Soul Searching (by BettyHT)

SUMMARY:  Adam needs to find the source of happiness before he can be happy.  It is a struggle though as he has to work through a number of issues to get to that point.

Rating = T  Word count = 30,312

Soul Searching

Chapter 1 Dissension

With a birthday coming which would include a big dinner with ham and chicken, cake, and presents, Hoss should have been a happy man. Instead, kicking everything that was in range, he let everyone near the barn know how angry he was. He had been steamed ever since he had talked with Little Joe. As far as Hoss was concerned, it seemed that Adam never learned. Wasn’t interfering with Regan enough? He had convinced Hoss that she was no good, and his feelings for her never couldn’t overcome the thoughts that had been planted in his head. Regan had admitted to some failings too which reinforced those images in his mind. Now he had another gal, and it seemed Adam was interfering again. There weren’t that many women in Nevada especially pretty women. When Little Joe told him that Adam had been seen going into Linda’s house, and apparently he was still in there hours later and reportedly this had happened more than once, his fury grew. Adam was due home, and Hoss waited for him in the barn. All those terrible thoughts had festered for quite some time before he heard his brother ride in and confronted him when he walked his horse into the barn.

“Adam, where ya been?”

Although Adam knew there was something very wrong, he had no idea what it could be. “You know I’ve been in town. Pa asked me to get the mail.”

“See anyone there seeing as how it took a lot of extra hours just to get the mail?”

“What I do in town is really my business, don’t you think?” He was getting an idea why Hoss was upset and didn’t know how to resolve this situation with Hoss so angry. Too late he knew he had chosen the wrong way to answer his brother. There wasn’t going to be a way to talk himself out of this confrontation unless he was very lucky.

“Not when you’re going behind my back to see my girl. Adam, that’s what ya done, ain’t it? You went to see my girl and you was in her house with her a long time.”

“Listen, if you’ve heard some gossip, maybe you should think about the source.”

“You ain’t denying it, are ya?” The words that Hoss had hoped to hear weren’t there. He wanted so much for Adam to say he had never been to see Linda, but those words weren’t being spoken. He was incensed.

“No, Hoss, I’m not denying it, but it’s not what you think.”

“Well, what I think is everyone is talking about it in town. Our little brother heard the stories when he took Hank in to the doctor after Hank got hurt out by the branding where you shoulda been except you got yourself into a tussle with Little Joe yesterday. Now I want ya to tell me what you were doing seeing Linda.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Well, you better tell me.”

“My guess is that Little Joe heard the talk while he was in the saloon waiting for Hank. So, the people talking were people who were drinking too. You know as well as I do all the talk about me lately. They probably couldn’t wait to have something else to use to run me down.”

“That ain’t got nothing to do with it and ya know it. You’re just trying to change the subject like ya always do. Now you better answer my question.”

“No, I’m not . . . ”

His luck ran out although he should have known it would considering how he had made things worse with his first comments. Adam never got to finish the statement because Hoss hit him in the chin with a vicious uppercut sending him back into the side of a stall. Adam’s horse, Sport, was a high-strung horse and was startled by the action and reared back pulling his reins from Adam’s hands. Sport tried to avoid his master when he dropped down but couldn’t, and one of his hooves clipped Adam’s right thigh. Adam didn’t feel it though as he was stunned from the blow and from the left side of his head hitting the wall of the stall.

Hoss never saw the aftermath of his hit because he had turned immediately and rushed from the barn so upset and afraid he could severely injure his brother if he didn’t leave. He stormed into the house and sat on a chair by the hearth. Red-faced, he sat with his chest heaving with an effort to get his breathing under control. Both his father and Little Joe knew he was extremely angry, but only Little Joe already knew why.

“Hoss, son, what’s wrong?”

Hoss said nothing but turned to stare into the fire.

“Pa, Hoss is angry at Adam.”

“What now? I can’t believe there’s been something more? You would think after yesterday that Adam would try to keep a lid on things around here. It seems lately he only likes to stir the pot. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

At that point, Ben stopped. He didn’t want Little Joe to start rehashing all that had happened the previous day. Even if it was too late for that, it wasn’t the time to stir up the negative thoughts for Little Joe who had been irritated by his older brother and only too happy to carry a tale to Hoss that made Adam look quite bad. Little Joe remembered yesterday only too well and could actually smile about how it had turned out surprising as that had been. Seeing the slight smile Little Joe had, Ben didn’t know what it meant. He would have thought his youngest would still be angry. What he didn’t know as that even though Little Joe had told his father what had happened, he had left out certain significant parts of the story. Little Joe had been out at the branding site working until Adam rode up and told him he needed to head over to the horse breaking corrals.

“Adam, Pa told me the breaking corrals and the horse contracts are my business, and I’m working here today to help out Hoss. I know what I have to do at the corrals, and I’ll do it when I say I’ll do it.”

With that, Little Joe turned his horse and rode out to rope another calf. When he returned, Adam was still sitting there and glowering waiting to tell Little Joe more. In that tone of voice that the youngest brother hated, Adam began to tell him what he needed to do. “Little Joe, maybe once you could just listen to me. You need to go to the . . .” Once more, Adam chose the wrong way of responding to a brother and only made the situation worse.

After releasing the calf to the branding crew, Little Joe coiled his lasso and threw it toward Adam where it settled neatly over his shoulders. Shocked by his younger brother’s actions, Adam didn’t react defensively and never finished telling him why he needed to go to the breaking corrals because Little Joe pulled him from his horse. He landed hard and his fury exploded as he heard the men there laughing. After he got up, he pulled Little Joe’s lariat from him and threw it down. Rubbing his shoulder that was stinging from the fall, he mounted up on his horse and left even though it had taken all of his will power not to rush over Little Joe and give him the lesson he so much deserved. But there was business that had to be done and Little Joe was clearly not going to do it. Adam’s last view of his youngest brother was him laughing with the other men.

Later when Little Joe told the story to his father, he neglected to mention throwing the lariat and pulling his brother from his horse. It was an immature stunt that he had regretted almost from the moment he had done it. Yet, he had been unable to back down with all the men watching him. At the time, he had wished Adam would have hit him or done something that would have helped even the score. Instead, he was carrying the guilt for it and would for a long time. He wasn’t about to admit any of that to his father though. What he did emphasize to his father was Adam trying to order him around again. He was becoming very resentful of Adam’s effort to get him to be more organized about his work. He wanted to do it his own way.

The night at dinner after the incident at the branding, Adam was quiet. Little Joe had already vented to his father and wasn’t inclined to say more knowing where that would lead. Ben decided to let sleeping dogs lie because he was angry with Adam too. He had asked him to go into town on Monday to buy some shares of a new mine that had hit a new vein of gold and would be expanding operations. Adam had not done that and there were no more shares to be had. Ben had let him know how unhappy he was about that and had refused to listen when Adam said there were good reasons not to invest.

“How I invest is not your business. I asked you to do something for me, and you did not do it. That is a breach of trust.”

“But I had some questions about that location.”

“I told you that I was not looking for your advice. I had already talked to my broker about it, and he advised me to buy. I had everything all set, and all you had to do was follow my instructions which I recall you said you would do. Now there are no more shares available. Lots of others found no questions and they will make the profit that I hoped to make. I should take the difference out of your salary, but you don’t make that much. I wanted to use that money to improve this ranch, but I suppose you don’t care about that.” It was petty and cruel, and Ben knew it, but he wanted to strike out because to Ben, it seemed that Adam was trying to take over and run things on the ranch. The way he had made his younger brother so upset didn’t help as they had to have that money from those horse contracts.

“By the way, Little Joe, weren’t those men who wanted the horses supposed to contact you with the contracts soon?”

“Yeah, they’re supposed to come out here one of these days. Don’t worry, Pa. We’ve got the best horses in the area. They’ll be out here to sign those contracts.”

It had seemed in the morning that all that trouble had calmed down, but now Adam had riled up his middle brother and over a woman. It had happened before and Ben thought by now, Adam would have learned to stay away from any female that had captured a brother’s interest. However what Hoss had heard seemed to be damning.

“Pa, people saw Adam going into Linda’s house, and he didn’t leave for hours. They said it’s happened a few times lately. Then they said today, he came out buttoning up his shirt.”

Knowing that Linda was such a beautiful woman, Ben had to wonder if Adam’s competitive nature had compelled him to seek the hand of the woman Hoss had been seeing. He had competed with his brothers and other men for the hands of ladies before so it had to be considered a possibility, but before it had always been women who had not yet chosen a beau. Well, the plan was that when Adam came in, they would need to air some things out. Of course, Ben was distracted by that line of thought and never questioned Little Joe as to where he got his information. If he had found out that he got it from men in the saloon, he might not have been as concerned about those stories and a bit more concerned about Little Joe being in the saloon on an afternoon of a working day. Little Joe didn’t realize until later that he had almost implicated himself and reminded himself to be more careful in what he told his father.

It was nearly an hour later before Adam walked in. They had been waiting dinner and none were happy about that either and yet none had wanted to go outside and confront him. Adam hung his hat and gunbelt on the hat rack near the front door and started to walk to the stairs.

“Dinner is ready. We have been waiting for you.”

Without turning around, Adam responded. “I’m not hungry. I’m going to bed.”

Then he limped up the stairs. No one said anything more. Adam’s action actually was a relief for his brothers in some ways because there would be no fighting at the table. Ben was furious, but there wasn’t much he could say. He couldn’t order him to eat. The confrontation with his eldest could wait till morning which might be better anyway as it gave them all a chance to cool off. He told his younger sons that, and the three of them ate without saying much more after Hop Sing served dinner with the expected complaints.

Upstairs in his room, Adam sat on the side of his bed and thought once more about leaving. It had been on his mind for some time and the last couple of days made him regret not leaving sooner. Hoss had been extremely touchy ever since he started seeing Linda. After the experience with Regan, Adam suspected it was that Hoss couldn’t believe that such a beautiful woman was interested in him, but Adam knew Linda loved his brother. Meanwhile, Little Joe was almost daily becoming more antagonistic toward Adam. He wanted so bad to be a man that everyone respected, and somehow anything that Adam did was seen by Little Joe as being an obstacle to his own acceptance. And his father gave him tasks and expected him to dance like a marionette, and he felt it was demeaning. He was almost thirty-five years old and taking orders like a ‘boy’ as his father still referred to him at times. Adam lived with three people and could not have been lonelier. He couldn’t ever seem to talk with any of them about these issues so they festered on all sides.

Alone in his room with his anger dissipated, Adam had to accept some or even much of the dissension in the house was his fault. He felt trapped and that made him angry. He could be sullen and sarcastic and knew that he had probably been that way more lately than he had been pleasant. As he thought year or so, he couldn’t remember being pleasant much. He felt like he was weighted down with responsibilities so much he couldn’t breathe sometimes. Frustrated with a feeling of hopelessness at times and never able to comfortably express his feelings or any of his darker thoughts, his moods translated into snide comments and frequent criticism. Even when he tried to be quiet and accept the situations he found most onerous, Little Joe often sent barbs his way and his father made his own snide comments. It was at those moments that the fury flared the hottest within him until he lashed out. He felt he was burning up inside and soon there would only be the husk of the man he had been or could be.

The more Adam thought about it, the less he could see staying here as an option at this time. Then he would think about how he was needed and what his leaving would do which made him feel selfish and wrong. He had no concrete plan as to where he could go or what he could do, but herding cattle and fixing fences was not his dream even if his dream was flimsy as a cloud and about as well defined as one. He wanted to make a difference in the world; to leave his mark. He couldn’t do that here in the shadow of his father. The conflict had raged within him for years, but these last few months he drew closer and closer to the conclusion that he had to leave. He didn’t want to leave though as a result of a fight or argument. He wanted his family to see it as a logical development, but he was so upset at that moment that he wasn’t sure that was so important.

The more Adam thought, the more he knew he couldn’t just run away like a child. However, at that time, he needed some space and time to think. His head hurt, his leg hurt, and he was nursing a sore shoulder not that anyone had ever asked if he was hurt by being pulled from his horse. He wasn’t aware that his father and Hoss didn’t know that story. Sitting in the dark in his room, he heard the other members of the family retiring for the night. After turning up the lamp, he wrote a note explaining what he was going to do, packed some clothing and other items he might need, and headed out to the stable. He took a feedbag for his horse, and saddled up. The moon was full and he enjoyed night rides anyway. There would be anger in the house in the morning, but at least he wouldn’t be there to face it. Working away from his family would give him time to think through his decision and his family could cool down about the issues. His plan was that then he could come back to do what he had to do before he would probably leave.

One problem was that Adam did have a headache and had been telling the truth earlier when he said he wasn’t hungry. Just the thought of food made him nauseated. Had he not already been seriously affected, he might have realized that he had a concussion. He should have been under a doctor’s care instead of riding away from it. Getting to the line cabin and getting work done was not a realistic goal under the circumstances, but other factors were going to make that a moot issue anyway. What he did discover was that he had to ride slowly and didn’t get nearly as far as he thought that first day.

There was a lot of anger on the ranch the next morning and nothing any of them could do to relieve the tension. All the anger focused on Adam. Various charges such as running away and leaving them shorthanded for spring roundup and branding were tossed around a lot. However, Little Joe was somewhat pleased that his oldest brother had snuck off in the night. It seemed to him a validation of the complaints he had been having about him. He stated that point of view to his brother and father who had no argument to make against it but refused to accept it.

When it was time to celebrate Hoss’ birthday and Adam wasn’t back, Ben declared that the celebration would be delayed.

“We do things like this as a family. Although we may not always be in agreement on things, one thing we do is share in these milestones. No, we’re going to wait for Adam to get home, and then we’ll have a birthday celebration for Hoss.”

It was difficult for Hoss to accept the delay, but on the other hand, he did want Adam to be there. They might have their differences and there had been some anger, but Hoss was reconsidering events and thinking he had overreacted. Even Little Joe accepted that the birthday fun wouldn’t seem right if there was still that empty chair at the dining room table. Ben too had been thinking that his logical son must have had some good reasons for what he did, and he should have given him time to explain. They waited.

 

Chapter 2 A Cruel Teacher

Three days later and there was no word from Adam, so the other three Cartwright men decided to venture into town for different purposes. Hoss wanted to see Linda and talk with her. He had been stewing about it for days, but huge doubts about what had happened had crept in. He knew his brother and didn’t believe he could have done what the stories implied he had done so he wanted to know exactly what had happened. If he wanted to marry Linda, and he was still sure he wanted to do that then he knew he couldn’t accuse Adam without accusing her too. It was all too much a mess and had disturbed his sleep every night.

Ben had a Cattleman’s Association meeting to attend and hoped no one asked why Adam wasn’t with him or why he had missed out on such a lucrative investment opportunity. He thought he would be embarrassed to have to explain what happened and hoped that the topic never came up.

Little Joe wanted to let off some steam in the saloons without his oldest brother watching and ready to step in at any time. He guessed it would be a lot more fun to drink, gamble a little, and romance a few ladies without his brother there acting like his conscience all the time. All three hoped to feel better about things by the time they were riding home. It was not to be.

Tired from weeks of hard work, Ben walked into the Virginia City Cattleman’s Association meeting and was surprised to be receiving congratulations on his business acumen. It was so much opposite of what he expected, that he finally had to ask.

“Well, Ben, sending that oldest son of yours to inspect the mine before investing and not basing a purchase of shares on the assay report was sheer genius. That vein was so shallow it’s already running thin. I’m glad I made only a modest investment. Some people have lost fortunes by buying up so many shares.” Calvin Whittaker slapped Ben on the shoulder to show his feelings in the matter.

Another man spoke up. “I’m one of them. Bought too much and won’t be buying any new breeding stock this year. I won’t have any money for investing for a while, but not you, you cagey old outlaw. Never mind all that talk about how your son’s lost his nerve. Who needs nerve when you’ve got smarts like that.”

