Ben Brown (by Hart4Ben)


Summary:  Ben struggles with the frustrations of middle age. Disguised as a down-on-his-luck ranch hand, he finds himself in the middle of a range war and possibly new love. Based on season 13 episode “Saddle Stiff”.

Rated: K+ (27631 words)

Ben Brown Series:

Ben Brown
More Than Enough Love
More Than Enough Love – Part 2
Ladies Day Out
Dog Days


Ben Brown
Chapter 1

The sounds of the Ponderosa waking to a new day could be heard through the open window of Ben Cartwright’s bedroom as the sun rose in the beautiful blue Nevada sky. Horses whinnying, cattle lowing, ranch hands washing at the pump, and even Hop Sing’s clanging pans in the kitchen failed to provide their usual comfort to the patriarch of the large ranch after a restless night’s sleep.

Why am I so unsettled?” Ben heaved a sigh as he ran a large hand through his disheveled silver hair.

A general discontentment with life had been creeping in over the past few days. The fact that he would soon turn fifty-five was hanging heavy over him. Yet he was confused by his unease when everything else in his life was humming along so smoothly. The ranch was running well; in fact some newly acquired property had expanded the Ponderosa’s borders. Timber contracts continued to come in and be met. The mine was operating profitably and at full capacity. Still as Ben looked ahead to the tasks awaiting him this day, all he saw was hours of bookwork. Hoss and Joe along with the many capable ranch hands on the payroll handled most of the day-to-day tasks. Jamie managed the care of the family horses, other small animals, and the woodcutting. Also recently, Joe had even taken over some of the ledger work. This should have given Ben peace of mind, but instead he felt frustrated and just wanted to shout or throw something at the wall.

He shaved and dressed without his usual energy for a new day before going downstairs to the table for breakfast, though he had little appetite. Soon Hoss, Joe, and Jamie joined him at the table, and the usual morning banter commenced. The breaking of some new stock came up for discussion as one of the tasks for the day. Several of the hands had their eyes on an ornery, young filly that was full of fire. The boys finally realized that their father was not participating in the conversation and just pushing his food around his plate.

Hoss looked at Ben with concern. “Are you ok, Pa?”

“Fine…fine. Everything’s just fine.” There was an edge to Ben’s voice.

His sons looked on unconvinced that he was being completely truthful. Despite their feelings, they asked no more questions and continued their meal. When finished with breakfast, the boys gave Ben their usual “see you later, Pa” and left the table.

Ben just grunted. He looked over at his desk. He could not stomach the idea of bookwork today.

Am I really so old and frail that the books are all I’m good for?” Ben huffed. Suddenly the dishes danced when his fist hit the table. “No! I am going prove to everyone that I am still perfectly capable of working just as hard as any other man on this ranch.”

Ben jumped up from the table, grabbed his gloves and hat, and headed out the door. With long, determined strides, he headed for the corral. The prized filly was already saddled and a young hand named Jimmy was on the fence ready to climb into the saddle.

Ben called out to the eager young man. “Hold up there, she’s mine.”

The hands looked around at each other but said nothing. They had never seen their boss break any stock. None would argue that he was good judge of horse flesh, but a horse breaker, no, especially not at his age.

Jimmy looked uncertain and then gave a caution. “Mr. Cartwright…uh… I don’t mean any disrespect…um…but she’s probably going to be a handful.”

Ben was focused on the horse and was not about to be dissuaded. “Just climb on down. I’m coming.”

Jimmy climbed down and hesitantly backed away. Ben climbed the fence and gently lowered himself into the saddle.

The man holding the blindfold on the filly felt the need to ask again. “You’re sure, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben nodded he was ready.

“Alright then, here she goes.” The ranch hand pulled the blindfold away and stepped back.

The filly took off like she had been shot from a cannon, bucking and snorting. Ben enjoyed an exhilarating ride for a few moments, but then the horse lurched hard to the right, and he was dumped on his backside landing with a hard thud in the dust. Nobody moved. Without looking around, Ben got up gingerly, limped over to the fence and carefully climbed over the fence near where an old hand named Cactus was leaning.

“Rough landing?” There was a twitch of smile on the old man’s lips.

Ben looked at him crossly. “I was thrown.”

“You best be careful. You break something at your age, you won’t mend so quick.” Cactus shook his head making it obvious what he thought of Ben’s actions.

Jimmy was now in the saddle and riding the bucking filly with relative ease.

Cactus pointed to the horse and rider. “Easy ride for a young buck.”

Ben grunted and walked toward the house with a scowl on his face.

Jamie was on the porch working on his homework and tried to offer his father some sympathy. “Sorry you got thrown, Pa.”

“Are you working or watching?”

Jamie shrugged. “A little of both, I guess.”

“Just get back to work.”

With a sheepish expression, Jamie whispered as he returned to his studies. “Well, anyway, I’m sorry.”

Ben limped into the house holding his right hip and slammed the door behind him. He threw his hat and gloves on the sideboard and sat down hard in his desk chair. Grimacing in pain, he shuffled the papers on his desk in a heartless attempt at work.

Well, now you’ve done it. You’ve made a fool of yourself in front of everyone.”

It did not help when later Hoss entered the house looking smug. “You ok? I heard you took a little tumble, cowboy.”

Ben did not even look up before responding sharply. “So what’s going on with this Cass Breckenridge fellow who’s managing that new section up north. I thought he was supposed to report here in person every few weeks.”

“We thought so, too, but he hasn’t.” Hoss replied.

Ben continued to dig. “And the details of the timber contract with Morgan need to be hammered out.”

Joe held out his hands trying to appease his father. “We are planning to meet with him tomorrow.”

Ben waved him off and groused impatiently. “Never mind. I’ll take care of it myself.” He stomped to the sideboard to grab his neckerchief, gun, and hat before heading out the door.

Hoss and Joe looked at each other, shrugged, and followed him out the door. Hoss was about tell Ben that he really did not need to make a special trip into town when Cactus saw Ben about to mount up and yelled.

“Mr. Cartwright, wait!”

Cactus had purposefully left the cinch on Buck’s saddle loose not knowing when the horse would be ridden; so when Ben put his full weight on the stirrup, the saddle slipped to the side dumping him in the dust for the second time that day.

The scruffy, old hand lumbered over to put the saddle back in place as Joe reached down to help his now seething father up off the ground.

Glaring at Cactus, Ben forcefully threw his son’s arm aside and got up under his own power. Through gritted teeth, he ordered. “That’s it. You’re done. Come in and get your pay!”

Ben stormed into the house. Unaccustomed to such rash actions by their father, the boys stood with gaping mouths wondering what was going on.

Cactus huffed and headed toward the front door. “That figures. He gets dumped in the dust twice in one day, so he’s got to have somebody to kick.”

Behind his desk, Ben grabbed the cash box from the safe, counted out Cactus’ pay, and shoved it toward him.

Cactus pocketed the money and looked his boss squarely in the eye before saying his peace. “Any man who’s been around horses as long as you have should know to check the cinch before getting into the saddle. Nice place you got here. Nice chair. The trouble is you’ve been riding that chair so long you don’t know how soft you are or what it’s like to put in a day’s work anymore. If you had to work the grub line, with nothing but dust in your pockets, you’d never make it. In fact, I’d wager my shirt, pants, and this twenty-one dollars that you couldn’t get a Ben Brown job. And in the outside chance you did, you’d never make it to the first payday.”

Ben stiffened and bellowed. “Is that so!”

Cactus hollered back. “Yeah, that’s so!”

Like two old billy goats with their horns locked, the men were locked in a stare down. In resignation, Cactus finally broke it off and left. Truth be told, Ben felt no victory. In fact, he felt horrible, but his pride would not allow him to correct his mistake.

Supper that evening was a quiet affair. The boys were still in shock from the events of the day, and Ben was in no mood to talk. When the meal was finished, Ben excused himself saying he was going to retire early.

Maybe some reading and a good night’s rest will get me out of this foul mood.”

As he crossed his room to retrieve his nightshirt and robe, Ben caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He was not so sure he liked what he saw. True, he had slimmed down a bit making climbing into the saddle easier, but the truth was that some of the scaling down was due to the lack of use of his body. He also noticed that the lines in his face had deepened, and except for his eyebrows, there was absolutely no trace of the dark hair he had when he was younger.

Is Cactus right? Am I really incapable of a solid day’s work?”

As he stared into the mirror, an interesting thought came to Ben. Suppose he would go away for a while, somewhere no one knew his face, and did some physical work to clear his head. At the moment, he was no use to anyone on the Ponderosa; so Ben went downstairs and told his sons he would be leaving early in the morning.

Joe’s face was etched with worry. “How long will you be gone, Pa?”

Seeing the boys’ concerned looks, Ben offered them a weak smile of reassurance. “I’ll be in touch in a week or so. Don’t worry…I just need a little time away.”

Chapter 2

True to his word, Ben was riding out the next morning at first light with one change of clothes, a little food and a bedroll. He planned to head toward the newest section of the Ponderosa. Sam Thompkins was working from the line shack up that direction. Ben was at the shack before the sun had risen very high in the sky. Sam was emptying his wash water when he spied Ben riding up on Buck.

“Well Mr. Cartwright, what are you doing clear up here?”

Ben dismounted and offered him his hand. “It’s good to see you Sam. If you have a few minutes, I’ll be happy to explain.”

Sam shook the last bit of water from the wash basin. “I was about to eat. How about some breakfast?”

Ben followed Sam into the shack. “I definitely won’t turn that down.”

Two hours later, Ben “Brown” rode off atop a borrowed chestnut mare. He looked every bit a drifting cow hand in Sam’s clothes. Soon Ben came up to a gate in the property line fence. Someone had posted a sign that stated: “Ponderosa property..keep out”. Knowing he had never authorized such a sign, he opened the gate and lead the mare through. He rode on for several hours, taking a break now and then for a drink of water. Eventually he found a good spot to set up camp. He built a fire to heat some coffee and ate some jerky. Tired from spending so many hours in the saddle, Ben laid down for a nap. After about an hour on the hard ground, his back was aching. Since sleeping was no longer an option. he reached for the coffee pot. Not thinking how hot it would be, he threw the pot when it burned his hand and sent it flying toward the mare which was picketed nearby. She lunged and tripped on a rock, injuring her back right leg. As Ben was looking her over, four men rode up.

