SUMMARY: Adam finds that getting Jason and Mariette as well as their gang to court for justice was not the end of the problem for him. Though the system worked as it should, a plot still develops against him for revenge, and he’ll need his family and others to avoid what is planned.
rating = T word count = 14, 498
Can Love Change Everything?
Riding into the yard of the Ponderosa, Sheriff Roy Coffee wasn’t sure how Adam Cartwright would take the news. The news was about the woman who has tried to kill him and had been responsible for killing a young woman, Carleen, who loved Adam. He guessed there would be some mixed feelings about it, but with that man, it was always so hard to tell. With the telegrams in his pocket, Roy knocked on the door and wasn’t surprised to have Hop Sing answer. It was dinner time and perhaps he would be invited to share the meal.
“I got some news for Adam and the family, Hop Sing.”
“Family eat dinner. You come this way.”
Four sets of eyes were on him as he turned the corner at the dining room, but Adam’s were the most intense as usual. He directed his gaze at the young man, who wasn’t so young any more.
“I brought some news I wanted you to have before you heard it anywhere else. I got a telegram this afternoon from Carson City. They figured we would all like to know. Mariette Blaine is dead.” He saw the shock registered on all faces except for Adam who accepted the news stoically and asked the obvious question of how it happened. “I figured you’d be asking that. I wired back for the information. She was getting sick, they said, as soon as she arrived. She got sicker with each month and died this week. They buried her as they do all prisoners who die with no family. She’s in the potters field next to the prison in a grave with a plain wooden marker.”
For a few seconds, it was quiet as they thought over what Roy had said. Ben invited Roy to sit down with them and have dinner to which Roy agreed and Hop Sing, as expected, complained. However they knew it was an empty set of objections given pro forma as Hop Sing had to keep up appearances but genuinely liked the sheriff and liked the fact that Roy always lavishly praised his efforts in the kitchen.
There was no more talk of Mariette, but they all noted how quiet Adam was during dinner and after. After Roy left and the younger men went up to bed, Ben broached the subject of Mariette’s death with Adam.
“Are you troubled by her death, son?”
Sitting in his familiar spot by the fireplace, Adam steepled his fingers in front of his mouth before he carefully worded is answer. “I am not troubled by her apparent death but more by the worry that she isn’t dead.”
Shocked by that answer, Ben could only think of one way to respond. “Adam, death is death. She either is or isn’t, and I’m sure the people who run the prison would know, and they put her body in a grave. Surely you don’t think that was all an act?”
“No, not an act, but she wasn’t sick when she left here, yet she was sick by the time she got to Carson City. Pa, that’s a short ride to develop an illness.”
For the first time, Ben could see the only flaw in the story that Roy had told, but it was a very small flaw. “Adam, perhaps the authorities overstated that part of the story. We do know she was distraught when she left. She may have been emotionally ill when she arrived and showing physical symptoms of that.”
“Maybe, but I would be a lot more sure of this if someone who knew her had been there to verify her identity when she was buried in that field.” Adam stared at his father as if challenging him to dispute that idea.
“If she’s not dead, where do you think she would be?” Logic was the only answer Ben had.
“Now that is the hundred dollar question, isn’t it?”
With that, Adam stood and walked up the stairs leaving his father unsettled and wondering about his son’s state of mind. In the months since he had tangled with Mariette and Jason and their gang, Adam had changed in some ways. He didn’t seem to enjoy time in town as much any more with women trying so hard to gain his attention. Although he had attended social functions, he had become somewhat surly and left early from each one saying he couldn’t stand the shallowness. Never explaining beyond that, he went home or they assumed he went home because that is where he was when they returned hours later. They would likely have been surprised to find that he often visited the graveyard and spoke to the woman buried in that little enclosure of the miniature white picket fence. Anyone who visited the graveyard regularly would have told them that there was a fresh rose on that grave every week even though no one ever saw who placed it there. They knew.
Up in his bedroom, Adam knew that his father worried, but there was nothing he could do to alleviate that. He worried himself knowing he was dissatisfied. He had missed a chance at happiness with Carleen and wondered now if he would find another like her. But tonight, he had a new worry. He didn’t believe Mariette was dead, and he knew that no one would agree with him on that. With nothing except what Hoss would call a gut feeling, he was sure of it. Although he had spent the evening trying to come up with logical reasons for why he was so sure of it, he couldn’t but there was a niggling thought that he couldn’t seem to capture. There was some piece of evidence he was missing because he wasn’t remembering well enough or his mind wasn’t putting it together quite right yet. He hoped that as he slept or thought about it over the next few days, it might occur to him. However, he didn’t sleep well that night tossing and turning with thoughts of a murderous Mariette plotting to kill him once more. In the morning at breakfast, Joe took one look at him and had to comment.
“You looked like you tussled with someone all night and never got to sleep at all.”
“I wish I was tussling with someone. It would have been more fun that rolling around with my thoughts.”
“Boys, that is no way to talk at the table.”
Hoss snickered but the other two quieted. Joe had his answer and Adam had vented enough. However overnight, Ben had thought over what Adam had said and although he didn’t agree with it, he did think his oldest son would sleep better and rest easier if there was a positive identification of Mariette Blaine.
“Adam, I thought that you and I could ride into town today and talk to Roy about possibly getting that identification of the body that you mentioned.”
Surprised, Adam nearly choked on the food he was swallowing. After a bit of coughing, he agreed. Hoss and Joe kidded him a bit about simply having that idea so he could get out of more work, but their hearts weren’t in it so that didn’t last long. In town, the idea didn’t last long either as Roy didn’t think much of the theory that Adam had. However he said they were free to ride to Carson City and present their argument there.
“If you got that much time to waste, you go right ahead and make fools of yourself over there. I’m sure they probably got better things to do than to humor you on some crazy idea like that.”
Pleased that Adam didn’t respond but walked silently from the office, Ben turned to Roy. “It may not be the most sound theory I ever heard, but when someone tried to kill you, I would expect friends to understand that a man would want some assurance that that person was actually dead.”
Chastised, Roy raised his hands in surrender. “Tell the boy I’m sorry. He does have a right to know, but I can’t be asking for something like that when I have no evidence to present. I can’t use my office to ask or they won’t listen when I really need them.”
“I wish you had phrased it that way to my son.”
“Ben, I am sorry.”
Then Ben left silently and found Adam outside waiting on Sport. He mounted up on Buck. “We’ve got a long ride ahead of us, and then probably some people whose attitude won’t be any better than Roy’s. He did say he was sorry. He said he couldn’t ask for something like that without evidence.”
They didn’t talk any more until they were well out of town when Adam said they better come up with a better argument then than what they had used with Roy. Ben said they should take their time and explain it point-by-point so that it made some kind of logical sense.
“Maybe if I drew a picture of Mariette before we see the warden, that would help.”
“Now that is a very good idea. Yes, let’s do that. We can ask if that is the likeness of the woman that died. It will give us a good starting point. Can you draw her from memory?”
“After what happened, I can.”
Once they reached Carson City, they stopped in a general store and got paper and pencils for Adam to use. He spent an hour sketching a likeness of Mariette until Ben agreed it was an accurate representation of her that he would recognize anywhere. They took that when they went to the prison. With Ben’s influence in the state, it didn’t take long for them to see the warden. Because of the political situation, Ben explained why they were there and showed the drawing to the warden.
“Yes, I remember her. I remember when she arrived. I saw her being escorted into the women’s area. I didn’t know her name then. I don’t have much to do with the female prisoners. I’ll get the assistant warden who is directly responsible for that section of the prison. You see, the women are kept completely segregated at all times from the male prisoners. We only have a few women here at any time. In fact, now we have none. Our last female inmate was released only yesterday.”
