Summary: A light drama with quite a bit of humor in the last chapters, the story focus is on Adam but all members of the family as well as Jamie and Candy play significant roles in the telling of this story. There are two OCs too who are necessary to move the story forward. There is a Part 2 which is a short follow-up story.
Rating: T Word count: 20,302
A Fight You Do Not Want
The arguing had been going on for days. Upset by that behavior, Ben and Hoss couldn’t manage have any impact on the process. Now to be fair, it was mostly arguing from one side. Adam did try to be logical and reasonable in his responses. Yet, he found the persistence of his youngest brother irritated him. That erupted in less thoughtful responses. Or in other words, they argued. Ben tried to counsel them. The words were wise but didn’t sway the two enough.
“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge and hopefully of some wisdom in the process. Arguing only displays and transfers anger and to some extent ignorance. That is because it shows a lack of knowing what the other person needs or wants. Anger is not persuasion. It is a lack of any meaningful reason one has to support a position. The louder the speaker, the less likely there is merit to what is being said.”
At that point, Adam wanted to say something. He knew if he did, he would reinforce his father’s words by responding. So he wisely stayed silent. But, Joe couldn’t be quiet.
“If Adam would listen to what you said, we could settle this right now”
Unable to respond to that either, Adam stood and walked from the house. He had that stiff walk that showed intense anger. Hoss shook his head. Now he was angry too and as helpless as his father in this situation. Joe saw the looks of disapproval and knew he had earned them.
“I’m sorry. I guess that was uncalled for. I’m probably as much to blame for this whole mess as Adam is.”
“As much? Dadblame it, Joe, you could end this with a few words. You thought about trying that?”
“What? Tell him he’s right?”
“He is, you know.”
“I don’t know exactly what he said, but we’ve been picking up enough to get a pretty darn good idea of what it was mostly.”
Little Joe knew than that he had to admit the humiliating truth. He had to tell his father and brother what his oldest brother had said to him in private.
“He told me that if I went to town to face Darcy, he’d kill me. He said Darcy is almost as fast as I am, but he shoots straighter. He said that it would be the same if the two of us ever would be in that situation. I spent too much time on being fast and not enough time on being accurate. I said I was better than him, and he said I wasn’t, I was only faster.”
“That sounds about right to me too.”
Shocked, Little Joe looked to his father who nodded.
“So what am I supposed to do? Stay here forever until I’m old and gray?”
“Son, Darcy isn’t going to stay. He’s looking to make a name for himself. Hanging around town waiting for you to show up is not getting him what he wants. He’ll leave soon enough. Have more patience than he has, and you’ll win this one.”
“Win? By being afraid to face him, I win?”
“You win by staying alive, and he loses because he doesn’t get what he wants.”
“It sounds all right when you say it, but that’s not what I’m going to hear when he leaves and I finally get to go to town. It’s like I’m eighteen all over again and have to prove myself like I did then.”
“That’s when you get to show some real courage, son. Adam knows that too. You do realize how many times he’s faced going to town after incidents when he didn’t fight. That led to the kind of mocking you fear. He endured it from men and even by some women in town. He knew he was going to have to face it, and he did.”
“I suppose that’s one of the things I have to face now, isn’t it?”
Knowing what he meant, Ben had a small smile. Little Joe had conceded finally. He understood even if it had taken three of them and days to do it with Adam taking the brunt of it. Ever since Little Darcy told him to be there the next morning, tension had been high. Now finally, they could see relief coming.
“You don’t have to prove yourself. You simply have to act the man that you are. The petty people who would say otherwise will shut up in the face of real courage.”
“I’ll go talk with Adam.” Joe could see their looks of worry. “Yes, I’ll talk with him. I won’t argue.”
Intentions were good, but Little Joe was still on edge, and there were vestiges of anger in Adam too. Little Joe found his brother leaning on the corral fence staring at nothing. There was much to see with only a sliver of a moon that night. Joe opened well.
“I may have finally come to my senses about Darcy. You’re right. I shouldn’t face him. I’d get killed.”
“I’m glad you realize that. I’d hate to lose you. Pa would be upset too.”
“Well, he’s a lot less upset now knowing we won’t be arguing about this.”
“Mostly it was you arguing.”
“Yeah, that’s true, but I disagree on one point. I still think I might be better than you.”
“I’d hate to ever put that to the test. My point was valid though.”
“Maybe it is. You did kill Ross and Carl and they were both pretty fast from everything I ever heard. Those were two of your best friends when you were younger. But they went bad, and somebody was bound to kill them the way they were going. They both had murdered and would have done more if you hadn’t killed them first. Of course, you might have killed Todd too if things hadn’t worked out that Pa stopped you. At least Todd came to his senses before it was too late.”
In the darkness, Little Joe didn’t see Adam’s look of pain and revulsion. Before he could, it hardened into a mask on his older brother. He only heard the words, cold and hard words.
“You killed Howard too and we know he was a killer. Heck, you even killed some crooked lawmen. You shot Eskith and Latimer. You shot Larrimore too when he went bad. Those were men used to handling a gun. You’ve even killed gunmen and there aren’t any more dangerous with a gun than they are. Sam Bord and Elmer Trace were some of the worst around and you took care of them. Belcher was a crazy dangerous man, but you got him too. Maybe you are right, and you have to work on being a good shot more than anything. But I suppose it gets easier to kill too after you kill so many too and that makes you cold as ice in a fight. I might be a lot more nervous in a fight than you because I haven’t done it near as much. Gosh, with you there have been so many, haven’t there? Colonel Scott and that Peter Kane in the desert that you never told us much about. A bunch of others too. Do you ever forget the names?”
“No, you never forget the names or the faces.”
The voice was quiet with not a hint of a challenge in it. Adam was in complete agreement with his brother and damned himself as he did so.
“It’s good that we’ll never have to test that out who’s better. I’m going back inside. I’ll tell Pa and Hoss that it’s all worked out now, and we won’t be arguing any more or at least not about this.”
Laughing, Joe turned to go to the house. He thought the whole thing was settled. Walking fast, he was eager to tell what had happened. He did not realize the devastation he had left behind.
Sagging against the corral fence, Adam sucked in shallow breaths. He felt his heart beating like he’d been running or fighting. He thought to himself that he had been doing that. He had been running from himself and his dark thoughts. He was fighting with himself and his guilty conscience too. Those had become constant issues for him. He had tried logic and reason to justify his history, none of that mattered. He had heard his brother summarize it all as the biography of a killer which had shocked him. None of his reason or logic could soothe what those words had done. He had complained about the lack of civilization in the west. Now he had to accept that he was part of that uncivilized population that he despised. Those thoughts made it difficult for Adam to sleep. That night in his sleep, he tossed and turned awakening often as he did many nights when he thought too much about some of the things he had done that troubled his soul.
In the morning, Adam found that it’s not easy facing yourself in the mirror to shave and looking into the face of an uncivilized man. He saw the reflection of a killer. He believed he had taken more lives than some of the notorious gunmen of the west. He couldn’t escape that thought all day. All the loathing he felt for himself and the recriminations for things he had done came out against others. There were surly comments and unfair accusations ranging from poor work to shirking duties. There wasn’t anyone who wanted to spend time anywhere near him by the end of the day especially his brothers. Left to finish a task by himself, Adam knew he would be late getting home and grew even more sour. As he worked though, he had time to think and no one to insult but himself. He found he had many reasons for that too. Distracted, he slipped and fell at one point slamming the back of his head against the metal rim of the wagon wheel. Dazed for a short time, he felt at the back of his head and found a slight swelling but no blood. Sighing at his own clumsiness and carelessness, he loaded the tools and began the drive back going slowly as he had a headache aggravated by the ride. Guessing he would hear complaints about being late, his mood darkened even more.
At the house, Ben questioned his younger sons when Adam did not return when they did. He could tell by how they looked at each other instead of answering that he wasn’t going to like the answer. The two had always been that way hoping the other would find a way to answer that would in some way make things better than they were. It never worked and failed again as they should have known it would.
“Well, are you going to tell me, or do I have to go question the men to find out what happened today?”
Both reacted badly to that which put Ben much more on edge.
“No, Pa, the men are upset enough as it is. It won’t do to rile them up no more that they are already riled.” After saying that, Hoss knew it was on him to explain more. “I don’t know what set him of, but Adam ain’t exactly been friendly to anybody today. There’s a bur under his saddle, that’s for sure. I just don’t know who put it there.”
The look Hoss gave to Joe though said he had his suspicions despite what his words had claimed. Joe knew it too, and was going to protest but his father intervened.
“Now Joe told us the basics of his conversation with Adam last night. I agree that nothing in what he explained would likely have been a cause of what you’re describing. But, Joseph, perhaps you could go into a bit more detail about what was said?”
Although phrased as a question as if answering was voluntary, Joe knew that the formal use of his name commanded otherwise. What he honestly didn’t understand was how anything he said could have caused the reactions he had seen throughout the day. None had been specifically directed at him either.
“Pa, I don’t think it could be what was said last night, but I will try to remember as much as possible what we talked about. Adam didn’t say much though, but he was agreeable to what I said.”
For the next several minutes Joe recounted what he could remember of his conversation with Adam. He realized as he did so that most of what had been said was by him and that Adam had said very little. What was most worrisome though was how his father and brother looked more upset with every addition he made to his memory of that interchange with Adam. Finally he had to ask.
“Why are you looking upset? I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
“But, little brother, you didn’t say enough neither.”
“Our older brother has felt darned bad every time he’s had to do that kind of thing. What you said made it seem like he does it without a thought. Most of the time, he’s been there to help somebody else. Afterwards he punishes himself. Every time he thinks he should have found a better way to handle things. Pa said that to him a few times even.”
“Yes, but I only said it until I realized I was reinforcing the very doubts that were torturing him. Hoss helped me with that one.”
“Yeah, Adam was feeling so bad a few of those times, he talked to me. You know it takes time for doing something like that not to weigh on your heart.”
“And on your soul. I’m afraid Adam has felt for some time that his soul is tarnished. He’s a gentle soul who has never been allowed to live the way he wished he could.”
Joe wasn’t so sure his father and brother were correct in how they saw things. He had another question.
“So how does he want to live, and how does treating everybody like he hates them help?”
“Oh, Joe, it’s not everybody he hates. You reminded him of that in too much detail. Now he’s remembering that there’s only one person he despises right now.”
Although Joe knew who he meant, he didn’t want to believe that.
“But how can he feel that way? People admire him for being brave and for doing the right thing and being honest and all sorts of things like that.”
“And are people a little bit afraid of him?”
And Joe realized he was. After remembering all the men Adam had killed, he had realized he would never want to face a man like his brother in a fight. It made everything Adam said about fighting all that much more authentic. He had nothing more to say. Ben and Hoss were quiet too. None of them knew what to say as they waited for Adam to return.
