings to his brothers who knew him so well.

“Perhaps our brother is frightened for us to see her.” Said Hoss nudging Joe in the ribs.

“Yeah, he knows that once she see me she won’t look twice at him.” Teased Joe.

“As it happens she is coming over for supper tonight. So you two had better be on your best behaviour. Otherwise I might have to send you to your rooms.” Adam threatened.

As they walked together towards the house Adam stopped them.

“Listen you two, I should warn you before you meet her that you’re in for a shock.”

Hoss and Joe looked at him, wondering what he meant. They waited for Adam to explain.

“Becky is very like the pictures of my mother. When you see her, I don’t want to catch you staring at her. It’s not polite and it makes her uncomfortable, understand.”

“Sure big brother, whatever you say.” Smiled Joe, hitting his brother playfully on the back

“As though we would.” Grinned Hoss, also slapping Adam on the back, the force causing his brother to stagger.

Adam shook his head; obviously they would do exactly as they pleased.
Chapter Seven

Adam rode out to meet Becky, and when she saw him coming towards her, her heart leapt. She now felt sure that she wanted to marry him and would tell him tomorrow, when they could spend some time alone. Meanwhile she would enjoy this evening with his family.

He came up beside her and turned his horse so that they were riding side by side.

“My brothers are eager to meet you. I have warned them, but I’m afraid that they will be as surprised as my father, so be prepared.”

“Don’t worry. Now I know why, I won’t let it concern me.” She assured him. He leant sideways in the saddle and kissed her cheek, and they rode the rest of the way to his home, sometimes talking quietly, sometimes in comfortable silence.

Adam led her into the house, where he found his father and brothers sitting round the fireplace. They rose as Adam and Becky entered.

“Hoss, Joe I would like you to meet Rebecca Anderson. Becky these are my brothers.”

Hoss and Joe stood with their mouths open, and Becky laughed.

“I seem to have quite an effect on your family, Adam.” She advanced towards them and shook their hands, bringing them out of their shocked silence.

“How do you do.” Said Joe, staring.

“Howdy Ma’am.” Said Hoss absently, studying her face.

“Adam, you could have warned us.” Complained Joe.

“As I recall, I did.” Said Adam laughing.

“Oh yeah, so you did. Mrs. Anderson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Said Joe gallantly, giving her one of his most devastating smiles.

Becky could see how different the brothers were. Hoss was by far the biggest of the three, not handsome in the conventional sense but she could sense a handsome spirit, his caring nature, and the gentleness that radiated from him. Joe was smaller than Adam, but just as handsome, his green eyes sparkling with an ill concealed humour. Adam had explained that they each had a different mother and she could see that while the three of them were totally different, their eyes betrayed them as brothers, shining as they did with a love of life, and of each other.

They enjoyed a pleasant evening together, and when it was ended, Adam escorted Becky home. As they stood together on her front porch, Becky turned to Adam.

“Will I see you tomorrow?” She asked, placing her hand invitingly on his arm.

He held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. Did he see something more there than a simple invitation?

“Yes, I’ll come over after I finish work.” He confirmed.

“Good, come and have supper.” He nodded and gazing at her a moment longer, he bent and kissed her. Then he turned, and with a wave, left her watching him go.

He returned home to find his family still up, taking a final brandy before retiring for the night. Adam poured one for himself and sat on the sofa beside Joe.

“That’s one fine lady.” Said Hoss approvingly.

“Yeah, Adam, how did you get her interested in you. I guess that bang on the head must have affected her thinking.” Joe laughed, and they all joined in. “And just how interested are you?” Joe wanted to know.

“Joseph, that’s none of your business.” Said Ben warning his youngest son away from a delicate subject, which he thought Adam would not want to discuss.

“That’s OK Pa.” He paused, looking at his family and judging the moment right, continued, “I have asked Becky to marry me.”

“What!” Exclaimed Ben. “When did this happen?”

“Two days ago.”