The warden stepped out of the office and they could hear him asking his clerk to go find the assistant warden. A short time later, the assistant warden was there and he too remembered Mariette by her picture, but he too had no direct contact with her. He asked the clerk to summon the head of the guards who told them which guards had been in charge of the women’s section during Mariette’s incarceration. It took nearly an hour before they had someone in the office who had actually met Mariette. The warden questioned that guard who appeared nervous with all the men in the office as she likely thought her job was somehow in jeopardy.
“I never did nothing to help her other than what the rules allow. I did bring her the medicines the doctor said she needed, and I made sure she had food and water even though she pretty much stopped eating that last few weeks.”
“What did the doctor say she had?” The warden asked but Ben and Adam were equally interested.
“He said she had something growing inside of her and there was nothing he could do about it. She had a lot of pain in her bones at the end and suffered so much that he gave her lots of laudanum.”
With permission from the warden, Adam asked a question. “Was she sick when she got here?”
“Yes, she was. She wasn’t feeling right at all. But she had killed those people and that woman and done that outlawing and the judge had said being sick didn’t make a difference, I guess.”
Picking up the drawing of Mariette from the warden’s desk, Adam handed it to the guard. “Is this her?”
“That’s a right good drawing. Did you do that?”
At that point, Adam thought he had been wrong and that Mariette had died. “Yes, I drew it from memory.”
“You got a right good memory then, but that ain’t Mariette. That’s the other woman I was guarding. That’s Geraldine Anne Larkin. She got out yesterday. She served most of her six-month sentence and got out on her good behavior parole. She was real nice to Mariette and helped me with her. Mariette used to say that she was to remember to help her sons when she got out, and Geraldine would say she wouldn’t forget.”
Shocked, the warden and assistant warden asked a number of questions of the guard until they were satisfied with the answers. They turned to Adam and Ben. Adam looked at them.
“I guess we can rescind the request to exhume the body of Mariette Blaine. We know now who’s buried and who got released yesterday.”
The warden was apologetic. “I’m sorry. We’re going to have to review our policies to prevent something like this from happening in the future. They must have agreed to switch identities while they were in the prison wagon.”
There was no other explanation. They had a number of hours to talk and work out the details. Apparently, Mariette had agreed to look after Geraldine’s sons when she got out and in return, Geraldine agreed to assume Mariette’s identity. She must have known how ill she was and that she would die. The bigger question for Adam and in turn for Ben was where Mariette Blaine was. Had she used the opportunity to get away to make a new life or was she going to seek revenge for what had happened to her? Or was she going to do both? They discussed that for a short time but could draw no conclusions because there was nothing on which to base any.
When Adam and Ben left the warden’s office, they went immediately to the sheriff’s office and explained what had happened. He went with them to the stage depot and the train depot. There they found that ‘Geraldine’ had headed out of town immediately after her release. She bought a ticket east using the stipend for travel that she was given on her parole. Technically she wasn’t supposed to leave the state, but in fact, that was exactly what the authorities often hoped released criminals would do. They became the problem of some other state that way so they never checked to see if they were leaving the state when released on parole.
“I guess Mariette didn’t keep her promise to check in on the boys as she promised.”
“Pa, those boys are a lot better off because she didn’t. If she checked in on them it would only mean that she had found a way to use them in some plan of hers. This means that they’re safe. We need to make sure that the authorities put out wanted posters on Mariette so that she knows that her little scam has been noticed.”
“Why do we need to do that?” Ben was curious why Adam was so adamant about that.
“If we don’t, she may come back here pretending to be ‘Geraldine’ and those boys might not be safe. If everyone knows Geraldine is dead, she can’t do that.”
Both Ben and the sheriff agreed with that assessment. The sheriff said he would have the posters printed when Ben said he would provide the reward of five hundred dollars. With an eyebrow arched, Adam looked at his father who shrugged.
“Any amount is worth it if it helps to keep you safe. For that amount of money, she should get herself well east of here and not come back.”
“Pa, she doesn’t play by the same set of rules we do. Your reasoning would work with a normal person. She isn’t normal.”
“You think she’ll come back?”
“I think she will, but the worry is that when she will do that is unpredictable.”
“Son, maybe she’ll tangle with the wrong foe in the meantime.”
“We can only hope.”
The sheriff was more practical. “At least we have this drawing of her. From what you’ve said, it’s a very good likeness. That should help.”
They agreed that it should, but on the ride back to the Ponderosa, Adam had the uncomfortable feeling that he had a target on his back and that it would be there for a long time.
On the Ponderosa, for months, they were all on heightened alert for anything unusual, but when nothing happened, slowly they relaxed their guard. As Adam thought about things, he realized if she was planning something, she would know that would happen. If he wanted to get even with someone, he guessed he would do the same. The next step though had him baffled for he had never plotted revenge against someone so had no idea what anyone would do next. As he lay awake many nights thinking about Mariette and her hatred of him, he thought about what she would want to do to him. Humiliation would likely be high on her list, but how she would go about accomplishing that was a huge question. He had brought her down so he expected that she would want to do the same to him and he waited for the first steps but when they happened, he didn’t even recognize them.
“It was Adam and his bad luck again.” Joe walked into the house covered in mud.
Ben stopped him before he got too far and walked him back out and around to the washroom. Hoss was there too and carried Joe’s pistol rig.
“Pa, it’s true. For months now, it seems bad luck has been following Adam around. First it was little things, but it’s getting’ more serious now and other people are in danger of gettin’ caught in it. Some of the hands don’t even want to work around him any more. They say he’s almost a Jonah.”
“Hoss, that’s ridiculous.” Looking around, Ben didn’t see Adam. “Where is your brother?”
“He’s still out in the pasture trying to clean up him and Sport. We was fixin’ ta pull the supports on the dam now that the ravine is clear and let the water run clear. The whole thing came busting open before we ever had a chance to ride free of it.”
“How could that happen?”
Joe was disgusted. “Adam’s bad luck. He was the closest and saw it happening when it started to go. He warned us or we all might have been caught in it and drowned.”
“Then you’re lucky he saw it.”
Looking down at the mud caking him, Joe gestured at that and then at Hoss who was wet and muddy but not covered in it as Joe was.
“Does this look lucky?”
Hoss handed the pistol rig to his father. “Pa, I gotta go clean up the horses and the tack. I figured Joe was gonna need a lot more time getting cleaned up here than me ‘specially with the dance tonight.”
“Yeah, we were supposed to do that one little thing this morning and then get ready to head to town. Now we’ll be lucky to get to the dance on time.”
Deciding to drop the issue of luck for the time being, Ben turned to practical matters. “I’ll let Hop Sing know the hot water he was planning to use for laundry will have another use. Be prepared to hear some complaining.”
“As long as I get lots of hot water, I can accept the complaints in any language.”
As Ben went back to his desk, he thought about what had been said. A dam letting loose like that was a dangerous situation. He didn’t accept the premise of bad luck, but it did seem that there had been a lot of accidents happening to and around Adam in the past few months that were getting progressively more serious. This last one could have been very serious and caused major injury or even death. He tried to remember the first incident and couldn’t but remembered several recent ones. The most significant had happened at the logging camp when a hoist Adam had constructed the day before gave way when he tested it with logs. The resulting crash had sent tons of logs rolling toward him and several other men. Only the tree to which the whole thing had been anchored had saved them catching the end of one log, which turned the others and caused them all to pile up instead of continuing their cascading roll. All Adam had were some bruises and scrapes from that one. He had been stiff and sore from a glancing blow and from being thrown up against a tree but was otherwise uninjured. That incident too could have been fatal.
