Deception (by BettyHT)

Original artwork by BettyHT

Summary:  A woman attempts some romantic deceit and fraud with two Cartwright brothers, but it turns out to be even more devious than that.  Her actions tear at the fabric of the family and open other issues which leads to great changes for one of them..
Rating: T  Word Count: 28,025

Deception

Chapter 1

Planning to purchase a book, any new book he could find, Adam Cartwright was distracted by the woman who was stocking the shelves in the general store. Enforced isolation on the Ponderosa because of heavy snows had left him desperate for some intellectual stimulation. Seeing an attractive woman moving so smoothly about her tasks brought a different need and another form of stimulation. Thoughts about books took a companion role to the desire to talk to the woman he had never met but he started thinking of how to remedy that situation soon.

The shopkeeper was amused. “Adam, Adam, I have what you want here, I think.”

Turning back reluctantly, Adam saw the man grinning and shrugged. There was no reason to be embarrassed at being impressed by such an attractive woman. He looked over the six books that the Will Cass had gotten from the storeroom.

“Those came in with the latest shipment. I hadn’t even had time to unpack them yet and put them on the shelf so you get first pick.”

“I’ll take them.”

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

“Six books?”

“Yes, I will need all six.”

“Oh, well, Adam, I had promised Roberta that she could have one of the books that you did not want. I knew as soon as the snow cleared, you would be here. I held those books for you, but she is quite a reader too and wanted one as well. In fact, I was surprised you weren’t here sooner. I saw your brothers and your father in town.”

“Fate intervened. I was the one who ended up in charge of repairing the roof of the barn because one of the beams cracked this winter under the weight of the snow. And then I had to go do the same thing at the lumber mill. My brothers got to do the trips to town for the supplies I needed. Now, I do want all the books, but who is Roberta and which book would she like? I’ll take the rest.” He had a pretty good idea of who she was, but this way he guessed he would get an introduction.

“Miss Matthews, would you come here please?” Once the lady had approached the counter, Cass grinned and continued with the introductions noting that the two seemed quite interested in each other. Miss Matthews is a recent arrival and my luck is that she needed a job.”

“I had hoped to find work as a seamstress, but for now, this will do. Will is a fine employer, and I have met some wonderful people already especially today.”

“A fine employer like Will must give you a break for lunch.”

Both turned to Will who shook his head in amusement. “Go. Be back in an hour though. And Adam, should I put the books on your account?”

“Yes, put them all on my account.”

Roberta looked disappointed until Adam explained.

“I’m sure we can work out a way for you to borrow all the books one at a time until you have had a chance to read them all.”

“Why, Adam Cartwright, you are a very clever man.”

Noting that Adam had a rather wicked grin when he wanted to use it, she found it charming too with that dimple showing. He had neatly maneuvered her into a number of future meetings without the overbearing approach other men including his youngest brother had tried. They were all so direct and predictable that she had no difficulty in fending them off. He had come up with a ploy that she had not expected and had no logical way to deny not did she want to say no to it. Although Roberta had heard quite a bit about Adam, she was still surprised to find that it was true. She had her doubts that a cowboy in Nevada could be all the things she had heard he was. Pleasantly surprised to find it was all true and that he was also an interesting lunch companion was a bonus. When he asked to call on her again on Saturday, she was more than willing to accept.

“I’m sorry that I have to end our first visit so abruptly, but Will said one hour, and I do need to get back to the ranch. There’s a lot of work to be done in the spring. But I will see you on Saturday, and perhaps we can have dinner?”

“I would enjoy that immensely.”

Leaving one book with Roberta, Adam packed the others into the sacks of other purchases he had made and tied them on the pack horse he had brought. The roads were muddy and riding was more comfortable than trying to take a wagon or carriage. It would still be slow going to get home, but he didn’t mind as he would have some pleasant thoughts to occupy his mind. Mounting up to ride home, he took one look back to the store to see Roberta at the door. She waved and got one more grin for her troubles.

Seeing some low clouds building over the mountains, Adam hurried more than he had first intended. He arrived home tired from forcing Sport to go faster than he wanted and making the pack horse keep up. Muddy too from the rain sodden terrain, he rode into the barn knowing he had a lot of work ahead. After pulling the sacks of supplies and other materials from the pack horse, he rubbed down both horses and then began the work of brushing and wiping them until their coats and especially their hooves were clean. When he was almost done, his brothers walked in and offered to help. Normally, he might have had a retort for them taking so long to offer, but he was so tired he only asked for what he needed.

“Water, feed, and some dry straw, please. I’ve done the rest.”

Hoss’ eyebrows went up at the reasonable tone, but Joe had to say something as his oldest brother moved to pick up the sacks he had brought home.

“Now, Hoss, what do you suppose put our oldest brother in such a good mood? Riding to town and back in the mud must be something he likes to do.”

Adam had to respond in kind. “Maybe it was being away from you for most of the day that did it.”

“No, really, older brother. Why are you in such a good mood? I hope you didn’t go spending time with my gal, Roberta, at the general store.”

Adam’s head shot up and he stared at Joe in shock. It took only a moment for Hoss and then Joe to start laughing.

“That was a good one, Joe. Ifn you’d asked him about her, he wouldn’t have told us anything. This way, we know he was with her.”

“Did you see his head shoot up. Adam, does your neck hurt after you snapped up like that?”

With a growl, Adam looked for something to throw at his youngest brother and only a curry brush was close. So that had to do. Joe ducked.

“Don’t do that to me. I thought I walked into another bad situation even if I only had to wait a bit to find out it was your bad joke.”

“Aw, c’mon, Adam, Joe was only teasing. He had to do something. She shot him down like a sharpshooter barking squirrels. Bam, bam, and he was on the ground not moving. She’s got a wicked tongue on her when she wants to use it.”

“Yeah, Hoss told me she was more suited to you cause you could handle her. Good luck though if she ever opens up on you.”

“Joe, did she know who you were?”

“I introduced myself, so I would think so, not that we’ll ever be doing any socializing so it won’t matter. My backside is still sore from being kicked.”

“What about you, Hoss?”

“Adam, she’s pretty, that’s for sure, but after the way she treated Joe, I wasn’t even going to introduce myself.”

“I’m seeing her on Saturday. I’ll have to see if I see the side of her that you’ve seen.”

Although Adam didn’t show it, he had some misgivings about Roberta and some regret over his impulsivity. Spending time with a woman about whom he knew nothing wasn’t a good idea especially after his many failed relationships with women. What to do though was more of a quandary than he cared to consider too deeply yet. His brothers had no concerns and Hoss wanted to head in for dinner.

“Let’s go in the house and tell Pa you got a new lady or a she-cat, and you’re going to find out which on Saturday.”

“Very funny.”

With Hoss and Joe laughing again, the three brothers took the sacks and headed to the house. Adam took a detour to the washroom. By the time he got in the great room, he could tell Hoss and Joe had told the whole story by the hint of a smile his father had when he greeted him. At least there was no more teasing about it as his brothers had exhausted their repertoire because they didn’t know enough about Roberta. Adam didn’t tell them about his arrangement to share books with her or anything else they might turn around and use against him. He did get a little teasing when they saw the five books he had brought home.

“Hey, Joe, I don’t think Adam needs that woman at all. He’s got enough books to keep him busy for a year at least.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam stared at Hoss until he finished. “It might take you a year or two, but I can assure you that it will not take me that long to read those books although I may read each of them again when I have finished all of them.” He had almost slipped and said six books which would have opened him up to questions and then torment. Better to change the subject. “I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

Although Hoss and Joe fell for it, Ben had heard that kind of thing often enough to know his oldest son was hiding something. He tucked the knowledge away for later when the younger sons were out of range or at least weren’t paying attention. That came after dinner when he asked Adam to read over some contracts which quickly sent Hoss and Joe to a checkers game by the fireplace. Although Adam longed to stretch out his legs by the warm fire and open up one of those books, there was always duty and responsibility that seemed to interfere with a good plan. Ben noticed his look.

“Anxious to get to one of your five new books?”

“Ah, yes, I was hoping to read this evening.”

“Interesting though that when I was in town, Will Cass mentioned he had six books in a case that he was holding for you. I think I told you that before you rode to town. You didn’t like one of them?”

“I liked all of them.”

“You liked all of them, but you bought five?”

“I bought all six.” Ben waited. “I loaned one to Roberta. She wanted to buy one, but I bought all of them, and she will borrow them one at a time until she’s had a chance to read them all.”

“That was clever.”

Adam had that small smile that showed he appreciated the compliment even if he already knew he had done well in getting Roberta’s attention. Little things like his father’s words made doing the work not quite as onerous.

On Saturday, Adam of course had to put up with some teasing after taking a bath before dressing up for his trip to town to see Roberta. It was getting to be too much though and he let them know by approaching Hoss.

“One more ‘pretty’ or anything like it out of your mouth, and I will forget how much bigger you are, and you know how I fight.”

Gulping once, Hoss agreed to those terms. As went to his room to get his jacket, Joe had a question for Hoss though, or rather, a series of questions. It was because of an experience he had recently had in town with his big brother. Joe had been impressed at his brother’s prowess in taking on two men without any help and managing to defeat both without hardly getting a single blow landed on him. Little Joe was very proud of his big brother. After some rowdy cowhands had accosted a lady and refused to back off, Hoss had handed his hat to his younger brother. Little Joe had gleefully accepted because he had a good idea of what was going to happen next. Hoss stepped in to forcefully remind the two young and slightly inebriated cowboys how men were expected to treat ladies. Walking back to the hitching rail, he took his hat back from his little brother and tipped it to the lady with a gentle smile. She walked on nodding to him and smiling that she understood his honorable behavior and appreciated it. Lavishing compliments on his brother’s behavior especially his fighting skills, Little Joe was surprised at Hoss’ comment in response to the praise he had given him.

“You could fight anyone, couldn’t you?”

“Yeah, weren’t no problem. I could, and only ever met one man I wouldn’t want to fight.”

“But you didn’t want to fight Adam there and it was just like in town when I said you could fight anyone, and you said the same thing. Is Adam the one man you would never fight?”

Hoss said no more and seemed to want to talk about other topics. Joe added more positive comments hoping to get back to why Hoss had made that initial comment and then repeated it.

“Hoss, you’re really good at fighting. I bet you could beat anybody.”

“Reckon I could at that.”

“I wish I could do what you do. Those two should have backed off as soon as you told them to. Next time, they’ll know better.”

“Little Joe, they should or they better if they know what’s good for ’em.”

“Hoss, I bet you’re not afraid to fight anybody.”

“No, not afraid cause I know I can win. There are just some fights I wouldn’t want to have.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t really like getting into fighting men who been drinking like those two were. Can’t reason with men like that and they might do something way beyond being reasonable.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, one of them might pull a gun when it’s a fist fight, and they’re two to one in the advantage.”

“Yeah, so I guess it was a good thing I was there in case that happened. But other than that, you could fight anybody, right?”

“I already told you I could. But you see, there is this one thing. Could and want are two real different things. I could fight anybody, but still is true that I only ever met one man I wouldn’t want to fight.”

Noticing the change in emphasis, Little Joe was even more intrigued. “You said that before when I said you could fight anyone. Why is it that you don’t want to fight Adam?” Hoss snorted like Joe should know. Taken aback by that, Little Joe had to pause though before he had a response. “Well, he’s our brother so of course you wouldn’t want to fight him. You wouldn’t want to fight me either, would you?”

Hoss had to stop laughing a big booming belly laugh before he could respond. “Aw, Little Joe, if we was fighting, I’d jest pick you up and toss you in a horse trough. There wouldn’t be no fight to it. That ain’t the same thing at all. Heck, we wouldn’t even call that fighting. That would be a thrashing.”

Holding back what he wanted to say because of his damaged pride, Little Joe managed to stick to the main topic of his curiosity. “Well, you could beat Adam too. It would only take a little longer.”

“Nah, ya see it’s different. I seen Adam in fights. He never will quit. He won’t give up no matter what. Part of what stops people from fighting with him here is they know that if they know him. Even if they might win, they’re gonna be hurt pretty darn bad. If the two of us were ever in a real fight, one of us might near kill the other or even it might come to that cause he wouldn’t quit. No, it wouldn’t likely come to that cause hopefully I’d come to my senses and give up. Then he’d win.”

Scrunching up his face thinking about that, Little Joe had only one comment. “Then I guess we better make sure the two of you never have a real fight.”

“Now why would we ever fight?” Adam had walked down the stairs and heard his brothers talking.

Hoss gave a short summary of what had happened and of the conversation the two younger brothers had before Adam got there. Adam finished tying his tie and nodded.

“Sounds about right.”

Little Joe had expected more discussion, but Adam was very matter of fact about the whole thing. “That’s all you have to say?”

“Why would I say more? It’s all been said.” He turned to Hoss then as if to say that conversation was over. “Hey, Pa wants to know if you’re going to town too. There are some crates at the general store, and he thinks they’re heavy so it will take some work for them to be loaded.”

Little Joe smirked. “Feel free to take the trip, Hoss. If all you get to do is work, I won’t consider myself cheated at all.”

Ignoring him, Adam continued. “I’ve got to go now to be on time. I’ll be back later tonight. Don’t burn the place down while I’m gone.” With a grin, he headed out the door.

Little Joe turned to Hoss. “Now you see, comments like that about burning the place down make me want to pop him one right in the kisser.”

“Little Joe, he didn’t mean nothing by it. You don’t need to take it all personal and such. He’s been watching out for us since we were little. He never would do or say anything to hurt us. Don’t you never forget that.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when my temper gets in the way.”

“Little Joe, you jest got to control that temper and remember to follow what’s in your heart. Adam always is trying to do the right thing for us. Keep that in mind, and it will help you to hold that temper of yours back some.” Those words came back to haunt Hoss about a month later when he might have killed his brother over what he thought he saw and what he was told. The experience with Regan Miller had helped. He talked to his brother first.

In town, Adam spent a pleasant time with Roberta talking about the Ponderosa and about trips he had taken. They talked about books and the theatre. As he walked her to the boarding house, she slipped her hand into his. It was a not so subtle way of letting everyone including him know they were a couple. Although he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted that, for the time being, it was all right. He kissed her on the cheek at the boardinghouse, but she turned her head and made sure the kiss got to her lips before he could pull away. It was something which he had not intended, and after the handholding walking down the street, certainly something that others would have noticed.

“Good night, cowboy.”

Turning, she was in the boardinghouse before he could say anything. It was only as he was riding home that he realized he had learned virtually nothing about her. It was another curious thing about her. The manipulation of the conversation made him wonder even more. He had offered a carriage ride the next day, and he hoped to find out more about her. She was an enigma.

 

Chapter 2

Although impressed by her physical attributes, Adam was drawn more to Roberta more because he was intrigued by her and her ability never to reveal anything about herself to him. He thought he was good at pulling information from people, but he had failed in multiple tries to get anything from her. She liked to hold his hand in public and kiss him lightly on the lips when people could see, but other than that, there was no physical intimacy between them. It seemed that she was afraid of him or at least leery of getting close to him that way when it was the two of them. It made him wonder what had happened in her past to make her that way. At home, the teasing continued.

