Slipping Through My Fingers (by Krystyna)

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Summary: This is the story of Jane Halcrow and the way she met and fell in love with Adam Cartwright? Does she marry him? Not if Laura Dayton has anything to do about it, but then….?! Read the story to find out………………

Rating:  T (32,395 words)

The final page contains reviews/comments from the Old BonanzaBrand Library.

 

Slipping Through My Fingers

Chapter 1 – 1847

“Come here, darling?”

I was cold, standing beside my bed in my nightgown, with the cold seeping up my legs from the draughts that came through the floor boards of my little bedroom. I turned and looked at her and smiled, happy to be close to her, and to feel her warmth against my body. I cuddled close and shivered, surprised I suppose, at realising that her body was cold too.

She held me very tightly for a while with her arm around me, pressing me close to her. I could smell the faint sweet smell of lavender which she wore in her clothes, as well as the smell of her body. I could feel the rythmn of her heart beat and the occasional shiver that trickled through her and which made me feel, for some inexplicable reason, frightened. I looked up into her face and realised she was not looking down at me with her usual smile, but was staring hard at the wall in front of her, so I turned my head to look too…but she was not looking at the picture either, she was just staring, and her mouth was set, as though what she was about to say would not come through her lips easily

“Are you cold, my sweet?” she whispered

“Not so much now.”

She drew me in closer, almost as though she wanted my body to merge into hers and become one whole being…then she sighed and looked at the wall again.

“Jane….I have to tell you something” she lowered her voice, although why I did not understand, after all, we were all alone in the house and suddenly that foreboding took shape in my heart again and I clutched involuntarily at her hand and shivered for her fingers were icy cold. “I want you to listen and pay attention to what I have to say, darling.”

I nodded, and my eyes fixed upon the gold band on her finger. It gleamed dully in the glow of the candle close to us on the little table, but I could not release my eyes from its simplicity, and the wealth of meaning it held. A thin gold band on a thin worn finger – and I shivered and forced myself to look away and stare at something else instead. I chose the candle flame, which danced in the draughts and seemed warm and merry.

“Jane….this is very hard for me to tell you, but …but I am going to go away”

“Go away?” I frowned. I could feel the constriction in my head, and the furrow over my eyes and the dancing flame of the candle now became menacing and bleak “Go where ?”

“A very long way away……” her voice was very soft now, hardly discernible, and I had to strain my ears to hear the words. I felt her tremble again and drew closer to her

“But where? Where are you going? Can’t I come too?” I pulled away from her and turned to look into her face, accusing her and begging her…my eyes searched her face and all I could see was her love for me, and something terrible in her eyes. “Can’t I come, mummy?”

“No, no, my darling…” she touched my face with her fingers, tracing a strand of hair with her forefinger, gently folding it back behind my ear. “I can’t take you on this journey, my sweet.”

“Is it so far away then?”

“Far too far away, precious.” she looked away as though the thought hurt her, and I felt a tightness in my chest which made my throat ache and hurt and my head ached and felt a strange prickly sensation “Jane, you are going to have to be very brave…” and she took hold of my face and turned it towards her so that we looked at one another very closely.

I remembered the last time she came and told me to be very brave, and that was when she came and told me papa would not be coming home. We had sat on the edge of the bed together, just like now, and she had held me and looked at me and said “You are going to have to be very brave, we both are….”

I took a deep breath and nodded. I knew what she was not going to tell me, I knew what she would have wanted to say but could not find the words to say it. I stared into her face and drank in every feature. My eyes devoured the slant of her eyes, and the deep blue of them, and the shadows so dark in their sockets. I wanted to always always be able to remember the funny shape of her nose and the high cheekbones and the soft silky feel of her hair when it was loose, like this, over her shoulders, and glowing so pale and creamy in the candlelight. I wanted to hold the memory of her lips smiling, the shape of them, the fullness of them, as they were now and the stubborn square of her chin with the little cleft not quite in the centre…oh, my mummy, I never wanted to forget you….I fell upon her now and held her close and tried not to cry because I knew that would make it harder for her. This was the beginning of being brave…..

“On Wednesday you are going to have to leave here” she said very gently and I could feel her hand stroking my hair, which, like hers, was very fine and blonde. I closed my eyes and squeezed them tight to keep them dry. So soon? Wednesday? Two days away…”You have to go on a long journey too, my poppet. Your Aunt and Uncle are – are going to care for you and see you are educated like a young lady, and grow up safe and well!”

I knew then I was going to have to be brave all right! Aunt and Uncle! They had twin boys several years older than myself. Arthur and Richard. They hated me and I hated them. I didn’t even like aunt and uncle very much either come to that……I took a deep breath just to show a little resentment, but that was all. I had to be brave because – because otherwise I would scream and shout my protests for the whole neighbourhood to hear and I would sob and cry and cry………what could anyone expect from a ten year old girl?

“Mummy, are you really sure I can’t come with you?” I whispered as she held me very close. I could feel her collar bone. It jarred against my flesh as she held me. I had not realised before how thin she was….”Mummy, please let me come with you?” and I looked up and tried not to cry, but one tear eked out and trickled down my cheek

“Jane – Jane –“ she whispered and pulled me closer to her “Oh my Jane, you are my world, my world. I have to do what is best for you, darling…..understand…try and understand?”

I tried. In that brief instant of time I did try….I was ten years old and was soon to leave my home. I was not going to see mama ever again. I had, only two years before, lost my dearest papa. I was going to have to live with my aunt and uncle……..and Arthur and Richard.

“Mummy, I love you…I love you…” Oh, yes, I love you…and I squeezed my eyes so tightly, so tightly, so that not one more tear peeped out to betray my turbulent heart.

“Aunt and Uncle have everything arranged and you’ll have such a lovely room and clothes. They said you could have a pony of your own too….that will be so much better than the pretend one you ride in the wash room, won’t it?” her voice was brittle with pretend gaity and I hated it, but I had to hold on and listen because time was precious now. Even at my age, I knew time with her was very, very precious. “You won’t have to take anything much with you, just a few of your favourite things….and daddy’s fiddle!”

Oh, my heart, my heart…it broke and it hurt so! My daddy’s fiddle…I made a funny odd sound in my throat in an attempt not to cry out loud and she held me closer and her bones stuck into me

“There will be a letter waiting for you when you get to your uncles” she said very gravely and then she took my face between her hands and looked seriously deep into my eyes “Jane Victoria Halcrow…I want you to live a happy life, a long life, I want you to read books, travel the world, marry and be happy, and have many, many children. I want you never to forget that daddy and I always always loved you….” She stopped and I knew she could not say anymore unless she cried so I put my arms around her neck and held her close “Good night, darling, may God bless you!”

So I slipped into bed and she left the room and closed the door behind her leaving the sweet smell of lavender drifting about the room like a wraith. I closed my eyes and hot tears flooded down my face and I hid my face in the pillow so that she would not hear me, although I knew for a certainty that in her room, she was doing exactly the same.

I do not recall falling asleep but I woke up in the morning wondering whether or not I had had a terrible dream. It was only when I saw my mother sitting in her chair with her shawl about her and writing endless letters through out the day that I knew it was something true and something I was going to have to face, and on my own. I clung to her, sat by her side, begged her to read to me, asked if I could read to her…in those last few hours I was a thorough nuisance to her…but I dreaded to give her up too easily.

And then it was Wednesday.

Chapter 2

Oh the tedium of the journey. Wednesday was a blur. I sat on my seat on the train with my nose against the window and watched until mother was gone…until she had disappeared from distance and the smoke and grit from the trains engines chimney had swallowed her up from my sight. I sat on my seat and let the tears fall unheeded, blotching my already swollen unsightly face and my grey worsted coat. I snivelled and sobbed, and wept and wailed until the conductor came and sat with me for a while and then had to ask an elderly woman to come and sit by my side and give me some comfort.

Thursday and I sat all day hugging my fathers violin case and with my eyes shut trying to remember her face, and my father..and happy times together. The memories were elusive and I was eventually in tears again. I must have been an embarressingly awful passenger.

Friday and the train jogged on to its destination with a dogged determination to arrive with all passengers intact. That included me! I slept, dozed, and stared out at the views that seemed to flash neverendingly before my bloodshot swollen eyes. I was a miserable creature, and must have looked it.

Saturday and we stopped for a long time at some station or other. Some passengers, including my lady comforter, who gave me some candy and told me to ‘keep my chin up’, left the train and watching them meant that I did not notice the new passengers get on board. After a little while I fell into a light slumber.

“Steady up!”

A firm strong hand gripped my arm and I realised, even as I slowly awoke, that I was being moved. I opened my eyes and looked up and saw a boys face looking down at me. In that instant of not being quite awake and still holding onto sleep nothing seemed real and it was as though I was drowning into his eyes. Does that sound very strange? I find it hard to describe, just that his eyes were so captivating, so beautiful and warm, that I felt as though my very being was drawn up and swallowed down into the depths of those eyes.

I must have stared at him too long for he gave a little laugh that woke me up fully and I screwed my eyes up and blinked and then looked about me. I was still on the train, still jogging along to Princeton, but had fallen asleep and had, apparently, been about to fall onto the floor, but the young man, for he was not really a boy, had prevented me from doing so and had lifted me up more securely onto my seat. My knight errant!

I rubbed my face and eyes and realised that my mouth was very dry. I also realised that I must have looked very shabby and travel weary and glanced over at him. He was sitting opposite me, but hidden now from view. He was reading a book. I screwed up my eyes to read the title “An Anthology of Modern Poets”.

My eyes travelled downwards…he had long legs encased in very creased trousers, not too well cut either. His boots were not city made, although good and sturdy. I had seen some people from the western states wearing boots like it, when they passed through my home town, which was not often. I suppose that is why I could recall them so well, as they had stood out so amongst our local people with their smart well cut clothes. Even the poorest of us wore clothes that were different from the casual wear of the westerner.

My eyes now travelled upwards and I thought that his hands were very pleasant. I liked his hands. The fingers were well shaped and his nails were clean and well defined. They were gentle strong and capable hands. I looked up higher and realised that he was now surveying me….but now I could see his face fully and suddenly my head went prickly again and I thought I was going to faint.

“Would you like a drink?” his voice was deep, his accent different from where I came from, but pleasant. “You look thirsty?”

I nodded. My tongue had seemed to have swollen in my mouth. I could not speak and wondered if I would be able to open my mouth to drink whatever he had to offer me….as it was I managed well enough and did not spill any of the cool water that he gave me in a small metal cup.

“The conductor will be here soon, if you ask him he’ll get you something to drink to refresh you properly!” he smiled and I noticed that his teeth were crooked. That was good. I liked his teeth. They were strong teeth and white and clean. Sometimes people had the most awful looking teeth and although his were a bit crooked here and there, it was obvious he took care of them. When he smiled it was nice too, although he seemed a boy who was not used to smiling, for there was an air of self consciousness about the way he smiled. I looked at him thoughtfully and nodded, still not trusting myself to speak, in case the words came out too gruff or maybe, even worse, I might burst into tears – again!

“I’ll tell you what, how about we both go down to the dining car together and get something to eat?” he leaned forward towards me as he spoke, his dark brown eyes looked into my face and I could see twin reflections of myself looking back at me….it was not a pretty sight!

But what lovely eyes. Soft and golden and brown with deep black iris’. They made me think of syrup, golden and sweet and dripping onto the warm toast mother used to make….I swallowed back tears and just bleakly nodded. He had long lashes. I envied him them. They were thick and dark, unlike mine, blonde, sparse, and stubby. He had,like myself, myriads of freckles over his face, but his merged very nicely into the golden tan of his skin whereas mine, well…so clearly defined that a child could have counted every single one as easily as winking.

All told he had a very handsome face. It was at the stage of maturing nicely…but the little boy he had once been was still discernible. When I did not immediately answer he looked a little confused, as though he were unsure what else etiquette would expect of him, so he sat back and picked up his book.

“Yes, please…” I blurted out

He lowered the book and looked at me and smiled again. Just a shy smile. I didn’t want him to hide behind that book again, so I smiled back. It was a strange thing that happened. I had resisted smiling and wanting to be happy for days now, and suddenly I was smiling at a complete stranger and the whole world shifted and seemed suddenly different.

“I’m glad!” and he nodded as though to emphasise the words “My name’s Adam Cartwright”and he extended his hand towards me.

It was such a grown up thing to do and here I was, all alone on this train and about to shake hands with a real growing up boy. I smiled again and put my hand into his and he shook it, firmly but gently. I withdrew my hand and looked at it as it returned to my lap as though under its very own violition. It looked just the same as usual but I knew it was not….something had happened when his fingers had touched mine. Just a warm tingle that trickled right up my arm and to my heart.

Someone told me once that the ancient Romans believed there was a special vein that went from the ring finger on the left hand right to the heart, which was why they wore wedding rings there…and that was what it felt like…something warm coursing through that vein and touching my heart.

He was looking at me as though expecting me to speak and I realised that I had to give him my name, so I did so, very gravely “My name is Jane Victoria Halcrow” and I took a deep breath and exhaled.

“I like that, it’s a good strong name!” he said thoughtfully, with just a little crease furrowing above his black eyebrows and he made me smile again, as though there really was something special about MY name? And he didn’t say something nonsensical either, like “Oh, what a pretty name…” like some would, he really sounded interested. “How old are you, Miss Halcrow?”

I looked into his face and into his eyes, looked to see if he were teasing me or being patronising as some are, but his eyes were steady, and looked into mine, as though he understood exactly how I felt and so I told him “I was ten in January”

He nodded and again his brow furrowed, and a curl of black hair slipped over his forehead and he brushed it impatiently away

“I have two brothers” he volunteered, in a kind of rush, as though he thought that would be the best way to start a conversation and I thought, perhaps he’s shy, after all, he was only a boy! “One is six years younger than me, so that makes him a year older than you.”

I smiled and nodded, no wonder he understood how to talk to ‘children’, even if I were a girl, and that explained why he didn’t dress up his words with pretty and sweet things, but sounded grown up and honest to goodness straight.

“How olds the other brother?”

“Oh, Joseph? He’s twelve years younger than me…he’s the baby of the family, we call him Little Joe” he smiled then and it was a sad, wistful smile and I knew he was feeling homesick for these brothers now, and I wanted to go and hold his hand and tell him it was alright, he was with me now….”He’s a scamp alright, keeps us all on our toes all the time!” he sighed and I knew he wanted, needed to talk about them. He wanted to use words in order to keep them close and I understood exactly how he felt.

“What’s the other brothers name? The one just a year older than me?”

“Oh, we call him Hoss, because – because he’s so big” he grinned “His mother was Swedish and his real name is Erik, but we liked to call him Hoss.”

“Was his mother not your mother?”

“No, my mother died when I was born” he delivered it off pat, as though it did not really matter, just a fact of life, but his eyes showed the pain. “Hoss’ mother died when he was small so Little Joe’s ma is – was – just his ma!” his voice trailed off, and I, all of ten years old, felt that he was really very young.

“My mama is going to die soon!” I said very gravely and he shot me a look as though he couldn’t believe what I was saying “It’s true!” I could feel the need inside me to get him to believe me, after all, I had told no one else, and no one else had told me, and – and telling him was the first time I had said it, so it was true…and I was going to have to accept it. “That’s why I’m on this train going to my aunt and uncles with those horrible boys…..”

“Don’t you like boys?” he grinned, a lop sided grin that made his eyes twinkle

“There are boys and there are boys…” I replied in the way my mother would have said it when referring to Arthur and Richard, because she had never liked them either.

“You’d like my brothers” he said then, “You’d get on well with Hoss, being the same age an’ all…..and he’s gentle and kind, and shy and quiet”

“Is he – is he fun to have around?” I asked tentatively, because to me, it sounded as though this Hoss were rather boring, I much preferred the sound of the younger brother, Little Joe.

“Oh yes, great fun!”

“Are they here?”

“What? On the train? No, no……I’m on my way to college. This is the first time I’ve ever left the Ponderosa for so long as I’ll be gone…”

“What’s the Ponderosa?”

“It’s the name of where I live. My pa and me and the boys, we live on a cattle ranch, it’s a big house with over a thousand acres of grazing land and timber. Close by there’s Lake Tahoe – “ his voice trailed away and I knew from the look in his eyes that for an instant he was back there, wanted to be there….his smile was rather shaky when he looked at me again “We round up and break horses. Do you like horses?”

“Yes, I’ve got one…”

“Really? What’s his name?”

“Sometimes it’s Rufas…sometimes it’s something else….” My voice trailed off, I had told a lie…I could even feel the heat of the blush that was even now creeping over my collar and I smiled and looked at him, “It’s not a real horse though…just one I make from my daddy’s old chair and a broom with a blanket round it for a saddle.”

He guided me along the corridor to the dining car and we sat down opposite one another with the little table between us. No one sat with us, for once the dining car was very empty of hungry diners.

“Has your mother been ill for long?” he asked very tactfully diverting the conversation away from my pretend horse

“Yes, but she never told me she was ill, it was just I noticed things.” I felt the tears prick my eyes again and turned away and looked dumbly out of the window.