A big man, Art Wilson, snorted and waved at the speaker. “Oh, Carter, he’s got plenty of nerve. You shouldn’t listen to gossip. I bet you wouldn’t go up against him.” When Carter nodded in agreement, Wilson turned to Ben. “Where is that smart son of yours? Boy I wish I had a smart son like that who could evaluate my investments for me. I didn’t buy any, but it was only because I didn’t have any ready cash on hand. One time when not being liquid actually paid off.”

There was more talk, and while Ben appeared modest and said nothing, inside he was in shock. What he was feeling however was guilt and remorse, pure and simple. Adam had saved him a large amount of money, and he had never let him explain. He remembered now how Adam had asked to explain when he told him he didn’t purchase any shares. He had managed to say something about having reservations about where the mine was, but Ben had never let him finish. But in his tirade, he had not heard a word he said or tried to say. Then he had let that anger cloud his view of what happened at the branding corrals blindly accepting what Little Joe had said knowing how his youngest son’s temper could flare just like his own and affect his perception. Now all he was feeling was guilt over his unfair treatment of his son. He did remember that just last week in another argument, Adam had asked him if he was jealous of his own son.

“I think a father should be proud that he has a son who had so much to offer, instead of criticizing him for every action. Most fathers would be happy to have a son who can help them so much instead of fighting that son at every turn.”

Ben had vehemently denied it at the time but was beginning to realize there was likely some truth in what Adam had said. If not jealousy, there certainly might be some resentment.

But no matter how badly Ben felt at that moment, he wasn’t feeling nearly as guilty as Hoss who had hit his brother. When Hoss walked up to Linda’s house ready to confront her, she rushed outside into his arms and kissed him. Smiling and wrapping her arms around his waist, she couldn’t wait to talk with him. She had been disappointed to get his message that the birthday celebration had been postponed. Now that Hoss was there though, she was all ready to show him her surprise.
“I’m so happy you’re here. I have the best birthday present for you, ever. C’mon, come inside. I can’t wait for you to open it.”

Unsure of what to make of her enthusiasm, Hoss walked inside, and Linda presented him with a large box wrapped in colored paper. He carefully unwrapped it to conserve the paper. What he saw inside were three watercolor drawings of places he had taken Linda to on the Ponderosa. Each was mounted in an elegant frame that was stained and rubbed to a dark sheen.

“Oh, Hoss, I hope you like them. I painted from memory of what I saw on our rides. Then Adam came over here and used my father’s old wood shop out back to make these frames. Aren’t they just perfect for the paintings? It took him hours, but he said he didn’t mind because it was for your birthday. Hoss, why aren’t you saying anything? Don’t you like them?”

Embarrassed then, Hoss had to explain, and he could tell that his girl was pretty upset with him. He wanted to marry her and now he wasn’t sure if she would say yes. On the other hand, she said she understood but thought he needed to apologize to Adam and seek his forgiveness as soon as possible. She told him how Adam had bragged about him and all the things he could do. She said he had told her how happy he was that Hoss had found a gal. Everything she said made him feel worse about the things he had said and done.

Just a short distance from Linda’s house, Little Joe ended up feeling as small as he thought he could. He was sauntering over to the saloon expecting to have a fun time when he walked past the family lawyer’s office, and the man yelled his name and motioned for him to come in. Little Joe walked in and greeted Hiram who stood to shake his hand.

“Little Joe, I read through those contracts Adam dropped off for you. He said you were too busy with the branding so he took care of it. I must say you have two of the most lucrative contracts for horse breeding I have ever seen. You did a wonderful job negotiating these. Frankly I don’t know how you managed if you were so busy with the branding. As soon as you sign, I’ll send copies to the buyers. You have a generous amount of time to fulfill the contracts because both buyers want only the best, but they’re paying top dollar too. Congratulations on your horse business. It’s going to make some good money for the Ponderosa this year.”

Once Little Joe got the papers signed, he walked out of the lawyer’s office questioning himself far more than was his usual habit. Usually he was a very confident man, but his strong opinion of himself had taken a big hit. Feeling guilty, Little Joe never got to a saloon. He didn’t think he wanted a drink any more that day. Instead he went to the livery stable and waited for his father and brother. He just wanted to go home and was surprised at how soon his brother and father showed up. No one was inclined to talk, and all three were wondering how to share the humiliating information they had received not realizing that the others had the same quandary. The three men got their horses, saddled them, mounted up, and headed for home. As they rode, Hoss was the first to break the silence asking the others to hold up. He told the story of the picture frames. Little Joe then told the story of the contracts Adam had negotiated for him because he refused to go to the breaking corrals. He admitted too what he had done to Adam shocking his father and brother. Finally, Ben nearly broke down when he explained what he had done.

None of the three men got much sleep that night. Jealousy, greed, pride, and anger had gotten the best of them. Hearing about those deadly sins in church services on Sunday had not been enough. They had had to learn from experience, and experience could be a cruel teacher. They talked it over at dinner and decided they ought to ride out and find Adam wherever he was working and try to make things right. Too much had gone wrong.

“Pa, you think maybe we been letting all the talk get to us too? You know, after he didn’t fight Bill Enders, both of us was kinda surprised and maybe a mite disappointed. We shouldna thought like that. I mean it shur woulda been a whole lot worse if he’d been killed by Bill. But that’s when some of the talk started, and we never stomped on it like we shoulda maybe ’cause we thought there was some truth to it.”

Little Joe joined in the conversation at that point. “If somebody had done to me what Will did to him, I wouldn’t have been so nice either. Lots of people wonder about that too. That’s when the talk really got stirred up because no one could understand why he didn’t retaliate at all and in fact gave his blessing to them.”

“Yeah, instead of facing down those who say things, Adam hasn’t been going to town much. He hardly ever goes inta the saloon even when me and Joe are there. Makes the talk even worse.”

“Pa, do you have any idea why Adam won’t fight anyone over the lies they’re telling about him?”

“He only said he won’t kill someone over words.”

“Kill someone? Why would he hafta kill anybody anyhow?” Hoss was confused.

Little Joe understood though. “Any fight he has is likely to end up in gunplay at some point, and Adam is better with a gun than almost anyone in town especially the loudmouths in the saloons. He would end up killing them if he decided to make a fight of it.”

“Oh, so that’s why he won’t fight none of ’em.” Hoss frowned. “Maybe he oughta do it to just one of ’em though. It would shut the rest of ’em up.” Hoss grinned then but turned serious when his father continued to frown.

“I’m worried that Adam is going to leave. The way I’ve been acting lately is only going to make that more likely. It seems that every time I think about him leaving, I get upset, but I react badly. I don’t know how to make him understand how much I need him to stay. I keep giving him things to do to try to show him that, but he takes each of those as, I don’t know, almost like another reason to leave.”

“My being so darn jealous and suspicious of him ain’t helped none. I feel terrible about it.”

“I know he’s been trying to help me, but it’s hard to accept his help when I want to be a man and stand on my own two feet and be respected by the men.” Little Joe looked down then. “Of course, finding ways to get the men to laugh at Adam to boost myself up at his expense has hurt too.”

Many miles away, Adam woke in a wickiup to the gentle touch on his face. A Paiute woman had a bowl of steaming food for him. His first inclination was to decline, but he realized he was hungry and not nauseated by the smell so he allowed her to spoon some of the food into his mouth. He found that he couldn’t tolerate much though which she understood. She noticed him shiver and pulled the covers up to his chin saying something he didn’t understand. All he could do was relax and try to get the shivering to stop. When he went to rub his arms, he remembered the scratches he had received on his left arm and didn’t rub there again. The puma had come that close.

Early that first morning, he had heard a scream and seen a puma run with blood smeared on its snout. Assuming the worst, he had tracked it for the next hour until the beast had turned on him. Sport had shied letting him know the animal was close so he had his weapon ready. However, he only got one shot before Sport reared and unhorsed him. He managed to hang onto the rifle and that saved his life when the puma charged. He got off another shot as the animal leaped toward him landing on him even as its lifeblood drained from a second and mortal wound. His head made contact with the ground though and the beast was on top of him. The last sight he had was of the blue sky and clouds floating across it. That was how the Paiute found him. They brought him back to their camp with the body of the puma. A hero for what he had done, they did all they could to help him with the women stripping him and washing his clothing, bathing him, and taking care of the wounds to his left arm. It was a few mornings later before he knew what he had done. Waking from his semi-comatose state and from the effects of a fever, he awoke to find a Paiute woman nestled beside him on either side keeping him warm. It took only a few moments for him to realize that none of them were wearing clothing. He didn’t move but lay as still as possible even though he wanted to get up to take care of necessary business. It was almost an hour before a man stepped into the wickiup to see if he was awake.

“Do you wish anything, Adam Cartwright?”

“I’d like my clothing, please.”

“The women will bring it if you wish. You have no desire for these two then?”

Looking at the two women who were gazing at him then wide awake and apparently willing to do whatever he wished them to do, he shook his head.

“No, I thank them for keeping me warm, but I do not need any other services.”

Smiling, the man told them they could go. Reluctantly, they pulled their dresses on and then pulled robes over that and put leggings on before leaving in the cool morning in the mountains. The man said something to them that made them giggle though, and then a short time later, they were back with Adam’s clothing still damp with dew but clean.

“You could have almost everything you asked in this camp after what you did.”

“All I did was kill a puma.”

“That was an evil beast. It had killed three children of this tribe. We had not been able to find it when we tracked it. Yet you tracked it and killed it in one try. We are grateful.”

“It came close to getting me. I didn’t track it far. It came at me, and I killed it.”

“But you did kill it. That is what is important.”

Almost everything that had been on Sport was brought into the wickiup. Rummaging through his saddlebags, Adam got out his shaving kit and asked for a bowl of water. The man called out the opening of the wickiup and one of the women brought that and was going to shave him, but he declined causing her to sigh deeply before she left. Frowning Adam looked to his host who smiled.

“Any of the women who have been in here would be proud to carry a hero’s baby. All you need do is ask, and they would be here for you. You are seen to have great power because you killed the great beast.”

“It’s not my way.”

After he shaved, Adam was going to put on his shirt but found the left sleeve was badly ripped. He pulled a clean shirt from his saddlebags and knew he could use the damaged one for bandaging if necessary because it had been washed. Once he was dressed, he asked if there was food and his host pulled aside the covering and escorted him to the fire. He found he was still dizzy and leaned on the shoulder of the man who had been his host. The men at the fire greeted him with respect, and he was offered a bowl of food. Although he had been very hungry, he found he couldn’t eat much. He felt the back of his head and found a scabbed over area. His host guided him back to the wickiup and inside where he lay down again on the sleeping mat. Soon the two women were there to pull the covers over the three of them as Adam fell into a healing sleep once more.

When Ben and his younger sons didn’t find Adam at the line cabin where they expected he would be, they checked two other line cabins and found no evidence he had been at either of those. With no clue as to where the eldest son had gone, they were going to head back home when Hoss saw smoke from a camp.

“Son, that’s too much smoke for Adam. That’s probably a Paiute camp. Most likely they’re traveling from Pyramid Lake down this way to do some hunting and maybe some trapping.”

“I know, Pa, but that’s why we should go see them. If they have hunting parties out, they mighta seen Adam.”

So, the three men wheeled their horses around and headed toward the camp making a short side trip to cut a few head from the herd that was in that far north pasture. Driving those cattle ahead of them, they expected a friendly greeting in the Paiute camp but were showered with good wishes and greeted with more enthusiasm than they had ever before received. They were all smiles until Little Joe spotted Sport tied with the Indian ponies.

“Pa, they’ve got Adam’s horse!”

Ben stood at his full height and demanded to know where they were keeping his son or what had happened to him. Baffled by the change in demeanor, the men looked to their leaders who approached and questioned Ben whose temper was on a short fuse. Unable to decipher the clues as to why the Cartwrights were so upset, they led them to the wickiup where Adam was sleeping. Pulling back the flap, one man pointed inside where they could see him sound asleep with a woman on either side of him. Ben’s mouth literally dropped open as Hoss and Joe snickered until chastised with a withering look from their father.

“Adam! What are you doing?”

The two women next to Adam woke and stared up at Ben wondering why he seemed upset.

Grimacing first, then frowning before rubbing his eyes, Adam looked blearily up at his father. “Until a moment ago, I was sleeping.”

“But!” and his father pointed to the two women.

“Oh, they’re here to keep me warm. I was shivering.”

The two women got up to leave sensing that there was a problem because they were there. When they did, Ben saw the bandage on Adam’s arm.

“What happened to your arm?”

“The puma scratched it up some when it landed on me. I think that might be part of why I’m so tired. I think there might be some infection in my system from those scratches. Although my head hitting the ground probably didn’t help. I still feel dizzy when I stand up.”

“Puma?”

“Yeah, the skin is hanging out there somewhere. I shot it, twice, but the first shot didn’t kill it, so it came at me. The second shot killed it, but it fell on me. It got too close.”

“Your son is hero to us. That beast killed three of our children. We could not find it, but he killed it. We are in his debt. He is a very brave man.”

The family spent a day in the Paiute camp and then took a slow ride home with Adam who had to recuperate from the head injuries and the slight infection from the scratches. That story of his heroism though helped many accept that Adam had not lost his nerve. It was especially helpful on the Ponderosa where the men showed respect for him and knew what those scratches on his arm meant. Not many of them could imagine facing a puma charging and keeping calm enough to fire even as the beast jumped for him. The family relationship too underwent some change as they talked of their difficulties and how they would try to do better. Ben admitted that he had not handled the situation well and told his son how valuable he was and how much he needed him. Hoss asked for advice on how to advance his romance with Linda. Joe asked for as much help as he could get on how to negotiate. Once more, the family was working as a partnership.

In town though, some missed the fun they had been having at Adam’s expense. They didn’t have another target, and when he came into town alone one day, they decided to try to resurrect their old campaign. It wasn’t a good idea to begin taunting him almost as soon as he came into the saloon. It might still have ended peacefully except two of the men moved around him and prevented him from leaving. Unless he wanted to run out the backdoor, there was no way for him to leave or at least no way to leave with any kind of pride still intact. They had finally succeeded in pushing Adam into a corner from which he couldn’t escape. Part of the reason was that he had thought it was over and hadn’t been careful.

When one of the men took a swing at him, he defended himself which started a brawl with two men. Their friends were cheering them on expecting them to win never anticipating that it was possible for Adam to defeat them. After breaking one man’s arm, Adam hit the other hard enough to knock him into the bar. That stunned him enough that he didn’t get up again. Stooping to pick up his hat, Adam heard a gun cock and froze.

“You think you’re so damn good. How good do you feel now, huh?”

The man with the broken arm staggered to a chair and slumped in it. “Shoot him, why don’t ya? He broke my arm.”

“No, that would be too easy and get me locked up. No, I got a better idea.” Motioning to the man still sitting against the bar, the man with the pistol trained on Adam had a question. “You want to get even with him for what he did to you? Hit him hard but make sure it’s in the right arm. You got that? Hit him as hard as you want but in the right arm.”

“That’s gonna hurt.”

“Then use something so it don’t hurt ya.”

The man stood and walked to Adam pulling his pistol from his holster. Using the butt end, he slammed it into Adam’s forearm. Luckily, he wasn’t strong anyway, and having been stunned, he was less than at his best too. Still, the blow partially numbed Adam’s arm. He tried to flex his fingers and found they didn’t move well at all. The man who had hit him stood by his side grinning broadly with his pistol still in his hand. The other man holstered his no longer thinking he needed it. He guessed he had created a situation in which he had all the advantages.

“Now, Cartwright, I’m calling you out. Draw on the count of three. One”

“You know I can’t shoot with that hand or probably can’t. I certainly can’t draw decently.”

“I guess we’ll find out. Two.”