The man who appeared to be the leader of the group spoke up. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Feeling uncomfortable, Ben glanced at his rifle. “My name’s Brown, Ben Brown. Just passing through.”

Another man spoke out. “How many Browns does that make this week, Mr. Breckenridge?”

“Planning to take a few antelope on your way through…One’s with Ponderosa brands on them, I’m sure.”

Ben shook his head. “No, just heading north. Looking for work.”

“No saddle stiffs here. Don’t even want the likes of you around. Now clear out!” Breckenridge demanded.

Ben stood his ground. “I will. At first light.”

“You’ll go now!” Breckenridge shouted.

The next thing that Ben knew, he was sprawled on the ground after catching a direct hit in the mouth from the man who had just emptied the cartridges from his rifle and pitched it into the brush.

“We’ll be back this way in an hour and you’d better be gone!” Breckenridge ordered before turning his horse around.

Ben was relieved when they rode off. He wiped the side of his mouth and spit out some of the blood that was now oozing inside. This was not exactly what he had in mind when he decided to carry out his “Ben Brown” plan. He did not know where he would go at this hour, but Ben packed up and headed out, walking his lame horse.

He trudged along lost in his thoughts. “You are an old fool, Ben Cartwright. You could be at home enjoying one of Hop Sing’s wonderful meals followed by a little brandy in front of a warm fire, and a fit bed instead the hard ground. What were you thinking? Ben Brown is a nobody, with nothing but dust in his pockets, no one to take up his cause, and nowhere to go.”

Suddenly a flood of memories rushed through Ben’s mind. He had been “Ben Brown” once before showing up in a small Illinois town with no food or money, and a sick young son. If not for the generosity of Inger Borgstrom, he might never have seen his dream to go west come to fruition.

And to think that my stubborn pride almost pushed you away. I loved all of you: Elizabeth, Inger, and Marie, but honestly, without your love and strength and the money from selling your store, I would never have made it to Nevada, Inger. And without you there would no Hoss. What a blessing he has been to me. He has your giving heart, Inger. What I would give to have your arms around me right now and taste your sweet kisses again.”

Such were the private thoughts of Ben Cartwright owner of the largest ranch in the state of Nevada. His stubborn pride had put him in this present predicament. Tired, hungry, and currently a bit lost, he chastised himself. “Yes, Ben Cartwright, you are a stubborn, old fool!”

As the sky grew dark, Ben was very thankful to see a light in the distance. Not certain at first, but as he kept moving forward he could plainly make out a ranch house.

He tied the mare to the hitching rail and was startled by a woman’s voice coming from the door. “Hold it, Mister! You have a lot of nerve showing up here this time of time day. What are you doing here?”

Ben’s hands reflexively moved away from his sides when he found that he was looking into the wrong end of a double-barreled shotgun.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. My horse is lame and we just couldn’t go any farther. I was hoping that I might be able to spend the night in your barn.”

A man appeared from the barn.

The woman spoke, “Check it out, Hank.”

After looking the horse over, Hank confirmed what Ben had told her. “The mare is lame, just like the man said, Miz Mac.”

The woman was still cautious, but lowered the gun and stepped out onto the porch to introduce herself. “My name’s Kate McElroy and this is Hank Miller my ranch foreman. What’s your name?”

“Brown. Ben Brown.”

Her demeanor and voice softened. “Well Mr. Brown, I apologize for greeting you this way. We can’t be too careful around here these days. We’ve already eaten our supper, but there are some leftovers. You look like you could use a good meal.”

Ben offered her a weary smile. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble, Mrs. McElroy.”

“No trouble at all. Hank will take care of your horse and you can wash over by the barn.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I truly appreciate it.”

While Ben went to wash up, Kate turned to Hank and asked in a hushed voice. “What do you make of him? He doesn’t seem like your typical saddle tramp. Maybe he’s looking for work.” Hank nodded in agreement, then she went on to softly confess. “I have a good feeling about him. He could be the answer to my prayers.”

In the light of the kitchen, Ben was somewhat surprised and very pleased to find Kate McElroy to be a good looking, thirty-something woman with auburn hair and striking green eyes. He also felt much more relaxed after the generous, well-prepared meal she graciously reheated for him. Kate and Hank showed him to a bunk in the barn where he would be sleeping, and gave him some medicine for the mare.

Ben placed the medicine bottle on a small table after he finished bandaging the horse’s leg. “Thank you for medicine and the bunk. I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning.”

Kate looked at him with concern. “But your horse won’t be in any condition to ride by tomorrow morning.”

Ben’s head dropped unaccustomed to being in the position of a debtor. “Then I’ll just have to lead her.”

Kate tried not to sound too desperate. “You’re welcome to stay on as long as you need to.”

Ben shrugged. “I have no money to pay you. Maybe if you had some work that I could do.”

Kate gave Hank a knowing glance. “We were hoping you might be looking for work. I can’t pay much, just ten dollars a month and found. I know it’s not enough, but it’s all I can afford.”

“Well, I need the work.” Ben smiled and extended his hand to her. “Ma’am, you’ve just hired yourself a hand.”

For a few seconds there was more than just gratitude and relief in the connection of Ben and Kate’s eyes.

Kate became uncomfortable and awkwardly turned away. “Goodnight Mr. Brown.”

“Goodnight, ma’am, and thanks again.”

Kate and Hank left the barn. After a gust of wind blew the door back, Ben put the drop bar in place. Moments later, Hank knocked on the door.

“Mr. Brown, can I speak with you a minute?”

Ben opened the door.

Hank stepped inside. “Mr. Brown there are some things you need to know about working on the this ranch.” Hank continued in a straight forward manner. “You’ll be working in middle of a range war, fighting against the owner of the Ponderosa, a snake by the name of Ben Cartwright.”

Ben tried his best to conceal his shock. “Seems like I’ve heard that name before.”

“You’ll never see him. Cass Breckenridge and his crew do all his dirty work for him. Well anyway, Miz Mac just wanted you to know what you’ve signed on for. You don’t need to feel obligated to stay on if you don’t want to.” Hank looked at Ben awaiting his response.

Ben forced a smile. “Thanks, but I think I’ll stick around.”

He was anxious to learn more about what this Cass Breckenridge was doing around here in the name of Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa.

Chapter 3

In the morning light, Ben got a good look at the McElroy ranch. The house, barn, and outbuildings were well constructed, but in definite need of repair. The loss of John McElroy was evident, and even though Hank Miller was a hard worker, the ranch was much more than one man could handle. A little later, Ben and Hank headed to the house for breakfast. Ben was immediately aware of the change in Kate McElroy from the night before. She appeared freshly dressed in a pale green frock that brought out her eyes and her hair was neatly tied back with a ribbon. She bid them both good morning with a warm smile. Ben was most certainly pleased to see her and returned her greeting, but he was also very conscious of the fact that he must not do or say anything to compromise his saddle stiff persona.

Kate had prepared a hearty breakfast for them. While they ate, Hank told Ben that they would be working on a section of fence that Breckenridge’ men had torn down allowing the McElroy cattle to be scattered throughout the countryside. He further explained how Breckenridge had systematically taken over the ranches in the area and claimed them for the Ponderosa. Kate McElroy’s husband John had been a casualty in this process. The thugs had beaten John severely after he had confronted Breckenridge about damage to McElroy property and stolen cattle. John McElroy died about a month later from complications of that beating. Ben asked if the law had ever been brought in to do something about it. With a mirthless laugh, Kate explained that there were never any witnesses to testify against Breckenridge.

“John and I worked very hard to make this into a good working ranch.” Anger flashed in her eyes as she went on to explain. “Cass Breckenridge may not have put a bullet in my husband, but it amounted to the same thing. With Hank’s help I have tried to keep things going so that John’s hard work was not in vain. Breckenridge has driven away all of the other ranch hands who have worked here except for Hank. He has stayed on to help me and I am very grateful.”

Ben’s brown eyes were soft with sympathy for the young widow. “I am truly sorry for your loss, ma’am, and all the trouble you’ve had here.”

His fury increased with each tale of injustice. Ben knew Breckenridge must be stopped before any more innocent people were hurt. And the Cartwright name was at stake. However, Ben did not feel that revealing his identity at this point was the best option. He would just have to bide his time and see how things played out.

The men expressed their thanks to Kate for breakfast and for the lunch that she planned to bring out to them at noon. Because Ben’s mare was still lame, Hank offered him a stubborn gelding named Battle Axe for a mount, but Battle Axe was not ready to go to work. Bucking and rearing, the horse soon tossed Ben on the ground.

Hank rounded up the skittish horse and brought it back to Ben. “Are you OK?”.

“I’m fine.” Ben dusted himself off and situated his hat before climbing back into the saddle.

BattleAxe immediately went back to his antics, and again Ben landed on the ground with a thud.

He grunted into the grass. “This is getting old in a hurry.” Hank retrieved the horse while Ben painfully got up. “Let me have another crack at him.”

Hank shook his head. “No, you better take my horse. I need you in one piece so we can get some work done.”

Begrudgingly Ben mounted Hank’s horse, and they headed out to the worksite with Hank hanging on tightly to the bucking BattleAxe.

The two men worked tirelessly through the morning to repair the fence. Ben was using muscles that had not been used in a very long time, but he was not about to give in to their screaming.

Hank noticed Ben’s discomfort. “Feel free to take a break any time you need to.”

“Are you planning to take a break?”

“Too much work to do.”

“Then we’ll keep at it.”

Around noon Kate drove up in the buckboard with their lunch. Ben quickly mopped the dirt and sweat from his face with his sleeve and threw himself into stretching the fencing wire.

Kate looked on with a satisfied smile. “Looks like you two have accomplished a lot this morning.”

Ben really wanted to turn on the Cartwright charm, but he knew that it would be inappropriate for an ordinary ranch hand, and he settled for his best smile. “Just happy to be of help, Mrs. McElroy.”