“Dadburn it Adam, you kept that mighty quiet.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Joe wanted to know.

“Because she hasn’t given me an answer yet.”

“Well it’s every woman’s prerogative to take her time about something like that.” Ben thought to himself that Adam had been a bit hasty in asking her, remembering the doubts he had expressed to his father only days before.

“I know, and I’m willing to wait for her to decide. I just hope that she doesn’t take too long.” Adam drained his glass and announced that he was going to bed, leaving the rest of the family to consider the news.
Chapter Eight

The next morning they were all sat at breakfast, and none of them were eager to start work. The weather had changed and the sky was overcast, the clouds low and threatening rain.

“Adam, I’d like you and Hoss to go over to the north pasture. Slim said he was out that way late yesterday, and the herd seemed restless. I’ve seen them like that before, often means there’s a cougar nearby. I want you to go and take a look, see what you think, perhaps go up into the hills see if you can find any signs.” Ben instructed, and Adam and Hoss nodded, they knew the damage a cougar could do if left to itself.

“We’ll go straight there,” said Adam rising, “see you at supper, come on brother.”

Adam and Hoss rode out to the pasture. Slim was right, the cattle seemed nervous, lowing disconsolately and milling about, constantly raising their heads and looking round. They rode round the herd, and found the remains of a carcase lying where the cat had brought it down. Hoss pulled up and dismounted, crouching on the ground looking intently at the marks he could see there.

“Hey Adam, come ‘ere.” Adam rode over, and came to stand beside his brother.

“Looks like Pa was right, see these tracks, that’s cougar right enough.”

“Then we’d better follow it.” Said Adam getting back up on Sport. Hoss mounted Chubb and they rode slowly, following the spoor. Hoss was an expert tracker, he had a feel for the land and knew instantly when he saw a mark that didn’t belong, which told him something had passed that way.

Adam let Hoss lead, recognising his expertise and not wanting to get in his way. He had his hand on his gun, and was looking round warily, ready for any sign of the cat. They followed the trail up into the hills until they came to a part of the track that was more rocky. Hoss pulled up and got down to study the ground. Adam waited patiently for his brother to decide which way the cat had gone.

Suddenly a great weight descended onto Adam’s shoulders, knocking him from his horse. As he fell, he felt a searing pain in his shoulder, and what felt like daggers pierce his chest, and he screamed in agony. He hit the ground hard, the extra weight of the cat that had landed on his back adding force to the impact. His head and shoulder hit the ground first and he lost consciousness instantly.

Hoss heard the scream and turned, seeing his brother fall and the cat with its teeth buried in his shoulder, its paws wrapped round him. He pulled his gun, and hesitating only a moment to make sure that the bullet would not hit Adam should it go through the cougar, he fired. The cat stopped tearing at his brother and lay still. Hoss could see that Adam was out cold, and tried to lift the cougar from his back, but he couldn’t shift it. Then he realised that the cat’s teeth were still sunk in Adam’s shoulder. He angrily wrenched the jaws open and rolled the cat onto the ground. He turned Adam over gently, and could see that his face was pale and his breathing ragged. Hoss was not a man given to panic, and he assessed the situation calmly.

He opened Adam’s shirt and looked at the wound in his left shoulder, which was bleeding profusely, as were the claw marks across his chest. He took off his own shirt and tore it into strips, some of which he pressed against the bite marks in Adam’s shoulder, then used the rest of it to hold them in place as best he could, and to cover the scratches. Then he tied his handkerchief round Adam’s head to stem the flow of blood from a deep gash on one side. Hoss examined his brother and found that the bones of Adam’s right shoulder moved under his hand. He decided that he could do nothing about it at the moment, he had to get Adam back home where the doctor could tend to him.

Even though Hoss was a man of great strength, he found it difficult to get Adam up onto Chubb. His brother was no lightweight, but eventually he managed it and mounted behind him, cradling Adam’s unconscious form in his arms.