Arriving home as the sun was almost ready to set, Adam pulled into the barn and unhitched the horses. With at least a half day of work left, he knew he would need the same materials and tools the next day. He didn’t unload the wagon. He did care for the horses and was about to go get water for them when Hoss came into the barn. Without a word, he grabbed the buckets to get the water letting Adam get hay and grain. Without a word, the two walked to the house then. Adam thanked Hoss at the door. Once inside, the smells of food made him feel nauseated.
“I’m tired. I didn’t sleep well last night. Excuse me, please, and extend my apology to Hop Sing. I would like to go to my room and get some sleep.”
It was hardly a request that could be denied. Ben waited for Adam to round the stairs at the top before asking Hoss if anything had seemed amiss.
“Nah. He did seem real tired. After that talk with Joe, I bet he didn’t sleep well at all. That could be why he was so ornery today. We can hope he gets some rest so things will be better tomorrow.”
“I’m not at all sure that sleep is enough, but it certainly can’t hurt.”
“Pa, should I go apologize for what I said to him last night?”
Ben and Hoss were both quick to say no to that.
“Son, the worst thing would be to remind him of that again. He needs to be able to let go of some of that. Do not remind him again, please. Let him sleep. We’ll see how things are tomorrow.”
It was a quiet evening and a time for contemplation. In the morning, the three men thought they were ready for Adam and waited for him to come down to breakfast. Surprised that he was late, Ben finally sent Hoss to ask him if he planned to have breakfast with the family. As Hoss walked up the stairs, he rehearsed what he was going to say to his brother. As the thoughts went through his head, he made sure they were the ones he wanted to communicate. He didn’t want to start any trouble.
When he got to Adam’s door, he wondered why he did not hear any sounds. He opened the door and was even more surprised to find that Adam was still in bed. His older brother’s head was the only part of him showing with the quilt pulled up to his chin.
“Adam? Adam, you awake?”
When there was no movement or response of any kind, Hoss went closer and tapped his brother’s leg. He called his name twice more. Moving to the head of the bed, he put a hand on Adam’s shoulder to gently shake him. Then he shook him a bit more.
“Pa. Joe, You better come up here. Now.”
Pulling the quilt lower, he saw that Adam had not changed for bed. He still had his work clothes on and was laying on top of the bed linens. When Hoss moved the quilt, he saw a small amount of blood on the pillow. Then he yelled louder. Adam didn’t move at all.
Reluctant to leave his patient because he didn’t want to talk to the man’s family yet, Doctor Paul Martin sat by the bed. Keeping his voice low, he was careful that those who waited on the other side of that closed bedroom door wouldn’t hear. Speaking slowly as well, he chose words with care so he could to encourage his friend. Not knowing if Adam was able to hear him made the words even more difficult to say.
“You’re not going to like what I have to say to you. Waking up will be difficult and perhaps one of the most difficult things you have ever done. I won’t tell your family that. I don’t want them to push you too much. You’re a fighter though and always have been. This is your biggest fight. Come back to us while you still have the strength to work your way through rehabilitation. Yes, that is what it will take. But here’s the good news. You can relearn anything you lost. You can’t do that unless you wake up. The job is all yours. No one can do this for you. Take the time you need, but not too much, and wake up, Adam, please.”
With a squeeze of Adam’s hand, Paul stood. He patted the man’s shoulder too before moving to the door to talk to the family. Knowing how they would react, he steeled himself as he always did when delivering bad news.
“As you suspected, he had some kind of fall. The outside injury was to the back of his head. It is not significant there. What it did though was start bleeding in his brain. Most likely he has a concussion but there is no fracture of his skull. The best thing that happened was that he came up here and laid down that night. There must have been bleeding that continued long after the initial injury. By being still all night long, that bleeding did not get worse. Gradually it stopped. The effect of what happened may end up being similar to a stroke except his recovery should be better.”
“A stroke? He’s paralyzed?”
“Ben, it may be like a stroke but not a stroke. I expect there may be some deficits in what he can do when he wakes up. Don’t be surprised if he is sluggish in his speech or has trouble remembering things. He may have trouble standing and walking. Someone should be with him any time he tries to get out of that bed and especially if he tries to walk down the stairs. Another fall could be devastating at this point. It is difficult to predict how a concussion will affect a person. Most of the effects are usually temporary.”
“Again, the effects are difficult to predict. Adam has had too many head injuries. I’m afraid of the effects because of that. I am even more concerned should he have another head injury. We have to wait for him to wake up.”
“When will he wake up, Doc?”
“Hoss, that’s too hard to say. I hope soon. There are signs he might have heard me when I talked to him, but I can’t be sure.”
“I talked softly during the exam. His eyelids twitched, there was some movement of his left arm and hand, and he appeared to frown at some things I said. None of that is conclusive. It could have been coincidental.”
“But maybe he heard you?”
“Yes, Ben, coincidence or maybe he heard me.”
“We should be careful what we say around him then.”
“Yes, and be quiet in what you do. Keep a low voice when you speak to him and speak slowly. As you all know, a head injury makes one sensitive to loud noises. It also usually affects the ability to understand as well as to remember.” Paul had to smile then as each of them nodded. All three had suffered a fair share of head injuries and knew the aftermath was difficult. “No one has to sit with him. Keep the door open and check on him regularly. When he wakes, it might be good for him to have some solitude and time to adjust to his circumstances.”
Paul knew how much a caring family could move in and nearly smother a patient. A man like Adam would find that especially difficult. He usually preferred to be alone when he was suffering and would not like too much attention. Of course, the family had been through situations like this many times before waiting out one of them who had suffered a major injury or was severely ill. They knew what they had to do. He saw it in their faces.
“Maybe we could all get some coffee and let Adam rest for a time.”
“Yeah, Pa, when you come back, maybe he’ll be awake.”
Joe optimistic prediction wasn’t true for two days but did happen. Ben walked into Adam’s room after lunch two days later to find him squinting at the light from the window. Moving quickly to pull the gap in the curtains closed, he turned to find Adam looking at him alert but in pain.
“Son, do you remember what happened?”
“I came home and now I woke up.”
“Yes, you came home and said you weren’t hungry. Instead, you were so tired you wanted to go to your room to get some sleep. We should have realized something was wrong. Paul said you must have had a fall and hit the back of your head. You have been laying there for two days since he told us that.”
“I don’t remember falling. What was I doing?”
So Ben told him about the work he had been doing and then had to admit why he had been working out there alone. None of it surprised Adam, but none seemed familiar to him either. Finally Ben tried to determine how far back the memory loss went.
“What is the last thing you remember doing?”
Ben knew it wasn’t going to be a good thing when he saw that look of pain increase on Adam. Then he got a look that usually meant he wasn’t ready to talk.
“Was it you and Joe arguing?”
“No, we weren’t arguing.”
So it was as Ben feared. Adam did remember the conversation at the corral when Joe had laid out all his history of gunfighting,
“Was it his apology for arguing with you and for the things he said?”
“Yes, he apologized. He was relieved.”
“But you felt much worse.”
In the hallway, Joe had come up to see Adam but heard that conversation. He headed back down the stairs where he complained to Hoss.
“He’s talking to Adam about what I said at the corral that night. I feel bad enough about that and maybe being the reason for all this happening. Why would he bring that up now?”
“I dunno. Maybe Adam brought it up. Joe, you’re missing the important thing.”
“Adam’s awake and he’s talking with Pa. He can’t be hurt too bad by what happened if he can talk about that stuff. Let’s go up and see him.”
Moving to the window behind his father’s desk, Joe offered more information.
“Maybe not. Doc just drove in. He may have other ideas about that.”
Rather hoping that Paul would have a different opinion than Hoss, Joe was relieved when that was true. Paul wanted to keep things as calm as possible. He also wanted a chance to do an examination of Adam. Allowing Ben to stay as his assistant, he first asked Adam how he felt physically. The answer was troubling.
“I feel like a ton of rocks fell on me and most of them are still there.”
After he pulled the covers back, Paul touched Adam’s hands, and then touched his feet and was glad that Adam felt those. However Paul was concerned by the lack of movement from his touches especially on the right side.
“Adam, lift your left leg, please.”
With some difficulty, Adam did so.
“Now, raise your left arm as high as you can.”
Adam did that with apparent ease reassuring his father temporarily.
“Now, raise your right leg.”
As he expected, Adam struggled and only managed to raise that leg a small bit before he had to let it drop back down. The same was true with the right arm although he could raise it further than his leg. Paul tried to be optimistic.
“Good. There’s no paralysis.”
“Damn it, Paul. I could hardly move. What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Adam, it’s not unusual after a serious head injury. But as you could see, it is not paralysis. You will recover more movement as the blood clot in your brain dissolves. I was worried that it was more serious, but this says that it is not blocking anything vital. Can you sit up on your own?”
Because of the right arm weakness, Adam could not do that. So Paul had Ben help his son to sit upright.
“Adam, take a deep breath.”
With a scowl, Adam took several.
“Good. It has not affected your vital functions either. The prognosis is good. You stay in bed or at least in this room resting until that leg functions normally. That will tell you that the blood clot has dissolved. Then take it easy for a month or so after that. No work that could risk another head injury for as long as possible.”
“I don’t want to be treated as a child.”
“Well then I suggest you take my advice because a paralyzed man has no choice in that matter.”
The implication was clear. Adam was smart enough to know that but ornery enough at that point not to want to accept it. The scowl stayed firmly in place although he said nothing more. Paul turned to Ben instead.
“A light meal with mostly soft food. If he tolerates that, he can go to regular food. Keep things quiet and the room dim until he can tolerate more. Call me only if there’s a problem other than his mood.”
“I suppose we should go downstairs and tell his brothers what you have said.”
“Why? You don’t think they heard everything from their perch outside the door?”
That got a snort from Adam and an almost smile. At least it broke the tension. Ben told Hoss and Joe to come in the room then as he and Paul left. He did caution them to stay only a few minutes and then follow them downstairs. With a firm grasp of Joe’s shoulder, he made eye contact to make sure his youngest got that message. Joe nodded. A short time later all four were together downstairs.
“Thank you for following my instructions.”
“It wasn’t hard, Pa. As soon as you and Doctor Martin left the room, he kinda relaxed back like he was tuckered out. Me and Joe told him we was glad he woke up and said we’d take care of anything needed taking care of. All he has to do is tell us anything he needs. He said thanks and then closed his eyes.”
“Yeah, we left the door open so we could hear and so we can walk in without waking him by opening the door. That door of his always has a squeak.”
“Doc, we heard what you said about his right arm and leg. We were wondering if what you said is as good as what you told Adam. I know he can get real down about things so did you tell him that to keep up his spirits?”
“Yeah, or will he really get back to where he was?”
“Joe, he may not get back to where he was if you mean will he be able to use that arm and leg like he did before, but he will have use of both. He is not paralyzed.”
It was a shock to the family to realize that Adam might have lost some of his ability to do things. What they wanted to know was what ability he might have lost.
“I can’t tell you. He may not have lost anything. It will be a matter of waiting to see how he functions once he can walk and move around more normally and try doing what he would normally do.”