“You been with her every week this month, older brother. Are we getting an announcement soon? From the stories going around town, you two are pretty darn close, and then you go off on these long afternoons together. Well, tongues are wagging.”

“Very funny.”

“Yeah, Adam, Joe’s right. I heard a bunch of women are mad thinking you’re gonna be hitched and they done lost their chance at you. I wish you’d go ahead and marry up with her soon so maybe some of those ladies would set their sights on me.”

Laughing, Hoss headed to the house. Joe hung back noticing how Adam wasn’t responding as he had expected.

“Something wrong with her? You going to break it off with her instead of marrying her, because it sure seems like you’re not acting like a man who’s going to break it off with her?”

“We’ve never even kissed.”

“What? People have seen you. I’ve heard the stories.”

“You’ve heard the stories of a little peck on the lips. She likes to do that when I bring her back to the boardinghouse. It’s like she wants people to see that. She takes my hand when we walk through town or leans on my arm in church. That’s as close as we ever get.”

“Adam, that is odd.”

“Yes, it is. I keep trying to figure out why. I’ve asked her about her past and if anyone has ever hurt her. I even asked people in Sacramento about her, and they said they can’t even find anyone who knew her there. She’s changed her name or she was never there. There’s no way for me to know which it is.”

“What are you going to do?”

“We have plans for tomorrow. If things keep going as they are, I’m probably not going to see her any more other than as a friend if that is even possible. I don’t know what she wants from me, and if she doesn’t trust me, then maybe even friendship won’t work.”

“It doesn’t sound like you trust her either.”

Pausing to think about that briefly, Adam had to agree. He nodded at his brother’s logic. Then he smiled.

“You’re getting pretty smart.”

“I was always that smart. You never noticed. You were always too impressed with yourself.”

Again, what had started out light-hearted had turned. Adam usually hoped distraction would work in such situations and it did once more.

“Let’s head to the house before Hoss eats all the dinner roast by himself.”

Although Joe knew what Adam was doing, he didn’t mind. He felt he had won the confrontation which is what mattered to him. Feeling that Adam had implied a criticism of him, he had fired off a direct criticism of his brother and it stood. He walked to the house with the sense he had grown a bit taller while Adam felt a bit more weary.

The next day, Adam’s ride with Roberta went in a similar manner as previous trips had gone. They rode to the riverbank this time, had a picnic, and talked about books. Then in a new development, in mid-afternoon, she claimed a severe headache and asked for a chance to take a nap. Resting on the carriage blanket where they had earlier spread out their picnic lunch, she lay down and closed her eyes. He would have suggested she could sleep on the ride back, but she effectively negated his chance to do that. Waiting as long as he could, he finally woke her.

“We need to head back to get you home before dark. People will certainly talk if I drive this carriage in after dark.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I have to take a moment and be right with you.”

First, she went in the bushes to do her business, then had to wipe her boots down, and finally look for an earring she had dropped somewhere. Everything she did seemed to take a long time. Looking at the sun when they left, Adam knew it would be dark when they got to town, and his fears of worse gossip were going to be realized. When he got to the boardinghouse, there was no quick peck on the lips as she inexplicably rushed from the carriage and up the walk into the boardinghouse without even looking back. Things were getting more odd. He decided at that moment that wasn’t going to call on her any more. They had nothing more scheduled and there would be nothing more. She did have one of his books, but he could retrieve that at the general store. Those decisions were made as he drove home.

At home, happy faces were met with his unhappy one. All Adam told them was that he wasn’t going to be seeing Roberta again and would tell her that the next time he saw her. Then he went up to his room. That left his family to wonder what had happened.

In town, Roberta was being counseled to go see the doctor. She finally agreed, but when she left the boardinghouse, the doctor’s office was only her first stop. She got something for her supposed headache and moved on knocking at the door of a house further down the street. Once inside, she announced to the two men there that the plan they had was ready to go to the next step.

“It’s time.”

“Already? In only a month?”

“He’s getting too suspicious. If we don’t do it now, it won’t happen. My guess is that he’s already checked out my Sacramento story. This afternoon, he asked a few things about my time there like he was searching for clues.”

“That’s not good.”

“And that’s why it’s time.”

“We’re going to enjoy this part.”

“I might enjoy it too, but we don’t have a lot of time. That busybody at the boardinghouse is going to be checking on me if I’m not back within the hour.”

Smiling, Roberta was untying the bodice of her dress as the two men moved toward her. A half hour later, she has their help tying up again and arranging her clothing before she headed back to the boardinghouse. Everything was set for the week. She hoped it would be Joe who came to town for supplies, but Hoss would do. Either one would be a pleasant diversion and a possible marriage proposal within a short time. She wouldn’t mind that. Living in a fine house, nice clothes, good food, and not having to work all seemed pretty attractive. First though, she had a job to complete.

On Sunday, Roberta didn’t go to church services. Everyone at church noticed Adam sitting with his family and without her. They heard she never left her room at the boardinghouse that day even for meals saying she didn’t feel well. She did go to work on Monday which was a relief to those who knew her. But she was quiet and didn’t talk to anyone. When Hoss arrived at the store to get supplies, she took one look at him and ran back into the storeroom in tears. Will Cass turned to Hoss.

“Any idea what your brother did to her? She’s been a mess since he brought her back to town Saturday night. The whole town is talking about it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I ought to go see her and see if I can help. You think that would be all right?”

“Go ahead and try. Nobody else has gotten her to talk.”

Walking into the storeroom, Hoss found Roberta staring out the window. He made a sound so she would know he was there. When she turned, he was surprised that she rushed into his arms and began to cry. Holding her, he did his best to comfort her until the shaking and the tears diminished.

“Miss Roberta, will you tell me what’s wrong?”

“It’s all wrong, Hoss. Why didn’t you come calling on me instead of your evil brother?”

“Evil?”

“Hoss, he’s cruel. He hurts people.”

“I know he can have a sharp tongue, but he’s got a big heart and really cares more than he shows.”

“Hoss, you don’t know him. You don’t know how he is with women. Haven’t you ever wondered why he’s been with so many women but not one of them married him? I should have paid attention to that warning. Some of the women in town warned me, but I didn’t believe them until it happened to me.”

“What happened to you?”

Pushing away from Hoss, she took the large scarf from her neck and pulled down the neckline of her dress exposing most of her right breast. The fresh dark purple and navy bruises were awful but that they were in the shape of bites on her breast made it worse. Some of them had broken the skin and had scabbed over.

Shocked first that she had exposed so much to him, Hoss was even more shocked by the evidence of abuse he saw.

“My brother did that to you?”

“He likes to be rough, but I never knew how rough he could be. He’s like an animal. The things he did and the things he made me do have given me nightmares. As soon as I can, I’m leaving. I would rather die than see him again.”

“He’s coming to town. Might even be here already cause he was going to do some work at the bank and with our lawyer. He had some other stuff to do too.”

“What’s going on here?”

Standing at the door to the large storeroom, Adam saw Hoss with Roberta and her dress was pulled down showing part of her breast. He too saw the bruises but couldn’t see the detail that Hoss could see. As Roberta ducked behind Hoss, he couldn’t see anything. Her fear of Adam affected Hoss whose heart went out to the woman. Still not wanting to believe what she had said about Adam, he was going through the evidence and it was looking bad for his brother.

“Did you hurt her?”

“No. What kind of story has she been telling?”

“The kind that says maybe you ought to ride on home before more people in town hear what she’s been saying.”

“That’s what I want to know. I tried to go to the bank and got stopped by several men and had to pull a gun to get away from them. What they were saying was ugly.”

“Go home, Adam.”

“That’s good advice.” Sheriff Coffee had come up behind Adam. “I won’t be able to get this mess straightened out if everybody is stirred up because you’re here.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Adam, you’re a smart man. Do the smart thing now. The best thing for you is to walk out with me, take your horse, and ride home. I had Clem take your horse to the alley out back. He’s waiting there and I’ll go with you too. We should be able to get you out of town safely, but if you don’t go soon, it’s going to be much more difficult to do that.”

“How did so many people find out?”

“Hoss, she was seen by others at the boardinghouse and they made assumptions. The stories have been going around since yesterday as far as we could find out so they’re all over town now.”

“No one found out anything because I didn’t do anything.”

“Adam, we’ll get that straightened out later. Right now, let’s go. Either that or I’m putting you in jail.”

“Jail? What for?”

“Disturbing the peace if you don’t get out of town.”

In the alley, Adam mounted up but had one thing left to say. “I’m expecting some responses to telegrams I sent as well as a letter. If they come in, you could give them to, ah, you could send someone to the Ponderosa with them.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Catching everyone by surprise, Adam was able to make it out of town only suffering hostile looks and glares. As he rode he wanted to forget the look Hoss had given him but couldn’t. It seemed Hoss had believed at least in part that he had hurt Roberta. When he got home, his father wanted to know how his meetings had gone assuming they had gone well because Adam was home so soon. His smiled disappeared when Adam recounted what had happened. It resulted in the second blow of the day for Adam.

“You didn’t hurt her in any way, did you?”

Shocked, Adam stared at his father.

“You’re not answering me.”

“There is no civil way for me to answer that question.”

As angry at his father as he could ever remember being, Adam turned and stalked stiff legged from the house. Joe followed him out.

“Why wouldn’t you answer Pa? If you’re innocent, it shouldn’t be that difficult. You told me the two of you never even kissed. Why couldn’t you tell Pa that?”

“Shut up. If you say another word, I may shut you up. I talked to you because we were having a discussion. I didn’t tell Pa because he was accusing me and demanding I defend myself. That’s all there is to say and don’t say another word to me about it. I’m done discussing this right now.”

Adam looked so dangerous at that moment, more than Joe could ever remember him looking, that Joe backed off and turned to walk back to the house. Before he left, he fired a salvo meant to hurt. It had been burning inside of him for weeks and came out even more bitter than he may have intended.

“Pa and I were talking, and this only confirms as true what we discussed about you. You’re selfish and moody and you don’t care about anyone but yourself. You’re so ornery and the reason there’s unhappiness in this family.”

Entering the barn, Adam sat down heavily wondering how things had deteriorated so quickly. As he brooded, in town, Roberta clung to Hoss asking him not to leave and to escort her to the boardinghouse. Once there, she asked him to come in and sat beside him falling asleep on his shoulder. He couldn’t bear to wake her so he stayed put and watched her sleep. When she woke, he got a smile from her.

“Oh, Hoss, why didn’t I meet you first. Why aren’t you the one calling on me? You’re so sweet and kind. I could definitely fall in love with a man like you.”

So close together at that point that their breath washed across the other’s face, the next step for Roberta was easy. She moved a little closer and closed her eyes. Hoss hesitantly brushed his lips over hers. When she didn’t push away, he kissed her gently.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, I’m glad you did. I needed to know there are gentle men like you in the world. I needed to know that a handsome man would still be interested in me and not think I was too soiled. I needed to know I had a chance with you.”

“A chance with me?”

“Of course. I mean you’re a wonderful man. You could have your choice of women around here. And it would be so difficult with your brother being around.”

“He won’t have nothing to say about it. You can count on that. It’s up to you who you want to be with.”

One more kiss, and Roberta said she ought to go rest in her room. She thought it was time to release Hoss to go confront his brother. On the way out of town, Hoss heard plenty of things yelled out regarding his brother. It was all terribly ugly. When he got home, all of it what had happened and what he had heard had been churning in his gut. Adam was sitting in the barn when he rode in. Hoss was on edge as was his brother so the end result was probably inevitable.

“Did you do that to her?”

Shaking his head in disgust, Adam stood and turned his back on his brother. Hoss stepped up behind him, grabbed him by the shoulder, and spun him around.

“I asked you a question.”

“It sounded more like an accusation.”

“I didn’t hear you deny it either.”

“Would it do any good? You take the word of that trollop you hardly know and you expect me to defend myself against what she said? It’s stupid to believe someone like that witch?”

Those word choices were the wrong ones in the mood Hoss was in, but considering Adam’s mood, those had been the wrong questions to ask too. Hoss swung first and connected sending Adam reeling into a stall post. Shaken but with his temper flaring, he came out fighting and knowing what he had to do. Moving fast and avoiding those arms that could crush him, he managed to land a number of blows but Hoss got in some too. Even the glancing blows from Hoss did damage. The noise drew Ben and Joe from the house. When they got there, the best choice for both was to grab Adam as neither thought they could restrain Hoss. Getting between the two fighters, Ben and Joe each grabbed one of Adam’s arms pinning him back and at the same time shielding him from Hoss who would have continued the fight if he could have.

“Hoss, go to the house and cool down.”

Not in the habit of disobeying his father, Hoss reluctantly did the first part although the second part wasn’t going to be so easy. When Hoss was gone, Adam was released.

“What in tarnation was that about?”

“Pa, I think we know. It was about Roberta, wasn’t it?”

With blood coming from his nose and bruises blooming on all visible surfaces, Adam answered. “Yes, apparently he believes her. I’ve been tried and convicted by everyone apparently including my own family.”

“Your failure to defend yourself does cast you in a bad light.”

“Pa, I hope you never sit on a jury because there’s supposed to be a presumption of innocence. If you can’t even believe that for a son, clearly there’s a problem. Or maybe it’s only this son you don’t trust. I should never have been in a position where I had to defend myself.”

Not wanting to get into a sparring match in which both might try to wound the other, Ben decided to try to call a truce.

“How about you stay out here to cool down, and we can all talk about this later. I’m sure when we are calmer, this will be something that can be worked out. I’ll go see what I can do to get Hoss to cool down too.”

Slumping down slowly to the stool where he had been sitting when Hoss arrived home, Adam said nothing but in effect acquiesced by his action. Satisfied with that, Ben left to see what he could say to Hoss to try to defuse this situation. It didn’t go well.

“He called her a trollop and he called me stupid.”

“Did he call you stupid for believing her?”

“Yeah, but it’s bad, Pa. She’s in bad shape, and everybody in town thinks he done it.”

“Do you?”

Hanging his head down, Hoss shook it.

“No, but I wanted to blame someone. She’s such a sweet thing.”

“Hoss, did she tell you Adam did it?”

“Well, I guess she did.”

Ben had a suspicion. “You guess she did. Hoss, you’ve been gone a long time. Tell us everything that happened in town.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything.”

After Hoss recounted all that had happened from his entry into the store until he left town, his father and brother were shocked. Ben sat down heavily in his chair. Joe looked at his father and brother.

“Pa, what’s going on here? Adam told me they never even kissed.”

“Joe, I don’t know. It looks like Roberta wants Adam to be blamed for this. She couldn’t have done this alone. She has at least one accomplice. They also want us to believe it. Now why would anyone want that?”

“Pa, you telling me you believe Adam? You telling me you think she lied to me?”