Then Ben remembered on the cattle drive when the herd stampeded with Adam riding lead. He hadn’t been scheduled to do it, but one of the men took sick requiring a shift in duty assignments. As trial boss, he took lead and another man was sent to riding flank. When the stampede started, it went straight at Adam who managed to ride it out and eventually helped turn the herd. The horse he was riding had to be put down however after being gored during the ride. Adam had gotten an injured ankle from that one and probably a good scare. There’s nothing like riding with several hundred cattle scared senseless and running at breakneck speed in the dim light of early morning over grass made slippery with dew to make one’s heart beat nearly out of your chest. Ben knew there were a number of other smaller incidents that were earning Adam a reputation among the men, but couldn’t recall them at the moment as he thought about the most serious of them. He had to wonder what dark cloud was hanging over Adam’s head to have all these things happen to him.
In town, the dark cloud that had come into Adam’s life was counting out money she owed to several people who had been making Adam Cartwright’s life miserable for a few months. Mariette Blaine had reports that they had done their jobs and made sure he had had a number of close calls. If things had gone more her way, his injuries would have been more serious, but the man was amazingly resourceful. She needed to remember that and not underestimate him. She still had a couple of people who had tasks to perform, but she wanted the others to leave now that their jobs were done. Each one was going to get their money and celebratory small bottles of whisky and cigars to take with them when they left town. Hopefully, they would not share those with anyone, but if they did, it was their choice. She didn’t mean to kill anyone except them, but if there were peripheral deaths, she didn’t care. Anyone who associated with men like these probably deserved to die anyway as far as she was concerned.
Having gained a few pounds and letting her hair go to its natural premature gray, she wore a long black veil for mourning. Jason had been hanged, but it was less than a year earlier. Society rules dictated that widows could or should be in mourning for two years so she could honestly tell people who asked that she was still in mourning for her late husband. They didn’t need to know the details and if they asked, she faked some tears and was overcome with emotion so they would tell her it wasn’t important. Using a name they had used when on the run from robbing banks and stores, Mariette Blaine was Missus Mary Martin to her neighbors in Virginia City. She was quiet and kept to herself making a daily pilgrimage to the cemetery where she met her employees when necessary in the early morning hours. They knew that was where she would be if they needed to talk with her. On Sundays, she attended church and sat unobtrusively in the back. The black veil let her observe Adam Cartwright without being noticed. She smiled when she saw him hobble in on a bad ankle one Sunday morning and walk in stiffly a few other times having gotten reports of how he had been injured. She overheard gossip too of Adam’s ‘bad luck’ and how the future of the most eligible bachelor suddenly didn’t look so golden. It made her smile like nothing else could.
On the Ponderosa, Adam was home finally when he got Sport reasonably cleaned up and got the dam area cleaned up as well. Looking around the area, he found tracks of horses and wondered why there were so many but couldn’t find any obvious signs of tampering. However, with the violence of the dam bursting forth as it did, most likely any signs of tampering would have been obliterated. He found it suspicious though that a dam that had held so well for weeks would suddenly give way for no apparent reason. He had the same thought about that hoist that had been made with all new materials but had failed as if shoddily constructed or made with inferior goods when he knew that wasn’t true. There had been the cinch that had given way when he had been breaking mustangs when a frayed end had let loose yet only the day before, he had put that same saddle on a horse for Joe and noted that the cinch wasn’t frayed at all. A leg on the forge had given way when he was working on it dumping all the hot coals that would have landed directly on him had he not stepped away to get some iron rods at that point. They had called it another bad luck incident but it had seemed good luck to him. Inspecting the forge when it cooled, it seemed to him that the leg had been damaged purposefully but no one else agreed with his premise saying that the marks looked like normal wear and tear to them. All of the incidents were adding up to someone or perhaps several working a grudge against him, but he had no idea why they would be doing it. To voice such a complaint would only make him seem paranoid. They already were talking about him as Jonah, and he didn’t need any additional talk about his mental and emotional state. He kept his opinions to himself and simply waited to see if there was going to be any overt hostility by any of the men toward him. There was but it was minor by a few of the men. He mostly let it pass having words with a few but nothing more.
Once he was cleaned up, Adam wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to the dance. He walked down the stairs to see his younger two brothers waiting for him though. Joe was glowering and Hoss simply looked at him and shrugged. He could guess that their father had insisted that the younger two wait for him. After that, he could hardly say he wouldn’t go. It would only make the situation worse so he bid his father a good evening and silently followed Hoss and Joe out the door. On the way to town, Hoss and Joe set a good pace and only slowed down as they neared town so they could make plans. Hoss insisted they better have dinner first. Joe finally seemed to have mellowed out because he laughed at that.
“It’s always about food with you, isn’t it?”
“Joe, I cain’t rightly spend the whole night dancin’ ifn I ain’t had no nourishment. We ain’t had dinner and I cain’t wait ’til we gets home ta eat somethin’ now can I?”
“All right, we’ll have dinner first. How about a big steak dinner and then a drink?”
“Now that there’s a right good plan. How about that for a plan, Adam?”
With a nod, Adam agreed so they headed to a restaurant as they got to town. Then it was a short walk to the saloon and a beer before they walked to the edge of town and the dance, which was kicking off about the time they arrived. Couples were entering as were a number of ladies in groups as well as men. They paid for their entrance at the door and many eyes were on the three Cartwright men as they entered, but a lot of the talk was about Adam. Unfortunately, this time, quite a bit of it especially among the men, was negative and loud enough for him to hear much of the time. After an hour or so, he had had enough and walked outside to stand in the cool evening air alone. As he debated whether to simply relax for a few hours by himself or ride home alone, a voice startled him.
“Too warm inside for you?”
“I could ask the same of you, miss.”
“And I would answer that yes, it is. It’s crowded, and the attention I was getting was making me long for some quiet peaceful place.”
“My feelings were about the same, although the attention I was getting was likely not the same.” Even in the dim light, Adam could see that she was a beauty. She reminded him of Carleen in some ways, and her smile was enchanting.
“Oh, I would think the ladies would give you the same kind of attention as I was getting from the gentlemen in there.”
“Calling all of the men in there gentlemen is perhaps a stretch, but it was not the ladies who made the attention uncomfortable.”
“You’re Adam Cartwright, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and I suppose you’ve heard the stories.”
“Some, but I’m not much of a believer in good luck or bad. Things happen for reasons not luck.”
“Then you are a rare one. It seems that I am believed to be the recipient of or perhaps the magnet for bad luck. You may be in danger simply by being in my company here.”
“I’m not worried.”
“And if this roof should fall down on our heads?”
“Well, then I guess I would worry, but as you are much taller, you should block most of it.”
For the first time in months, Adam laughed with abandon. She was impertinent and flip, but honest. He liked that. She responded to his laughter with an infectious laugh of her own. A short distance away, Hoss turned back to the dance. He had been worried when Adam left and didn’t return, but hearing him talk with a lady and laugh, Hoss felt a lot better about things. For the rest of the dance, his heart was a lot lighter.
For the next hour, Adam talked with the young lady as they found chairs to sit. As the night air grew cooler, she wrapped her arms around herself. Adam noticed and took his jacket and wrapped it about her shoulders.
“You don’t have to do that. Now you’ll be chilled. I could go back inside to get warm.”
“I have my vest and long sleeves. I’m still warm enough, and if you don’t mind, I do like spending time with you. You know my name, and I still don’t know yours though.”
“Caron, with a C and an o. My parents were not well educated. Well to be completely truthful, they had only minimal learning they got from their parents. When I was born, they recorded my name but not knowing how to spell particularly well, they spelled it with a C so that’s what it is.”
“Why with a C?”
“Oh, our last name is Carson, so they thought that a C made that sound. They had no experience with a K.”
“And that explains the o too. In Carson, I mean.”
“Yes, it does. When I went to school, teachers used to ask if I was French or English or something assuming that I had to be an immigrant to have a name spelled like that. In boarding school, I made up an accent for some teachers and made believe that I was French.”