“You’ll get arrested for shooting me.”

“Three.”

Lunging for the pistol hanging from the hand of the man standing beside him, Adam got it and fired with his left hand hitting the man who had called him out. That man’s bullet hit his friend. Both of them were on the floor bleeding and breathing their last breaths when Sheriff Roy Coffee got there. The friends of the bullies tried to say Adam had murdered the two men, but Sam the bartender, the saloon girls, and a few other customers all gave a version of the story that matched Adam’s rendition of events.

When Adam finally arrived at home, he slid from his horse and asked a hand to take care of him. Then he walked to the house and entered going slowly to his father’s desk where he dropped the mail after pulling it from his left vest pocket. Exhausted he headed to the chair by the fireplace and plopped down into it.

“Son, what happened?”

“I broke a man’s arm, killed a man, watched another die as a result of that fight, and then came home. Just another day in Virginia City.”

The words were delivered as a dispassionate report, but the anguish was apparent by the eyes that were narrowed and by the furrowed brow. Adam was good at hiding his feelings, but not good enough to fool his father. Walking over to his son, Ben put a hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed. “Son, why don’t you tell me everything that happened and how you feel about it.”

That night at dinner, Ben and Adam were so quiet that Hoss and Little Joe knew that something important was in the works. They didn’t know what it was. The next day, Ben asked Adam if he still felt the same way. He said yes and Ben said then it was time to tell his brothers.

“You did as I requested and waited a day to give yourself a chance to think about it one more time. You have considered all that I said. I can’t ask any more of you. If this is what you need to do, then you have my blessing. I can only hope you find what you’re looking for and the happiness that you deserve. Know though that no matter what happens, this is your home, and you are always welcome here.”

“I know, Pa, and I thank you for that. Despite some rough spots with us lately, I always know that I can come to you. I wish there was another way.”

“I know. As much as I want to say there is, I know you have to do this.” Smiling without mirth, Ben nodded slightly. “I’ve been through this before but then I was on the other side.”

Hoss and Little Joe knew by then what Adam was going to say. They tried to be as understanding as their father, but both found it difficult. Neither of them could imagine doing what Adam was doing. Although he had talked about it in vague terms in the past, somehow neither of them had ever thought it was the kind of thing that would actually happen.

Within a week, Adam was packed and gone. His room was left much as when he was there because he hadn’t taken much with him. In some ways, that was reassuring as if to say he would come back for it. However, they knew that once he settled somewhere, he could easily write and ask them to ship things to him. It was a good fantasy though to ease the pain of loss.

Life on the ranch had to adjust but that feeling something was missing persisted for years. Little Joe tried to joke about it, but for Ben and Hoss, it was never funny so eventually he stopped making any references to his oldest brother. For Ben especially, it was hard for he not only suffered the loss of his son by his absence, but now understood the emptiness his family must have experienced when he left and how Abel Stoddard must have felt seeing his grandson leave. In the past, Ben had always been the one to leave. Now he felt how it was to be the one left behind. Tears would well up in his eyes every time he thought of his missing son so he tried not to think of him during the day especially when there were people around, but at night when he lay down to rest, he couldn’t avoid them. A few tears, a few prayers, and some hopeful wishes became a bedtime routine.

The one who probably felt the pain of separation most though was Hoss. Reluctant to speak about it for some time, eventually Hoss was the one most likely to bring up stories of his older brother to try to keep that memory alive. Forever, Adam had been a presence in his life even those years he had been away at school. Lessons he had taught Hoss before he left helped guide him as he grew into manhood. When he returned, the two became friends as well as brothers often communicating without saying a word. Now he was gone, and Hoss felt that part of his world had left as well. Although he and Linda became serious about their relationship and set a date for their wedding, Hoss came to realize that it would not replace the kind of relationship he had lost.

 

Chapter 3 As an Island

On the stage out of town, two women were curious about the quiet cowboy who was traveling to San Francisco. All he said at first was that he was moving there. They lived in the city and could not imagine that he would be comfortable there. Finally, after about an hour, he lifted his hat and sat up which meant they could try to engage him in additional conversation. First they asked his name. Adam thought about that for a time before he answered. His mother’s name had been Stoddard before she married. He thought about using an alias but realized it wouldn’t work for long and would make him look like a charlatan. He opted instead for the simple answer.

“My name is Adam. And you fine ladies?”

Ignoring his lack of responsiveness, the two ladies were agreeable to sharing far more information. “I’m Maribelle Mason.”

“And I’m her sister, Emmaline Mason.”

“We were visiting relatives in Wyoming and now are going back home to San Francisco.”

“We overheard you when you bought your ticket, and you said San Francisco too. So that’s why we asked you earlier what you were going to do there. We’re so curious. Now what does a cowboy do in San Francisco?”

“Well, I went to college for a time and I hope to be able to use some of those skills in San Francisco.”

“Well, that is impressive. Did you finish?”

“No, I studied what I thought I wanted to learn.”

“What courses of study did you follow then?”

“Architecture, arithmetic, business, and engineering. I will be using some of that in my new job as a buyer in the stockyards. I have a friend whose family owns one of them and he offered me a position there to start. Eventually I plan to travel and get opportunities to do other things too. First though, I hope to be able to attend the theatre because it is the one thing I missed the most about living so far from a city like San Francisco.”

“What else did you miss?”

“Oh, the libraries, the bookstores, and the fine restaurants. Virginia City has its share of those things but none that compare to the best down by the Bay and not nearly the variety.”

“Well then you will have lots to do because as you know, there are many of all of those in the city but more are being built all the time. Perhaps we shall see you at one of those venues. It is a big city but not everyone appreciates the theatre and the bookstores.”

Smiling at the young ladies, Adam was thinking that he appreciated the scenery in this stagecoach a lot. They were young, but he definitely had an attraction to these two ladies so perhaps there was already a change in his fortunes. Deciding that flirting with them was a good way to pass the time, he was quite polite and continued the conversation with remarks to entertain the ladies and perhaps get to know them better. During the conversation, he was careful not to tell them anything about his life, past or present nor did he try to delve into their more personal lives. The names of Mari and Emma Mason were enough to know for now and that they were educated and interesting conversationalists.

There were several stops and an overnight stay at a station because of storms before they reached Sacramento. The two ladies were on the same steamer down the river as Adam was so they continued to develop a friendship. By the time they reached the steamer dock in San Francisco, they exchanged addresses and politely mentioned that they ought to do something together sometime. With that they disembarked although the two ladies were a day later than their family had expected them. A couple who had to be their parents met them, and the man looked with suspicion at Adam when the ladies pointed him out. Waving in farewell, he made his way toward the line of hackneys to get a ride to the address he had been given.

Even before Adam arrived at his destination, he was sure that he must have gotten the address incorrect. The houses here were mansions by anyone’s evaluation. The hackney deposited him in front of one of the stately houses and he walked slowly toward the gate. Once there, two large mastiffs came bounding down the walk and stood growling on the other side of the fence. The front door opened and a butler called out that there were no handouts and he should move on. That’s what he was about to do when he heard his name being called.

“Hunter, this is the guest we have been expecting. I told you he was a cowboy. How did you expect him to be dressed? Adam, how good to see you. Brutus and Antony, now sit, sit. Here, Adam, put your closed hand out for them to sniff so they know you are a friend.”

“Franklin, I had no idea you lived like this. In college, you acted and dressed just like one of us. I didn’t know your family was wealthy.”

“I am one of ‘us’ but just happen to have a father with a lot more money than the rest of ‘us’. Well, someday it will be mine too. Come on in and say hello to the family. My sisters have been dying to meet you.”

Ushered into the house, Adam was introduced to Hamilton’s family and then escorted out to the guest quarters he had been promised by his friend. They had a guest suite next to the carriage house which Adam was going to use for a few weeks to a few months. Because he had agreed to work for Hamilton’s father in the stockyards as a buyer, he was going to be able to use these quarters and take his time finding a place in the city. He cleaned up and dressed in more appropriate attire for the city and was ready to have dinner with the family and then his first business meeting with Franklin and his father.

“Well, Adam, you do look more like what I expected when my son said you would make a good hire. I can see now what he meant. You are well spoken and have a commanding presence. Your knowledge of cattle and ranching shall work well for us.”

“I’ll do my best for you, sir. Franklin did tell you that I only plan to stay here for a year probably.”

“Yes, he did, but I’m hoping that if you are successful perhaps you will be willing to work into some of our other business ventures.”

“I wasn’t aware there were other opportunities.”

“Yes, well some are only in the planning stages, but we already have our hands in some railroad and now shipping companies. We hope to get into construction as well, but that is, shall we say, political.”

Of course, Adam knew what that meant. It wasn’t as bad as it was in the east, but political corruption in the form of bribes and kickbacks were infiltrating every level of government, and some of the most lucrative construction projects were those set up by the state government with the rapid expansion of the state.

“Aren’t there enough private projects to be profitable?”

“Yes, but the big money is in the public projects.”

“I’m afraid I would avoid those.”

“Father, I told you Adam had a sense of honor and integrity that most men don’t have. He wouldn’t be comfortable with the compromises that would have to be made to complete such projects.”

“I suppose I have lived here too long. I’ve gotten used to accepting things as they are and adjusting rather than fighting a system I know I can’t defeat.”

“Perhaps it is because too many think like that the corruption continues.”

“You may be right, Adam, but I am no crusader. My son would be the one more likely to try to fight them. He has this idea about starting a newspaper and writing about the corruption and all the problem the city and state have with the idea that could lead to change. I don’t see any money in newspapers.”

“There’s more to success than money, father.”

“Now you sound like your sister. I hear enough of that from her. If only Etta could be like Polly.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask about that. When we were in school, I thought you told me other names for your sisters.”

“Oh, I did, but here in the family, you get to use the more familiar names. Etta is short for Henrietta. We called her Ettie as a child but she didn’t like that as she got older. Said it sounded like a child’s name but didn’t want Henrietta either as it sounded like her great-aunt. So, she’s Etta. Now Polly is a whole different story. Her name is Mary Elizabeth, but when she was little, she told us she wanted to be Polly. We indulged her and somehow it has stuck. Everyone calls her Polly now, and it fits her perfectly too.”

All Adam could do was smile as the names did fit the personalities of Franklin’s younger sisters even if the names were nicknames. Somehow, they were well suited to them. Polly was the epitome of the social butterfly and had done all she could to flirt with him in the few minutes they had been together. He didn’t mind the flirting by the pretty woman, but it was the comments she made that let him know he wouldn’t be interested in her other than as delightful scenery. Etta was serious and more interested in what he could tell her about Nevada which she had never visited. As much as he thought Polly was good to look at, Etta could probably hold her own in a conversation. That was something that was more important to him so although she wasn’t as pretty as her younger sister, he found her more attractive. He doubted she or her family realized it as Polly found every opportunity to monopolize his attention when he was in the house over the next few days. In fact, the news was quite a surprise to Franklin a couple of weeks later when he asked Adam for a favor. After knocking on the door of the guest quarters where Adam was staying, Franklin walked in with a bottle of fine bourbon and two glasses.

“What’s the occasion?”

“Father is quite pleased with your work. He said he would never have known about watered stock without your expertise. You saved us quite a bit of money with that bit of knowledge.” Franklin poured out two generous drinks and offered one to his friend.

“Well, the most important bit of knowledge was knowing that herd was being brought in by the Lassiters. They’re known for using every trick there is. I wondered what they might have done, and watered stock was the best guess by the way the cattle looked.”

“So they get the cattle to drink large amounts of water just before they bring them in and they look fatter so they get a better price. Within a day, those cattle are a lot thinner though. Must be a shock to those who buy them.”

“It’s hard on the cattle too. Sometimes, it means some die so they’re no good to anyone. Then the loss is even greater.”

“Cold-hearted bastards.”

“Some people don’t care how they get their money as long as they get a lot of it and never mind where it came from.”

“From what you’ve told me, your father didn’t build up the Ponderosa that way. It’s hard to imagine how he could build such an empire without being ruthless.”

“Oh, he could be hard and demanding.”

“Especially of his sons?”

There was no denying that so Adam could only agree. “Yes, but he worked hard too. Some of out success was being in the right place at the right time. We had what was needed when it was needed. That makes a big difference as you know. You could have the best product there is, but if no one wants it, then you don’t make any money. Look at that man, Hunt, who invented that safety pin we discussed while we were still in college. That’s a brilliant idea, yet it’s gone nowhere.”

“Yes, when we discussed engineering, we thought he was quite brilliant to have thought of it, and we assumed it would make him wealthy. Yet, it’s more a novelty than anything.”

“Maybe someday it will be worth something. But, that’s what I’m saying. Pa picked the right place to settle and build up his ranch. If he had picked another spot, we might be like any other struggling rancher in the west.”

“Adam, you talk about your home with such warmth, and you always talk about your family as ‘we’ and ‘us’ so I don’t understand why you left.”

Not sure if he wanted to tell Franklin everything, Adam settled for a vague response that seemed to satisfy his friend. “I’m almost thirty-five years old. I wanted more than taking orders and riding fence lines. I’m not married so there was nothing holding me in place. It’s my chance to see more of the world and do things I’ve never had a chance to do.”

Franklin saw his opening. “That makes sense. Speaking of doing things you haven’t had a chance to do, are you interested in attending the opera performance with the family on Saturday night?”

“Of course I am, but I sense there’s a catch here. Your father made it clear that I am an employee and not a member of the family even though I live on the estate. What are you up to?”

“Well, Polly has no trouble getting escorts to such events. I, of course, have my Mary Elizabeth. Mother and father will be together.”

“And you want me to escort Etta.”

“Adam, if you wouldn’t mind too much, it would be a great favor to me and to my parents. It is so difficult in these situations otherwise. Etta scares off most suitors and word has gotten around.”

“Scares off?”

“Her ideas of speaking her mind do not sit well with most men. They would like someone more like Polly. She is much younger but father thinks she will be married within a year. He is looking over the prospective suitors with an eye to a good match.”

“Doesn’t Polly get a say in the matter?”

“Polly doesn’t care that much as long as he’s handsome and wealthy.”

“So she is as shallow as she appears.”

“Adam, Polly isn’t that bright. I don’t know what happened, but somehow she didn’t end up with much in, ah, thinking ability.”

“I’m sorry. I thought she was simply putting on that act that so many do. I had no idea it was no act.” After being quiet for a short time and sipping his drink, Adam returned to the original request. “I would be delighted to escort Etta although I’m not sure she will have the same response.”

That was prophetic as Etta definitely did not appreciate being set up with Adam saying she could have stayed at home alone. Her father told her that was preposterous as people would have gossiped terribly if she was not with the family. In the end, she was gracious and pleasant with Adam and sat beside him as the opera began. What shocked her was that as the climax of the opera concluded, she turned to Adam and saw tears in his eyes and evidence that a few had trickled down his cheeks. The house lights were about to come up so she took her lace handkerchief and gently dabbed his cheeks getting a smile and a softly spoken thank you in return. He seemed so strong and manly yet he showed her a gentleness of spirit and soul she didn’t think any man had.

After the opera, the family went to dinner and then home. At the house, Etta surprised everyone by asking Adam if he wanted to walk in the garden and discuss the opera performance. He did, and the two walked outside and strolled in the garden where lanterns were still lit. Etta’s parents were shocked and her mother couldn’t help but look out the window occasionally.

“He’s pointing at the stars now.”

“Mother, Adam knows the names of all the constellations. We used to try to trick him in college, but he never failed. He knew them all. I’m sure he’s telling Etta about them.”

Outside, it was getting quite cool, and Etta couldn’t help it, she shivered after fighting it for some time. Adam apologized for keeping her out in the cool night air and walked her back to the house. She told him she had a wonderful evening and thanked him for being her escort. He told her it was his pleasure. After she went inside, Adam walked back to his quarters never realizing what drama occurred inside the house. Etta kissed her father goodnight and then kissed Franklin goodnight before hugging and kissing her mother goodnight. After she went up the stairs, her father looked at the others.