Soup was placed in a sturdy white china bowl and I looked down at it and blinked and two tears plopped into the soup creating in the centre of the greasy surface two dents which closed in upon themselves whilst little ripples of grease flowed over the surface of the soup.

Trees and houses flashed by, all in a blur, and I could feel my nose running and couldn’t remember where I had left my hanky, and the tears were streaming again…and how kind he was to suddenly be sitting by my side and pushing a hanky, nice and clean, into my hand.

So I sat there, sniffling and sobbing, feeling sorry for myself all over again, while he sat very close to me and I could feel the warmth of his young body close to mine and the smell of him, and he smelt of trees, that musky deep throated smell you get when walking through a forest on a warm summers day. I must be honest and truthful, but I dragged out that bawling for as long as it was sensibly possible, just so as not to give up my seat close to him. For the first time in a long time I felt the security of having a man – well,nearly a man – close by me. Of course, that made me think of daddy, and so I had a good bawl for his sake too…..

We ate that meal together in the dining car. Niether of us spoke throughout. It was as though we had said enough and to say more at that time would spoil the fragility of our sudden acquaintance. When he stood up to leave I scrambled out of the seat to follow behind him and with relief we returned together to take our seat in the train compartment. He picked up his book and with a sigh, began to read his book of poets.

“I read that two years ago!” I said quickly, not wanting to relinquish his company just yet awhile.

“Oh, so you know what it is all about then?” he peeked around the side of the book at me and smiled

“Yes, mummy used to be a teacher and we had a lot of books at home….” Whoops, my chin was wobbling again so I swallowed hard and concentrated on what I was saying “Mummy read to me the complete works of Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser and Milton, and she liked the poets – she said America is producing the best poets now!” I looked at him severely and he nodded

“Do you like poetry?” he put the book down and looked at me thoughtfully

“Do you?”

“Yes” he said it gravely as though it were something important to him and the quick flash of his eye made me wonder, child like, whether he thought my claim to liking poetry was the same as my claim to having a horse.

“We liked John Greenleaf Whittiers poetry – especially Memories”

“The indian summer of the heart” he smiled at me, shyly.

“And Walt Whitman, born 1819 – although sometimes I think I don’t always understand what he’s saying…” well, one had to be honest, didn’t one? I looked at him and he was frowning slightly, as though what I had said was quite interesting, so I was enboldened to go on “ Henry Longfellow, born 1807 – he wrote A Psalm of Life in 1838”

“Do you know it?” he leaned forward and smiled and I, precocious brat that I was, nodded

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us,
Footprints in the sand of time”

“Footprints in the sand of time….” he murmered, half to himself “Do you think, Jane Halcrow, that you will leave such footprints?”

“I don’t know…I’m only 10!” I replied, for the question was considerable and I frowned to consider it.

I sat there feeling smug, with my hands clasped together in my lap, looking at him and he, sitting there with an odd look on his face, and a question in his eyes

“Ye are better than all the ballads
That ever were sung or said
For ye are living poems
And all the rest are dead”” I said, thinking that would divert his mind from any further comment about future footprints.

“Yes” he said in a very quiet voice and with a sigh he picked up his book and retreated behind its pages. I felt vanquished!!

I felt excluded and alone! I stared out of the window and watched the houses flash past me and more and more houses crowd in along the land and I realised that soon we would be stopping, that we were near to reaching our destination and my travelling companion, my knight errant, would be gone. I struggled not to indulge myself in tears again and racked my brains to say or do something to regain his attention. Fear that I had offended him also niggled at the back of my mind and I could not bear to part from him knowing or even suspecting that possibility. I leaned forward and touched his arm

“Mr Cartwright?”

“Yes, Miss Halcrow?”

“Don’t you like Henry Longfellows poem on Children?”

He smiled then, it was like watching the sun emerge behind a black cloud and making everything just right again, in my world at least.

“It’s one of my favourites, Longfellow is one of my favourite poets – apart from Shakespeare and Milton!”

He frowned a little and looked at me then, a very deep look in his dark eyes and I had that odd feeling again, that I was swimming or drowning deep into his eyes. I swallowed hard, trying not to feel dizzy again.

“You’re very young…” he said in a quiet voice and a slight frown appeared above his dark eyes and I wanted to reach out and smooth them away, just as one would smooth out the creases in a piece of delicate paper “but…I think you’re also very brave.”

“Thank you!” I sat back, shrinking into my seat and thinking to myself that he wanted to say something else, but what he had said was just an alternative. I looked at him “Are you going to college at Princeton?”

“Yes…” he smiled, dreamy, as though his thoughts were somewhere else and my words had jolted him back to the real world again.

“We’ll be stopping soon then….”

“Yes.” He sighed and put his book away, as though had I not mentioned it he would have continued reading and forgotten to get off at his station.

I wanted to say more…something along the lines of “My Uncles the principal and no doubt I’ll see you there” but I could not find the words, just something stopped me. I don’t think it was shyness on my part, just some strange swimmy kind of feeling.

“Mr Cartright?”

“Yes?”

“I hope everything will be alright for you –“ it came out in a rush and I could feel the heat from my blushes creeping over my collar again

“Thank you, and I hope everything goes well with you too….” He put out his hand and very slowly I took it in mine and looked into his face…oh, such a handsome dear face.

I felt his hand tighten its clasp around mine before he released me and looked at me as though really seeing me for the very first time, and then he smiled

I wanted to sound so grown up, but at the same time, I did not want this serious, shy young man to leave me thinking I was someone to laugh at – “I do hope you will be happy, Mr Cartwright!” I concluded lamely.

“Happy?” he said with a arch to one of his eyebrows as though being happy was something not included in the immediate plans and then the whistle of the train drowned out any possibility of talking anymore…there was the screeching of brakes and whistles and clattering…a myriad sounds.

He turned as he picked up his baggage and smiled that strangely wistful smile and I could only think of an expression my mama used when daddy died – ‘tears in my dreams’

Oh, how I hoped, hoped, hoped to see him again – one day.

Chapter 3

“Dearest Pa, Hoss and Joe

Here I am safe and sound at the college. I have settled in well enough although it will take some getting used to, having to share a room with another guy, and it being so small and cramped – the room I mean!

I’m writing this on the evening of my very first day here and shall post it off in the morning. But, as promised, I shall write every week although from what my room mate tells me, we shall be busy with studying and then I have to find work to occupy me and provide some funds when the semester is over.

The journey seemed just about the longest of my life and the lonliest. I missed you all so much. It is hard to keep focassed on why I am here just now because all I keep getting are memories of you all, and thoughts of what you are doing and how busy you all are keep coming into mind and sometimes during the journey I just wanted to turn tail and come right back on home.

Everything is so different here. The way they wear their clothes, even how they ride horses. It’s busy, the place is crammed with people everywhere, there is constant noise. The only peace is when I open a book and can read, or immerse myself in thoughts of you all.

Joe, did you find the little something special I left for you under your pillow. I remember the day you found this gold flake and that’s why I inscribed your name and the date onto it….it’s a special memory of a happy day and the fun we had together then. It may seem a strange thing to leave for you, but I knew you wouldn’t like a book.

Hoss, I sure could do with you around just now, to talk to and share this room with instead of this Micheal Hansard! He appears a bright enough lad but he is from this kind of world and knows more of how to survive amongst these people than I!

I left a gift for you too, Hoss, something I knew you were hankering after – Will Cass promised to keep it safe so when you are next in town just go on in and ask for it, he’ll know what you mean. I know you’ll like it because you’ve been saving up for it for ages now.

Pa…I miss you but I shall not write too much about that because it is too hard. But I must tell you about an odd experience I had on the train.

I had a compartment but decided it was too crowded with folk so went to look for somewhere quieter when I found a compartment almost empty, just a little girl who had fallen asleep holding a violin case. She looked so alone. But when I looked at her it was as though I were looking at what Inger must have looked like when she was all of ten years of age.

Well, I hadn’t been there reading for many minutes when she almost fell into a heap on the floor and I stopped her just in time and helped her back into her seat. She looked at me with very blue eyes and her eyes seemed as old as – oh I don’t know how to describe it, except that she seemed so solemn, and it made me think of Inger even more so, although I doubt if Inger were ever this thin and frail and vulnerable looking.

We got to talking and she turned out to be ten years old and sent to live with her relatives because her mother was dying. Her heartbreak was touching to the extreme. Just imagine it, Hoss, being packed off somewhere strange and unfriendly knowing your ma was dying without you near her. With all our history of such losses I felt my heart tug for her, I can tell you!

We talked a little and then she started to quote poetry…. There I was feeling sorry for myself and all alone and this little girl starts to spout poetry at me. Is that just a coincidence or what? I just felt such a certainty that everything was going to be alright now…as though she were like my guardian angel!

A funny little angel though….a blotchy face from crying too much, and freckles. Pale blonde hair and very intense blue eyes and the whitest teeth with a gap between the front ones…can’t imagine an angel like it? We were about to part as the station loomed near when she put her hand on my arm and it felt like – something important and not to be forgotten – significant almost – and then she said she hoped that I would be happy….what a strange thing for a child of 10 to say to a complete stranger!

I looked back as I left the compartment and she was just standing there, so thin and frail and pale clutching her violin case. I didn’t see her again. I wonder if I ever will? But, just when I needed some reassurance, some thing to lift my spirits, she was there….

Now I feel as though I am rambling….I just can’t get her sad little face out of my mind! Makes a change from chasing memories of you all, doesn’t it?

I shall write again soon, and if I do see my guardian angel again, I shall let you know

My love to you….your everloving son, brother – Adam”

“That was a funny story” Joe said after some minutes had elapsed

“Kinda sad…poor kid!” muttered Hoss, his mind already drifting to his next visit to the store to see what Will Cass had waiting for him.

Ben said nothing, but put the letter to one side and held Joe close to him. To send a child away, alone, its mind on the fact that a loved parent would soon be dead…he shivered and his hold on Joe tightened even more so.

Chapter 4 – 1848

It’s been six months now since I came here. During that time I have grown quite fond of my aunt and uncle and realised that my former dislike was based purely on my own childish fears and assumptions.

My aunt, the sister of my mother, is a kind hearted soul, and seems to want to only please everyone. An impossible task of course so she often corkscrews herself into passions of misery when things do not work out as she had hoped. Whilst my mother was slim and blonde, my aunt is blonde and – well – I guess to put it plainly, very cuddly and well rounded. Her legs and feet, when I once saw them in their white stockings with the little red shoes , reminded me of two plump exclamations marks…for her legs were so chubby and her feet so small!

She was not of any great intellect, which was a pity because with all her kindnesses to others she deserved better than the treatment she received. Uncle was a clever man and once he realised I was not the kind of little girl who just played with dolls and wanted pretty clothes, but preferred instead to read his books and talk about what I had been reading as intelligently as I could to a man of his learning, he was quite pleasant to me. Only last night he put his hand on my shoulder and said that I had better appreciation for the classics than some of his students. A fine compliment indeed.

Arthur and Richard stayed out of my way, and I, out of theirs. They had reached an obnoxious age for boys, well, some of them. I could never imagine my Knight Errant being part of their wild group on the campus. Of course I was not allowed to go onto campus. I was taken to school in the family coach and the family coach picked me up and returned me to the private entrance of the Principals house. We had our own garden with a hgh wall so that none of the students could peek over and see what we were doing. Life carried a certain amount of tedium with it. School was much as one could expect from an all girls school – lessons in the basics, lessons in etiquette, lessons on how to conduct oneself and lessons older girls taught us about how life really was……not for the faint hearted. I ducked out of any association with them as soon as I could..

Returning to when I arrived at my aunt and uncle’s home, it was dark and late and I was ushered up to my room immediately with Sarah, the maid, lugging up my one battered suitcase. My mothers letter was there, sitting primly by the lamp and I ran to open with such a beating heart that by the time I had the letter out of the envelope I was feeling dizzy and could hardly read the writing.

I must have read two sentences before I fainted. Aunt said I fell flat on to my best feature which was not my derriere, but my nose! For the first two weeks there I was ill in bed, and the doctor told aunt that it was shock and exhaustion and uncle told her off for letting me have mothers letter to read without her first talking to me about it.

For another two weeks I was just so very unhappy and sad. The realisation that mama had died while I was on that train was really very hard to bear. It was all just so unreal, so impossible to take hold of in my own mind.

But children of nearly eleven have quite robust constitutions I suppose and it was not long before I was up and about and playing my fathers fiddle and generally driving aunt and the servants to distraction which was why they decided to send me to school.

Six months and I had never seen nor heard about Adam Cartwright. At breakfast, the only time I saw Arthur and Richard, I would eavesdrop quite heartily hoping to hear some reference to the westener.from the Ponderosa. Nothing! Nothing at all!

Snow was falling outside. I sat by my desk and tried to cncentrate on the book I was reading but all I could do was stare out at the grey skies and wallow in nostalgia. My head hurt because Sarah had screwed my hair into rags so tightly to make ringlets, and now the rags were gone my head felt like it was exploding. I needed to get out and feel the snow on my face.

If Sarah saw me she would have stopped me so I threw on my coat and pulled on my boots and ran as fast as I could down the long steep flight of stairs. So fast that my feet began to run without the rest of me catching up and before I knew it I had tumbled and was rolling most undignifiedly down the remaining six stairs.

“Are you alright?”

Strong hands with long strong fingers raised me up and then set me down very carefully onto the bottom step. His hands held me steady until I could open my eyes and look at him without my head lolling from one side to the other.

His brown eyes made my head swim just as before and I looked at him for too long. He was looking at me with a quizzical, ‘where do I know that face’ look in his eyes and then he smiled

“Miss Halcrow?”

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Mr Cartwright” I blurted out, resisting the urge to rub my head and my other sore parts

“It seems we’re destined to meet whenever you are about to take a tumble” he smiled and his dark eyes twinkled down at me and I wanted to hug him there and then.

“Did you come to see uncle?”

“Oh, uncle is it?” his brow creased and he smiled “If he’s the principal , then, yes – I have.”

“I’ll take you.” I smiled up at him, he was already so tall, I could have got a crick in my neck looking up at him all the time.

One of the joys being just a child and that is being able to do things that young ladies of 17 would not be permitted – such as taking hold of his hand and walking along the hallway as though he were the closest friend I had in the world. Such liberties would not be tolerated in some households I would think, but uncle was quite tolerant, with me anyway.

“Is it anything serious?”

“I don’t know…it could be…”

I looked at him and could see that he was worried, his eyes had gone darker and his brow was creased. I stopped and looked at him with my head at an angle so that I could get him in focas

“Is it one of your brothers? Are they ill?”

“My brothers? Oh – you remembered?”

“Yes, Hoss and Joe. I remembered” I thought it best not to add that I had remembered every word he had spoken to me that little time we shared on the train.

“They’re all very well.” And he sighed and was about to continue on towards uncle’s study but I pulled him back

“What has happened then? Are you ill?”

“No, I’m in good health, thanks.” He laughed, as though my concern for his welfare amused him, and I must have looked disappointed because he stopped laughing and squatted down on his haunches so that he and I were eye to eye

“I may have to leave –“

“Already?” I blurted out

“I can’t find any work – this town is full of students looking for work to keep them going, and my pa isn’t rich – he’s struggled to get me here, and finance some of the burden of my education, but I need to find work to keep me afloat. I guess that’s a bit hard for you to understand…” and he frowned and with a sigh stood up.

His legs seemed to go on forever, and I looked up and felt my neck crick and shook my head

“Mr Cartwright, you don’t want to leave yet, do you?”

“No, but sometimes what we want to do, and what we actually can do…are two different things.”

“Why can’t you get work?”

“Because there’s nothing available….” He sighed and continued to walk on and then knocked on my uncle’s door.

Of course, I followed and before he could speak I ran up to uncle with my arms outstretched for a hug, and uncle laughed, as he always did at what he called my exuberance, and he swung me up into his arms

“Well now, my dear, who have we got here?” uncle’s voice was very gruff, but I never minded that now because I knew that beneath his very clever intellectual self, he was a very shy man.

“Uncle” I decided to talk as fast as possible before either he or Mr Cartwright could interuppt “Uncle this is Sir Galahad who came to my rescue on the train that day when I was coming to you…”

“Ah, yes…” he looked at Adam Cartwright sternly, and the young man looked as though he wished the ground could swallow him up.

“Please uncle please help him find some work…..otherwise he will leave here again and I shan’t never see him again!”

Looking back at all this I have to admit to being thoroughly ashamed at my blatent use of my uncle’s affection for me, and the embarressing way I handled the whole matter. I don’t suppose there’s another eleven year old girl in the world who was so brazen as I was at that time!

Uncle looked at me thoughtfully and then set me back down and stroked my hair

“So, Sir Galahad has a problem, huh?”

I looked up at my uncle and smiled and he smiled and winked and turned me round and directed me to the door. I looked at Adam, but he seemed frozen to the spot. Not with fear though, MY Knight errant would not have known the meaning of the word.

I waited in the hall. I sat on the very bottom step of the stairs with my chin resting in my hands staring out at the window as the snow came down ever more heavily. I wondered if Adam Cartwrights brothers were playing in the snow where they lived, so far away on that place called The Ponderosa.