“Hoss, what do you think? In your heart, what do you feel right now?”

All Hoss had was a gut feeling that he had been made a fool and then made himself a fool by his reactions. “Pa, what do I do now?”

Revenge, jealousy, competition, or some bizarre behavior all were discussed until they thought it time to bring Adam into the discussion. When Joe went to the barn to get him, he was gone. He had to tell his father and brother the bad news. Joe blurted out the question of why he had left, but they all knew the answer. Joe was embarrassed to admit what he had said that added to the reasons Adam was gone.

“Joe, when we discussed those things, it was a private conversation, and we talked about both positive and negative things about each of us. We never drew the conclusion that Adam caused unhappiness in this family.”

“I know. It was something I said, and you never said I was wrong.”

“Oh, Joseph, surely you don’t think I agree with that.”

Hoss was more concerned with another issue. “I sure hope he don’t try going to town. He could get lynched.”

Sleep wasn’t going to be easy that night for any of them, but finding where Adam went without being able to track him was impossible. The good news was that Adam was well aware of the fate that might await him if he was spotted in town. He had a plan that had nothing to do with being seen by anyone other than those he intended to see,

 

Chapter 3

In town, after putting his horse into what he thought was a safe location, Adam slipped from shadow to shadow until he reached the back stairs of the building he wanted. He went to the room and waited for the occupant. When the woman entered, he was sitting in plain sight so she wouldn’t scream although she was startled. She closed the door.

“Do I have anything to worry about?”

“Sally, have you ever had anything to worry about from me?”

“Good point. I heard the stories. I don’t believe them.”

She saw the slight smile without any humor in it and the pain in his eyes.

“I guess too many do believe them. It’s a shame how quickly people can turn on you.”

“I need your help.”

“What can I do?”

“According to my brother, Roberta has bite marks and bruises on her chest and breast. I didn’t put them there, but someone did. Who is she seeing? Someone must have seen her go somewhere or meet someone.”

“I think I have your answer or as much as you’re going to get. One of the men in the saloon when he heard about what happened, said it was bound to happen to her one way or another. Said he saw her walking alone after dark on Saturday night. He was sitting on a bench with a bottle. Her first stop was Doctor Martin’s but then she went down a few houses and was there for a while before she walked back to the boardinghouse alone. He said she was seeing you and another man and one of you was going to do something to her for that.”

“Thank you. You have been a great help. Doctor Martin knows she wasn’t hurt after I dropped her off. And if we find out which house she went to, we’ll find out the accomplice in this plot and what exactly they were trying to do.”

“What will you do now?”

“I’d like to watch that house, but I’m afraid if I tried, I would more likely get lynched. Instead, I’ll have to get this information to someone who can watch the house. Thank you. You are one of the best friends I have.”

Kissing her gently, Adam said goodbye and slipped out after checking to be sure no one was around. Moving through the shadows, he got away from the center of town without being seen. He didn’t realize how worried he had been about being caught by those who wanted him until he felt chilled because his shirt was wet with sweat. He had removed his coat because it made him too visible. Wearing only his black shirt and pants and leaving his black hat with the shiny band and his cream-colored coat on his horse had helped him elude any pursuit. Unfortunately, his horse hadn’t been so lucky. It was gone when he returned to the place where he had stashed it. Retreating at a rapid pace, he ducked into dark shadows until he was sure no one was following. They were not good at pursuit of they would have staked out the area. He could get where he was going without a horse, but it meant more danger as he had to walk through a lot more town instead of taking a long ride around everything.

At almost midnight, Sheriff Roy Coffee got to his small house. He had stayed at the office much later than usual because he was worried Adam Cartwright might be found by some who were looking for him. When it was clear those men had given up at least temporarily, Roy felt comfortable going home. He did wonder where Adam had gone. At least he did until he walked through his front door.

“Don’t shoot, Roy. I come in peace. I needed to talk to you, and your office isn’t in a good place for me to visit right now.”

Roy recognized the voice of course and lit a lamp. “Adam, why did you ever come to town? You know what the talk has been and how riled up some folks are.”

“Yes, but I have a story to tell you. There are also some telegrams I’m expecting and a letter that may shed light on what has been happening. I need a place to stay too.”

At that point, Adam filled in the story for Roy explaining all that he knew of Roberta’s behavior and of her claims. He didn’t yet know the details of what had happened with Hoss but he guessed some of it. Last, he recounted what Sally had told him. Then he asked if Ry had his horse.

“I’ve got your horse at the livery stable and your coat and hat are at my office. Now, the story you’re telling is pretty fantastic. Seems like a lot of trouble to ruin your reputation. What does your family think about this? For that matter, why do you need to stay here? You’d be safer on the Ponderosa.”

Roy got a lot of his answer from how Adam looked before he answered. He didn’t push him to get more once he turned up another lamp and got some coffee brewing.

“It seems to be an effort to drive me away, and it’s working.”

“You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need a place. I don’t have an extra bed, but I can get you some blankets and a quilt to use so you can get some sleep.”

In the morning, Roy could see that Adam had not slept much, but in daylight, he could also see more of the bruises and realized how much the younger man winced as he moved or breathed. There had been a nasty fight with someone, and Adam’s reluctance to talk about it suggested the opponent to Roy. He warned Adam he needed to stay in the house, and promised that at lunchtime they could discuss what Roy found out. Adam was firm in demanding that Roy not tell his family where he was should they ask when they came to town.

“Adam, I’m sure whatever was said was said in anger. Keep that in mind.”

“Roy, right now, I need time away from them.”

“That might be a good idea anyway as it might help keep everyone away from you until this is settled. Like as not, they’ll be followed if they start searching for you. All right, I got work to do. You might try to get some sleep while I’m gone. It could be a busy day and you look like you didn’t sleep much.”

“Roy, you never asked me if I did it.”

“Boy, I know you well enough to know that without asking you. Now I got work to do.”

One of the first people that Roy saw was Doctor Martin and confirmed with him that as far as he could tell, Roberta had no injuries when he saw her on Saturday evening.

“Yes, she had a shawl, but the neckline plunged and the bodice was one that tied in front. I could see quite a lot, and there wasn’t a mark on her neck or anywhere I could see. She was quite talkative and energetic. If she was hurting anywhere, she hid it extremely well. If there are marks on her anywhere now, that occurred after Adam dropped her off in town.”

“That’s good. That there alone clears him, but we want to know who set this up and why. Meanwhile, our boy has some injuries. I think he got in a fight with Hoss. It’s darn lucky those two didn’t kill each other.”

“What kind of injuries?”

“Something is wrong with his breathing, and he walks real slow and deliberate like. I told him to get some rest. Maybe you could stop by my house for lunch. Make it look like just a lunch. Don’t take your bag inside with you.”

“I can do that. I’ll take in what I need in my pockets. He isn’t going to like seeing me. He never does.”

“I’ll get there first and get him ready for you.”

Next, Roy set some deputies on a schedule to watch a couple of houses down the street from the doctor’s office. He needed to find out which one Roberta visited and the only way at this point was for her to visit again. After stopping to pick up the telegrams Adam was expecting and guessing the other Cartwrights were coming to town, he rode out to intercept them. Under the circumstances as he knew them and as well as he knew the family, he guessed they would be riding in. He was correct. He greeted them and immediately talked about what he already knew. Then he had instructions.

“Hoss, I would like you to play along with this for now. In fact, I have something I want you to do.” Roy explained what he wanted.

“What if she really is in trouble?”

“Hoss, I already know she isn’t. Doctor Martin saw her after Adam dropped her off in town. She had no marks on her. She went on her own to a house down the street, stayed a short time, and then went to the boardinghouse. Whatever marks she got, she suffered them in that house. She lied about Adam hurting her. Unfortunately, it was at night and my witness was drinking so he can’t remember which house. I have deputies watching that set of houses. We’ll find out which one it was and then go have a talk with whoever is there.”

“Roy, have you seen Adam?”

“Ben, I have. He’s hurting, but I think you knew that. He’s in a safe place, and I told him to stay there until I can get this all cleared up. As fast as this is going, I don’t think it’s going to take very long. I would like to know what she has in store for Hoss though.”

“What if it’s like how she treated Adam?”

“No, remember it took some time before anything happened there. She’s setting Hoss up for marriage probably.”

“Why would you say that?”

“The only Roberta anywhere near Sacramento was in Stockton. She was married to a man only about a year ago. Someone shot him down. She inherited his money.”

Hoss was upset. “Roy, that don’t mean nothing. That could happen to anybody.”

“About two years earlier, in Modesto, a man married a woman named Roberta. He got killed when he fell off his horse and got trampled. The man was an excellent rider. She inherited his money. That’s what got an investigation started. Before she could be questioned or arrested, she left.”

“None of that proves anything.”

“No, but there’s a wanted poster coming with a drawing on it. This woman is wanted in California. Investigation found the same two men were in Modesto and in Stockton when she was and left when she did. Wanted posters are out for them too. All of them are wanted on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.”

“If it’s true, why target Adam the way they did?”

“I think they wanted him out of the way.”

They all nodded knowing Adam would have checked out the mysterious Roberta if she had become involved with either Hoss or Joe. It was in his nature to protect them regardless of consequences. It was reinforced when Roy told them he knew what he knew because of telegrams Adam had sent. Hearing all of this only made them feel worse.

“Roy, where is Adam? We would sure like to talk to him.”

“Hoss, he asked me not to tell any of you where he was. He said he needed some time. He’s all right, and if he trusts me to handle this, he’ll stay all right.”

By the time Roy got back to town, it was time to pick up some lunch. He stopped at a restaurant and said that he and the doctor were having lunch and he wouldn’t subject Paul to his cooking. They filled tins with stew and a basket with bread. He assured them he could make coffee. When he got to his house, he didn’t see Adam, but inside heard him snoring. Stretched out on Roy’s bed, he had at least taken some good advice. Of course, he didn’t have much choice in this case. Roy put the stew on the stove to keep it hot and made a pot of coffee. Soon Paul was there. He shrugged.

“The stew smells delicious, but let’s take care of business first. I know the way by the sound. I could use a couple of small towels or clean rags and a bowl of water.”

Waking Adam, Paul got the reception he expected, but Adam was a realist too. Those ribs needed binding. Once that was done, his pain diminished and Paul’s care of the numerous abrasions as well as his torn knuckles helped too. When Paul was done, the two moved into the small kitchen to have lunch with Roy. The bruising on Adam’s face wasn’t too bad, but Paul raised his eyebrows at Roy in a silent communication that said there was a lot wrong with their friend otherwise. They could talk later.

At lunch, Paul heard the whole story, and Adam got updated on all that Roy had done that morning. He got to read the telegrams that Roy had already seen.

“I expect those wanted posters soon maybe even today on the express stage. Now if my deputies get an idea which house to go to, we’ll have all of them in jail soon.”

“How will you know which house?”

“I told Hoss to play along with it and maybe even propose marriage. All she would need to do is provide her birth certificate so he could go ahead and make the arrangements.”

“Why a birth certificate?”

“Told him your father would require one or a family Bible to show the family history before he would approve the marriage. That will send her running to her friends for help, I would think, as soon as Hoss is out of sight.”

“My friend, you are devious.”

“Adam, I would have preferred clever.”

“All right, you are clever. I do like how you plan.”

Roy’s plan worked as he expected. She went to the house in a panic wondering how she would get the required documentation. The deputies knew which house then and kept watch on it front and back until Roy was ready to arrest the two men. The wanted posters came in on the express stage. With some glee, Roy went to the boardinghouse to arrest Roberta and his deputies arrested the two men. He stood outside his office with the three and announced to the crowd drawn to the drama what had happened leaving nothing important out.

“Now, their crimes here ain’t so bad, but their behavior is reprehensible for what they did to Adam Cartwright. We’re going to put them on a stage to California with a marshal as soon as we can get one here because these three are wanted in two murders of men this woman married there. She was after Hoss here but wanted to get Adam out of the way because he would have been too suspicious of her. You all helped her in her cause. I hope you all know that and are ready to say you’re sorry.”

Roy saw the Cartwrights standing to the side. He walked over to them and got the question he expected and answered the only way he could. Honoring his promise to Adam, he didn’t tell them where he was. Roy went home then to talk to his guest and explain what had happened.

“It’s all over, Adam.”

“Not all of it. I still have some issues with my family.”

“They want you to come home. You need to rest up for a while anyway before you decide to do anything.”

Adam could tell that Roy knew that he was considering leaving and didn’t like the idea.

“You can tell my family that I’ll go to the Ponderosa but not to the main house. There’s a cabin I can use. It will give me the time I need to rest and stop me from having to deal with these other issues right away.”

“I can understand that. A little time to yourself might be a good idea. They can put things there for you to use, can’t they?”

“I’ll get what I need at the store.”

Roy conveyed the basics of that conversation to the rest of the family. They were disappointed, but it sounded like what Adam would want under the circumstances. The next day, Adam rode slowly to the cabin. From a distance, up on a ridge, his family watched as he made his way to the cabin, took care of his horse, and went inside the cabin. When smoke started to come from the chimney, they rode for home.

The isolation was good for Adam who could relax, read, and recuperate. However, no matter how much he thought about all that had happened, his feelings about the situation didn’t change. He guessed he had about a week before someone in the family came to see him and he guessed it would be Hoss. Seven days after arriving at the cabin and with his supplies dwindling to almost nothing, he heard a horse outside and heard Sport respond. Waiting for the knock, he called out for Hoss to enter. Hoss didn’t even seem surprised that Adam knew it was him.

“You forget to pack your shaving kit?”

“I like the beard.”

Hoss shuffled a bit.

“So, are you coming home now that it’s all settled with Roberta and her friends?”

“I might need more time.”

“You letting what was said still bother you so much?”

“You mean that Joe said he and Pa talked about me and agreed I was selfish and moody and the main reason for unhappiness in the family. I resent that they talked about me like that. It bothers me that they have such a negative opinion of me like I have no value. Hoss, what was said in anger might have been the truth of how they feel. There was no reason for them to hold back.”

“You know Joe strikes out when he’s upset. If he’s hurting, he tries to hurt back. It’s the way it’s always been.”

“Maybe I’m tired of being his target. Maybe I’m tired of being lectured by Pa.”

At first, Hoss was quiet but then as he thought about what Adam had said, he got worried.

“I’m sorry for what I done too. You know that, don’t you? When I get jealous, my head ain’t right about things. I knew you didn’t do it, but I felt so sorry for her, and you called her a name, and called me stupid.”

“Only for the action of believing her. You know I don’t think you’re stupid. I’m sorry that it was a bad choice of words.”

“Yeah, a lot of bad choices were made with this. Roberta and her friends should never have tried what they did. It never would have worked.”

“Except it almost did. It’s hard for me to live here knowing all the people who turned on me and were willing to believe such evil things.”

“You’re not thinking on leaving again, are you?”

“I am and it seems likely at this point.”