Pulling Sport behind him, Hoss started to ride slowly back to the ranch. He would have liked to hurry but wanted to jolt Adam as little as possible. As they went Hoss felt the first rain drops fall, soaking into his undershirt. Gradually the rain increased until it fell in torrents, and he rode faster, wanting to get his brother home. Hoss tried to protect Adam, but by the time they arrived back at the house they were both cold and soaked, and Hoss could feel Adam shaking in his arms.

“Pa, Pa,” Hoss shouted as he rode into the yard, “Come quick.”

Ben ran out of the house, and the sight that greeted him stopped him dead. Then he was helping Hoss to get Adam down from Chubb’s back, and into the house. This was Ben’s worst nightmare come true. He had only just got Adam home and here he was, Heaven only knew how badly hurt. Ben did not want to think about losing him again.

“What happened?” Asked Ben as they carried Adam up to his room.

“We found the cougar.” Hoss said through gritted teeth. He blamed himself, he should have known the cat was nearby.

They laid Adam down on the bed, and Ben told Hoss to send one of the men into town for Doc Martin. Hoss left, but returned quickly to help his father get Adam undressed and into the warmth of his bed. Ben could see that Adam was still shivering and wanted to get him warm as soon as he could. Hop Sing arrived with bandages, hot water and a desire to help, and between them they got Adam’s injuries cleaned and bandaged.

Adam was still shivering as they pulled the blankets up over him, and Hoss got onto the bed beside him and cradled his beloved elder brother in his strong arms, trying to warm him with his own body heat. Ben pulled the blankets up round Adam’s shoulders and soon he stopped shivering. Ben sat on a chair pulled up to the side of the bed. He took Adam’s hand in his and stroked it absently.

This was how Doc Martin found them when he arrived. Hoss had fallen asleep with his brother still in his arms. Ben had his head cradled in the crook of one arm, lying on the side of the bed, his hand holding Adam’s. Paul went up to Ben and put his hand on the older man’s shoulder.

“Ben, Ben it’s Paul.”

Ben raised sleepy eyes to look at his friend and doctor. “Thank God.”

They woke Hoss, who eased Adam off his chest and laid him back on the pillows.

“Go downstairs while I examine him. I’ll be there as soon as I’ve finished.” Paul ushered them from the room.

Ben and Hoss went downstairs, where Hop Sing had fresh coffee waiting for them. They sat not speaking, waiting for Paul to finish. Unheard footsteps approached the front door and Joe entered.

“I see that you had the easy job, got back early did you?” Asked Joe taking off his wet hat and gun belt, laying them on the dresser behind the front door and shaking drips off his hands. He took a step across the room and stopped. He could sense something wrong in his father and brother.

“What is it, what’s happened?” He asked in trepidation, as he glanced left and right and noticed that Adam wasn’t there.

Ben looked at him with empty eyes, unable to speak. Hoss turned to his younger brother.

“It’s Adam, he’s hurt. Doc’s with him now.”

“What happened, how did he get hurt?” Joe asked quietly, coming to sit down next to Hoss on the sofa. He didn’t need to ask how seriously injured was his brother, he could tell from his father’s silence.

“We went after that cat, but it attacked Adam. I shoulda known it was there. I could sense that it was near, but I didn’t say nothin’. If I had, perhaps Adam…”

“Hoss you couldn’t know what would happen. Adam would have been looking out for it. You know cats, they can spring out of nowhere.” Joe put a hand on Hoss’s shoulder trying to reassure him.

“P’rhaps, but I coulda stopped it.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, but I just think I could.” Said Hoss, angry with himself and not appreciating Joe trying to make excuses for him.

Ben looked up, aware of what his son was saying and the torment he felt.

“Hoss it wasn’t your fault, and you saved his life by treating him and bringing him home.”

Hoss just shook his head, he couldn’t shake off the guilt he felt. He should have known, he should have been more aware.

Doc Martin appeared at the top of the stairs and looking down saw the three men sitting silently together. He descended the stairs and sat opposite Ben, who looked up as he registered the doctor’s presence.