Never had a clock ticked away the time so slowly. Patience had never been a quality that I had found easy to accept, although I was learning it with aunt! I decided to count so many stairs, and then when I reached the bottom step he would be coming out of the study…..one. two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

I could hear the murmer of my uncles voice. So I climbed up six more steps and then back down and then sat and waited. The door opened and Sir Galahad stepped forward with a smile on his lips and his eyes twinkling. He looked at me and pulled his features into a more stern look, one of reproof and had I not known that he was pretending I would have been mortified…as it was I bounced up from the stairs and ran towards him

“Is everything alright now? Is it all going to be alright?”

He looked down at me and smiled and I stood still immediately and looked up at him as if he were indeed Sir Galahad and about to hand me the holy grail….

“Your uncle has suggested a few things –“ he said quietly, gravely

“And?” I tugged at his hand eagerly, like a puppy who longed for his master to hand him the bone

“And it means I will be able to stay on with my studies”

I laughed. What a little hoyden I was. I laughed and clapped my hands…and did a little happy dance there and then in the hallway.

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, apparently your uncle has a library that needs to be catalogued and put into some semblance of order…”

“You’ll like uncle’s library, it has the biggest collection of poetry books, and …and it is very untidy….it’ll take at least ten years to put it right.” I hugged myself, wonderful, wonderful uncle….not only was my knight errant getting his education but he would be coming to the house and I would be able to see him.

“And I have another job –“

“Really?”

“I believe you have a pony..a real one this time –“ he smiled and his eyes crinkled.

“Rufas!” I sighed “Rufas doesn’t like me – he bites me everytime I see him. “

“Have you ever managed to get into the saddle?”

“No.” I frowned and shook my head “He frightens me. I think he’s so high up there and that it would hurt if I fell off. It’s different from my Rufas at home…”

He nodded and looked at me and sighed

“My other job is to teach you to ride – “ he squatted again, so that we were eye to eye “Look, Miss Halcrow, I’ve already made arrangements to visit my grandfather for a few weeks – during that time do you think you could try and get friendly with Rufas? It’ll make my job a whole lot easier…”

“But Rufas hates me….” I whined

“You really mean, that you hate him – or is it that you’re afraid of him?”

“He always tries to bite me…” I wheedled, trying to brush aside the accusation that I was in the wrong here and Rufas, the beast, was the victim of MY dislike.

He looked at me seriously and I had that strange swimming feeling again, as though I was sinking into his eyes and nothing else existed at all….I shook my head to get myself re-emerged so to speak…and he smiled and put his hand gently on my shoulder

“Horses don’t dislike folk, unless they’re mean to them…if you talk to him very gently, and give him something to eat…”

“He bites my fingers everytime… “ I complained

“Then just talk and let someone else feed him, but let him see that it’s you who’s providing the goodies….until you feel confident enough to feed him yourself..then when I get back we can take it from there.”

I thought about it, as we walked hand in hand to the front door, I realised that if I were not careful I would be talking myself out of seeing him regularly, even if it were at the stables and with that horse!

“I’ll do my very best!” I promised

He let my hand drop and looked at me and nodded “I’ll see you when I get back!” he said very softly.

I could only nod my head and watch as he opened the door and walked out into the snow. Suddenly building snow men and tossing snow balls no longer had any appeal. I ran up the stairs and back into my bedroom so that I could look down and watch my knight errant walking back to the college. Snow fell softly down and mantled his dark head with white petals – perhaps he realised I was watching for he glanced upwards and paused to look at my window and I waved and he raised his arm and then swiftly departed from my sight.

Chapter 5

“Dear Pa

I had a good journey to grandfathers, despite the inclement weather” Ben smiled to himself at his sons use of such a fine word, inclement indeed…? “ It was strange to see grandfather and yet he seemed more than pleased to see me. We sat and talked late into the night, not only that night, I must admit, but many a night since.

I’m sorry this letter is so long in being written to you. I was very anxious about the situation with regard to Hoss getting hurt in that timber yard accident. Your reassurances that arrived last week, were very very greatly appreciated. Did he get the letter I sent to him? Will he be alright, pa? No limp or anything like that?

I can understand how upset Joe must have been, it is bad enough when you see someone you care for in such a situation but when you actually see the accident take place…well, it must have brought back to mind some pretty bad memories for the lad.

Another reason for my delay in writing, pa, was because grandfather had arranged for me to go on a sailing ship with Captain Jackson, who sends you his regards, having fond memories when you both sailed together with grandfather as your captain. I sailed on a clipper for a whole week, pa. Quite an experience. Grandfather says that I would make a good seaman. What do you think, pa? Would you say that I have saltwater in my veins and that the sea was calling my name?

I return to Princeton next week. I have some work which will help with the expenses and grandfather has paid me a salary for working in the store, which is going from strength to strength.

Oh, that reminds me, I met up with my little guardian angel again…just when I needed a helping hand although she is a real minx. All of eleven years old and she has her uncle eating out of the palm of her hand. A pretty little thing now though….her uncle is hoping to send her to Europe soon so that she can develop her musical talents, I believe he is hoping that she will be a violinist. I wonder if she has the temperment!

Ah well, there is grandfather calling again…I shall get this letter sent on now and await yours at college..your fond son, Adam…”

Ben folded the letter away and smiled once more to himself. He was missing Adam far more than he would ever acknowledge in any letter of his, knowing that Adam would be quick to return home had he any idea there was trouble. He looked about him and frowned slightly, the room seemed just the same, it was just different….Hoss and Joe were playing chequers by the fire, outside a gale blew and snows were piled high, he wondered how Adam had fared in a clipper ship during winter and smiled, knowing that his son would have viewed it all as a mighty fine adventure.

Hop Sing came from the kitchen and began to place food down on the table and he smiled over at Ben and nodded, his wise old eyes seeing more that most could. At the sound of plates rattling, Hoss bounded up, with a smile creasing his cheeks. He had a slight limp from the accident at the timber yard, and that would soon go as he had the resilience of youth on his side. Ben shook his head, if they had not been so short handed Hoss would have been safely at school,but as it was……….Joe was already seated, piling his plate high and laughing, teasing his elder brother with his usual high spirits. Ben sighed, and looked at the empty chair and shook his head. Perhaps if he just moved the chair away, just for the time being…….

Chapter 6 – 1850

I galloped at a steady pace. Mainly because Adam Cartwright would never allow me to go too fast, he would often ride up to my side and draw back the reins so that Rufas slowed if he thought I was going too fast. I didn’t mind it now but I recall one morning when he did it and it led to our very first argument.

“Slow down” he glared at me with dark eyes much darker than usual, and his hair tousled and looking so much as I would expect my cavalier knight that I only urged Rufas to go faster. “I told you to slow down.” He shouted and pulled the reins back and rode his horse right up to Rufas’ flanks so that he, surprised at this, slowed immediately and then stopped, snorting in protest.

I slid down from the saddle and glared at the young man who was dismounting too and we stood staring angrily at one another

“I wanted to ride faster!” I protested

“You were riding quite fast enough for a young lady!” he replied, narrowing his eyes

“I wanted to ride like Little Joe and Hoss and you ride on the Ponderosa….I don’t want to be a young lady!” and I stamped my foot down hard to emphasise the point

“If Joe or Hoss rode that fast I would have stopped them too, and tanned their hide for being so disobedient and so reckless” he snapped angrily back at me.

“I wasn’t disobedient and I wasn’t reckless…”

“Miss Halcrow, while I’m teaching you to ride and you are in my care, you and your horse are my responsibility and under my protection…now if you disobey me…”

“I didn’t !”

“You did!”

Without another word I pulled Rufas’ reins from his hands and attempted to remount into the saddle, only to have him grab me around the waist and haul me back down onto my feet. So, there we were, facing one another once again, with blazing eyes and thin lips and steam practically coming out of our ears. The whole beauty of the day had faded from our sight, and thoughts ..and I realised that I was not so much angry with him, as very disappointed that he could be angry with me.

“I want to ride Rufas!”

“Only if you ride him as you should…” he held out the reins to me, and I could see his temper fading and reasonableness coming back into his eyes and that made me calm down and feel just plain miserable “Miss Halcrow….”

“Don’t call me Miss Halcrow…”

“Now what else am I supposed to call you?” he smiled at me, although his eyes were still wary, and he crooked one eyebrow which usually made me smile

“Call me Jane”

“You know I can’t”

“Why not? Why can’t I call you Adam?”

“Because I’m a student here and you’re the Principals niece. It’s the way things are…” he frowned as though he didn’t like it either.

“I don’t like it, you’re not my servant…things like that shouldn’t be allowed…” I took a deep breath and bowed my head as I tried to think out further argument in support of my case “We’re friends, aren’t we?” I mumbled, hearing in my own ears how thin my voice was now.

“I hope so…”

“So can’t I call you Adam?” I glanced up at him and looked at his face and he sighed and frowned and then his face gentled and he smiled and I thought I had won but he squatted down and took my hand in his, very kindly and looked up into my face

“There are other things to be considered. When you are older, you’ll understand why it’s more sensible to observe formalities like this. You’re a sensible girl, and far more intelligent than most, so you have to see that your uncle trusts me to take good care of you, and to make sure that you’re safe…”

“I only want you to call me Jane…” I whispered, looking at his face and trying to make my eyes as appealing as possible.

“You’ll understand when you’re older!” was all he said before releasing my hand and turning to his horse and remounting.

I rode by his side slowly, thinking over what he had said, after all, what harm was there in using our first names, we were friends, were we not? And why could I not ride like I always imagined Joe and Hoss riding on the Ponderosa. I wanted him to enjoy riding here just as he would have enjoyed it back at his home….I glanced over at him and saw that his face was very pensive and so I put out my hand and touched his arm

“I’m sorry.”

“I know…” he slowed his horse even more and looked at me thoughtfully and then began to speak in a sad sombre tone of voice I had not heard him use before, “Another reason why I want you to be so careful when you ride….not so long ago, about 18 months before I came here, my step mother was thrown from a horse. She trusted that horse, ridden him for years, but she came riding up to the house so fast that it threw her when she tried to get him to stop….Joe was only five, and I’ll never forget the horror on his face when he saw his mother fall from that horse.”

I took a deep breath and felt the tears rush to my eyes…I hasten to say that it was not out of sorrow for his step mother, although I was sad for Joe, but quite selfishly my tears were out of the thought that his anger had been as a result of his caring about my safety, and the thought of that touched me deeply. I had reached that age when girls get emotional over all kinds of things, and this, to me, was proof enough that he had some feelings for me, and for that I was more than grateful.

“What –“ he continued “if something like that would happen to you while you were in my care and under my protection? How could I face your aunt and uncle to tell them that I had allowed you to be reckless enough to put your life in danger? And what about Rufas? If you ride a horse too hard you could break his wind, and ruin him for life…”

“I’m sorry – I’m really sorry” I whispered, the tears trickling down my cheek and now I did think of his step mother and what a terrible scene it must have been for them all and I felt utterly ashamed that I could have been so negligent “I’ll be good, I promise….”

He seemed satisfied and nodded, and then urged his horse into a trot, and I, mounted on dear plump Rufas, trotted along behind him, much as a squire would trot behind his sir Knight long years ago.

At the end of the hour we parted as usual and I turned to look back at him as he rode away, he rode beneath a tree and the early morning mist enshrouded him and took him from my sight until he rode a little further into the sun…what a picture it was indeed…one I would never forget.

………….

Time slipped by, seasons came and went, years passed and now I was 13 years of age. We were approaching Graduation and I knew that Adam Cartwright was as nervous as any of the other students about his coming graduation day. His grandfather, Captain Abel Stoddard, was going to come and see him graduate, but his father and brothers would not, the distance and the expense of travelling was far too much.

“It’s not just the money,” he explained one morning as we rode side by side “It’s the time…pa has so much work on at the moment, and there’s only so much that he can do.” He frowned at the thought and shook his head “He works too hard, and all the time he would be here he would be thinking of what should be done back home, and what could be going wrong. Things are changing back there….since the gold strikes in San Francisco and California there’s a lot going on.”

I tried to imagine ‘a lot going on’ but it meant nothing to me and I felt just so sad that he would only have an old man to watch him graduate. I promised him that I would be there, and that I would sit beside his grandfather and make sure that we both applauded as loudly as we could when he went to collect his Graduation papers.

“I reckon that would make my grandpa mighty happy” he said slowly with his eyes twinkling.

We rode back and I dismounted from Rufas and led him into the stall. Adam had always told me that I should get to know my horse really well, that I should be the one to feed it, comb and curry it, and fuss over it. Sometimes, if time permitted, he would help me to unsaddle and unharness the horse before I cleaned up, but not this particular morning, although we were back rather earlier than usual.

“Mr Cartright, did I tell you that –“ I paused as a shadow fell upon the floor where the sunlight had been dappling it only seconds before.

“Adam?”

He turned, and I could see the colour slowly mantle his neck beneath his collar and a rather shy, embarressed smile came to his lips as he looked in the direction of the open door. A young woman stood there, a pretty girl, and she smiled at him and raised her eyebrows and mouthed a silent message, but I could understand what she was saying well enough and scowled at her angrily

“I’ll not be much longer…” he said which meant I had been correct in interpreting her silent message as “How much longer will you be?” and then he turned to me “You don’t mind, Miss Halcrow, if I leave you to look after Rufas on your own, only I have to keep an appointment”

“With her?” I asked, trying not to let my voice betray my feelings

“And some other students….there’s an end of class project that we’re doing together…”

“Will I see you tomorrow?”

He turned towards the girl who was standing with her hands clasped behind her back and swaying too and fro, as though growing impatient. Then he smiled hurridly back at me and walked quickly away. I watched them go out of the door together, laughing in that intimate way good friends can laugh when about to share time together.

He never came the next day, only a brief note to say that he had been detained and was too busy. The next day was the same. The third day it rained heavily but I, obstinate and determined to prove to him, as well as to myself, that I no longer needed his help, rode out on Rufas for my early morning ride.

I thought of the times we had shared riding together, of the moments in the library when I sneaked in to help him with the never ending task of tidying uncle’s library. The hot coffee and cookies that were sent up for us to enjoy in front of the fire as we shared snippets of verse, or prose, from some of the old books. Well, the library was tidy now, the most orderly it had ever been. And I could ride Rufas, and any other horse in my uncles’ stables had I a mind to do so….thanks to Adam Cartwright.

The rain streamed down. It soaked through my clothes and down my neck and filled my boots. I rode back miserable, wet through and with a sore throat. Rufas, head down, hated the rain and he was sodden through as well.

I spent longer than usual making sure he was alright. I combed him, dried him, curried him….I gave him water to drink and made sure his bed was dry and comfortable. I cuddled him and kissed him and felt incredibly guilty – I had been selfish again, and dreaded to think that dear Rufas would be the innocent victim of my neglect now.

The following morning I was ill with what my aunt described as a heavy cold but which gradually progressed to something much worse. I became delirious and feverish and the doctor was called to give his opinion and medication – at considerable expense. I spent days slipping in and out of consciousness, aware of my aunt sitting by my bedside and sometimes my uncle. I thought my mother was there and called out to her, and when I saw my father ‘we’ sang songs from the auld country that he had taught me years yon.

I begged to see Rufas and wept bitterly when they told me he could not ‘be made available’ – (of course, I laugh about that now) – and I pleaded to see Adam Cartwright, even if just for a little while. But he never came!

Gradually I improved thanks to what the doctor called my robust constitution and stubborn personality! I began to take notice of what was going on around me, to take light meals and to, thankfully, be taken out of the bed and to a chair by the window. From the window Martin, the stableboy, paraded Rufas up and down to assure me that he was quite well, although decidedly plumper.

But Adam Cartwright never came. What did come, however, was a letter that dismayed me entirely, but one that my aunt brought to my room with the air of a conquisadore…

“My dear girl, here is some news that will bring the roses back into your cheeks” she declared with a generous smile on her plump face and she settled down on the chair by my side and put her hand over mine and gave me a gentle squeeze “Your uncle and I have been planning this for some time, as a surprise for you”

“A surprise? For me?”

“Here, read it –“ she held it out and then drew it back and devoured it with her eyes and then looked at me with loving affection. There was no doubt about it, she deeply cared for me and that thought helped me considerably in dealing with what was about to befall me “I’ll read it myself….listen, dear…” and she read a lengthy letter that, summing up in a few brief words, meant that I would be leaving Princeton, leaving America, leaving AdamCartwright far behind me in order to be educated in Switzerland!

“Why Switzerland?” I asked timidly

“It’s a beautiful country, and it’s healthy and the education is wonderful there. We want you to learn music, Jane, and you’ll be taught by the very best there…….”

I turned my head away and looked out of the window and could say nothing. My world was slowly falling into pieces about me and only her presence, happy and contented soul that she was, prevented me from bursting into tears.

It would be easy to think, from what I have written, that I was a dour soul, and quarrelsome and miserable all the time. But in actual fact I was not like that at all, it is just that in writing this little history things relative to the subjects concerned were, at this point, more negative than positive.

