Summary: A crossover story (Bonanza and High Chaparral) for the August 2018 challenge. The Cartwright brothers head to Mexico on a cattle-buying trip. While there Adam meets someone who will change the path of his life, but will it be a path he desires?
Rating – K
Word count – 18,500
The Road Not Yet Taken
For the last several months I swear I’ve written the same words, had the same thoughts, trying to sort out what’s giving me these restless feelings. In the last year Pa has allowed the changes I proposed for the lumber mill and timber operation, and agreed to let Joe and Hoss take on more of the contract negotiations. Those changes have freed me to explore construction opportunities in Virginia City and Carson City during my off time from the Ponderosa, and I’ve found I enjoy the design work more than herding and branding cattle. I’ve even gotten Pa to agree to a bit of remodeling of the house and outbuildings, although that was no small victory. However, despite these changes in my life I still have a sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction. I can’t seem to put my finger on the source of my discontent.
For the last week or so Hoss, Joe and I have been making our way south to purchase cattle from a rancher in Mexico. This trip has given me the respite I’ve needed from the mundane ranch activities. Time with my brothers is always good, bringing back memories of our camping trips when we were kids. It also reminds all three of us that our brotherly bonds go far beyond our day-to-day working relationship.
Based on a recommendation of a friend, Raphael Fuentes, Pa chose to purchase different breeding cattle better suited to our more arid parts of the ranch. Over the years we’ve had good luck with Texas cattle but if these Mexican cattle work out the trip will be a lot easier to endure. Pa’s friend from southern California promises these cattle are top quality and will improve our herd in many ways. We’ll see what Hoss has to say after we take a look at the offerings.
Señor Fuentes also warned us that the rancher is a tough negotiator and that we should remain on our guard the entire time we’re there. At that word of caution, Pa proudly declared that his sons could handle any offers that come our way. It does make me wonder, though, what we might be up against. I believe my brothers are as intrigued as I am to meet this rancher. I guess we will find out in due time as later this morning we will enter Mexico and will arrive at our destination none too soon for my preference. It has been a long trip and all three of us are ready to get down to business.
The morning sun broke over the roofline across the street and blinded Adam Cartwright for a brief moment; so caught up in his journal and his thoughts, he failed to notice the coming dawn. Laying his well-worn journal aside, he rose from his chair by the window of his room. After stretching out the kinks in his back, he checked his pocket watch and noted it had been a couple of hours since he’d risen from a restless sleep. It was time to put aside his frustrations with life and focus on the task at hand – to get a dozen cows and one stud bull for the Ponderosa. Adam moved deftly around his small room located over the local cantina as he got ready for the last leg of their trip. A half hour later he met his brothers at a cafe for breakfast, then the trio headed out of Tucson for Sonora, Mexico.
The last part of the journey felt like the longest as the brothers rode toward the ranch located deep in the Sonoran desert. They’d left a small town, well more like a village, behind after freshening up and receiving directions to the ranch. They were only a hour or so away but each man felt it might as well have been days.
“How can anyone keep cattle out here in this forsaken desert? They cain’t be worth much at all ifn this is what they live off of.” Hoss mopped his brow with his bandana and reached for his canteen.
“Hoss we’ve seen things just as bad in Texas. Señor Fuentes swears these cattle are the best.”
“Brother, I sure hope you’re right.” Joe took a deep swallow from his canteen as they continued to ride.
The three horsemen plodded along in silence until they crested over a small hill. Pulling their horses to a stop, Joe was the first to respond by letting out a low whistle.
“Would ya look at that?”
“Not sure I’d’ve believed it if somebody told me.”
Stretched out below them in all directions was a near oasis of land as far as their eyes could see. Clusters of trees, large swathes of desert grasses, and land in between darkened by hundreds of cattle. To the west was the hacienda, surrounded by tall sun-bleached walls. While Joe and Hoss took in all the scenery of the ranch as they rested their horses, Adam scanned the area to find the trail to the hacienda.
“When you two are ready to stop gawking, we’ll take the trail to the right. It’s the only path I can find.”
Nudging their horses forward Adam, Hoss and Joe rode single file until the trail widened out toward the west.
Strains of a Spanish sonata drifted throughout the ornate parlor and slowly faded as Juliana Montoya finished playing the piano piece for her father. She rested her hands upon the skirt of her black dress. Withholding a sigh at having to wear such a dark color, she glanced in her father’s direction to gage his response to her music.
Don Sebastián Montoya, owner of the Rancho Montoya and Patron to the people of Sonora, Mexico, reclined deeply into his leather wingback chair, his eyes closed. He waved a hand lazily in the air as he spoke, “Por favor, continue playing for your father, my daughter. Your music brings such peace to an old man’s soul.”
“Dear Papá, you are not old, but my hands are tired. Perhaps I will go to my room to rest until our guests arrive.”
Don Sebastián opened one eye and then the other to gaze at his daughter. Her eyes still carried a sadness about them, despite having played one of her favorite pieces. Would nothing bring a smile back to her eyes? He rose from his favorite chair by the fireplace and joined his daughter at the piano. “Remember my daughter, they are Norteamericanos, ranchers from Nevada, coming to buy cattle from us. They are only here for three days and will not be interested in visiting with us.”
“Oh Papá. You know as well as I that you will be entertaining them with formal dinners, and you will expect me to demonstrate my talents at the piano.” Juliana rose to put her arms lovingly around her father. “I know that entertaining these gentlemen is as much a part of the negotiations for the cattle as is agreeing to a price.”
Don Sebastián pulled away from Juliana’s embrace, giving her a slightly stern look. “You know too much about your father’s business, and I can only surmise that you have learned it all from your wayward brother.”
Juliana wandered over to the mantel and began fingering the family portraits displayed there. “Manolito is not “wayward” as you say. He just likes to try different ways of living, and yes he has taught me quite a few things about negotiating.” She turned to give him a warm smile before heading upstairs to her room.
Don Sebastián hung his head, but still smiled after his youngest daughter left the parlor. No matter the level of her feelings, he knew that the mention of her brother would bring a smile to her beautiful face. “Yes, my little one, I am afraid Mano has taught you much more than I would have approved of.”
Releasing a long sigh, the Patron of Rancho Montoya headed to his office, wishing to have his papers in order when the Cartwrights arrived, and to await the return of his son from gathering the cattle for the buyers to peruse.
Once in her room, Juliana could not pull the pins from her dark hair quickly enough, allowing the long waves to cascade freely down her back. Freeing her feet from her shoes she settled on her bed to rest. After a few minutes, realizing sleep would be futile, she left her bed and wandered over to her balcony off the front corner of the house to enjoy the soft afternoon breeze and stare off toward the distant mountains. Her thoughts ran in so many directions lately she could scarcely contain them. Grief still flowed freely through her heart but her mind ached for freedom to go where she wanted, dress how she wanted, to move on with her life. She was also intrigued by the American ranchers coming so far to buy a few head of cattle from her father. Who were these men that they would do that? Manolito had told her they were wealthy ranchers and that a friend of the Montoyas had recommended their cattle.
Over the last couple of months, there had been few guests to the hacienda and even her sister, Victoria, had not been able to visit as she had planned. Instead she chose to accompany her husband, John Cannon, on a horse-buying trip to Yuma. Desperate for social interaction, Juliana was determined not to be shut out of the activities over the next few days. She also decided she would go to visit Victoria outside Tucson, as soon as the American ranchers were gone. With her thoughts settling down, Juliana stretched out on the chaise and dozed peacefully on the balcony.
Following the trail out of the hills toward the ranch Hoss spied a wall surrounding the house and outbuildings. He slowed his horse to let the others catch up. “Anybody else feel like we’re bein’ watched?”
“Yeah, ever since we came down the hill. Guess we follow that wall around till we find a gate.”
“They sure got a fortress set up here, don’t they Adam?”
Adam nodded once and gave a stern look to each brother. He wanted to keep the conversation to a minimum in case the walls had ears.
When the Cartwrights reached the gate, a guard stepped forward, his rifle held securely in his hands but pointed toward the ground. Two more guards were seen just beyond the threshold. All three were heavily armed with their rifles, two pistols and a bandolier across their chests. The first guard waited for one of the strangers to speak.
Keeping his hands visible and trying not to shift in his saddle Adam spoke to the man in Spanish. “We are the Cartwrights from Nevada. We are here to meet with Don Sebastián Montoya.”
The guard slowly walked forward to inspect the men and their pack horse. Returning to his post, he gave a command and the gates were opened.
Adam led the way through the gate and began the climb up the road to the main courtyard. Seeing a hitching post near the house he stopped his horse there. Joe and Hoss came alongside. There were numerous workers about who observed the strangers with cautious curiosity then returned to their duties. Adam dismounted as an older man approached the Cartwrights from the house. He was dressed in a white shirt and pants with a red neckerchief tied around his neck and a red sash around his waist. Bowing his head slightly, he welcomed them and asked them to follow him into the house.
Joe and Hoss dismounted and all three collected their personal gear. They watched for a moment as their horses were led to the barn. Turning back to the house they headed inside.
Fascinated by the architecture Adam quickly studied the front of the home before entering. His roving eyes caught a movement in a balcony above but when he looked again, nothing was there. Shrugging to himself, he followed his brothers inside. Adam couldn’t help but smile as he heard their quiet exclamations concerning the richness of the home’s design and decor.
Voices from the guards at the front gate drifting on the warm breeze, and the sound of horses entering the yard disturbed Juliana’s slumber. Rising slowly, she leaned on the iron rail and gazed down the long facade toward the front door. Three riders walked their horses to the rail. They sat for a moment exchanging looks until one dismounted. He was greeted by Miguel, who oversaw the house staff. Juliana was mesmerized by the men. Though dressed in casual clothing and dusty from days on the trail, their demeanor spoke differently. They were cautious and reserved. There was also a sense of culture about them. The one who had dismounted first was obviously in charge; the other two followed his lead. Relinquishing the care of their horses to the stable boys, they retrieved their bags and followed Miguel into the house. She had just disappeared from the balcony when one of the men looked that way.