“But why? We’ve had troubles before in the family and always patched them up. I already said I was sorry for what I did, and I was the one who was the reason for all the trouble this time. We can’t work on cleaning this up if you don’t come home.”

“It doesn’t seem much like a home to me.”

“What do you mean? It’s always been your home.”

“No, there were a lot of years before I was in that house. But it’s a house not a home.”

“But we’re family.”

“I have a father who perhaps has never wanted me.”

“Adam, Pa loves you. He wants you. He needs you.”

“Sometimes it feels like it’s more like he owns me. I’m useful and he needs me to do contracts and negotiating and handle the timber and lumber operations. He even says things like he saw me as a baby and kept me with him because I was the only thing he had left of Elizabeth. I was a thing not his son. He tells people it was good that he had me with him later because he needed me to take care of you and later to take care of you and Joe. I was useful. Then I was his right-hand man in building the Ponderosa.”

“Now that makes you sound kind of important to Pa.”

“I thought so once too, but I realized I’m as important as any tool he needs. But Pa makes a point of saying this is his ranch and reminds me often enough that he’s the one in charge. Remember how often he says he built this ranch.” Then he got to a sore point. “I’m not a boy even if he refers to me that way. He has the gall to tell me to mind my tone when talking to him. Never again.”

“Adam, I think you got it all wrong.”

“It’s how I feel right now.”

“What are you going to do? You going to chase after the dreams you had years ago? You told me once all the ideas you had about what you could have done if you didn’t come back to the Ponderosa. Maybe you could try that out and see if you could be happy doing that now.”

“It’s too late. Those doors are closed now. I’ll have to look for other opportunities. Even if I end up working on a ranch where they appreciate the work I do and actually like me, it would be better than being here.”

“You really believe that?”

“I believe it can’t be worse.”

“If you’re feeling that unhappy, I guess maybe you’re right in doing it then. You’ll come and say goodbye though, right?”

“I’ll find a way to say goodbye.”

Satisfied with that, Hoss stood to leave the small cabin. Somehow, he knew there was something important that he should say but couldn’t think of what it was. In the midst of the conversation, there were so many thoughts in his mind, he had forgotten which ones he had not stated.

As Hoss rode toward home, Adam stood and watched him go. Tears slid from his eyes until he squeezed them shut. When he had told Hoss that Joe had accused him of being selfish and moody and the cause of most of the unhappiness in the family, Hoss had not disagreed with the statement. Joe had said he and their father had discussed things and agreed on that, and now, with great sorrow, Adam thought Hoss held the same opinion. He wouldn’t be going back to the house. He was wounded enough already and didn’t need any more hurtful words thrown at him. Packing the few things he had there, he headed to town.

A short trip to the general store, and Adam had paper and pencils to write notes to his family, and he had a new set of clothing that wasn’t black. He realized there might be some bitterness in his words which couldn’t be helped, but otherwise, he said goodbye. He did tell them why he was going, and he told them he would be back when he had thought things through. When that would be, he wasn’t sure so he made no specific promise although he was thinking within the year. Guessing they would want that to be sooner, he said nothing about the possibility of it being longer. After a trip to the bank to take most of the money out of his account, he had nothing left to do so he mounted up to begin the ride out of town. Not stopping to say goodbye to Paul or Roy was a conscious decision because he didn’t want to have to justify what he was doing when they tried to convince him not to do it.

 

Chapter 4

On the ride, knowing he might be followed because he was carrying a fair amount of cash, Adam veered off into a stand of trees near the road after he realized he was being followed. Two men rode by only a short time later. Then they came back looking around like they had lost something. He drew his pistol and stepped out to the side of the road.

“Looking for someone?”

Surprised, one of the men went for his pistol. Adam shot him. That so unnerved the second man that he also drew and was shot as well. Adam dragged the bodies to the side of the road and unsaddled the horses letting them run loose. Taking nothing from either man so there would be no questions about a possible crime of robbery, he mounted up then and continued his ride.

Tragic as it had been, the incident served to make him more confident in his ability to take care of himself as long as he was careful. He never had a hint of the man up on the hillside hidden by rocks. The bullet knocked him from the saddle. As he lay writhing in the road, the bushwhacker shot him again. He stopped moving. Stripped of all money, identification, his hat, boots, pistol, and coat, Adam lay in agony as the bushwhacker took the reins of his horse too before mounting up. He stared back down the road to where Adam had killed the two men the bushwhacker had hired.

“That’s the second time you ruined the plan I had. You won’t do it again.”

He stared down at the critically wounded man bleeding in the middle of the road and considered shooting him one more time but decided that letting him suffer for a while was more satisfying. With a grim smile, he left Adam in pain and unable to help himself, alone, and bleeding.

That’s where the express stage found him. They had not seen the other two bodies off to the side of the road earlier, but it was hard to miss one laying in the middle of the road. Lucky for him, they were late leaving town but not so late that the sun was down. If it had been a bit later, they might have rolled the stage right over him not seeing him until too late. They weren’t supposed to stop either, but in such a case, they did and pulled him into the stage driving on to the next town hoping he would still be alive. The good news was that he wasn’t bleeding much. The bad news was that he stayed unconscious and was breathing shallowly. With the clothing he was wearing and the beard he had grown, no one recognized Adam Cartwright.

One of the passengers worked occasionally as a nurse and did her best for the wounded man. When they got to the next town and found the doctor wasn’t there and not expected back for a day or two, she volunteered to stay and take care of him. She wrote a note for the driver to give to her father at the end of the stage run telling him she would be back as soon as the doctor arrived to care for the patient. She was supposed to meet him for the rest of the trip to their home. He would be disappointed, but she couldn’t leave this man to die.

At the doctor’s office, she took her time and trying not to jar the patient, removed his clothing as he lay on his stomach on an exam table. With the location of his wounds, she thought it best to keep him in that position. She hoped that lifting him into the stage and then carrying him to the doctor’s office had not done too much harm. There appeared to be quite a lot of swelling around the bullet hole near his spine so she hoped that may have prevented that bullet from moving. The other wound was less swollen but bleeding more. She cleaned up both wounds as well as she could and wondered if she should try removing the bullet from the wound in his upper back. It was likely the only way to stop the bleeding.

Putting some pressure on either side of that wound caused it to bleed a bit more but gave her valuable information. She could feel the bullet. It must have hit the shoulder blade and stopped most likely fracturing that bone. If she could remove it, she could bandage the area to stop the bleeding and immobilize the shoulder and arm to make the patient more comfortable. Gathering all she needed, she put the items on a tray next to where her patient lay, washed her hands, and cleaned the wound again. With the patient not yet responding, she thought she had a short window of opportunity to get that bullet out without anesthesia. Carefully, she felt for the position of the bullet with her left hand, positioned the forceps with her right hand, and then moved quickly to grasp the bullet and pull it out. She had seen doctors do such things but had never done so herself.

When she pulled the bullet free, she only got to be joyful for a second because her patient erupted in moans and groans so pitiful, she cried. He tried to reach back with his right arm but screamed with the pain and collapsed back on the table. Shifting, he tried to move away using his left arm, and she had to restrain him both of which also caused him pain. Trying to console him, she had pain powders ready, but he wasn’t aware enough to drink the solution. He suffered for quite some time before lapsing again into unconsciousness. By then she was exhausted but bandaged his wound after stitching it closed. Once that was done, she managed to get his right arm and shoulder immobilized so he couldn’t hurt himself so much by trying to move them. With that, she accomplished two things. The bleeding was mostly stopped, and the man was going to have far less pain or she assumed so. She didn’t know how much pain the other bullet was causing although by his reactions possibly it was quite a lot.

Concerned what he might do if she tried to sleep, she looked for straps and found them so she could secure him to the exam table. At least, he wouldn’t fall from the table. An added benefit was that he wouldn’t be able to move either. It was a risk to move with a bullet so near his spine but obvious that it caused him pain too especially when he moved. She was able to sit in a rocking chair in the room then and fall asleep for a time. Hours later, she was awakened by his plaintive cry.

“Help me, someone, please help me.”

Rushing to his side, she leaned down to whisper to him.

“You’ve been shot. I have you restrained only so you don’t fall from this table. I got one of the bullets out, and that’s why your shoulder and right arm are bandaged so they can’t move. There are powders here for pain, but I don’t know if you can have any, and I don’t know the dosage anyway. I will give you a small dose if you wish.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Sophie Hayden. I was on the stage that found you laying in the road. We took you on board and got you to this town. Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t in, but I have done what I could. I tried to make you as comfortable as I could.”

“You talk a lot.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, keep talking. It helps.”

Sophie smiled and kept talking until she thought he fell asleep. Sitting by his side, she caressed the side of his face and helped him relax. She was going to leave to lay down when she heard him murmur to her.

“Don’t leave. Please stay with me.”

Although Adam didn’t know who she was, the woman with the light brown hair and blue eyes had a gentle touch and a kind voice. He thought she was his guardian angel or at least an angel of mercy at that point. For comfort, he needed her near him.

Pulling a short stool over to the table, she wrapped an arm around his left arm and leaned against it.

“Is this all right?”

“Thank you.”

Then he did fall asleep. She nodded off a short time later. It was that sight that greeted the doctor when he arrived at his office. He cleared his throat hoping it wouldn’t startle either of them too much. Sophie awakened first. Seeing the doctor, she released Adam’s arm and placed it carefully by his side.

“He wanted me to stay by his side, but I was so tired.”

“I understand. Now, who are you and what happened?”

“I’m Sophie Hayden, and it’s quite a story.”

Sophie recounted the story from finding Adam in the road to her removing one bullet and why she did it. There was still that one huge problem though.

“He’s got a wound right next to his spine. It is very painful but not paralyzing because he can still move his feet and his legs even if it costs him a lot to do that.”

“Did you give him anything for pain?”

“No, I didn’t know what to do about that. I have given pain medication but only after a doctor has set up the amount. I offered him a small dose but he never acknowledged that.”

“You did surgery on him with no pain medication?”

“He was unconscious.”

“Did he wake up?”

“Yes.”

“Then he felt it. But, that’s over so let’s take a look at the one that’s left.”

Pulling back the blanket carefully, the doctor only looked at the wound before laying the blanket back down.

“I can’t help him any more than you did. I can put a bandage over that wound and do what I can to prevent infection, but that bullet next to his spine is beyond my skill to remove.”

“Oh, no. I was afraid of that. Who could surgery like that?”

“We would need a surgeon from the Bay to come here and that would be prohibitively expensive. Even then, it might not be possible.”

“I’ll pay for it. I haven’t done all this to give up now.”

“Miss, I doubt the surgeon would do it either. The risks are huge and the chances of success are quite small. Most likely this man would be paralyzed by such surgery.”

“Without the surgery?”

“He will live with pain the rest of his life and be limited in his activities. Based on that first surgery that you did, he has a high tolerance for pain. He could handle it better than most to live with pain. What’s his name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Adam.”

The patient had awakened and had been listening to the conversation. He knew his options and didn’t like them. He wasn’t going to take a chance on being paralyzed and being what to his mind was useless. Thinking about all the things he wanted to do and being paralyzed made all of them impossible. However, he didn’t want his family to realize he was in such dire straits and come rescue him. He didn’t even want to imagine what it would be like to be imprisoned in his bedroom on the Ponderosa. They would wait for him to get better and inevitably pressure him to have the surgery. Deception was the better alternative as far as he could determine.

“Adam. Adam Wright.”

“Well, Adam Wright, let’s get you some pain powder so you can move to a bed.”

“No pain powder.”

“I can give you a low dose, but I assure you that if you have none, you will collapse to the floor which will be quite uncomfortable. Once you are in that bed, you can refuse pain medication, but moving about will require medication for some time.”

“All right.”

With a low dose of pain medication and the help of the doctor and Sophie, Adam slid off the table and walked to the bed slowly. Every step was agony with pain shooting up and down his body so that he didn’t know where the pain was greatest. He had never been hit by lightning but assumed it must be like this with pain burning throughout. Next to the bed, he was ready to collapse but the doctor paused undoing Adam’s belt and unbuttoning his trousers. Too exhausted to complain or be embarrassed, he only wished the doctor would hurry. As soon as the doctor had finished with that, he and Sophie carefully lowered Adam into the bed hoping not to jar him too much. All three were covered in a sheen of sweat. Looking down at the man sprawled on the bed, the doctor knew they weren’t done. Clearly Adam had no strength left.

“I’ll slide my arms under his torso to shift him onto the pillow if you pick up his legs and put them on the bed.”

Once that was done, they removed Adam’s pants and socks before covering him with a sheet and blanket. Adam succumbed to the pain medication and his exhaustion and fell asleep. Looking at Sophie, the doctor pointed at the door. In the hall, he directed her to his kitchen. After getting some coffee brewing, he brought out bread, butter, and cheese. She was ravenous and thanked him profusely.

“”Now, what, my dear? What will you do with this man you found who faces an uncertain future?”

“I don’t know. I only know someone had to help him of he would have died.”

“Whoever shot him expected that to happen. They may try again.”

“They don’t know he’s still alive.”

“I suspect he’s a bit worried about that too. He gave a false name.”

“You heard that hesitation too.”

“Yes, in my profession, I sometimes treat wounds for men who would rather I not know who they are and how they came to be wounded. If I don’t know, I can’t tell anyone. It works for both of us.”

“I could take care of him until he can travel. Then he could come with me.”

“Please don’t tell me where you’re going.”

“One of those things you don’t want to know so you can’t tell anyone?”

“Now you understand. But what if he doesn’t want to go.”

“Does he have any other option?”

“Good point.”

For two weeks, Adam recuperated but pain was his constant companion. Sophie brought in a wheelchair a few days before she planned to leave. When she pushed it across the doorjamb and it made a noise, he turned, and she saw the look of horror he had. She tried to be reassuring.

“It’s not for all the time, but only when you need to move a distance or when you need to rest. We can pad it for you so it is as comfortable as anything can be for you. You can use it as your seat on the train.”

“What about the stage? You going to strap me on top like the baggage I am?”

“I don’t think of you that way. I told you I’m inviting you to come home with me as a friend. You will be a guest. My father and mother will welcome you. When you are ready to go on your own, you can leave. Until then, you will have a safe place to be.”

“What makes you think I need a safe place to be?”

“Someone tried to kill you. You gave us a false name. You won’t tell us anything about who you really are. You say you have no family, but the way you say it says you do only the subject is painful.”

“You do talk a lot.”

“Get used to it. Now try this chair. I can’t arrange the padding until you tell me where you need it. I’ll keep your mind off of what you’re doing by telling you more about my home. We live right on Humboldt Bay. There are literally at least a hundred lumber mills there. That’s what gives my father most of his business. He’s a lawyer and does most of the contract work for the mills. When there’s a dispute, he often helps settle it. For the mills, it’s better to work something out with his help rather than going to court. Anyway, Eureka isn’t that big, but there is quite a lot to do because there are enough people with money to bring in entertainment and artists and shops and restaurants. Some of the houses are quite nice although you would think they would be better with the money and the lumber. I suppose that will come next.”