The recovery progressed about as expected with one exception. Adam’s right arm didn’t work as well as it should. As long as it was extended down low, it worked fine. If he lifted or raised his arm, it was weak. He couldn’t make that move very well either. It was slow. His family tried to reassure him that the deficit wouldn’t matter much. He could play his guitar, play chess, write, ride, and do many things. What he couldn’t do though was rope or draw a pistol or even raise a rifle to his shoulder and aim it. For weeks, following Doctor Martin’s suggestions, he tried to make his arm stronger in those motions, but nothing worked.
On a trip to town about ten weeks after his injury, Adam and his brothers sat in a saloon drinking beer and talking. Adam had discussed leaving because of his inability to use firearms. Ben had derided the idea. Joe didn’t like it either and argued against it.
“What, Joe? What would you have me do? Learn to shoot with my left hand and hope it’s good enough?”
“Maybe you could try to avoid fights.”
Adam snorted with a laugh that was more derision than humor. The idea was even more ludicrous coming from his youngest brother than it had been when his father promoted it earlier.
“I’ll tell you what I told Pa. Nothing I do will erase the reputation I built up over the last sixteen or so years. Not everyone with a pistol is going to hear how the oldest Cartwright son fell down and hurt his head. They’ll expect I know how to defend myself and am still capable of doing so. I still have the same temper and the same tendency to tell the truth as I see it. It is not a good formula for avoiding arguments or fights. So if I stay here, that can all be part of my epitaph.”
“Joe, I told you it wasn’t a good idea to argue with Adam about how he should live his life. We may not agree with it, but it’s a fight you do not want to have with a man cause you wouldn’t want nobody telling you what to do neither. Now drink up your beers, boys. I’ll buy us another round.”
Several rounds later, they began making up epitaphs.
“Poor Adam lost his draw,
to a gunman, he opened his maw,
but that man had more skill;
now Adam’s toes up on Boot Hill.”
“Joe, that’s more of a limerick more than an epitaph.”
“Adam, it’s funny though. I like it.”
“Hoss, you like all of them. That’s the beer talking.”
“Ah, speaking of talking, Pa’s like as not gonna have a lot to say about what time we get home and the shape you two are in.”
“What about you?”
“Joe, I can handle my beer lots better than you two.”
“Hoss, it doesn’t matter. We can tell Pa we spent the evening cheering up Adam. He’ll like that or at least he won’t complain about it.”
With a laugh, Adam pushed back from the table. “Sure, you can tell him how you were cheering me up by writing my epitaph. That will make him agreeable to anything.”
“Uh, Adam, maybe you don’t have to mention that me and Joe did that, all right?”
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do that to you. Now, let’s go. I feel a need that requires me to be outdoors.”
On the way to the door, Adam stumbled and knocked a beer out of one man’s hand and it splashed all over another man. He stopped to apologize. The men were not in a mood to accept an apology. Before he could offer to pay for drinks or anything else, he got sucker punched which propelled him into several men standing a bit further down the bar spilling all of their drinks. Their response was to grab him and hit him again knocking him to the floor. The first man tossed out a challenge of either fists or guns. Hoss waded in, grabbed Adam, and shoved him into Joe’s arms with a terse command.
“Get him out of here.”
Turning to the others, he let them know Adam wasn’t armed and in no shape to fight. Twenty minutes later, Hoss left the saloon too. The sheriff had arrived to quell the brawl. The bartender supported Hoss’ version of events that the other men started the fight and that he was defending his brother and then himself. Outside, Hoss saw Joe standing at the end of an alley.
“He down there?”
The sound of retching answered the question. A moment later, Adam staggered to the corner.
“You won’t have to face Pa tonight. You need to get me a room. I can’t ride now. I’ve got enough money in my pocket to pay.”
Relieved that Adam understood and accepted the situation and wouldn’t try to be heroic, the two younger brothers helped him to the hotel and got two rooms. They took turns sleeping across the hall from him as one sat with him. There was a big padded chair in the room so they could be comfortable while making sure he was all right. In the morning, they took turns going down for breakfast and then discussed which one would ride to the church to tell their father what had happened.
“Joe, one of us has got to tell Pa, but the other has to tell Doctor Martin.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, I’ll tell Pa then.”
“I figured you would say that. You wait here while I go tell the doc. When I get back, you can go over to the church and wait for Pa.”
When Ben arrived at the room later, Paul was talking to Adam. Hoss was in the hallway grinning until he saw his father.
“What is funny about this?”
“Nothing, really, Pa, except hearing Paul lecture Adam just like you do. He asked Adam if he thought going to town getting drunk and into a fight was the best way to recover from a serious head injury. Then Adam smiled and said he didn’t plan on either of those but the first had been fun and the second was entirely something I can’t pronounce.”
“I said it was serendipitous. And it was. Now all of you can see what will happen if I stay.”
By that time, Adam had explained to Paul what he wanted to do. Paul had concurred that it might be a solution or at least a temporary one. He could imagine how Ben was going to respond. He was correct in his assumption.
“One incident doesn’t prove anything.”
“No, but if Hoss and Joe had not been there, you likely would have two sons this morning instead of three.”
“And how is that different if you leave?”
“You’ll still have three sons, but only two will have to listen to you yell loud enough to make their heads hurt.”
Paul didn’t have to say anything. His glare and Adam’s words were enough to get Ben to back down for the moment. He intended to say more later, but he never got the chance. Hoss and Joe talked to him at home even as Adam rested in town for another day. It was Hoss who stood toe-to-toe with his father and challenged him.
“Pa, if you don’t let Adam do this, you will tear this family apart.”
“It’s Adam who will tear the family apart with his fool idea.”
“No, Adam is trying to find his way now that his life has changed. He can’t find a way to make it work here. He wants a chance to find what he can do someplace else. We got to let him try and send him off with our blessing.”
Joe added more.
“Pa, I argued against Adam leaving just like you did. What he said makes more sense than what we said. After what I saw in town, I know he’s right. I can’t imagine being here and not being able to defend myself. If you took away my pistol and my rifle and said now go do your job, I don’t know what I would do.”
“He could change.”
“He can’t do that and be Adam any more than I could do it or you could do it and be ourselves.”
“But how could leaving be any help?”
The answer was obvious. In a city, there would be no quick resort to a gun to settle differences. It would not be expected that Adam would wear a pistol or know how to use a rifle. He would defend himself with other means. The brothers could see the concession in the way their father’s shoulders sagged with the realization of the truth. In a quiet voice, he asked them if they knew what Adam planned to do. They told him what they knew and the family prepared for change.
Sitting on a steep hillside with a drop-off to the sea before him, Adam stared at the ocean before him and wondered what he would do next. He had come to San Francisco with such high hopes for a new kind of life. Instead he had first been frustrated with the difficulty of finding the kind of job he wanted. He hoped for a career that was not simply a way to make money. Securing a position in a construction firm, his skills had to honed but that had not been the most difficult adjustment. There were demands to use low-grade materials to cut costs and increase profits. In his mind, they were cheating the customers and risking the integrity of the projects. Informed that his opinions on such matters were not wanted, he considered quitting but didn’t know what other options he had. Then that choice too was taken from him when he refused to cooperate in bribes and kickbacks because they were illegal. That got him fired as well as threatened. By then, the threats were unnecessary. He knew if he went to the authorities, enough of them were corrupt that he was likely to be the one in trouble. He couldn’t go home because he knew that situation was not acceptable either. Taking a long swig from the bottle he had with him, he was well on his way to a good drunk when he was startled by a woman’s voice.
“Please don’t jump. I’ve got enough sadness already. Don’t add to it.”
Turning slowly because he didn’t want to lose his foothold and accidentally slide down the slope, Adam saw an attractive tall woman. She had almost a halo around her with the sun behind her.
“I’m not going to jump. Besides you don’t know me. Why would it matter if I did?”
“Everybody matters, mister. Were you thinking about jumping then or more dramatically throwing yourself over the edge?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking about it. I was worried about slipping down the slope by accident so I put my feet on this outcropping. I didn’t come up here to die. I came up here to be alone. ”
“If that was a hint, it was rather broad, and this is my property so I have every right to be on it. Maybe I came up here, on my property, to be alone.”
The challenge was there then.
“I’m sorry to have intruded. I’ll leave.”
“No, you don’t have to go. In fact, maybe you could walk with me down to the house. My sister is fixing lunch. She’s a sad soul too. We could have lunch together and perhaps forget our sorrows for a time.”
Surprised by the offer, Adam didn’t know what her sorrow was, but he knew what he mourned. Another dream had died. The idea of having lunch with two ladies and being distracted from that for at least a short time was an attractive proposition.
“Thank you. I would like that. But you don’t know me. Aren’t you a worried about bringing a stranger into your home like this?”
“You haven’t tried anything yet. You aren’t carrying a firearm. If you have some weapon hidden on you, I have a pistol that will take care of that.”
He didn’t know why, but he believed her. It was probably the quiet assurance in the way she said all of that and the accuracy of her assessment of him. Although he knew little about her, he guessed she could protect herself if needed, and he wasn’t any threat anyway. Her sister wasn’t nearly as confident and let Jenny know that especially as she and Adam hadn’t even introduced themselves by the time they walked to the house. Introductions were quickly made, and lunch included an interrogation. Adam answered all of the questions for two reasons. One, he had been drinking and many of his inhibitions were considerably weaker than normal. The other reason was that he was smitten not only by Joelle’s delicate beauty and voluptuous figure but her manner, her voice, her intelligence, and every other aspect of her personality as it was revealed. Long after he finished his lunch, he sat at the table answering questions and then asking a few and generally engaging in conversation. Jenny came in for much of the conversation, and at one point suggested that Adam could work for them as a caretaker and stay in the small cottage on the property.
“Jenny, he’s a professional man.”
“Who basically is blackballed from his profession. He needs a place to stay and a chance to figure out what to do next. He worked on a ranch so he could handle all the chores here and there are plenty of things that have been neglected and need to be done.”
Joelle had no more objections and the conversation turned to other matters. A short time later though, Joelle excused herself. Jenny followed her out.
“I need to go with her to talk a bit. Feel free to relax here until we get back.”
Outside, Joelle whispered to her sister that Adam was adorable, but she was worried that they knew nothing about him. Jenny assured her that she would check him out but that there seemed to be no reason to doubt what he said. On their return to the house, Adam had moved out to their porch and waited for them on the front steps.
“I should go. I have a horse waiting patiently for me. If the offer still stands tomorrow, you can let me know. Here’s my address for another few days. After that, I don’t know, but it won’t matter. If you haven’t contacted me by then, I will know you have changed your mind about the offer. I understand. Thank you for the lunch. It meant more than you can know to be with wonderful people for the afternoon.”
Joelle surprised her sister then. “It’s late. You can put your horse in our stable and sleep in the caretaker’s cottage. Then you can see whether you like the offer too. We can talk more tomorrow.”
“Thank you. That is very generous of you, but the horse is rented and I should get him back tonight.”