Chapter 7

Rufas was more than pleased to see me the morning I finally suceeded in getting to the stables to make sure that he really was alright and had not forgotten me. I fed him an apple and was leaning against the bars of the stall when I became aware of someone standing quite close to me and so I turned to see who it was –

We both looked at one another and I am sure had the same expression on our faces and that was one of surprise at the changes we saw in one another. I had been ill for six weeks and in that time had grown taller, much thinner, with a few curves whereas he – well, he looked sad and drawn and haggard, dark shadows smudged the sockets of his eyes, which seemed dull as they looked at me.

“Are you better?” he asked softly, approaching closer so that he could stroke Rufas and fuss him.

“Yes, thank you” I tried to sound more formal than usual for my disappontment in not hearing from him for the whole of six weeks was keen and sharp, and the pleasure I had felt at seeing him was almost a betrayal of the mood I had wanted to view him.

“Did you get my letter?”

“What letter?” I frowned and looked at him with a feeling of discomfiture growing in my stomache “No – I did not receive a letter from you.”

He sighed and shook his head and ran his hand along Rufas’ back whilst he looked him up and down as though he were at an auction and considering purchasing him

“I gave Richard a letter to give to you the day I left here “

“I didn’t know you had left Princeton”

“The day after you were taken ill – “ he leaned against the bars of the stall and crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me with a slight frown furrowing his brow “Did you really think I would leave here without letting you of all people know why and where I was going? Ah well, as it is, I had to go and see my grandfather, he was taken very ill and asked for me to go to him. He died just a few days after I had got there and I had to make all the arrangements for his funeral” he shuffled his foot through the dirt of the stable floor, moving it into a little mound and then flattening it down again “He left me all that he had….quite an inheritance it seems!”

“I am sorry that he died, Mr Cartwright” I knew I sounded rather lacking in warmth, but I was only 13 and I had no real idea of how to deal with such a situation, had I been older, and were I allowed to be less formal with him, and if it had been at all possible to show how I really felt, even then, about him, then I would have taken him into my arms and held him close and wept for him, with him. “I really am very sorry” I said again, and put my hand gently on his arm.

“And you were so ill – “ he looked at me with his deep brown eyes looking less sombre now, and I nodded and looked suitably helpless “You should never have gone out in all that rain, you –“

“I know, it wasn’t fair to Rufas was it? Thankfully he was fine, probably all the fat he carries on him!” and I smiled and stroked Rufas’soft velvety nose “At least you got here in time for Graduation Day”

“I guess!” he murmered and sighed, as though it meant nothing to him now

“You’ve your diploma’s and things to collect, everyone –“

“There won’t be anyone now..”

“I’ll be there” I smiled brightly encouraging him to smile again which he did “And you never know who else might turn up!”

“That’s true” he laughed then, and I thought perhaps he was thinking of the girl who had come to get him from the stable, whilst I was thinking of someone entirely different. “I guess I should have realised that Richard would not have given you the letter, but as I stressed how important it was, I thought he would have done the decent thing…”

“Richard doesn’t know what it is to do the decent thing-“

“I just wanted to apologise for leaving you so abruptly and to explain why I had to go away, and to wish you a speedy recovery” his eyes glanced up and down my now differently shaped body and he bit his bottom lip as though slightly perplexed “I’m sorry you were so ill”

“I’m sorry you had to lose your grandfather, I know how much you cared for him”

We stood there, in the stable, standing close to one another but not close enough. He was so tall and during the three years he had changed from gangly adolescence to lean masculinity. When looking at his face one could see the man he would be whilst still able to see the boyish vulnerbility of who he had been. He had the face of one who knew his own mind, who was strong and dependable, loyal and brave.

We said nothing for a little while, just enjoyed the smells of the stable, the warmth there, and the friendship we knew we shared together. Then he stepped back and sighed and the spell was broken and I knew he had to go…

“You’ll be there tomorrow?” he asked as he walked towards the door

“Yes”

“’Til tomorrow then”

I could only nod, tomorrow meant goodbye.

…………

Everything was so busy and time flew by in a confusion of people rushing around organising things. The dias, the flowers, the chairs, rows and rows of them, and all the time people arriving. Students milled around in an attempt to sort out their own parents and relatives from the myriads that seemed to be poring out of the woodwork to be there to see their offspring graduate.

I stood at the window and watched. There was a cool breeze and aunt had said I was to stay indoors until just before the ceremony. So I stood there and watched and waited and looked….although I was not sure who exactly I would be seeing!

And then there they were…..a tall man with greying hair and the fiercest black eyes imaginable, a man who stood out amongst the crowds of people there, not only because of his westernised clothing, but because he was the kind of man who would stand out in a crowd whether it were in Paris or London or Eagle Station (now called Virginia City) or whereever. The three of them cut a swathe through the crowd as the people just stepped back and they, looking niether to the left nor the right, strode on forwards towards the young man I could see standing alone and lonely by his chair.

The two figures that flanked the older man were boys…but I knew who they were, Hoss and Joseph. What a strapping lad Hoss Cartwright was indeed, as tall as his father and bigger. His blue eyes shone like stars in his face that was all over smiles and he was the first to reach his brother and wrap his arms about him and lift him off his feet …and I felt a tear as it trickled its way down my cheek because I can’t find the words to describe the joy on that young mans face when he saw his brothers and father .

What fun Joseph looked to be…he was prancing about around his brothers rather how I imagined a monkey in a zoo would cavort about had it a chance to do so. He was so handsome too, and his eyes were lovely….I think he was about 8 years old then, but he was as slim and pocket sized as Hoss was – well – quite the opposite!

I watched them, I watched them laughing and crying and hugging and shaking hands and found myself smiling just for the pleasure of seeing them altogether. I doubt if I could remember a time when I had seen Adam Cartwright talk so much….

………..

The ceremonials were over…the students had mounted the dias, taken their diplomas and returned to their family groups. I felt as proud as could be when Adam went up to claim his and I clapped so hard that my hands tingled and aunt leaned forward and gave me a reproving look, to remind me that young ladies do not applaud that enthusiastically!

Now people were mingling and talking and I knew that soon he would be taking his family to his room and gathering up his things, his belongings….packing them away ready for his departure. In my own room things were packed as well, ready for my leaving Princeton in a few days time.

I stood away from the crowd, the small square of paper with my letter to him clasped between my fingers and I waited and watched.

Finally they approached, and I felt myself suddenly timid for the father was so fearsome, so tall and so big…with those fierce black eyes that must have seen so much in his one lifetime. I looked down and tried to think of some other way of getting my little note to him when I heard him talking and looked up and there he was, smiling down at me

“I clapped as hard as I could…” I mumbled before he had a chance to speak

“So did I” the boy Joseph said quickly

I looked at him, I’d never seen such a wild looking boy, albeit such a handsome one, and he grinned so merrily at me that I just had to return the smile and then Adam was introducing me to them and they were shaking my hand, all of them very gently but I was so awed that I couldn’t even hear what Adam was saying, it was only when Mr Cartwright spoke that I seemed able to hear properly again….

“I am glad we had the chance to meet, Jane” he said in the deepest voice I had ever heard “to thank you for writing..and giving us the chance to get here to see Adams graduation …it’s been quite an experience!” he looked fondly at Adam, and it was obvious that he was proud of him, if anyone had looked at me like that I would have been floating on air, as it was, Adam actually blushed and looked immensely pleased with himself.

“I didn’t expect to see them here..” he said to me, and his dark eyes looked directly into mine and I just smiled and nodded

“I’ve never been on a long journey by train before…” Joseph said and Hoss gave him a playful nudge with his elbow and they both began to laugh although I don’t know why…

“Can I give you this –“ I turned to him quickly, suddenly longing to get away, swamped by the feeling that I was the intruder steading precious time from this family and so I pushed the little letter into his hand and then, standing on tip toe to reach him, I planted a kiss on his cheek “Good bye, Mr Cartwright….”

“Goodbye?” he frowned and looked at the envelope and then at me, but I was already backing away, longing for the safety of my own room “But,Jane…why good bye?”

“I’m leaving for Switzerland in a few days…I have a lot to do…Goodbye Mr Cartwright..” I shook Ben Cartwrights hand and nodded to the two boys who were staring at me rather thoughtfully, and then I almost ran from them in the direction of the house.

“Jane” he caught me by the elbow and turned me round “You can’t leave me so fast – there’s things I want to talk to you about….”

I looked at him and thought that if I stayed any longer I would probably faint, something that seemed to happen to me at the most inconvenient times since I had been ill. He must have realised my distress and hopefully put it down to my illness for he released my arm and leaned forward and gently kissed my cheek

“Make fine footprints on the sands of time, Jane..” he said quietly

I shivered, he turned and walked back to his family and I turned to find myself firmly gripped by my aunts hand on my arm, and gratefully I was assisted back to the house. I knew I would not see him again and I wondered if he would smile when he read my letter and whether or not he would think it an odd co-incidence that I, also, had mentioned his leaving good footprints on the sands of time.

Chapter 8 – 1861

My first glimpse of Virginia City was through a haze of dust and grit which billowed all around us as the stagecoach fairly rocketed through the towns main street. It finally stopped and all of us passengers were jostled against one another in a very rude way…but we finally righted ourselves, adjusting our hats or bonnets and straightening our jackets.

The two men stepped out first, one turned and politely held open the door for myself and the other woman, a rather elderly plump woman who came from London,England, and was called Clementine Hawkins. An amazing woman who talked almost non stop even when the two men fell asleep, which I thought very unfair, as it meant I was her sole captive victim.

So I stepped down and looked around at this mushroom gold rush town. I was not looking at the stores or the banks but rather at the people who happened to be there just then…I had convinced myself that after all this time I would look around and the first person I would see would be him and he would recognise me and walk towards me and say “Jane-“

I read too much! And I had convinced myself too easily that he would be there and everything would fall into place perfectly, just like a dream, or a fairy story. It was not to be, so I picked up my luggage and looked around again, this time for the sight of a hotel or boarding house.

“I’ll help you with that if’n you’d like, little lady”

I looked around, thinking to find myself looking at the depot porter but instead found myself looking up into the bluest eyes which twinkled down at me with such a pleasant sincerity about them that I just passed over the luggage as naturally as could be…

“Whar you headed, ma’am” he juggled the bags and cases about and stood there, a human mountain with a broad pleasant smile on his beaming round face

“The Hotel please”

“Er – which one?”

“Which one would you recommend?”

“Follow me…” he smiled and lumbered down the sidewalk, his feet thudding down onto the boards and making the dust billow like little dust devils around his ankles.

I trailed behind him, holding onto my hat and keeping my skirts from getting too soiled in the dirt. All the time my eyes darted too and fro, scanning the faces of the people as we passed them by, constantly searching……..

“Hey, Hoss, where ya goin’?”

I stopped abruptly, if I had not I would have collided into Hoss’ back, and both he and I turned and looked at the young man lounging on the street corner, chomping at an apple

“To the hotel Internationale…this little lady kinda looked lost!” he indicated me with a nod of his head and the younger man turned and looked at me and smiled, taking off his hat he tossed the apple away, to the gratitude of a mule tethered nearby who set to chomping at it with the same enthusiasm he had been moments earlier.

“Wal, let me help” he offered immediately

“Thanks, little brother” Hos muttered, handing over a suitcase for his brother to take hold but Joe merely took hold of my elbow and began to lead me through the streets, his eyes twinkling and his mouth smiling whilst he left Hoss behind re-arranging the suitcases all over again

“You’ll like the Internationale, it’s pretty classy” he glanced over at me and looked me up and down and must have decided I looked classy enough to be accommodated there for he smiled “I’m Joseph Cartwright from the Ponderosa…that’s my brother, Hoss…” he jerked his thumb in the direction of his brother who I could hear pounding along the sidewalk behind us.

“I know…I remember you both from the last time we met”

“We met someplace before?” he glanced at me, narrow eyed, as though I was making fun of him someway

“At your brothers graduation in Princeton”

“Adams?” he frowned and looked at me again, and then shook his head “I’m sorry, I can’t recall meeting you before, I’d have remembered had I done so.”

“Oh, I was only a young girl then, Mr Cartwright, I’ve changed a lot since then”

“It was some time back….about ten years I’d reckon.”

I smiled, how young he was, and yet how full of confidence, some would say arrogance, but I doubted that, he was just one of those youngsters who loved life and people and found it easy to get the very best out of both….he looked at me again

“Are you Jane?”

“Yes, that’s me…just plain Jane….”

“Shucks, miss, I’d never have said that you were in any way plain….” His hazel eyes twinkled as they looked at me again, and his lips parted into a smile then he turned and stopped Hoss “Hoss, do you know who this is? Why, you’d jest never guess….”

Hoss looked at his brother and then at me and sighed and shook his head and Joe laughed and slapped his brother on the chest in a friendly way

“Hoss, it’s Jane Halcrow….Adams little angel”

“Shucks…is that true?”

Two pairs of eyes bore into me as they looked me up and down, and I, well I was lost in the expression Adams little angel….had he really called me that?

“I should’ve recognised you…” Hoss said apologetically and shaking my hand as he did so “But you’ve changed a mite…”

“You sure have……” Joe drawled and then he gave a lop sided grin and jabbed his brother in the ribs “How about we take Jane for a meal once we’ve deposited all her gear at the hotel, huh, Hoss?”

“Aw,I dunno, little brother, we got some things to do for pa and …”

“Hey, they won’t take but an itsy bitsy moment of our time…” Joe grinned his face lighting up with the thought of time away from chores and responsibility “How about it, Jane?”

“It’s alright, I’d rather just rest once I get booked in. But we could go another day, when you have no chores for your father”

“That’s it settled then” Joe snapped his fingers “Tomorrow lunch time…Del Monico’s?”

“If you say so..” I laughed, it was easy to laugh with these two, they were so friendly, and so kindly helpful and I saw Hoss go a little pink in the face and grin sheepishly as though he were pleased but too shy to say so”Thank you, I shall look forward to it very much indeed.”

“So shall I” Joe said, tucking my arm into his and leading me off, with poor Hoss trailing behind with the luggage “Don’t worry about Hoss…”

“Yes,well…I did think…”

“Aw, don’t think, Miss Halcrow, don’t ever get to thinking!” he chortled and looked as merry as a cricket so that I stopped thinking about Hoss immediately “Every year, see, we have the Founders Day fete…you’ve just missed out on it – and Hoss enters the wrestling and the arm wrestling and the strongest man competitions….so all in all, lugging that luggage of your’n around is jest doin’ brother Hoss a great big favour and helping him keep in shape for next year.”

“How did he do this year?” I laughed

“Came first every danged time!”

“And what competitons do you enter, Mr Cartwright?”

“Me? Oh, various ones that necessitate skill beyond belief…” his eyes twinkled and he chuckled again “Did Adam send for you?” he asked, suddenly serious

“No, he didn’t!”

“Does he know you’re in town?”

“No, he doesn’t!”

“Do you want us to tell him?”

I looked at him, behind the serious exterior I could see a twinkle of mischief lurking in his hazel eyes and then I looked at Hoss who just smiled and looked as innocent as the day was long…I frowned slightly and then shrugged

“That’s up to you” I said finally and the way he glanced over at his brother I just knew that Joe was thinking up something wicked!

“You can call me Joe” he said

“I thought I had been…….”

“I noticed you slipped into the Mr Cartright mode of address…..that may suit older brother Adam, but I like to feel more comfortable about things….less formality you know…” he paused now and stopped in front of the Hotel and pushed open the door, stepping aside to let me enter and following in behind me, with Hoss close behind with the luggage.

“Thank you both very much..thank you, Hoss, for helping me with the luggage.” I put my hand on Hoss’ arm and it was like touching metal and steel…he had not even worked up a sweat!

“It weren’t no trouble, ma’am” he said gently, and smiled

“I’ll see you both tomorrow then…at Del Monico’s?”

“Don’t you want us to help you to your room?” Joe said, holding his hat to his chest and his face registering wholehearted willingness to be of assistance

“I think they may have people who get paid to do that….” I reminded him with a laugh.

“We’ll see you tomorrow then, Miss Halcrow.” Hoss nudged his brother, rocking him a little on his feet, and nodded over to the door. Obviously Hoss had more regard for his fathers temper than Joe and more respect for the responsibilities placed upon him and so, with a sigh, Joe nodded and with a final smile the two of them left the hotel.

I was still smiling when I went to the hotel clerk and booked my self into a room. There was a long mirror in the room and cautiously I stepped before it and surveyed myself thoughtfully, critically. I was not overly tall, being a few inches over five feet, and I was slim with a pleasing enough figure. I had an oval face, high cheekbones, very blue eyes and long lashes (at last), my nose was much like my mothers in that it was rather an irregular shape. I had a wide mouth, well shaped lips and my teeth were all my own and all still where they should have been! My chin was square and as my aunt often reminded me, stubborn. I was not a beauty by any means, but I was not plain nor unattractive. I had small hands and feet. My hair was blonde, a dark honey blonde which went into golden streaks in the sunlight and I wore it long and in the French fashion, a chignon.

After looking thus I went to the window and looked out at the street and the scene before me…of stores, banks, a library and a blacksmiths, all higgly piggly bunched together on a wide and dusty main street. I stood there lost in day dreams for some minutes until I saw him….and my heart froze and stopped a beat.