Kate could feel a blush coming on; so she quickly turned around to grab the basket of food. Her mind was churning. “What is it about that man. There is an air about him that is nothing like any ranch hand I’ve ever been around. He’s confident, but sincerely humble. And oh my goodness, that smile!” Not wanting to appear preoccupied, Kate called out cheerfully to Hank and Ben. “I’ve got some fried chicken and biscuits.”

However, before Kate had the food spread out on the back of the buckboard, Cass Breckenridge and his men rode up. Much to Ben’s surprise, Cactus was with them. Ben ducked his head hoping Cactus would not recognize him in his ‘Ben Brown’ get up.

Breckenridge smiled at Ben. “Well, well, Mr. Brown so we meet again. Seems like I told you to get out of this country.”

Ben sneaked a peek at Cactus. The old hand’s eyes let him know he had been found out. What worried Ben was whether Cactus would reveal his true identity, but Kate jumped into the conversation and took up his cause.

Her eyes flashed and she spoke sharply to her adversary. “He is working for me; so you need not worry yourself about Mr. Brown.”

Breckenridge went on unfazed. “I wanted to talk to you, Miz McElroy. I figure you’re going to need to sell your cattle soon and I am here to offer you six dollars a head.”

Hank looked at him in disbelief. “Six dollars a head? They’re worth more than six times that much.”

“I will not sell you my herd, Mr. Breckenridge. Not now! Not ever!” Kate spat out.

Breckenridge sneered. “Suit yourself, but just remember that I made you an offer when you can’t find a buyer for your cattle.”

Cactus chose to keep his mouth closed about the situation. He exchanged glances with Ben before riding off with Cass Breckenridge and the other men.

The next morning when Hank and Ben returned to finish repairing the fence, they found their previous day’s work had been destroyed.

Ben looked on with disgust at the twisted wire and pulled up posts. “Looks like we had some varmints on the property.”

Hank sighed wearily. “Yeah, the two-legged kind. Guess I had better head into town for supplies. You will keep an eye on things while I am gone, right?”

Ben nodded. “You can count on it.”

Shortly after Ben began cleaning up the mess of fencing, Cactus rode up.

Surprised to see the old hand riding alone, Ben commented to him flatly. “Thought you were working for Breckenridge.”

Cactus told Ben he had ridden out and not looked back. “I’ve seen some snakes in my time, but this guy is the worst. There’s a lot of fancy stealing goin’ on around here in your name.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Guess you’ll be changing back into your Cartwright clothes and sendin’ Breckenridge down the road.”

“Then he’d just go on and do his stealing some where else.”

“Sounds you’re plannin’ to send him off to jail. A man like that covers his tracks well. Kinda like to be around to see what happens.” A faint smile came over Cactus’ rough face. “Know anyone looking for a good all-round hand?”

Ben chuckled. “I’ll put in a good word for you with the boss lady.”

Chapter 4

Kate was thrilled to have Cactus join Hank and Ben. She needed all the help she could get with so much work to be done. However, it was not the work load that had Ben concerned, but rather Cass Breckenridge. As Ben and Cactus were leaving the worksite the previous day, they noticed some of Breckenridge’ men up in the hills, just watching and waiting. Cactus said it was an old Apache tactic to scare people into giving up. They both knew that Cass Breckenridge would like nothing better than to intimidate Kate McElroy into selling out at a ridiculously low price, just as the other ranchers in the area had done.

The next morning, Cactus found Ben putting sticks of dynamite into a saddle bag.

“Looks like it’s going to be a noisy day.”

Ben did not bother looking up and jump kept on with his task. “”Could be…Cactus how long do you think it would take Breckenridge to get water down to that lower grazing land if something were to happen to the flume that supplies that area?”

Cactus was shocked. “You would blow up your own water flume?”

“Ben Cartwright can afford it.”

“Building a diversion gate, hauling water in wagons, moving cattle around; that should keep him busy for several days.” Cactus surmised.

Ben offered Cactus a wry smile. “My thinking exactly.”

So Cactus and Ben rode out to the flume. Making sure no one had seen them, Ben planted the dynamite, and the two rode back a safe distance to watch the fireworks.

“You sure know how to make a fine bunch of kindlin’.” Cactus grinned.

“Yeah!” Ben enjoyed watching pieces of the flume fly through the air and fall to the ground.

Over the next few days, Cactus, Ben, and Hank worked to restore the fencing. Then the task of rounding up the cattle began. Hank had contacted a buyer while he was in town. George Henderson was scheduled to come out to the ranch to inspect the herd in three days. It was an arduous task, but by the evening of the second day, the cattle were settled for the night, and the men were taking turns at keeping watch.

Hank had just relieved Ben from his turn at watch, when Cactus cocked his head. “Do those cows sound like they’re gettin’ spooky?”

Ben leaned back on his elbow and took a sip of coffee. “Nah, you’re hearing things.”

However, in a matter of a few seconds, the cattle were up and running. Something or more likely someone had spooked them. Hank was knocked from his horse in the rush of steers. Ben saw him go down and was able to grab him for before he got trampled and too him back to camp. He was pretty banged up, but fortunately there were no broken bones. Ben and Cactus worked the next hour to gather some of the cattle back together. They quit knowing that the rest would have to wait until morning light. An exhausted pair of cowpokes rode back into camp.

At the break of dawn, after a quick breakfast of beans and coffee, Cactus and Ben went to work rounding up the remaining cattle. By noon the herd was back together and the three men drove them to a pasture close to the homestead. Henderson was waiting with Kate on the buckboard.

“Looks like you’ve got a good herd of mostly prime cattle.” George Henderson commented.

Hank frowned. “What do you mean mostly prime?”

“Well there are always a few culls.” Henderson added.

The eyes of three tired cow hands bore down on the buyer.

“But we’ll say there are 521 prime cattle at twenty dollars a head.” Henderson conceded with a smile.

Kate was beaming. She looked at her three cow hands with gratitude. “I can only say thank you.”

Ben and Cactus touched the brims of their hats and rode off to the edge of the herd.

Cactus shifted the saddle. “Not a bad day’s work and it came off without a hitch.”

Ben scanned the hillside for riders. “Yeah pretty easy…maybe a little too easy. I think we better check around.”

They rode back to the homestead and saw three horses but no riders as they neared the barn. They grabbed their rifles and went to the opposites ends of the barn. Ben surprised two of Breckenridge’ men who were about to set fire to the barn.

“Hands up, boys.” Cactus called to Tate and Yoakum who had just showered the barn with coal oil.

“Only two here. Then somebody must be in the house. Take care of these two.” Ben hurried out the door.

“I’ll be happy to. Mr. Tate you grab one of those picket strings and tie up Mr. Yoakum…good and tight.” Cactus ordered.

Ben sneaked up to the house and peeked in a window. He spotted Breckenridge in the kitchen spreading coal oil and then saw him strike a match.

Ben crashed through door with his gun drawn. “You better blow out that match before you go up in flames.”

Breckenridge dropped the match and threw the oil can at Ben making him unable to shoot. Immediately the house was in flames. Ben rushed at Breckenridge and managed to knock the culprit’s pistol from his hand. By the time Cactus ran through the door, the fire had taken hold. Ben and Breckenridge banged through the house throwing punch after punch, with dishes, chairs, and the table flying. Cactus ran back and forth with buckets of water. The fighters rushed by him as he sloshed the water onto the bedroom curtains.

Cactus began to slap at the flames with a rug. “You want any help?”

Appearing to have the upper hand, a very out of breath Ben replied. “No, I think I’ve got the hang of it.”

Cactus flipped up a kitchen chair and sat down to watch the show.

Ben threw one last mighty punch that sent Breckenridge to his knees on the floor.

Cactus smiled at Ben. “You did real good, Mr. Cartwright.”

Breckenridge looked up, confused. “What did you say?”

Ben steadied himself on the back of a chair. “You heard him. I’m Ben Cartwright.”

Breckenridge looked at Ben incredulously. “I don’t believe it.”

“You will.” Cactus pulled Breckenridge up off the floor and pushed him toward the door.

By the time Kate, Henderson, and Hank pulled up in the buckboard, Ben and Cactus had Breckenridge and his crew sitting with hands tied behind their backs in front of the barn. With smoke still lingering in the air, Kate ran toward the house. Ben followed quickly after her.

Kate stood in what was left of her kitchen with her hands over her eyes and tears streaming down her face.

Coming up behind her, but yet keeping his distance Ben whispered. “It’s all over, Kate.”

“Yes, it’s over. My home is a disaster and I have no money to repair it. I need all the money from the sale of cattle for other repairs and to purchase a new herd.” Kate had been fighting it, but she began to sob.

Ben moved a little closer. “It’s going to be alright…I promise.”

Kate whirled around and glared at him. “How can you say that?”

“There is something you need to know about me, but it may be difficult for you to understand…. I’m not Ben Brown….I’m Ben Cartwright.”

She looked at him with a mixture of anger and confusion. “But Breckenridge worked for you…Why did you come here?…I should hate you.” The words came like a torrent from her mouth.

Ben nodded with genuine guilt and sorrow in his eyes. “I know..I know.”

Kate wanted to hate him, but those eyes. What was it she saw in his eyes: sincerity…kindness….strength….love? A woman could get lost in those deep brown eyes. Suddenly there was a release in Kate’s soul and she found herself rushing toward Ben. He opened his arms and wrapped them securely around her. With her head against his broad chest she sobbed uncontrollably. He moved his hand up to her head and gently caressed her hair and just held her, not saying a word until her sobs subsided. How he had missed holding a woman, being her rock and security. If felt so good, so right. He was a sight; dirty, sweaty, bruised, and exhausted. Kate pushed herself away slightly and looked up into Ben’s face. She saw none of that, only a ruggedly handsome, caring man. And despite his current condition, Ben felt better than he had in years.

He tenderly wiped the tears from Kate’s cheeks with his finger and said. “I will take care of everything, Kate. Please don’t worry. I will take care of you, I promise.”

Then he took her chin in his hand and brought his lips to hers in a sweet, gentle kiss; not of passion, but of tender reassurance. He gazed again into her lovely green eyes trying to pass his strength to her, and then he turned and left the house.

Meanwhile, Cactus explained to Hank what had happened and that Ben Brown was really Ben Cartwright. They loaded Breckenridge and his crew onto the the back of the buckboard. Ben walked over to shake Hank’s hand.