Juliana rushed into her room and reached for a ribbon. Swiftly tying her hair back, she headed down the hall in her stocking feet to a balcony overlooking the entrance hall. There was one spot that had always been favored by the young Montoya children whenever their parents entertained and now Juliana settled there to further observe the visitors. The three men were alone in the foyer since Miguel had gone to inform Don Sebastián of their arrival. They were looking all around at the paintings, furniture and intricately carved woodwork. Juliana eyes were drawn to the dark-headed one. While the other two roamed around the space, he stood quietly near the front door, leaning to one side and exploring the room with his eyes. When her father arrived the dark one stood straight and introduced himself then the other two men with him. She found his Spanish to be quite good, and, to her surprise, she learned they were all brothers. As her father indicated for Miguel to escort them to their rooms, Juliana slipped back to hers. She returned to the balcony, many new thoughts about these men now occupying her mind.
Upstairs each brother found their rooms to be just as luxurious as the downstairs. Over the next two hours the brothers bathed, rested, and talked. Their formal clothes had been taken by one of the servants to be pressed before dinner. Now dressed for dinner they gathered in Adam’s room to await Miguel who would escort them to the dining room. Joe paced the large room stopping now and then to glance out the window.
“I never expected anything like this. And that Señor Montoya makes me kind of nervous.”
Hoss sat by the desk fiddling with a pen he found. “I’m beginnin’ ta think those cattle we’ll see are gonna be somethin’ else too. Adam you think we’ll be able to get a reasonable price for them, I mean as fancy as this house is an’ all?”
“Listen you two. This is no different from anything we’ve seen in San Francisco or from the Ponderosa for that matter. Keep your heads about you and remember you’re Cartwrights. We’re here to buy cattle and get a good price for them. Be prepared that anything else we encounter will no doubt be part of the negotiation process. You remember what Señor Fuentes said? Señor Montoya is a shrewd negotiator. Well we can be too. So keep your eyes and ears open. Got it?”
“Sure Adam. Say I wonder what they’ll have for dinner tonight.”
“I’m sure it will be quite lavish. Just mind your manners.”
“Oh Adam, you don’t need ta worry ‘bout that.”
“Yeah, Adam, we’ll be so well-mannered even Pa would be proud.”
Joe and Hoss shared a wink and grin, while Adam shuddered, trying hard, and failing, not to chuckle.
At that moment someone knocked on the bedroom door. Joe opened it and was greeted by Miguel. The brothers left the room and followed Miguel downstairs to the dining room. There he served the guests wine, then left them alone. After studying the opulent table set with crystal, silver and porcelain, the brothers sipped the wine and shared looks that said they all agreed it was going to be a very interesting three days.
“Señorita, your father will be displeased if you are not dressed appropriately for dinner. Por favor, do not make him angry this evening, I beg you,” the servant pleaded as she held a black silk dress in her arms.
“Consuelo, I assure you my father will not notice what I wear to dinner as his focus will be on our guests, and I am quite sure he will not want me to draw their attention either. I will dress appropriately but it will not be in that black dress. I am tired of black. I will wear my white lace blouse and my black skirt. And no, I will not wear the black mantilla. I have chosen the white one belonging to my mother. Now please assist me to dress. Manolito will be waiting to escort me to dinner.”
Consuelo sighed and helped the young lady to dress. She had been looking after Juliana since the young woman was a child. She could be quite temperamental, yet she was also the darling of her father’s eye, especially since the death of her mother several years ago.
Manolito awaited his sister at the top of the stairs. Upon her arrival, he smiled and placed her hand in the crook of his arm. “You look ravishing this evening my sister.”
Juliana blushed at the compliment. “And you are quite handsome my brother.”
Manolito always looked after her and never missed an opportunity to brighten her day. As the pair neared the dining room, she saw her father and one of the visitors conversing near the elaborately set table. Mano stopped near Don Sebastián catching his eye.
“Ah, here you two are.” He eyed Mano for a moment before kissing Juliana on the cheek Turning toward his guests, “Gentlemen, allow me to present my son, Manolito and my daughter, Juliana.” He then indicated the three handsome and formally dressed men standing in front of them. “Señores Adam, Joseph and Hoss Cartwright, from Virginia City, Nevada.” The men tipped their heads in acknowledgement as Don Sebastián invited everyone to join him at the table. Don Sebastián sat at the head and Manolito took the seat at the other end. Juliana sat to her father’s right with Joe beside her. Adam and Hoss took their seats on the left. As dinner progressed, conversation flowed around the comparisons of the two ranches, the stark beauty of Sonora, and a bit of information about the brothers.
After dinner, everyone retired to the parlor for more wine and more conversation. After a bit of cajoling from her father Juliana played the piano for their guests, then joined her father and Adam in conversation about Spanish music and poetry. Manolito found much to discuss with Joe and Hoss over the differences of their cattle and horse operations. As the Montoyas and Cartwrights enjoyed fine wine and conversation, Don Sebastián quietly moved to a corner of the room so he could observe everyone more casually. What he saw pleased him greatly. Manolito and Juliana were playing the perfect hosts. The Cartwright brothers were relaxed and enjoying themselves. Don Sebastián believed this relaxing evening would lead to excellent business negotiations over the next few days. Hearing the hall clock chime, he suggested that perhaps with the busy days ahead it might be best for everyone to turn in so to be well rested in the morning. Everyone agreed and the Cartwright brothers thanked their host for a most enjoyable evening. They bid good night and climbed the staircase to their rooms. Mano and Juliana followed, leaving Don Sebastián alone. After reflecting on the evening and what he had learned about his guests, he too retired to his room, a full business plan laid out in his head. He was sure the next two days would prove interesting for all involved.
As the morning sun crept across the terracotta floor toward the now-empty breakfast table, Juliana paused a moment before crossing the empty room. She brushed her hand across the lace tablecloth, straightened her father’s chair, then turned to gaze out the window toward the distant mountains. It was too quiet in the house and she felt it closing in on her. The azure sky, silver mountains and colorful wildflowers of the fields called to her spirit. In spite of promising her father to stay at home, she simply could not. Having made her decision, Juliana headed to her room to change into her riding clothes.
A short while later Juliana left the hacienda, with determined steps, and headed to the stables. Her heart did a little jump upon seeing her horse. He always lifted his head whenever she entered the stable, recognizing the rhythm of her steps. After an affectionate greeting, Juliana lead him out and saddled him. Leaving the stable, they walked together to the edge of the yard and she mounted up. Juliana tightened her legs around the animal and shifted her weight forward in the saddle. The large horse leapt toward the open space of the ranch with speed and grace.
Riding through the pastures gave Juliana great pleasure and a sense of freedom she felt nowhere else. Soledad, a palomino Andalusian, was a gift from her father on her 15th birthday. His name reflected the solitude she enjoyed when riding him. She and her mount were one with each other and with the open spaces of the ranch.
Reining the powerful horse to a walk, the pair headed to a cluster of trees near the herd where her father and brother were. There she dismounted and rubbed the cream colored neck of her mount. The horse nickered and shook his head sending the long mane flowing through the air.
“Rest here my friend while I look around.”
The great horse happily nibbled at the wild grass in the shade while Juliana worked her way closer to where she could watch the men around the cattle.
Manolito had gathered about thirty head of their prime stock and brought them closer to the ranch. The bull that was offered was in a pen nearby. Arriving at the site, the Cartwright brothers quickly exchanged looks, each one pleased with what they saw so far. As they rode around the herd and observed each one there, Don Sebastián pulled his son aside.
“These are the cattle I requested you to gather?”
Mano held his father’s dark gaze. “These are the correct cattle, Papá, and they are from the herd you chose. I see nothing wrong with them. And if you notice, the Señores are also pleased with them.” A bit of amusement played around Manolito’s eyes at his father’s irritation.
“But these are some of our best cows. We cannot sell these.”
“Ah, but Papá, we have plenty more in the larger herd. You did ask me to make the choices. And I chose the best so that the Montoya name will remain a respected name in the business. Is that not what you wish too, Papá?”
Don Sebastián scoffed at this son. “Of course I do. But apparently you and I see different ways to achieve that goal.”
“Sí, Papá, apparently we do.” Mano nudged his horse forward to join their guests to see if the cattle met their expectations.
After answering their questions, he turned around to signal his father. That was when he noticed they had company. He swore under his breath as he turned his horse, “Aye-aye-aye, chica!” As his father approached, Mano had a suggestion, “Papá, Señor Hoss has asked to see our other herds. He is interested in how we manage to raise cattle in this arid climate.”
Mano watched his father eagerly accept the request and turned to invite the brothers to follow him. He called back to his son, “Mano you will join us after you have secured this herd.” It was not a question.
“Sí, Papá,” he called. His father didn’t hear the last part, “after everything is secured.” He ignored the cattle and rode straight toward his sister after making sure his father was well away.
Juliana knew she had been seen and was prepared for her brother’s chastisement.
“Little sister, what are you doing here?”
“I had to get out of the house, Mano. It is such a beautiful day for a ride, would you not agree?”
Mano scoffed at his sister’s attempt at diversion. “You would not think so if Papá had seen you. You need to go back to the house and wait for us there.”
Juliana’s chin jutted out and her warm brown eyes turned dark. “I will not!” She marched over to her horse and mounted up. “I am interested in observing our guests as they choose their cattle. I am also sick of being shut away from life, Mano.” Before Mano could react, she was gone, her horse racing after her father and the Cartwrights. Mano told the vaqueros to move the herd to a smaller pasture, then he took off after his stubborn sister. Once he caught up to her he found he couldn’t remain angry with her and if her father had anything to say about her presence he would end up defending her. She was one who needed her freedom much as he needed his. This he understood and new their father did too, although he did not like to admit it.
As expected Don Sebastián was not pleased in the least to see his daughter but he would not say anything in front of their guests. He acknowledged her with a forced smile and a dark glare when she arrived then proceeded to ignore her as he spoke to their guests about the cattle. Juliana was not deterred. She rode behind the group with her brother, both remaining silent.
Nearing the large herd, Mano instructed Juliana to remain away from the cattle, then he rode forward to join in the conversation with the Cartwrights. Juliana held her position and watched in fascination as her brother and the Cartwrights maneuvered their horses around and through the cattle. To her it looked like an orchestrated ballet the way the horses smoothly turned from one direction to another as the cattle shifted in waves to get out of the way. Lost in her observations she did not see a half dozen steers straying her way. Soledad, not used to cattle, became nervous and began to prance around. Now focused on her agitated mount, she attempted to turn him away from the steers but the horse reared instead nearly unseating her.