A girl of about seven years old, carrying a doll and wearing a chequered shirt and blue pants, was walking by his side, her free hand holding tightly onto his and she was looking up at him, talking and laughing.

I watched as he looked down at her, the same look on his face that I recognised seeing so often when he had been with me all those years ago….a tenderness, a kindliness that softened the handsome features that I could see now had that same rather ruthless look that his father wore. He leaned down to her level, squatting on his haunches, explaining something to her for she was listening intently, and nodding and then, child like, she put her arms around his neck and hugged him, and he, standing up, carried her up with him, and held her in his arms.

So, he was married, with a child. Why had Joe and Hoss not mentioned it? Was that look of mischief on Joe’s face at my expense, and not Adams as I had imagined? I followed him with my eyes. He was taller, bigger built that the youth I remembered, darkly tanned, matured….he held her easily in the crook of one arm while she had her arm across his shoulders and her doll in the other.

I had thought that he would see me and our eyes would meet and he would walk towards me and say “Jane”…………now I knew it would never happen that way after all.

I leaned closer against the window and watched as he stopped by a wagon and swung the girl onto the back seat and then he turned and took off his hat and smiled at the woman who was coming out of the shop – she walked towards him and smiled and when she had reached his side she put her hand on his chest and then on his arm, that slight possessive manner women have when they approach their men.

I observed her closely as he helped her up onto the wagon seat and settled her comfortably. She was tall, thin, nervous looking. Blonde, almost that silver white blonde men seemed to love so much, I could well imagine her eyes were blue with that colouring, but her face was small, thin, pinched looking and her eyes seemed too big for her face and her mouth was small and tight. I asked myself the question every woman asks when the man she wants looks elsewhere….I asked myself “What does he see in her?”

I had, in my curiousity, held back the curtain, and now I moved to drop it back into place and that was when he looked up…the movement was instinctive, he put his hand to his gun handle and paused, scanned the window with his dark eyes, saw nothing and relaxed. I watched as he stood and talked to her for a moment or two, she nodded once or twice, and then with a flick of the reins, the wagon rolled away ….he watched it go, as men often turn to watch their women when they are going from them and his face was contemplative, pensive.

I could almost hear him sigh. His back moved as though he had exhaled a deep breath. He then turned and casually glanced back up at the window where I stood, but I stood back in the shadows and did not touch the curtain again. He walked towards a horse, mounted it with the ease of long practice, and galloped, oddly enough, in the opposite direction to the wagon and its occupants.

Chapter 9

I was dressed early the next morning, mainly because I had found it so hard to get any sleep during the night anyway. I had had a light meal in the restaurant and then gone to my room and tried to do a number of things without much success in any one of them. Now after a scant breakfast and plenty of coffee I decided to clear my head by walking around the town. This was the first time I had been in a town like this one, a town with little history, where the false fronted buildings gave the impression of something grander.

Cowboys, miners, ranchers, farmers….all dusty from riding and working, all work weary and grimed from the day to day toil of life. Businessmen, in fancy suits and with gold chains hanging across their vest fronts, stepped down from their carriage or buggies, wealthy men who own large mining corporations in the area, strolled down the street with gold topped canes and looking as elegant as though promanading in Philadelphia’s main city square. There were Chinese with their long plaits and running gait, gabbling at one another in shrill excited voices and there were other voices, accents, languages – all indicative of the American life, welcome to all, make the best of whatever you can get.

Saloon girls, dressed in loose fitting garments lolled against the balconies and watched as life passed them by. Upright and uptight matriachs pounded the sidewalks with their dark clothes and grim faces, young wives and mothers strolled from shop to shop, gossiping and laughing and chattering. Children ran in and out of the crowds with their books and lunch packs in their hands.

I had been greeted by many with friendly smiles and nods and greetings. They were used to strangers in their town, and often the strangers stayed and became their neighbours, so they obviously liked to get on a good footing from the beginning.

I recognised the rig outside the General Merchants and paused for a moment, wondering what to do now. I had been thinking of returning back to Sacremento that day, but at the same time had felt that by doing so I was running away from something I had to face, a wound doesn’t heal unless it is properly lanced and treated.

This, I told myself, was an opportunity to see just what kind of woman Adam had married. It was somewhat devious but she would never know…..and if, of course, it were Adam in the store, then – well, we would have to meet anyway and a public place was no doubt the best place.

The bell tinkled and a womans voice said “Be with you in just a moment”. I looked about me and saw an elderly man placing groceries into a box and talking to a woman with three grubby children clinging and wailing at her skirts. I watched him for a moment as he nodded and smiled but his eyes seemed strained and sad,as though he had been touched with tragedy and had never managed to shake the shadow from his shoulder. He had that kind of haunted look, as though he were afraid to look behind him…just in case….but he was kind for he was assuring the woman that she did not have to pay him for the groceries not until her husband had secured himself a job. The gratitude on the womans face was sobering in its misery…no one likes to accept charity, it removes a layer of self respect. He patted the children on the head and gave each one of them a sticky jaw breaker to chomp on while he continued packing up the womans order.

The young woman serving was obviously his daughter, pretty and blonde and blue eyed. She was checking ribbons with the other woman, Adams woman. The girl, still in her check shirt and pants, was leaning against the counter, kicking her heels against the wood until her mother turned and took her by the shoulder and pulled her away

“Peggy, how many more times do I have to tell you not to do that….”

“But I’m bored and I want to go outside…”

“We’ll be going outside soon, just be patient…” she turned and shook her head and resumed her conversation with the girl at the counter, their blonde heads nearly touching as they checked one roll of ribbon with another.

The girl, Peggy, wandered off and stared at the other three children who stared back. They stuck out three very red tongues at her and giggled, she stuck out her tongue and turned her back on them and walked away. Which brought her to me. She looked up and frowned, then smiled

“Hello”

“Hello” I smiled at her, there was nothing about her that reminded me of Adam Cartwright at all.

“I’m Peggy Dayton…how do you do?” and she struck out her hand which I took in mine and shook politely

“I’m very well, thank you and how are you?”

“I’m bored and you’re supposed to tell me your name as well…” she looked at me with piercing eyes and I smiled again

“Shouldn’t you be at school?”

“Not until next week…I’ve had a cold” she turned her head and looked over at her mother who was oblivious of her daughters departure from her side “That’s my mother, her names Laura”

“My name’s Jane”

She looked at me again and frowned and then returned to her mother and tugged at her sleeve, Laura shrugged her away and then looked over at me.

“Ma, that lady is called Jane…” the girl Peggy informed her.

I immediately became the scrutiny of two pairs of blue eyes as Laura and the other girl looked over at me. Then she smiled and walked over to me

“Jane Halcrow? Why, I was going to come and see you at your hotel…..” she turned to the other girl and smiled “Sally, this is Jane Halcrow….a friend of Adams …isn’t that right?” she turned to me again, her eyes were demanding an answer and I nodded.

I had lost any advantage I had hoped to gain from my little reconnoitre. She was in total control. She took my arm as though she had known me for years herself and brought me closer to the counter

“Sally Cass …Jane Halcrow”

I shook hands with Sally Cass and smiled, and received a pleasantly friendly smile back. I hadn’t yet said a word and yet this Laura person was in complete control of my immediate future …I listened to her as she told Sally that I had been at Princeton, and then suddenly there was a silence and they were both looking, expectantly, at me…not only them, but Peggy and the man, Mr Cass….and I realised then that this Laura had a voice that could send you to sleep….the kind of whining drone that makes your ears involuntarily close up and your thoughts wander and suddenly she would pounce on you with a question and trick you into revealing your rudeness in not having digested a single word she had said.

“I am sorry…but I have to admit I am rather overwhelmed by such a welcome…”I wondered if my voice sounded as lacking in confidence as I felt “Ma’am, I don’t even know you….and it’s nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Cass,Mr Cass!”

“Gracious me, how silly…I forgot to introduce myself, didn’t I? I’m Laura Dayton …Mrs Laura Dayton” she stared deep into my eyes then, challengingly deep, and although her lips smiled her eyes certainly did not “Adam Cartwright and I are engaged to be married….”

I smiled and congratulated her on her good fortune. I wondered what had happened to her husband and I especially wondered why she had looked at me like that…and why the oh so friendly overtures towards me?

“I was about to come over to see you, to introduce myself.” She grabbed Peggy by the shoulder and forced her to her side as we left the shop,leaving the little bell ringing and the two Cass’ staring after us.

“That’s very kind of you, but why…”

“Joe and Hoss asked me to, they were supposed to be having lunch with you?” she smiled again, walking by my side and guiding me back to the Hotel “But Ben wants them to get the fencing repaired before they start on mine tomorrow. So I said I would call in and see you and explain and then Ben said that as you were such an old friend of THEIRS that you should be persuaded to stay at the Ponderosa, not at an hotel in town, but then, I said, how could she …a single lady on her own with four men in the house…not including Hop Sing of course…” she trilled out a laugh and I wondered where exactly this conversation was headed “Then Joe said why not ask you to come and stay with me? Well, ain’t that just the best idea yet? So I said I would come and ask you today….” She turned and looked at me and smiled again “You will, won’t you?”

I opened my mouth to say no, but then realised that this was not so much an invitation as intimidation…..Peggy was looking up at me and she smiled and took my hand

“You will come,won’t you? It gets mighty lonesome out there on our own!”

“Except when Adam and the boys come…that is…” Laura Dayton laughed and I realised then that I had no choice in the matter, that everything was totally out of my control. If I stayed at the hotel what would Adam think of me…churlish and rude to say the least! “Adam will get such a surprise when he sees you…”
Doesn’t he know I’m here?”

“Oh no….Joe and Hoss were teasing him last night about you….but they never said that you were actually in town…that’s all part of the joke!” she laughed and squeezed my hand “You will come and stay while you’re here, won’t you?”

So she obviously didn’t want me to stay for long…and Adam didn’t know I was here…so I could still leave by todays coach for Sacremento…I took a deep breath and smiled at her with as much charm and sincerity as I could muster “I’d love to …” (said between gritted teeth)

Chapter 10

Once in the little room I beat the dust out of my clothes and tried to straighten myself into some semblance of order. That lady could certainly talk but she had no more idea on how to drive a vehicle than – than an infant! If the horses had not been so keen to get their noses into their feed bags I should imagine we would still be rambling down some track or tumbled into some canyon.

I leaned against the window cill to catch my breath and to try and recollect my senses which were scattered to the four winds now. What had she talked about? How kind Adam was, how gallant, how hard working and patient, what a wonderful father he will be to Peggy who doted on him. Yet she had said nothing about her husband. She had talked about her aunt who had been the match maker, realising that she, Laura, needed to be loved and protected by a strong man, and when Adam came to offer his help with getting things organised with the ranch, he seemed the ideal man.

Peggy had sat in the back with the sacks of groceries watching us both with her little narrowed eyes and I wondered what she was thinking about as she listened to her mother talking. Occasionally Mrs Dayton threw me a question which meant I had to keep alert in case I missed an opportunity to say something. The questions were always about Adam..when had I met him, where had I met him, what did I think of him! Most of the questions she surely already knew the answers to, as she had already said Adam and the other Cartwrights had discussed me the previous evening.

She sent Peggy up to tell me coffee was ready and to hurry because she had to prepare lunch for the boys. I wondered momentarily how many boys she had, then realised she meant Adam and his brothers. The thought made my stomach quiver mainly because I had lain awake at nights planning our first meeting and how I would approach him and what we would say….now it was all out of my hands and I was in a situation I had never envisaged, which shows how stupid a person could be!

Peggy had disappeared by the time I found the kitchen. Mrs Dayton turned and smiled at me and indicated the chairs and table whilst she turned her attention to baking cookies and biscuits. I watched her for a moment or two and then looked around the room and admitted it was pretty enough. Then she came and put down the coffee cups and sat opposite me and looked at me as though I was a prize mare…..I just felt like a prize fool!

“Jane…you don’t mind me calling you Jane, do you?”

“Well, actually…”

“It’s just that Adam always refers to you as Jane….when he gave Peggy her pony he said ‘You ride your pony just like Jane used to…’ Really, I should be quite jealous of you!” she pinned me to the chair with a bolt of lightning from the blue eyes and the small mouth seemed to button up tight before she smiled again.

“I don’t think…”

“When my husband died…”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise …was it very long ago?”

“No, not really. That’s why we don’t intend to marry just yet awhile…although my husband …” she paused and looked down at the cup and stared hard as though trying to get her thoughts into order “He wasn’t a good husband by any means, but one has to observe the proper way of doing things. I was married when I was very young…very young…it was such a stupid thing to do, but I thought I loved him….you know how it is…but then …may be not after all…”

“I do understand, Mrs Dayton, I understand only too well, I was married too – once…”

She stared at me and I could see the colour mantle her cheeks and her eyes went round and I could hear in my head the tick tick of her brain as she weighed up the information I had just given to her….it was a strange and stupid thing but in the short time that I had known her, even had she not been involved with Adam, I knew I could never have liked her, that behind that prattling busy little person was a very manipulative lady. Whether she loved Adam or not, I was in no position to know or say, but I asked myself constantly how could he possibly love her?

“Oh then, you’d understand…how hard it is at times. He never loved me, of course, made a fool of me, humiliated me, and then when he got killed…”

“Killed?”

“He got drunk and fell off his horse, cracked his head right open. Died rightaway the doctor said. Of course, that left me with all this and debts too…everything such a mess and I jest had no one to turn to, and then Adam came and offered to help and it all seemed so right somehow…getting married to him…”

She talked on and on, I don’t rightly know even to this day what she was saying, but I sat there and listened, even when she got up and started cooking the lunch she talked. Never once did she ask me about my husband, whether he was alive or dead, whether we had loved one another ….she was one of those women who, if you broke your arm would spend an hour telling you how much it hurt when she got a splinter in her finger!

“…..here they come!” she said and her face flushed a pretty pink, and she straightened her hair and glanced over at the table to make sure everything had been set out right.

I listened to the sound of horses approaching, they sounded like the echo of my heart beats. Voices called out greetings to Peggy and I heard Adam say “How’s my special girl?” and she squealed his name as the door opened and they entered the room.

“Adam” she said quietly and smiled at him, and received an answering smile from him, Peggy was in his arms doing a fair imitation of a limpet on a rock, Joe and Hoss came in right behind their brother and behind them came Ben Cartwright. “Adam…guess what – I mean – who’s here?”

He looked at her with his eyes slightly narrowed and a small smile played about his mouth before he turned to look around the room and then he was looking at me

“Jane Halcrow?” and he smiled, put Peggy down and walked towards me with his hand outstretched and his eyes showing sincere pleasure at finding me there in his fiancee’s kitchen.

“It’s not Jane Halcrow” she laughed ‘sweetly’ “It’s Mrs…something or other…isn’t it?” and she looked over at me with her blue eyes twinkling with triumph.

“Jane Duncan” I replied, looking only at him and feeling my stomach drop to my feet and then leap up into my throat, the dark eyes were looking too intently into mine, and I felt that odd swimming floating into them happen again and hurridly turned away to smile, and it must have been a rather strange smile, at Joe and Hoss and Mr Cartwright.

“Oh..and is your husband here too?” he asked, his hand, warm and firm, taking hold of mine and shaking it for just the right amount of time before he released it again.

I just knew that to look at him again would be the worse and most awkward thing to do, so I simply addressed myself to his shirt buttons

“No, he isn’t, he died six months ago….”

There was a murmer of sympathy from them all, it coughed itself into an uncomfortable silence and so, addressing the shirt buttons again I continued…

“We knew he was dying when we were married so – we were prepared and he died happy, very happy” my voice wobbled and then trailed away, whatever else, thank God, Andrew HAD been so happy when he died.

I felt a gentle firm hand grip my elbow and turned and confronted Ben Cartwrights dark comforting eyes…it was strange, I had the most overpowering urge to just put my arms around him and sob my heart out. Everything was just so upside down and wrong side about…and out of my ability to handle it all of a sudden.

“Hey” Hoss exclaimed pulling out a chair “Something sure smells good…bin cooking, huh, Laura?”

She smiled and with a trill of a laugh turned and began to usher them into seats and then get the coffee organised and I, after a thank you smile at Ben, turned to the stove and began to help her…anything other than have to look at those politely kindly sympathetic faces.

“So, Jane ..” Ben’s voice wrapped around the room like deep rich brown velvet “I’d just like to say how glad we are to have you here with us, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of you than last time…”

They all chuckled and I turned to him with a smile, recalling how hurridly I had bolted away from them when they had come to Princeton for Adams graduation

“I’m sorry, that was rude of me…but I’d had bad news and what with one thing and another…” I allowed my voice to trail away and buried my face into the steam from the pots on the stove.

“Did you go to Switzerland for your music training?” Adam asked, and I sneaked a peek at him and saw him smiling affectionately at Laura who was handing him a plate of the stew.

“Yes, I did….”

“How’d you get on?”