“I’ll be back before long with a crew to get this place in tip-top shape. You take good care of Miz Mac until then, you hear.” Ben chuckled.

“I always do. So long now.” Hank gave Ben a two finger salute.

Kate stood on the porch and watched the buckboard pull out. She was a jumble of emotions, but something deep inside her said that she could trust this man…Ben Brown….Ben Cartwright.

Ben climbed up beside Cactus and then turned toward Kate to tip his hat. She smiled and gave a slight wave. Cactus slapped the reins and they were off to unload their nasty cargo with the sheriff.

“I guess you know you can have your old job back.” Ben offered humbly.

“Thanks anyway, Mr. Cartwright, but I’ll be staying on with Miz Mac. I prefer a boss who doesn’t fly off the handle.” Cactus gave Ben a sly grin.

Ben countered with a look of mock indignation which then broke into a hearty laugh. “You old coot!”

Chapter 5

Ben took a long draw on his canteen. He was standing with Buck in the shade of some large pines. They were on their way home now after Ben’s two week stint as a cow hand on Kate McElroy’s ranch where he also worked to bring an end to the treachery of Cass Breckenridge.

Ben mounted up and patted Buck’s neck. “Let’s go home, boy.”

He was still a good three hour ride from the ranch house; a solitary man on a horse with several hours to his destination has a lot of time to think. The events of the past few days played through Ben’s mind. He smiled when he thought about the surprised look on the face of the sheriff of the little town of Sparks at seeing two scruffy ranch hands bringing in Cass Breckenridge and his boys. Ben thought the poor sheriff was going to drop over when he told him he was really Ben Cartwright. And then there was the bank manager’s shock when Ben presented him with the telegram from the bank in Virginia City for a large cash draw so he could arrange for the repairs to Kate’s house, buy some fresh clothes and get a bath. The luxurious feel of soaking his tired, aching, filthy body in the hot tub at the barbershop had Ben subconsciously shrugging his shoulders with the memory. After a good night’s rest, he had ridden out to the line shack and handed Sam Thompkins two sets of clothes and fifty dollars for the loan of his horse and care for Buck.

Though there was much to be set right now that Breckenridge was out of the picture, the restlessness and unease that Ben had been struggling with was gone. He sighed with relief. “Sam, you may never know how much turning me into ‘Ben Brown’ changed my life.”

Yet, it was the feel of Kate’s body pressed against his and the meeting of their lips, that played in Ben’s mind, over and over again. He prayed to God that he would have her in his arms and kiss her sweet lips again very soon. He had missed his sons these past weeks, but oh, how he had missed having a woman in his life; that hollow, empty, void was clamoring to be filled. Ben knew he would be spending as much time as reasonably possible at the McElroy ranch, or maybe not so reasonably.

His route took him past the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe. “God, I never tire of this sight.” I must bring Kate here.” He filled his lungs with the beauty of it all.

About an hour later, Ben rode up to the hitching rail and tied off Buck. He sighed deeply and rubbed Buck’s nose. Jamie was in the barn and went to the door when he heard the hoof beats.

He took off jogging toward his father. “Pa, your home! It’s good to see you!”

“It’s good to be home, son!” Ben placed a large hand on the back of Jamie’s neck.

“Did everything go ok while you were gone?”

“It went very well, thanks.” He wrapped his arm around Jamie’s shoulders and together they headed toward the house. “I’ll tell you about it at supper. Where are Hoss and Joe?”

“They’re branding some calves in the south pasture. I rode out to see them before chores. I bet they’ll be home before long.”

A little later, Hoss, Joe, and the hands rode in from branding.

Joe saw Buck standing at the rail. “Hey, look, Pa’s home.” He gave his brother a big grin.

Ben was sitting at his desk looking through some papers when Hoss and Joe came through the door.

“Pa, you’re home.” Joe moved to the desk and gripped his father’s arm firmly.

“Glad your home, Pa.” Hoss shook Ben’s hand.

“It’s good to be home again. I see you’ve managed quite well without me these past two weeks.” Ben could say this much more easily now than two weeks ago.

At supper they discussed all that had transpired over the past weeks. The timber contract with Morgan was settled, and the cutting started. And now, the branding was done. Otherwise, things had been pretty routine at the ranch.

The boys were intrigued by the ‘Ben Brown’ story and surprised to hear that Cass Breckenridge would soon go to trial. The circuit judge was due to be in Sparks in a few weeks. With so many charges against him, Ben was certain that Breckenridge would go to prison for a very long time. He went on to relate how Cass Breckenridge had swindled several ranchers whose land bordered the new section of the Ponderosa, and had pressured Kate McElroy as well. Ben explained the hardship and sorrow that Kate had endured. Of course, nothing could bring back her husband, but he told his sons that he would personally see to it that she had a well-run ranch that would supply her with good income. However he did not reveal his thoughts on how he would like that to come about, and chose to cross that bridge later. He went on to discuss his plans for gathering materials and organizing a crew to begin the work on the McElroy ranch in about a week.

Ben began to make daily trips into Virginia City in preparation for his return to Kate’s ranch. He wanted everything to be in perfect order. This provided a challenge that infused new life into his soul. He was also anxiously anticipating being back in Kate’s company. With that in the forefront of his mind, there was something much more important than lumber, nails, fencing, and paint that Ben knew he must take with him, a delicate emerald ring. He had purchased it several years ago for another lady he had hoped to marry, but it never came to pass. On the evening before he intended to return to Kate’s ranch, Ben opened the safe and pulled the ring from a small drawer. Joe surprised him when he walked out of the kitchen.

“What are you up to, Pa?”

“Oh just getting some things together for tomorrow.”

“Like jewelry? I thought this trip was about repairing the McElroy ranch? Looks to me like you’ve been holding out on us. Have you, Pa?”

“Well, Joe, I was planning to tell all of you tomorrow before I leave that I intend to ask Kate McElroy to marry me.”

“Seriously, Pa? That’s wonderful!”

“She is wonderful, Joe. Nothing would make me happier than for Kate to say yes, but time will tell. Hey, Joe, I would like to be the one to tell Hoss and Jamie.”

Sure, Pa…and Pa, if you really love her and she makes you happy, then I sure hope she says yes!”

Joe clapped his hand on his father’s shoulder and gave him a mighty grin.

So Joe did not let on the next morning at breakfast when his father made his announcement.

“That’s great, Pa! I’m real happy for ya!” Hoss gave Ben a toothy smile.

Joe played along and voiced his happiness. “Yeah, Pa, that’s wonderful!”

Jamie looked at Ben with surprise. “You really mean to ask her to marry you?”

“I most surely do. Now, boys, do me a favor. Let’s keep this under wraps for now until I know for sure that we have something to celebrate.”

Ben had wired Kate earlier in the week to let her know when he and the crew would be arriving; so she was ready when the wagons came rolling in. She was in her best dress and her auburn hair was pulled up in very attractive fashion. Kate had been cooking and baking. Still, she was anxious about seeing Ben again. She was still a bit uncertain about letting her guard down and allowing herself to be vulnerable to this man. Kate stepped out on the porch and watched as six wagons loaded with twelve men and lots of lumber and supplies rolled in by the barn. There was also an impressive looking gentleman on a beautiful buckskin horse. It took a moment for her to realize that it was Ben on the buckskin. The transformation from Ben Brown to Ben Cartwright was amazing. He looked younger, stronger, almost stately. Kate could feel the nervousness in her stomach when Ben dismounted, removed his riding gloves and strode confidently toward her with a warm smile.

He stepped up on the porch, reached out and grasped Kate’s hands in his own. “I told you I would be back, Kate. You look lovely. I’m so happy to see you again.”

Kate was almost reeling. It was difficult to believe he was the same man. He was so handsome and carried himself with quiet authority. “Ben, it’s wonderful to see you again, too.”

Knowing they had an audience, Ben released Kate’s hands. He turned to show her all that he had brought with him and was greeted with smirks and grins which he tried to ignore. His ranch hands now knew why their boss had pressed so hard to get to the McElroy ranch. It was not a work deadline, but a date with a lovely lady. Ben was wishing he could spend time alone with Kate, yet he did not want to make things any more awkward for her. He told her that she need not feel obligated to come out and meet everyone.

Ben flashed her a warm smile. “I’ll see you a little later.”

Kate was happy to watch from the porch. She crossed her arms across her body and rubbed her upper arms in a nervous response to calm her goose-flesh. “How can a man be so reassuring and so unnerving all at the same time.

In the meanwhile, Cactus and Hank had come out from the barn. Cactus made the introductions since he knew most of the hands from his time on the Ponderosa. Ben walked over and gave his greetings, offering his hand to both Cactus and Hank.

The plan was to begin on the bunk house immediately. The men would have to spend this evening in the barn, but by tomorrow evening, the bunk house would be completed to the point that it could be used. Then they would take care of the other repairs on the barn, outbuildings and fencing that needed to be done. Ben had planned to keep the crew at the McElroy ranch for approximately two weeks, depending on how things went. Hank and Cactus had staked out the dimensions for the bunk house. This was an experienced crew who really did not need much supervision, but Ben stayed close by for the sake of propriety. Cactus, Hank, and he discussed the purchase of cattle. Ben had already made some contacts for getting a good starter herd for Kate. He would complete the details and send his hands to drive the herd here once everything was ready. Meanwhile, Cactus and Hank would go to town tomorrow to begin the process of hiring some new ranch hands.

Not wanting to burden Kate with the job of feeding so many men, Ben had arranged for a cook to handle the meals for the hands. However, Hank had informed Ben that “Miz Mac” requested his presence at supper. Ben could not have been more pleased and gladly accepted.

Chapter 6

Kate prepared a delicious meal for Ben and her ranch hands. They all enjoyed catching up over dinner and discussing the plans for the ranch. After finishing their blackberry pie and coffee, Hank and Cactus excused themselves leaving Kate and Ben next to each other at the table.

Ben placed his hand over Kate’s. “Thank you for a wonderful meal. I enjoyed it very much, but I enjoyed your company even more.”