As Adam turned Sport around to study some nearby cattle he saw the stray cattle leave the herd and head straight for Juliana. Sensing a shift of Adam’s body Sport leapt into action racing around the edge of the herd toward the strays. Mano caught the sudden movement and followed but he wasn’t close enough to be of much help with the cattle so he headed toward Juliana.
While Juliana fought to control her horse, Adam slowed Sport and carefully maneuvered him between the strays and Juliana. Adam guided Sport one direction then another to turn the steers back toward the herd while he glanced over his shoulder to see if Juliana was alright. He saw Mano ride up and take control of the reins of her horse and lead them to a safer distance. As soon as he was sure the strays were heading back to the herd, Adam rode over to Juliana and Manolito.
“Are you alright, Señorita?”
Juliana sipped some of her water then turned toward Adam. “Sí. Gracias, Señor Adam. My horse is not accustomed to the cattle and became frightened.”
“Yes, Adam, thank you for stopping the strays. My sister and I are in your debt.”
A smile graced Adam’s sweaty face, “No need. I’m just glad you weren’t injured.”
As Adam also reached for his canteen Joe, Hoss and Don Sebastián rode up. Everything was explained and Adam received some pats on his back from his brothers and a handshake of gratitude from Don Sebastián. Juliana received a frown from her father but his eyes betrayed his relief that she was uninjured. Everyone agreed it was a good time to head back to the house for the midday meal.
On the way back to the hacienda, Mano was called to join his father which left Juliana alone. Adam dropped back to ride alongside her.
“You have a beautiful horse. Is he Andalusian?”
“Sí, Señor. He was a gift from my father several years ago.”
They rode in silence for a short time before Juliana found her nerve to speak again, “Your horse was most impressive back at the herd. I watched as you and your brothers worked through the cattle.”
“Our horses are cattle horses. They are trained to work around cattle, almost to the point that we as riders don’t have to do much unless the cattle become agitated.”
“I am afraid Soledad is not trained in such a way. He is a riding horse only. He has not been around our cattle. That is what set him off.”
“Soledad. If you don’t mind my saying, that seems an unusual name for such a magnificent animal.”
“Sí, I suppose it is. He brings me solitude when we ride together. My father gave him to me as a yearling for my fifteenth birthday which was just after my mother died. I spent a lot of time on my own. My sister, Victoria, had her suitors and Mano, well, he had his interests away from the rancho.” She glanced at Adam and realized he was listening intently to her words. “I am sorry Señor, I did not mean to say so much.”
“I don’t mind. I’d like to hear more about your family.”
When he looked at her Adam noticed a slight sadness around Juliana’s beautiful eyes. Despite seeing her radiant smiles many times he noticed there was always a sadness. He wondered if something must have happened in her life, and recently.
Juliana was looking straight ahead as she spoke in a soft voice, “You are studying me Señor.”
Adam was caught off guard by her boldness. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was thinking that you have a lovely smile yet there is a sadness behind it.” He let his thoughts trail off not knowing what else to say.
“You are perceptive.” She faced him now but there was no judgement in her eyes. “You would not want to hear that story, Señor. It does not make for good conversation.”
Adam reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Then why don’t you tell me something that does make for good conversation. Tell me about you and Manolito. You two seem to be very close.”
Juliana pulled her hand away from Adam’s and shifted in her saddle.“Very well, señ…”
Adam held up his hand. “But first, would you call me Adam? Señor Cartwright sounds like you’re addressing my father.”
A charming giggle escaped, “Very well, and you may call me Juliana. You are correct, Adam, that Manolito and I are close. We are twins. I suppose that is why he acts as my protector. We also enjoyed doing so many things together as we grew up. Our more serious older sister Victoria watched over both of us and tried to keep us out of mischief. When we reached our teen years our mother died. That was when Mano began teaching me how to ride. He and I would go on long rides together and watch the men with the cattle and the horses. He secretly taught me about the business of the ranch and the negotiations our father conducted. Our father knew none of this and Victoria chided us for doing all of this behind his back. She didn’t want to learn any of those things as she had taken our mother’s place as lady of the house.” Juliana paused, suddenly feeling embarrassed. “Forgive me, I did not mean to say so much.”
“It’s alright.” Adam winked conspiratorially, “I promise to keep your secret.”
“Oh it is not a secret any longer. Papá knows but he still is not pleased about it. Now that Victoria is married, I am the lady of the house and Papá expects me to entertain guests, oversee the servants and…. not ride my horse all over the ranch.”
“You make a very pretty lady of the house.”
Juliana turned her head to hide her blush then smoothly changed the subject. “Gracias, Señor Adam. Por favor, tell me about your brothers. You are all different and I think you have different interests, yes?”
“Oh yes, we are quite different but that doesn’t mean we don’t get along, most of the time.” As they rode closer to the ranch house, Adam told Juliana about their different mothers, their different interests in the ranch and how close they were despite all of that.
As they entered the yard several men stood ready to take the horses as the riders dismounted. Adam dismounted quickly then turned to give assistance to Juliana. “I enjoyed our talk on the way back. Perhaps we can talk another time. And I am glad that you weren’t hurt earlier.”
“Gracias Señor.” Adam noticed she had switched back to addressing him formally but figured that was because they were no longer alone. Inside the house Juliana excused herself and climbed the stairs to her room. She chanced a glance over the balcony and saw Adam surrounded by his brothers before they too headed upstairs to their rooms.
As Juliana closed her bedroom door she acknowledged a warmth within her that had not been present for a long time. But too quickly a sadness came over her. She knew that after lunch the men would be busy with negotiations. She hoped the Americans would get a good price for the cattle but also wished they would stay longer. As it was they would be leaving in two days. She had overheard her father offer to show them around the ranch the next day and she planned to join them. She wanted more time to get to know each of the brothers. She found them intriguing as they were different not only in appearance and personality but in culture as well. Taking a deep breath to clear her mind, Juliana changed her clothes headed back downstairs.
Lunch was served on the veranda and conversation was light. Don Sebastián shared how he had built the Rancho Montoya from scratch into the empire it had become. The Cartwrights shared a similar story of their ranch and Juliana listened with great interest as Adam shared about some of his childhood experiences traveling across the country.
When lunch was finished the Cartwrights followed Don Sebastián into his office. Mano did not immediately go in with the others. He turned to watch his sister, aware that she seemed too quiet.
“Juliana, what troubles you?”
Juliana smile and dropped her head. “I am not troubled, as you think, but I only wish our guests could stay longer.” She raised her head and Mano saw a look of desperation in her face.
Putting his arm around her he drew her close. “These months have been difficult for you. This I know. But what is it you want from these gringos? Why do you think they can offer something Papá and I cannot?”
“Mano, I am torn between tradition and my desire to do as I wish. It has been six months that I have been in mourning, but Papá thinks I should follow the tradition of a year. If I do I feel I shall wither and die. I need to see people, I want to travel. You most of all should understand this. But you have that freedom. You can work with John Cannon, you can leave whenever you wish but I,” she pulled away from her brother’s embrace, “I am stuck here. I wait for someone to visit or for someone to be available to escort me to the High Chaparral to visit my sister. I am trapped here, and, right now, trapped in my grief.”
Mano stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her from behind and rested his head against hers. “Ah, my sister, I do understand your grief. And you and I have always been bound together, since our birth. But I fear I have allowed my restlessness to affect you. After I assist the Cartwrights in getting their cattle to Tucson, you and I will spend some time together, even go to see Victoria, since she will not come here. How does that sound to you?”
After a few seconds of silence Juliana twisted around and looked at Mano with renewed enthusiasm. Her next words were not what Manolito expected to hear. “When will you ride to Tucson? In two days? I will go with you. That way I can spend more time with our guests and I can visit with Victoria.” She pulled his face close and kissed his cheek. “Oh Mano, es perfecto! I must go and prepare. I will speak to Papá tonight.” She nearly ran out of the room but stopped at the doorway, turning back. “What a wonderful idea you have. Thank you, my brother.” And she was gone.
Mano ran his hand through his hair, rolled his eyes heavenward and grinned. “Aye-aye-aye, little sister.” He knew this night there would be fireworks between her and their father and he would have to find a way to make it all work. For now he had other concerns. He headed toward his father’s office and slipped silently inside to listen to the negotiations. After a few moments of observation, he learned he would be a casual observer. Adam and Don Sebastián were speaking intensely but progress was being made. By the end of the afternoon, hands were being shaken and brandy shared. The brothers left satisfied with the results and Don Sebastián collapsed into his chair.
“Papá, you look exhausted. You should be pleased. You are receiving an excellent price for the cattle, with a promise for more to be bought if these work out for the Cartwrights.”
“Oh, I am very pleased but Señor Adam is the toughest negotiator I have ever come across. He is almost as clever as I am.”
Mano let out a loud laugh. “Oh Papá, I think perhaps he is definitely as shrewd as you are. I believe you have met your match.”
Don Sebastián glared at his son but couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Perhaps so, Manolito. Perhaps so.” He stood and together father and son left the office. Mano enjoyed seeing his father so challenged but he felt a bigger challenge was coming when Juliana would make her request to him after dinner. That was moment he did not look forward to.
After dinner that evening, Don Sebastián excused himself to work on the contract he and the Cartwrights had agreed to that afternoon. Adam felt he’d gotten an excellent price for the cattle and was looking forward to heading home soon. At the back of the house was a veranda and Adam was drawn to it by the cool breeze entering through the opened doors. Hoss and Joe had settled down to a game of chess and conversation with Mano. Juliana saw her chance to speak to her father and Mano watched with some trepidation as his sister enter the office. He remained where he was as an observer of the chess game but was prepared to go to the aid of his sister if necessary.
Outside, Adam took a few minutes to study the stars and enjoy the animal sounds that drifted in on the breeze. Noticing several chairs against the wall of the house, he took one and settled into the shadows to enjoy the quiet evening as the last rosy rays of a Sonoran sunset faded to indigo and black.
He was hoping the peaceful evening and fresh air would calm his thoughts. It felt good to have the cattle purchased and be able to enjoy the next day touring the ranch. It amused him that Don Sebastián was a powerful and shrewd negotiator, much like Señor Fuentes had said. Although the negotiations were challenging, Adam enjoyed matching wits with the powerful land owner. Adam’s thoughts drifted to the rest of the family and he found was enjoying his time with them. Mano was an intriguing fellow and Adam wasn’t sure he’d be able to figure him out anytime soon. He found his thoughts centered on Juliana more and more. What caught his attention he could not fathom. She seemed to be much like her brother – independent, willful but also restless, a restlessness he felt he could understand, yet it seemed different. Adam shook his head, stretched out his legs and closed his eyes. As his mind began to clear he felt a twinge of regret that he and his brothers would have to leave so soon. In many ways his soul felt rested in this place and he was reluctant to leave just yet but he was looking forward to getting back home. Fatigue catching up to him he decided to do his best now to focus on the quiet of the night.