Jenny almost laughed seeing how disappointed the two looked. She did think it best if they spent the night apart though and each could find out more about the other. She spent the next day finding out all she could about Adam and found his story fascinating. She found out that he had researched her family too. Instead of condemnation though, all he had was empathy and concern. They made the offer again and he accepted. Jenny offered to give him a ride in her carriage and he accepted that too. On the way back, they talked.
“I know about your arm and the trouble you had with your job.”
“I guessed you would check things out. I’m sorry about your family troubles too.”
“Family troubles is a polite way to put it. Jo killed her husband by shooting him in the back but not before he had killed our father and severely injured our mother. The trial was all over the papers for a time and even later because some didn’t like that she was found not guilty.”
“She was defending her family and herself.”
“She shot him in the back as he attacked our father. She didn’t have much choice, but his family is wealthy and powerful. They tried to paint a different picture.”
“At least the jury saw that justice was done.”
“Was it? She was subjected to a trial and public humiliation. She was ostracized from her social circles. She’s lived out here in isolation since then. Yesterday was the first time I have seen her smiling and talking. Finally we had a visitor with whom she could relax.” Pulling the carriage to a stop, Jenny looked at Adam. “You do know what you’re getting into, don’t you? There will be talk.”
“I don’t care about gossip.”
“Will your family care?”
That stung a little. Adam knew they would care especially his father.
“I don’t make my decisions based on how my family would feel about them.”
“I thought so but wanted to be sure. I have another question for you. Do you want to learn how to shoot like you did before? I mean, I know about your arm, but it doesn’t have to stop you from using a pistol as well as you did before.”
Skeptical but intrigued, Adam was sarcastic as he was prone to do in such situations.
“Of course I would like to shoot like I did before, but who is going to show me how? Joelle? Or you?”
“I can show you how. I carry a pistol or two with me at all times.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
Before he could react, Adam had a small pistol pressed against his right arm.
“Yes, I expect you to believe me when I say things. I don’t lie. I don’t brag. And I have a lot of skills.”
Sliding the pistol into a pocket he couldn’t even see in the folds of her skirt, Jenny had a smug look. Taking a moment to compose his response, Adam showed her that he was thoughtful too.
“I’m sorry for making assumptions. Yes, I would like you to show me how. I am also impressed with your skill and would like to know why you have them.”
“I’ll tell you about that eventually. It could be soon too.”
She let that enigmatic statement hang not offering any additional details. Instead she wanted to shift the conversation back to Joelle.
“We talked about you quite a bit. Last night, she was quite taken with you. She wants to know everything I find out about you. If it turns out that you aren’t interested in a relationship with her, be gentle. Her husband turned out to be a brute. I’m sure by now you know the story. He beat her and the last beating made her lose their child. She fled to our parents’ house for refuge, but he tracked her down intending to take her back. The violence was even worse. She hasn’t been interested in a man since that time. I hope you know how important this is.”
“I didn’t entirely, but I do now.”
Adam didn’t deny his attraction to Joelle, but he made no claims either. He wasn’t ready to commit to any plan of action. However he could assure her of one thing.
“If anything develops between me and Joelle, I won’t hurt her.”
“Is that a promise?”
“It is, and I keep my promises.”
Over the next month, Adam took care of repairs and upkeep that had been neglected for years. The caretaker’s cottage needed much of that. The main house too needed roof repairs as well as caulking of windows and other work done. He cleared brush from the property and whitewashed the fence the surrounded the gardens.
The caretaker’s cottage was small. So it became Adam’s habit to clean up outside the door of the small building. He had a bench there with a wash basin and a small mirror. When he got up in the morning and when he finished working, he would stand there shirtless and wash, shave, and comb his hair before putting on a clean shirt.
When Jenny was home, she noted that Joelle was getting up earlier. She wondered why until she caught her staring out the kitchen window and watching Adam go through his morning routine. Joelle was startled when Jenny came up behind her one morning.
“He is a fine-looking man, isn’t he?”
Although she wanted to deny it, Joelle couldn’t do it. She grinned instead.
“He has measurably improved the scenery.”
“I have a job to offer him that could keep him here for quite a while.”
“Oh, Jenny, it’s not dangerous, is it?”
“No, it is only dangerous to his reputation, and he’s already shown that isn’t so important to him. We have a date to work on his shooting today. I’m going to make the offer then.”
“But he’ll still live here?”
“If he wants to live here, he can. The job won’t require him to move. He can use the carriage to go in to the city and come back each evening.”
“Where would he be working?”
“At the Mint if he can learn to shoot again. Although it isn’t expected that he would need to do so, it is a requirement of the job.”
So Adam got a job at the Mint as an employee of the United States Treasury Department. Jenny taught him a cross-hand draw. Once he understood the principle of it, he practiced and perfected the technique even adding a pistol as she had so that he could draw with his left hand too. He didn’t look like he was carrying even one pistol because both were hidden by his coat. However, he could have a pistol in each hand faster than most could draw one by the traditional method.
When she first showed him how, he had been skeptical. When it worked, he remembered reading that some gunmen wore their pistols that way to draw faster and some even wore them in their waistband for the same reason. He remembered that Lassiter had worn his that way and drew fast. It worked well and he didn’t have to lift his arm at all so the disability made no difference. The skill qualified him for the job.
In that job, Adam accepted bribes and handed over information he should have kept confidential. However he was able to do it and keep a clear conscience. These activities were to uncover counterfeiting operations and get the names to other agents like Jenny who tracked the men down, investigated to gather evidence, and then made the arrests. Adam was the source of the information that got these investigations started.
However snide comments were made to members of Adam’s family about his activities as well as his romantic endeavors. Many assumed that he was living with two unmarried women and therefore something illicit was occurring there too. In order to keep his whole charade going, Adam never explained anything to his family nor did he invite them to where he lived. With what they had heard, they weren’t anxious to go there anyway. At first, Ben tried to encourage Adam to return to the Ponderosa. When he realized that wouldn’t happen, he simply met Adam for dinner sometimes when he was in the city by the bay. Occasionally, Ben had news to share such as the hiring of a foreman named Candy or that an orphan boy named Jamie had come to live with them. Adam never seemed to have anything to share. Inexplicably to Ben and to Adam’s brothers, Adam seemed happy.
In fact, he was happy. Joelle did more than watch him by the caretaker’s cottage. She came out to talk with him often and spent time with him whenever she could. The friendship and the romance developed simultaneously. If anything, Jenny wondered what took so long for the two of them to acknowledge how attracted they were to each other. It was almost two years before Adam and Joelle married.
However Jenny suspected the relationship was as intimate as a husband and wife would be long before they made it official. Often, Joelle was in her robe serving breakfast to Adam when Jenny got to the kitchen. But when Jenny passed Joelle’s room on those days, the bed was neatly made like she had finished in her room or more likely had never been there yet. The two were discreet even with Jenny never making a display of emotion or affection that would let anyone know their true feelings. It was only because Jenny knew both so well that she was aware of their relationship. But although that was true, they decided on a private ceremony to keep Adam’s undercover operation intact and to keep anyone from trying to use Joelle against him should his activities be discovered. He wanted to protect her and would sacrifice anything for that.
Although Adam regretted not telling his family, he knew if he did, he would have to tell them all of it. If he did that, there was a risk that the story could leak out. He talked with Jenny, and they decided the risk was too great. She was the only one who knew how much he was helping in the investigation of the counterfeiters. If they could keep it that way, all three of them would be safer. However, they never expected that the secret would have to be held for three more years after the marriage. A change in circumstance caused a change in that plan.
(five years after Adam left)
Arriving in Virginia City, Adam headed directly to Sheriff Roy Coffee’s office. He had been surprised that Roy hadn’t been around as he arrived. It had always been Roy’s habit to watch those newly arrived in his town. However, Adam did need to talk with him so that was the first order of business. Roy was working at his desk when a dandy with a neatly trimmed beard and a dark bowler hat tipped low walked into his office.
“Can I help you?”
“Roy, I sure hope so.”
Startled, Roy stood to stare at his guest who removed his hat and grinned.
“Adam Cartwright, well, tarnation, I never expected to see you walk through that door again. What are you doing here?”
“Now that will require some time.”
For over an hour, the two men talked. By the end of it, Roy was pleased.
“I just knew there had to be another explanation for things I was hearing. Now, what is your plan?”
“I’ll check into the hotel and then check out a few of the better saloons. If they’re here, I should recognize someone. I don’t want to be too far from the bank.”
“It’s kinda late already so it won’t probably be today. Not much daylight left to get away.”
“Roy, these are inexperienced bank robbers. They don’t know that or anything else about robberies. We can’t make assumptions. We know it will be soon and here or in Carson City. If I don’t spot any of them today, I’ll watch new arrivals tomorrow.”
“All right. Let me know what you want me to do.”
The third and last saloon Adam checked out was the Silver Dollar. He had guessed that the would-be bank robbers would go to the best-known saloons. He didn’t see them in that one either. As he walked down the bar, one man stepped back and bumped into him spilling his drink all over him and his friend.
“Hey, you spilled my drink.”
“No, you spilled your drink. Mister, this is a fight you do not want.”
“Mister fancy pants, I ain’t afraid of you. You ain’t even got a gun. You some kind of sissy? Hey, Bert, we got ourselves a sissy.”
“Yeah, let’s make him dance.”
They froze with their hands on the butts of their pistols though as each had a pistol pressed against them. One had one against his throat and the other had one against his chest. Both knew they wouldn’t survive if this man fired.
“I suggest you move your hands away from your pistols right now. Then turn around and put both hands on the bar. I told you this was a fight you did not want to have.”
The men complied and Adam pulled their pistols handing them to the bartender.
“Cosmo, keep those. I’ll let Roy know you have them. These two can pick them up from him later.”
“Adam? Adam Cartwright?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Now, how about a whisky while these two skedaddle out of here?”
As the two men took the hint and left, Cosmo poured a whisky from the good stuff he kept under the bar.
“On the house, Adam. Glad to have you back.”
A tall man and a boy left the saloon then and headed to the general store to wait for Hoss and Joe Cartwright. They talked about what they had seen until the brothers showed up.
“Your brother is a dangerous man.”
“No, your brother, Adam.”
“That may be but why bring it up to me and Joe now?”
“Because I stopped over at the Silver Dollar for a beer and Jamie had a sarsaparilla. We saw your brother disarm two men as pretty as you please. He was fast, but he was so calm about it too.”
“Couldn’t have been Adam. My brother can’t draw.”
“Joe, he drew two pistols as fast as I’ve ever seen. The Donavan brothers tried to pick a fight. He told them it was a fight they didn’t want to have. They tried anyway. He had one pistol pressed up to the throat on Bert and the other on Donnie’s chest before they cleared leather. Then in a voice that was low and sounded like it rumbled all the way from Boot Hill, he told them to turn around and put their hands on the bar.”
“Our brother? Adam?”
“Yes, Joe, your brother. What is it? I’m not talking loud enough for you?”