“She’s not kissed me like that since she was about eight or nine years old.”

“I can’t remember the last time I got a kiss from my sister.”

Etta’s mother smiled. “She had to do it. The one she wanted to kiss wasn’t here.” With that, she frowned and followed her daughter up the stairs. Etta’s father knew there was going to be a discussion about that later.

At first, Etta’s father wasn’t so sure that he was against Adam as a suitor to his older daughter, and as Adam worked so successfully as a stock buyer for him, his attitude changed. Watching him at work, he couldn’t help but be impressed. He did tell Adam that he needed to stay a gentleman at all times with Etta unless he made his intentions clear to her parents and got their permission to do more.

“I’m only her escort. I had no other intentions in her regard.” It was true too. At that point Adam was not thinking of Etta as more than a pleasant companion on excursions with Franklin’s family. It seemed a useful arrangement for both of them as far as he could tell.

Then at Franklin’s insistence, he offered Adam a chance to submit a design for a home for a client. It was to be outside the city on a piece of property overlooking the ocean. He took Adam out to the property to show him where the house would be located so he could get an idea of how to design a house for the site as well as incorporate the ideas the client had for his home. The man had been to Italy and wanted something on the scale of the villas there. Adam hadn’t been to Italy but could study pictures. When it was time to present designs to the client, he didn’t hesitate but chose the design Adam had submitted. When asked why, he said it was easy.

“It looks like the house is supposed to be on that site. He has the eye of an artist not just the skills of an architect.”

That evening, Adam got a proposal to split his time between the stockyards and the newly formed construction firm. He was pleased. But that meant he wasn’t in the stockyards when his family brought in cattle. They had hoped to see him. Franklin apologized and told them of the new development and that Adam was currently outside the city working on a project.

“I’m sorry. If it wasn’t on a deadline, I could send someone to get him so he could spend a couple of days with you, but it’s tight schedule on this project, and Adam needs to be there.”

Deeply disappointed, Ben had to return home without seeing Adam. He left a note with Franklin hoping that Adam would at least know that they tried. Of course, they did learn too of the changes in Adam’s life and the success he was having. It didn’t make them feel that much better because it meant it was unlikely that Adam would be coming home. The better he did, the more likely he would continue to live on his own away from the Ponderosa and his family.

Although he was sitting in the theatre with a beautiful and charming woman beside him a few months later, Adam was torn and his thoughts were about another woman. Although he often escorted Emmaline or Maribelle Mason to dinners or to the theatre, there was no spark in either relationship. They got along well, but that was the extent of it. There was no future for him with either of them.

That afternoon, he had received an offer to travel to England to help in the reconstruction of a man’s large home that was more like a castle than anything. It was a chance to see more of the world and use more of his skills. However, there were several problems with the plan. One was that he felt he owed some time yet to Franklin and his family for offering him employment and a place to stay. Originally he had intended to work in their companies for two years or more to get established. Of course, he had also planned to get a place of his own in the city and that hadn’t happened either.

That situation led him to the second problem he had with the decision, and that was Etta. There the conflict was even greater. The delay in moving from the guest quarters was all about the interest he had in her and not wanting to lose those chances to talk with her and walk in the garden with her. Although he escorted many different women to various social events around the city, he often escorted Etta when the family attended any concert or event. Although the family assumed he was doing them a favor, he relished every opportunity to do so. The young woman excited his senses and buoyed his spirit like no other woman had ever done. The more time he was with her, the more time he wanted to spend with her. Yet, he didn’t make a move to initiating a romantic relationship despite her clear signals that she wouldn’t mind if he did. She was too young for him or at least he thought she was. In his way of thinking, she deserved a younger man who could share her life with her and not have already lived so much more than she had. It was also complicated because she was the daughter of his employer and the sister of his friend. He didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable with the situation after all they had done for him and wasn’t at all sure how they would react if he showed interest in pursuing a romantic liaison with her. They seemed perfectly content to have him there as an escort as needed, but they saw that as a favor he did for them. He doubted that father or son had any idea how much he already cared for Etta.

Of course, the third issue was whether he did want to move that far from his family and his home. It had always been a possibility, but the offer had made it more real. He had seen his family only once since coming to the city. Other chances for visits had been planned but failed to work because of business commitments on one side or the other and in some cases because weather had interfered with travel. Time and distance indeed had softened attitudes and emotions. Adam was more than ready for reconciliation. Based on the letters he had recently received, he believed his father was prepared too to make concessions and work out their differences. But to do that meant going home and giving up his other ideas. He wasn’t ready to do all of that, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to pursue travel to Europe and living there either.

Everything came to a climax with one kiss. He hardly had time to pack much less pen a short letter to his family before leaving with the gentleman from England who had made the offer of employment and also paid for the travel. Guessing correctly that his family would be upset that he left without visiting first, Adam tried to explain without giving away too much. Somehow it was simply too embarrassing to admit he had been caught like a schoolboy kissing a girl and the father had been furious.

“Adam, at dinner tonight, you seemed troubled?”

“Yes, but ‘troubled’ is a very mild word for how I feel. I’m feeling more like I’m being drawn and quartered.”

“The pain is that bad?”

“The thing is that it could be if I make the wrong decisions.”

“Is one of those decisions about me?” When Adam didn’t reply, Etta knew it was. “If it is, let me tell you that I’ve been wishing you would kiss me or do something to show you care more than as a friend of my brother or my father’s employee. I wish you would show me that you have feelings for me because, Adam, I love you.”

Though he had longed to hear the words yet he knew too what they meant. “Etta, please, you shouldn’t love me.”

“Why not? Because my father won’t like it? Because my brother might be upset? Adam, we have to go where our hearts lead not where others want us to go.”

Her words were so close to how his heart and mind worked that he was speechless for a time. Sitting on the garden bench beside her, he felt as if they had somehow traveled into a world of their own. Looking into her eyes and seeing her earnest look, he knew she had meant what she had said. When he said nothing more but stared at her intently, she had a question that needed an answer.

“Do you love me? If you say no, then I can say you should do the right thing and walk away from me. A relationship without love both ways, to me, is no relationship at all. But if you do love me, then you should want to fight to be with me.”

“Etta, I love you.”

Leaning forward, Adam gently touched her face for the first time caressing her skin and tracing the outline of her cheek and chin before tilting her face up slightly. With his thumb, he touched her lower lip and her mouth opened in response.

“Etta, are you sure?”

Without a word, she wrapped a hand around his neck to urge him closer and to have him continue. She had never had a man approach her so gently. Her experience was that men tried to force their way close to try to steal a kiss. Adam was doing his best to entice her to want a kiss, and that was working for she wanted nothing else at that moment. As he moved closer to her, she felt his breath on her cheek and his hand on her arm pulling her closer still. When his lips first touched hers, she didn’t want him to ever stop. As he kissed her, his hand slid around her waist to press her closely to him, and she knew that this man she loved and admired wanted her. It was paradise for a moment until it all ended violently as Adam was pulled from her.

“What the hell are you doing with my daughter?”

“Adam, we trusted you. Etta is only a girl. I thought you were my friend.”

“She’s not a girl. She’s a woman. What did you think would happen if you asked me to spend time with her?”

“Not this. Not this at all. I thought you would be like an uncle to her not a perverted older man taking advantage of a young girl.”

“Father, I am not a young girl. I am almost twenty-three years old. Adam did nothing wrong.”

“You be quiet and go in the house. Your mother is distraught over what she saw when she looked out the window of the conservatory.”

Etta wanted to say that her mother would have had to crawl over a bench and potted plants to see this bench from the conservatory windows, but her father’s fierce look let her know not to anger him further. She didn’t want him to fire Adam but feared that was going to be the consequence of what she had initiated. At least she wanted him to know that so she told him. It only made him more furious and frightened her. She had never seen him like this.

When Etta was gone back to the house, her father turned to Adam. “Your employment of course is terminated. I cannot work with you any longer.”

“Over one kiss?”

“It broke the trust between us. Furthermore, that means you will not be staying here any longer. I cannot trust you on my property with my daughter in residence. Franklin will see that you have a place to stay tonight. After that, it is up to you. Any payment you have coming will be sent to your bank.” With that, he turned and left. There was clearly going to be no discussion.

“I am sorry, Adam, but I would have thought you knew better. I thought you knew father had plans for her.”

“I knew he had plans for Polly. I didn’t think he thought he needed to do that for Etta.”

“He doesn’t need to do it. He wants it done so it will be done.”

“Is that why you’re not married, Franklin? The two of you can’t decide on who you will ask?”

Franklin hit him then, but it wasn’t much of a blow.

“You hit me with about as much strength as you showed in standing up as a man.”

Without retaliation which was the greatest insult he could give at this point, Adam turned and walked to his quarters with only a simple comment. “I don’t need or want your help. I’ll pack my things and find my own place tonight.”

For the first time in his life, Adam felt truly alone. There was no one he could trust or lean on for support. It was a lonely feeling to be an island among many with no connection to any of the others.

 

Chapter 4 In the Wind

By Monday, when Adam began the rounds seeking new employment, he found he had been effectively blackballed. There were some rumors around that there had been financial irregularities at the business where he had so recently been let go. There was no substance to the rumors and they were not attached to his name but clearly the whole thing was cleverly orchestrated by Etta’s father. Anyone hearing the rumors and then finding out that Adam was looking for work would connect the two. Everywhere he went, he was met with the polite information that they were not hiring. After a week of that, he guessed there wasn’t going to be any job for him for the foreseeable future. It was on Friday that he received the worst jolt though.

Arriving from one last day of fruitless job hunting, Adam found some mail awaiting him. He was surprised because he didn’t think anyone knew yet of his change of address. One letter didn’t surprise him when he opened it because it was a separation settlement. Clearly they didn’t want him to claim he had been unfairly terminated and had offered a more than generous amount. He tossed it on the table knowing that it was only money. It would do nothing to resolve his dilemma of trying to find work in a city in which employers all thought he was tainted.

The other letter was a stiff card and when he opened it, he sat down hard in a chair and tried to get his breathing and heart rate under control. With shaking hands, he poured a glass of whisky and downed it. He had hoped that with a little time, there might be a way to work out differences with Etta’s family and find a way to make a relationship work. That kiss had confirmed for him that there was something there worth fighting to win. The card said it was hopeless though announcing the engagement of Etta to one of the most eligible young men of the city, a scion of a wealthy railroad family. Adam could not hope to compete with his status and prestige nor his political connections. The door to that future had been slammed shut and padlocked.

It seemed that in the space of less than a year, Adam had left home and managed to lose everything that was important to him. He had a decision to contemplate. The question was whether he would go home beaten and try to fit into the situation that had so frustrated him in the past. He was defeated, but he didn’t have to be. He had another offer that he could accept if it was still viable, which he needed to find out. He did, it was, and he accepted passage to England with the man. Bertram was quite talkative and Adam wasn’t at all sure he was going to enjoy that part of the deal, but at least he didn’t have to worry about carrying his end of the conversation. It seemed the man quite capable of carrying the entire conversation by himself as long as he had a willing listener. At least he had no title as he was quick to explain his father was the youngest son in the family and all the titles were gone. Other than an uncle dying without a living heir and he would never have one. However he had money and quite a lot of it.

“Now, Adam, I’m a bit of an adventuresome man and would like to see all I can see on this trip. I doubt I will ever travel this way again certainly not this far nor for this long so I would like to see as much and do as much as I can on this trip. That said, we’re taking the roundabout route, so to speak. I’ve booked passage to Nicaragua. We’ll be traveling across that country, navigating the lakes and doing some overland travel before catching a ship on the other side. From there, now that the War is over, I plan to visit New Orleans briefly before we catch a ship to England with a stop in Bermuda. I hope that is acceptable with you? I have heard that you are quite skilled with firearms and more than capable of holding your own against any man. I didn’t think such a trip would intimidate you.”

“Not at all, and in fact, I am intrigued. My father was in Nicaragua once. He’s told me stories, and it will be interesting to see the place. I have been to New Orleans but not recently. I’ve never been to Bermuda.”

“I own property there as do the other members of my family and must stop to inspect our holdings and get reports. It won’t be a long stop there but should be interesting. Do you need time to tidy up any affairs here or say your farewells? We could rendezvous in Managua if I haven’t given you sufficient time. Perhaps there is a special lady you should tell to wait for you?”

“There’s no one.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I thought I had seen you with a lady on your arm, and the way the two of you looked at each other, I gathered there was some reciprocal feeling there. Pardon me for my impertinence. I meant no offense at all.”

“None taken, but I would prefer not to talk about my personal life or my family.”

“Very well, the subjects are taboo. I certainly hope you realize that I will talk about mine though. You might have surmised that I like to chatter on, and you will have to listen if you travel with me. I do miss my family very much, but quite clearly not enough to rush home and miss the rest of my adventure.”

“Perhaps we could spend some time discussing the commission you want me to do? It would be helpful to know what I am going to be doing so I can formulate some ideas before I actually have to tackle the project. Yes, I am aware that I need to see the foundations and the structure itself before making any actual plans, but we could discuss your vision for the reconstruction and I could start to work on ideas with you. It would make the project go more smoothly when I get to the actual drawing up of the plans.”

“Well, that does seem like a splendid idea the way you explain it. I never was one for detailed planning, but I could see from work you did that you were.”

While Bertram didn’t know what had changed Adam’s mind about accepting his offer, he was quite pleased not only to secure an architect but also a traveling companion. Most of the trip to Nicaragua was spent in conversation with Bertram talking and Adam listening. Bertram found Adam was a good listener who made comments at all the right places and often had some interesting analyses or if they had been drinking, some pithy commentary. Either way, he enjoyed the time far more than he had any of the other trips he had taken by ship. On arrival in Nicaragua, Bertram made arrangements for travel across the country by the usual means. Trips across the large lake with the rest of the time by trail with guides. Until the Americans completed the transcontinental railroad they were discussing, this was still the way many people traveled from ocean to ocean.

The trip across Nicaragua was uneventful if dreary in its unrelenting heat and humidity. Bertram would have complained constantly if it would have done any good, but there was no relief to be had. It was his poor planning to travel across the country in early July which had contributed to the discomfort they endured. However, he wanted to be on a ship for home by early August to try to avoid the worst of the storm season in the Atlantic or so he hoped. A short stop in New Orleans wasn’t going to interfere with that except it almost did.

The city of New Orleans was still occupied by federal troops and neither Adam nor Bertram thought there would be a problem. The issue however was seething resentment of those troops, the government that had sent them, and the citizens who had voted for that government. Bertram who was clearly not an American was not met with the suspicion and animosity that greeted Adam in almost every establishment they frequented.

“Maybe I should stay in my room and read a book. You could probably enjoy yourself more without my company and the slings and arrows that get thrown your way until you speak and they realize you aren’t my brother.”

“Yes, amazing isn’t it that my speech is all it takes to get me safe passage in the city while your speech seems to get their backs up so to speak.”

“It is funny in a peculiar way that someone who was a stranger to me resembles me more than my own brothers do. You have the same height, weight, build, and coloring as I do.”

“You did say your father and your mother were from New England, correct? Well, it would seem that our ancestors may have been related.”

“Let’s say one more night on the town and then we’ll leave? In fact, we can book passage out of here before we go to dinner. How’s that?”

In the restaurant, when it was time to order, Adam mimicked Bertram’s accent perfectly. The waiter asked if they were from England, and a stunned Bertram answered so that Adam would not have to lie. They got good service and there were no evil looks or implied threats. On the way back to the hotel, Bertram remarked on the mimicry. They had chosen to walk because it was only about eight blocks which afforded them quite a bit of time to talk. The hour was early with a number of people still on the street.