Inside, not all was as peaceful since there were now three Montoyas loudly discussing Juliana’s plans in Don Sebastián’s office. Suddenly all went silent and the door opened.
Light footfalls on the floor alerted Adam to someone’s approach. Soon he saw Juliana rush across the veranda and step into the yard. She drew her shawl around her shoulders as if to ward off something other than the chilled air. Adam didn’t wish to intrude on her privacy and finding no way to leave without startling her he remained where he was in the shadows.
He watched as she rubbed her arms, looked skyward, then lowered her head. In the soft lights from the house Adam could see her shoulders shaking as if she were crying. Adam shuffled his feet in an attempt to let her know he was behind her. It worked. Juliana turned just as he rose from the chair and his face was lit by the light from the lantern near the porch.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to intrude or startle you.”
She tried to smile but her heart wasn’t in it. “It is alright. If you will excuse me.” As she stepped past him he spoke quietly, his voice gentle.
“Juliana is something wrong? Is there something I can do?”
Adam couldn’t see her face but had seen the signs before. She was clearly upset and shaking. “Perhaps you would like to sit for a while?” He lightly touched her elbow and guided her to the chair he had vacated moments before.
Once seated, Juliana fumbled with the edges of her shawl, afraid to look up and let this man see her troubled face. His closeness spoke volumes to her. He sat back in the chair next to her, his arms on the armrests but she could feel his sleeve brushing against her arm. He had been kind to her several times and now seemed genuinely concerned for her. Taking a shuddering breath to calm herself she lifted her head and stared out into the darkness.
“The night is so peaceful. Yet it seems impossible for the peace to fill more than just the night.” She turned toward Adam. “How far have you traveled from your home Señor Adam?”
Adam looked at the young woman beside him and for the first time realized just how beautiful she was. Her voice matched that beauty as she spoke in a lilting rhythm. “I’ve traveled to many places – San Francisco, Boston, and many small towns on our cattle drives.”
She looked away then stood and moved to the railing. “I have been to Spain and to Tucson. My sister’s husband owns a ranch near there. But that is all. A few months ago I would have gone to Mexico City but….” Her shoulders began to shake causing her to lean heavily on the railing for support. Adam was by her side in an instant. He stood tall beside her, his hands resting lightly on the rail. His voice was just above a whisper.
“It’s not always easy to talk about something that has affected one so deeply. If you would like to share it with me I will listen.”
“You are most generous, but it is not a happy story.”
“I have experienced a few of those myself. Sometimes sharing a sad story can help to ease the pain of it.”
Juliana turned her head and saw he was studying her. His eyes, though roaming over her face, held compassion, and did she see a touch of sorrow? “Have you lost someone you felt was your life, your soul, Adam?”
“I have lost many who were very close to me but if it’s a spouse you are asking about, no.”
Juliana’s fingers gripped the rail until her knuckles turned white. She had not spoken to anyone outside her family about her grief, but this man brought a sense of trust and caring to her. She forged ahead, actually eager to tell her story to someone for the first time in months.
“A year ago, I was betrothed to a rancher’s son. Alejandro Rodriguez and his two sons, José and Diego, had been friends with our family for years. Their ranch borders ours to the south. It had been decided that a marriage between Diego and myself would be beneficial to both families and ranches. I had known Diego for many years and quickly agreed when my father told me of the arrangement. José had been married for a few years and moved to California.”
Juliana paused to get her feelings under control.
“Would you like to sit down, or go for a walk while you talk?”
Shaking her head at his offer she continued, “Six months ago a fever spread through several villages. Diego and his father became sick.” Adam noticed how tightly she gripped the railing and her voice became so quiet he could barely hear her. “The illness showed no mercy. Many died including Diego and his father. That was only a few days before we were to be married.”
She could no longer contain her sorrow. It was too much to feel the pain again, to relive the loss of Diego’s love. Adam saw her shoulders shake with deep sobs and put his arms around her to keep her from collapsing. Feeling strong but gentle arms holding her up, Juliana turned into him and released all the emotions that had been buried for months. Adam held her until she became quiet.
Once the worst was over, Adam guided her to the chairs again and offered her his handkerchief.
“Gracias. Please forgive me. I should not have…”
“Juliana, look at me, please.”
Juliana turned toward his gentle voice.
“You’ve no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. You have suffered a great sorrow and the pain is obviously still fresh. I’m glad you told me what happened. A loss like that is too much to bare alone.”
Juliana could not trust her voice but her smile showed her gratitude. Adam’s lips curled up enough to bring out his dimples.
“That’s the smile I thought you might have hidden.” She still looked shaky so Adam asked if he could put his arm around her.
Juliana smiled again. “Gracias, Adam but I believe I should go inside. It is late and might not be good if my father saw us out here like this.”
Adam stood when she did. “You are right of course. You’re feeling better?”
“Sí. Thank you for…listening. Buenas noches, Adam.”
“Good night, Juliana.”
Adam watched after her until she turned to go upstairs. His hand went instinctively to the back of his neck as he pivoted on his heel to face the darkness. He had a lot to ponder before going to bed himself.
As soon as Juliana reached the top of the stairs, the door to Don Sebastián’s office opened up and father and son stepped out. Their expressions were serious but contained no animosity.
“You drive a hard bargain my son. I suppose I should be grateful for the way you look out for your sister. I am only concerned about her safety and it being proper for her to travel in such a way as a horse or a wagon. Not to mention all the men around her. I only wish she would wait another week and I would be able to travel with her to the High Chaparral.”
“Sí Papá, Juliana knows that would be best but she has a restlessness that cannot be satisfied to wait. I promise I will look after her on this trip. I know our vaqueros will be watchful for her safety and I trust the Americanos as well. Por favor, do not be so concerned. She will be in good hands and I will be by her side the entire trip.”
“I know Mano, but do not forget it is my place to worry about my daughter. You on the other hand I have given up worrying about. It became too stressful for this old man.”
“Oh Papá, you do not fool me for a moment. I will see to our guests now. I feel we have been too neglectful of them this evening.”
“You are correct, my son. Let us spend a pleasant evening together with them. I will speak to Juliana tomorrow.”
The two men, more alike than either cared to admit, entered the front room in time to witness Joe’s win over Hoss at chess. For a while longer the four men enjoyed brandy and discussions about cattle and horses. Adam joined them after a while. While Joe was relating a story about a stallion they could not tame, Hoss acknowledged Adam with a nod and noticed his brother was more preoccupied than he appeared on the outside. He decided to watch him and see if something had changed. For the moment he settled back and joined in on the story, enjoying this time with their hosts.
Well after midnight, when most in the household were sleeping, two were just drifting off. One had felt a great weight had been lifted and could see the beginnings of hope creep in. The other was wondering if life was taking a new direction. Both drifted into peaceful slumber, something not felt for a long time.
Up before dawn, Adam stood on the balcony outside his room. He and his brothers would be on their way home today. He was dressed, his bags were packed, but it was too soon to head downstairs for breakfast. Needing some time to think, he leaned on the railing watching the first light of morning break over the Sonoran mountains. The one thing Adam could not get used to was the colors of a desert sunrise. They were more vibrant, more alive than any he’d witnessed back home. It wasn’t just the shades of the sky but of the landscape as well – the sand, the mountains, even the cacti and trees took on unusual colors as the sun rose up from the horizon. As he watched the Sonoran dawn brighten to daylight, Adam reflected on the events of the day before.
As promised Don Sebastián escorted his guests along with Manolito and Juliana to see the workings of the Rancho Montoya. He and his brothers found many things to be the same but they learned much of how to raise cattle in the desert, giving Hoss some ideas he could try in the more arid parts of the Ponderosa. A smile crept across Adam’s face when he thought about Joe’s favorite part, the horses. Mano had pointed out a large herd of about sixty wild horses and Joe sat mesmerized by their beauty and strength. Adam and Hoss agreed they were some of the finest horses they had seen. Closer to the ranch the brothers watched for a while as some newly captured horses were being tamed. Adam knew it was so hard for Joe not to offer to buy some of the horses. He knew their father would not be pleased to see cattle and horses coming home, no matter how good the stock was. Adam knew, as well as Joe, that the price would be high for any Montoya horses. However Adam and Hoss agreed with Joe’s thoughts when they rode back to the house that maybe one day they could pursue that prospect.
The brothers never would have thought that their final evening meal with the Montoyas could have been more lavish than their first, but they were pleasantly proven wrong. Don Sebastián had gone out of his way to ensure the Cartwrights were treated with the best he had to offer and make sure they continued to have a thriving business relationship in the future. The evening, while quite formal, was also one of the most relaxing. By this point they all knew each other and conversation was relaxed and entertaining, much like it was at home.
Adam did notice, though, that whenever he and Juliana had a few moments alone, either her father or her brother appeared shortly thereafter. It seemed they wanted to make sure nothing serious developed between the two. Allowing his mind to focus on Juliana, he wondered if something was there. He enjoyed her company immensely, finding their conversations enlightening and stimulating. She was well educated, as he was, and they found they enjoyed comparing Spanish and English literature and poetry. Letting his thoughts flow freely he also acknowledged that he felt compassion for her loss of Diego, and felt he understood about being cheated out of that kind of love.
The sun had cleared the mountains and its bright rays on Adam’s face brought him back to the present. As Adam descended the stairs he closed off his personal thoughts and shifted to his checklists for getting underway as soon as possible. Entering the dining room, he was glad to see his brothers already there along with Manolito. He joined their conversation about the first part of the trip. Juliana appeared from the kitchen carrying a tray of food, followed by the cook with two pots of coffee. Adam immediately stepped toward Juliana offering to take the tray. The look the pair exchanged was not lost on anyone else in the room. If Hoss, Joe and Mano had any doubts about something romantic between Adam and Juliana, those doubts were erased immediately. The question in the brothers’ minds was if either of them knew it. Don Sebastián entered at that moment and everyone took their places at the table and settled into enjoying a full breakfast.