“No, I believe what you’re saying, Candy. It’s just so hard to believe it’s Adam.”
“Cosmo called him by name, and he agreed it was him.”
“C’mon, Joe. It does sound like him. Let’s go see our brother and find out whatever he’s up to now.”
“It’s got to be better than what he’s been doing.”
So, the brothers, Jamie, and Candy headed to the Silver Dollar to talk to Adam. It was only the beginning of an eventful week.
Although Adam wasn’t in the saloon, they caught up to him at the International Hotel in the restaurant. He was ordering food to be delivered to his room.
“Damn, Adam, you sure do look fancy.”
“Hoss, I didn’t expect to see you in town. Joe, how are you. So this must be Jamie. and I presume this is the foreman, Candy. I saw the two of you at the saloon.”
“Yeah, they told us what you did.”
“Adam, they said you had a fast draw. Is your arm better?”
“No, it’s the same, Joe. It’s the holster that’s different.”
Pulling his coat open, Adam showed the cross-draw holsters he wore. With his coat closed, it was unlikely anyone would know he was so well armed.
Thinking it would be easiest to talk to him at home, they invited him to come to the ranch with them. Adam politely declined which surprised all four.
“I have some things to do in town. It would be so much easier and more efficient if I stay here.”
Hoss tried to use guilt but it was the wrong ploy. “What about Pa? Wouldn’t it be easier on him if you could take one night to see him? It’s been a long time since you saw him.”
“I don’t think he’ll mind. He doesn’t mind months going by without seeing me. He knew where I was for the past year. He didn’t find the time to visit. I think a few days shouldn’t be too much of a bother.”
That was a straw too many for Joe. “You don’t have to be bitter. You’re the one who left.”
“I left the Ponderosa. I didn’t leave the family.”
Before anything could get too ugly, Candy stepped forward to grab Joe by the arm and turn him toward the door. Hoss understood what he was doing and put his hand on Joe’s other arm propelling him from the room.
“It’s a plan then. Your brothers will be expecting you in a couple of days.”
“I didn’t agree to any plan.”
“The Adam Cartwright I’ve heard about for years would have agreed.”
With a shrug, Candy knew he had him. He left without saying anything more. Outside, the news helped a little with Joe, but on the ranch, it wasn’t enough for Ben Cartwright. He waited one day, and then the next, he decided he was going to town to see his son. Hoss and Joe thought they should go too. Jamie and Candy asked if they could ride along. Hoss and Joe liked the idea of a larger group. When they arrived in town, the talk was all about Adam but not the nasty gossip they had worried might be the case. Instead they were hailed with smiles and the news that Adam had thwarted an attempted bank robbery.
“He stopped four men all by himself, Ben. Your son is a hero.”
After a few more greetings like that, it was wholly inappropriate to greet Adam with anything other than congratulations on a job well done. Ben asked what his plans were.
“Hoss and Joe wanted me to come out to the ranch. If that is all right, I’d like to go with you now.”
Taken by surprise again, Ben agreed. Adam asked them to wait as he got his things from the hotel. They got a horse from the livery stable and prepared to ride to the Ponderosa. Jamie stood with Candy as the Cartwrights prepared to ride to the ranch together again for the first time in five years.
“He’s playing them, isn’t he?”
“Yup. Best I’ve ever seen anyone do it.”
“What do we do about it?”
“Nothing. We wait to see what he’s up to. I think they have underestimated him. This could be fun.”
“Maybe for you. You’re not living in that house.”
“Nope. I’m kinda glad now that I turned down that invitation. I have a feeling that there are more surprises coming.”
That prediction proved to be accurate. Adam arrived at the Ponderosa and settled in although he made several trips to town without any explanation as to why he needed to go. On one of the trips, his brothers went with him and were surprised when a Wells Fargo agent joined them for lunch. It was obvious that Adam and the man were known to each other but there were no answers again as to how they did.
Then the biggest surprise happened less than a week after Adam had arrived. A horse cantered into the yard eliciting an expletive from Adam before he hurried to greet the new arrival. He introduced her to them as Jenny. She smiled and greeted them in turn.
“Well, I can tell Adam never said he had a fiancé.”
Their immediate assumption was that she was that person, and their shocked expressions meant there were going to be no immediate questions. Adam let her declaration stand because he wasn’t ready to explain more. Jenny got a guest room and life went on. Hoss liked her and offered to show her around a bit when Adam continued to go to town and didn’t seem interested in showing off the Ponderosa to her. Then one afternoon, Hoss came into the house clearly flustered.
“Pa, Jenny kissed me!”
Hoss’ excited utterance was issued in a high-pitched voice and slurred together as fast as he was talking. Ben understood anyway.
“What? But she’s Adam’s fiancé!”
“I know. But we was talking, and it got kind of chilly. So I went to put my jacket around her shoulders, and she up and kissed me. I swear, Pa, I didn’t do anything to make her do that. I only been being friendly.”
“Where is she now?”
“Adam came riding in, and pretty as you please, she waltzed right over to him, and they went into the barn together. Pa, what am I going to do. He’s likely to kill me over this.”
Walking out from the kitchen, Joe heard most of the conversation. He had another observation to make though.
“There’s something odd about the two of them. For two people who are supposed to be in love and getting married, they don’t act much like they are. Don’t you think he even looked surprised when she got here and told us she was his fiancé.”
“Yes, I noticed that too, and he seemed relieved that Hoss is spending so much time with her. That is odd.”
“We heard all those stories about Adam living with two women, pretty shady women according to the stories. The Jenny shows up and she seems like a fine young woman. How did he meet her? We know nothing about her.”
“Pa, I told you and Joe I didn’t think those stories were true. I can’t believe Adam would do those kinds of things in a job like people said neither.”
Hoss sat with a frown because there was so much more on his mind than just the kiss. Adam showing up in town unannounced and just happening to be there when the bank was about to be robbed was strange too. He had declined their invitation to come out to the ranch, but after the attempted bank heist, he readily agreed. Then he made a number of trips to town and just happened to know the Wells Fargo agent who arrived. Meanwhile Jenny arrived at the ranch and announced she was Adam’s betrothed before he could introduce her. She and Adam sparred rather than speak as one might expect of a couple about to be married. There were many other things that didn’t add up either. All three men were having similar thoughts as the two in question were discussing the situation.
“You kissed Hoss?”
“I like him, and I wasn’t thinking. It was kind of spur of the moment. I forgot he was your brother and that we’re supposed to be getting married.”
“Forgot? Yeah, great. Why did you ever say that in the first place?”
“What was I going to say? Oh, I introduced Adam to his wife. She’s my sister. You haven’t even told them you’re married, have you? Telling them that wouldn’t have gone over very well, would it?”
“You could’ve told them you were the one who taught me how to shoot cross body so my weak arm doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, and how would I explain knowing how to shoot so I could teach you?”
“Yeah, that would’ve been a problem too because they don’t know about the real jobs we had.”
“So will you admit it was the best I could do?”
With a grin, Adam let her know he agreed with that. She threw a bucket at him for the insult that was implied. He ducked and moved to sit beside her on the small bench.
“You haven’t changed since I first met you.”
“I think I’ve changed quite a lot.”
“Maybe you have, but you could stand a few more changes.” Jenny paused not knowing if she should bring up that meeting five years earlier. Cocking his head to the side, Adam seemed to know what she was thinking.
“It’s all right. I can talk about it now. I had left here because I couldn’t do the work or defend myself. Then I had trouble getting a job and when I did, I got fired after a month. They said my work wasn’t up to par but really it was because I wouldn’t cut corners and do shoddy work to deceive the customers. I wouldn’t cooperate with kickbacks and bribes.”
“You were a bad apple.”
“As far as they were concerned, I was. I couldn’t see where I could fit in. I couldn’t do ranch work. The worlds of business and of politics were riddled with corruption. It seemed every way I turned, there was an obstacle I couldn’t see a way to conquer.”
“Then I was there. When I saw you sitting there, I thought perhaps you were going to throw yourself over the edge. People did that there sometimes.”
“I did consider the option. I rejected it immediately. I’m no coward.”
“You never told me that. You denied it then.”
“You were a stranger. I wasn’t going to tell you everything.”
“You told me a lot.”
“I’d been drinking. Otherwise I wouldn’t have told you anything.”
“I found that out later.”
“You took me home.”
“Joelle was furious with me for bringing a stranger home.”
“She got over it.”
Jenny began giggling then. Adam had to smile remembering too how furious Joelle had been. He was transported by memory back to her kitchen that day.
Anyone could see the anger in how her cheeks got red and her mouth was pulled tight, but she had been supportive when she heard his story. He didn’t tell it, but Jenny had an amazing memory for detail. He couldn’t dispute anything she said because it was the truth. However he was a bit irritated that she told her sister everything so he asked what she had been doing out on that steep cliffside by herself. She paled and walked from the room. He knew he had done something wrong.
“Her partner was killed. She went there to mourn him. It’s why she was out there. Helping you took her mind off that sorrow for a time, but that question brought it all back.”
“I’m sorry. I should go apologize.”
“You didn’t know, but I like that you are willing to accept responsibility anyway. Just eat your breakfast, and I’ll go talk with her.”
Both were quiet as they recalled that day with fondness.
“Yes, she talked with me but mostly she talked about you. She was quite taken with you right from the start. She wanted to know if I was interested. I wasn’t. You were too dark and brooding for me. I needed someone with a brighter outlook. We were too much alike too. We would have argued incessantly. But you were what we both needed. I saw my sister looking more alive than she had in years. Seeing how you made her feel and knowing that you needed help too took my mind off my sorrow. We all helped each other. When Joelle agreed that you could move into the caretaker’s cottage, our fates were tied together forever.” Jenny paused knowing Adam had to be worried. “She’ll be here soon. Our friends wouldn’t let anything happen to her. As far as we know, the counterfeiters believe the story that you got fired. Joelle selling the place and moving back here because of your disgrace is a good cover story because it makes perfect sense.”
“I suppose we’re going to have to tell them the whole story now. I had hoped to wait until Jo got here.”
“Maybe not tell them everything then. Let’s start with the job you’ve been doing and what I was doing. That may be enough of a shock for one night.”
“No, if Jo is going to be here as early as tomorrow, I need to let them know she’s coming. I guess it’s time to tell it all.”
“All right. You get to call the shots on this one.”
“Let’s go have dinner and then we can have a long talk with my family.”
“Why not now?”
“If it doesn’t go well after dinner, you can escape to your room and I can storm out the door.”
“Ah, I see you have a plan. You always seem to have a plan.”
“I like to have one whenever possible. Is it still your plan to retire now and make this your last case?”
“Yes, I have no reason to keep going. The ones who killed my partner will face justice now if they can make the men they arrest talk or at least some of them talk in order to get a better deal. That’s all I wanted with this one.”
“Let’s go to the house then.”