“You did that quite well. We should have thought of that sooner, but I never thought you could sound like you were born in England.”

“I went to college in the east. I had to learn to speak like they did or spend years being treated as a hayseed.” He saw Bertram’s look of confusion. “A country bumpkin, a peasant. So, I worked at it until I could speak like they spoke, walk like they walked.”

“Probably couldn’t ride a horse like they rode a horse though.” Bertram grinned when he said that one.

“No, I didn’t take to the English saddle very well. I suppose I won’t have much choice now.”

“There isn’t much riding in England except for hunts and racing. I don’t think you look like the type for either so you can relax about that.”

About two blocks from their hotel, Bertram looked at Adam and put a hand to his friend’s arm. “I thought we might be being followed but just now I thought I saw someone duck into a dark nook up ahead. Do you suppose that there’s mischief afoot?”

“I had the same suspicion about being followed. Our hotel is on the other side of the street. We could cross now to see what our shadows do.”

“Let’s do and have either evidence there is nothing or evidence that we should be wary.”

The two men walking behind them crossed the street, but more ominously, two men up ahead came out from next to a building and crossed as well getting there ahead of them. Bertram looked to Adam and around for anyone else who might be of assistance and saw no one.

“The one good thing is I doubt they have firearms. It wouldn’t do to draw too much attention and risk getting interrupted in what they want to do.”

“Why is that such a good thing?”

“Because I brought mine.”

Pulling his pistol from his waistband in back where it had been concealed under his light dinner jacket, Adam was ready to defend the two of them against the four. There was no need. The four ruffians had thought to take advantage of two foreigners in the city expecting them to be easy pickings. The sight of a forty-five-caliber pistol in the hand of one of them and the way he held it led them to believe it was time to find other targets especially ones without lethal force. They left as quickly as they had arrived.

“I must say, you are certainly a good man to have around and in more ways than I ever imagined when I hired you on as an architect. I can’t wait to introduce you to my family and friends. This will make a delightful story to tell. Have you been carrying that pistol all the time I’ve known you?”

“Not on the ship. There was no need for it there. However, I have been to New Orleans before and now with all the turmoil from the war and its aftermath, I assumed there would be dangers. It pays to be prepared for possibilities.”

“Where did the people go who were here and then gone when we needed them?”

“Typically, they didn’t want to get involved. They saw what we saw and drew the same conclusions.”

“That’s cowardly.”

“Yes, and that’s the way of it for most people. You’re on your own out here, and you need to be ready to take care of yourself.”

With a cheeky grin, Bertram had answer. “Or hire someone to take care for you.” Although he did pull a pocket pistol from his coat to show Adam he was at least somewhat prepared for trouble. “Mostly I would have had to rely on you.”

“That’s one way to do it.” Then Adam laughed too. He liked Bertram and even in the face of the odds out there, the man had not cringed. He had to respect that he had been willing to fight against formidable odds.

“We should get some sleep now though. That ship sails out tomorrow and we need to be down there well before she leaves.”

Apparently, the trip through Nicaragua and the stay in New Orleans were too much for Bertram. He became ill on board and nothing anyone did helped him overcome the fever and chills that plagued him. Only Adam nearly forcing him to eat and drink kept him going although Bertram didn’t realize that fully until he was home. When they reached Bermuda, he had a dilemma having work he had to do and far too ill and weak to do it.

“You could do it. They’ve never met me here. You could wear my clothing and do that accent mimicking me. I could tell you what to check and you could report back to me here.”

“I don’t know any of the men who work for you or your family and I’m not familiar with your properties.”

“Neither am I, but a look around and a look at the ledgers is usually sufficient to see that things look to be in order. If not, we can talk about it when you return.”

Reluctantly, Adam agreed, but his tour of the properties was exhilarating playing the role of a grand owner. Most of the people responded to him well. At the end of that week, he had only one negative report to give.

“Why do you think there’s something wrong with our shipping business? It’s showing an overall profit.”

“The books show losses on some shipments and only small profits on others.”

“It’s a risky business.”

“Yes, but all employees have always been paid on time and in full. All expense vouchers are also paid on time and in full. Anything that would cause an owner to step in and examine the books is carefully maintained. It is as if making sure there is no reason to be suspicious which is in itself, reason to be suspicious.”

“Adam, you are so entertaining. I don’t believe I have ever met a man who had less trust in his fellow human beings. Really now, no reason to be suspicious is the very reason to be suspicious?”

“If all those things can be paid in full and on time, how can it be that there were losses incurred at times? There should have been breaks in the cash flow causing delays at some points.”

“Oh, I see your point now. If there were losses, then there should have been a shortage of cash to pay wages or pay suppliers. Not everything would have been paid in full and on time. Something doesn’t add up.”

“None of the ledgers at the other properties showed such a pristine character. I went over them though and in the long run, they added up as one would expect of a normal business operation. This one is abnormal.”

After alerting the local constabulary as to what they suspected, Adam and Bertram concocted a plan. The local authorities agreed to back them up although Adam would be the only one actually in jeopardy. He went to see the manager of the shipping company and brought a man with him. After setting that man up in the office with the ledgers to make copies, he asked to speak with the manager.

“I’ve hired a man to make copies of the ledgers. I’m taking them with me to be gone over by our accounting clerks at home. Something seems a bit off with them.”

“A bit off?”

“I think you already know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do, and that is your misfortune.”

Several men began moving in around them until Adam knew he was being set up. The manager grinned then.

“I knew you were suspicious when you spent so much time reading those ledgers. I have a few of my friends here to make sure your suspicions don’t ruin our nice golden egg. You’re going to have an accident on the quay. Your family will be deeply saddened by your loss.”

“I think not!” The ‘clerk’ who was from the constabulary had alerted his fellow officers who were there now to take charge. “It is you who is under arrest. Your own words have impeached you.”

It took weeks for Adam with Bertram’s advice to get the company reorganized under new management. Finally, they were able to sail for England and Adam’s promised employment. Once Bertram told his family of all that Adam had done, they recommended him for all sorts of jobs with families they knew. Although Adam didn’t get to do most of the kind of work he wanted to do, he traveled extensively, met many important people, and saw many of the great buildings and artwork of the western world. Commissions for his services were generous, he had important friends, and his wealth of experiences was vast. Yet, he was still deeply unhappy.

It all came to a head when he took a job in France renovating a villa for a wealthy family. At the conclusion of that job, he felt lost. He looked at what he had accomplished and thought there was nothing special there, no reason for joy. It was because of a boy and his top. As he watched the workmen clear away the debris and surplus materials, the extent of the renovation was revealed. The villa looked magnificent. In the yard, the owner’s son played with a top. He spun it over and over again getting better and better as he did so. Then he finished and packed up the top and the string he had used into a small sack he grabbed as he ran to get into the carriage when his mother called. Staring at the spot where the boy had played so energetically, Adam saw there was nothing there.

“That’s me. Spinning like a top getting better and better at what I do pleasing my employers but leaving nothing behind that anyone will ever know was done by me. I have no legacy, no mark to be left.”

In a few years, no one would ever know he had been there. Nothing he had done in the years he had been gone was any different. Yes, he admitted to himself, he had made a difference, but what he had wanted was an impact. Looking up at the stars that night, he talked to himself once more.

“I’ll join you all someday and look down here and there will be nothing that says I was ever here.”

 

Chapter 5 A Part of the Whole

The man leaned on the wall of the cemetery. The priest saw him there often and assumed he needed a place for quiet reflection, but then one day thought he perhaps needed more than that. Walking up to him, he discovered the dark-haired man was an American because when he spoke to him, he responded only with a few words but the accent was clearly American. At first, he didn’t share anything seeming almost antagonistic in his silence. However, from his demeanor, the priest could discern some things and guessed others. He took a chance.

“The walls we build up to keep out sadness also keep out joy.”

Startled, the man turned those dark hazel eyes on him in a penetrating stare the priest guessed could scare some. He wasn’t scared for he had hit the mark but wondered if it was enough for this man to trust him. He seemed so intent on being sad and sorrowful. His words showed the depths of his despair.

“What if there is only misery and no joy?”

The priest was not one who gave up easily. “Then, one must go in search of what brings joy.”

Getting engaged in the conversation despite his earlier plans to rebuff the man, Adam began to debate him. “I thought that was what I was doing. Nothing seems to have worked out that way.”

“Perhaps it is God’s plan for you to go another way than what you thought.”

His cynicism was clear. “If God has a plan for me, it must be sending me on a road to hell.”

“A negative, resentful, critical mind doesn’t allow one to be an instrument of God. You cannot see his will if you surrender to the dark side of your nature.” The priest could see the stages of what his words had caused but was surprised at how fast resignation set in.

“I guess I walked right into that one.”

Having broken through the walls, it was time to find out what demons plagued the man and sent him into a cemetery for company. “What brings you to such a dreary place so often?” The priest saw his look. “Yes, I have seen you here before, but today, I think God told me it was time for me to talk with you.”

“It’s not like I had a detailed plan for what I was going to do when I left home. It was more of a dream of things I thought I could experience, of projects I thought I could accomplish. I guess I had tired so much of propping up my father’s dreams and wanted to finally have my own dream. But I didn’t have a clear idea of what that dream was and I found out what happens when you don’t have a well-thought out plan with the steps you need to succeed. What I thought I would do has not happened. I wanted to build buildings, something that would last and be a bridge into the future, but no one here trusts me to do that kind of work. I have no credentials and more importantly, no experience because I wasted all that time doing my father’s bidding and what he needed instead of preparing for what I wanted to do. Then again, I wanted a woman by my side, a partner, someone to share my life, and that is all on me.”

The way he spat out those last words led the priest to believe there was some pain in that part. “Wisdom comes with thinking, imitating, and experience. The first two are better than the third which is often mostly a series of mistakes we make until we get it right. May I surmise from your words that you have been hurt and quite badly by a woman here? Perhaps betrayed by her or worse?”

The tall man didn’t answer, but that was enough. The priest knew. Looking at the man closely now, the priest could see the flecks of gray in his hair and the lines by his eyes and those that creased his face. He was no young man but one nearing his middle years. If he did not yet have a woman at his side, he most likely had more than the one failed relationship. Most likely there had been at least one other painful loss which also may have been a catalyst for his travels away from his family and his home.

“Did she hurt you the same way that the other one hurt you or find a new way to cut your heart and damage your soul?”

That caused Adam to close his eyes and drop his head. This priest was exceptionally good at reading him or guessing his thoughts. It didn’t matter which it was because his whole story was being uncovered as they spoke, or more as the priest spoke and Adam listened.

“If you let her actions determine your future, then she has done more harm to you than she may have even intended. But that does not matter. What matters is that you have control over your future if you wish to take it back from her.”

“It wasn’t her. It was her father. He forced her to marry another and did all he could to ruin my chances of employment there. That forced my hand. I had thought about travel but it seemed I had no choice then.”

“Yes, it seemed so, I’m sure.”

“You may doubt it, but ever since then, it feels as if my life has been directed by others. I’m being pulled this way and that by forces too strong to resist.”

“Or you haven’t chosen to resist because you haven’t yet made the choice to control your future.”

“How? I feel like nothing I do is worth anything anymore. I can’t see my way forward.”

“You look outside yourself for what makes you happy and fulfilled. You need to look inside yourself. You are only responsible for you. If you are happy inside, then whatever you do will make you happy on the outside too. You need joy in your heart and soul so that any endeavor becomes a worthwhile one.”

“So, the looking glass approach. Look at me to see what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“I would take a more positive approach and look for what strengths are there, what attributes, what skills. What have you done already that shows your best likelihood of success in the future?”

“So bury the soul condemning thoughts and do a bit of positive soul searching?”

“A positive approach helps open lines of communication with many including yourself usually. If you’re willing to forgive the past and embrace the future, you may find there are those who need or wish to follow you there, where you wish to go. Your future isn’t here with all the turmoil in this country which is only likely to get worse. If you will admit it, you know where your future is, and there, you will do well and find trust and love. Open you heart and mind to the possibilities and the answer will come to you. I think your family awaits your return.”

More startled by that guess than the others, the tall man frowned before shaking his head. “You’re good. You’re very good.”

“I have a good teacher. I try to listen to Him.” Wondering if the words he had heard meant the man needed more concrete help, he had one last question. “Do you need money to go home?”

Smiling sardonically, Adam shook his head only slightly. “No, that turns out to be the one thing I am good at doing. I can make money. I found all sorts of projects at which to make money. Unfortunately, they were not the kind of work that set my heart soaring or my mind racing. You see, I’m good at fixing things; buildings, businesses, organization, all sorts of things.”

Later that evening in the harbor, Adam signed his name to a ship’s passenger manifest: Adam Cartwright. He was going home. He had lost the illusions that he could be an island. He was a part of the whole. He hoped the priest would be happy with the generous donation he had left. Clearly the man’s heart was in helping others so Adam felt a desire to help him in his mission.

On the ship, he had time to remember all that he had experienced, but the visions of her kept intruding in every set of thoughts and memories. Wondering if he could ever forget the women he had loved, he tended always to fixate especially on the last one, the love that never got a chance to grow. In some ways, he guessed she had been his last hope for true love before bitterness and hopelessness on that front made him give up. Usually too stubborn to give in on anything, he had found romance simply beyond his ability to cope. Falling in love seemed to be only one more opportunity to be hurt deeply and left questioning his own worth. A dream of a family was just that now to him, a dream never to be realized perhaps to be regarded more as a fantasy like that tale of Alice that so many children adored.

With a short stop in London to make some business arrangements, arrange for the transfer of his funds, and say his farewells, Adam had only to see to the shipment of his belongings before beginning the trip home. Seeing the harbor of New York a month later was a welcome sight. He had tired of traveling the seas and wondered if that was why his father had quit too. Soaring over the black seas was exhilarating and languidly drifting along on blue glass water was satisfying to the soul at first. But eventually it all became more mundane, and the storms were terrifying. Back on solid ground, he was appalled at how much the city of New York had physically deteriorated in the few years he had been gone. Seeing firsthand the effects of political corruption had a sobering effect and helped reinforce his decision to return to Nevada. Passing through a squalid St. Louis made him yearn for the clean air of the Sierras.

Yet as he neared his home, he became nervous about how he would be received. As he had grown melancholy, he had written little. He didn’t know what had happened with his family and had been cut off from communication in the time he had been in France and since then. He could only hope that all were well.

Arriving in Virginia City and renting a horse to ride to the ranch, Adam could see changes had taken place and most were not positive. There were boarded up stores in town indicating an economic downturn, but what was more ominous for the Ponderosa was how dry everything was as he rode there. Brown seemed to dominate and green seemed to be missing from the landscape. There was hardly a tree in sight until he reached the boundaries of the ranch. It was as if the area had become a desert. As he approached the Ponderosa ranch house, he expected to see herds of cattle but didn’t. The pastures with thin sprigs of short grass dotting them couldn’t have supported even a few cows much less a herd. Dust clung to him and he coughed frequently. He was coughing when he rode into the yard of the ranchhouse and saw his family for the first time in years. There were a few changes there. He could see that someone had tried to introduce a rose garden at the side of the house, but the drought had doomed that to failure. Otherwise, things looked much as he expected.

In the midst of some type of disagreement, the his father and brothers stopped and stared at Adam before recognizing him with Ben the first to rush forward to throw his arms around his son as soon as he could. Adam was surprised by that but welcomed the hug after all that time. Hoss was there next with a slap on the shoulder and then he was grabbed in a bear hug and nearly lifted off the ground. Joe gave him a hug too but Adam could tell he was upset.

“What’s wrong?”

“We’re in the middle of a mess so I’m glad you’re home, but don’t expect a feast to welcome the prodigal son.”

“Joseph!”