Kate dropped her head shyly and pulled her hand away, somewhat embarrassed. “Please understand that I am very grateful for all you are doing.” She paused and looked up at him. “I’m having a hard time finding the right words to say.” She rose from the table and to gaze through the window into the twilight.

Ben remained in his chair and spoke gently. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

She turned around to face him with a tentative smile. “I guess I’m struggling because I feel like really don’t know you. I mean you were Ben Brown when you were here before and now you are Ben Cartwright, a rich important man, but nothing like I imagined you to be. Anyway, it’s just a bit difficult to sort out. I think what I’m trying to say is that I need some time to get to know you.” Kate stood waiting to see his reaction to her words.

There was understanding in Ben’s warm, brown eyes. “You’re absolutely right, Kate, and I know from experience that it is very difficult to lose someone you love.”

Kate looked at him intently waiting for an explanation, but he gave none for the moment.

Instead he made her an offer. “What if we start over from the beginning, as if we had never met.”

Kate looked pleased and nodded. Still it was hard for them to ignore the pull they were feeling. There was a definite physical attraction, but there was more than just that. Kate was drawn to Ben’s rock solid protective nature and gentlemanly manners, and Ben to Kate’s vulnerability and need for security.

He stood and straightened himself to his full height. Bowing slightly he offered her his hand. “Good evening, madame. My name is Ben Cartwright and I am very pleased to meet you.” His rich, resonate voice filled the kitchen and he followed his introduction with a smile that lit up the room.

Kate caught herself about to laugh at his formality and then forced herself into a more serious expression. “Good evening, sir. My name is Katherine McElroy. I am very pleased to meet you, as well.” Kate’s lovely green eyes were sparkling as she gave him her hand.

Ben motioned her to the table and pulled the chair out for her to be seated. And so they began anew. He asked Kate how she and John had made it to this particular spot in Nevada. It so happened that they both had grown up on neighboring farms in Indiana. They had fallen in love as teenagers and married quite young. She and John had built a house on her family’s property and were helping to run the farm. After a few years, John was feeling a little crowded as more people moved into the area from the east; so they decided to go west and try their hand at cattle ranching. They bought this ranch two years ago. The trouble with Breckenridge began shortly after they were up and running, and Ben was very familiar with the rest of the story.

“I don’t mean to pry, but you never had children?”

“We had a son, Johnny, the year after we married, but he died from ‘the fever’. I was never able to have any more children.” There was a twinge sadness in her voice.

He regretted bringing up the subject. “I’m very sorry.”

Kate eyes brightened. “So how about you? Tell me how you became the owner of the famous Ponderosa?”

Given his added years and many life experiences, Ben did not wish to overwhelm her; so he tried to keep things brief. He told her that he had been a young seaman and married the sweetheart of his youth. He said that sadly Elizabeth had died from complications of the birth of their only son, Adam. He then related how his dream had been to come west. After four years of traveling and working odd jobs, Ben and Adam ended up in a small Illinois town where he met his second wife, Inger. They continued west and shortly after their second son, Eric, was born, Inger was killed in an indian attack. Ben then mentioned that he had planned to go all the way to California, but when he and the boys saw the land around Lake Tahoe, he knew it was the place he wanted to settle and raise his two sons.

“It’s so beautiful. I hope to show it to you some time.”

As far as the Ponderosa was concerned, he told her that the rest was just lots of hard work and time. He then went on to say that he met his third wife, Marie, on a fur trading trip to New Orleans and that she had given him his third son, Joseph.

“Unfortunately, she died in a freak riding accident when Joe was just a small child. So for many years it was my three sons and I running the ranch. My oldest son, Adam, left several years ago to pursue a career in architecture and now lives in Boston. It was hard to see him go. I had always thought that he would take over the reins when I was ready to slow down.” Ben paused and sighed. “On a happy note, I recently adopted a young man of fifteen named, Jamie, who lost his father and mother several years ago. He is a fine boy. So I can’t say I’ve been alone, but I’ve had very lonely times.”

Kate nodded. She now knew that he truly did understand loneliness and loss. Even still, it was obvious to her that Ben had a zeal for life that was contagious.

Ben gave her an embarrassed smile. “It’s getting late and I’ve kept you up much too long. Let me help you clean up a bit and then I will let you get some sleep.”

After the table was cleared, he retrieved his hat and stepped near Kate. Concerned that she might think a kiss too forward, he reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “Thank you for a wonderful evening. Goodnight, Kate.”

He turned and went out the door leaving Kate holding the hand he had kissed to her cheek while a contented sigh escaped her lips.

Chapter 7

The next morning Ben and Hank went into Sparks. Hank was looking for a least three men willing to work as ranch hands. Ben went to the telegraph office to send some wires to his cattleman contacts. At the saloon, Hank announced that he was looking for hands for the McElroy ran, and that anyone who was interested could meet him at the corner table. It was slim pickings in Sparks. Only two men bothered to stop at Hank’s table: a young, freckled, redhead that went by the name of Cam Evans and a good looking blond named Finney Flannigan. Neither had much experience, Hank was desperate and decided he would give them a try. Just before riding back to the ranch, Hank introduced the new hands to Ben. Having seen many ranch hands through the years, Ben was not convinced these two would last long, but of greater concern to him was Finney’s attitude. Finney Flannigan had a big head and spoke in a disrespectful manner. Ben told Hank to keep an eye on him thinking that there could be trouble. Ben hoped that the other hands would help to take care of new cow hand’s attitude problem.

It was mid-afternoon when Ben, Hank, and others got back to the ranch. The Ponderosa hands were making good progress on the bunk house. With plenty of work yet to do, Ben suggested pairing the new hands with Smokey and Gypsum, two of his most experienced hands. With nothing else pressing, Ben took off his vest and joined in the construction.

Not having seen Ben since the previous evening, Kate wanted to make sure he was planning to come for supper. She went out to the construction to see if Hank knew where he was. Kate was surprised to find Ben working side by side with the ranch hands. Hank noticed her and walked over to find out what she needed. Kate told him that she needed to speak with Ben.

Hank called out over the pounding of nails and sawing. “Mr. Cartwright, Miz Mac would like a word with you.”

Ben turned toward them and Hank waved him over. The sight of Ben nearly took Kate’s breath away. Sweaty from working hard in the heat of day, his shirt unbuttoned to his belt with a thatch of dark gray and silver hair showing in the gap. She did not realize that she was staring until a slightly self-conscious Ben buttoned a couple of buttons on his shirt.

He led her away from the construction noise. “It’s pretty warm today.”

Kate blushed and ducked her head; so Ben made sure they were turned away from the men as they spoke.

“Uh…I just wanted to know if you were coming for supper.” She felt as though she sounded like an infatuated school girl.

Ben took it all in stride. “I wouldn’t miss it. I promise not to look like this when I show up.” Ben pulled on his shirt and chuckled. “A clean shirt is definitely in order.”

Kate laughed but then was at a loss for words. “I’ll see you later.” As she turned to walk back to the house, she thought to herself. “You could come to supper just the way you are, but I probably wouldn’t be to able keep my mind on the meal.”

Finney had been all eyes since Kate showed up. He watched her every move.

He commented to Smokey. “So that’s the boss lady. She sure is purty. What’s she want with a dried up old bull like that? Bet he’s been out to pasture a long time.”

Smokey frowned. “That there ‘old bull’ could probly whoop your sorry tail iffin he had a mind to. Sides, it ain’t none of your bizness; so you best keep your mouth shut and get back ta work.”

Finney muttered to himself. “I jest may make it my bizness.”.

True to his word, Ben was in a clean shirt when showed up for supper that evening. They took their coffee on the porch after the meal to enjoy the cool night air.

Ben sighed with contentment. “Thank you for another delicious meal.”

“You are very welcome. You know, Ben, you haven’t told me how you ended up here at my ranch in the first place. And Cactus said something once that he used to work for you.”

“Kate you can trust that I would not have changed my coming here for anything in the world, but how I ended up here and the part about Cactus are a bit embarrassing. I’m not sure you would understand being so much younger and a woman.”

Kate cocked her head to the side and gave Ben an ‘I’m waiting’ look. “You are not getting off that easily. You may be older, but I was married for eighteen years; so I do know something about men.”

“Yes, well, I suppose that’s true.” Ben chuckled nervously. “Well, as far as Cactus is concerned, he did work for me for a time, and then one day in a fit of anger I let him go. It was over something silly and he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.”

Kate looked at him with a satisfied smile. “See now, that wasn’t really so hard, was it?”

“Well, I’m afraid that was the easy part.” He took a deep breath. “Uh…well..I guess it’s like this. I have worked hard my whole life …and built a successful ranch. I have three fine, hard working sons and now another who is well on his way…..and…..and…”

Kate reached over and placed her hand on his arm, her eyes radiated understanding. “And maybe they don’t need you quite as much as they used to. And a man who doesn’t feel useful doesn’t feel much like a man.”

Ben’s head hung down as he nodded. It was comforting to know that she understood his feelings, even if he did feel foolish. He placed his hand over hers, looked up at her and whispered. “Thank you.” Then he proceeded to tell Kate the whole story about how ‘Ben Brown’ came to her ranch. “It may sound silly, Kate, but I would do it all again just for the chance to be near you.” Ben searched her eyes to determine if his feelings were out of balance with hers.

Kate held his gaze. It felt good have a man want and need her. “How you got here really doesn’t matter. I’m just thankful you’re here.” Taking his face in her hands, she leaned in and tenderly kissed him.

Chapter 8

Early the next morning, Kate went out to her garden behind her house to pick vegetables before the day got too warm. There were carrots, squash, beans, and turnips ripe for picking. Ben now had a standing invitation for supper each evening. Mentally Kate planned what she would prepare for the meal as she harvested the produce.

With the bunk house complete, Ben and Cactus took half of the hands to work on fencing while Hank supervised the others making repairs on the barn. Finney remained at the barn working with Smokey. Not long after the men started working on the barn, Finney headed toward a stand of bushes nearby. Assuming that the new ranch hand needed to relieve himself, Smokey didn’t ask any questions. However, Finney Flannigan had something else in mind. Rounding the backside of the bushes he could see Kate working in the garden. When he was sure that he would not be spotted, he took off at a fast clip toward her. Kate did not hear him coming until she heard the click of gate latch.