Offering his arm, Adam walked to the house with Jenny in the first show of any real affection between the two. That confused his family more than anything else already had. Adam seemed more relaxed, even jovial, which was a departure from how he had been since his return. Jenny was relaxed and showed no signs that she was nervous at all about having kissed Hoss earlier. Dinner was tense for Hoss who wanted to say something but had no idea what to say. After dinner when Adam suggested they all sit by the fireplace to talk, Hoss felt his heart rate speed up. He thought this was when he would hear a reaction to what had happened.
“I guess over the last several years that you may have heard some things about me that were less than flattering.”
From their looks, Adam could tell that was true.
“I had a job at the mint in San Francisco and I lived very well in the city. The assumption was that I was taking the bribes that were offered to me and that I was part of the rampant corruption in the system. I was not. It was however my job to make it appear that I was. It was so that I could get the names of those who would offer bribes and the names of those who were being bribed to do illegal acts.”
Impressed by the detective work, Joe was also worried. “Older brother, wasn’t that dangerous?”
“Yes, but it was only dangerous if they had ever figured out what I was doing. That was unlikely because Jenny and my superiors were the only ones who knew what the true story was. But in case there was a need, Jenny taught me to shoot cross-body. I can shoot faster than I could when I used the traditional holster and method. My job at the mint required I carry a firearm so I wore one at all times. As you heard about the incident in the saloon, I actually can draw two.”
“Jenny taught you to draw?”
“Jenny also works for the government. She worked for the counterfeiters who were doing their best to bribe me. She was getting names and information on the other side. As a woman, she couldn’t get too far up in their organization. But, the lack of respect meant that they often forgot that she was there so she overheard things. Between the two of us, we managed to get enough information to help bring down the organization. That is happening right now.”
“Son, was that attempted robbery in town part of that?”
With a grin and a nod to Jenny, Adam turned to his father. “Yes, I thought someone might wonder about why a supposedly corrupt government official would step up like that. The counterfeiters were getting so greedy that they had too much product to move. They began to bribe bank managers to switch out government currency for counterfeit currency. The bank managers here and in Carson City refused to cooperate. I was here and another agent was in Carson City waiting for them. That was the Wells Fargo agent you met. He works in the Wells Fargo organization but his job is to oversee the Mint shipments.”
“It was revenge?”
“Oh, no, it was greed like everything else they do. They were going to steal the money, and then switch it out for counterfeit money. The plan was that some of their men would then recover the stolen money and collect the reward for doing so.”
“So they would get their counterfeit money into the bank which would then distribute it for them, and they would get to keep the reward too.”
“But now they know you’re not on their side.”
“Yes, but I had already left my job in the city. I only agreed to help out here by spotting the robbers. Roy was supposed to be the one to stop them, but they created a diversion to keep him away. That was a bit more sophisticated than we thought they were.”
“Why didn’t you tell us this sooner? We have others here to protect.”
Ben was irritated. The scowl was there and the voice was louder. Jenny was amused seeing those eyebrows come crashing down as Adam had described to her but which she was seeing for the first time. He did look a bit like a vulture when he did that. She couldn’t help being amused. Hoss and Joe noticed, and Hoss bumped her shoulder to alert her that it was inappropriate. She took a more serious look but turned to whisper to him. Then he had a difficult time not smiling too. Joe was curious so Hoss whispered to him what Jenny had told him. That meant all three were fighting their grins as Adam tried to have a serious conversation with his father.
“They’re not dangerous in that way, Pa. If I was in their control, I wouldn’t be safe nor would Jenny, but they don’t have the ability nor the inclination to conduct any kind of violent action. Anyone in town can swear to how poorly they performed as bank robbers. Pa, it was four to one, and I stopped them.”
Hoss decided to help out a little and perhaps relieve a little of the tension by giving his brother an opening to say more.
“That was a mite foolish, older brother.”
“Hoss, I had alerted Roy.”
“All right, then, but now what are your plans?”
“Well, there will be another guest coming. When I went to live in the caretaker’s cottage at Jenny’s family home, I met Jo. We got along very well right away and things progressed from there. We have been together ever since. If everything went well, Jo should be here soon perhaps even tomorrow.”
“Ah, I can have Hop Sing get the other guest room ready.”
“That won’t be necessary. Jo will stay with me.”
“But there’s only one bed in your room.”
“Yes, Pa, I know. We share a bed wherever we are. I’m sorry to spring this on you, but it never seemed to be a good time to tell you. We can let everyone know now though. Are there any more questions? If there aren’t, I’m tired and would really like to get a good night’s sleep tonight before Jo gets here. I’m really hoping it will be tomorrow. This waiting is hard.”
There were no more questions as his stunned family sat in silence. Even Hoss and Joe had nothing to say in response to that. They looked at Jenny, but she declared she was tired and it was time to retire for the night. She went up the stairs then ahead of Adam. At the top of the stairs, looking down at his family, she paused. When Adam put a hand to her back to push her gently down the hallway, she whispered to him.
Arching an eyebrow as if he didn’t know what she meant, Adam said nothing.
“Don’t play innocent. Did you do that on purpose?”
“Not at first. It was when I saw the look of surprise or even shock that I realized they could even believe I was with a man. So I decided to let them think it a bit longer.”
“Isn’t that a bit mean?”
“You could have explained. Instead, you said you were tired and going to bed.”
“Well, it was funny, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”
“You are a bit wicked too.”
“Oh, my Lord, wait till they see her.”
“I know the reaction I had when I first saw her.”
“Yes, I remember. You didn’t get up from the table for hours. I thought at first you were that hungry.”
“In a way, yes, but not for food. Hoss looks at you a bit like that even if he’s trying not to do it. After Jo gets here, we can let him know it’s all right.”
With that, Jenny walked to her room with a smile too. She was glad Adam had no problem with her interest in his brother. Things were definitely looking up for her. She had wondered what she would be doing now that she was leaving the service. However, now there was something possible in store for her. It was worth pursuing at least. She was looking forward to Jo arriving so they could talk about it. As she mused about the situation, she was struck by the similarities. She was attracted to a man who had many of the same qualities as her sister. He was kind, soft-spoken, wise, and gentle. Yet she suspected he could be tough when he needed to be strong. Jo and Hoss were attracted to the opposite. Jenny knew that she and Adam were alike in many ways even if she did a lot more talking than he did, even sometimes too much in social settings. They could be moody, stubborn, and sometimes a bit sarcastic. Yet both were determined to seek justice and both wanted to do something to leave a mark on the world. She wondered if any of the others had noted those parallels.
Meanwhile, Adam was hoping his wife would arrive the next day. The suspense was not only difficult for his family. It was tearing at him in mind and heart.
Both Adam and Jenny were relieved the next morning about ten when a wagon brought crates to the Ponderosa. Jo wasn’t there but the driver explained that a carriage would be arriving with a guest as soon as some bank business was concluded.
“Where do you want these crates?”
“Pa, can I have these stacked in a stall in the barn until we’re ready for them?”
“Certainly, son, but you can put them in the house too if you wish.”
“No, these are furniture items and so forth so we won’t be needing most of them in the house. Storing them will be fine.”
“So, will your friend be here soon?”
“Yes, I expect so.”
Hoss and Joe helped Adam stack the crates in a stall in the barn. It was the first chance they had to talk without their father hovering nearby. As they worked, Adam waited for the first question.
“I’m guessing you got me and Joe helping you stack this stuff here cause you’ll be moving somewhere else and there’s no reason to unpack your household stuff?”
“That’s right. We plan to move to Denver.”
So Adam took the opportunity to explain what his plans were for his career without divulging anything personal. He knew his brothers were all right with it knowing he couldn’t do any better with ranch work than he had when he left. They didn’t nurse those optimistic dreams he was afraid his father was still holding. Once everything was safely stored, the three went to the house to await the arrival of Adam’s significant other.
When the carriage pulled in, Adam hurried from the house anxious to see his wife. The other members of his family and Jamie filed out more slowly not sure what they would encounter. When they saw a beautiful, voluptuous woman in Adam’s arms, Jenny grinned at how their mouths simultaneously dropped open. Adam broke the kiss with Joelle quickly never appreciating an audience for any display of affection.
“Everyone, this is Joelle. Joelle, this is my father, Ben Cartwright, and my brothers, Hoss and Joe. The young man standing beside them is Jamie who is already like a member of the family.”
Joelle moved forward to greet each of the men. Her sultry voice issuing from such a petite woman but one so well-endowed had all three men as well as Jamie nearly tongue-tied. Adam caught Jenny’s eye and they exchanged smiles. The reaction was about as they expected. After paying the carriage driver, Adam took Joelle by the elbow to show her inside and asked if her luggage could be brought inside. Jenny slipped her arm around her sister’s elbow, and he walked inside with the two sisters while his brothers and Jamie took the luggage and brought it to his room. Adam escorted Jo up to their room so it was left to Jenny to answer questions when the others returned to the great room.
“You saw the ring. Yes, they got married, but in the work he was doing, he didn’t want anyone to know. If they did, there might be a risk to Jo. Adam didn’t want to risk it. I agreed with him.”
“So all the stories were about him living with two women were the two of you then?”
“They were true.”
“And yet he said nothing to convince anyone that any of that malicious gossip was false because he was married? There was nothing about him being married to one sister.”
“We need to know more about what he was doing that made all of this necessary.”
“But it wasn’t necessary for him to let us think Jo was a man.”
“No, I guess that wasn’t.”
Except Jenny was smiling when she said it so they knew she had been aware of the whole situation too. Hoss decided to defend both of them.
“Pa, it was all us making assumptions and thinking the worst we could think. All we should have done was ask him.”
“You’re saying this misunderstanding was all our fault?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Ben looked at Joe and Jamie who shrugged. They didn’t want to admit it, but what Hoss said was true. Jamie decided to voice it.
“Mister Cartwright, if somebody assumed I preferred men over women, I guess I’d be insulted enough to let them make a fool of themselves over it too.”
“So now you’re saying I was a fool?”
Jamie got a worried look then. Joe took over.
“Pa, if you think about it, it is pretty funny. Jamie is right too and so is Hoss. We should all get a good laugh about this. We’re going to talk about this someday and all laugh about it, so why not laugh now?”
At that point, Ben had to agree. It was rather funny if one thought about it that way especially considering it was Adam. It was funny too to think that they had believed Jenny was Adam’s fiancé first before they fell for the second scenario. There was nothing left to do but laugh so they did.
Upstairs, Adam and Joelle hardly heard the laughter. They were busy getting reacquainted. Joelle had balked at doing anything intimate.
“Adam, we don’t have time now.”
“Believe me, it won’t take much time.”
She pushed away from him a little and gave a bit of a pout.
“But what if I want it to take a long time?”
He stepped back and put his hands up in mock surrender.
“I guess if you don’t want to, we won’t.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. You better finish what you started now.”
So they did. When they finished, Adam ran his hand over her abdomen.
“I think the bump is larger in just the last few weeks.”
“I think so too. If he keeps growing like this, I’m going to be huge.”
“You’re beautiful. Now let’s get dressed. We probably have a lot of talking to do with the family.” Then he paused. “He?”