The first day of the trip to Tucson went smoothly. Mano and Joe rode point with Adam sharing flank with one of the Montoya vaqueros, the other two riding drag. Hoss, with Juliana sitting beside him, drove the wagon carrying their supplies and food for the three day trip. Around the camp that evening, each of the men rotated through night watch with the cattle. Hoss noticed Adam and Juliana found time to talk quietly while everyone else settled in for either sleep or night watch.
On the second day, Joe and Mano took turns driving the wagon. Juliana enjoyed this arrangement as it gave her time on the short trip to spend with the two Cartwright brothers, getting to know them, and with her own brother, as time with him had been rare in recent weeks. However, her time with Mano was not all she had hoped.
“Juliana, what will you do when it is time to part ways with the Cartwrights in Tucson?”
“What do you mean, Mano? You and I will go to the High Chaparral and Adam and his brothers will head home to Nevada.”
“Ah, little sister, if only it would be that easy. You do not fool me, but perhaps you are fooling yourself, sí?”
Juliana understood her brother exactly. She faced away from him, scanning the desert that surrounded them. Finally she responded to his question. Was it worry or defeat reflected in her voice?
“I know what you are asking, and I do not know the answer. Nothing has been said of the future. I only know that we enjoy each other’s company and he has become a good friend.”
Mano shifted the reins to his left hand so he could take one of her hands in his right one. “My sister, can you honestly tell me that you do not have stronger feelings for this man? Papá and I have seen the looks between you. Are you not aware of what is growing in your heart?”
Juliana pulled her hand away. She would have walked away as well if she had not been trapped riding in the wagon. But she knew now was the time to face the truth of what her brother said. “I am aware that there are feelings in my heart that have not been there since Diego. Adam has been able to help me understand my grief better than anyone, but it is as you say, Mano. I find I am attracted to him, and I believe he feels the same.”
Mano waited for more but when the silence continued he glanced at his sister. She had tears in her eyes as she looked ahead. Mano shifted his gaze and saw Adam riding at the front of the herd with Hoss.
Mano chose his next words carefully and spoke them with compassion. He loved his sister and wanted nothing more for her than her happiness. “Perhaps some answers will come tonight. I will be nearby when we arrive in Tucson tomorrow if you should need me. But I must say this as it is from our father. Perhaps it would be wise to consider the distance of the ranches before you let anything more develop between you and Señor Adam. Papá will not be so happy to see you move hundreds of miles away, and I know that Adam would not be happy here in Sonora, or even Arizona. It is not in his blood, like it is in ours.”
Juliana felt the sting of her brother’s words but knew that they were delivered with love. Nothing more would be said between them on the subject. They would be stopping soon for the evening and she knew it would be the last chance she and Adam would have to talk since they would arrive in Tucson the next day. The Cartwrights were to meet up with some of their drovers and the following day leave for Nevada. There would be no more time to talk about anything except cattle. Juliana needed to know if there could be more between her and Adam, and if so how they would work that out.
Up ahead, Hoss was trying to have a similar conversation with Adam but it was not being received as pleasantly.
“Listen Hoss, I don’t care what you and Joe think you see, it is just a friendship. That’s all.”
“Adam, I ain’t trying ta tell you what ta do, but tomorrow we’ll be in Tucson and the day after that we’ll be on our way home. That little gal has some feelings for ya and I think you have some for her. All I’m sayin’ is that you best be figurin’ it out before tomorrow.”
Hoss chanced a side glance at Adam and saw his brother’s jaw muscles working overtime. He knew he’d struck a chord with Adam so waited to see if his brother would reveal any secrets. The wait was not as long as he’d anticipated.
“You’re right Hoss. There’s something between us, I just don’t know if it’s strong enough to do something about. It started so innocently. She was hurting in her grief and needed someone to listen, just listen. After that, it became so easy for us to talk about anything, and I have to admit I like her fiery temper.” Adam dropped his head then raised it up, looking off to the side. “If only we had more time to figure it all out.”
Hoss felt Adam’s frustration and knew of his brother’s restlessness. He also knew Adam longed for a gal to love and feared if he didn’t find someone soon, it’d become another reason to leave home.
He kept those thoughts to himself and instead simply agreed with his brother. “Yeah Adam, I know.”
Adam knew there was so much more behind Hoss’ words. He knew Hoss had his back and would be there for him to face the inevitable, saying good-bye to Juliana. That thought brought a tightness in his chest he wished would go away. Taking a deep breath, he nudged Sport forward. He needed time to think. Hoss could handle leading the herd to the campsite about two hours away.
As the first stars appeared in the evening sky, Adam returned to camp from his watch over the cattle. He tipped his head to acknowledge Joe as they passed. After caring for his horse, he picked up a plate and filled it with rabbit stew, then poured a cup of coffee. He left Hoss and Mano to their game of checkers by the fire. The vaqueros were with the herd so that left Juliana. As Adam settled in an isolated spot near the horses and dug into his stew he wondered where she was. Since this was their last night on the trail before arriving in Tucson, thoughts of Juliana filled Adam’s mind. In the quiet of the camp they came unbidden. He’d had time to ponder his feelings for her as they drove the cattle and decided he wanted to get to know her better. He had feelings for her, feelings he’d not felt in a long time. Knowing the next day would be quite busy, he knew he had to find her tonight and determine if she felt the same. Sipping his coffee, watching the sky darken, and finding some familiar star patterns, Adam lost himself to his thoughts.
Juliana returned from the edge of camp. She had needed time alone to sort out the feelings that Adam had stirred within her. Having finished the game with Hoss, Mano gave Juliana a light kiss on her cheek then headed for his horse. Hoss stood and greeted her but she moved on when she noticed her brother look toward a figure in the shadows by the horses.
As she walked closer she paused to watch this man who had intrigued her since his arrival. He was staring up at the stars, a soulful expression gracing his eyes. No matter what chaos her thoughts were in they calmed immediately upon his presence. This moment was no different. Taking a step closer her foot pressed down upon a twig, causing it to snap. She gasped when Adam spun and drew his gun in one blurry movement. As soon as he recognized her he relaxed and returned his gun to its holster. He stepped toward her, a smile replacing his concerned look.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m glad to see you actually.”
Juliana returned his smile and stepped closer. Her heart continued to race but for another reason now since a gun was no longer pointed at her. “I did not mean to disturb you. You looked like you were lost in thought.”
Adam rubbed his neck. “I guess I was. Would you like to sit for a while?”
“Can we walk?”
“Sure.” Adam held out his arm and Juliana hooked hers around it. Together they began to walk the perimeter of the camp.
Stopping to lean against a scrubby tree, out of view from anyone in camp, Adam looked into Juliana’s eyes. Her expression mirrored his.
“It seems we need to talk but I don’t really know where to begin.” He reach for her hands and held them gently in his. That simple gesture sent feeling through him he wasn’t sure he could control. “Juliana, you have awakened something in me that has been asleep for a long time. I don’t know if I can even explain it. I think I have fallen in love with you.”
Juliana freed her hands and with one reached up to touch his cheek, but withdrew before making contact. She turned her back to him and gazed up at the twinkling stars. “I too have had feelings growing inside me.” She turned back him. “I have not felt like this since before Diego….died. Adam, I do not know what to do. You will be gone after tomorrow. My father and brother would not want me to be with someone who lives so far away, but, I do not know if I can say good-bye.” Juliana spun around and moved several steps away, as if the distance might weaken her feelings.
Adam took a deep breath and dropped his head. The torrent of emotions he’d seen in her eyes were swirling around in his heart. It had to be settled this night. But what was the answer? Stepping closer, he gently placed his hands on her shoulders, guiding her to face him. She shifted closer, her arms tentatively going around his waist. Drawing her into an embrace he relaxed as he felt her head rest against his chest. The howl of a coyote, and scurrying sounds from desert animals went unnoticed as two hearts beat together. After several moments, Adam shifted, placing two fingers under Juliana’s chin in order to tilt her face toward his. His hazel eyes darted between her chocolate eyes and her rosy lips. She moved closer, her eyes scanning his rugged face. Gently, slowly their lips touched. The kiss was brief but that was all that was needed to ignite their tempestuous feelings.
Taking her soft face into his hands, Adam kissed her again then breathed against her warm skin, “I love you.”
Juliana’s breath caught as she heard his words. Her heart raced with a joy she had yearned to again. This man gave her strength and confidence, life for her soul. Looking firmly into his desirous eyes, she responded in kind, “Te amo, mi amor.”
Across the camp, Joe had returned and was in deep conversation with Hoss. Joe had witnessed the kiss as he walked past them, unaware at first that the couple was there. He and Hoss now knew for sure their brother had given his heart to this young woman. Though they held deep concern that it could end badly the brothers agreed they would do all they could see that it didn’t.
An hour later, after much talking, Adam walked Juliana back to the wagon and helped her inside. They still had no answers but the hour was late and they needed their sleep.
“Adam, what will we do?” Her voice a mere whisper so as not to be overheard by others in the camp.
Adam brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. “Don’t worry, my love. Rest now and things will be clearer in the morning.” He caressed her cheek and gave her another kiss. “Sleep well.”
Juliana attempted a smile before disappearing behind the canvas cover.
Adam drifted over to his bedroll, and settled in for the night. Laying on his back with an arm behind his head, he whispered his final thought into the night air and to the one set of listening ears. “Go to sleep big brother. We’ll talk in the morning.”
With a humph, Hoss rolled over and soon his snoring filled the camp. Adam too rolled to his side. Knowing his brothers were looking out for him brought a brief smile. Closing his eyes, he tried to clear his mind so he could sleep. The next day would bring its own problems but he was determined to follow his plan, one that he was sure would help him and Juliana decide their future.
There’s a fundamental thought that the closer one is to the destination, the longer it takes to get there. The three Cartwright brothers were convinced this was true. Of course their slow start and the restlessness of the cattle did not help matters. When Hoss and Joe went to saddle the horses, Hoss discovered Chubb was lame. There was a cut on his fetlock just above the hoof. It wasn’t bad but it meant Hoss would be driving the wagon the entire way to Tucson instead of trading off with Adam, as they had planned. Adam was not pleased with the news, concern over Chubb’s injury foremost in his mind, but frustrated with a missed opportunity to have more time with Juliana.