“Got in trouble for that, did you?”
Giggling a bit then, she nodded. “I did. They didn’t see the humor in it at all. Once I learned to speak some French, I realized how atrocious my accent had been and why I was so easily found out.”
“Your parents had no schooling yet you went to boarding school and learned French?”
“My parents were among the first to find gold in California and built a business with their profits. They hired people who had education. Profits sent me to the best schools. Unfortunately, disease does not pay attention to income or station. My parents both succumbed to fevers while I was in Europe. The business did not survive their deaths. With enough money to get home, I have taken a variety of jobs since then. Many women are quite pleased to have a woman secretary or lady with an education like mine. I get to live in nice homes, travel often, eat well, dress well, and generally live a nice life.”
“Are you working in Virginia City at present then?”
“Yes, I work for Missus Mary Martin, a widow who owns a small home here.”
Shrugging because he didn’t know the woman, Adam changed the topic. “Do you get days off?”
“I have Saturday night and Sundays to do as I please.”
“Very good. If it is not too forward of me, could I ask if you would like to take a carriage ride tomorrow afternoon to see the sites? There are some beautiful vistas around the lake.”
“From what I have heard of your reputation, I think that I can answer yes to that.”
“That I’m being too forward?”
Rolling her eyes, she saw him grinning at her and smiled in response. “Are you always like this? No, don’t answer. I like to find out things for myself. Yes, I’ll accept that carriage ride with you. I like to attend church services in the morning so anytime after that will be fine.”
“I’ll be at our church services too. Perhaps I could pick you up at your church and we could take our ride and have a picnic too.”
“That sounds like a wonderful plan. I could pack a lunch for us.”
“This time, I invited you so I’ll bring the lunch.”
“You can cook?”
“Not particularly well, but our cook is amazingly good.”
“This time sounds like you think there will be a next time.”
“It’s a possibility. Let’s see how tomorrow goes. With all of that on my schedule, we should go back inside so I can get my wrap and head home. I would like to get a full night’s sleep tonight.”
“I can walk you home.”
“I came with a few other women, and unless they also have escorts, I’m afraid I’m committed to walking back with them. Perhaps next time.”
So Adam walked her back inside and she did meet up with the ladies with whom she had come to the dance. They all made a number of furtive glances at Adam as they gathered their shawls and left. Hoss and Joe came up to Adam too. Joe had to ask.
“So, did you kiss her?”
“Joe, gentlemen don’t ask and don’t tell.”
“Aw, Hoss that bad luck is still holding. He didn’t even get a kiss.”
“I don’t know, Joe. She was the purtiest one here tonight, and the porch roof didn’t fall down on their heads.”
As Joe snickered, Adam glanced sharply at Hoss who shrugged.
“I came out to see ifn you was all right. Seemed ya was.”
Accepting that, Adam slapped Hoss on the shoulder to let him know it was all right. They rode home in good spirits, and their father was pleased not only to know that nothing bad happened, but especially pleased when he heard Hoss and Joe teasing Adam about his new lady friend. Ben knew Adam wouldn’t appreciate any questions so he waited until he had Hoss and Joe only and then asked about her although they couldn’t tell him much.
The next morning, Caron was late for church services. It didn’t matter too much as no one knew her and she always sat in the back of the church anyway. Her parents had instilled in her the need to attend church every Sunday and she couldn’t seem to break the habit. Her mind wasn’t on the service though. The evening with Adam preoccupied her thoughts. Mary Martin had been thorough in questioning her until she had divulged everything that had been said during her conversation with Adam. She suspected that the same would happen each time she saw him. Her opinion of him though was ambivalent now. She had expected a pompous, self-righteous cad with no concern for others and had expected to have to fend off advances from him. However nothing she expected had happened. Her views had been based on what her employer had told her about the man she said was responsible for the deaths of many men, yet he seemed sensitive, thoughtful, and gentle. She couldn’t imagine him as a murderer and cold-blooded killer who used his family’s influence to avoid prosecution. Carrying a weapon in her small purse, she had been ready if necessary to defend herself yet had forgotten that she even had a weapon as they had conversed. There were no doubts in her mind that her employer could kill if she thought it was needed, but there were doubts already forming in her mind as to whether Adam could do that except in self-defense or the defense of another. She had taken many jobs since her parents had died and some like this were of a questionable nature. To her knowledge, she had never broken any laws, but she had certainly come close and had worked with those who did break laws. Her specialty was gathering information. She had a knack for getting people to trust her. She guessed that Adam already did.
The Cartwrights were on time for their church service, and Adam drove a carriage to church. There were those who looked at that and wondered while others had a very good guess as to what purpose he might want a carriage in town. Heads bent together in church and the gossips had him all but courting Caron by the time services were concluded although most did not know her name.
“Adam, please invite her to dinner next Sunday if you think you would like her to meet us. I’m sure she would like to see more of the Ponderosa.”
“I will, Pa, if we get along well today.”
“I bet you will, older brother. I hope ya have a rip roaring good time.”
“Thank you, Hoss.”
“And I hope you get a kiss today too.”
“Joe, if I do.”
“I’m not telling.”
“Aw, you’re no fun at all.”
“So I’ve been told by some, but not by any ladies.”
Rolling his eyes, Ben shushed his sons. “You never know who might be listening and think you’re serious.”
Trying to look contrite but failing, Adam had one last thing to say as he pulled away in the carriage. “Pa, I was being serious.”
Hoss and Joe broke out in laughter and Ben could only join in. It was good to see Adam in such a good mood at least. Adam was smiling too as he drove away and still had a remnant of it as he pulled up in front of the Catholic church to wait for Caron. She exited a short time later amidst a throng of other parishioners and headed to his carriage. Gallant as always, he got out and helped her up into the carriage, but waited for the crowd to thin considerably before pulling the carriage away from the wooden walk in front of the church. Driving slowly for a few blocks until there were no more pedestrians, he snapped the reins then and set a faster pace for their ride. Once more, Caron was struck by his care.
“I would guess people would have gotten out of your way back there. After all, you’re a Cartwright.”
Frowning, Adam looked at her and then at the road once more. “I don’t know that being a Cartwright bestows on us any special privileges to be boorish or dangerous.” His tone was clipped making it clear he had not liked the comment.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be insulting. I only thought that people would have deferred to you because of your position in the community.”
“Sometimes it is quite the opposite. Sometimes they expect more from us because of that. Perhaps they expect more than anyone could possibly deliver.”
“Somehow I think there’s a story there.”
“There is. I was in a bank almost a year ago now when five outlaws came in to rob it. One held a gun to my head and four others had guns drawn. Two men decided to try to fight them. It was suicidal to try. Maybe they thought I would help them, but if I had, there would have been three dead that day instead of two. They were gunned down as they attempted to draw weapons. I never touched mine. The robbery was foiled in a way because the outlaws took only the money then that was there in the teller’s drawer and fled.”
“And the people in town thought you should have done more.”
“Yes, somehow they thought should have done more. I don’t know that anyone could have under those circumstances.”
“What happened to the outlaws?”
“They came back to kill me. They kidnapped a young woman who was coming to see me and used her as a lure, but fled when we came in force. They had killed her, or rather, they had let her die of her injuries. They were chased but circled around to come back again to kill me, but that was anticipated and they were caught.”
“Then what happened? Did you kill them?”
“No, well two were killed because they chose to try to shoot it out, but the leader, Jason and another man surrendered and hoped to avoid the gallows by trading information for a lighter sentence. It didn’t work. They got the gallows.”
“You said there were five. What happened to the fifth man?”
“Not a man. It was a woman. Mariette Blaine was sent to prison, but she escaped. Someday, she may come back here and try to get revenge on me for what she caused to happen. She’s that kind of woman.”