Distracted by all that chatter, Adam did get in the chair without being as aware of the pain in his back and down his legs. Once in the chair, he had some immediate relief, more than he had expected. It was a quandary. He didn’t want to be seen as someone who needed a wheelchair yet the benefit was obvious. She saw the scowl.

“You don’t like it?”

Because she could see the relaxation in his face and shoulders, she knew it had worked as the doctor had said it might. Therefore, she was confused.

“I used to be able to ride better than most men. I could break horses. I could herd cattle, fire a rifle or pistol from the back of a horse. I’ve hunted bear and mountain lions in the mountains. I’ve been on posses. I’ve traveled across the country and been to college to learn how to build buildings and to be a mining engineer. I ran timber operations and a lumber mill. I negotiated contracts with the railroad to supply lumber and timber to build trestles and track. I’ve worked as a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a farrier. That chair is a reminder that all of that is gone. What I was and what I could do is lost. Anyone who knew me and knew my worth knows now that I have none. No one would want me around. I don’t even know why you want me around except as a charity project, and I’m so desperate I have to accept being that. And you wonder why I don’t like it?”

Stunned, Sophie stared at him. With no idea of what he had been, she had made assumptions that were far less than what he had revealed. She had an outlandish idea then and hoped he wouldn’t laugh.

“You don’t want to be a charity case? Well, then I have a proposition for you. My parents have been putting extreme pressure on me to get married except I do not want to marry into one of the lumber mill families of Eureka. I have yet to meet one of them that I thought would be a good match for me. You could help me.”

“How?”

“Marry me.”

“What! Lady, I can barely walk. How could you expect me to marry anyone? I can’t marry you.”

“You gave the wrong excuses. Do you like me? Would you like having me around day and night. It would be a lot like it’s been for the last couple of weeks.”

“Of course, I like you. But you know I lied about my name.”

“Then tell me the truth and marry me.”

“But what would I do in Eureka?”

Noting that he was no longer rejecting the idea but exploring it, she offered more. “You went to college so I assume you can read well. My father has hundreds of contracts to read. You must have read those before. You could help him as a law clerk at first. In time, you could be a lawyer too. The chair wouldn’t matter in contract negotiations.”

“You don’t understand negotiations then. You have to appear strong. The chair would be a detriment.”

“Then you get up out of that chair and walk into the negotiations, but the chair will keep you stronger so all your energy could go into the times you need to stand and walk.”

“Damn, you’re good. Why aren’t you a lawyer?”

“I clerk for my father so sometimes it’s close. You wife will be working.”

“She will?”

Adam was smiling then as he warmed to the idea. He worried it wouldn’t work out the way she wanted.

“What if your parents don’t like me or that you want to marry a man in a wheelchair?”

“Can it hurt to ask? Besides, the rest of the story could still be true. You need a job, don’t you? Oh, there is one condition to marriage. If we are going to be married, you can use any name you want, but I want to know your real name and your real story. You have to trust me that much.”

“All right. You saved me. I owe you that much even if we never marry.”

Adam began telling her his story but only with a brief synopsis.

“Are you sure you don’t want to contact your family? They must be terribly worried. They would want you at home.”

“Yes, probably at first, but then what? There’s no place for me on the ranch. I couldn’t stand the pity and the confinement. You’re telling me what I can do. There, I would only know what I couldn’t do. I would rather that they think I’m dead.”

“I’ll start making travel arrangements and let my parents know I’m coming home and with a guest.”

“Not a fiancé?”

“We’ll save that for when we arrive.”

“Good. You don’t have to go through with it then if you change your mind.”

“I won’t.”

“Maybe you should, but at least you’ll have enough time to realize that.”

About three days later, Sophie and Adam left for Eureka. The journey was difficult for Adam, and they needed a couple of rest stops. In hotels, they took separate rooms even though clerks assumed they were married. They never took advantage of those assumptions. On the last leg of the trip, they were on a boat which was the easiest for Adam. Finally sailing into Humboldt Bay, he was relieved the journey was over and apprehensive of what he faced next.

 

Chapter 5

Notified that their daughter had arrived, Sophie’s parents, Davis and Marilyn Hayden arrived at the dock in a large carriage. They expected a guest to be with her but not that it would be a man nor that he would be in a wheelchair. After introductions were made, Sophie felt she had to make some brief explanations.

“He can walk short distances and he can get in and out of a carriage as needed. Adam will be staying with us for an extended period as he and I are discussing marriage.”

To their credit, her parents recovered quickly from that news.

“What is it that you do, Adam?”

“Mister Hayden, due to a recent injury, I have had to reconsider what I do. Sophie has suggested that perhaps there would be something useful I could do in the family business.”

“Ah, well, we’ll see.”

That evening was pleasant enough. The next day, Davis and Sophie went to the office so Adam went along. There were several contracts requiring a review. Father and daughter were reading them and occasionally commenting. Adam waited but at first Davis said nothing to him and offered him nothing to do. Then he took a contract both of them had read and handed it to Adam.

“We both read this and think the wording is somehow being manipulated for a purpose yet we cannot determine what the purpose is. See what you think.”

Reading carefully, Adam read the document twice and then had a question.

“Sophie, didn’t you tell me that you have dry summers and rainy winters here?” She nodded. “And there’s an escalating penalty clause in here.”

Snapping his fingers, Davis smiled. “That’s it, isn’t it. They’ve set them up to fail. The deadlines are all after winter seasons and the penalty clauses all kick in after winter sessions. There were no dates so I didn’t see it. Brilliant, Adam. We shall all make a good team, I think. Sophie, get him some other contracts to read.”

For the first month, Adam’s job was to review contracts looking for language that set a trap of any kind. Sometimes those were intentional, and sometimes they were not as when a company set a trap for itself by inadvertently putting in something unintended with poor word choices. By the end of the month, Adam had a suggestion for Davis.

“Most of these people have no experience writing contracts. Why don’t we rewrite their contracts when they come in. We can say they are submitting a draft of a contract and we’re providing a finished copy. It would simplify our task and help the local economy because there wouldn’t be these shutdowns when companies halt production to fight a legal battle.”

“It will take some time to get them to accept such an arrangement.”

“Probably not so long if we use these two contracts as examples.”

Handing over the two contracts he had read and which he had marked up extensively because of problems in them, Adam hoped Davis would see the advantage. He did.

“We show them this marked up copy and explain how it would be all choppy and possibly would have problems because of that.”

“Yes, and then we show them our finished copy of a contract we have rewritten and do it in front of the other party so neither side is left out of the process.”

“Brilliant, my son, that would make both sides trust us and know that the contract would work for them. That should improve our standing with everyone.”

“Integrity and trust are the hallmarks of a good lawyer, aren’t they?”

“And of a good man.”

Davis never said anything, but Adam knew he and Marilyn were wondering why he and Sophie had not committed to marriage. They cared so much about each other. They got along well. They enjoyed being with each other. He was the first man her parents had ever seen her want to be with. Yet, after a month, they seemed to be friends only. Vague hints like what Davis had just said were dropped but there was no interference. Finally, it was a frustrated Sophie who brought it up directly.

“I more or less asked you to marry me. I told my parents we were talking about it because we had, but now you never mention it. You’re not going to reject the idea, are you?

“I would not make a good husband.”

“According to you. I think that is up to me.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t be a good husband.”

“After all the time we have spent together this past month, I think you would be a wonderful husband.”

“But I can’t be a husband.”

Staring at him, at first, she didn’t understand why he would continue to say that. As he gripped the arm rests of his wheelchair, she did understand. Although not sure how much he could or could not do, she wanted to tell him it didn’t matter. So, she did.

“You think kissing and holding would be enough?”

“If it had to be, but Adam, you are not paralyzed.”

“I know, but the legs and back are necessary in other ways too.”

“Are there any ways not to have to put a strain on your back and legs?”

“There are ways, but it’s not what most men do.”

“You’re not most men, are you? Do you care what most men do? Most men would have buried themselves in a bottle or literally buried themselves facing what you faced. You found a way to be a man to admire in a way that is so different from what you were but still so wonderful. I love you. I want you to be with me always.”

Looking out over Humboldt Bay with the fishing boats coming in, and then turning to gaze at the hills behind them with the stands of redwoods, Adam knew he would enjoy living his life here. He turned to gaze at the most beautiful sight there, Sophie. She was all he ever wanted in a woman: someone to love him, trust him, and believe in him. He wanted to be a husband to her. He feared he would fail her.

“You gave me hope when I had none. You gave me a future when I couldn’t see how I could do anything except go home and be a burden. You gave me a life worth living. But to be your husband, I want to be more. Can I see a doctor first to see if there is any chance of getting this bullet out? I want so much to be a good husband to you. I want to marry you, but until this question is settled in my mind, I find it so difficult to move forward. I need to know.”

It was the closest he had come to committing to her. Sophie agreed to a doctor but had a condition.

“I want to have a surgeon come from San Francisco to see you.”

“That would be expensive.”

“You may have noticed that we can afford it, and ships go in and out of here all the time to the city and back.”

With Adam’s agreement, a surgeon came to Eureka and examined Adam. It didn’t take long to get his assessment. There were pluses and minuses and all were significant. Adam asked him to be completely honest.

“Removing the bullet would certainly alleviate the pain, but could cause paralysis. Even without that, there could be infection. If there is and it gets into the spine which is a distinct possibility considering the location, it would be fatal. The least concern would be the growth of scar tissue which would be definite and would have an impact on how much improvement there would be.”

“And if you don’t remove the bullet from my back?”

“Leaving a lead bullet in a man is an irritant that your body will never accept. There will be inflammation as there is now. There will be swelling and pressure on the nerves with the resulting pain which, as you have already experienced, can be severe. Over time, it is possible these things could get worse.”

“How much time?”

“There’s no way to know.”

“Guess.”

“At least five to ten years.”

“Could surgery be done then?”

“As long as nothing else changed, I see no reason not to do surgery later. The risks would remain the same unless something happened in the intervening years.”

“Adam, I don’t want you to die.”

“I don’t want to be paralyzed until I do.”

“Sir, I think you and your wife have made your choice.”

“We’re not married.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. The manner in which you address each other and the way you care for each other, I assumed something I should not have assumed. Please forgive me.”

Seeing how the couple reacted, the doctor asked if Sophie would leave the room. He spoke briefly with Adam and left. When she went back to talk to Adam, she asked what the doctor had wanted to talk to him about privately.

“He had some advice for me, man-to-man. Sophie, why do you want to marry me?”

“I love you.”

“I’m sorry but that’s too simple an answer.”

“All right. I love you because you are complicated. You are full of surprises. Life with you is never going to be dull or predictable. It will be life, vibrant, and full, and always growing. You don’t give up no matter what. I know if I need you, you will be there. I saw it in you when you were fighting on that table when you were shot. Nothing was going to defeat you. It might knock you down. It might kick you in the teeth, but it better watch out, because with whatever you have left, you are going to come back because you will never quit fighting.”

“I love you too.”

“Is it my turn then? Why do you love me?”

“You are strong, but your strength is there to help. You offer trust and honesty. Sophie, will you marry me?”

“Yes, but there is one more thing I want from you first.”

Getting worried, Adam had to ask. “What is that?”

“Who are you? You can use any name you wish and have any story you want, but I want to know the truth of your life. I think as your wife I should know. You have told me a little, but I think I deserve to know it all.”

Thinking for only a moment, Adam had his answer for her. “I think you should. I think your parents should know too if I am to be part of the family. Then you can all decide if it’s a good idea.”

As expected, Davis and Marilyn were concerned but happy to finally have a son-in-law. Their heart went out to Adam when they heard his story and why he had made the decisions he had made. Sophie and her parents were glad they never had to make such a choice. It was liberating to Adam too as now he could tell stories to his new family and not worry about revealing information. He could relax. Over time, Sophie and the family got to know his father Ben and his brothers Hoss and Joe through the stories he told. They learned his family history too. At some point, they did hope Adam would contact his family but left that choice up to him knowing that as the years went by, that seemed less likely.

As the couple seemed happy, Davis and Marilyn accepted Sophie’s choice especially as they got to know Adam better. At first, they did wonder how the couple would consummate the marriage, but the glow on Sophie’s face after their wedding day said that the couple had managed. The news they had after only a couple of months verified that too.

To help the couple, a wing was added to the large home Marilyn and Davis had. Adam designed it, and in the process, suggested some changes for the main house. Davis wondered how he knew so much about such things and was surprised to learn he had studied building design.

“If you ever tire of studying law, you could design houses here in Eureka. There’s many a rich man here who would like a grander home.”

Once some of those wealthy men saw the changes to the Hayden home, Adam did get some commission work to design homes. With his physical limitations, he could not get actively involved in any building projects but it was a lucrative sideline. He studied enough law with Davis that after a year, he was able to have his name added to the firm as a lawyer to handle contracts.

“What name should we put on the office sign?”

Thinking about his situation and all that he had lost, Adam still didn’t want to use Cartwright. Even though Sophie and her parents knew his real name, he had used his alias to marry Sophie and that was what people in town knew him as. Anyone who had known him as Adam Cartwright would never recognize what he was now and the limitations he had. Of course, maybe it was that he couldn’t stand for those who knew him before he was shot to see him the way he was now. It seemed fitting to keep the name that was part of what had been his name because he was only part of what he had been. He looked at the sign painter.

“Adam Wright, Wright with a W.”

Inside the office that day, Davis was in a good mood. “You know, Adam, it looks like more of a distinguished firm with two names on the window. I like it. Now we should have more than contracts listed as law that we can handle.”

“We could add real estate and last wills and testaments. We do those for some already.”

“That’s good, but that doesn’t get people talking about us. I was thinking of criminal defense.”

“I didn’t know that you had ever done any of that.”

“I haven’t, but in listening to the stories you have told us of your family and your story, you already know quite a bit about criminal law. You think quickly and have a good presence. Your mind is logical and organized. All are good qualities for criminal defense. I found some time to talk to our sheriff. He said it is always a problem finding a lawyer to defend someone who needs a lawyer and liked the idea of you taking on that role.”

“I don’t know enough.”

“You could start studying now. I have those books in my office, but you’ll find they’ve never been opened.”

“The accused would want a lawyer with no experience who learned what he knew from books?”

“Better than a fool for a lawyer which is what most would have otherwise. Once you do a couple of cases, you’ll have as much experience as most defense attorneys have.”

So, Adam began his study of criminal defense procedures, and he had his first case within months. As Davis said, he wasn’t perfect, but he was far better than what the man would have had otherwise. Adam got better and better too. The cases at first were men accused of minor offenses, but Adam didn’t mind thinking that was a good situation for him to have those for practice.

At the end of Adam’s first year after being shot and left for dead, he waited for the birth of his child. So much had changed in his life that it seemed to him that it must have been much more than a year since he had written those notes to his family saying he needed time away and would be back. He had never said when and now wondered if he ever would. He was happy and looking back couldn’t even remember ever being happy as he was now. Resting in bed with Sophie, he held her close and told her what he had been thinking.