Once they were underway the cattle became agitated. No one could ascertain why so chalked it up to the heat and the narrowness of the trail. On the last leg of the trip they had to travel through an arroyo and the cattle flat out refused to enter. Adam’s suggestion of putting the bull in the lead worked. He, Joe and Pablo, one of the vaqueros, led the way with the other riders and the supply wagon following behind.
Nearing the end of the arroyo, Joe remained at the head of the cattle while Adam and Pablo scouted ahead. They wanted to be familiar with the lay of the land before leading the cattle out of the arroyo. As the trail widened, Joe worked to stop the herd. Mano, realizing Joe was alone, rode up to assist.
“Que pasa, amigo? Where are Adam and Pablo?”
“They rode ahead to scout out the area before we bring the cattle through. But they should have been back by now.”
“Uno momento.” Mano turned his horse and rode to the back to get one of the other vaqueros to ride to the front and keep the cattle stationary. He also told Hoss the news.
“Dadgumit. What’s happened now?” He glanced toward Juliana noting her anxiousness at this turn of events.
“I do not know, compadre.” Mano returned to the front, stayed with the herd and watched as Joe headed around the bend and out of site.
Letting Cochise run to the end of the arroyo, Joe now reined him to a walk as they eased around the curve and into open territory. Joe drew his pistol, his senses on high alert for danger. Ahead of him was an expanse of desert, clusters of trees and a stream that would work for the parched animals and humans. Off in the distance he could just make out the edges of buildings. Tucson, he reasoned.
Cochise’s sudden nervous movements brought Joe’s attention back to the area just ahead of him. He tightened his grip on the reins, spoke quietly to calm his horse and pulled his hat lower to shade his eyes from the glaring sun. Through the ripples of heat he saw two riderless horses, one of them Sport. That’s why Cochise had become restless. The horse sensed his stablemate. Fear gripped Joe as he scanned the area. Seeing no one he nudged his anxious mount forward. Drawing closer he saw the bodies on the ground.
Leaping from Cochise Joe ran to Pablo first. Carefully rolling him over he found the broken shaft from an arrow protruding from his chest. Nothing more could be done for him. Joe nervously ran his hand over his sweaty face and scanned the area once again as he quickly he moved over to Adam. Joe’s breath caught. Adam was on his side with an arrow protruding from the upper leg he was lying on. Joe touched his arm lightly.
“Adam. Adam? Come on brother, talk to me.”
Adam groaned and started to roll to his back. Suddenly a cry escaped and he blindly grabbed for Joe’s arm.
“Adam, don’t move. You have an arrow in your leg.”
“I…know.” Adam squeezed his eyes tight against the pain and tried again to speak. “My arm…. Can’t move it.” He squeezed Joe’s arm tighter, doing his best to get through the pain.
Joe was confused for a moment then clarity settled in. “Adam, you mean the arm you’re lying on?”
His brother managed a barely perceptible nod.
“Alright. Listen, did you see anyone? Who attacked you?”
“No. Heard the arrow then Pablo fell. I tried to get away and….Sport spooked, reared up. Took one in the leg and fell.”
“You landed like this?”
“Yeah. Can’t move at all. Hand is numb.”
“Okay, let me check the area and I’ll get Hoss and Mano. They’re not far.”
Joe made sure the area was secured, tied off the horses and made sure they weren’t injured. After giving Adam some water he and making sure he could hold his gun, Joe rode back to the group. Juliana sat by Hoss, her anxious eyes scanning the trail ahead. When Joe rode up and told them about Adam Juliana gasped, her hand covering her mouth in shock. Hoss put an arm around her and reassured her that Adam would be alright.
In a quick discussion it was decided that Hoss and Juliana would follow Joe to help Adam. Mano and the vaqueros would move the cattle toward the water then send one of the men to Tucson for more help.
The shade of the makeshift lean-to under a small tree made a huge difference for Adam but the pain he was in still made him sweat profusely. Juliana sat beside him, encouraging him to sip water and giving what comfort she could. She was still in shock herself after seeing him so badly injured and learning of Pablo’s death. However, when Hoss and Joe worked against Adam’s wishes to move him to the shelter and put his dislocated shoulder back in place, it was more than she could handle. Mano, in an effort to get her away from the brothers, walked her toward the stream to get some fresh water. Once everyone was finally settled in the shade, Hoss explained that they had no choice if Adam wanted to keep the use of his arm. They also were able to remove the arrow head and shaft since it had not penetrated very deeply. They cleaned the wound with whiskey and bandaged it then gave Adam a fair amount to help with the pain.
Noticing Adam’s breathing had become more regular and he was finally resting, thanks to the whiskey from Hoss, Juliana closed her eyes to rest as well. Hoss sat in the shade of another tree keeping watch, his rifle lying ready in his lap. Mano and one of the hands searched the area but found no immediate threat. Up on a ridge above the arroyo, they did find a pile of crudely made arrows and single horse tracks heading toward Tucson. It appeared the attack was not by the Apache but a lone individual. Joe circled the herd as they drank and nibbled at what grasses were available, his rifle in his hand. The last Montoya ranch hand was dispatched to Tucson to get help and another wagon.
As a light warm breeze ruffled her hair, Juliana felt her breathing slow down and take on the rhythm of Adam’s shallow breaths. Her fingers gently smoothed his damp hair. The heat and shock of the attack had taken its toll, leaving her feeling drained. Finally feeling safe she drifted into a light sleep.
The sounds of horses and voices brought Juliana back to reality. Coming to her senses she first checked on Adam. His breathing was shallow but steady. He had stopped perspiring and his forehead felt cool to the touch. She carefully stood up and walked to where her brother stood, at the back of a wagon, speaking to several strange men. Hoss saw her and came over to answer her questions.
“Did ya get some good rest?”
“Sí, gracias. Adam is doing better and still resting.”
“That’s good. But he won’t be fer much longer. This here wagon is his ride to town. That man there is the Sheriff and he’s brought some men ta see if they can figure out who attacked Adam an’ Pablo. He thinks he might know who it could be.”
Juliana wrapped her arms around herself, trying to take in what Hoss was saying. Hoss noticed and gently pulled her into a hug.
“Don’t ya worry none. Ol’ Adam’s mighty tough. We’ll be very careful when we move him. Would ya like to ride in th’ back with him? Might make him feel better knowin’ you’re there.”
“Gracias, Hoss. I would like that. When will we be leaving?”
“Oh I expect in an hour or so. Why don’t ya get somethin’ ta eat while we get things ready.”
Juliana smiled at Hoss’ suggestion. She couldn’t get over how quickly she had been accepted by Adam’s brothers even though nothing had been decided between Adam and herself. She sat by the fire, pouring out some coffee and eating a biscuit. The activity around her became a blur as she sipped the coffee and watched Adam sleep. Her own anxious thoughts settled on just one, not wanting to be far from Adam.
The hour Hoss mentioned came and went. Joe and Hoss were very careful in getting Adam into the wagon. Juliana believed the amount of whiskey in him helped a great deal. By evening, they were settled in several rooms over a small cafe in Tucson. Now she sat by Adam’s bed, keeping watch while everyone else got something to eat and saw to the cattle. Mano made sure she had had a light meal before leaving.
Adam was sleeping well after his second ordeal, when the doctor applied stitches to his leg and rebandaged everything. Joe had made sure Adam took some Laudanum so he’d sleep through the night. Juliana was relieved to hear that the doctor expected Adam to have a full recovery, though it would be a few weeks before that would occur.
With the stress of the day wearing heavily on her, and the dark room so inviting, Juliana wanted to sleep but she had promised to watch Adam for the hour or so the others would be away. The chair was not comfortable and her body was crying for rest. Finally she gave in to the only solution she could see. An hour later, Joe tiptoed into the room, followed by Hoss and Mano. Smiles graced their faces as they gazed upon Juliana, sound asleep beside Adam on the bed. She was on top of the covers with an afghan pulled over her, while Adam was tucked in under the covers, in a deep healing sleep himself.
Backing out to the hall, Mano spoke first. “If it is alright with you two, I will sit in the room until she awakens. Go and get your sleep. I will get you if anything changes.”
Joe and Hoss nodded and headed to their room. Mano returned to Adam’s room and adjusted the cover over his sister. “Ah little sister, what am I to do with you? Sleep well.” He settled into the chair, rested his head on his fist and closed his eyes. It would be a peaceful night for all.
Hoss lumbered down the street, flipping an envelope against his hand. His spirits had lifted in the three days they had been in Tucson. The Sheriff had found the thirteen year old Mexican boy who had shot the arrows at Pablo and Adam. He was known for taking an old horse, a stray cow, or supplies in order to support his family, though no one did anything about it. No one had been hurt until now. The boy had overheard conversations among the gringo caballeros about some cattle coming from the south. He gathered his homemade arrows and rode out. There was only one main trail to the south so it didn’t take long to find the men and the cattle. Not very good at shooting the arrows he was terrified when one struck a vaquero in the chest and the other man was thrown from his horse. Fearful for what he had done he ran, swearing to himself never to try anything like that again.
When Manolito learned about it, he worked out an agreement with John Cannon and the Sheriff to allow the boy to live and work at the ranch for a short time. Eventually the family would be moved to Sonora and the boy would work for the Montoyas until Don Sebastián determined the boy’s debt had been paid. The boy would see his parents once a month and the parents would work on the Montoya ranch as well. After the debt was satisfied the family could chose to remain or leave.
Hoss was also pleased that Adam was now able to sit up in bed and eat. He was most grateful for Juliana’s help in taking care of Adam and keeping him company. Their time together began to cement the feelings they had for each other. Victoria had also come and invited the Cartwrights to stay at the High Chaparral while Adam recovered. The doctor had said it would be another week before he felt Adam could handle the ride home, in a well-padded wagon or carriage.
Now Hoss had his own decision to make. As soon as they arrived in Tucson, he’d sent a wire to the Ponderosa to inform their father of the attack and the delay in getting home. Now he had the response in his hand. He knew Adam and Juliana had been discussing their future but didn’t know what the decision would be. Hoss needed to get the cattle home. The Ponderosa drovers were there and ready to leave when Hoss gave the word. The problem was whether Adam would be coming with him and Joe.
Heading up to his brother’s room he heard laughter beyond the door. Stepping inside, he saw Joe and Adam with small glasses of whiskey. Joe shot from his chair to greet his brother. He handed his glass to Hoss then poured himself another one.
“Hey, big brother, you’re just in time for a small celebration.”