“Three years hard work and I got a place in the string section of the Viennese orchestra and then six months later ….” I ladled stew into a plate and carried it over to Hoss who greeted me or the stew with a huge grin “I was in a traffic accident which broke my wrist so I didn’t qualify anymore. I became a tutor at a college in Lucerne for a while….” I thumped a plate down in front of Joe, who gave a smothered snort – whether of derision or mirth I couldn’t say.

“So when did you meet your husband?” Adam asked, his voice sounding a trifle strained so I glanced quickly over at him and met the full force of the brown eyes once again. I lowered my eyes and promptly told the top shirt button

“I met him in Lucerne, his children were students there…he came to a concert the college was performing and that’s where we met.”

“He was older than you then?”

“Yes, fifteen years older” I informed the third button down

“Hey, did we come here to eat or to talk?” Hoss demanded, relieving me once again from what was becoming a rather difficult situation for me. So we all gathered around Laura’s little table, Peggy sitting almost on Adams lap and my knee rather embarressingly pressed up against Mr Cartwrights…it was a small table for long legged folk!

Everyone ate well, and there was little doubt about the fact that they were hungry men, who had been working hard. They smelt as though they had been labouring, of perspiration and dirt, and their hands looked work worn and their nails split and torn. I hazarded a swift look up at Adam while he was talking to Peggy and compared him to the mental picture I had carried of him in my mind for so long.

How can one compare a man with a boy? A handsome boy becomes, presumeably, a handsome man, more rugged, stronger, more masculine. He was bigger built, with a thicker neck and broader back. His eyes looked wearier, and I noticed he had a scar on his upper lip that had not been there when I had last seen him. I glanced down at my plate quickly when he turned towards me

“So – you’ve no children of your own, Jane?”

“No” I glanced over at Hoss “More bread, Hoss?”

“Yeah, don’t mind if’n I do….but I’ll have to eat and run, we’re gitting behind schedule”

“S’right, if we don’t get a move on, we’re going to have problems finishing this job in time to start Laura’s fencing tomorrow morning.” Little Joe murmered, stuffing a wedge of bread into his mouth that would not have disgraced his older brother.

Adam nodded and put Peggy to one side and began to stand up, he looked over at Laura who was smiling fixedly at her daughter

“You did remember to tell Hanson to bring the wire over to the Creek road, didn’t you?” he was standing up now and picking up his gloves “Laura?”

“I – I guess I forgot” she replied very quietly and glanced anxiously at him, almost timidly, as though afraid of him “I was so excited about getting Jane here, that it clean went out of my mind!”

Adam said nothing, but he looked at her rather thoughtfully and then frowned slightly, it was Joe, scratching his head and frowning that spoke up

“Shucks, we need to have that wire there, and Hanson only carries a limited supply. We can’t afford to take time out today to ride into town to ask him to bring it along….”

“Can’t afford to delay tomorrow either….Old Man Trafford said he’d be bringing his cattle through on Saturday, and it’ll take all of the three days to finish that section of fencing…” Ben said quietly, picking up his hat

“Well, does it matter if it’s a day later? I can’t go into town again today, I’ve the Parsons wife calling in for tea…..” Laura stuttered, her face reddening.

“Every hour counts if you want that piece of land fenced in….” Adam said, a trifle harder than I had expected and I glanced at Laura who seemed close to tears “It’s important, Laura,” he said, his voice softening a little “Your husband may not have thought so, but if you want an efficiently running ranch then these things have to be dealt with properly. If we lose time and don’t get that fencing done…”

“…I know, Mr Traffords cows will come and eat up all the grass and there’ll be no winter feed for our animals” she sighed, twisting a napkin in between her fingers.

“He gave you notice so that the fencing can be done…” Adam continued, seemingly oblivious to his future wife’s growing distress

“I know that….and you said that you’d be able to get it done in time” her voice raised just a pitch and Joe glanced over at Hoss, who clapped his hat on his head, and both did a really good disappearing act out of the house. I looked over at Ben who put a hand on his sons arm

“Perhaps if one of us rode into town now…” he murmered

“That’ll leave us a man short to finish our own section of fencing….” Adams lips thinned.

“I’ll go.” I heard myself say and immediately became the focas of four pairs of eyes, I swallowed hard “Just write a note to Mr Hanson and I’ll get it to him…”

“I don’t want the horses used again today, they’re tired enough as it is…”Laura protested.

“If there’s a horse I can borrow….I can ride, I had a good teacher “ and I actually mustered a smile, directed at Ben …

“Can I come with you?” Peggy asked, tugging at my sleeve

“It would help a lot if you could, Jane” Adam said, leaning on the table and scribbling something down on a piece of paper which he passed to me “Tell him to deliver it as soon as he can!”

“Adam…” she caught his arm and together they left the house, the murmer of their voices could be heard through the door and Ben smiled at me

“Thanks for doing that, Jane….er …look, how about you coming over to the Ponderosa Saturday evening? Laura and Peggy usually come, don’t you, young lady?” he smiled down at Peggy who nodded and smiled and then looked over at me

“Can I come with you into town?”

“I don’t think so…if you have had time from school it’s hardly right for you to be taking jaunts into town…” I smiled and excused myself from the room, and hurried up the stairs to the little room allocated to me.

I flopped onto the chair and felt drained with emotional exhaustion. Oh what a mistake to have come here, I thought to myself, I should never, never have come….but then a stubborn little voice at the back of my head said “Whyever not?”

I glanced out of the window and looked down and watched as they mounted their horses and galloped off, Laura was waving good bye, a fixed smile on her lips. I shook my head, and took a deep breath, one thing was for sure, Adam could not love her. But I knew now how she had hooked him….

She looked me up and down thoughtfully when I re-emerged, and then smiled, rather primly

“Goodness, I’d hardly have recognised you” she remarked

“I could hardly ride a horse into town dressed in my frock…” I replied, looking over at Peggy who was sulking in a chair

“You can ride the brown filly, her name’s Maggie”

“Thank you…I shan’t be too long!” I looked over at Peggy and attempted to get a smile from her, but she just turned her head away, scowling.

“It’s just too bad of Adam” she mused, as though to herself, but knowing full well that I was there “He just doesn’t understand what it’s like for me….my husband never cared that much about the ranch, he was a – a waster – , and as he never cared for it, so he never showed me what to do about the place…..all he wanted was a little woman to come home to, who mends his clothes and cooks his meals…not someone who’ll go around ordering barbed wire and remembering to scythe in the grass in time for winter feed…..Adam just expects too much at times, he doesn’t realise…” and she promptly burst into tears and buried her face into the smallest square of handkerchief I’d ever seen “I do try, and I’ve tried so hard over these past months, but I can’t always seem to remember everything he tells me to do….and when I do, it never seems to be right, anyway…..”

It was odd. No matter how much she irritated me, at that moment of time, I really did feel very, very sorry for her. She was trying, and if her husband was harsh to her, it would take time to realise that Adam never would be like that, even if he did come over stern at times, it was never to cause her distress….not intentionally. I put my arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug, and she continued to weep for a while and then, blinking, looked at me with bleary blue eyes

“I’m sorry, Jane….please forgive me…it’s silly to carry on like this, but my husband….and …sometimes I forget that Adam wouldn’t be like that….only …only I am trying,believe me….”

I nodded, and sighed too. Peggy gave a strangled snort and disappeared out of the door which was slammed vehemently behind her. Laura sighed and shook her head

“Peggy adores Adam, she always sees things from his point of view, of course.” She dried her face and smiled at me “Sorry!”

“That’s alright, I do understand.” I turned to go, and glanced over at her and sighed again, yes, indeed, I knew exactly the hook she had used to snare Adam. I had just seen its effectiveness on me! Thankfully, being a woman, and in this case, a jealous one, I still didn’t like her.

Chapter 11

The following day Laura, Peggy and I bundled ourselves into the wagon with enough food and drink to feed a battalion (well, a small one) and drove to the boundary line where the Cartwrights were working on putting in the fencing. It was hot enough to fry eggs on rocks.

The relief on all their faces at seeing the wagon and anticipating food, was almost funny. Down went the tools and over they came, wiping their hands and faces and necks on their neckerchiefs and then throwing themselves down onto the long grass for relief.

“Oh boy….I feel like a barbequed piece of steak!” Joe groaned

Ben looked so tired that I wondered exactly how a man of his age could possibly consider working alongside his sons as he did, how much better it would have been for him to act in a supervisory position and I wondered why his sons had not suggested that to him. He greeted Laura with an affectionate peck on the cheek, he ruffled Peggy’s hair much as I could imagine him ruffling his boys in times past, and he smiled at me and winked before settling down on the grass and gratefully taking the glass of cool lemonade from Peggy.

“Don’t drink it too fast” she said sternly

“No, ma’am, I won’t!” and rolled his dark eyes as though she terrified him, and this made her squeal with delight

Adam sat beside Laura, opposite me and some distance away, whilst Hoss came and plumped himself down by my side. For some time we ate in silence and washed everything down with cool lemonade…Laura certainly did excel in the cooking department that’s for sure.

I looked over at the work they had been doing and noticed the holes that had been dug out and those that had already got posts set into them. Wire had already been fixed quite some distance and glinted evilly in the sun.

“Barbed wire doesn’t look very pretty, does it?” Adam remarked

“No,. but it serves its purpose” I replied without looking up at him.

Joe glanced up at the sun and then yawned and stretched and stood up also, whilst Hoss dipped into the basket to rummage around for the last doughnut.

“Time to get on…” Joe muttered

Ben sighed and looked thoughtfully at his half empty glass and shook his head

“Seems this half hour break only lasted five minutes” he groaned, and clambered stiffly to his feet.

Laura began to clear the things away, flapping the tablecloth and looking busy and efficient. I stood up and walked over to Ben and smiled up at him

“Could I help, Mr Cartwright? I’m strong, you know, and can dig a good hole when I need to….”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Laura freeze, as though I had uttered an unmentionable word, then she glanced over at Adam and scowled, her small mouth puckering in protest.

“Can I too..?” Peggy immediately demanded.

“You have things to do at home” Laura said immediately “Jane, didn’t you want to write some letters?”

I could feel the heat rising under my collar and turned to look at her and shook my head

“I can write letters anytime, besides I don’t know how much longer I will be here so they may not be necessary anyway.” I looked at Ben Cartwright again “I won’t get in the way, honestly!”

“A willing volunteer is better than ten pressed men!” Adam muttered as he walked past us and returned to the fence posts that were stacked ready for use.

Ben smiled and offered me his arm, as though we were about to take the boards and dance. Laura called out

“I’m leaving now…Jane, you’ll have to come, how will you get back?”

“I’ll walk!” I replied with total confidence in my ability to do so after digging holes in the scorching heat.

“We’ll get her back…” Adam said and I looked over at him but he had not even turned to look over at us but was already dropping a post into position for Hoss to whack into the ground.

…………

I worked as hard as I could alongside them, or, to be more exact, alongside Ben. He and I soon got into a good rythmn and although it was too hot and too dusty and too much like hard work to talk, it was companionable.

Joe was the first to abandon his shirt which flew in the air and got stuck on the top of a pole, so that it hung limply like a long abandoned flag. Hoss suddenly gave a whoop and his shirt shot past us, rolled up into a ball and tossed with significant force…Ben smiled and winked at me, but thankfully kept his shirt on his back, as did Adam who left his unbuttoned and flapping open .

I had dressed that day in a clean white blouson shirt and loosely tailored pants, and wore my hair in a single braid down my back. By the time they called for a coffee break Joe and Hoss were gleaming with perspiration streaked with dust and dirt, and the three of us were finding our shirts sticking to our bodies…my hair was a damp straggly mess.

“Jane, you’ve done a good job…we’ve done far more than we expected today.” Ben raised a water canteen to his lips and gulped some down, then poured some over his face. He then passed it over to me.

“Have you done this before?” Joe asked, waving his cup in the direction of the posts Ben and I had managed to get set in over the past few hours

“Yes, at Andrews ranch…”

“Andrew? Your husband?” Adam glanced over at me, with an eyebrow raised.

“Yes…” I raised the water canteen to my mouth and took several long cool gulps. It tasted delicious.

“Well, seeing we’re ahead of ourselves, how about I take Jane home…?” Adam glanced at the three others, daring them to say anything to the contrary and he took my elbow and turned me in the direction of the wagon

“I can do some more…” I protested

“No,I think you’ve done quite enough….and Laura would want you to freshen up before she has her guests come for tea…”

“That was yesterday” I pulled my arm free

“Laura always has someone coming for tea…” he murmered and looked down at me with a slightly sardonic look on his face and his dark eyes seriously very dark!

I looked down at myself and sighed and nodded, I looked a mess, and quite honestly, what had been the point of it all anyway? That I wanted to be spared Laura’s company, yes…that I thought I could be helpful for Ben who looked so tired, yes again….that I was as good as them (well, not as good as Hoss) at digging holes and putting in fence posts, certainly yes, but now I just looked a mess and whatever time we had gained I was about to be the cause of them losing it.

“Don’t let me hold up your work, Adam…it’ll be a shame to lose what advantage in time you reckon we’ve gained!”

“Do you want to walk?” he put his hands on his hips and looked down at me and smiled, his white teeth very white against the tan and the dark smudges of dust and dirt on his face.

“I could…it’s only a few miles…” I said, addressing the empty space just above his shoulder.

He shook his head and narrowed his eyes and again grabbed my elbow and propelled me to the wagon, I could hear Joe and Hoss chortling and felt the colour rush to my face as I tried to free my arm from his grip.

He lifted me up onto the wagon seat and was beside me before I could clamber back down. We drove some few minutes in total silence, both of us staring ahead of us, and the reins loose in Adams hands. I allowed myself a lingering look at his hands and thought how strong and attractive they still were, despite the cuts and grazes that had resulted from the work we had been undergoing. I took a quick look at my own hands and frowned at the sight of the blisters running across the palm of my hands. I folded them neatly into my lap and tried to think of something to break the silence.

“Jane?”

“Yes, Mr Cartwright?”

A pause and a sigh and he looked at me thoughtfully before turning his attention back to the road

“Do you think you could talk to me during this ride…I mean…not to my shirt buttons or the air over my shoulder? “ he glanced over at me then and his eyes were twinkling at me and I smiled and nodded. “Tell me about your husband, Jane….was he a good man to you?”

“Yes, he was a very good friend. He loved me very much and ..” my voice trailed away and I looked down at my hands.

“You say he was older than you?”

“Andrew was fifteen years older than me and had a son and two daughters. He wanted to marry me soon after we met…..but I refused him…”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t love him”

“So you grew to love him, is that it?”

I could see the pucker between his eyebrows as he concentrated on what I was saying, and when I didn’t reply immediately he looked at me again with a frown

“You didn’t love him?”

“No.”

“But you married him?” his lips thinned slightly and his fingers tightened on the reins.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Andrew was dying, he had a very short time to live and he wanted, begged me to marry him. He had loved me constantly for two years, he’d been kind, patient, an intelligent companion who loved art, music, poetry, and he wanted to protect me, give me some security. He wanted to die knowing that I would have some measure of that….”

“And so – you married him out of pity?” he looked at me, a strange look of reproach and sadness.

“No, if you had known Andrew you would know that it was impossible to pity him. I never pitied him, he was far too alive a personality for that…he deserved to be loved, but he knew I never would love him, but I thought of him as my best friend and we had a very happy few months together. He’d bought a ranch in Oregon some years back, and decided to go there, to build it up so that his son would have something to inherit when he died. So for the last months of his life we worked on that ranch….dug holes, and sunk fence posts – that kind of thing”

“Didn’t he mind your not loving him?”

“He said he would love me enough for the two of us….he knew …well, he knew that had he been healthy I would never have married him.”

“And if he had made a complete recovery?” he smiled thinly

“I’d have had the marriage annulled…..” I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked at him, trying to find some kind of condemnation in his brown eyes as he looked at me “We had a kind of marriage, a meeting of minds…that was all…it was a marriage in name only in all other respects.” Again I looked down at my hands, the blisters were beginning to feel sore “I would never, never recommend anyone marrying someone if they did not truly love them. It’s wrong and contemptible…”

“But you can if they’re about to die, huh? That makes it alright, does it?”

“Andrew and I were always totally honest with one another, Mr Cartwright. When he was dying I cared for his needs with all the care a wife would give him, should give him….I was not completely devoid of affection for him. Looking back now, I owe him so much – the love he gave me, the way he was – that in some ways I did love him.”

“And he was happy with that?”

“Yes, he was very happy with that…” I looked at him again, rather angrily, feeling hot in the face “We had a wonderfully happy few months together, we laughed and enjoyed life and when he was dying, in my arms, he thanked me for marrying him and making him so happy, and I thanked him…for loving me.” I felt the tears pricking against my eyes and closed them quickly and turned away.

He drove on a little more in silence, and then nodded as though happy with the conclusion of whatever he had thought upon the subject. I looked over at him and decided it was time to change the subject

“You never became an architect then?”

“No….I’ve designed some buildings for Virginia City and some other towns…but I never got to stay East and sit my life away in an office….” He smiled slowly at the thought and his eyes crinkled

“I always thought tht if you didn’t become an architect you would go to sea, like your grandfather?”