“Are you feeling this way because it’s a year since you were shot or because you’re about to be a father yourself?”

“What do you mean?”

“You must know how your father has felt probably thinking you are dead.”

“Yes, I have thought about that, but I don’t know how to tell him I’m alive without having him searching for me. Sophie, I don’t want to be found. I don’t want to go back to that life. He’s so forceful. I don’t want that pressure and there would be pressure.”

“I have told you it is your decision. I will support you no matter what you decide.”

“Thank you. Now, how are you feeling?”

“Mostly, I feel fine.”

Although he knew what that meant, he wouldn’t push her to reveal anything more. He guessed she was hiding discomfort to protect him, but he knew too that her mother wouldn’t let her suffer too much. Sophie had endured morning sickness for months, but otherwise her pregnancy had gone fairly well. However, she had gotten quite large and her back ached. Under the circumstances, she couldn’t complain though feeling it would be difficult for Adam. Suffering mostly in silence, she waited anxiously for the labor pains to begin with her mother monitoring her condition. Once more, she was glad that they lived in the same building with her parents because Adam had spells when he couldn’t move. If he had one of those when she needed help, she could call on her parents directly. They gave her a large bell to ring and a whistle to carry in her pocket.

It was the whistle that summoned the cook who called to Marilyn who sent the driver to get Adam and Davis. By the time they arrived, the midwife was with Sophie. The emotional strain made Adam tense up which caused his back pain to intensify. Davis put a hand on his shoulder.

“The best way to help my daughter right now is to fight this. Relax and fight the pain. She will want you there when your baby is ready to greet the world.”

“Can you relax with your daughter going through this?”

“I can or at least enough. What will be, will be. I trust all will be well.”

“I’ll try. Can we talk about things to help me, keep my mind as busy as I can keep it?”

It worked well enough because Adam was there to hold his baby Anna and hold Sophie’s hand until she fell asleep.

Soon after that, Adam had his first serious criminal case with a man accused of major theft of timber. Adam was successful in showing it was a boundary dispute not a criminal theft of property. People noticed. Although there weren’t many criminal cases in Eureka, Adam got the ones which required a better defense than the usual.

As Adam was settling into a life that gave him a sense of fulfillment and peace, his family on the Ponderosa was feeling the opposite in his regard. They were giving up their search for him because everything they had found pointed to the likelihood that he had been killed. Once he left Virginia City, there didn’t seem to be anyone who had seen him alive. Ben Cartwright had thought he would never do what he did then. He told his sons they had a ranch to run. He knew there could be some miracle, some dream, that would mean his son could ride back home someday, but he didn’t think that would happen. Finding in the past that the only way to handle nearly overwhelming grief was to break it up with mind and soul numbing labor, he threw himself into such workloads and dragged his sons with him.

Occasionally, there would be a hint that would send one or more of them rushing to a little town somewhere only to find it was usually someone trying to cash in on the mystery. The closest they got was the tip that led them to Sport for sale in a livery stable, but tracing back his sales, they found he had been bought and sold often enough by then that no one could tell them the original seller. The horse was too difficult to ride for anyone to keep him for long. They took him home as a poor substitute for the man who used to own him. Sadly, it only seemed to confirm what they feared most. If Adam didn’t take the stage or the train, he needed his horse. Without his horse, they didn’t know how he could have survived in the mountains although they had searched there too and paid others to do that as well.

Finally, the family had to move on. There were two Cartwright sons until Jamie was adopted. He heard some stories about the oldest brother he once would have had, but that was about it. Hoss talked the most about the brother he had lost. There were only a few remarks made by Joe about his lost brother, and Ben rarely said anything except to bemoan the fact that he had been forced to mourn a son and that a father should never have to do that.

Eventually, the thoughts of Adam brought the good memories to mind, and both Ben and Hoss were able to share a smile when they talked about him. It was then when they began to tell more stories to Jamie about the lost Cartwright. It was five years after Adam had gone missing. Jamie had a lot of questions, too many to answer at one sitting. Hoss told him the key to Adam was he was complicated and they would have to talk a few times for him to really get to know what he was like.

“He could be as gentle as a lamb and as fierce as a mountain lion. You could see him tie a bow in a little girl’s hair and think he could never hurt nobody. Then you’d see him come up against somebody who got his back up and you’d worry he’d kill the fool who thought he could get the best of Adam. He planned and planned everything, and then he’d up and fall in love as fast as Joe does and be ready to change everything if he had to. He’d be suspicious of some right off like he had a sense of them being bad inside and then make friends with some just as bad or worse like he thought he could bring ’em around to the good side. He could shoot as good as anyone you ever knew and hated how much violence there is here.”

“He does sound complicated. Could he shoot as well as Joe does?”

“In some ways, he was better. He wasn’t as fast or as fancy, but he had that ice that let him be calm when he was shooting and he was the most accurate shooter in the family especially with a rifle.”

“I heard he shot it out with a gunman once and won.”

“And that wasn’t the half of it. Now when you, Griff, and Candy get back from Eureka, we kin talk more. That is another thing. He sure liked to travel. A trip like this would be right there with his favorite things.”

“I’m looking forward to it too.”

“Now this is the first time you’re representing the family so you do us proud.”

“Hoss, we’re only there to see how they do things. They move those big trees down some steep slopes, and Pa wants to know how they do that.”

“I know, but we’re always looking for business opportunities too. So, keep your eyes and ears open for any possibilities.”

Clearly, Ben was nervous about sending his youngest off on such a trip. It was why Griff was going along. He wanted a little additional protection for Jamie. When they saw the three off, both Hoss and Joe assured him that Jamie would be back soon and there was nothing for him to worry about. But of course, Ben was going to worry. He always worried when one of his sons was gone from the Ponderosa especially since he had lost one.

 

Chapter 6

A week later, Griff King was in jail in Eureka charged with murder. Two witnesses had identified him as the assailant in the assault on a man who had died. Candy and Jamie were talking with the sheriff about what to do.

“Mister Canady, the best lawyer you could get for this is Mister Adam Wright. If anyone can find a way to keep your friend from getting hung, it would be him.”

“Where can I find him?”

“Down the street to the right. He has an office with his father-in-law. Don’t let his manner put you off. He’s got a lot of troubles that make him kind of ornery now and then, but when he’s in that courtroom, you would never know it.”

Finding the office easily, Candy and Jamie found too that the warning was accurate. Adam Wright growled a greeting to them when they were ushered in by a clerk and scowled the whole time they were explaining why they needed his services. Both of course had noted the wheelchair in which he sat and assumed the grimaces and jerks were because of some malady that had confined him to the chair. What they didn’t know and couldn’t know was that every reference to the Ponderosa and to members of the Cartwright family were blows to his heart. Adam had tried to wall off that part of his life and found how easily those barriers could be breached. Shocked to find that his father had adopted the red-headed boy who sat beside the dark-haired man who dressed in a similar fashion to how he had once dressed, his feelings were threatening to overwhelm him. He had to do something and was as grateful as he had ever been to be married to Sophie. She came back in after hearing much of the conversation.

“It seems you gentlemen have a great deal of information. It might be helpful if you told me all the details and I could write them down. Mister Wright could then look it all over and do his research so he can better prepare the case for your friend.”

“Sophie, I didn’t say yet that I was taking this case.”

Pursing her lips and staring at him, she tipped her head a bit to the side waiting to see if he would disagree with her.

“Well, you better tell them what it will cost. They may not want to hire me then.”

The three filed out to Sophie’s desk. When Jamie moved to close Adam’s office door, Sophie shook her head.

“No, he’ll listen. It’s his way.”

Candy frowned. “He’s a little odd.”

“I can hear you too.”

The other office door opened, and a distinguished looking gentleman stepped out. He greeted Candy and Jamie and was introduced to them by Sophie.

“This is my father, the senior partner in the firm, Davis Hayden.”

“Did I overhear correctly that you work for the Ponderosa Ranch?”

“Yes, sir, my father owns it.”

“Your father? I thought Joseph Cartwright was the youngest son.”

“He was until Mister Cartwright adopted me. Then he had three sons again.”

“Again?”

“Yeah, the oldest son left years ago to take a trip. He was supposed to come back but never did. He never wrote or sent any word. Mister Cartwright paid people to search for him but never found him. They found his horse eventually at some livery stable, but he’d been bought and sold a couple of times. No one could tell who had first brought him in. His other stuff is probably scattered around the same way.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The men looking for him came back with a story about a man being shot on the road to California on the day he left. A stage picked him up. It was too late to find any of the passengers to find out if they could identify him or say where he ended up.”

“What about the driver?”

“He was killed in an accident. All they had was the report he filed on that incident and a description of the man they picked up. Seems it could have been Adam Cartwright.”

“Interesting. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to sit in and hear about this case.”

A commotion at the door resulted in an attractive older woman entering barely hanging onto a boisterous dark-haired girl with hazel eyes. They knew who the mother was immediately.

“Mama!”

Grinning and showing a dimple too, the little girl rushed to Sophie who hugged her. The little girl was striking in how beautiful she already was and the opposite in coloring from her light skinned mother who had light brown hair and blue eyes.

“I tried to keep her corralled, but that girl is so full of energy and questions, I don’t have the strength. It would take two of me to do the job.”

“It’s all right, Mama. Why don’t you send her in to see her papa? He’s not doing much at the moment.”

Apparently, it was all the permission the little girl was waiting to hear. She rushed through the open office door.

“Papa!”

“Can I leave Anna here for a couple of hours?”

“Certainly. Adam is the only one who can keep her on her best behavior. A few bellows from him or those eyebrows coming down and she knows better than to challenge him.”

Sophie noticed the reaction from Candy and Jamie and realized perhaps she had said too much. As fast as she could, she changed the subject. Assuming her mother wanted to meet the two men seated in the office, she proceeded with introductions.

“Mother, this is Candy Canady and Jamie Cartwright. They have a friend, Griff King, in jail charged with murder.”

Marilyn did a good job masking any reaction to the name Cartwright. “So, you came to have our crabby lawyer defend him. He’s very good at that kind of thing.”

“I can hear you, Marilyn.”

“I know you can, dear. There was a compliment in there too.”

“Thank you.”

Smiling, Marilyn left and the Candy and Jamie finished telling their story to Sophie. It didn’t take long as they had almost been done when Marilyn had arrived. When they finished, Adam offered his opinion that Griff was charged because someone was protecting a valued employee. He told them it had happened in other cases. Then he wanted to know why they were there. Candy wondered why that was important.

“So, I know which companies to check out. It’s likely it’s one of those you contacted because someone seemed to know your friend well enough to accuse him.”

“We came to check out their methods for getting timber from hard to cut areas and how they transport it.”

“With that list of companies, we know who to question to find out what really happened.”

Jamie couldn’t see how Adam’s method could work. “But they have witnesses.”

“Who are lying. It’s my job to show that. When I do, their case falls apart. Now, I have to get some work done. Come back in a couple of days.”

Before Candy could respond to Adam’s gruff manner and dismissal of them, Sophie told them to tell Griff and the sheriff about their legal representation. Because they had nothing more to explain, Candy and Jamie left and headed over to the jail to tell Griff there was hope.

When Jamie and Candy were walking down the street, Candy said there were some odd things about Adam Wright. One was how he reacted to them and their news. The other was the description of him and how he dealt with his daughter. Jamie even mentioned how it was like Ben Cartwright’s when Jamie wasn’t behaving properly. Then he added more.

“Wasn’t it odd that they all seemed to know so much about the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family?”

“Yeah, I didn’t expect that.”

Telegrams were sent to Virginia City that they had a lawyer to represent Griff, and word was sent back that Hoss and Joe were going to try to be there for the trial. Money was sent to pay all expenses. Candy had similar thoughts to Jamie wondering how they could win with no evidence and only Adam questioning witnesses. They were afraid Griff might hang. When they talked with Griff, he had the same worry. Adam rolled in still sitting in the wheelchair which was the last straw for Griff when Candy introduced Adam as his lawyer.

“Oh, great, they may as well ask the jury their verdict now. No offense, mister, but these are rough, tough men up here, and it’s going to be hard enough to convince them I didn’t do it without having you as my lawyer.”

Adam rose from his chair and stood next to Griff facing him shocking all three in the cell. He wasn’t as tall as Griff yet at that moment seemed to tower over him and Candy as well. He had a voice and a presence that took over the room. He didn’t yell but that quiet baritone voice was so threatening the three men stepped back.

“When people say no offence that is exactly what they are intending. If you want to avoid a rope around your neck, you will show me respect or I will leave your case and let you find any incompetent attorney who looks good as that apparently is how you judge one. As for tough, almost every man in this town knows I carry a bullet next to my spine, and they know the price I pay every time I stand up. And I will stand up in the courtroom to defend you unless in your great wisdom, you think you can do a better job. I’ll be paid to defend you, but I can refuse the money. I don’t need it. I only take these kinds of cases because I believe in justice. So, no offence, big man, but do I stay or go?”

“Sorry, Mister Wright. I’d be pleased if you would stay on and save my sorry neck.”

“Then call me Adam and let’s get to work. I have some questions.”

It was clear who was in charge. Adam sat back down in his chair and began questioning the three about who they had seen and when. The three sat down as well but with a new respect for the man in the chair.

On the day of the trial from the conference room next to the courtroom, Adam rolled into the courtroom in his wheelchair, but when the trial began, he stood and walked about the room. It was when he questioned witnesses in cross-examination that his skill was most obvious.

“Which of the three men did you see wearing a red shirt?”

“Ah, I think it was the kid with the red hair.”

“In your sworn statement, you said it was the defendant.”

“So, I got the shirts mixed up.”

“You also said the defendant was riding a black horse in your statement.”

“He was.”

“He was arrested riding a brown horse with white shoes.”

“Maybe I got confused about that too.”

“You say he struck Andrew Jordan four times.”

“Yes, he did. Twice to knock him down, and then twice when he was laying on the ground.”

“Where did he hit him first?”

“On the shoulder.”

“Which one?”

“It don’t matter.”

“But it does. So please tell me which shoulder was hit.”

“I guess he hit the right one.”

“In your statement you said left one.”

“You’re confusing me.”

“Yes, the truth can be a pesky thing that way. Now, you say the killer kicked him in the head. Top of the head or the side?”

“I don’t remember.”

The witness was learning how to avoid the traps but now appeared to be a liar to the jury. Adam was ready for more.

“You said he hit him when he was down. Did he hit him with a club or a rock?”

“A rock, I think.”

“In your statement, you said he bent over and hit him with his fist and then kicked him.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s what he did. You lied to me.”

“No, I asked a question. I’m afraid I wasn’t the one who lied.”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“Certainly not. Why? Are you lying?”

“About what?”

“What part of the body did he kick?”

“The head?” The witness was shaken.

“Are you sure?”

“What do you say it was?”

“Maybe the back?”