“If she got away, why wouldn’t she just stay away and enjoy her freedom?”
“She’s not quite right. There’s something in her that’s evil. I believe she’s coming back at some point to get even with me for what happened, but I hope no one else gets hurt the next time.”
“You feel very badly about the young woman who was killed, don’t you?”
“Yes, she died because she was nice to me. That’s all it was. She was trying to be a friend when so many were not. For that, she died. I feel guilty about that. She died in my place.” They had gotten to the ridge above the lake by then so Adam pulled the carriage to a stop and pointed to direct Caron’s gaze outward. “There’s a better subject for discussion for a Sunday. If you ever had any doubts about God creating the world, when you see things like that, it tends to make beliefs stronger.”
Gazing at the scene from left to right and back again, Caron was transfixed by the glory of it. “Oh, it does. It certainly does.”
After sitting a few minutes and taking in the beauty of that vista, Adam drove the carriage down the road toward the lake stopping several more times to show Caron more views of the lake from closer and closer viewing points until all she could do was stare at the lake as they approached transfixed by its natural beauty. Adam smiled at her rapture.
“It was that way for me when I first saw it. Of course, I was only seven years old.”
“Oh, you’re making fun of me now.”
“No, only teasing a little. It still makes me stare at it, and I’ve been looking at it for more than twenty-five years now.”
“I’m amazed that no one in town has told me to come out here and take a look at this. It’s simply gorgeous.”
“I’m glad you like it. Now, let’s find a nice spot for a picnic and we can enjoy it close up too.”
They found a pleasant spot for a picnic and skipped stones as Adam taught her how to do that. After they ate, they took a walk along the sandy shore until they caught a whiff of what seemed to be a smoldering campfire. Adam wondered if someone had left one burning after camping out while traveling. He thought they should check to see. What they found though was a dead man with his horse still tied to a tree nearby. He looked to have been dead for more than a day already.
“Stay back there. I’ll wrap him in his bedroll and tie it securely. You don’t want to see this.”
“Do you know who it is?”
“Yes, he used to work for us. He quit a couple of days ago. He took his pay and left. I guess this is as far as he got. He must have got that bottle in town and planned to celebrate a little.”
After securing the body in the bedroll and tying it up securely, Adam gathered the man’s possessions and packed them into his saddlebags.
“Why don’t you go back to the carriage? I’m sorry, but I need to water this horse and then pack all of this up. I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Our picnic has to be a bit short. We need to take him to town and turn him over to the sheriff.”
“He handles things like this. It’s only a formality, I’m sure. But Roy has to sign a report as to how a man died so he’ll talk to the mortician or the doctor to get a cause of death and get it all settled.”
“How did he die?”
“I have no idea. There doesn’t seem to be a mark on him, and he was healthy as far as I know.”
When Adam had watered the horse and doused the still smoldering campfire, he saddled the horse and hoisted the dead man across the saddle and tied him in place. After all of that, he led the horse back to where he had left the carriage and found that Caron had packed up everything and was waiting for him.
“Thank you. I’m sorry that our picnic was ruined.”
“It wasn’t ruined. It was only shorter than expected.”
“Maybe next Sunday, you would be my guest on the Ponderosa for dinner?”
“If next Saturday, we can try another picnic and you let me provide the lunch.”
“Now that is an excellent plan. I accept your terms.”
When they got to town, they drew quite a bit of interest which they would have anyway but with a horse carrying a dead man, they were a magnet for anyone paying attention to people moving anywhere outside in the city. At the sheriff’s office, Adam climbed down from the carriage and moved swiftly to knock on Roy’s door. With a crowd gathering, he hoped to turn the man over to him as quickly as possible. It wasn’t going to happen because as soon as Roy found out who the man was, he had a lot of questions for Adam and asked him to step into his office and asked Caron to come in too. He told one of the deputies to take the body to the mortician’s office.
“Adam, now you say you found the body today. Was this on the Ponderosa?”
“Yes, it was on the Ponderosa, but near the lake just off the road that many use to travel to California.”
“You don’t have to get that way with me. I ain’t accusing you of nothing. It’s just that about noon, another man who used to work on the Ponderosa was brought in dead. He was found at his campsite but on the other side of town heading toward Carson City. Looked like he had himself a little bottle of whisky and up and died. At least, that’s the way it looks. It just seems kind of odd.”
“Roy, several men quit. It happens all the time. We hire, we fire, and sometimes men quit.”
“Don’t it seem odd to you that two men who quit the Ponderosa end up dead so soon after and the circumstances are almost the same?”
Adam had to admit that it did but could offer nothing more to help explain it. Roy told him he could go so he took Caron to her home. He helped her from the carriage and apologized once more for what had happened, and once more, she told him it wasn’t his fault. As Adam drove away, Caron turned to enter the house with many thoughts roiling in her mind. Mary was there immediately though and the interrogation began. Finally though Caron got to ask a question.
“You told me that Adam killed your husband Jason. Adam said he died on the gallows.
“You see, he gets to everyone with his lies. He told people that Jason murdered those two people at the bank. Jason never meant for anyone to be shot and killed. He didn’t do any shooting. It was Hardy and Frank who did the shooting. That’s why they wouldn’t surrender to the men who had them surrounded. They knew what would happen. Adam had already hit me in the head so I couldn’t warn them. You’ve seen the scar across my forehead. Yes, he would hit a woman. In court, he wanted his revenge. He told the jury that Jason murdered that poor woman, Carleen. He didn’t. Hardy and Frank went out to kidnap her and they killed her or we thought they did. She looked dead when they brought her back. Jason said to put her in the back area. We had no idea she was still alive. She would likely have died from those injuries anyway though. He killed Jason with his lies as effectively as if he had shot him in the heart. You’re succumbing to his charm. I warned you about him.”
“I remember. I’ll try to be stronger.”
“Did he ask you to another outing?”
“Yes, next Sunday I’m invited to the Ponderosa for dinner. On Saturday, we’re going to try another picnic.”
“Good. You were home earlier than I expected and I worried that perhaps things had not gone as well as you had thought they would.”
So Caron told Mary about the dead man they had found. Mary expressed shock, but worried that perhaps she had been a bit careless using the same method on three men. If the third showed up, the sheriff would start an investigation knowing it was no coincidence. In fact, the third man was found but several days later. He was buried where he was found and his gear and horse brought to town and turned over to Sheriff Roy Coffee. With no body to draw attention, few were aware that it had happened. However, rumors were already circulating about the other two men who had died and who had left the Ponderosa. Gossip said they had been involved in incidents involving Adam and his accidents. Dark rumors began to spread. Mary couldn’t have been happier with that turn of events. What had worried her turned out to be a good addition to her plan or so she thought. Meanwhile Roy decided he better have a talk with Adam and the rest of the Cartwrights.
Roy’s talk with the Cartwrights about the deaths of three men who used to work for them didn’t go well at first. Ben was angry.
“Are you accusing us of something?”
“No, I’m not accusing you of anything. What I’m saying is that three deaths like that are not coincidences. Something ties all of them together and I want to find out what that is.”
“Roy, did anyone test the whisky bottles the men had?” Adam’s question hit directly at the heart of the matter and surprised Roy.
“How did you know they all had whisky bottles?”
“I saw the first one did, you said the second one did, and then you said they all died under similar circumstances so I assumed the third one did.”
“All right, that makes sense, and no, the whisky was not checked.”
“You should. It would make a lot of sense to poison cowhands that way especially after they finished a job.”
“Roy, don’t you think it’s possible that they were working for someone when they all signed onto the Ponderosa about the same time, and then all quit the same day?” Adam took the evidence to the logical conclusion as far as he thought it must go.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but who would they be working for and what would they a been doing?”
“I can think of one form of mischief they might have been doing.”