“Oh, you remember all that nonsense I talked about, huh?”

“I didn’t think it was nonsense, nor did you, then –“

“Well, things happen to make a man change his mind.” He drew the horses to a stop and looked in the direction of a half made house and then looked at me “What do you think of it?”

“Whose is it?”

“It’s the house I’m building for Laura and me….once it’s finished we’ll be married “ his voice trailed away and his neck reddened a little “Do you like it?”

“It looks like it’ll it a grand house when it’s finished.” I said very quietly

He smiled thinly, and then with a sigh turned the horses round and rode down into the track leading to Laura’s present house. I sat awhile thinking and wondering why he had shown me the house he was building and heard myself say

“Why are you building a house here? Laura isn’t interested in ranching…”

“Did she say so?”

“No, but I thought it was obvious….she has no interest in staying put here at all…”

“Her husband tried his best with this place, it’s Peggy’s inheritance!”

I opened my mouth to say more, but closed it tightly. There was little point in saying more. I could tell from the set of his jaw and the way he had narrowed his eyes that he wanted the subject dropped. Suddenly he took my hands in one of his own and pulled back the fingers and looked down at the blisters and frowned

“No more fencing for you!” he said sternly

“I can wear gloves. My hands have gone soft, that’s all…”

“You always have to argue, don’t you, Jane?” he smiled then, and looked so much like the Adam I had known in the past, the Adam I had loved for so many years now, that I could have thrown my arms about him and kissed him.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to…but I would like to do something, it would be a little thank you to Mrs Dayton for having me stay!”

“I’m sure Laura’s been more than pleased to have you stay!” he replied slowly, and he sighed and then smiled “Do you like it here, Jane?”

“It’s very beautiful…what I’ve seen of it.” I replied honestly

“Not too savage, or primitive…?”

“No more so than Oregon.”

He said no more but glanced ahead of him, and we saw Laura standing at the door way,
her face pensive and anxious. It was then that he realised he was still holding my hands.

Chapter 13

The atmosphere in the Daytons house dropped to freezing. Almost by token agreement even Peggy refused to have eye contact with me and avoided talking unless absolutely necessary. Eventually Laura sent her into the garden to play with her scrap of a doll. I felt apprehension well up within me and, never being very good at confrontations, I excused myself and tried to gain sanctuary within the guest room.

“Jane, I think we need to talk!”

I turned and faced her as she stood at the foot of the stairs, her hands folded in the lap of her skirts, and her head held high on the slender stalk of her neck. Her blue eyes looked like ice and inwardly I shivered, although I forced a smile onto my lips and turned and followed her in to her neat little parlour.

“Do sit down!” she pointed to a chair as though I were some rebellious child at school and she were the teacher in charge, however, I did as bidden and took my place without demur. She took a deep breath “What are your feelings for Adam?”

I swallowed the rush of emotions that came to my throat and looked at her steadily, as steadily as I could, whilst I could feel the colour rushing to my face. I think even were I a six foot man I would blanch or blush beneath the steel of that blue gaze…I took a deep breath and looked at her and tried to see, to read, some other emotion other than indignation in her face.

“Laura, there’s no need for you to worry about my feelings for Adam, after all, you’re the one getting married to him”

“You mean, you do love him then?” she said this with a slight gulp, as though she had hoped for some other answer, and her eyes flickered, as though suddenly she could not maintain the steel within them

“Laura, how I feel about your fiance is really nothing for you to be concerned about….it’s really how your fiance feels about you…isn’t it?” I tried to speak as gently and as kindly as I could, although I know my voice sounded a trifle harsher than usual, mainly because I wanted to shake her hard and gt her to tell ME exactly how SHE felt about him!

“Adam loves me. He’s an honourable man and doesn’t give away his feelings lightly….to tell me he loves me…is sufficient for me to know that he would not feel any other way for you, other as a friend…an old friend from the past…” she paused “a friend who is not going to be staying here very long!”

I nodded. Well, there was nothing to keep me here, and I would have had to have been blind and deaf not to realise that I was no longer welcome. I stood up and she looked me up and down, as though she had just finished interviewing me for the position of governess to her daughter and was convincing herself that she had made the right decision…that I was, indeed, found to be wanting!

“Laura,may I now ask you a question?” I stood up as proudly as I could, with my chin up and my eyes on her face and I saw the little blush touching her cheeks and wondered if she anticipated my question “Laura, do you love Adam?”

“I wouldn’t be engaged to marry him if I did not!”

“That’s no kind of answer….”

“It’s the only answer you’ll get.” She replied, and she compressed her lips tightly and turned her head. “Now,if you’ll excuse me I have to go out. You ought to clean up….” She looked at me again, and shook her head as though she found the sight too distasteful for words “You’ve ruined that blouse….what were you thinking of….what lady …”

“Laura, this is a new world out here, ladies have to do things that ladies do not normally have to do….if they want to hold onto their self respect and the respect of their men. Besides, Mr Cartwright was tired…. “

“You talk like Adam….” She lowered her eyes and turned away “I’ll see you when I get back.”

“You don’t mind my staying another evening?” I was surprised, having expected her to tell me to leave before her return, and then I realised,as she stood there, dithering, hesitating, wondering what to say, that she had no reason to offer Adam for my leaving tonight, and it would not have met with his approval were I to go so soon.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back…Adam and I have things to do….”

She passed me quickly, twitching at her skirts so that they would not touch my soiled clothes. I heard her calling Peggy and eventually they were driving out of the yard and I was on my own.

I boiled water, poured it into the metal tub and bathed. It was good to feel clean, and the blisters did not look so bad once I had removed the layer of dirt. I cleaned the wash house once I had dressed and braided my hair, leaving it to hang down my back. Then I returned to her kitchen and began to prepare coffee and something simple to eat.

I was so deep in thought that when I heard the light tapping on the door I was close to dropping the cup and plate onto the floor, but when Ben Cartwright stepped inito the room, sweeping off his hat and smiling at me, I could have laughed out loud with relief.

“Are you alright?” his black eyes looked into mine, and I could see the kindness in them. He may have been a hard man, exacting in his requirements, strict with his sons, but towards women and children he was as soft as putty. A woman could sense that so easily, no matter how arrogant or ruthless he could look at times, nor how gruff his voice could bark orders….”You look as though you had seen a ghost?” he came nearer to me, and placed a gentle hand on my arm, then took the cup and plate from me and set them down on the table.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone to come!” I explained, “I got lost in my thoughts, and when you knocked it made me jump”

“They must have been very involved thoughts, I’ve been knocking on your door for about five minutes….”

“I’m so sorry….you must have thought me very rude” I turned away from him, knowing that if I had to look into that gentle face again I would cry. He had the same manner about him as Andrew, and that disturbed me.

“If you’re making coffee, I would like to join you…if I may?”

“Of course.” I brought another mug down from the shelf and began to pour out the coffee and set it down upon the table, then pulled up a chair and sat down.

“So? How are you getting on with Laura?” he glanced at me over the rim of the mug and I lowered my eyes

“Well, as it happens, not too well. I shall have to move back into town in the morning.”

“She can be a little – er – cool! Probably feeling a trifle defensive, seeing how much Adam thinks about you….”

“Does he?” I glanced at him quickly, and then felt the colour flushing up into my cheeks again.

“My dear, why did you come here? Was there any particular reason?”

I couldn’t reply immediately. The reply had to be thought out carefully, I needed time to think and sort out my feelings, and to speak about them to this man, made me feel very vulnerable. I took a deep breath and stared hard at the coffee pot.

“So you were married? Were you happy, Jane?”

“As happy as anyone could be in the circumstances.” I replied honestly, picking up my cup and drinking the hot beveridge.

“What circumstances were they?” he asked quietly

“Well, Andrew was a lot older than me…..”

“That’s right, I remember you saying something of the sort, and he was ill?”

“Yes, he had a very short time to live. We both knew that…..when we married.”

“It takes a special person to marry under circumstances like that…”

I looked at him and frowned, and thought of Andrew…

“He was special, Mr Cartwright, I was not….”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he was a very passionate man, he loved life, art, music, and his children…he was generous and kind, and he loved me despite…”

“Despite?”

“I did not love Andrew. I mean, I did love him in some ways, but I could not love him as a wife should love a husband. He knew that from the first time he asked me to marry him.”

“He was persistent then?”

“Yes, over the course of a year he proposed six times!” I smiled at the memory, dear sweet kind Andrew “He had the same reply every time. I offered to be his housekeeper, when we knew that his illness was so serious, but he wanted to marry me, to keep me safe, he said, from predatory men!”

“I can understand that…..I would have done the same….”

“Would you?” I looked at him thoughtfully, wondering why he had said such a thing. He smiled then and placed a gentle hand on mine, much as his son had done not so long before…

“Jane, some men love…despite anything, everything, they love in the fullest sense of the word. He must have loved you very much…”

“Yes,he did.” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and fumbled for a handkerchief, “He told me that he wanted to give me security for when he was gone…but I told him he had his children to think of first, and that…as I would never be a real wife to him…”

“I’m sure you were everything he needed you to be ….”

I felt the tears fall, and trickle down my cheeks faster than I could dab them away…I remembered the separate rooms, his polite knock on the door evenings and mornings when he came to bid me goodnight, and good morning. I took a deep breath and forced myself to stop the tears, whilst Mr Cartwright stared politely at the table and drank his coffee.

“We had a very good friendship, Mr Cartwright. I think he knew that I respected him, and cared about him, very, very much!”

“Yes, I know…”

“Do you think I was dishonest? Was I wrong in marrying him?”

“He was happy, wasn’t he?”

I smiled slowly, remembering the laughter that had been in our marriage, the theatre trips, the restaurants, the parties…then there were the times in Oregon, when we worked together, played like children as we worked, yes, it was a wonderfully, happy time…and he had died in my arms, smiling, happy, his eyes on my face…and he saw my tears….

“So, Jane, why are you here?” he said quietly, placing his cup gently in the saucer

“Andrew told me to come.” I replied simply, honestly “One evening we were sitting together before the fire, it was a cold night, and he was dying, and he took my hand in his and we just sat together staring into the flames…”

“And he said to come here?”

“He thanked me for marrying him. He said that he realised that had he not been so ill, I would not have considered marrying him although he knew also that I had not agreed to his proposal out of pity….” I looked at Mr Cartwright and searched the expression in his eyes “I did not pity him, really, I did not…”

“I don’t think he would have married you had he thought for a moment that that was the feeling you had for him……..”

I closed my eyes for a second, and felt a weight lift from my shoulders. The fact that he understood meant so much to me….

“We talked a little then, about his first wife…she had died from consumption some years earlier. He had loved her passionately, which made it all the more remarkable that he could claim to love me as well…..”

“Believe me, it is possible, I have loved – and lost – three women whom I have loved, still love, very much!”

“You do understand, don’t you?” I smiled and he smiled back and nodded. “Then he asked me to tell him about the man I loved…so I told him and he said that when he died, I should go and find …find him…this man I loved…”

“And so?”

“He said I needed to see him again, to lay the ghost and get on with living, as he put it. I said, after all these years he could be married with a family…..”

“And what did he say?”

“He said then if that were the case I could get on with my own life, but if the man were single, was not involved ….perhaps I could be happy in finding him, perhaps he would love me…”

“Do you think he would have done?”

“Who?”

“This man you were looking for, do you think he would have loved you, had he been single?”

I stared at him for a moment, and then turned away, and stood up from the table and picked up the cups and saucers

“I’m sorry, Mr Cartwright, I should have offered you some cake or something to have with your coffee….” I mumbled

“Jane….sit down, dear…” he reached out and touched my hand, and I sat down and looked at him and he looked at me and then he smiled very gently “Jane, you love Adam, don’t you?”

“Yes. I’ve loved him since I first saw him….when I was very small, very alone… I looked up and he was there, and I felt myself drowning in his eyes….I knew then that he was someone I would always love…my heart was filled with my love for him…”

“And you still feel that same way?”

“It would be much easier, Mr Cartwright, if I did not!”

“Do you think Laura loves him at all?”

I paused a while and looked at him, saw the concern in his eyes that must have been for his son, and I shook my head

“No, I don’t think she loves him….perhaps she feels for him as I felt for Andrew, so I have no right to comment, not really…..” I bit my bottom lip and frowned, thinking that perhaps my answer was not very satisfactory “If she makes him happy…..”

“Adam is not a man who is soon to die…and he is a man who will need a great depth of love….reassurance…compassion….”

“Mr Cartwright, Adam has promised to marry Laura, and he has told her he loves her….it is none of my business to comment any further ….really….”

“And so – you’re leaving..?”

“Yes, that’s what Andrew suggested, that I find Adam again, and then get on with my life….and that’s what I’ll try to do….although I shall always love him, always!”

He said nothing for a while, then he sighed heavily and looked at me as though I were a child in need of protection, which corresponded very much with how I felt, so I gulped a bit and I think my chin began to wobble as I fought the tears. He sighed again before leaning towards me and asking the question I was dreading

“My dear, why did you leave it so long to come back and find him?”

“Oh Mr Cartwright…you don’t know how much I wish I had done so…you just don’t know how much…” I struggled to keep composed, after all, I had always thought a woman in tears looked so unattractive and I’m sure men only conceded points to them because they found it so embarressing….I had always told myself to act in any situation with logic and a sense of my own worth. The problem was that this situation called my own worth very much into question “I – I went to Switzerland to be educated at my uncle and aunts expense. I never heard from Adam, and the few letters I sent to him always returned unopened.”

“He never received letters from you, nor from anyone in Switzerland…but..” he smiled wryly “we did not have the mail delivery of the Swiss here I’m afraid!”

“I lack confidence in myself, I am not brave nor adventuresome….and I had somehow convinced myself that had he ever thought of me, as I did of him, he would come and find me…just like Sir Galahad had sought the holy grail…” I sighed and shook my head “Of course, I know I was just trying to avoid facing the truth, that he did not, could not, love me. I didn’t want to come here and face it! Now I have….”

“It isn’t too late, Jane. Why not tell him how you feel….”

“I could not do that, Mr Cartwright. He would not respect me for doing that, not now. He loves Laura and Peggy, and he wants to marry Laura…it would be wrong to say anything now!”

He looked at me intensely for a while and then stood up and took hold of my hands and looked into my eyes and kissed my brow

“My dear, I would have been more than happy to have had you as my daughter…” he said very quietly and seeing the tears trickling down my cheeks he gently brushed them aside with his finger “God bless you, child” he whispered and then he left, very quietly, closing the door gently behind him.

I cried then. I cried so much that it left me weak and my throat ached and burned from the effort.

Chapter 14

I was still on my own, thinking over my conversation with Mr Cartwright when I heard the sound of horses galloping into the yard and upon opening the door, saw Hoss and Joe about to dismount. My first reaction was to close the door and run upstairs and hide. The horror of having to face them with my puffy face and swollen eyes!

“Hey, Jane…” Joe laughed as he raised his hand in salute and almost ran towards the house. It was impossible not to smile when Joe was like this, laughing and his eyes twinkling. He did not seem to notice the state of my face but grabbed me by the waist and twirled me round and round, so that I had to laughingly push him away to make him set me back down on my feet again “Works over for the day, there’s still a coupla hours before sunset, and its doggone hot…how about coming with us and playing hookey for a spell?”

“I got some grub….” Hoss held up a sack, heavily laden I could see…”C’mon, Jane, climb up behind Joe and let’s go have fun!”

Have fun?

I was about to protest, plead a headache, beg time out to be alone to do some packing…but Joe grabbed my hand and was soon hauling me towards his horse and then he grinned and looked me up and down and without a word lifted me up and into the saddle before mounting up himself behind me.

If this was being kidnapped it was done very pleasantly and with many guffaws and giggles (from me, I hasten to add) and chortles we were soon riding away. Who would have thought I had only an hour earlier been crying so heartily?

Joe smelt of sweat and dirt and earth and sunshine. Sitting in the saddle leaning against him – quite unavoidable – I could smell his body and feel the warmth of him. I could feel the rythmn of his heart beat that jogged along to the same beat of his horses hooves….I could feel his excitement and joy of life. It chased my miseries away like snow before a furnace.

We stopped in a valley where the grass swayed to slight breeze and poppies and other wild flowers bowed their drowsy heads in tune to the grasses movement. It was like a rhapsody of music. Below the grass line was a beach that sloped into the lake which shone like blue zirconite and diamonds in the sun light.

“One of my favourite places” Joe said as he lifted me down onto the ground

“I can see why” I looked about me and took a deep breathe and closed my eyes, it was so beautiful that it hurt. Sometimes a view can do that, it can touch the depth of ones heart to see the way our God has traced out the sea and the sky, and formed the clouds and the sweet flowers that graced the earth.

“C’mon, I’m starving…” Hoss threw himself down on the ground and opened the sack and out came the most delicious food, which he passed over to us generously, but not that generously I noticed.

“Do you often come here?” I asked, spraying crumbs over my skirt and nearly choking with laughter when Joe started to laugh at me

“Only when we get the time…not too often lately.” Hoss frowned “Seems we’re as busy working at Laura’s place as we are on the Ponderosa.”