Totally puzzled, Hoss followed Joe’s gaze toward Adam. A grin, a wink and a raise of his glass was all Hoss needed from his brother.
“Well hot-diggity. You made a decision.”
“I have. Hoss, I’m going to ask Juliana to marry me. We still have many things to talk over, including a discussion with Don Sebastián, so I have to wait until I can speak to him.”
Hoss raised his glass. “Well here’s to you and Juliana. I’m right happy fer both of ya.”
The brothers laughed as glasses clinked and were emptied.
“What’s in your hand brother?”
“Oh yeah. Got a response from Pa.” Adam’s and Joe’s faces turned serious as Hoss pulled out the message and silently read through it.
“Oh, sorry. He’s says to take our time gettin’ Adam home but he is worried about the delay with the cattle.”
Silence filled the room.
Joe exchanged a look with Hoss then prodded Adam. “What are you thinking Adam?”
Adam shifted in the bed then cleared his throat. His brothers knew something more serious was coming. “Juliana and I discussed my staying here to give us more time to work everything out. I need to stay at least another week to have time to speak with Don Sebastián. He is supposed to be coming by the end of the week but Mano wasn’t completely sure of his schedule. If I do that then I’ll be recovered enough to head home in a week or so.”
Joe began to pace the small room. “Okay but the cattle can’t stay here that long.” Joe paused in his pacing. “Listen Adam, why don’t we send Hoss back with the cattle. I’ll stay here since you’re still going to need some help getting around and all. It will be easier too once we get to the High Chaparral. Plus when you’re ready to leave you won’t have to travel alone.”
Adam listened to all Joe had to say, then looked to Hoss to see if he agreed. A smile and nod was his answer.
Adam smiled too. “You know for a ‘little brother’ you’re pretty smart.”
“Hey! I expect better gratitude than that for being so brilliant.” Joe swatted at Adam’s good foot under the covers. Hoss’ heart swelled to see his brothers teasing each other. That’s when he knew everything was going to be just fine.
Two days later, Hoss, the drovers and the cattle were on their way to the Ponderosa. Adam and Joe had moved out to the High Chaparral. Adam was just able to get around by hobbling a few feet at a time, using a cane the doctor had given him.
During those days Adam rested by sitting in the living room reading or outside on the porch watching the men break horses. He and Juliana found several opportunities to talk and Adam became more convinced he had made the right decision about marrying her. He also had time to get to know Victoria and enjoyed her company as much as Juliana’s. Don Sebastián had raised two fine ladies he could be proud of.
One afternoon, Manolito came from the bunkhouse when a guard announced that a carriage was approaching. Mano waited by the porch for the carriage to stop in front of him. He stepped forward to greet his father.
“Greetings, Papá. I see you have finally decided to grace us with your presence.”
“Mano, is that a proper way to greet your father after a long dusty ride? Or to welcome a guest to the home of your sister?”
Mano stepped back when his father exited the carriage. “No Papá. Welcome. It is good to see you.” At that point a man came from behind the carriage, leading his horse.
“Hola, Manolito. I hope I too am welcome?”
Mano’s smile froze for a few seconds until he recovered and took the proffered hand of the gentleman. “Sí, claro. Of course you are welcome, José. I am just surprised to see you, that is all.”
“José surprised me as well, Mano, when he arrived at the Rancho only a few days ago.”
“I must apologize for arriving unannounced, Mano. But you see some things have changed in my life and I wished to discuss them with your father. He has been a gracious listener and invited me to join him here so that I could visit with you and your lovely sisters.”
“José, you are welcome at the High Chaparral as much as the Rancho Montoya. Please come in and I will find my sisters.”
When Mano turned his back on the guests his warm smile briefly turned to a worried frown. That was quickly erased as he entered the house and introduced José to Adam. Mano was impressed with how well Adam hid his surprise at being introduced to Diego’s brother. Don Sebastián made himself comfortable on the sofa, encouraging Adam and José to join him. Adam listened while the other two men engaged in conversation about the Cannon Ranch. Mano headed to the kitchen to see if he could find his sisters before they encountered their guest.
Victoria turned at the sound of footsteps, wiping flour off her hands.
“Mano, you’re too early. The pastries are not finished yet.” Concern quickly replaced teasing when she saw his serious expression. “What is it? What is wrong?”
“Victoria, where is Juliana?”
“In her room, I believe. Why?”
“Papá has arrived and he has brought a guest. José.”
“José? Diego’s brother? What is he doing here?”
“I do not know. Please take some refreshments into our guests. I must find Juliana and prepare her. Whatever the reason for the visit, I fear it will not bode well for our sister.”
Victoria agreed and began preparing a tray. She asked their cook, Anita, to finish the pastries and begin preparing dinner for everyone.
When Victoria brought out a try laden with cakes and coffee, she knew immediately that her brother was unsuccessful in finding Juliana before she learned of their guests. She felt the tension in the room and tried her best to ease it as she greeted José with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She then served everyone before sitting by her sister on the sofa. She discreetly reached for her sister’s hand to give is gentle squeeze but Juliana pulled it away.
José reopened the conversation once everyone was settled again, “When you ladies joined us Señor Cartwright was telling me about his ranch in Nevada. It sounds quite impressive with the different operations you have, Señor. I too have, well had, a ranch similar yours in California. I raised prime cattle and riding horses.”
Juliana was unusually quiet and kept glancing at Adam but he kept his focus on José and didn’t notice her looks. Victoria picked up on one thing José mentioned.
“Why did you say you ‘had’ a ranch, José? What has happened?”
“I’m afraid I have been forced to make some changes in my life. There is no easy way to say this but it must be said before we continue with this visit. Your father has already heard the entire story and he has graciously offered his assistance in the transition.” José took a deep breath while letting his eyes linger on Juliana. “As you know, when I was in Sonora for my family’s funerals, Maria was with child. Only two months later, she lost the child and I lost her.”
Quiet gasps came from Victoria and Juliana, drawing Adam’s attention to her.
“I have made the decision, in the interest of my young children, Tomás and Luisa, to sell my ranch in California and move back to my father’s ranch in Sonora. I will bring my cattle and horses with me. Don Sebastián, as I have said, has agreed to help in any way possible while I get the ranch into working condition. I have a buyer for my ranch so it is my intention to be settled in Sonora in two months’ time.”
“José, what of the children? Who will care for them while you work?”
“For now they are in the care of Maria’s sister. Unfortunately she cannot come with us. So I will have to find someone here to help care for them after we move.” Adam didn’t miss the flick of José’s eyes toward Juliana. He wasn’t sure what was going on with José but intended to find out from Mano as soon as he could.
A brief silence ensued until Victoria suggested that her father and José might like to freshen up before dinner. The offer was accepted and soon the gentlemen were settled in their rooms. The ladies went to the kitchen to help with the dinner preparations and Adam went to sit outside. Mano came down with his bags heading to the bunkhouse, having agreed to give his room to José. As he crossed the porch, Adam called to him from his chair near the door.
“Mano, may I have a word with you?”
“Of course my friend. But I believe I know what you are going to ask. Why is José here?”
“Yes. Juliana seems to be uncomfortable around him and wouldn’t answer any of my questions.”
“I do not know what his intentions are, Adam. I think we will just have to wait and see.”
Mano stood and made his way to the bunkhouse.
“Yes I guess we will have to wait and see, but not for long if I have anything to do with it.”
Adam continued to sit on the porch as he laid out a plan in his head to see what José was really doing at the High Chaparral.
The next morning there was a flurry of activity on the ranch. Joe, José and Manolito rode out to see the new horses that had been rounded up. Juliana decided at the last minute to join them. John and several ranch hands headed out to move a herd of cattle to a new watering hole. Adam found himself and Don Sebastián alone at the table. Both sipped their coffee, enjoying the silence that had finally fallen upon the house.
Finishing his coffee first, Adam stood and excused himself from the table. Before he could take a step Don Sebastián voiced his thoughts, “Señor Adam, if I may intrude a bit, something seems to be troubling you.”
Adam stiffened but responded in a relaxed voice, “I just have some things to sort through before my brother and I head home, Señor. If you’ll excuse me.”
Adam turned away from the table and slowly made his way outside. Don Sebastián watched after the young man then shrugged his shoulders. Victoria came from the kitchen and was pleased to see his father alone.
“May I join you Papá?”
“Of course my daughter. What can you tell me of your sister’s interest in Adam Cartwright?”
Victoria was used to her father’s directness when he wanted to know something but this question still took her by surprise. “I am not sure I can answer that, Papá. I have noticed looks exchanged between them, and she spent much time caring for Adam in Tucson. But she has not confided in me of any feelings.” She looked pointedly at her father. “And if she had I would not betray them here. I think perhaps you should ask her yourself.”
“Ah, Victoria, I was not looking for a betrayal of secrets. It was merely a question. She has shown the same signs when she was at home. It is my thinking she has feelings for this gringo, and I am quite certain he has feelings for her. The question to be answered is how strong are those feelings?” Don Sebastián brushed at his beard while glancing at the door through which Adam had just gone.
“Papá, are there things about José that you know and are not sharing?”
It was his turned to look at his daughter with a pointed look. “Now who is asking a question that cannot be answered?”
With that he stood and headed outside. Victoria rested her head on her hand as she watched her father leave. He could be so irritating at times but now Victoria was certain her father knew much more than he was letting on. She only hoped her sister would not be hurt by the hidden information. After the front door closed, she rose and cleared the last of the dishes. She planned to speak to Juliana as soon as she returned from riding.
Outside Adam leaned on the corral fence. Sport came over and snorted at his master. Adam held out a few sugar cubes he had pilfered from the breakfast table. That appeased the beast but not Adam’s heart. A few days ago he felt a peace and excitement about his future. He was sure Juliana would be a part of it, although he had not asked her officially. But now he felt like his world had turned upside down and he hadn’t a clue as to why.
“He is a magnificent animal, Adam.”
Startled, Adam turned to find Don Sebastián beside him. He couldn’t help but smile at the compliment about his horse. “Yes, I suppose he is. He’s got a lot of Thoroughbred in him and a strong spirit.”
“Much like his master, Sí?”
Adam ducked his head to hide his smile. “So some have said.”