“Aw, Adam, you aren’t going to try to blame all your accidents on those three men!” Joe was incredulous.
“No, not on those three men because I think there could still be another one here. Who else got hired about that time?”
Joe didn’t agree at all, but Hoss started to think he might have something. Recalling the circumstances of each ‘accident’, he tried to remember who had worked on or near each thing.
“Joe, one or two of these men were on the crews at the accidents Adam had. Except for what happened at the forge, he may be onto something.”
“You’re going along with this crazy way of thinking too?”
“Joe, let’s not dismiss it so easily. Adam, Hoss, why don’t you explain what you think you know.” Ben was ready to listen. He had never bought the Jonah premise. This theory sounded far more plausible to him.
Once Hoss and Adam explained what they thought might have been happening, Roy and the others wanted to know who could want revenge or retribution so badly that they would go to that kind of trouble to get it. Also, if they wanted that, why send those men off before the job was done?
Adam had some ideas about that and asked Roy to do some checking. As Roy had no other theories, he agreed to check on Adam’s.
“There is this one thing I hadn’t told ya yet. Each of the men had over five hundred dollars in their pockets. Unless you started paying a lot better than anyone knows, someone else did give them a lot of money. It’s why I’m willing to check out Adam’s theory, Joe. It does fit with all that extra money those men had on them.”
With a smirk, Roy left them then. He knew the news of the money would surprise them and likely it would further stimulate Adam’s thinking, but now perhaps his family wouldn’t be so skeptical of his theory. Roy too had been wondering if somehow Mariette was tied into this because Adam seemed to be connected to it, and now had even more reason to wonder about that. However he had no more evidence of anything than he had before he arrived. He was going to have to think about it all a lot more and do some investigating as well as keep tabs on what was happening on the Ponderosa. He guessed that Ben probably was going to be doing the same.
Ben was. “All right, earlier Adam asked who got hired about the same time as those three men. We need to figure that out and keep an eye on those men too. Something is going on here that I don’t like and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
With Roy’s news and their father’s obvious concern, Hoss and especially Joe had a change of heart and mind taking the whole matter more seriously and throwing out the names of men who had been hired in the same time frame.
“Now do we know if any of those men were working near Adam when any of those so called accidents occurred.”
“Pa, I reckon they all were at one time or another. That’s why I had trouble with the earlier idea that those other three was part of some plot because they was. But Marty was sick and stayed in the bunkhouse for a coupla days about the time the forge collapsed. I remember that ’cause he was sittin’ on the bunkhouse porch wrapped up in a blanket the day it happened. I remember thinkin’ it a bit odd.”
“Why did you think it was odd?”
“He was wearin’ his boots. I remember thinkin’ ifn he was still feelin’ so poorly he needed to wrap up in a blanket, why’d he put on his boots. That’s the only reason that stuck with me so long. I remember riding into the yard and seeing the mess by the forge and him at the bunkhouse and askin’ him what happened.”
“I think we need our own man in that bunkhouse. Joe, tomorrow, would you ride over to Carson City to Jake Handley’s ranch and ask if one of his sons would like to work for us for a few weeks. Tell him there will be regular wages but a big bonus at the end. Tell him it will be regular ranch work, but we want to hear any bunkhouse chatter about Adam. See if they will agree.”
By late the next day, Joe was back with Luke Handley who moved into the bunkhouse. He was a top hand in many ways so it wouldn’t seem odd to anyone that he would work there. It was unlikely that anyone would know that his father and Ben were good friends nor that Jake owed Ben a lot because Ben had loaned Jake money when he faced foreclosure. Jake still had his ranch because of Ben, and this money Luke earned was going to be an extra help in keeping it. They were doing each other a favor with this arrangement. No one told Luke to keep a watch on Marty, but within two days, as they were working, Luke told Joe that Marty seemed to be the instigator of talk about Adam and trying to stir the men into playing a practical joke on him. It was proof enough for Joe and he brought it to his family that night.
“All right, we’ll keep a close watch on Marty. Luke can keep doing what he’s doing, but one of us will want to know where Marty is at all times.” Ben was adamant about that.
On Saturday, Adam went to pick up Caron for their picnic. Outfitted in a light dress that showed off her figure which Adam appreciated very much, she waited on the porch with a basket. She could tell by the way his eyes couldn’t seem to stop looking that her plan to entice him was working. What she didn’t plan was her reaction. When they reached a meadow near the lake and Adam stopped the carriage, she was surprised.
“Aren’t we going to the lake for our picnic?”
“We could, but I want to show you something first.”
Taking her hand, he led her a short distance across the meadow to a small grove of trees but stopped before they got there. He had her stop and held his finger to his lips to indicate she needed to be quiet. They stood there for about ten minutes without moving when a doe and her fawn ventured from the grove to walk into the grass down below. He heard her slight gasp but it wasn’t loud enough for the doe to hear. She grazed as the fawn suckled. Birds were chirping and a rabbit bounded out and stopped not far from them chewing on some grass shoots. Another deer walked out from the trees then with two fawns trailing it. It continued across the meadow for some distance before it stopped and the two fawns disappeared from view. Caron whispered a question.
“Where did they go?”
“Fawns can hide in the grass. They lie down and wrap themselves into a little circle. She’ll leave them there and graze.”
They stood there for perhaps another half hour until the first deer and her fawn left. Then Adam said they could walk back to the carriage. The second deer stood at alert when they began to move, but she was far enough away and they were walking away that she was not startled enough to run and stayed by her fawns.
“My brother Hoss told me about this spot. He always seems to know things like this. I thought you would like to see them.”
“It was wonderful. Thank you.”
Spontaneously, she gave him a hug, which he returned. Then she looked up to see him looking down at her, and the rest was inevitable. Leaning down, he softly brushed his lips over hers and she pressed her lips against his letting him know that the kiss was something she welcomed. He kissed her with passion and she returned it in full measure. What shocked her were the feelings that accompanied the physical response. She felt such joy in his kiss and enjoyed the tenderness in his touch as he held one hand to her cheek as he kissed her and his other arm was still wrapped around her holding her close. He kissed her neck and down her shoulder until he met her dress. Stopping then, he whispered in her ear.
“Lady, you have to learn to say no.”
“What if I don’t want to say no?”
Breaking apart, Adam smiled at her. “You are something else, Caron Carson. But you promised me a picnic.”
“I never promised what kind of picnic.”
Despite the teasing, the moment had passed. They spent the day there in the meadow having a conventional picnic. The talked, took a long walk, and then headed back to town. Again Mary wanted all the details, but one thing Caron left out. She was afraid that she was succumbing to Adam’s charms. Despite her best intentions, she was charmed by him, and although quite unfamiliar with the feeling, she was afraid that she was falling in love with him. She didn’t dare say anything like that to her employer however. Her job was to charm him and get information eventually luring him into a confrontation with her employer. That had been why she was hired. However now that she knew her employer was a fugitive from justice, she wondered too if that was all that she had planned. Sleep didn’t come easily that night.
The next day, Caron went to church and then spent the afternoon with Adam at the ranch seeing the special sites there before heading to the ranchhouse in midafternoon to meet his family. She found them all very charming and as gracious and polite as Adam was. She was amazed not only at the dinner Hop Sing prepared but at how familiar he was in his conversation with the family and how he complained to them and ordered them about which they took in such good humor. It was not at all what she had been told to expect and once again she wondered at Mary Martin’s view of them. Unless she doubted her own observations and intelligence, Mary’s view of reality was quite distorted. By the end of the day, she was confused. Over the next few weeks, as she spent more time with Adam, she became more than confused. She was in great conflict. Mary seemed to sense it too and questioned her about her commitment to her job.