She grinned and shrugged. He kissed her and then wished he could do more. She smiled because she felt the same.
“That reminds me of our first kiss. You had that same look. I knew then that I could trust you. You knew I wasn’t ready for anything more than a kiss so you stopped, but the look you had was just like now. You want so much more but you’re willing to wait.”
“I’m a patient man.” Then he smiled. It was easier to be patient when you had the rest of your life to get what you wanted.
The talk with the family before dinner was light as Joelle talked about selling her property and about her trip to the Ponderosa. Then it was time for dinner. After dinner when they had a chance to sit down and discuss things, Joelle didn’t see the humor at first of what Adam and Jenny had allowed the family to believe.
“I told them I was Adam’s fiancé. I needed a reason to just show up like I did.”
“And they believed that? The two of you would have killed each other within a week. Surely everyone must have noticed that.”
Looking around the room, Joelle realized from the sheepish looks, that they may have realized it but hadn’t questioned it. Somehow, they had thought Adam could make such a bad decision. More and more, she was coming to an understanding of why Adam said he could never live with his family again no matter how much he loved them. Rolling her eyes, she looked at Adam who had that small smirk he tended to have when he knew he was right. At that point, she suspected there was more to it. She took a guess.
“Well, when they found out Jenny wasn’t your fiancé, what did you tell them?”
“Ah, well, I only said that I was in love with Jo who would be arriving soon and sharing my bed.”
There was a tinge of red showing up on some faces then which made Joelle frown until she got it. Shaking her head, she stared at Adam.
“Is this what the visit is going to be like?”
That got a full grin, but luckily for Adam, before that could be explored more, Ben interrupted.
“It’s only a visit? Where will you go next?”
Then Jenny interrupted too.
“Before you start talking about Denver, I want to let you know that I have changed my mind. I don’t plan to go with you. I want to see how things develop here with Hoss. We talked earlier, and I want to give that a chance so you’ll have to find someone else to help with the baby.”
“You and Hoss?”
Joelle was surprised or perhaps even shocked because Adam hadn’t had time to tell her yet about the growing attraction between Jenny and Hoss. However Ben’s reaction was equal to Jenny’s but for a different reason.
Ben was shocked but pleased too. Adam wasn’t happy that Jenny had mentioned that. He had wanted to make the announcement. But then Ben noted the other revelation.
“Denver? You’re going to Denver?”
“We can talk about that later. First, you did notice that we’re going to have a baby. We had thought it wouldn’t happen but God has blessed us. It’s why, for now, that we are leaving the city. We want things to calm down a bit. I was offered a promotion in my job if I went to Washington, but when I declined it, I was offered a position in Denver. We talked it over and decided it was the best option at this point.”
Trying to head off what could be a confrontation between father and son, Joelle said she was tired. After the trip and in her condition, no one was going to deny her the chance to get some rest. Adam escorted her to their room. Joe and Hoss looked at each other and nodded.
“Pa, me and Joe got to talk to you outside if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah, Pa, it’s a necessary talk we have to have.”
“A necessary talk?”
“Yes, like Joe said, Pa, it’s a necessary talk.”
Hearing Hoss and Joe talk to Ben like that about a necessary talk had Jamie holding back a chuckle. Jenny was holding back her smile too. Outside, Hoss decided that they ought to continue out to the barn so they wouldn’t be overheard. The symbolism of that wasn’t lost on their father.
“I suppose you think it’s funny bringing me out here to the barn for a necessary talk. What is this all about anyway?”
“Pa, when I was younger, bringing me here for a tanning wasn’t only for the punishment, it was to show who was in charge. Well, maybe, it’s time now to show that ain’t true no more. Me and Joe are in charge too, and we got something to say to you. Right up front, we don’t want you arguing with Adam about what he’s going to do. All you can do is stir up trouble with that. He always plans out what he wants to do and don’t need nobody telling him. He and Joelle are gonna make plans now. You need to let them do it.”
“Pa, you aren’t hearing what Hoss said. You can’t win this argument. It will only lead to trouble. This is a fight you do not want to have. Just like when Adam left, nothing you said made any difference, but they did cause hurt. It’s the same now.”
“I have a difficult time letting go.”
“Me and Joe can understand that, but if you don’t, you could lose him forever. What you say could drive him away so he won’t come back even for visits.”
“Well I suppose Denver isn’t so far away.”
The brothers relaxed hearing that from their father.
“Besides, you’re not losing him. You’re letting Joelle take care of him and you’re getting a grandchild to boot.”
“Well, that is better than what you and Hoss have done so far.”
“Hey, Pa, I think I may be working on something there.”
“I’m not sure who’s working on whom.”
“She shur is a pistol, ain’t she?”
“She sure is that, Hoss. Are you sure you want a wife who can shoot better than you?”
“Aw, Pa, we ain’t talked about marriage or nothing yet.”
“She’s talking about staying here. What was that supposed to mean?”
“But I ain’t even courting her yet.”
“Jumping Jehosophat, you better get to it then. From what I know, it’s supposed to happen before the wedding.”
Ben and Joe started laughing as they walked to the house leaving Hoss standing speechless. He shrugged and walked slowly behind them making up his mind about a few things as he went. When he got to the house, he stepped inside only a few feet and asked Jenny to come outside with him. She smiled at first but that disappeared with the look he had. She was worried. Outside, Hoss spoke quietly but with conviction.
“If we’re gonna get married, there has to be some changes in how we’re getting along with each other.”
“We’re getting married?”
“Course we are. You practically announced to the whole family already. So here’s what I’m thinking. I been treating you like a guest, but now I need to start treating you like the lady who’s gonna be with me the rest of my life. We’re gonna be partners so we got to do things together not me doing things for you and agreeing on everything. All right?”
“Sounds good so far.”
“We’re gonna have a proper courtship starting right now. That means at least six weeks. We can announce in church on Sunday that we’re getting married. That means we could get married in six weeks. I’d like that. Maybe Adam and Joelle would stay here that long. Pa’s been talking about adopting Jamie and it would be a good time to do that too with everybody here. I’m gonna tell him that too. Is six weeks good for you because we could wait longer?”
“Six weeks sounds perfect.”
“How about the rest?”
“Hoss, it sounds wonderful, and if I had any doubts that you would make the best husband, you have put them to rest. I do like the way you took charge. I like you planning. I especially like that you asked me too if I accepted the ideas. I think we’re going to do well together. There is one question though.”
“What is that?”
“What am I going to do here? I don’t do much in the way of women’s work and you already have Hop Sing anyway. I like gardening, but my skills are more in the line of the kind of work I was doing. I can write reports and do all sorts of math but what good is that here?”
With a grin, Hoss took her hand to lead her back inside. She guessed she had said something he liked but didn’t know what it was. When they got inside, Hoss leaned down to whisper to her. First he mentioned Jamie as a young man who needed some tutoring in his writing and in his math skills. Then he looked to his father and told her he didn’t like reading over contracts looking for traps and tricks nor did he like reviewing the books trying to reconcile columns that often didn’t add up the way they should. Then he mentioned Joe who could take care of those tasks but would rather work with horses and the men. But there he had budgets there and breeding records and somebody had to keep those up to date too. Joe hated doing that. Then Hoss looked at her with an expression that was asking her for an answer. She grinned and nodded.
“Oh, Pa, we got lots of good news to tell ya.”
Hoss didn’t mention adopting Jamie until the next day when Jamie was gone. Then Ben wasn’t so sure he should have because Adam was there. The eldest son smiled and assured them it was no problem for him.
“I had thought perhaps to give him a bit more time to get used to the family.”
“Pa, let him get to know the family more and he might not want to be adopted.”
“Adam, there’s no need for that kind of talk.”
There was no need, but it was a sign that all was well in the family. Joe asked if Ben was going to take Jamie on the Grand Tour.
“At some point, I will. All of you got the Grand Tour.”
Waving from his perch on the fireplace, Adam disagreed. “I didn’t.”
“That’s because you got a tour of the whole dadblamed country.” Hoss rolled his eyes then waiting for more reaction from his older brother who only grinned in response.
Ben did talk to Jamie about adoption, but because his grandfather was alive, there were legal issues to be settled. At least the issue was settled in the family and everyone considered Jamie a member of the family from that point. Adam started calling him his kid brother which irritated Jamie a little even as he liked that he was accepted. When Jamie blurted out that he didn’t think Adam should call him a kid, Adam smiled.
“I’m more than twice as old as you. I could be your father. It is very difficult for me to think of you as anything but a kid. I’m sorry if that offends you. But if you were my age, and I was yours, what would you call me?”
“Touché. All right. I’ll do my best to remember to call you Jamie and nothing else.”
Jamie relented at that point realizing Adam had a point in what he had said. “Well, maybe once in a while, it would be all right.”
“If you had a mustache or something, you would look a little older.”
“I wanted to grow one but Mister Cartwright, ah, Pa, said no.”
“He said no? I’ll talk to him if you want.”
“Maybe not now, but if I can’t convince him in a year or so, maybe then?”
“It’s a deal.”
They shook on it, and felt like brothers. Jamie told Hoss and Joe about the conversation, and they assured Jamie that Adam won a fair amount of his arguments with their father.
“Not all of them, mind you, but me and Joe seen him win some.”
“I need to ask him how he does that.”
Hoss looked at Joe who stared back at him. They wondered why they had never thought to do that.
At the end of a month, wedding preparations were in full swing and Adam and Joelle were sending their crates off to Denver to a house they had rented. Adam had made a short trip there to do so. He told her if she didn’t like it, he could build one for her.
A couple of nights before the wedding, Adam and Ben escaped the multiple activities in the house and got some quiet time out in the cool evening air. It was the first time they had a long time to talk and nothing they had to discuss. Ben used the opening to inquire about Adam’s adjustment to his injury and what had happened five years earlier.
“Five years ago, you were tormented by your past. Now, it doesn’t seem to bother you. How did you come to terms with the violence in your past and now the potential for violence in your job? That issue was the main reason you left. What happened that allowed you to accept your past?”
“There was no big dramatic moment. There was no catharsis.”
“Then what happened?”
“Joelle happened. I didn’t think one person could affect me so much, but she did. It’s not only her more obvious attributes that attracted me to her.”
“Although those are abundant and quite enough for most men.”
“She does have an effect on most men too, doesn’t she?”
The two men shared knowing smiles. In effect, Ben admitted that he had noticed and appreciated the beauty that Adam had brought into the house. Adam acknowledged that he accepted that others would look at his wife. There was no way to prevent that.
“We became friends first. She accepted me and gave me a safe haven when my life wasn’t progressing the way I had hoped. Jenny got me a job that had purpose. I owed both of them a lot. But over time, with Joelle, there was more. We enjoyed our time together.”
“What about you and Jenny? The two of you seem so much alike. I would have thought that perhaps that would have drawn you together.”
“We understand each other because of the similarities. We worked together well because of them too. But, Pa, could you imagine the two of us with those qualities trying to live together? We barely managed it with Joelle acting as a peacemaker.”