Startled, she raised up. “Can I help you…it’s Finney, right?”

“You sure can.” Finney leered at her.

Kate’s skin began to crawl. Just as she was about to scream, Flannigan grabbed her and clamped his hand over her mouth.

He hissed into her ear. “You need some real man lovin’.” Then he smeared a sloppy kiss on her neck. Kate struggled in his grasp. “That old man can’t keep a women like you happy. But just in case you have a mind to tell him bout our little meeting here, just want ya ta know that grandpa could have a little accident if you don’t keep quiet. Understand?” Though shaking and her eyes filled with fear, Kate stopped trying to get away and nodded. “That’s real good, pretty lady. Now I’m going ta turn ya loose, and you’re not gonna make a sound, right?” Finney pressed his body against her. Kate shook her head, trying to keep her wits about her. Finney released his tight grip and kissed her hard on the mouth. He dragged a finger down the front of the bodice of her dress. “I’ll see you later tonight.” Then he ran back toward the barn.

Kate was shaking violently and felt sick to her stomach. She grabbed her basket of vegetables and ran toward the back stoop. Gripping the pump handle, she pumped hard until the water came. She forcefully scrubbed her face and neck hoping to wash his filthy touch off her body. Kate sat down on the back step, covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Her mind was going in circles. What am I going to do?

Finney finally showed up back at the barn. Smokey grumbled at him. “Well that sure took long enough.”

The young miscreant gave Smokey a satisfied grin. “Sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do.”

Later, Ben showed up at the house alone. Hank and Cactus were beginning to feel out of place at the evening meals; so they took their supper with the hands. Kate was freshly dressed with her beautiful hair pulled back and tied with a ribbon when she answered Ben’s knock at the door. She had tried to rid herself of the dirty feeling from her encounter with Finney, but even her attempt to look her best did not change how she felt on the inside.

Ben greeted her warmly. “Mmm, something smells wonderful!”

“Thanks.” She responded flatly with no smile.

Ben sensed something was amiss, but did not want to pry. He thoroughly enjoyed the meal that Kate had prepared, but he was bothered by the fact that he had carried the bulk of the conversation. “You know, Kate, you are spoiling me terribly.” He placed his hand on her arm. Kate flinched. “Something is wrong. I thought so when I walked in, but now I’m sure of it. Please, Kate, tell me so I can help.” She shook her head and let her chin drop against her chest. “Please Kate. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.”

Unable to look at him, she sighed heavily. There was a catch in her voice as she tried to explain. “That new hand…Finney.…”

“Yes, what about him?…..Did he do something to you Kate?” His voice grew louder.

Kate nodded and Ben jumped up from his chair and ran toward the door. “Ben! Wait! He said he would make sure you’d have an accident if I told you.”

Ben shouted over his shoulder as he stormed out the door. “You can be sure that he’s going to get something and it will be no accident!”

The hands were sitting around playing cards and jumped in surprise when Ben burst in practically taking the bunk house door off its hinges. He spotted Finney standing by the table and hit him full force with his fist before the cocky hand even knew what was coming. Then Ben pulled him up by his shirt collar and hammered him again. Cactus and Smokey had to restrain Ben. He struggled against them while two other hands pulled Finney up off the floor.

Ben bellowed. “Hank, I don’t want to see this vermin on McElroy property after tomorrow morning! Get him out of here!”

Hank and some of the others took Finney to the barn and tied him up.

Ben forcefully pulled himself away from Cactus. “Miz Mac ok, Mr. Cartwright?”

“She’d better be or Finney Flannigan will wish he’d never been born!”

Ben was seething as he pushed his way out of the bunk house. Cactus and the other hands stood around silently. Ben ran back to the house and found Kate sitting at the table crying. He knelt and gently called her name. She turned to him and threw her arms around his neck.

Ben wrapped her up tightly. His large hand gently rested her head against his shoulder. “I’m here now. He won’t bother you anymore.” He gave her some time to gain her composure. “Kate…he didn’t…did he?” She only shook her head, not wanting to relive the details. Ben sighed with relief and caressed her hair. “He’s tied up in the barn, and someone will keep watch over him tonight. I will personally see to it that he is taken to the sheriff in the morning so he can’t hurt you again.” Ben quieted himself. “Will you be alright by yourself? I don’t care what the others think. If you need me to stay, I will.”

She pulled back still holding onto his arms. “I want you to stay, but you can’t. It would be too difficult for both of us. As long as I know that he can’t get to me, I’ll be ok.” Ben knew she was right. They were growing very close, and he wanted nothing more than to show her how much he cared. Kate looked directly into his worried eyes. “But… will you stay with me for a little while?”

He kissed her temple and nestled her head into his chest.

Chapter 9

The following morning Ben asked Cactus to go with him into Sparks. By no means was Ben afraid of Finney Flannigan, it was just added insurance. Ben was still frustrated with Hank about the incident, but he also knew that Hank felt horrible about it.

“Get him fed and ready to go. I want to leave soon.” Ben relaxed his expression when he saw Hank’s regret. “And, Hank…she’s not hurt…just frightened.”

Hank nodded.

Ben and Cactus were standing by their horses when Hank brought Finney out of the barn with his hands tied.

Finney complained. “I can’t ride like this.”

“You will ride like that or strapped across the saddle. Your choice.” Ben’s face was hard as stone.

Finney muttered something foul as Hank helped him up on his horse and handed Cactus the reins.

Ben did not notice Kate standing on the porch as they rode out. She was relieved to see Flannigan leaving the ranch, but his threat against Ben still had her worried. Please be careful, Ben.

The trip to Sparks was uneventful. Flannigan did a lot of grumbling, but made no attempt to escape. When they arrived at the sheriff’s office, Ben opened the door and thrust Finney inside. Sheriff Sherman Taylor was sitting at his desk picking his teeth with a toothpick.

Ben was all business as he moved toward the desk. “Sheriff Taylor, I have a prisoner for you.”

Taylor complained. “Another one? You’ve already filled my jail full up. Who is he and what’s the charge?”

“His name is Finney Flannigan and I am charging him with assaulting Mrs. Katherine Mc Elroy and threatening me with bodily harm.”

Taylor’s bushy eyes rose. “Miz Mac? Is she hurt?”

“No, just very frightened, but he would have forced himself on her against her will if he hadn’t been stopped.”

“Are ya hurt?”

“No!” Ben growled in frustration.

“Mr. Cartwright, I don’t know what things are like where you come from, but around here if nobody’s hurt, we don’t worry bout it.”

Dumbstruck, Ben looked at Taylor in utter disbelief. “Are you trying to tell me that a man can force himself on a woman and threaten to do serious physical harm to someone else, and you don’t lock them up?”

“Iffin nobody’s been hurt, then that’s pretty much it. Sides I ain’t got no room for him.”

Finney snickered. Ben glared at him and shoved him roughly into an empty chair. “You could take him to Reno?”

Helpless, the sheriff held up his hands. “Ain’t got a deputy.”

“Then deputize somebody!” Ben bellowed.

The sheriff continued with his excuses. “Ain’t got the money to pay to him.”

“I’ll give you twenty dollars. Just hire yourself a deputy and get this criminal to Reno!” Ben roared.

“Alright, alright. Just simmer down, Mr. Cartwright. No need to get yourself in a lather.”

Ben shoved twenty dollars at Sheriff Taylor and turned to leave.

“Well here’s a piece of good news for ya, Mr. Cartwright. Judge Franklin should be here in three days. Just got the wire today.”

“Finally. I’ll be ready to testify.” Ben offered in a calmer voice.

After sending a telegram to his boys updating them on the progress at the Mc Elroy ranch, Ben and Cactus had a beer at the saloon, and then left Sparks.

Sheriff Taylor hired a man named Sam Carter to take Finney to Reno. Sam was trustworthy fellow and Taylor felt he was up to the job. With plenty of daylight left, preparations were made for them to leave for Reno.

Not too far from Sparks, Finney whined to Carter, “Man, I gotta pee.”

Carter slowed his horse. “We just got on the road. You can just wait a while.”

Flannigan’s horse came up along side Carter’s. Bracing himself with the saddle horn, Finney kicked Sam with all his might. It was just enough to throw him out of the saddle and spook his horse. Flannigan kicked his horse and took off. Sam did not recover quickly enough to get off a good shot; so Finney escaped into the brush. An exasperated Sam Carter took off on foot after his horse.

Flannigan rode as fast as he could just hanging onto the saddle horn. When he thought he had put enough distance between himself and Carter, Finney grabbed the horse’ mane and yelled “Whoa” several times. Eventually his horse came to a stop. He worked the ropes with his teeth to no avail, then dismounted and looked around on the ground for a sharp stick. Finding a substantial one with a sharp end, he sat down and placed the stick between his knees. He worked at the knot with the point of the stick. His wrists were getting raw, but his persistence paid off. The knot loosened to the point that he could finish the job with his teeth.

“Good! Now I’ve just got to find me a gun!”

Finney got back on the horse and rode at an angle that would eventually take him to the road that went toward the McElroy ranch. Eventually he reached the road and turned in the direction of the ranch. Finney could just bearly make out the outline of someone riding toward him; so he hatched a plan. He rode a little farther, got off his horse and led it to the side of the road. When he was sure that the oncoming rider could see what he was doing, Flannigan lifted the left front leg of his horse as if he was inspecting it for a problem.

As the rider neared he waved him over. “Hey mister. Are you good with horses. I think there is something wrong with this horse.”

“Sure, I can have a look.” The unsuspecting rider dismounted and walked toward Finney.

When he bent over to look at the horse’ leg, Finney grabbed his side arm. “Look, mister, I don’t want any trouble. I just need your pistol and rifle.”

With fear in his eyes, the man held up his hands. “Take whatever you want, just don’t shoot me.”

Finney grabbed the rifle from the scabbard and slapped the man’s horse sending it on down the road. Quickly Flannigan mounted his horse and rode of fast leaving the man standing in the middle of the road.

 Chapter 10

It took Sam Carter about an hour to find his horse and another half hour of hard riding to get back to Sparks. He immediately went to find Sheriff Taylor and tell him what had happened.