“How is he?” Ben asked anxiously.

“Ben, it’s not as bad as it looks, I hope. The claw marks look bad but are not serious. He’s lost a lot of blood, from them and from the wounds in his shoulder and his head, and he also has a broken collarbone. I am worried about his head injury, but I won’t be able to tell how bad that is until the swelling goes down. He’s very weak, but with warmth and care he should recover.”

“Thank God.” Said Ben, and Joe and Hoss smiled at each other in relief.

“Thank you Paul.” Said Ben, though the words seemed inadequate.

“I’ll stop by in the morning and see how he is.” Said Paul rising to take his leave. “I think someone should sit with him, at least until he comes round, but that shouldn’t be long, now he’s warm and comfortable.” Paul advised, as Ben saw him out of the front door.

“I’ll take the first watch.” Said Hoss, heading for the stairs. He wanted to assure himself that the doctor was right.

“Very well, I’ll take over in a couple of hours.” Ben agreed.

Hoss sat beside Adam’s bed hoping to see him waken, but he did not stir. Ben came in to take over, until Joe relieved him, and so they took turns in watching over Adam.

It was well after midnight. Adam had not stirred and Ben sent Hoss and Joe to bed, telling them that he would sit with their brother through the night. But it was barely dawn when Joe came in to tell his father to go and get some rest.

Hop Sing brought in some coffee, and Joe sat drinking it, watching his brother sleep, praying for him to awaken. Finally, he stood up and went to sit on the edge of the bed. He held Adam’s hand in his, stroking it absently.

“Come on Adam, wake up, please. Just for a minute, tell us that you’re all right. You’re safe at home, please wake up.” Joe pleaded.

Adam became aware that he could hear a voice far off. He thought that he aught to recognise it, but the pain he felt in his head and body stopped him from concentrating long enough to place it. But he knew it was a friendly voice, a voice that would watch over him and keep him safe, so he could retreat into himself, leaving the world and the pain behind.

In his mind, Adam built a wall. He was a trained architect and knew how to build walls high and strong. He built it brick by wearisome brick until it was finished, and behind that wall he put all the pain he felt. As long as he didn’t try to get near the wall the pain stayed away. When he tried to concentrate he could feel himself approaching the wall, and he stepped back.

Joe became conscious that Adam was breathing faster, as though he had been running, and Joe gently wiped away the sheen of sweat that had appeared on Adam’s forehead. Then his breathing quietened again and Joe sat and watched him, looking for any other change.

“How is he?” Hoss’s voice startled Joe, who had thought he was alone.

Adam heard a new voice, a voice whose strength, he knew, would protect him.

“I don’t know. Why won’t he wake up?” Joe’s voice sounded as it had when he was a youth, pleading, asking about something that was beyond his understanding.

“Give it time. Those are nasty wounds, and he got soaked when it started to rain, that won’t have helped any.” Hoss reassured him. “We just have to encourage him to wake up, let him know we’re here for him.” Hoss spoke calmly, but inside he was sick, seeing his brother lying there, and blaming himself.

Hoss and Joe sat with Adam until their father came in and found them there, and told them to go and get some breakfast. They went reluctantly, leaving Ben sitting at the side of the bed holding Adam’s hand, talking quietly to him.

Adam heard another voice, a voice he associated with an all-encompassing love. He thought that perhaps he should try to talk to the voices, tell them that he felt safe while they were there. But as he tried to decide what to do, the wall came nearer, and knowing that the voices would not desert him, that they would protect him from the world and it’s pain, he stepped away from the wall and went back to sleep.

Joe and Hoss forced down some food, and were about to go back upstairs when Doc Martin returned.

“Well how’s the patient.” He asked, expecting good news.

“He hasn’t woken up yet.” Said Joe.

“Oh, I see.” Said Paul. He was concerned that Adam hadn’t stirred, but he kept his worry to himself for the moment. “Well let’s go take a look at him.”