“Sorry. I guess I’m not in a very good mood. I should go do the chores that need to be done. I’ll take care of that horse for you, Adam. You are staying, aren’t you? I want you to stay.”

“For tonight, yes, I had hoped and planned to stay. I’ll need to head to town at some point for a few days. I have some business to conduct, and I had my things shipped this way. I want to check on them to see what’s arrived so far.”

“Let’s go in the house. You need to tell us where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing. We haven’t heard from you in so long. We worried about what had happened to you. When we got your wire, we were so relieved.”

Reading between the lines, Adam heard the admonitions about not writing and knew he deserved them. There was more there too that he couldn’t decipher. Some he understood when he got inside and met a red-haired boy who had been sitting at the fireplace reading across from Linda. Adam greeted Linda before turning to the boy and waiting for his father to explain.

“Adam, this is Jamie. Jamie, this is Adam, your oldest brother.”

For a moment, Adam wasn’t sure he could have heard correctly and then he knew he had. The boy stood, approached him, and held out his hand. Adam shook it and said the kind of things he supposed were appropriate at such a time. He wasn’t sure because there really was no way to prepare for such a moment. His father kept talking, but Adam’s mind wasn’t fully engaged as he kept coming back to having another brother. Joe came back in at some point but that didn’t register at the time with him either. It was only when Joe asked a question that he realized he had returned.

“So, you going to explain why you didn’t write all this time?”

“I have to apologize for that. When I found out that dreams are for children, it put me in a foul mood, and I held my own failings against everyone. I wanted to be alone which of course was the worst thing to be. I met a priest in a town in France who gave me a good talking to. I got my priorities straight then, and that’s when I decided to come home. I wired you as soon as I could. When I was in France, I doubt any letters would have reached you anyway. There was a great deal of turmoil there at the time. I managed to avoid it, but it was a good thing to leave when I did.”

“Are you home for good, son?”

“I’m home for good, Pa. I plan to stay here in Nevada. There may be trips, but this is my home. I don’t plan to leave again.”

“I’m sorry about calling you the prodigal son earlier, but with the drought and everything, we’re up to our ears in debt. I guess I was afraid that you might ask for money for something. It seems everyone still wants to ask us for money, and we can’t even pay the mortgage.”

“Can’t pay the mortgage?”

“Yes, the bank called the mortgage. We have a month to pay the balance.”

“When I arrived, it seemed you three were arguing. What was that all about?”

“Your brother Joe thinks we can solve our problem with horses. He wanted to go round up mustangs and try bringing in cash by breaking and selling horses.”

“That could work given enough time.”

“You’re taking his side?” Hoss was surprised.

“There are no sides. It’s ideas that are needed, and I don’t reject one because the source may not be the most reliable.”

“So now I’m not reliable.” Joe’s temper was up again.

“Not when it comes to making money if I recall some of your schemes, but this one sounds good and should certainly help.”

Not knowing what to make of the compliment mixed with the criticism, Joe was quiet so Jamie joined in the conversation.

“I could help Joe with the round-up and breaking the horses. I’m good at taming them and training them.”

“All right, that gets two working on making some money. What else do we have?” Adam looked at Hoss and his father hoping they had some ideas.

Hoss was the first to speak. “We do have a chance to make some money by bringing our timber crews to the California side and working some camps over there that need workers real bad. They’d pay extra and we’d pay that to our men to keep ’em on our payroll for when we could get back to work but keep the bonus for bringing in a crew, and whatever they pay me for bossing the crew. That oughta be a good chunk of money.”

“Good, and the bonus would have to be paid up front so we’d have that money right away.”

There was only one left who had nothing to say. Ben was silent. Joe and Hoss looked at him and then at each other. Adam saw them encouraging each other to speak and then Jamie got in on it too making the same kind of gestures with his eyes and head as the other two. He decided to ask because it looked like none of the three wanted to say what they were thinking.

“What is it you think Pa could do but you won’t say?”

Joe shot him a withering look, but Hoss and Jamie looked relieved. Ben glanced around at all four sons and sighed before speaking.

“The governor has been pressing me to take an appointment as a head of a commission to draft laws for the state regarding election reform, land laws, and other issues. They would like me to do it. That would be a substantial salary. He said he would get me a top-notch clerk to handle any tricky legal issues. A few of these issues lately have tied up his legal staff for weeks. He would like to have a separate staff to handle them and prepare the proposed legislation. I don’t have any legal training, but he said I have as much as many attorneys in this state do and I could read more on the laws that would be applicable to the situations I would be addressing.”

“It sounds like a good challenge for you, Pa. It’s not something that would tie you down indefinitely either. You could always try it and then if it doesn’t work out, you could tell them you tried.”

“What about you, Adam? What are you going to do to help?” Joe’s jaw was jutting out in that challenging way he had with his oldest brother.

“When I get a chance to go to town, I plan to see if there’s some work I can get. I did all sorts of business while I was gone and hope to set up my own business here. If I can get something started soon, that would be the beginning of it.”

Hoss was surprised. “You ain’t planning on being part of the Ponderosa no more?”

“I do if the Ponderosa plans to diversify. I think you’ve seen the results of relying too much on one thing. Don’t worry. We’ll weather this storm, but we need to look to the future and how to get through the next ones too.”

Ben held back on any comments. He had heard Adam’s theory in the past and dismissed it, but now he saw that the prediction had come true making him re-evaluate his own thinking. He had to consider that there might be some merit in his son’s ideas. Dinner was more pleasant then as they discussed their new plans and the money that would flow in. After dinner, Adam walked outside to see the stars in a clear sky for the first time in years. Hoss followed him out.

“I knew you was coming back.”

“You did? Another of your famous gut feelings because I have to tell you there were times that I wasn’t at all sure I would ever come back.”

“Yeah, I guess you could call it that. Our friend Sam was back only a few months ago. Me and him got to talking. He likes our family and he had a few things to say about us. After we talked, I figured you’d be back.”

Frankly quite curious at that point, Adam had to ask. “What did he say?”

“Well, you see, ’cause he writes all these books ’bout people he knows and places he’s been, I asked if he’d ever write a book about us.” Hoss described the conversation he had with Sam Clemens that one evening.

*****

“So, Sam, ifn ya was writing a story of my family, what would ya be saying ’bout my father ’cause he lost three wives but got himself three sons?”

“In his heart, I’d write there must be four books inscribed there. In the first are black ribbons and in the other red ones.”

“Are the black for our mothers and the red for us sons?”

“No, it’s the opposite: he’s still in love with his wives, but his sons haven’t gifted him with grandsons so that is a loss. In his heart, there is a hole calling out a sad refrain: leaving a legacy been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.”

“That’s quite a line but it fits my Pa, I reckon.”

“Now your younger brother is another matter entirely. He seeks to be smarter and faster than his eldest brother by far; he wants what you have too and is so much younger and smaller. He seeks too to stand tall in his father’s eyes so his goal is to rise and his cry is thus: Fear of losing been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.”

“That shur do sound like Joe, but what about me? I ain’t worried none ’bout a legacy, and I don’t have to win cause just being me has always been fine.”

“Yes, it’s clear to everyone that you are happy with the life you lead here, but you have a huge job too because you must protect your family from threats within and without. So much of your time is spent settling disputes between those you love and among your good friends, and that’s a pressure that can cost you pain. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you exclaim Trying to smile through the heartache been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.”

“True ‘nough said there with them fancy words ya got. But what of older brother and what his soul has to say?”

“His is the saddest tale starting in tragedy with his mother dying at his birth. Then your mother died before his eyes as he held you in his arms. He watched over you and Joe when Marie passed away. Every lost love and friend turned the wrong way took a little more of his heart away. I’m not surprised he left. I hope he returns one day, but I think every painful episode makes him say: Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born. I’m afraid he didn’t leave to pursue a dream but to escape a past. I hope he found something or perhaps someone who can help him heal and grow.”

“Grow? Sam, I think you’re a mite confused. He was full-growed a long time ago.”

Tapping his chest, Sam made it clear which part needed to grow. “He was always looking for joy, for happiness, for fulfillment. He needs to find it within himself. Then he can find it in whatever he’s doing.”

“That’s when he’ll come home?”

“That’s my prediction.”

*****

“Not very specific.”

“No, but I know you’re a thinker, and I figure you’d work that like a dog works a bone until there ain’t nothing left of it. Then you’d come home.”

Satisfied that they had worked out any lingering effects of the long absence of the oldest brother, the two walked back inside. Both were smiling so the others were relieved. Later that evening, before they went to bed, Ben talked quietly with Adam.

“You know that the money we’re going to bring in won’t be enough.”

“Perhaps not, but we’ll see.”

Slipping into bed that night, Ben wondered what Adam had meant by his last statement and if it meant he had other ideas he had not yet shared. He knew his eldest was good at keeping secrets, but wondered what kind of secrets could help them in this crisis. In the morning, the good mood persisted even if it was muted somewhat by the thoughts each had over the intervening time. When Adam announced he was spending a few days in town, Hoss joked that perhaps he might want to buy some new clothing. It worked to relieve the tension.

“What’s wrong with my clothing? It’s the latest fashion in France and England.”

“Yup, and marks you as a right fine citified dandy out here. You’re gonna be lucky not to have five or ten galoots givin’ ya trouble.”

“No, Hoss, he just has to take off his hat and they’ll be blinded by the sun shining off that spot on the top of his head.”

“Hey, I worked hard. That’s what made the hair go. At least it’s not all gray.”

Gray-haired Joe frowned then as Hoss, Linda, and Jamie laughed. Ben was relieved that his four sons could talk so normally when in his mind, they were about to lose it all. Then he realized, they would lose the land, but they would still have each other. Adam ate lightly and then grabbed his valise to head to town. Hoss and Joe were going to spend the week getting ready to carry out their plans and get the crews they needed to do the work as well as make all necessary arrangements.

In town, Adam went to the bank first to see if his transfers had been properly deposited and to introduce himself to the bank manager and staff. When he walked out of the bank, he heard his name called and spun around nearly tripping himself. It wasn’t only that the voice was female, he recognized that voice though he had thought he would never hear it again.

“Etta? What are you doing in Virginia City?”

“I could ask you the same. Last that I heard, you had gone off with a member of the English nobility to seek your fortune in England. I had hoped you would stay to fight for me, but I managed on my own.”

“You were to marry another. There are many things I will do, but I will not be involved with a married woman.”

“I never married him. When he found out how contrarian I was, he balked. Our fathers wanted the marriage, but that didn’t mean it was going to happen. Father issued some ultimatums to me to force me into the marriage, but I left instead.”

“You left?”

“Yes, I left. I was not going to be forced into a marriage.”

“What did you do?”

“I contacted an old school friend who worked for the government. He found a job he said he was sure I could do, and I’ve been doing that work since.”

“What is it you do?”

Looking around as if to check for someone too close who could hear, Etta spoke softly. “That information is to be shared on a need to know basis and certainly not on a public street. Now, I should go. I must be keeping you from your business.”

“Etta, don’t go. Have lunch with me. Please?”

Despite all the negative thoughts and feelings she had had over the years about Adam leaving, she couldn’t resist that request. She knew she still loved him even if they had never had the chance to have their love grow. Nodding, she turned to walk with him not sure if her voice would betray her emotional state if she said anything at that point.

At lunch, Adam felt that he had to tell her why he left San Francisco for it seemed to him that she didn’t know his reasons. When she found out how her father had sabotaged his employment prospects, she was angry, but when she learned that her father had put an engagement announcement in the paper, she was incensed.

“No wonder he was so angry with me and said I was going to embarrass him. I wondered about that at the time when he kept talking about me marrying that man. I refused from the start. There was never an engagement. I told him I would never submit to the man and I made sure he knew that too. He was going to have a wife who was never going to be a wife to him if he let our fathers force this marriage upon us. He didn’t and it was all over in a few weeks. Yet, when I tried to find you, you were gone.”

“I must have missed you by only a short time. I had no idea.”

“My father has much to answer for, but this is personal. He succumbed to greed, you know. He’s in deep with those who have the morals of snakes.” Then she told Adam about her new career.

“At some point, aren’t you worried that your job will put you in direct conflict with your family?”

“I told my employers I would quit if they ever put me in that position. I’ve made enough money to live comfortably. I don’t need a lavish lifestyle. I could get by.” Looking at Adam, Etta wondered though about his life. “You look like you have had great success in some ways. Your clothing is the finest and you clearly have a great deal of money. However, I look in your eyes and listen to you talk, and I sense a profound change in you.”

“You are perceptive. I have changed. Living here, working for my father, I was getting older without growing older. Now, I am maturing in my way of thinking and doing things. No more blaming others for how I feel. I’m the only one responsible for the mood I’m in. I’m the only one who can change it. I need to work out my place in the world and base it on reality not overconfidence bordering on arrogance.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I looked in the mirror and into my soul and decided what I want to do. No more dreams or at least no more dreams of grandeur. I was building myself up for disappointment. What I want now is to do what is more realistic for me to set goals that are lofty enough to be worthy of the effort but not so far out of range as to foster frustration and anger.” Reaching over, Adam put his hand on Etta’s. “What do you want to do, Etta? Where do you want your life to go?”

“I thought I knew, but you have shaken me to the core.”

“Does that mean that you still care for me? I ask because when I saw you, all I could do was hope that was true. You have been in my heart for all the years I’ve been gone. There was no other. After you, I gave up on love. I thought I was destined to be alone, but now I’m wondering if there is a second chance at love.”

“Maybe there is, Adam. Maybe there is.”

With a smile, Adam took her hand and kissed the back of it. He told her he had a friend he wanted to visit and thought she would like him too. A short time later, a surprised retired Sheriff Roy Coffee welcomed the two into his home. Adam told Roy and Etta that he had a plan but it might put Etta at risk now that she had been seen in his company. He told them what he wanted to do.

“If they guess what I’ve done, they may try to retaliate.”

“Adam, I have information that could help your cause but it has to go to the authorities in California if it will do the most good. You could do what you have to do, and I could take what I’ve found out to Sacramento.”

“I don’t like that plan. If they figure out what’s going on, you could be in great danger.”

“You face the same risk.”

“Perhaps, but there might be a way to fool them long enough to give me a head start.” So Adam explained what he thought he could do. Roy liked the idea even as Etta resisted. Roy suggested though that she stay with him in effect disappearing.

“They won’t know where you are. They may think their suspicions of you are groundless, and when Adam does what he plans, they may just think they’re wrong about him too.”

“It won’t take long until they figure it out though.”

“It don’t matter none. We only need about twenty-four hours.” Looking at Adam, Roy waited to see if his friend agreed.

“Etta, this should work. In a couple of days, they will be fairly sure you left town. I’ll set up an office to do the kind of work I was doing in England. They should have no reason to suspect I’m doing anything else.”

“But behind the scenes?”

“I’ll be working to do all I can to pull the rug out from under them. By the time I head to Sacramento, they should have no idea what is about to hit. By the time they check on me, I’ll be well on my way, and they will be about to face their worst nightmares.”

 

Chapter 6 Rings In the Water

On the ranch, Ben realized that there was no possible way they could pay the mortgage. Even with his first salary, Joe’s advance for the horses, and the bonus that Hoss sent, they were well short of the money needed. He had hoped that somehow Adam would come up with more or that they would have another idea to raise more money, but everything had failed. Every attempt to borrow had failed. Hoss returned home the night before they were to go to town to meet the bank manager and pay the called mortgage. He like his brothers was also deeply disappointed that Adam had been unable to help them and that none of their friends anywhere had been willing to dig deep to help out. Ben was a bit perplexed though at the wording of some of the messages they had received.

“They respond as if we have nothing to worry about. I don’t know if I didn’t make myself clear enough, but they seem to be taking this rather lightly.”

“Pa, I think even Adam isn’t taking it as serious as I thought he would. One of the hands said he thought he saw him at a restaurant with a woman one day. Here we are in such a mess and he’s out romancing some lady.”