“So, Joelle was a bit like Hoss when he came between you and Joe to keep things peaceful?”
“Yes, and Joelle has some characteristics like Hoss. It’s why I think Hoss and Jenny will work out too. There’s a balance there that will make for a good long-term partnership.”
“That would be wonderful. Now let’s get back to you as long as you’re in the mood to talk a bit. How did Joelle help you?”
“As we spent time together, she asked about my past and gradually drew out the sad stories as well as the happy ones that I was more willing to share. Then she began to put some pressure on me to do what she had done and drop the past. She said carrying the past around like I was meant that I was carrying too heavy a burden and didn’t have the energy for the present and the future. She told me to look back for the lessons learned and keep the love I had received. Once I did that, she told me to let all the rest go. I didn’t need any of the rest of it.”
“That’s all it took?”
With a chuckle that said there was a lot more to the story, Adam only added a bit more.
“No, she had to work on me for a while. She is of the opinion that in struggle we find our strengths,”
“She has an amazing amount of wisdom for such a young woman.”
“You know the story. She had faced tragedy. She said she started out with the philosophy her mother had taught her. Her mother had told her that some memories triggered smiles and to cherish those. But Joelle found that by doing that, she found those memories inevitably caused other memories to pour in that caused tears. Getting too much involved with the past paralyzed her. Her mother had told her many other things that she began to doubt so she developed her own philosophy.”
“She’s very smart.”
“Yes, she is.”
“You don’t seem to have that anger burning in you anymore.”
“No, the darkness is gone. I’ve learned that too. Life can change in the blink of an eye or one slip on the grass. So forgive well, smile often, and love deeply. You never know if you will have the chance to do those things again. I don’t want to waste my time on regrets when I only have so much time for the good things I can do.”
“The two of you are going to make great parents.”
“I have to admit, I am a bit nervous about that, but I will do it to the best of my ability.”
“I know you will. I hope your door will be open for visits.”
“No argument about staying here?”
“No, your brothers convinced me that was a fight I do not want to have with you. I wish you well in your new job and your new home. There will be no argument from me or anyone in this family when you make your choices.”
Putting his arm around his father’s shoulder to pull him close, Adam had tears in his eyes. Those were the words he had longed to hear for so long. The gesture he made was the one his father had longed to receive. Ben had tears in his eyes too.
Part 2: Bits and a Bite
“I got it away before it got me too bad.”
“You got a good dose of it though. You need to lay down.”
“I know. I don’t feel so good.”
Candy grabbed Jamie in his arms and easily lifted the short young man. He knew he would have to carry him though because putting him on a horse would likely make the poison spread faster through his system. It was a good mile to the line cabin and the weather looked like it was going to turn ugly. If all had gone well, they would have ridden ahead of the storm and probably gotten back home before they even got wet. Now he was going to be walking toward the storm and carrying a load while leading two horses. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the task.
“Candy, why don’t we just stay here in the shelter of the trees?”
“We don’t even have a slicker, and you’re going to need to stay warm and dry. I know you’re likely to get wet, but once we’re in that cabin, we can take care of that. Out here, you would be chilled through and through. No, the cabin it is.”
“I can ride.”
“Not for a while yet. I have to have you keep that leg up, and I can’t do that with you on a horse.”
“I could if I was belly down.”
“It’s rough country. That would be really painful.”
“Getting through so much pain and struggle is how we find out how strong we are.”
Surprised at that, Candy had to agree on all counts.
“All right, if you’re willing. It does solve some problems, but it puts the burden on you. First though, I have to clean up that leg. I think some of the venom squirted out on your leg. I want to wash that off.”
Candy washed the area around the bite and carefully but loosely bandaged it with his bandana and one that Jamie had. Luckily both were clean. Then he used his belt and some sticks to splint Jamie’s lower leg. Then he pronounced him ready to travel. Jamie sucked in a deep breath only to nearly faint. He gagged a little but didn’t vomit admitting to nausea as well as lightheadedness. Candy got him on his horse and tied him into place securely. He felt bad for how Jamie groaned in pain with his head down so low and his injured leg sticking out, but it was the best way and both knew it.
After an excruciating ride to the line cabin, Candy stopped the horses and only ground tied them so he could get Jamie down as quickly as possible. The young man’s shirt was soaked with sweat and his lip was bloody where he had bit it in his pain. Candy felt guilty for not checking on him sooner but could do nothing about it at that point except carry him inside the cabin. Then he rushed out to get their gear and tie off the horses securely in the lean-to stable behind the cabin. It wasn’t an ideal situation but the best he could do.
Inside, he found Jamie nearly unconscious. He shook him to give him water to drink and then got him situated on the small cot which he pulled in front of the fireplace. There was no fire yet but he would have one soon. He had to go gather firewood because whoever had been there last had left none inside. The rain started as he did so and he rushed in with the dry wood before going to gather more. Once he had a supply for the night and probably the next day, he started a fire.
Jamie appeared to be sleeping so he went to take better care of the horses making sure there was water and getting some grass for them as well. By the time he got back inside, the cabin was warmer. He looked in the small chest that was inside to find that there was a tin of beans and one of coffee. They had been under the battered tin cups and plates, old coffee pot without a lid, and an old dented pan. Someone had taken everything else of value in the cabin but had missed those two tins. He set the pan and pot outside to collect rain and waited for Jamie to wake. There wasn’t much more he could do. Later, as the beans were soaking and coffee was brewing, Jamie woke.
“That smells good.”
“That’s a good sign. If beans and coffee smell good to you, you can’t be too sick.”
“I feel a little sick, but it’s not too bad. Mostly my stomach hurts. I think the ride over did that. Otherwise, I’m not too bad. My leg hardly hurts at all.”
“Let’s take a look at that. I didn’t want to disturb your rest so I didn’t look.”
The wound was bruised and slightly swollen.
“Do you feel anything besides it hurting?”
“No, it just hurts some.”
“Anything else besides the lightheadedness and feeling a little sick?”
“I’ve been sweating a lot. It feels real warm in here. That’s about it.”
“All together, that’s not too bad. There are a lot of other things that could be happening and aren’t. I think that snake didn’t get a full dose into you. From the looks of the wound, only one fang penetrated all the way. I think your boot helped stop the other one. I know it was enough, but lucky for you that it wasn’t the whole dose.”
“It looks like you didn’t bandage it tight enough. There’s a lot of blood that came out.”
Both bandanas as well as Jamie’s sock and pants leg were soaked with blood.
“I did that on purpose. Sometimes if a bite bleeds, some of that poison can come out too. I was hoping it would. Those little wounds aren’t going to bleed enough to be dangerous and it can help.”
“How do you know so much about these things?”
“Spent a lot of time out in the wild country especially when I was scouting for the Army.”
“It’s in tough times that you really see the true nature of a man. I learned a lot about you today, and all of it was good.”
Lightly wrapping the wound and reapplying the splints, Candy didn’t put a blanket over the leg thinking Jamie was warm enough. He did keep the blanket near him though thankful that the thief had not stripped the cot of the thin wool blanket. They must have decided the old blanket wasn’t worth anything, but it was to them. Then he got a plate with a small portion of beans for Jamie and brought his canteen too.
“Eat a little and sip a little water to see how your stomach reacts. You might have to eat slowly.”
Jamie found that was true. A spoonful of beans and a sip of water caused his stomach to roil. But he waited and the feeling passed. He tried another smaller bite of beans and a sip of water. There was a milder reaction that passed quickly. He had a couple more like that and then decided he had enough. Candy ate the rest and had some coffee which Jamie declined.
“Do you think the horses are safe here? I mean we don’t have any lanterns or any other way of seeing if there’s anyone out there.”
“In this storm, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. As long as it’s raining, we’re all pretty safe.”
“They’re probably worried about us at the house.”
“Probably, but with this storm, they would know we would take cover if we couldn’t get back ahead of it. Besides, they know you’re with me so there would be nothing for them to worry about.”
“Candy, I’m glad you’re the one here to help me. You have made it easy to stay calm, and I know that’s part of what you’re supposed to do with a snakebite. I think if it was Hoss or Joe, they would have been so upset, it would have been hard for me to stay calm.”
“Thank you, Jamie. That’s a nice compliment.”
“Yeah, you’re a lot like Adam.”
“Now, you had to go and ruin it by saying that.”
“How does that ruin it? You’re smart like him, and real cool under pressure like him, and you can handle my Pa and my brothers just like him.”
“Well, I suppose that’s true, but you forgot to say I’m more handsome than him.”
“I guess I would leave that up to the ladies to say. I don’t want to get into that conversation again.”
“What conversation again?”
“Oh, you didn’t hear about that? Well, you know how you said he was playing them and better than anybody ever had. Yeah, he did. He said Jo was coming, and they assumed it was Joe as in my brother Joe and not Jo as short for Joelle. He figured that out by the way they reacted so he let them believe that. Pa said that Hop Sing would get a guest room ready and he said no they would share his room and his bed. I thought Pa’s eyes would bug out. I was watching him more than Adam. I couldn’t believe that about Adam, and I was shocked because it seemed that his father and brothers did. Hoss and Joe had their mouths hanging open like they were in shock.”
“So, did you believe it then?”
“I am a little embarrassed to say I did but only because they did. Jenny said she was tired and going to bed and Adam said the same and both left before anybody found their voice again. It was really quiet at breakfast because nobody knew what to say. Then when the carriage came we all kind of dawdled on the way out the door not knowing what we would see.”
“And there he was with the most beautiful woman I have ever seen around here.”
“Yeah, and then nobody could hardly find their voice again, and he stood there with that little smirk he has. You know, you have one just like it. Whenever my family is acting kind of foolish, you stand there with that little smirk like you wish they would all grow up.”
“There are times they could all use a kick in the backside. If experience is the best teacher, you would think those three would be a lot smarter.”
“See, when you talk like that, you sound like Adam. I learned things like that from him, and I learn some from you too.”
“That makes sense. I thought some of the things you said sounded pretty wise for someone so young.”
“Adam said I was wise for my age. He said it was probably because of all the travel and all the hardship I had experienced. A lot of that happened to him too. From what I know, a lot of that happened to you too.”
“So maybe that’s why you appreciate me and you appreciate Adam. We have similar experiences.”
“It could be. Hoss and Joe grew up on a ranch with a father and brother to protect them. They never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from. They never had to think about maybe dying of thirst or hunger or an attack. The three of us did. That makes you a different kind of person.”
“How do you see that?”
“It makes you more independent, more reliant on yourself, and not looking for someone else to help you out of trouble all the time. Pa doesn’t like that about me. He wants me to rely on him and to be protected by my brothers, but I feel I need to do more for myself.”
“Sounds like Adam too and why he and Mister Cartwright didn’t always see things the same way. So you’re like Adam too.”
“I guess so. I don’t mind that, but Candy, I would like one favor.”
“Don’t ever say that to my Pa.”
Laughter filled the cabin as the two settled in for the night.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Candy Canaday, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Jamie Hunter Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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