“Sometimes a strong spirit is good but it can be difficult to control. I speak from experience, concerning my children. They are all different and, I am forced to admit, only to you Adam, that I find them difficult to control. But then, they do come by their tempestuous natures quite naturally. I have learned to let them find their ways, but I do guide their paths. I have their best interests in mind for my children, even though it may not always go the way I wish.” He faced Adam and caught his eye. “Trying to decide what is best for yourself or someone else is not always easy.” He waited a moment before returning to the house leaving Adam alone with his thoughts. If only he and Sport could go for a ride.
Sport seemed to sense his master’s troubled state and came to stand by the fence. He snorted and moved his head up and down. Adam reached out to scratch under the horse’s jawline.
“You’re trying to tell me to make up my mind, huh boy?” Adam stood a bit straighter and took in a deep breath. He rubbed the white blaze and Sport calmed down. “Well, I have. And I’m going to do something about it tonight. Thanks pal.” Adam continued to stroke his horse until the animal wandered away to explore some grass on the other side of the corral. Adam watched for a few more minutes then made his way back to the porch. Victoria brought him some lemonade and left him to his thoughts. After her discussion with her father she wondered if there were going to be some fireworks soon between two or three of her guests.
After the evening meal, Adam invited Juliana out for a walk in the cool evening air. Joe watched his brother leave, concern highlighting his features after seeing José spending a lot of time with Juliana during the ride out to see the wild horses. He had wanted to speak to Adam about it but never found the time. They had all arrived back to the house close to the evening meal.
Joe had also observed José watching Juliana and Adam during dinner. He was irritated that the man had only arrived and seemed way too interested in Juliana. He did his best to keep the two separated out at the horses but he felt he wasn’t very effective.
Outside, the couple strolled around the perimeter of the yard. The cool air was soothing after such a hot day, but they could find no privacy with so many men on guard duty. Sensing Adam’s frustration growing, she took him by the hand and led him to a secret passage behind the kitchen. When she unlocked a second door he saw a narrow staircase. His curiosity peaked, Adam turned to Juliana with eyebrows raised.
“Come. I will show you.”
Juliana began the climb, waiting every few steps for Adam to catch up. At the top was another door which Juliana opened and disappeared through. Adam reached the top and carefully stepped through, onto the roof of the house.
He slowly turned all the way around to take in the view of the distant mountains against the darkening sky. When finished, he found Juliana grinning at him. She touched his hand, indicating for him to follow her around a corner. As they walked he saw one of the guard turn and look at them then turn back to his post.
Settling beside Juliana on a long box of some kind, Adam waited for her explanation.
“How did you think the guards got up here? This is a place I would come when I needed to be alone. It is too hot during the day but just before sunrise or after sunset is a perfect time sit here and to think, or just enjoy the changes in the sky.”
“It’s wonderful. I wish I had had something like this at home when I was a boy. The closest was our hay loft.”
They sat in silence for a while listening to the night sounds and watching the stars. Feeling the time was right to talk, Adam took a deep breath and reached for Juliana’s hand. Sensing his touch, she turned to him to listen.
“Did you enjoy seeing the horses today?”
“They were magnificent, Adam. Mano said they were some of the best horses they have rounded up in a long time. He’s going to speak to John about selling a few to our father for our herd.”
Adam enjoyed watching the excitement light up her face. He knew what she was describing. He’d experienced it himself, seeing wild horses in their natural habitat took one’s breath away.
“I’m glad you had a good time. I wish I could have been there with you.”
Juliana looked away at Adam’s words. “I as well.” She turned back to him but pulling her hand away from his. “But you are much better, Sí? You do not use the cane as much. Does your leg still hurt?”
“It’s more lack of strength than pain. I’m able to put more weight on it each day. I should be able to ride again in a couple of weeks. Well except for my shoulder. That will take longer.” He hesitated with his next thoughts. Something seemed different about Juliana, something he was hoping he was wrong about.
“Juliana, did something happen on your trip to see the horses?”
She cast her eyes downward. “What do you mean Adam?”
“You seem different tonight. This is the first time we’ve managed to be alone for a while and well, you seem preoccupied and…distant. I was hoping to speak to you about our future together. Now that your father is here I plan to speak to him tomorrow.”
Juliana stood up, turning her back on Adam. This pose reminded Adam of the night they’d first talked at her home, when she told him about Diego. He rose and stood behind her, resting his hands gently on her shoulders.
“What is it Juliana? Are you concerned what your father will say when I talk to him tomorrow? You know you can tell me anything, Juliana.”
She turned with tears in her eyes. “Even if I know it will hurt you?”
Adam took a step back, stunned by her words. “What do you mean?”
She pursed her lips and took a breath in an attempt to summon her courage. ‘’José and I spent time together after we looked at the horses. He….oh Adam, this is so hard.” She straightened up and pressed on. “He has asked me to marry him, and to be a mother to his children. He wants to reinstate the agreement Diego and his father had with my father, to join our families and ranches together.”
Adam tensed, clenching his jaw and fists in an attempt to maintain his composure. “You told him about us didn’t you? You refused his proposal?”
Juliana hung her head. “I could not refuse Adam. It’s too difficult to explain, the depth of this agreement between the families. My father…”
“Your father already accepted for you didn’t he?” Adam’s voice rose and Juliana backed away.
“Sí, Adam. I am sorry, please forgive me. I had no choice.”
Those last two words hung heavy in the air. Watching Adam’s eyes as she spoke them she saw the hurt she knew she had caused him. When he blinked, it was gone, and in its place was a darkness, an empty darkness. The warmth and love she’d seen in those tawny eyes, saved just for her, were gone. At that moment she felt she didn’t have the right to gaze upon his eyes. She dropped her head, letting the tears fall.
“I am sorry Adam.” She raised her head one more. “I love you but I think we both knew it would have been so difficult to work out with our homes so far apart. I wanted to try but…”
“But your father was against it. Not because I wasn’t worthy of you, but because I would take you away from him, from all that you know.” Adam turned around to make his way back to the stairs. Juliana moved to follow but Adam’s words stopped her.
“I loved you too Juliana but evidently you didn’t love me enough to fight for what could have been. Perhaps this is for the best. You can stay with the life you know. I wish you happiness.” Turning away from her he rested his foot on the first step. His voice was cold. “Joe and I will be leaving as soon as we can secure transportation.”
With those words he disappeared down the staircase, but not before she saw the last flicker of love in his eyes fade out. Her heart broke and she collapsed onto the box. She knew José would care for her and love would grow between them in time but it would never be like the love she and Adam had. That reality brought deep sobs, and it was very late before she returned to her room.
When Adam returned alone and made his quiet apologies about needing rest, Mano and Joe realized Juliana had told Adam what they had just been told by José and Don Sebastián in the living room. Joe waited a while then left, offering the excuse of sleep. Stopping in front of Adam’s room he knocked once and was surprised to be admitted.
“Hey.” His voice was almost a whisper.
Adam limped around his room gathering items to pack. “We’re leaving tomorrow Joe. We’ll stay in Tucson. If we can’t get a stage in the next day or so we’ll buy a rig, but we’re leaving.”
“Adam, I….” Adam paused in his work to give Joe a stony look. “Alright, I’ll go pack. I assume we’ll tell everyone tomorrow.”
Adam stopped mid step, leaning heavily on his good leg. Starting to wobble, he reached for the bedpost and sank down onto the bed. He dropped his head into his hands. Joe moved toward him to rest a hand on his back. No words were spoken, it was too hard for both brothers. The physical connection was all that was needed.
After a long time of silence a door was heard closing down the hall. Joe felt Adam flinch then relax once more. Joe squeezed Adam’s shoulder.
“I’ll say goodnight and see you in the morning. I’ll see that everything’s ready to go.”
Adam listened to Joe’s retreating footsteps and the door open and close. He took a deep breath and rubbed his face. A shirt lay on the bed waiting to be folded. Adam grabbed it, and with a deep growl threw it across the room. He wanted to pace but his injured leg ached too much. He wanted to ride but his injuries prevented it and it was unsafe to be outside the perimeter fencing after dark. Adam was trapped physically and emotionally. Giving up on packing he laid down on the bed, his good arm draped across his eyes. His heart ached but he couldn’t feel sadness or even bitterness. All he could feel was betrayal. He’d given his love and now was betrayed by a stranger, a culture, a young girl still searching for her path in life. Well so be it. Tomorrow he and Joe would head home, returning to the life they knew. He would close the door on this sorrow and never open it again. Drifting off to sleep, a thought formed in Adam’s mind for the briefest of moments. With a tinge of melancholy, he realized he was ready for a new path. Sleep claimed him as the thought drifted away.
A full Harvest moon slid across the sky casting the Ponderosa ranch house in gentle silver light. As the moonlight snuck in through the cracks in the dining room shutters, Ben sat by the fire contemplating the past couple of weeks. Upstairs Joe and Hoss slept deeply after a hard day rounding up cattle for sale. Adam was able to ride but Doctor Martin wouldn’t let him remove his left arm from the sling for another week. That evening the eldest Cartwright son retired to his room early on the pretense of finishing some paperwork for the sale of the cattle. Ben knew it was much more than that. The brothers had told their father the whole story about Juliana, and Ben secretly resigned himself that this would be the catalyst that would drive his son away from the ranch.
In his bedroom, Adam had finally retired to his bed. It had been an exhausting trip home and, despite some good talks with Joe, and later with Hoss, Adam’s heart still had not healed from losing Juliana. For the last two weeks he had done what work he could do but mostly spent time riding around the ranch. He saw the vistas, the cattle and horses, the trees and the lake with new eyes. He knew the Ponderosa would always be his home but now he knew he needed more.
As Adam slept the silvery moonlight rested across his bed, offering some comfort to the weary soul. A breeze through the opened window caused the flame in a desk lamp to flicker. The wavering light cast dancing shadows across a letter lying on the desk.
Hello my friend,
You cannot imagine how thrilled I am that you’ve accepted my offer. Don’t worry about a schedule. Take all the time you need to settle your affairs at home. Just let me know when to expect you and I’ll be at the train station with bells on. Once you arrive, I’m sure Boston will never be the same. It wasn’t the same when you left after graduation either.
Listen Adam. I don’t take your decision lightly. I know it’s a big step for you but you and I both know it’s what you need to do at this juncture in your life. It’s time for a new chapter and to use those skills that you honed in college.
Take care my friend. I’ll be looking for that telegram.
Your best friend, and new boss!
Other Stories by this Author
- A Different Conversation (by AC1830)
- Blessings of Friendship (by AC1830)
- The Cartwright Vigil (by AC1830)