They went up to Adam’s room and Paul asked everyone to leave except Ben. Paul examined Adam, a frown creasing his brow.

“What is it Paul, what’s wrong?” Ben asked looking anxiously at his friend.

“Ben I would have expected him to show some signs of awareness by now, if only for a short time. I’m worried about that head injury.”

Adam lay listening to the voices. Suddenly he felt a pain in his head, and in his mind, he screamed in frustration. He had spent all his strength in building the wall, and he thought that all his pain was behind it, but he had been mistaken, so he built the wall stronger and higher, and moved further away from it.

Paul had been examining the wound on Adam’s head, feeling the bones of his skull, when Adam moaned softly.

“Well he can certainly feel that.” Said Paul. Ben thought that was a good sign, but Paul still looked worried.

“Paul, will you please tell me what you think is wrong.” Ben demanded.

The doctor looked up at his friend, and seeing the worry on Ben’s face decided to tell him what he feared was the problem. Paul sat on the chair at the side of the bed.

“Ben, I think Adam has fractured his skull and is in a coma.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it means that he is nearly awake, but he can’t or won’t wake up fully. His mind is refusing to take control of his body. That head wound means that, because of the swelling, the bones of his skull are pressing on his brain, and that would cause him a lot of pain should he wake up. Add that to the other injuries, and it maybe that his mind refuses to take the risk of enduring the agony that waking up might entail. The pain should subside when the swelling goes down, but by then it may be too late.

“Too late?” Asked Ben, fearfully.

“Yes, by then there may be no way back for him, his brain will have shut down, just doing enough to keep him alive. He’ll breath, and his heart will beat but there will be no conscious thought. Ben it needs something to bring him out of it, before it’s too late.”

“How long?”

“I can’t say, we don’t know much about this type of injury, but it must be soon. Ben, I should warn you that if he can take sustenance, if he can eat and drink, he may be able to survive in that state for a long time, but he will never be able to communicate, or even look at you. He will just lie there, dead in all but name.”

Ben sat on the side of the bed looking at his son, stunned by what Paul had said. When Hoss had brought Adam home, Ben had been afraid that they would lose him, and he had shied away from the thought of living without his beloved son.

He had always relied so heavily on Adam. First as a child, when Adam had to be left alone for long periods while Ben found work, to keep them going on their westward journey. Then as Adam grew to adulthood, Ben depended on him for help in building the ranch, and raising Hoss and then Joe. Adam was the one to whom Ben looked for the most help in running the ranch, his intelligence and organisational skills making him a natural successor to his father. When Adam had gone away, Ben thought that he had lost him, that the exciting world beyond his home would prove too enticing for him, but Adam had returned. Ben was still not sure why, but he had taken up where he left off, and Ben found that he, too had returned to his old way of relying on him.

Ben knew deep inside that if Adam were killed he would eventually come to terms with that devastating loss, but to have Adam here, and yet not here, was too awful to contemplate. They had to do something, but what?

“We’ve tried talking to him, but he doesn’t respond. There must be something else we can do.”

Adam was listening again. They were the same voices he had heard before, but he recognised the tone as one of sadness. He wondered why were they sad, but as he searched for the answer he felt himself getting closer to the wall, so he stopped, and the wall receded.

Paul and Ben went downstairs, and Paul left saying he would return later in the day. Ben shut the door as the doctor left, and turned to face Joe and Hoss.

“What did the Doc say?” Asked Joe.

Ben told them to sit down and then explained what Paul had told him.

“But that means that Adam could grow old just lying there.” Said Hoss trying to come to terms with what he had heard.

“No!” Exclaimed Joe standing and pacing the floor. “There must be a way to bring him out of it.” Suddenly he snapped his fingers and pointed at his father. “Pa, what about Becky, perhaps she can do it.”

“It’s got to be worth trying, if Adam feels that strongly about her then maybe it’s enough.” Agreed Hoss.

Ben thought about it for a moment, and then he too agreed.