“Missus Martin, I have always completed every job I have been commissioned to do. You know that or you would not have hired me. Next Sunday, Adam Cartwright will be sitting in your dining room as you prescribed. He will have dinner with me, and then you will have the opportunity for the confrontation with him that you have desired. My employment will be at an end. I only hope to be gone from this house before that happens.”
“Yet, you do not seem at all pleased with a job well done.”
“I have to admit that this has been one of the more distasteful jobs I have taken. I may have to re-evaluate my work in regards to the commissions I have accepted.”
“My dear, you have been doing this kind of thing since you were seventeen years old and returned early from your grand tour. You don’t know how to do anything else.”
“I could learn. I learned how to do this. I could learn to do something else.”
“What? Lie on your back and please men? At your age, what else could you do?”
“I’ve saved money. I think perhaps I could start a business.”
“What kind of business?”
“I have an idea, but I think I shall keep that to myself for now and focus only on completing this job.”
On the Ponderosa, Adam got the sense that something was changing too. He had a feeling that Caron was troubled, but she wouldn’t ever talk about what was on her mind. She kept conversations to topics that were safe, yet every now and then, he noted a look of almost pain in her features. It always disappeared completely when he asked anything about it, but he knew there was a problem and wished she would confide in him. Then Marty quit, and they all knew something was going to happen. Ben paid Luke and gave him his bonus thanking him for his extra effort.
“If you don’t mind, Mister Cartwright, I’d like to stay on working here. Pa doesn’t really need me that much, and this regular money sure could help out my family.”
Joe endorsed the idea wholeheartedly and Luke was kept on. Ben told him to go home and let his family know what was going on but to be back the next day by sundown.
“This is a working ranch so Sunday is the only day you get off. Be back by tomorrow night and ready to work on Monday morning.”
“Yes, sir, I surely will. One more thing, Mister Cartwright. This isn’t a regular payday, is it?”
“No, we usually pay our men every two weeks or at the end of the month. Why?”
“Well, Marty said he was quitting and had a big payday coming up today. I wondered about that. I mean, it wasn’t about Adam so I didn’t say anything about it, but it seemed kinda odd so I thought I should mention it.”
“Thank you, Luke.” Looking over at Joe, Ben motioned to him to come closer and then spoke softly so Luke wouldn’t hear. “Marty only left here a short time ago. Do you think you and Cochise can catch up and find out where he goes?”
With a grin, Joe was out the door and on his way. Hoss and Adam came over to Ben after Luke left closing the door behind him. Ben filled them in on all that he had learned.
“Adam, something is going to happen. You need to be very careful. We still don’t know who’s behind all of this.”
Hoss spoke up then. “You don’t suppose it could be Caron, do ya?”
“If she wanted to do harm to me, she’s had ample opportunity. No, it’s not her.”
Neither Ben nor Hoss was as sure as Adam. Caron had arrived in the midst of all the trouble and they still knew almost nothing about her. They had hoped Roy would find out something but so far had heard nothing from him.
That night, Joe returned telling them that Marty had gone to town, put his horse in the livery stable, and then spent the rest of his time in the saloon. Joe had finally given up that he was meeting anyone. Before he left town, Joe did inform Sheriff Roy Coffee of what they had found out about Marty and that he was in town having quit the Ponderosa as the three dead men had done. He also had said he was getting a big payday so that fit with the idea of the extra money the three dead men were carrying when found. Sheriff Coffee agreed that it was worth checking into and assigned a deputy to watch Marty. He wasn’t sure that it was a lead, but it couldn’t hurt to find out. He had gotten some information that was more a lack of information on Mary Martin too. It seemed she didn’t exist or at least there was no record of any woman in Nevada with her name at any age near her age. Census records were a big help with things like that. It took a while to get answers but they could be found. So she was using an alias. There were a lot of puzzle pieces and nothing fit together yet, but Roy was getting a strong suspicion that he knew what the final picture might be.
Sunday was a bright day with hardly a cloud in the sky. After church, Adam and Caron walked through the town and spent some time visiting with Sheriff Roy Coffee who apparently had gotten to know Caron as they greeted each other like good friends. That surprised Adam who asked her about that after Roy walked on.
“Oh, Roy attends our church now and then. Yesterday, I was out picking up a few things I needed to make breakfast and happened to see him. I mentioned that Missus Martin was on her daily excursion to the cemetery but had gone in the morning, which I found unusual. I thought perhaps he might want to go check on her to make sure that she was all right. This morning, Roy was in church again and we talked a bit.”
What she had said was unusual wasn’t unusual at all, but Adam didn’t know that. However he did know that something was going on by the way she talked and the way Roy had talked as if they were in some form of silent communication. He didn’t like it, but knew both of them well enough to know that neither would tell him anything until they were ready and willing to tell him. Caron seemed a bit on edge too letting him know that there was even more going on beneath her surface calm and good mood. It put him on edge too, but except for his unease, nothing happened that was a clue at all. He was invited to dinner at her home, or rather her employer’s home. Mary Martin was supposed to be gone on some kind of excursion and had given permission for Caron to entertain Adam with a home cooked dinner. He looked forward to being alone with her. After a light lunch of pastries and coffee, they headed for Caron’s home. The walking had worked up their appetites again by the time they arrived and Adam offered to help with the dinner preparation.
“Oh, no, you’ve told me what you’re like in the kitchen. Apparently, you’re quite good with beans and bacon or even fried fish and potatoes on the trail, but here, no, no, no. I’ll do the cooking. Now, I wouldn’t mind some company in the kitchen while I work.”
For the next two hours, they talked, laughed, and generally had a good time as Caron prepared a stuffed chicken with side dishes for their meal. She prepared a sauce that she said would make him forget any chicken dish he had ever eaten before and put biscuits in the oven that made the kitchen smell so good it made his mouth water.
“Now, I need to go set the dining room table for our feast.”
“I’ll help. Honest, I was never a disaster in that task.”
They set out two full place settings that Adam found vaguely familiar. Trying to shake off that feeling, he returned to the kitchen and helped carry the dishes of food to the table as Caron got them ready. The chicken platter was heavy but manageable. Once the food was on the table, he pulled out a chair for her to sit and then sat beside her. The scent of lilacs from the open windows made the setting romantic too as did the candlelight. They ate and Adam did compliment her lavishly for the food was even better than promised. She was a splendid chef. When dinner was concluded, she offered him brandy and poured a small glass for him from a side table.
“You aren’t having any?”
“I don’t drink. My parents never drank, and I guess I never got over that stricture. However, I have no moral issue with it. If others wish to drink, I certainly accept that.”
Tipping his drink toward her, Adam made a toast to her skills as a chef and sipped the brandy declaring it a fine one. He sipped a bit more, but then frowned. His vision was becoming blurry and his balance was deserting him even though he was seated.
“Adam, are you all right?”
“I’ll take over now.” Mary Martin appeared then with an envelope. “Here’s your money. I trust your things are packed in that valise. I left it in the front hall. The carriage is out front. Be on your way. I have a few things to say to Adam Cartwright.”
“But you’ve drugged him. The brandy had something in it.”
“Yes, of course it did. You don’t think he’d stay here and listen to me if he had all his faculties intact, do you? He can hear me just fine though, can’t you, Adam?”
His voice slurred and his eyes drooping, Adam tried to answer but only mumbled something. Mariette cackled.
“Now I’ve humiliated you in the community and made people doubt you. The best part of the plan is what I’m doing now. This is breaking your heart isn’t it with you getting to know that the woman you love is working for me. That is the best part of the plan. I know how much you wanted to fall in love with that special woman so I found one who would appeal to you, and made her work for me and against you. Isn’t that perfect?”
Caron didn’t know what to do. She wanted to stay and help but knew she would likely only get herself killed and probably not do any good for Adam either. She had to hope that the preparations she had made had been good enough. She backed away and prepared to pick up her valise in the hall and leave, but something about her demeanor and reaction had triggered a response in Mariette.