“Hoss, it was only a lunch. I heard that too. Perhaps that’s why Adam seemed to be in a better frame of mind when I saw him when I came back from Carson and stopped in to talk to Clem. I briefly saw Adam, and his mood seemed so much better than when he was out here.”

“I hope he plans to be at the meeting tomorrow when we lose the ranch. Maybe he’ll see how serious it is then and how great his mood is then.” Joe was about as depressed as he could get laying back on the settee with his eyes closed. That didn’t last though when he heard Jamie’s news.

“I rode into town before I came home today. Adam has a new office he opened in town. It’s got his name painted across the window.”

“He what? He spend money on a new office when we need every dime to try to save the ranch! I ought to ride to town now and let him know what I think of that. No wonder he wanted to stay in town instead of riding back here every day. I think I’ll find a nice big rock and throw it through that nice big window of his.”

“Joseph! I’m sure there is a good explanation for what Adam did. You can at least wait to hear what he has to say.”

“Yeah, maybe he needed an office to get some contracts to do some building work. You know he said he was gonna try to get some.” Hoss wanted to believe the best intentions of his older brother.

The next day, they rode by Adam’s new office on the way to the bank. Adam wasn’t present and when Hoss checked at the hotel, they said he had checked out. No one seemed to know where he was. The meeting proceeded without him. Hiram Woods, the family attorney, was there to speak for the Cartwrights and handle any legal paperwork. The bank manager began with an announcement.

“Mister Cartwright, the mortgage to the bank has been paid in full. You need not be present for this meeting. In fact, there is no need for this meeting.”

One of the men from the holding company that was there to purchase the mortgage stood to object. “This is illegal. That mortgage was to be sold today. We’re here to buy it.”

“That mortgage was to be sold today unless one of the mortgagees could pay off the balance.”

“Those Cartwrights didn’t have the money to pay it off because they would have done it by now if they did.”

Hiram answered him. “These Cartwrights didn’t have the money to do it, but they were not the only ones who legally could pay the mortgage. If you have any questions, you can go see the judge. He has all the paperwork and is satisfied.”

Packing up his papers, Hiram Woods signaled to the Cartwrights not to say anything and pointed to the door. As they left, he whispered that any questions would be answered at his office. They shook hands with the bank manager who stepped outside and apologized again for what his bank had done, but said the men inside controlled the board. Ben answered him.

“Yes, well, I’m going to see what can be done about that after this.”

“Please do, Mister Cartwright. I don’t like working in circumstances like these. If there is anything that I can legally do to help you, do not hesitate to ask.”

With that, he was gone, but the questions for Hiram were not. He didn’t talk until he got to his office and then explained.

“Ben, your past mortgage is paid, but you have a new one to the man who paid off the debt.”

Joe slammed his hat down on the desk. “Here we go! Another leech ready to suck the life out of us. Who is it, Hiram? Who wants to rip our hearts out now?”

But Ben had a small smile that made Hoss and Jamie wonder what he knew.

Ignoring Joe, Hiram continued to look at Ben. “Your new mortgage is to pay one silver dollar into the hand of the minister each month to remind you where the wealth of the earth comes from and where it will all be going someday.”

Hiram was not surprised to see the tears that flowed down his friend’s cheeks, but Hoss and Joe were shocked.

“Dadburnit, Pa, what’s wrong?”

“Yeah, that sounds like someone did us a huge favor.”

“Who was it, Pa? Was it Adam?”

Startled at first, Joe thought only a moment and knew Hoss had to be correct. There was no other person other than the bank who had the legal standing to pay off that mortgage. Ben must have known it when they sat in the bank office because he had been unnaturally quiet about the whole situation.

“When Adam was very young, he made some mistakes like any child. We didn’t have much money, and he had to do without. Seeing other children with candy, books, toys, and nice clothes had to hurt. One time on our travels, he took a book from a general store. I didn’t realize it until we were too far along the trail to go back and pay for that book. But every time we came to a town after that, I made him go give a penny to the minister. Now that may not seem like much but it would have bought some candy or he could have saved it and bought a toy or book. I told him he needed to remember what was important and where all wealth came from and where it was all going someday. Temporary hardships are nothing compared to what you can lose if you lose your soul.”

“And he came home to find us all in foul moods and at each other’s throats. We hardly even welcomed him even though he’d been gone for years. He must have needed us too to come back here like he did. Pa, whadya suppose Adam meant when he said dreams are for children? Do you think he’s given up?”

“I think he found he couldn’t do what he wanted to do where he wanted to do it or how he wanted to do it. He’s decided on a new course for himself and he’s still charting that out. But we won’t find out what happened until we talk with him which is what we need to do next. Hiram, do you know where he went?”

“He didn’t say only that he had some business to do and would be back.”

Taking some solace in that last part, all they could do probably was wait except Joe had an idea. “We know he didn’t ride out of town so let’s check the stage depot and the train station. If he bought a ticket, we’ll at least know where he went.”

“Denver?”

“That’s what Jake said. He bought a ticket to Denver and left on the next train out.”

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Pa, he musta found out something important. I wonder who he was talking to before he up and left town.”

The mystery was solved quickly enough when they were hailed by Sheriff Clem Foster who had recently taken over for Sheriff Roy Coffee who still helped out as needed. “Good morning, Ben and boys. Now, I have a message for you from Roy. He’d like you to stop over for coffee.”

“Clem, we’ve got some business that can’t wait, and even on a good day, Roy’s coffee is not worth a special trip.”

“Ben, today, that coffee is worth the trip, and you might find your business is less urgent once you talk with Roy.” With a wink then, Clem was gone not wanting to draw too much attention to the meeting.

Getting the hint though, the Cartwrights went to Roy’s home where they were greeted warmly and ushered inside. Once seated and served by a lady they hadn’t met previously, they all waited.

“This here is Etta. She’s a friend of Adam. Now it was a shock to him to find her here. Seems they was close before he left for England. She and her father got into a tussle over who she was to marry, and she more or less run away from home and ended up agreeing to work for the government. She gets to know important people and then kinda spies on ’em for the government.”

“Kinda spies on them?” Joe was incredulous.

“I monitor their activities and watch for papers that might be incriminating and take notes. It’s rather simple and they don’t suspect a pretty bauble on their arm to have a brain.”

“Pardon me, ma’am, but don’t they notice you takin’ notes?” Hoss was curious.

“I memorize things and write them down later.”

“Her current case is against bank corruption, and you have had some dealings with the men she has been investigating. Now they would have gotten very suspicious of her when this mortgage got paid off, and she needed a place to hide. She’s been here for days now so that they would make no connection between what happened today and what she has been doing. She does make coffee a whole lot better than mine too.”

“But what about Adam?”

“He took the information to the authorities in California. We could have wired it, but we’re concerned that they may have bought off someone along the way in telegraph offices.”

“But his ticket said Denver?”

“Only until he got far enough away from here to make the switch. They were watching here for anyone going toward Sacramento. Once he bought a ticket to Denver, they lost interest.”

Looking kindly toward Etta, Ben had a question. “Etta, are you the reason that Adam looked so happy when I saw him in town? It seemed odd considering all that was happening, but now it seems to make far more sense.”

“I hope I am. When I contacted him, I wasn’t sure how he was going to react, but he was happy to see me. We talked about the, ah, misunderstanding, that led to us not seeing each other all these years, and we both understand each other better now.”

“So, these last few days, Adam has been with you?”

“For some of the time, but he’s been busy too taking care of business as you have already guessed.”

“Yes, that was quite a shock today when Hiram dropped that news on us. Adam could have told us before the meeting.”

“Ben, Adam didn’t really have time to do that. He’s been wiring all over to try to get the money here to pay off that mortgage and to do what else he wanted, but it took time. It was only late yesterday that he was able to get enough together to do it. Then we knew we could go ahead with the rest of the plan.” Roy looked over at Etta. “Adam said he trusted me to protect her until he got back. Now ifn you wanted her to stay at the Ponderosa, that would be fine too. I’m sure she might be more comfortable there.”

Considering that Roy’s house had only one bedroom, Ben thought he should follow up on that suggestion. “That might be best. Roy, would you like to come out to the Ponderosa too.? You could help us keep Etta safe and enjoy some of Hop Sing’s cooking for a few days as well.”

However Etta wasn’t at all ready to concede on any of those points. “I don’t think Adam wanted me to stay at the Ponderosa. If he did, he would have said so. He’s not one to leave something so important like that to chance. No, I do think it best if I stay here in town to wait for him as he wished. Now, Sheriff Roy, if you’re uncomfortable with me here, I can make other arrangements.”

“No, Etta, I told Adam you would be safe with me, and I meant that. Ben, it seems we’re gonna be staying right here like it was planned.”

It was then that Joe wondered about something Etta had said. “What did you mean when you said what else he wanted to do? What is he doing other than what he did here by paying off the mortgage?”

“Perhaps you should stay in town. Adam plans to be back tomorrow. It might be quite entertaining to be here when he comes back and there’s another meeting at the bank. That is, it will be interesting if he accomplishes what he set out to do in California because it will have a big impact on some people in town too who least expect it but most deserve it. I can’t betray his trust, but it is a wonderful plan, a very fitting one.”

Because Roy was smiling as she talked, Ben guessed that he knew the plan and approved. It was all it took to get Ben to agree to stay in town. If his old friend with his relatively conservative values and old school ways approved, then he wanted to be in on whatever it was Adam had cooked up. As long as Ben was staying, all three sons thought they ought to stay too except Ben said one had to go home to let Hop Sing know what was happening and inform their foreman that they would be staying in town.

Rather reluctantly, Hoss and Joe both volunteered to go home for the night. Both admitted that it might not be safe for Jamie to go alone. With the plans of the holding company thwarted, there was no predicting what they might do next. None of them wanted to let Jamie alone in case they thought kidnapping might accomplish what their underhanded financial dealings hadn’t done. Ben told the two of them to be careful too and to watch their backs. Hoss said they would take the back way home that most wouldn’t know.

“It’s a harder trail, but it’s faster, and no one’s likely to know it or be ready for us to go that way. We’ll be fine, Pa.”

They were fine, but the next morning, Hoss had a question for Joe. “Joe, yesterday, they weren’t at all ready for their plans not to work so it wasn’t likely they were gonna try anything ’cause they hadn’t had time to think of anything. But now, they’ve had nearly a day. I’d like to ride back into town to see if Adam’s back and what he’s got cooked up, but do you think it’s safe?”

“I hadn’t thought about it until now, but you have a point. Let me think.”

While Joe was thinking, Hoss went to talk to the men about the day’s work and that he and Joe were considering joining their father and Jamie in town. The foreman told him they should, but Hoss explained his concern. The foreman smiled.

“You know, we haven’t had any fun here in a long time. You go get us a set of your clothes and a set of Joe’s. We’ll need to borrow your horses too, of course.”

“What you got in mind?”

“I think you know. We’re going to play a little game ourselves. By the end of the day, Clem is gonna have himself a few new guests in that jail if you’re right that they’re gonna try something. You might be a bit late getting to town though. We have to let this play out first.”

“It’s all right. I kinda want to see what happens. I’ll go get the clothes for ya and tell Joe what we’re doing.”

Hoss and Joe were outside later as their doppelgangers rode off. They had picked the biggest man on the payroll to wear Hoss’ clothes and ride Chubb. Hoss had gotten an old hat from the closet so he did look quite a bit like Hoss especially to someone who didn’t know him but would be going by a description. One of the smaller men dressed in Joe’s clothing and rode Cochise. A number of the men had headed out much earlier to find places to observe the action and make sure no one got hurt. Others would follow and eventually apprehend the kidnappers. Hoss and Joe were to wait at least an hour before beginning the ride to Virginia City on other horses and dressed in clothing that was not their usual attire.

In town, Adam had returned in the early morning hours riding in on a freight train as no passenger service was available for several days. He had managed to get the engineers though to let him ride along for a generous ‘donation’ and a promise of a steak dinner on him in Virginia City. He was rumpled and needed a shave, but otherwise looked good.

“I’ve managed to catch some sleep here and there, but I want a bath, a breakfast steak, and a shave, and pretty much in that order.”

By eleven, Adam was ready and headed to the bank where several men had been summoned to a meeting. They didn’t know why but had assumed it had something to do with the Cartwright mortgage because of how the note to them had been worded. When they saw Adam at the meeting as well as Ben and Jamie, they were angry all over again, but when they saw Etta with them, a hint of worry crept in. They thought they still held the ace in the hole, but might not have the pat hand they thought they had. When Adam started talking instead of the bank manager, they objected. The bank manager explained.

“Mister Adam Cartwright is now a member of the board of the bank and speaks for the bank in this matter.”

“There were no vacancies on the board.”

Adam wss so pleased to tell them the news. “Oh, a vacancy opened yesterday when Matthew Simmons was arrested for various violations of banking laws, fraud, and a host of other charges. The board immediately dismissed him and appointed me.”

“But you have to be a major investor in the bank to be on the board.”

Adam gave them his most charming grin.

“Now, may I continue?” Shocked, the three men had nothing to say at that moment. “Now, when I got on the board, I suggested we look at all the transactions that Mister Simmons had been pushing for the bank. We found some highly irregular transactions that were not at all in the interests of the bank investors or the bank depositors. They would be justifiably upset if they were to learn of these loans that are practically gifts. So, those loans are being called. You three are holders of all the questionable paper, so we have here all the documents necessary to let you know your loans are hereby called. You have thirty days to pay in full or all properties listed as collateral are forfeit.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Oh, in fact, yes, we can. However, you may find paying those called loans difficult because you’re also going to be facing some criminal charges, I believe. Information has been turned over to the authorities in California and they have issued warrants for your arrests.”

“But, we’re in Nevada so they can’t serve those warrants here.”

“Ah, but someone put a reward on you, so anyone wishing to take you in for the reward money could do so.”

“Who would put a reward on us for bank fraud?”

“Oh, so you already know what the charges are? Now, that would show consciousness of guilt. I believe the prosecutor will be interested to know that. However, in answer to your question, I put the reward on you, and I notified several well known bounty hunters and the Pinkerton detective agency as to where you could be found this morning. I’m sure they are waiting for you.”

“You think you’re so clever. Well you better find a way out of this for us or you might just have two less brothers before this is over.”

“Adam?” Ben was worried.

“Don’t be scared, Pa. I saw them ride in just before the meeting. They went over to see Clem. They waved and said everything was under control and they were sorry they were going to have to miss our meeting, but they had another one to handle.”

“What did they mean by that?”

“I’m not sure, but it looked like some of the hands from the Ponderosa had two men pretty well hog-tied, two of our men were dressed up like Hoss and Joe, and they were all going to see Clem.” Adam grinned then because he knew his father, Jamie, and Etta were going to figure it out even if the other men didn’t. “That’s two good schemes in a month for Joe. I may have to re-think my position on his scheming.”

The bank manager was perplexed. “I don’t understand what is happening.”

“These three men insinuated that they had somehow gotten control of my brothers. However their plot to kidnap them apparently was thwarted by my brothers and the hands at the Ponderosa. So, no leverage there for them. We can escort them outside where they can be taken into custody to go face justice in California, and within the month, their holding company and all of its assets should belong to this bank. We won’t get those loans repaid, but hopefully the assets will be enough to cover any losses.”

“But they should be far more than any losses.” Then the bank manager grinned too. “Yes, of course, sir, hopefully, the assets will cover the losses for the bank, and the investors and depositors will be more than satisfied.”

“Yes, my thoughts exactly.”

The three men snarled at him, and one called him a bastard.

“No, I am not, but there’s something you should have known, and like others, you have learned the hard way. Don’t take on the Cartwrights unless you’re prepared to lose.”

At that time, Hoss and Joe arrived. Joe was excited. “Did we miss all the fun here?” Ben nodded and Joe looked crestfallen. Jamie reassured him though.