“Joe ride over there and tell her what’s happened. See if she’ll come and help Adam.”

Joe rode as fast as he could over to the Anderson ranch, sliding to a halt in front of Jeb, who was coming out of the barn. He told Joe that Mrs. Anderson was in the house and that he should go on up. Joe ran to the door and knocked. Becky had heard the horse come into the yard, and opened the door before he had finished knocking. When she saw Joe there her face fell, she had hoped it was Adam, coming to apologise for not being there the night before.

Becky had been worried all day. She had expected Adam for supper last night and when he did not appear, she had become concerned. She had thought that perhaps she should have gone over to the Ponderosa, but decided against it. If he didn’t want to come, then she was not going to chase after him. Now when she looked at Joe’s face she knew something was wrong.

“Joe?” She asked, “What is it, has something happened?”

“Mrs. Anderson, Becky, please will you come over to the Ponderosa. Adam’s been hurt and we need you.” Joe said hurriedly, the concern obvious in his voice.

“What’s happened?” She asked with a tremor of fear in her voice, her hand at her throat.

“Please just come and I’ll explain later. We must hurry.” Becky didn’t wait for more from him, but went back into the house to change into her riding clothes, and then she and Joe galloped back to the Ponderosa. They hurried inside and found Ben waiting for them. He explained about Adam’s injuries, and Paul’s diagnosis of his condition. Becky immediately agreed to give any help they thought she could.

When Ben showed her up to Adam’s room, she asked to be left alone, and Ben went reluctantly. Becky sat looking at Adam, seeing the bandaging on his body and head. She held back her tears as she leant on the side of the bed, and took Adam’s hand in hers and leant close to him.

“Adam, can you hear me, it’s Becky, I’m here with you.” She said softly.

There was no response, but she could see his eyes move beneath the closed lids.

Adam heard a new voice, one he knew but could not put a name to. The wall crept closer.

“Adam, please talk to me, I need to hear your voice. I want you to tell me you love me.”

Adam knew it was a voice that he desperately wanted to hear. He did not want it to stop, but somewhere in his mind, he knew that if he didn’t speak it would go away. The wall was near enough to touch.

“Adam, please don’t leave me, I need you, I want you always.” Becky pleaded, desperate to get through to him.

Adam saw in his mind a picture of the voice.

“Mother?” He whispered, reaching out towards the wall, but then stepping back. He knew it was not his mother but someone from his present, not his past.

Becky’s breath caught in her throat, she thought that he had laid that particular ghost, but she was wrong and her tears started to fall, had she lost him? But Becky was determined that now she had got a reaction from him, she was not going to let him slip away again.

“Adam do you hear me, come back to me so that I can tell you that I love you. I want to feel your touch, I want you to hold me. Please don’t go away again. Adam, I was waiting for you to come over last night, I wanted to tell you that I will marry you, that I love you, and want you. Please wake up so I can tell you.” She had to bite her bottom lip between her teeth to stop herself from sobbing.

Adam heard the words and they made sense. He knew they were words that he longed to hear. He reached out his hand to touch the wall, knowing that the person who spoke, whose words he wanted to hear, was on the other side if it. Now he would have to make a choice. He could stay here, safe and painless, but if he wanted her then he would have to go through the wall, and face the terror that lay on the other side. He pushed hard and the wall collapsed.

Adam groaned as the pain hit him.

“Becky.” He said on a breath, and Becky sobbed in relief as his eyelids fluttered open. He looked at her and knew that the effort had been worthwhile. She was there, sitting beside him. “Becky,” he said again, “You came.”

“Yes, and I’m not going to leave you. We will be together always.”

“Becky, I love you.” Whispered Adam, and closed his eyes again. Now he would have to fight the pain, but knowing Becky was there gave him strength, and he knew it was a fight he could win.

 

Next Story in the Memories of Love Series:
The Future of Love
Love’s Rewards
A Time to Heal
The Unlooked for Saviour
To Rage in Heaven

Other Stories by this Author

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Author: DianaG

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