Taylor swore. “Carter, I trusted you to do this job. Cartwright’s gonna have my hide. Get yourself a fresh horse and ride out to the McElroy ranch pronto, and warn them that Flannigan is on the loose.”

Carter went to the livery and picked up another horse. Knowing it was about an hour ride and that it would soon be dark, he pushed his horse hard toward the McElroy ranch.

At dusk Ben and Kate were sitting together on the bench on the front porch enjoying their after dinner coffee. He had his arm around her shoulders and she was leaning into his neck allowing him to drink in the sweet fragrance of her auburn hair. Ben kissed the top of Kate’s head.

She sighed before sharing what was on her mind. “You don’t know how relieved I was to see you ride back in this afternoon.”

Ben smirked. “You missed me that much?”

“Seriously, Ben, I was worried about you. I just can’t seem to shake feeling that this business with Finney Flannigan isn’t over.”

“Flannigan should be locked up tight in Reno by now.”

Ben really did not want to discuss Finney Flannigan right now. He preferred to savor these wonderful moments with Kate. She did not say anymore about the subject, yet even the nearness of Ben did not totally calm her fears. Fully satisfied from Kate’s good meal and so relaxed and comfortable with her snuggled beside him, Ben was on the verge of sleep.

Kate jumped when she heard the sound of a pistol being cocked. Her movement roused Ben.

Flannigan sneered at the couple. “Well ain’t this a pretty sight. Grandpa and his gal.”

Ben jumped up putting himself between Finney and Kate.

“Just relax, old man. Don’t do anything stupid or you just might end up dead.”

“I won’t let you touch her. You will have to kill me!” Ben spoke in a loud, commanding voice, hoping to raise somebody from the bunk house.

Kate was terrified and screamed. “Ben, no!”

Flannigan hissed. “Shut up, you two.”

Only thinking of Kate’s safety, Ben growled a warning. “You can’t fire that pistol without bringing everyone out of the bunk house or you’ll be dead, if not shot down, they will catch you and you’ll hang.”

The sound of someone riding in fast could be heard. The rider yelled. “Hello!…hello!…Anybody around!…hello!”

When Flannigan turned toward the shouting, Ben lunged at him. However Finney turned back in time to fire off a shot hitting Ben in the shoulder. He went down hard on the porch floor. Kate screamed and ran to Ben. Upon hearing the shot, Carter, who had just ridden in, and the men from the bunk house converged on the porch. With his gun drawn, Carter shouted at Finney to drop his gun. Realizing that there was no hope of escape, Finney Flannigan dropped his revolver.

Hank came running to the porch. “Miz Mac are you alright?”

Kate was in tears now. “I’m fine, but Ben’s been shot.”

Carter and Hank took care of Flannigan while Cactus and some of the hands helped to get a painfully, groaning Ben into the house and on to Kate’s bed.

Kate carefully moved some of his silver hair off his forehead. “Oh Ben, are you alright?”

He grunted trying to find a less painful position. “It’s my shoulder, but I think I’ll be ok.”

Gently, Kate unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it away from his chest to get a better look at the wound in his right shoulder. Catching the bullet from short, Ben’s wound was steadily oozing blood.

“I’m going to get some towels and water to clean the wound and try to stop the bleeding. Would you fellas get his vest off and his arm out of his shirt, please? I’ll be right back.”

Ben managed a weak smile for his caretakers. “Thanks.”

Kate returned quickly and began cleaning the wound and putting pressure on it to stop the bleeding. She tenderly placed a cloth on Ben’s forehead. It was difficult for her to see him suffering, still his large chest thickly covered with hair was distracting. Even in his fifties, Ben was a man that could grasp a woman’s attention.

Kate glanced at Cactus, her brow creased with concern. “That bullet is going to have to come out, but the nearest doctor is in Reno.”

After taking a good look at the wound, Cactus offered a suggestion. “I’ve taken out a lot of bullets over the years; even have a few tools to do it. It’s up to you, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll have a go at it, if you want?”

In his current condition, the thought of going all the way to Reno was unbearable to Ben. Ben nodded. “See what you can do.”

Cactus rose up. “All right then, Miz Mac, I’ll need plenty of hot water and all your lamps. I’ll be back shortly. Oh, and start giving him some whiskey, as much as he’ll drink.”

When Cactus returned, he placed the instruments in some whiskey to sterilize them and washed up. Three men held lamps over the bed as two others held Ben down to keep him from moving. Kate sponged away the blood as Cactus probed the wound. He located the bullet in short order and gently removed it with a forceps. Everyone relaxed a bit when the bullet clinked into a basin. Kate gave Cactus a grateful smile, then she finished cleaning up the wound and applied a bandage. For the moment, Ben was resting comfortably.

Kate picked up the soiled towels. “Thanks for all your help, fellas.”

After wiping down his instruments, Cactus put them back into a pouch. “I can spell you in a couple of hours if you’d like, Miz Mac.”

Kate touched the arm of the scruffy old ranch hand. “Thanks, Cactus, but we’ll be fine.”

The bid their goodnights ranch hands ambled back to bunk house leaving Kate and Ben alone. She pulled her rocker close to the bed. Taking the cloth from Ben’s head, she rinsed and replaced it. Placing the back of her hand against his cheek, Kate was thankful that he did not seem to be feverish. She adjusted the quilt over Ben before settling down into the rocker. Kate breathed a prayer of thanks as she looked at Ben lying there in her bed.

She rested her hand on top of the comfort over the outline of Ben’s hand underneath. Kate spoke quietly thinking that Ben was sleeping.”You scared me to death, you brave, handsome man…You made me fall in love with you…You know that, don’t you…And now I just can’t bear the thought of losing you.” Her eyes were brimming with tears.

Ben let out a low moan as he moved just a little. A hint of a smile came to his lips. “I heard that.”

Kate squeezed his hand and reached over to caress his silver sideburn.

Chapter 11

Kate stirred in her rocker as the sun came streaming through her bedroom window the following morning. Having dozed off and on throughout the night, she had checked on Ben each time she woke. He had slept reasonably well given his wound. Kate reached over and placed her hand on his forehead. She was pleased that Ben did not feel hot. That was a good sign. His eyes fluttered open at her touch.

“Good morning, Mr. Brown.” She teased. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’ve felt better, but all things considered, not too bad. Waking up to your smile definitely makes me feel better.” Ben reached for her hand. “I can tell that you have taken very good care of me.” He brought her hand to his lips.

Kate wondered. How is it he can stir up my feelings even in that condition.

Ben began to stroke her arm.

Kate was trying her best not to get distracted. “It’s Cactus that you ought to thank for getting that bullet out of your shoulder.”

As if not listening, Ben continued to run his hand up and down her hand and arm. “You have lovely hands.” He kissed her hand again.

Kate was tingling with sensation, but then Ben tried to shift his position bed to move closer to her and let out a loud groan.

Kate giggled and shook a finger at him. “See now, you need to behave.”

He gave her an ornery grin. “Never.”

“What you really need is some nourishment to get you back on your feet. I’ll go make us some breakfast.”

“A kiss would be a good place to start.” He pulled her down toward him.

“You are impossible!” Kate leaned back, but then happily gave in, and kissed his lips.

“I can feel my strength returning already.” A low chuckle rumbled in his chest as Kate disappeared from the doorway.

Meanwhile, Sam Carter was getting ready to take Finney back to Sparks. He had spent another very uncomfortable night tied up in the barn.

Hank came up to Carter. “I’ll be going with you. This varmint is going to get locked up in jail even if I have to stand guard over him myself. I won’t allow him to bother Miz Mac or Mr. Cartwright anymore. Sides I need to send a telegram to Mr. Cartwright’s family to let them know he’s ok.”

Carter frowned, but nodded in agreement. They loaded Flannigan on a horse and the three of them left for town. Once they reached Sparks, Sam and Hank were not surprised to find out that Sheriff Taylor suddenly had room for Finney Flannigan in his jail.

Back at the ranch, Cactus stopped at the house to check on Ben.

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, I must a done a pretty good job for you. You look pretty chipper for a man that took a bullet just last night. Course I’m sure having a pretty lady to look after you don’t hurt none.” Cactus winked at Ben.

Ben gave him a knowing look and nodded, but then he dropped the joke and became serious. “Thanks Cactus. I am truly grateful to you for patching me up.”

“No problem. Glad ta help out. Do ya think you’ll be up ta making the trial in two days?”

Kate looked at Ben in shock. “You won’t be ready to travel by then.”

“Kate, it’s going to take more than this to keep me from testifying against Cass Breckenridge. I’ll be heading to Sparks in a couple of days even if it requires the boys carrying me in on a stretcher.”

“You are a stubborn man!” Kate huffed in exasperation.

“I know. Just ask Cactus.” Ben was able to laugh now about his previous mistake, but then winced in pain.

True to his word, two days later, Ben was in the back of the buckboard on his way to Sparks. The ranch hands had tried to make him as comfortable as possible putting down some hay and plenty of blankets. Cactus and Kate were on the seat. Hank made the trip, as well, riding along beside the buckboard. Cactus kept a sharp eye on the road trying to avoid any unnecessary bumps and Kate kept looking back over her shoulder to check on Ben. It was in no way an easy ride, but Ben was determined to have his say in court no matter what.

The little town of Sparks was bustling when they arrived. All of its residents and folks from the surounding area were in town for the show. Everyone wanted to see Breckenridge get his comeuppance. The saloon had been cleaned and chairs set up in rows. There was a sign hanging outside that said “No drinks served. Court in session.”

Cactus and Hank helped Ben out of the buckboard. Kate took his left arm and together the four entered the saloon. All eyes turned toward them making Kate nervous. There were several empty seats in the front; so they all went forward and took a seat. Soon Breckenridge and his four cronies., all wearing handcuffs, were brought in by the Sheriff.

A man wearing a suit who was the acting bailiff told everyone to rise. “The case of Cartwright versus Breckenridge, the honorable Hiram P. Franklin presiding.”

Judge Franklin walked in stoically and asked everyone to be seated. In his opening remarks he made sure that it was understood that nothing short of absolute order would be acceptable in his courtroom, and anyone who did not comply would be escorted out. He noted that this was preliminary hearing to determine if there was just cause to hold Breckenridge and his men over for trial.