“You’re going to go get help for him, aren’t you?”
“No, I would never do that. I always tell the truth and fulfill my contracts. I would never get another job if I went to get help for him.”
“That’s true, but I don’t think I can trust that.” Mariette pulled a small pistol from the pocket of her dress and pointed it at Caron. “Come over here and sit down. Now I have to decide what to do with you too.”
At that point, a noise from the kitchen and a noise from the front hall startled Mariette who whirled first one way and then the other before turning back toward Adam to try to shoot him. Caron jumped into Adam’s arms toppling both of them to the floor in a tangle in which not even a sharpshooter could have found her target. Frustrated, Mariette turned around to find Sheriff Coffee and Deputy Sheriff Foster with guns drawn. She wasn’t going to allow herself to go back to prison. She pointed her gun at Sheriff Coffee and that was the last act of her lifetime. She died there and her evil was finally over. Roy rushed over to Caron and Adam as Clem picked up Mariette’s gun and made sure that she was dead.
“Are you all right? Is he all right?”
“I’m all right, but I don’t know about Adam. He’s been drugged.”
“Well, she’s got that carriage ready outside. Let’s use that and get him over to the doc’s office.”
Hours later, Adam woke with a throbbing headache and asked if everyone could please be quiet. Doctor Paul Martin told his family, Roy, and Caron that they had to be silent or leave the room. He spoke quietly to Adam.
“I’ve turned the lights down. Can you open your eyes, please.” As Adam blinked but didn’t open his eyes, Paul encouraged him. “I know it’s difficult, but try.” Adam’s left eye opened and then his right. Paul noted the pupils were still not the correct size but were slowly regaining their normal size. Paul gave Adam some water to drink telling him it would probably help. Then Adam had a question.
“What the hell happened?”
“I’ll let Roy tell you if he can talk softly enough that it doesn’t bother you.”
So Roy told the story. “Yesterday, your little gal gave me a pretty good hint that I oughta get on down to that cemetery to see what was going on. Well, I found that Marty there meeting Mary Martin. She handed over a lot of cash to him as well as some cigars and a little bottle of whisky. Now we never made it public that the three dead men who was found was poisoned by the whisky they had. Once Mary was gone, I went up to Marty and told him we knew all about the conspiracy and he could help himself by turning to be a witness against Mary. He claimed he had done nothing wrong. I said I saw the money he got, and then I told him about the three dead men and the poison in the whisky. He swore something fierce right then and was gonna smash that bottle. I stopped him and said it was evidence. Told him he could keep the money and not face prison time ifn he told the truth. He agreed then and I put him in the jail. I told him it was the only place I could be sure he would be safe from Mary until we arrested her. I said I figured likely only another day or so. That was kind of a white lie at that point, but then I sat next to Caron in church this morning. On the way out, she said maybe I’d like to come around at dinnertime. She said the lilacs gave the most pretty smell in the dining room, but darn if someone couldn’t stand right outside those open windows and hear every word said inside without people sitting right at that table not being able to see ’em. She said Mary Martin wasn’t supposed to be home, but she didn’t always do what she said she was going to do, and that she had said she was looking forward to seeing Adam Cartwright. It was all I needed to know. Me and Clem was outside the house from almost the minute you and her walked inside. We was gonna come inside and arrest Mary as soon as we heard an incriminating word. I don’t think any of us thought it was gonna turn so deadly so quick.”
“So, it’s over. It’s finally over.”
“It is unless you want me to charge Marty or Caron. They were part of the conspiracy against you and almost got you killed.”
“No, in the end, they saved my life. It’s all good.” Adam’s vision was still blurry, but he could see that Caron was leaving. “Caron.” As she turned to look at him, they could all see the tears on her cheeks. “I’d like to talk to Caron, please, privately.”
Standing silently, Caron didn’t move as the others filed out of the room. Adam gestured for her to come closer. She did but had trouble meeting his eyes.
“Why did I do it? I’ve done a lot of things like it. It’s how I make money and live well, but I have to tell you, I’m done with that. I will never do anything like that again.”
“No, why did you change? Why did you turn on Mary or Mariette and go to Roy?”
Looking down, Caron bit her lips together. It was a difficult thing to say. Adam was patient though and waited her out. Finally she got enough courage to look at him.
“It was because I love you. I struggled with the whole idea at first. I couldn’t believe I had let myself do that. Love changes everything. I don’t think I ever loved anyone before you except for myself. It was a new way of looking at the world. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“I wish I had met you under other circumstances.”
“There’s no hope for us, is there?”
“No, I’m afraid there isn’t. I would find it very difficult to trust you enough to love you as completely as you need to be loved.”
“You never really trusted me, did you?”
“No, there were things that didn’t add up, and you never opened up enough. I had to worry about what you held back and apparently with good reason.”
“Yes, that’s true. I am sorry about that. I had no idea what she meant to do. I didn’t even know enough about her until you told me more. That’s when the doubt crept in, and I had to re-evaluate what I was doing.” Pausing, she had to ask. “Do you love me, even a little?”
“I do, and more than a little but not enough.”
“Is it enough that we could be friends?”
With a smile, Adam reached out a hand to her. “We can be friends; good friends. I would like that.”
“I would like that too. I think we can be friends and help each other, and maybe someday this whole thing won’t seem so awful.”
“I hope so.”
Several months later, Adam was in San Francisco on business. After several days of intense negotiations were concluded, he was invited to go to a new gentleman’s club to celebrate the agreement.
“Adam, it’s an amazing place. It’s as if the owner knows exactly what you want. Even though there are cigars smoked there all the time, the smoking room is aired out so well, it seems fresh. The food is marvelous and no smoking is allowed in the dining room. Now at first, I thought that odd, but it does make the food taste better. There’s a chicken dish that I have every time I’m there.”
“He’s right, Adam. The sauce on it really makes it special.”
“Only the best brandies and wines are served. Someone said the owner is French and that’s why she knows how to please a man. It’s all on the up and up, though. Nothing untoward happens.”
“There’s no membership fee. Any gentleman who can afford the prices and is dressed appropriately can enter. It makes it a great place to conduct business especially with men coming from out of town as you are.”
When they arrived and signed in, they only had to wait a short time for a table. They were escorted to a private dining room off the main dining area. It had a nice view of the grounds and the open window let in a nice gentle breeze.
“We must be coming here enough to get the special treatment. I wonder what else we have in store for this evening.”
Dinner was lavish with the chicken they ordered on a platter with the sauce they craved but dressed with oysters and roasted fruits and various pastries too. Stuffed with their dinners, they were treated then to an incredibly light dessert pudding followed by a fine French brandy. When it was time to leave, the waiter brought a bill that was marked with a smile and a zero balance. There was a note for Adam Cartwright. He opened it and smiled excusing himself and walking out the door to the grounds. Sitting in shock, they watched as he greeted Caron and kissed her before the two walked away into the twilight arm in arm.
“You have found an excellent outlet for your talents. I heard only praise for your establishment. Many remarked on how they can conduct business here without fear that the walls have ears.”
“Oh, perhaps they do, but the secrets stay with me. No one can talk or they do not continue working here.”
“How have your investments been doing?”
Giggling because he had read between the lines, she responded. “Quite well. And if any of my employees are smart enough to use information they hear, good for them. As long as not a word of it ever leaves their mouths to anyone. It is impossible not to hear. It is what one does next that matters.”
“Yes, it is always what one does next that matters. What will you do next?”
“I’ve met someone, Adam. He’s very nice and doesn’t care about my past. He has one too. We’re both making a fresh start and trying to remake ourselves. If we’re successful, we may end up being together. Love can change everything. I hope it is enough for him. We shall see. And you?”
“Not yet, but I’m always open to the possibility.”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, revenge
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