“It could have been. I don’t remember what I said any more. You got me all confused.”

At that point, the jury laughed. The second witness called by the prosecution was even less believable by the time he was done answering questions. At one point, he had a question for the judge.

“Your Honor, can I see a copy of my statement so I know what I said happened?”

Although Adam had to hold back his smile, Candy and Jamie were sitting behind Griff and they didn’t hold back at all. When Adam began calling witnesses to show there were a couple of men who held grudges against the man who was killed, his case was all but wrapped up. He made a motion to the judge.

“Your Honor, in light of the witnesses who have been shown to have lied, the lack of motive by my client, and the existence of motive by others, I ask that you dismiss this case with prejudice.”

“Counselor, I am inclined to do so.” Turning to the prosecutor, he had a question. “Do you agree to the dismissal of this case with prejudice?”

“Yes, your honor. Dismiss this case and allow me to file charges against these witnesses.”

“So ordered, and I apologize for any inconvenience, Mister King.”

Sitting back down, Adam grabbed for his client before he said anything to jeopardize his freedom. He knew Griff had a temper and might take offense at the judge’s statement. It was over. Wisely and because Adam had an iron grip on his arm, Griff held his temper relieved to be freed. Griff, Candy, and Jamie were wise not to slap Adam on the back, but they didn’t hold back from congratulating each other. As quickly as he could, Adam moved back into the room next to the courtroom.

Bending down in his chair, he allowed his iron will to give in to the pain. Paralyzed in agony, he didn’t even realize his two brothers had come into the room. They had shocked Candy, Griff, and Jamie by coming to the front of the courtroom.

“We got your telegrams. You said you were coming but when we didn’t see you this morning, we didn’t think you would make it.”

“Your last telegram made things sound bad so we thought we should, but nothing got us ready for the shock we just had. We came in just as the witnesses were being questioned.”

“No shock really. That lawyer is really good. We were feeling pretty good coming in, and he did a great job.”

“Not that. The shock is we think that’s our brother.”

“What?”

“That looked like and sounded like Adam. He’s thinner and he’s got a beard and he looks different, but damn, that’s Adam.”

“His name is Adam Wright.”

As he said it, Candy knew that the name and all the other little clues added up to what Hoss thought was true. The way Adam flinched slightly at any mention of the Ponderosa even if he tried to control it and how he had first stared at Jamie. It explained how he and the rest of his family knew so much about the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa. It all made sense now.

“Hoss, I think you’re right. There’s something you don’t know. He’s in a wheelchair most of the time. He told us once he’s got a bullet next to his spine.”

They followed the direction Adam had gone. Not only was there surprise, Sophie was there, and from descriptions she had heard, knew who they must be. There was nothing to be done about that at that moment though. Helping Adam to tip his head back, she used a nurse’s bottle and had him drink a solution. Then she let him drop his head as she prepared to wheel him to his home.

“You can come with me, but no talking until I get him home and in bed please.”

Seeing the condition of their brother in the wheel chair, the two brothers did as they were asked following along and watching as Sophie wheeled the chair into a house and then into a bedroom on the first floor. They did not intrude as she did what she had done so many times and helped Adam from the chair to the bed. She kissed him gently and touched his cheek before walking out to talk to his brothers. After closing the door, she took a deep breath because she could tell they were upset especially the younger one. The first question confirmed her worries.

“He’s been here alive all this time and let us think he was dead?”

“Yes, because he wanted you to think he was dead. He didn’t want your pity and your scorn that he can’t do any of what he could do before he got shot.”

“He got shot, ma’am?” Hoss was trying to understand the situation. “Can you tell us about that?” Hoss also wanted Joe to have time to get control of his emotions.

“I was on a stage after visiting in Virginia City. We found him in the road shot twice in the back. He had nothing. His pockets were turned out. His boots, hat, and anything else he may have had were gone. When he woke, at first, he only said his name was Adam. That’s all I knew for a long time. It was when I invited him to come to Eureka with me before I knew more.”

“Why is he like that? He wasn’t like that in the courtroom. We saw some of the trial.”

“He can walk briefly before the pain builds up to a level he cannot tolerate. The more he walks, the worse the pain gets to be. The long morning he spent defending your friend caused a major problem in his back. He will need time for that to resolve.”

“What’s wrong with his back to make it do that?”

“He still has one of those bullets by his spine.”

“We heard that, but why don’t they take it out?”

“It could work and alleviate the pain, but he could be paralyzed or die of infection.”

Joe was frustrated by the whole situation. “I would think he would want to take the chance to get his life back.”

“He would never get his life back as he knew it. Scar tissue means he will never be able to do things you remember him doing.”

“I would take the chance.”

“There is more to it than taking a chance.”

Anna came dancing into the room then and stopped when she saw the strangers among those she had already met. She stared at Hoss who grinned at her, and when she grinned back, Hoss knew she was Adam’s daughter. Going down on a knee, he asked her for her name.

“Anna. What’s your name?”

“Hoss.”

“Oh, Papa talks about you. You’re a hero. Papa tells Hoss stories.”

“A hero?”

“Yes, you save the good people.”

“I do?”

She giggled then. “Yes, and you ride a horse called Chubby. I know why.”

“You do?”

“You’re really big.”

Excited suddenly, she turned to Jamie. “Papa told a new story. Hoss got a new brother. He has red hair. Are you Jamie?”

“I am.”

“Papa says you’re smart.”

“What about me?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Joe.”

“Oh, are you Little Joe?”

That made the other men snicker as Joe had to agree.

“Papa says Little Joe is funny.”

By then, Marilyn had followed Anna into the room. Quickly, Sophie had explained what had happened. Marilyn agreed to stay with Anna so Sophie could go with the men into the dining room. She invited them to sit at the table and had the cook bring coffee.

“Would you like lunch?”

They did, so she ordered that as well. Then she sat and knew the next hour or two would be difficult. She had never agreed with Adam’s decision but would have to try to explain it here. She did her best.

“I remember the first conversation we had about this issue. I asked him directly. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to contact your family? They must be terribly worried. They would want you at home.’ He did not agree. His answer was that at first you would want him but then what? ‘There’s no place for me on the ranch. I couldn’t stand the pity and the confinement.’ I talked to him about things he could do. He said at the ranch it would only be about things he couldn’t do. He said he would rather you thought he was dead. He thought

anyone who had known him would never recognize what he is now and the limitations he has. He finds it difficult for those who knew him before he was shot to see him the way he is now because he thinks he will see pity. It seemed fitting to him to keep part of the name that had been his name because he was only part of what he had been.”

“So, he moved here with you as Adam Wright?”

“Yes, Hoss, he’s been here since he was shot and we knew he would survive.

He didn’t want his family to realize he was in such dire straits and come rescue him. He didn’t even want to imagine what it would be like to be imprisoned in his bedroom on the Ponderosa. Those were his words. He worried you would wait for him to get better and inevitably pressure him to have the surgery. He doesn’t like the options the surgery offers except now we may have no choice.”

“Why is that?”

“He’s getting worse.”

Although Sophie had been strong for years, the implications of what she had said hit her too. No matter how much she had been trying to deny it, she had to tell his family the truth so she had to admit it to herself too. She might lose him. The tears came then.

 

Chapter 7

For years, Sophie had paid attention when Adam had talked about his family. No matter what he said about how they were better thinking he was dead, she knew how much he missed them. By this time, she felt she knew them, and when she felt a hand on her back comforting her as she cried, she knew it had to be Hoss. The sound of his voice only confirmed it.

“Sophie, how is it getting worse?”

“Like today, he gets so bad he can’t even communicate. It takes longer and longer for him to recover from exerting himself. There are more things he can’t do or can’t do as much. He won’t admit it, but I know he’s worried too.”

“Well, you know who’s been worried for five years? Our father. He’s been worried sick and hasn’t had the chance to get any peace because he thinks his son is missing and can’t get it out of his head.”

“Joe, that ain’t fair.”

“It isn’t? Hoss, you know how Pa has suffered because of Adam, how he says a father shouldn’t have to mourn a son. Well, he didn’t have to except Adam let him.”

“Joe, not here, not now. Besides, I think that’s between Pa and Adam. When they get together, they can have it out.”

“Damn, how are we going to tell Pa? It’s going to be a huge shock to him.”

“One of us has to do it. Can you do it and be fair to Adam but easy enough on Pa?”

“Fair to Adam? I don’t think I even know what that means.”

“You heard as well as I did what Sophie said and what he went through, how he has to live now. You know how proud he was and what he was like when he was cooped up. How would you be if it had happened to you? What would you be like if you could never ride again? Never walk around the ranch again? Only get to sit inside and work with books and papers? Would you want us around with our looks showing how sorry we felt for you?”

Knowing exactly what Hoss meant, Joe got some perspective on Adam’s situation.

“Maybe we should talk a little more, and then I’ll go home with the others, and we’ll talk with Pa. You can bet any amount you want, but he’s going to want to come here.”

“I’m hoping he will. Then maybe we can get this family all healed up.”

“You aren’t considering one thing.”

Joe and Hoss turned to Sophie wondering what she meant.

“You haven’t thought for a moment about what Adam wants. You’re assuming he wants a family reunion here. Don’t you think you should ask him?”

Although Joe bristled at that, Hoss recognized that it was what should be done. He said they would and ushered Joe and the others out saying they needed to get rooms and make some arrangements. Under the circumstances, they didn’t expect to be invited to stay at the Hayden house. Sophie told Hoss and Joe to come back with Jamie the next morning so they could all talk.

That evening, Sophie and Adam had a chance to talk. She told him that she had recounted to his brothers as much of the story as she could including things he had told her and her arguments to him. He was tired and apologetic.

“I should have followed your advice years ago. Somehow, I thought I could keep this life, and they would never know. Now, it’s a mess of my own making.”

“What will you do if your father comes here?”

“Oh, I don’t have much doubt that he will come. He’ll want to confront me face-to-face after what I did. I’m rather sure of that. I’ll tell him the truth. He won’t like it. I won’t change my plans. My life is here. I’ll talk to my brothers in the morning if they still want to talk to me.”

“There’s something else to discuss.”

“About that?”

“No, about that bullet in your back. Adam, it has to come out. You can’t keep going like you are. It’s getting so much worse. It scares me when you get the way you were today. Soon, you won’t be able to get out of that chair at all.”

“Yes, the bullet coming out could mean I wouldn’t have this problem any more, or I could be in this chair permanently, or I could be gone forever. There are three possibilities that have to be considered.”

“Isn’t it time to find out which is the most likely? Could we ask the surgeon to come back and see what he says now?”

“I’ll think about it. You may be right. No, I know you’re right. We’ll have to talk about this when this is all settled with my family.”

The next morning, Adam was very straightforward and honest with his brothers.

“I’ve missed you, and yes, I know it was my fault that we have not seen each other for five years. I know that I should probably have found another way to do what I did, but honestly, at the time, I couldn’t see another way. I did what I thought I had to do. I’ll answer any questions you have about anything Sophie has not already told you. If you tell all of this to Pa, and he decides to come here, I’ll tell him the same.”

“Will you come back with us?”

“No, travel is extremely difficult for me, but that isn’t the main reason. I don’t plan to go to the Ponderosa in the foreseeable future. There is no reason for me to go there.”

Joe was offended by that. “Not even to see Pa.”

“That’s the truth of it, Joe. I’m being honest with all of you.”

“Adam, would it be all right if I stayed on a bit?” Hoss looked hopeful and Adam accepted.

The following day, everyone except Hoss left. He wanted to keep a connection with Adam and spend time getting to know the community. Joe had the task with Jamie’s help of telling their father that Adam was alive. Adam had agreed to meet with his father if he came to Eureka although he seemed to lack enthusiasm for the prospect. As it turned out, there was cause for his apprehension. Ben’s shock at Joe’s news quickly turned to anger.

“What an inconsiderate and selfish thing to do. He let us suffer thinking he had been killed while he spends his time romancing a beautiful rich woman?”

“Pa, I don’t think it happened like that.”

As Joe and Jamie tried to explain to their father what had been told to them by Sophie and by Adam, Ben simply negated their stories treating them like they were some kind of ramblings of a madman. Nothing that was said could seem to change his mind and got worse as Joe gave his opinion too.

“Pa, I was angry too when I found out Adam was alive. I realize now how awful that sounds. But when I think back to the Adam I saw in Eureka, he was a different kind of man than I remembered. There were no snide remarks, no dark looks. He is truly happy. Then I remembered the two of us talking once about how Adam made it difficult for the rest of us to be happy with his dark moods and the things he said. Well, now I wonder if we made him like that because he isn’t like that now.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Then maybe he’s right and having to live here and punch cattle and fix fences was the problem when it wasn’t the kind of life he dreamed of having.”

Ben didn’t even want to discuss anything along those lines. As he traveled to Eureka with Joe, Ben stewed over what had happened.

“He lived on one of the best ranches in the west and could buy anything he wanted. He could travel. He could buy books and guitars. His laundry, cooking, and cleaning were done for him. He had nice clothes, the best he could buy, and clean ones to wear every day. There were millions who would have envied his life then. But he turned his back on that and on us without even the courtesy to tell us that he was alive. He let us think he was dead. He let us suffer with no concern for our feelings. I’m not even sure why we’re making this trip.

“When we left, Pa, I thought you said you wanted to hear his side.”

“How can he even have a side?”

Comments like that made Joe worry about what would happen when his father and brother were reunited. In Eureka, Joe led Ben to Adam’s office. They found him there alone. Adam could tell by his father’s expression that he had likely been brooding on the worst of things while traveling. In the weeks since Joe had left, Adam had time to think about what to say on the issues and was ready for him. While his father was quiet getting used to seeing his son in a wheelchair, Adam used the time well.

“Pa, what happened wasn’t one event whose causes need to be examined and corrected. It was the culmination of years of jealousies and resentments that would have better been left hidden. Once in the open, they can’t be ignored or set aside. The tears in the fabric of the family were not going to be mended then, and they can’t be mended now. None of you will ever completely forgive me for what I have done. I can’t forget the reasons why I did it. I’m not innocent in this, but I won’t ask to be forgiven. I did what I thought I had to do. I’m happy now. I think you are too if you’re honest about it. Before any more is said, I want you to meet my family. You can evaluate where things are now and how we can move forward. There is no way for us to redo the past.”

As they made the short trip to Adam’s house, a number of people greeted Adam. All of them smiled and wished him well having heard that he was considering surgery. Most said they were praying for him. Many offered to help in any way they could. When introduced, Ben got congratulations for having such a fine son. By the time they reached Adam’s house, Joe was watching his father with some amusement as he guessed his father was surprised at how well-respected Adam was in the community. Ben was introduced to Sophie and then to Davis and Marilyn. When Anna came running into the room followed by Hoss, Ben’s heart was lost. A half hour later, he had only one thing left to say to his son.

“We’ll be spending time here. I’m looking forward to having some time to talk and learn what you’ve been doing for the last few years.”