“Joe, it was great. You’re going to love it. C’mon outside with these guys and watch them get picked up by the bounty hunters. It’s going to be something to see.”

“Bounty hunters?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you while we take them out there.”

“Jamie, stay back here with me. Your brothers will see these men out.” Ben wisely kept Jamie away from the three desperate men.

Hoss and Adam nodded in appreciation even as they drew guns to force the three to leave the bank. Joe held the door for them watching to make sure they made no suspicious moves. The men were defeated though. They were not men who did their own dirty work. A short time later, the family met on the street to offer congratulations all around after Jamie finally got to tell the story to Hoss and Joe.

“Boys, you did a great job. Adam, I don’t know how we can thank you enough.”

“I’m part of the family. Isn’t helping out what I’m supposed to do?”

“You did a lot more than helping out. You’re very good at this kind of thing.”

“Yes, I found that I am good at fixing things, all sorts of things.”

“You are. What are you going to do next?”

“I’m not completely sure. I have some ideas. I will stay on the board of the bank. Bank fraud is a top priority if we’re going to keep things moving forward here in Nevada.”

“Shur seems like a lot of crooked people around these days in places where they shouldn’t be like in the government and the banks and even in some charities. We just heard about a minister run off with all the money the people collected to build a new church in a little town north of here. Came into town and made a big hoohah about how they needed a church, and they did all sorts of fundraisers, and then he took off with the money.” Hoss shook his head in disgust.

Joe had a more immediate concern. “Are you coming back out to the ranch with us?”

“No, Joe, I have some concerns in town here that I need to address.” Although speaking to Joe, Adam looked only at Etta. “Now, if you will excuse me, I think I need to get busy with the most important of those concerns.”

As Adam walked down the street with Etta, Jamie looked at Joe and Hoss. “I thought you two said you thought he’d given up on women? All those stories you told me about how everything always went sour for him with women. Well, I have to tell you that I may not know much about women, but he sure looks interested in her.”

As they shrugged, Ben smiled. He knew better. Adam wasn’t the type to ever truly give up on anything or anyone. He was too stubborn.

 

Chapter 7 The End of the Rainbow

As Etta walked with Adam, she was quiet. He wasn’t sure why, but he had the distinct impression that he had done something wrong. What it was, he didn’t know. Only a couple of days earlier, she had looked at him differently than she did now. Guessing they needed privacy for their next conversation, he suggested his new office as he didn’t have clients yet. She readily agreed further supporting his feeling that all was not right between them. After a short tour of his office and an even shorter tour of the living quarters above, Adam had a question for her.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s difficult to put into words.”

He waited because he had learned not to try to speak for others or to guess what was on their minds. Sometimes one could suggest something worse than they were thinking and make matters worse. This was a critical time for them and he wanted it to go well.

“You took over and never asked what I wanted. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed you were domineering like my father.”

“I think there’s a difference that matters. Your father interfered in what was your business, in what you had a right to do. In this case, your part was essentially over, wasn’t it? You had gathered the information and it was up to someone else to get it to the proper authorities. I needed to get to the same place to do what I needed to do. Yes, I was assertive and confident, but I don’t think I overstepped the boundaries, did I?”

“Perhaps not. I guess I’m not used to someone as confident as you stepping in and doing what you did. I was impressed the way you handled those men this morning at the bank. It was rather fun to see you smirking and ramming it all down their throats as they sat there fuming and powerless to stop any of it. You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

Unable to deny it, all Adam could do was grin.’

“You have the most infectious smile when you choose to use it. You know that though, don’t you?”

“Etta, I know I can border on arrogance. I try not to let myself go that far. I can act superior and that is not an attractive quality either. These are things I know I need to curb about myself and I do try. However, confidence and being assertive are part of who I am. I’m stubborn, passionate, honest to a fault, and committed to my family as much as I am to justice and fairness for all. I’m also in love with you.”

“I think I love you too.”

“So where do we go from here?”

“I think we need to spend more time together. We never got the chance to do that.”

“Your father has a lot to answer for.” Adam paused then and frowned. Etta wondered why but knew it was something he didn’t want to say. She waited for much the same reason he had earlier. “I did something that you may not approve. Before I turned over the evidence you had collected, I sent a message to your father. It was a warning. No specifics were there, but I told him that he needed to get out of the holding company he was in, get out of the deals he was making, and go to the authorities with what he knew because his part in all of it was known and would soon get him arrested otherwise.”

Etta was shocked. She had never expected him to do anything like that. “Why did you do it?”

“He’s your father.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. I doubt he will take the advice, but he got it. If he doesn’t do as he was advised then anything that happens is all on him. He was warned. He was given a chance to do the right thing.”

“It’s more than he deserved.”

“Yes, but he is your father. Any obligation is met.”

“My father is not a brave man. What if he agrees to testify after he’s arrested?”

“It will likely get him a lighter sentence, but not as light as if he had done as I suggested. Getting out would show an effort to avoid wrongdoing so they could give him the benefit of the doubt and think he was duped into being part of it. Staying in means that he was helping to advance the criminal activity so he will likely have to pay a penalty even if they are lenient.”

“Mother will be mortified and Polly will likely cry and cry and cry.”

“I think Polly will do better than you think. She seemed to me to be working the system rather well. She’s manipulative.”

“You think so?”

“I’ve had enough bad experiences with women to be suspicious, and she set off all the alarms. She’s charming, but I wouldn’t want to be too close to her.”

“So she’s more like my father. I’m more like my mother, I suppose.”

“You don’t seem to be much like your mother.”

“No, you only met my step-mother. My birth mother died when I was young. Then father married again and that’s when Polly was born. Very soon after the wedding too. The servants talked about that enough that I overheard. We only had a cook and a nanny then so I spent quite a bit of time with both. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I knew enough to know that it was scandalous for some reason.”

“My mother died soon after I was born.”

That started a long discussion of their family histories. It was getting dark outside before either realized how much time had passed. There was a rumble in Adam’s stomach that made both of them chuckle.

“I haven’t eaten since I grabbed a quick breakfast this morning. I hardly remember what I ate. Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner?”

“I would be pleased to do so. I should go freshen up though.”

“Don’t get dressed in your finery though. My wallet is a bit thin at the moment. I was thinking of dinner at the café across the street if you don’t mind. The food is good even if there is no wine list.”

“That would suit me fine. It surprises me a bit though. Are your financial resources that limited?”

“Only my cash flow at the moment. I have some investments that pay well. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad is paying off quite handsomely.”

Etta turned to grin. “So that’s how you got a ride. I wondered about that. From what I’ve heard, they get offered bribes all the time to take on passengers but refuse.”

“But when it’s one of the owners, it carries more weight.”

“It was that important to you be get home and be the knight in shining armor?”

Adam shrugged. There was no other answer. It was that important to him to show his father and brothers what he could do. It was grandstanding and more, but he had done it and wanted credit.

“When you were listing your faults, you seemed to have missed pride in there.”

“It’s not excessive, is it? Yes, I was proud of doing what I did. Aren’t you proud of what you’ve accomplished?”

“Perhaps we’re more alike than I would like to admit. As we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking that our lives are parallel in so many ways.”

Over dinner, their conversation continued on much the same threads. It didn’t go well though from Adam’s point-of-view. It seemed that Etta was finding reasons why a relationship between them would not work. The more she talked, the less likely it seemed they would ever reunite the way he had hoped. The conversation ended on a whimper when she asked a question for which he had no answer that would likely please her.

“Perhaps we’re too much alike and yet so different. Adam, you’ve changed. I liked the way you were. Now you’re so in control and calm even. Where did the passion go? The fire?” When Adam was quiet, Etta continued. “My life has been more exciting for the last few years. I can’t settle down into a quiet life as a wife and mother. I’m sorry if you thought I would. I need more than that. When I saw you again, I thought there was a chance, but now, I don’t think there is.”

Etta didn’t see Adam’s hands gripping the table or realize the sweat that was even then trickling down the back of his neck. Once more a woman was rejecting him, and again, he had no say in the matter. He wanted so much to grab hold of her there and show her the passion that still possessed him and that he only controlled by the greatest of willpower. Instead, he was quiet. If she had known him better, she would have understood that silence. She didn’t and thought it meant he agreed with what she said. When he stood, she guessed it was goodbye. He wasn’t going to wait around to hear any more. That part she got right.

Once the door closed, the waiter stopped by the table to pick up the money Adam had left and to ask if Etta wanted anything more.

“No, thank you. I’ll finish my coffee before I go to my room at the hotel. It’s still a bit early to sleep and I have nothing else to do tonight.”

“If you was a man, you would. Any man who made Adam Cartwright that mad would probably be worried about what happened next.”

“Mad?”

“Listen, I lived here twenty years. I remember him well from all those years before he was gone. I’ve seen that look and that walk. He gets that stiff legged walk and he gets quiet like that, he’s mad. I don’t have any idea what you said. I don’t eavesdrop on my customers, but I don’t close my eyes either. I saw him when he got up to go. He was mad.”

“Maybe I would like a bit more coffee.”

Etta decided she needed some time to think. She sat there another hour and then dropped a tip on the table and walked out. The waiter watched her walk away and smiled.

A short time later, Adam heard a knock on his office door. He had lit a lamp and had spent most of the hour staring at the space he had purchased trying to think about what he needed to do to get the place ready for the public and the private business he wanted to conduct there. He had hoped to tell Etta about it and see if she wanted to be part of it, but she had dismissed him before he had a chance to talk with her about it. He was still angry, but now was more hurting than anything. Not expecting anyone, he drew his pistol before opening the door.

“I know I made you mad, but I don’t think it was a killing offense, was it?”

“We’ll see.”

There was the hint of a smile though when he said it so there was a break in that icy exterior.

“Adam, I was wrong earlier. I made some assumptions and your reaction told me I was wrong. Do you want to tell me how wrong I was?”

“No, at this moment, I don’t want to tell you anything.”

Pushing the door closed, Adam wrapped an arm around Etta. She didn’t resist so he put his other arm around her and pressed against her as he tipped her chin up so her lips were within range. He kissed her softly and then pressed his lips more firmly against hers until she yielded. Her hands came up and around his neck encouraging him so he held her even more tightly and kissed her more deeply until she moaned against him. He knew he should stop then before things got out of hand.

“Why did you stop?”

“Because the next step usually happens only between betrothed couples or married ones. If I didn’t stop now, that’s what I would want to do with you.”

“What if I want that too?”

“Etta, are you sure you want that now?”

“Yes, I want to be with you now.” She pressed back against him. “You have a bed up there that’s big enough for two, don’t you?”

Almost growling in his response, Adam picked her up and carried her up the stairs to the living quarters. He had to ask again, but now he was sure of her response. With one more chance to say no, Etta instead began unbuttoning his shirt and then his trousers. The bold move fired his passions even more and unleashed them. Later, as Etta lay resting her head on his chest hearing his heart still pounding from their exertions, she relaxed as his hand gently caressed her back.

“I don’t know how I ever thought you were a man without passion.”

“I keep control of my feelings. It doesn’t mean I don’t have them.”

“It certainly doesn’t.”

Hugging her close, Adam pulled her up to his lips for a kiss. “This was your first time with a man. Why tonight? Why now?”

“I had to know if you were the man I thought you were and if you were the man I wanted to be with. I hoped I was right. I was. To be honest, I didn’t know it was going to happen tonight, but when you kissed me like that, I decided it would be.”

“I’m glad you did. I was so upset. I was ready to explode.”

“I couldn’t even tell you were angry and it seems what I said made you furious.”

“I was angry but I was more frustrated and feeling some hurt more than anything. It felt like I was replaying the past.”

“Is there anything else now that I should know that I don’t because clearly I am not a good observer when it comes to you, and you do seem far more willing to talk when you’re naked in bed. There must be something about taking off your clothing that helps you open up.”

“Having you accept me and love me is what did it. Getting my clothes off was only a means to an end.”

“So, is there anything else for you to tell me?”

“I was going to tell you tonight of my plans for the future.”

“Oh?”

“They are not to have you sitting home as a wife and mother making stew and babies.”

“That’s a rather funny image, but tell me your plans.”

So he told her how he planned to open a firm to do architectural work building homes or renovating properties. He wanted to stay on the board at the bank too. “However, we’ll be in contact with many businessmen that way. We’ll hear things. We’ll get invited to parties and get a chance to see things. You could continue to do some of what you have been doing, but now as a respectable wife so no one would likely ever suspect you of anything.”

“And what do we do with anything we find out?”

“We work for the same people you work for now. They like the idea.”

“You’ve talked to them already?” She could see from his look that the answer was affirmative. “All right. Now what about when we’re not at parties? Then what do I do?”

“You would travel with me when I need to travel, and otherwise, what do you know about architecture?”

“Well, that would be nothing.”

“Care to learn? I know someone who would take you on as his apprentice and clerk.”

“Apprentice and clerk; yes, I could do that.” Then Etta thought a moment. “Wait a minute. You said as a respectable wife. Did you just propose that we get married?”

“Yes, I did slip that in there. What do you think? I mean, if we’re doing everything else, it seems logical to get married too.”

“That’s not the most romantic proposal of marriage that I ever imagined getting.”

“It rather suits us though especially considering where we are at the moment, don’t you think?”

“Yes, there is that.” She moved up to kiss him. “Yes, I will marry you. And yes, we should do all those other things.” After a moment, she had a worry. “Will your father approve?”

“If he knew all of it, probably not. Hell, if he knew most of it, he certainly would not. Of course, I learned when I was about sixteen years old that he can’t disapprove of what he doesn’t know. I’m rather good at not telling things especially to my father.”

“What about telling things to your wife?”

“I see no reason not to tell you everything.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“As for you, he will be very happy, I’m sure. One thing I do have to warn you about though. Pa has this fixation on wanting grandchildren. He’s bound to start putting pressure on us about that even if Hoss and Linda are going to be welcoming their first one soon.”

It was prophetic. They made a trip to the Ponderosa the next day to share the news. Adam remembered that only a short time earlier he had made the same ride out there apprehensive about how he would be received. Now he was anxious to get there and share his news fully expecting a rousing response. He got it too.

Ben was thrilled as were Hoss, Joe, and Jamie. Linda was thrilled to have a female finally joining the all-male family.

“It’s about time. Joe keeps romancing these ladies, but he refuses to get serious about any of them. About the time I get to really liking one of them, he tires of her and starts roaming around looking for the next one.”

It was only Ben’s comment though that made Adam and Etta look at each other and grin.

“Now, finally, maybe I can get a few more grandchildren.”

Six weeks later, many dreams were dashed and some fantasies flamed out as one of the most eligible bachelors in Nevada was no longer available.

 

Tags: Adam Cartwright, Angst, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

6 thoughts on “Soul Searching (by BettyHT)

  1. Excellent, excellent. You do such a fantastic job with Adam. I love it when Adam comes out on top. I’ve always felt that Ben was just too pushy. They were not boys, they were men. I never thought men would have their Pa dictate so much of their lives. Really very enjoyable story.

    1. Thank you again. You really are on a marathon of reading. One fun facet of fan fic writing is to be able to address concerns such as this and change what happened. Yes, I agree with you. It didn’t seem at all realistic.

  2. All the Cartwrights needed some soul searching, but perhaps some good old communication as well. How easy it is within in a family to just assume rather than talk it out. This journey of soul searching and dream chasing held a lot of twists for Adam until he finally figured out what really mattered. I loved the reference from a childhood lesson at the end.

    1. Thank you so much. It seems that men often don’t communicate that well and let things ride too long sometimes. In this case, Adam needed the introspection anyway to grow and finally get where he needed to be. I’m glad you liked that little reference to the past with its impact on the present.

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, I tried to get into his head a bit in this one as well as into the others a little. I’m glad you liked it.

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