“Yeah, it’s been a busy few months. Laura’s husband just let the place go – Adam wants her to be secure, and Peggy too…” Joe rolled onto his back and sprawled out in the grass. He closed his eyes and let the sun bathe him.

“He works all hours, here, and at Laura’s, and then on that house he’s doing…” Hoss frowned again, bringing some darkness into the light of the moment.

“Yeah, work, work and more work…..and Laura, whinge, whinge and more whinge!” Joe yawned

“Hey, Joe, that ain’t fair, you shouldn’t say things like that about Laura.” He paused and looked over at me “She’s just highly strung, needs gentle handling”

“Oh yeah!” Joe snorted “She needs to be put over someone’s knee and given a good spanking, that’s what I reckon!”

Hoss bit his lip, and glanced away, then he looked at me and shook his head

“Sorry about that, Miss Jane, jest that we ain’t got used to the idea of Adam marrying Dayton’s widder”

“Aw, let’s stop this jawing and go for a swim!” Joe said abruptly and pulled off his shirt and boots and socks and jumped to his feet “Coming, Jane?” and he laughed, his green hazel eyes more green that I could ever remember seeing them before….then he turned and began to run to the lake and with a loud hurrah he splashed and dived into the water.

It took no time at all for Hoss to follow suit, his boots were flung to the left and right of him, and then his shirt flew in the air mid way to the lake and then he also was diving into the water, sending up a cascade of sparkling diamonds as the water streamed upwards.

I drank a little of the raspberry cordial and then lay down upon the grass and stared up at the sky. This was pleasant, very pleasant. The sun was warm to my face and body, and the smell of grass and flowers was rich to my nostrils. I could hear them laughing and splashing like two little boys at play, but it seemed as though it were coming from a very long way off. I felt as though I were floating…….

“Sleepy?”

I woke up, startled, confused. I looked about me and then up and my eyes met the full force of his dark brown eyes looking down at me, very close. I felt that strange sensation of swimming into the brown pools and my stomach lurched and I felt sick…I closed my eyes and pretended to myself that it was just a dream.

“Jane?”

I opened my eyes again and looked up but he had moved away, and I could feel and sense him sitting close at my side and so I sat up and,blinking rather like a bemused old owl, looked at him. He was hot, perspiring, even now he wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. He was dirty and tired, I could tell from the way his eyes seemed sunk in their sockets that he was very weary

“Why don’t you go and swim with them?” I asked “You’ll find it very refreshing!”

“Rather than sit here and talk with you?” he grinned, his white teeth gleamed against the dark tan of his skin.

I looked over at the lake and watched for a while as the two brothers swam side by side, and smiled at the efforts Joe made to keep up with Hoss, and the efforts Hoss made not to pull away too easily from Joe.

“Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Laura told me that you were leaving tomorrow. Is that true?”

“Yes” I looked at him and tried to catch his eyes, but this time he looked away from me. I could only assume the worse. He really did not want me around after all.

“Couldn’t you stay for the wedding?”

“No!”

He looked at me sadly. I looked again at Joe and Hoss and refused to look at him. How like a man not to sense the mortal wound he had inflicted upon my bruised heart! Stay for the wedding! His wedding…and hers….oh no, no.

He said nothing for a while and then cleared his throat to speak, I looked at him and waited

“Remember when you were a little girl, how we used to quote poetry all the time when we were riding in the mornings?” he smiled gently at me and I nodded, remembering the times all too well “Do you still read poetry?”

“Yes.”

Joe and Hoss were coming out of the water now, dripping spangles of water as the drops caught the fast fading sun

“What’s your favourite just now?” he leaned upon one elbow, a stalk of grass between his fingers and looked up at me.

How easy it would have been to have leaned forward then and kissed those lips!

“Maud Muller…” I said woodenly

“Oh…I’ve not heard of her…”

“There’s one verse I recall….”

“Tell me what it is?”

“’For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been’”

The silence hung heavy between us. His brown eyes looked intensely into mine and I held his gaze challengingly….then Hoss descended in a wet heap beside his brother and slapped Adam on the back

“How come you left off work so early, brother?” he said, with his usual bright smile as his hair dripped water down his face.

“I needed a break………” Adam said and then stood up, surveyed the sky and sighed “I guess I had better get back and finish off for the day…..”

“Hey, Adam” Joe’s voice wafted up the hill, preceeding him “Why not stay and play hookey with us!”

“Is that what this is?” Adam smiled and looked at me and winked

“Yep, that’s what this is…” Hoss chuckled, picking up the flask of cordial “Hookey….freedom….respite….here, have some raspberry cordial”

He hesitated, then shook his head. We watched him gallop off, back in the direction of the house and Joe sighed

“Never knew a fella so anxious to put his head in a noose before….” He sighed.

“Don’t you like Laura?” I asked

They said nothing, but glanced at one another meaningfully. Then with the utmost politeness Hoss offered me the biggest slice of gooseberry pie! This at least was an offer I could accept, so I did…..the look of disappointment on his face is something that I can still smile about down to this day!

Chapter 15

In the morning I carefully packed my things and borrowed the rig and rode back into town.

I was walking back from the booking office when I saw Ben Cartwright walking hurridly to the hotel, and when he saw me, he took off his hat and hurried forwards, cupping my eblow in one of his large hands he looked down at me and smiled his gentle smile

“Were you really going to leave us without saying good bye, Jane?”

His voice was deep and tender, and his eyes dark and comforting and I felt, once again, the urge to sink into his arms and hold him close and weep. I dredged up a smile instead

“I am sorry, Mr Cartwright…but I couldn’t stay…”

“When are you leaving?”

“In an hour…” I looked back at the coach and frowned, perhaps I had been overly hasty, but I knew what my heart had told me…I looked at him and smiled “Thank you for everything, Mr Cartwright.”

“Jane…” he paused and looked at me thoughtfully, for some seconds he said nothing and then he drew me closer to the wall of the building and looked at me intently again “Jane, I know how you feel about Adam, we all do, apart from Adam…” he smiled slowly “If you feel for him, as you do, why leave now? All’s fair in love and war after all?”

I looked at him again and frowned, and I shook my head

“I’m not very good at fighting, Mr Cartwright. And anyway, Adam isn’t the sort of man who would respect me for trying to undermine his loyalties to Laura.”

“Don’t you think he loves her?” he raised a dark eyebrow quizzacally and I shook his head

“He doesn’t love her, but he’s loyal, and stubborn, and very protective…if I tried to ..to play those sort of games with them…he would never respect nor trust me…and I couldn’t bear to lose that…”

“But if you won him…”

“I wouldn’t though…I might destroy his relationship with Laura…..and then he would have nothing…he wouldn’t want me.”

“Are you that sure?” he lowered his head, the black eyes staring into mine and I nodded

“He’s not like Sir Lancelot, you see…” I sighed

“Sir Lancelot? What was so wrong with Sir Lancelot?”

“He had flaws….he was disloyal…”

“All men have flaws, my dear.”

“I know!” I smiled slowly and sighed and thought to myself that my knight errant, dear Sir Galahad…no, he had no flaws, not to me anyway!

I turned at the sound of feet on the boards of the sidewalk and saw the three men hurrying towards me, behind them came Laura and Peggy, who held a bunch of dedraggled flowers in her hand

“Leaving without saying goodbye, Jane?” Adam scolded, sounding so much like his father that I was actually able to smile.

His eyes held mine for a moment, just as his hands took hold of mine gently and it reminded me of the lines in Paradise Lose when Eve looked at her husband and said “God is thy law, thou mine; to know no more is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise. With thee conversing, I forget all time!”

Joe angled in, pushing his brother out of the way and then Joe kissed me and asked me to come back soon, and then Hoss came and swung me up into the air which made Peggy giggle and even I managed to laugh.

“You come back right soon” Hoss said, with his blue eyes looking intensely into my own.

Laura shook my hand and smiled and said “It’s a shame you’ll miss the wedding, Jane” but I turned away and took the flowers from Peggy and kissed her cheek.

“Jane…”

I turned as Adam came and put his hand gently on my arm, he smiled and slipped a small book into my hand and then leaned down and kissed me. Just a kiss on the cheek. As friends.

“Goodbye…” I managed to say and turned away and hurried into the hotel to collect the last bits of my baggage. I looked at the book he had given me, a worn copy of An Anthology of Modern Poetry and then I fell upon the bed and sobbed my heart out.

That was such a long hour, getting from the hotel to the stagecoach and waiting for the driver to tell us to clamber aboard. The Cartwrights were there, amidst others who had come to see friends or relatives depart. I waved, distancing my self from them evenso. A tall dark man was elbowing his way through the crowd, handsome with twinkling eyes, and over the crowd of chattering people I heard him call out “Uncle Ben…hey thar, it’s Will…” and then Hoss said “Dadburn it so it is…” and the driver cracked his whip and yelled “Git along thar….”

Dust eddied up and obscured them from view, momentarily I saw Adam raise his hand in farewell, his dark eyes looking into mine, but they were not the eyes of a man about to be wed!

Chapter 16 – 1866

We sat there cheek by jowl as the expression goes. My cousins, their wives and children, friends and other relatives of my late uncle. We sat in that small, claustrophobic little room and listened to the lawyer as he related my uncles final bequests.

Each waiting for their name to be mentioned, each watching the other. I, dressed in my black crepe, felt out of place, like the forgotten and embarressing poor relation hoping for the proverbial penny to be tossed their way. When my name was mentioned I saw eyes dart in my direction, some filled with envy and malice and others with pleasure for my sake and my uncles.

Later the lawyer delayed me so that he could glean a few ‘relative details’ in order to tidy up the loose ends as he put it and thereby ensure my receiving the modest allowance my uncle had left me.

I was not poor, but I was isolated. I had spent the years travelling from country to country, in Europe. Then the larger cities in the South…I had experienced Atlanta’s destruction, fleeing from the fires with only my clothes that I was wearing and my beloved violin. I had never returned to Neveda, nor enquired about any one there….my heart was alive only because of my love of music, and memories.

I trailed my way from the college grounds, away from my cousins and the remnants of the past. Finally I found somewhere, a pleasant park, to sit down and to think over the past few days, eversince the letter had arrived at my apartment, telling me that my uncle was dead, and would I kindly attend the funeral. It was Arthur’s handwriting and not particularly conciliatory.

It was a warm day, pleasant to sit in. I opened my purse and took out my worn little book of verse and opened it at one of my favourite pages and with a sigh began to read…..
……………..
(Narrative of Jane Halcrow Duncan ends. Narrative of Adam Cartwright begins….Princeton 1867)
…………….

I will never know why I dragged myself to that funeral, perhaps the feeblest excuse would be to pay my respects to a fine man, perhaps the greatest hope was that I would see her there.

Jane…Jane Halcrow…how she had haunted me all these years. The memory of her had lingered at the back of my mind, and deep in my heart from the time I had first seen her…a little girl with red rimmed eyes clutching her violin case.

I was on the verge of making a decision in my life. I had made several major decisions such as this one…once when I went to college to study architecture and then, three years later, instead of achieving fame by designing fantastic buildings, I returned to the Ponderosa and helped my pa build an empire. Then next….to leave the empire and strike out on my own, what had I to lose? Nothing! I needed that time away from the Ponderosa and I seized the chance to go to sea, like a hungry man grasping for bread, for water…

Looking back I can see that all I had done was to lose something more precious than what I had gained. I lost my brother! Nothing, nothing in the world, had prepared me for the loss of my brother. I had, in some befuddled reasoning at the back of my mind, thought that when I left the Ponderosa, it would be cocooned, kept safe, waiting as though suspended in time, until I eventually returned. I forgot that such things do not happen, and that life goes on…or ends!

Eric ‘Hoss’ – would I ever forget the sheer size of him, the way he filled my life from his birth onwards. And in the end, I failed him. I was not there to help him, nor save him, and it does not matter that my father and Joe say that no one could have prevented it from happening, it just does not remove the guilt and the pain.

Had I been running away? When Laura married Will and they left Neveda to make their lives together, had my heart broken? No, no…again, fool though I was, I had lost something more precious than I had gained. I gained freedom but I had lost Jane.

I had dragged myself to that funeral and searched the faces that thronged the church and the burial ground. Faces of women obscured by black veils. I recognised no one!

I walked about the town. Perhaps I reasoned to myself that the time had come to give up this search..to just give up and begin my journey home, back to the Ponderosa. The sea had been my life for four years, but I no longer had that yearning to be anywhere, other than home, with my family…with my land…land that had been borne from our blood, my fathers, and my brothers.

I found myself, eventually, at a park. Pleasant enough and the day was warm. I walked down the pathways between flowered borders until I saw a woman sitting on her own reading from a book.

Sometimes when I had been in foreign places I had thought I had seen her face..and rushing up had surprised, and even frightened, the woman as I seized them and said “Jane” only to find I had been mistaken after all. So, this time, I was wary…and approached slowly, watching her carefully as she turned a page of the book and with an intense look on her face, continued to read.

I stopped now. Just a few paces from her and saw her turn another page and sigh. She held the book closer to her, the page touched her mouth and she closed her eyes and sighed again. Then she looked up and slowly turned her head towards me….her eyes, blue as ever they were, became bluer with the intensity of her gaze. Her colour just drained from her face and I stepped forward hurridly, catching her just as she seemed to fall forward…

“Steady up there…” I whispered

She said nothing, but held onto me as though I were the lifeline to life itself, and then I realised she was crying, silent, deep tears.

“Jane?”

She looked up at me and her eyes were luminous with tears unshed now, her lashes were spiked with them and her face was grave and then suddenly, transformed as her lips smiled

“I thought I was dreaming” she said and moved away from me, and yet held onto my hands, and I realised that she was trembling with emotion “It is you, isn’t it? Adam?”

“It’s me…as you see…” I smiled, my head spinning round and round as I searched for something sensible to say, but how can anyone be sensible in a situation like this one? “Jane, I looked for you everywhere…I wrote to people whom I thought would know your whereabouts…but you seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth….I couldn’t find you…don’t you realise you broke my heart when you left?”

She looked at me, puzzled and confused, her head to one side and her blue eyes searching my face, as though she half expected me to be joking. How lovely she was..to me..more lovlier than anyone in the world. She would have said then, as she says now, that she was not ever pretty nor beautiful, but to me….oh indeed, yes she is, was, always will be.

“But you were getting married…to Laura…”

“She married my cousin, Will.”

“Will?” she looked away, staring back into the past and then she nodded and then she shook her head and then she laughed, almost hysterically, and I took her hands and looked at her until she had calmed down “Oh, what I fool I’ve been…why didn’t I do what your father suggested..had I only stayed a few more days, or weeks….”

“We could have had a double wedding….I got the house finished!” I said as light heartedly as I could, as I brushed away the tears from her cheeks.

“But…all these years…wasted…gone…”

I looked down at her and thought of the years…they seemed suddenly like nothing at all, all I knew, and was certain of, was that the years ahead would never be wasted again. I smiled down at her and drew her into my arms and held her close and kissed her lips.

“When I go home…” I said later, as she stood by my side with her hand in mine “I want to take my wife with me…”

She looked at me and smiled and put her head upon my shoulder, and I slipped my arm around her waist and held her close. She was a slender woman, as she had been a slim girl, and her oval face was as sweet as it had been when she had looked at me in that train compartment when she was all of ten years old.

“Do you think you’ll be getting married then?” she said with the lilt of laughter in her voice.

“Certainly.”

“But maybe your future wife would not want to be married to a seaman…and spend even more time away from you?”

“I’m leaving the sea…I couldn’t bear to be apart from my wife more than I have to be…I don’t want any more wasted months, weeks, nor days between us, Jane”

She smiled, I could feel her lips moving in a smile against my own….I had never known, never tasted, never touched someone I loved so much in all my life and the feeling rocked me from head to foot.

“My fairest, my espous’d, my latest found,
Heaven’s last best gift, my ever new delight”

CONCLUSION by Jane Halcrow Cartwright

I sit at the table and look about me – at my side sits my husband as tall and handsome as ever. How I love him, how I have ever loved him. Shall I ever forget the day when he approached me at the park in Princeton? Never, never!

He told me later that he loved me from the first moment he saw me at ten years of age. He was lonely, homesick, frightened of what lay ahead….and then he saw me, a little girl clutching a violin, crying and sad, but pressing on with whatever lay ahead. He said my courage had given him courage…how strange, and I had thought it was all the other way around!

And now time has passed….we have our home on the Ponderosa, and Joseph and his wife live with Ben in the original house. We have a son Ethan, and a daughter, Elizabeth and Joe’s wife is expecting their first child within a months time.

I have never been so happy…in fact, we can laugh now at the wasted years, although it often used to break my heart to think of the times wasted….had I only stayed when Will had breezed into town! How different things could have been….and perhaps the empty chair at the table on the Ponderosa would still be filled….

I look at my children and my husband, my dear father in law…yes, indeed, we can make our lives sublime…and departing, leave behind us footprints in the sands of time.

The End…………

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Author: Krystyna

2 thoughts on “Slipping Through My Fingers (by Krystyna)

    1. Thank you, Neano. This was the very first romance for Adam that I wrote, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Glad that you did too.

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