Over the next couple of days, Ben and Adam did get some time to talk, but Ben had time to talk to people in the community too when Adam was working. By the end of the second day, he had drawn a conclusion he never expected and thought he needed to tell his son how his thoughts had changed in some ways. He was concise.

“I hope you have the surgery, and I pray it is successful so that you can have a happy and successful life with your family here.”

Surprised a little by that sentiment, Adam thanked his father who said he should go because he knew Adam and Sophie had a lot to discuss. After Ben and Adam’s younger brothers left, Adam told Sophie it was time to have the surgery.

“Because of what your father said?”

“No, I was going to tell you when they left, but after what he said, there’s no reason to wait.”

“It’s a scary prospect. I’ll get my father to make all the arrangements.”

“I want it here though. I don’t want to be in a hospital in San Francisco.”

“That’s interesting. The surgeon has requested the same. He has some ideas of how to do this the best way and one was not to use the hospital. We’ll wire him that it’s time to come.”

When the surgeon arrived a few days later, he met with Adam and his family the night before the surgery was to take place. The news he gave them offered more hope.

“I have been reading of the work of a man by the name of Lister. I think his techniques will help us with your surgery. One of the great fears I had for you was infection. I think his methods can help us avoid that. We shall make an incision greater than I thought we could make when I saw you five years ago and that will give us a better chance to remove that bullet completely, quickly, and safely. Then we will close the wound. You will be immobilized for several days at least with as much ice as needed to control swelling as you can tolerate. When the swelling is under control, we will know if the surgery is successful.”

“Scar tissue?”

“If there is no infection and we control the inflammation, I am hoping there will not be too much scar tissue. Now, you will still have limitations. Don’t expect to be riding horses or doing too much physical labor, but you will be able to retire that wheelchair.”

“The pain medication?”

“I doubt you will need any.”

“Doubt but you’re not sure?”

“I can’t see inside your back to assess how much damage has been done. I can’t see how much scar tissue will form because I can’t see into the future. I am giving you the best conclusions I can draw based on my experience and based on my examination of you. I think it will work out.”

Although Adam had tears in his eyes, he wouldn’t let them fall. Sophie and Marilyn had no such reservations. Anna asked why Grandma and Mama were crying, and her grandfather said that sometimes people cried because they were so happy.

“The doctor is going to take care of your papa’s back, and he is going to be much better.”

“Can I just smile and not cry?”

“Yes, that would be perfectly fine.”

At their hotel, Ben Cartwright was asked by his sons what had changed his mind about Adam. He said he had a major revelation.

“Since we first talked, I’ve been paying attention and talking to people as well as listening to Adam and watching him. Here he is a different man. He’s happier, more relaxed. It’s obvious to me that he has found a good life for himself that suits him. On the Ponderosa, he was often an angry man unhappy with the world. Everything goes so smoothly here. You know the man handling things did well when both sides shake hands and walk away with a smile. He must do that in most deals here in Eureka because people speak highly of him. Men say he writes contracts that are fair and keep business working. People who go to him know that. It’s the kinds of things I’ve been told as I’ve talked to people here. He is well-respected. This is his home, his life. He made a choice to be happy. Why would I want to ruin that? Granted that I wish he wouldn’t have done it the way he did, but I understand why he thought he needed to do it this way.”

“He didn’t have much choice about getting shot neither.”

“Hoss, you’re right about that. We could ask if he remembers anything about what happened. Even five years later we might be able to find out who did it.”

“We won’t be able to ask until after the surgery. Lordy, I hope it works. Seeing the pain he was in after Griff’s trial was terrible.”

“We’ve got time. Why don’t you tell me about Griff’s trial? Joe has said it was impressive, but I was thinking about other things. I never asked about why it was impressive.”

“Pa, maybe Joe can remember the questions he asked but he took those witnesses apart like Hop Sing slices bread. He had them tripping over their answers so much, the jury even laughed a couple of times especially when one witness asked the judge if he could read his statement to see what it was he had told the sheriff.”

“Yeah, Pa, Adam showed the witnesses were lying and then got a couple others to admit they had grudges against the man who got killed. The jury never even had to do anything. Adam got the judge to throw out the case.”

“That is impressive. You know he showed some skill like that when he handled the case for young Bob Jolley. I had never thought though of him doing that for a living. I guess I always thought of him on the Ponderosa. I guess he may have been right. That was my dream, and I put him in it without ever asking if he wanted it.”

All three were quiet for a time. Hoss then had a question for his father.

“Pa, you ready to bring those things you have with you over to Adam’s house tomorrow? It might be a good way for the families to get to know each other some and to pass the time while the surgery is going on.”

“That’s a good idea, Hoss. We can knock on the door in the morning and see if we’re allowed in.”

“I know I will be. Maybe I should ask for you.”

Hoss had a grin then, but Ben knew there was also some truth in what his son was saying. It wouldn’t hurt to have Hoss do the asking. It worked too. Adam was being prepared for surgery when they got there. Sophie was worried about the surgery and preoccupied, but Marilyn said they should come in. To help ease the tension, Ben opened the valise he had brought in and first placed Elizabeth’s music box on the table, wound it, and played it. Anna wanted to grab it but Sophie grabbed her instead.

“That belonged to Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. I thought you all should have it.”

Next, he brought out a leather-bound wooden box. He opened it to show a set of drawing tools. He stacked some books on the table and Sophie picked them up to find that several were signed by the authors and all were first editions. One by one, they went through the books and Ben explained what he knew about how Adam had gotten each.

There were some rolled up papers that were tied and Ben took those out next and set them on the table.

“These are drawings Adam did and kept so I thought he must have thought they were important to him.”

Then he pulled out two little velvet pouches. He handed them one at a time to Sophie who pulled an item from each bag holding it up to show her mother.

“These last items are the smallest and perhaps the most valuable. This first one is his mother’s wedding ring, and the other is a locket with her picture in it.”

There were more stories to be told with Hoss and Joe helping to fill in details. It seemed though that Anna and Sophie and her parents knew many of the stories already although they chuckled frequently and commented that it was interesting to hear the stories from a point-of-view other than Adam’s. Ben and his sons realized how much Adam had talked about his family and knew they had not talked about him nearly as much especially to Jamie in the years he had been gone.

Although they still worried, it did make the time pass more easily as they waited for Adam’s surgery to end. About an hour after it started, the surgeon came out to say the removal of the bullet was successful. The scar tissue had actually aided the removal shielding the surrounding tissue from damage. Then they had removed as much of the scar tissue as they could safely take out without doing damage to the spinal column or muscle near where the bullet had been encapsulated. As to whether there were negative effects from the surgery, they were going to have to wait a day or two to know.

 

Chapter 8

The surgeon had more of a warning than news as far as paralysis as an issue.

“Now, we have the hard part to do. The wound is bandaged, and the patient is immobilized. We have the ice we need to start working on controlling the swelling which is the concern now that the surgery is complete. Once the swelling subsides, we will know if there is any paralysis or not.”

The waiting was as difficult as expected. Sophie spent all of her time in the room with Adam, she was sleeping in a chair there when it got late. Adam had almost no pain but emotionally was suffering as he waited to see how much movement he would have. The doctor refused to let him try to move because he wanted optimum conditions before that happened and didn’t want Adam to aggravate the area by trying to move too soon.

On the second morning after the surgery, the doctor decided after examining the surgical site that it was time.

“Adam, we’re going to remove all restraints so you can move. You are to move your right leg and then your left leg when I touch the bottom of your foot on that side.”

It was a test in several ways. The would find out if he could feel the doctor’s touch, and then see how much movement he would have. The doctor moved his fingers down the bottom of Adam’s right foot and all waited. Adam moved his toes and foot, and then gradually lifted his right leg off the bed. When he did the same with his left leg after the doctor’s touch, the doctor and Sophie let out a cheer. Then Sophie began to cry. She bent down to kiss her husband whose own tears were threatening to fall. With the cheer, those waiting outside didn’t have to wonder about the official word. The surgery was a success. The doctor stepped out and told those waiting that they would have to wait a while longer to go visit the patient though.

“Adam and his wife need some time together first. Please give them some privacy. This is a very emotional time for them.”

After about a half hour, Sophie opened the door and invited family members to come in to congratulate Adam. He was sitting in a chair and looking relaxed. Sophie had helped him dress.

“Yes, the pain is gone. I feel some discomfort from the surgery, but when I sit still like this, there’s nothing. I haven’t felt nothing for over five years.”

Although Adam had a long recuperation to face to build up the strength he had lost over five years, the horrible pain was gone. The surgeon warned him that he would have a dull ache in his back at times, and he was to take that as a warning to rest. He was not to do any heavy lifting or to try any demanding physical activity like riding a horse, but overall, he was going to be able to do normal things once he built up his muscle strength again.

Over the next day, Sophie showed him the items his father had brought and he felt the covers of the books and held the music box in his hands. His family had left with brief goodbyes because he was so weak, but had made promises to return for visits.

Another significant change was that Adam began using his full name. It required a few legal changes that took some time but overall most who knew him had learned his father was Ben Cartwright so the change was understandable. The sign on the office window was adjusted. His relationship with Sophie was adjusted too as they could be more physical with each other.

“Adam, someday, could we visit the Ponderosa. I would like to see it.”

“Yes, I think Anna would like it too. It may be a few years before we make that trip though. Would that be all right?”

“Of course, that would be all right. Everything’s all right.”

“Yes, it is.”

Pulling her into his arms, Adam kissed her and held her to him. Putting a hand to her cheek, he grinned.

“I’m looking forward to being able to being able to be more active in bed with you too.”

“Shh, Mama is in the next room with Anna.”

“She must know what we do. After all, you had Anna, and maybe now we can work on another baby.”

“No, that won’t be necessary.”

“What?” But he saw her smile and knew. “How long have you known?”

“A few months, but about the time I was going to tell you, so much started to happen, I thought it would be better to wait until things had calmed down so we could celebrate. I asked Mama to watch Anna this morning so I could tell you.”

“Marilyn knew before I did?”

“She guessed.” Seeing his look of disappointment, it was her turn to grin. She whispered though. “It doesn’t mean we can’t have a lot of fun seeing what you can do now especially as your strength increases.”

“The future is looking so good.”

“It is.”

There was only one thing left from the past that was unresolved. To some in the family, it was even a worry. All of them wondered why Adam had been shot and by whom, and some worried about whether there still was a threat. Adam was the one who took it least seriously assuming the threat had ended with him bleeding into the dirt on that road. But some, especially Joe, worried about it more than that.

For months after leaving Eureka, Joe was obsessed with what Adam had said about the man who had bushwhacked him. The man had told Adam it was the second time Adam had ruined the man’s plans. Now if shooting the two men who had meant him harm was the second time, Joe wondered if foiling Roberta was the first. If that was true, the man must have tried again to take over the Ponderosa. If he did, who was he? Because if Joe could figure it out, he was going to make the man pay a price for trying to murder his brother. After discussing it on occasion with Candy, he voiced his whole theory one day when Hoss and Jamie walked in and heard the story too. Hoss was skeptical that Joe could find the one responsible for Adam’s injuries.

“Joe, it’s over five years ago now. It’s like that needle in a haystack they talk about.”

“Hoss, Joe might have a point. If it was this Roberta, wouldn’t she be able to tell you who hired her?”

Snapping his fingers, Joe slapped Jamie on the shoulder for his suggestion as Candy grinned. It was similar to what he had told Joe earlier when they had first discussed this idea.

“So, it does make sense. She was the first plan and somebody paid her to do it. I’m not sure what the plan could have been with the two men on the road. Kidnapping maybe, but there had to have been a third plan.”

Candy asked what he thought had to be the most obvious question. “Who was the next person to try to take the Ponderosa from you?”

Hoss and Joe looked at each other and nodded.

“Joe, he must be out of prison by now.”

“Yeah, maybe he’s plotting against us already.”

“Should we tell Adam what we think?”

“Let’s locate the weasel first and see if we can find Roberta to get her to verify what we think happened. Then we can tell Adam to see if he wants to be here. He’s the one who suffered the most because of that weasel.”

Candy had a question though that could affect their whole plan. “What makes you think Roberta will tell the truth?”

“Candy, if Hoss and I offer her money, she would sell out her own mother.”

Getting what they needed took far longer than the brothers thought it could and more fees to a detective agency than their father thought reasonable, but eventually they found Roberta. What she told them verified their theory and got them the name they needed to pursue justice. With her statement in hand, they sent a message to Adam letting him know who had shot him and what they planned to do next. He agreed to meet them in San Francisco. A day and meeting place were arranged.

A few weeks later, the four brothers and their father walked together into a gentleman’s club in the city. Their quarry sat in a chair smoking a cigar and had a tumbler of brandy on a small table beside him. The family let Adam do the introductions. He walked in front of the man and stood looking down at him until the man asked what he wanted.

“I don’t know you, do I?”

“Oh, you do, but you probably don’t recognize me standing here like this.” The tone of Adam’s voice and the menace in it got the attention of everyone in the room. “I’m Adam Cartwright.”

“You can’t be. He’s dead.”

“I know why you would think that. The last time you saw me was over five years ago. I was laying in the dirt on a road with two of your bullets in my back.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”

“Really, Roberta says differently. Remember her? We have her sworn statement. Oh, and now that I have heard your voice, I can swear it was you who shot me. That prison you got out of in Nevada is going to seem like a picnic compared to the time you’re going to spend in one here.”

“You can’t threaten me.”

“C. J. Shasta, I’m not threatening you. I’m telling the truth. You’re through hurting people.”

C. J. pulled a pistol then, but before he was able to aim it at anyone, Joe shot him. Adam turned to his younger brother as C. J. knelt on the floor cradling his wounded arm and moaning.

“Thank you, Joe, for everything.”

“Adam, are we good now?”

“We’re good.”

“Good. Then will you tell your daughter, my name is Joe, not Little Joe. I don’t want her calling me Uncle Little Joe.”

When all the laughter and the commotion settled down, the police had their reports and their prisoner, and telegrams were sent, Adam, his father, and his brothers were able to spend some time together before heading home. They went to Nevada and he went to Eureka, but it didn’t seem unusual any more. It seemed right.

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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 “Deception (by BettyHT)

  1. Oh Betty, I enjoyed this one very much. So much going on, really good storylines. These fellas are so stubborn, so independent, and at odds with each other, but the Cartwright love and loyalty to each other finally shines through. Sophie a good woman for Adam and lucky for him she was there when he’d been shot. Thanks.

    1. Thank you so much. Some parts were difficult to write, but as you noted, in the end, it all worked out well.

  2. This is a great story. It had so much going on. I am glad Adam got better from his Gun shot wounds and could walk better. Thanks

  3. What an emotional journey they all went through in this story. As awful as it all was, maybe it was a good thing to force them into this situation. I feel like it made them all stronger as a family which might not have happened otherwise.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting here too. Yes, I agree that many times it takes traumatic events for families to face what needs to be addressed to make the family stronger.

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