Judge Franklin opened the proceedings. “Now I would like to call Mr. Benjamin Cartwright to the stand.”

Ben went forward and stood in front of the chair beside the judge. The bailiff held out a Bible such that Ben could place his hand on it even with his arm in a sling. He was sworn in and took his seat.

“Mr. Cartwright, I do want to thank you for appearing today. As we can obviously see you are still recovering from an injury. Now please state the charges you are bringing against Mr. Breckenridge and give your statement.”

“Thank you, Judge Franklin. The charges I wish to file are fraud, misrepresentation, cattle rustling, destruction of property, and assault with the intent to do serious bodily harm.”

“That is an extensive list of charges, Mr. Cartwright. Are you able to give substantive evidence to each?”

“Yes, your honor, I am, and I have three other witnesses that can corroborate my statement.”

“Very well, then, please begin your statement.”

And so Ben testified how Breckenridge was hired to manage a newly purchased section of the Ponderosa. However, unbeknownst to Ben, Breckenridge and his hired hands had burned buildings, torn down fences, and stolen cattle from neighboring ranches putting neighboring ranchers in such difficult financial straits that they agreed to sell out to him for unreasonably low prices. All this was done in the name of Ben Cartwright and the Ponderosa. When John Mc Elroy confronted Breckenridge about these types of things happening on his ranch, he was severely beaten and eventually died. Ben stated that he planned to make full restitution to the local ranchers who were cheated out of their property. Because of this, Ben requested that Judge Franklin waive the standard penalty of hanging for cattle rustling for the accused, and Franklin agreed to these terms.

Judge Franklin called Hank and Cactus to give their statements, and lastly he called Kate to the stand.

“Mrs. Mc Elroy, I know this will be difficult for you, but I need to hear how you were wronged by Mr. Breckenridge.”

“Yes, your honor. We moved onto our ranch two years ago and it took us about a year to get up and running. Shortly after we purchased our herd, my husband began to notice that our fences were frequently down. At first we only lost a steer or two, but then we lost them in tens. John, my husband, had heard the stories from neighbors about Breckenridge; so John rode over to see him. Mr. Breckenridge told John that he had better stop spreading lies and the only time he wanted to see him again was when he was ready to sell his ranch. Then Breckenridge’ men beat him nearly to death. I found John on the side of the road. He had tried to ride home and he had fallen off his horse. I nursed him for about a month, but his injuries were too great and he died.”

Kate hung her head and dabbed her eyes with a hanky.

One of Breckenridge’s men shouted out. “And I hear Cartwright’s gonna take care of that, too.”

“Order! I will have order in this court!” Judge Franklin pounded his gavel.

The gallery snickered. Ben looked at Kate with sympathy. He did not want to see her further embarrassed.

The judge looked at Sheriff Taylor with irritation. “Sheriff, remove that man back to jail. Is there anyone else who would like to join this man in a cell?” Judge Franklin pointed his gavel at the crowd. Once quiet was restored the judge continued. “Thank you, Mrs. Mc Elroy. You may step down now.” Franklin waited for Kate to take her seat beside Ben before announcing his decision. “After hearing the charges and statements, I hearby order Cass Breckenridge, Harley Jones, Jim Stram, Mike Lang, and Pete Nance held over for trial. This court is adjourned until ten o’clock tomorrow morning.” The judge closed the hearing with a pound of his gavel.

Immediately there was a cacophony of voices in the gallery. Breckenridge glared at Ben and Kate as he and his men were escorted out of the saloon. Ben pulled her close hoping to ease her raw nerves after a very difficult morning.

Chapter 12

The trial the following day began with the selection of jurors, which meant several names were thrown into a hat, and six were drawn out. Judge Franklin handled the questioning with no lawyers available to prosecute or defend. Ben, Cactus, Hank, and Kate gave their testimonies once again. Then the judge called Cass Breckenridge to the stand. He denied doing anything illegal saying that the local ranchers needed out from under their debt and he was happy to help them out. Franklin decided to try a different approach. He questioned the youngest of four other men on trial, assuming he had the most to lose. It only took a couple of questions until Pete Nance caved.

“Look judge, I don’t want to go to prison. Everything Cartwright and the others said about Cass is true.” Nance hung his head, not wanting to look at anyone, especially his boss.

There was a lot of talking in the gallery. Cass Breckenridge was seething and he shouted. “You’re a liar, Nance!”

Judge Franklin pounded his gavel. “That will be enough Mr. Breckenridge. One more outburst and you will be removed from this court.” Then Judge Franklin looked at the crowd. “I will have order in this court. You will be quiet, or you will be removed. Thank you, Mr. Nance. I will take this into account when passing sentence.”

So naturally Jones, Lang, and Stram, also turned on their boss when given the opportunity. None of them were willing suffer any more than necessary for the consequences of being associated with Cass Breckenridge. Judge Franklin sent the jury out for deliberation and stated that court would reconvene in thirty minutes. He was reasonably certain it would not take long for the jury to come to a verdict.

Thirty minutes later the bailiff called the jury back in. Judge Franklin turned to the foreman of the jury. “How do you find the defendants?”

The lead juror responded. “Your Honor, we find Cass Breckenridge guilty of all charges brought against him, and we find Jones, Lang, Nance, and Stram guilty of cattle rustling, destruction of property, and assault.”

There was much whispering in the gallery. Judge Franklin again used his gavel to restore order. “Thank you gentleman of the jury. I will now pronounce the sentences. The defendants will rise. I want to make this clear perfectly clear. Were it not for Mr. Cartwright’s wilingness to make restitution to the injured parties, all five defendants would be hanged for cattle rustling. Technically speaking the five of you owe your lives to him. Therefore Harley Jones, Pete Nance, Mike Lang, and Jim Stram, I have taken into consideration your testimonies, and I hereby sentence each of you to two years in the Nevada State prison with your terms to begin immediately. Cass Breckenridge I hereby sentence you to fifteen years in the Nevada State prison with your term to begin immediately. Sheriff you may remove the prisoners back to the jail. This case is dismissed.”

The judge called the bailiff over and was practically shouting in his ear to be heard over the raucous voices of the crowd. The judge pounded his gavel until it became quiet.

The bailiff made an announcement. “The case of Cartwright versus Flannigan will began at one o’clock this afternoon. It will be a closed session; only the parties involved and pertinent witnesses will be present.”

The crowd returned to their rowdy commentary.

Ben looked at Kate and put his good arm around her. “Thankfully, this will all be over this afternoon.”

Kate could only nod.

At one o’clock they returned to the saloon. The foursome had managed to get a sandwich at the overrun cafe in town and were now ready to get this business over and done. Sheriff Taylor brought Finney Flannigan in from the jail. Finney smirked at Ben.

Ben scowled and thought to himself. That kid has no shame. He still has that cat crap grin on his face after spending two days in jail.

Besides Flannigan, those present at the trial were Ben, Kate, Cactus, Hank, Sheriff Taylor, Sam Carter, Finney, the bailiff, and Judge Franklin.

“All rise for the honorable Hiram P Franklin.” The bailiff announced in full voice as the judge came in from the side room.

The sheriff jerked Finney to his feet when he failed to get up in a timely fashion.

Judge Franklin motioned for everyone to be seated. “Even though this is a small group, the same rules apply. I will tolerate no outbursts or disruptions of any kind during these proceedings. Now I see that the charges are against one Finney Flannigan for molesting a women, escape from custody, and assault with a deadly weapon. Is that correct, Sheriff Taylor?”

“Yes, your honor.”

The judge looked at Ben. “Very well, Mr. Cartwright, will you please come and give your statement.”

Ben came forward and was sworn in. He explained that Finney Flannigan was hired about a week ago as a ranch hand for the McElroy ranch. On Finney’s second day at the ranch, Ben found Mrs. McElroy very upset. She said the Flannigan had forced his affections on her while she was working in her garden and told her that he would make sure Ben had an accident if she informed anyone about their encounter. Ben then related how he had brought Flannigan to the sheriff, but he had escaped from Sam Carter on their way to Reno. Later, Finney showed up at the ranch and threatened he and Mrs. McElroy and shot Ben in the shoulder.

The judge then asked Kate for her statement. “Mrs. McElroy, I understand the sensitive nature of your statement, therefore I will hear it in the other room.”

“Thank you, Judge Franklin.” Kate breathed a sigh of relief.

She was very thankful that Finney would not be staring at her as she relived the horrid details of the experience in the garden, and also that she would not have to see the anger and frustration that most certainly would have been on Ben’s face.

Ben reached over and gently squeezed her arm as Kate rose to follow Judge Franklin into a side room. The judge smiled at Kate trying to put her at ease. He arranged to two chairs facing each other for them to use. “Please be seated Mrs. McElroy. You may begin whenever you are ready.”

Forcing herself to keep her eyes fixed on the judge, Kate related how she had been working in her garden when Flannigan surprised her. “He came up and grabbed me, covered by mouth with his hand, and … kissed my neck.” Kate stopped, as the scene replayed in her mind. Gathering her composure, she continued. “He threatened to harm Mr. Cartwright if I told anyone about his advances. Then he said he would be back later that night and kissed me on the mouth.” Kate hung her head and then looked back up. “Your honor, I had done nothing that would have given Mr. Flannigan the idea that I had any interest in him. In fact, I had never even been introduced to him, since he was hired on just the previous day. The following evening, Mr. Cartwright and I were talking on the front porch when Mr. Flannigan showed up with a pistol and threatened us. Fortunately, Mr. Carter came riding in but Mr. Cartwright was shot in the shoulder while trying to take Flannigan’s gun away from him.”

“Thank you, Mrs. McElroy. I know that was very unpleasant and I truly admire your fortitude.” The judge motioned toward the door. “Shall we go back into the main room.”

Ben reached for her hand as Kate returned to her seat and continued to hold it during the remainder of the trial. The judge then called the sheriff, Carter, Cactus, and Hank. Noting that their statements were in total support of Ben and Kate’s testimonies, Judge Franklin was ready to pronounce sentence.

“Finney Flannigan, please rise.”

Again the sheriff had to drag Finney out of his seat.

“Mr. Flannigan I find you guilty of all charges and hereby sentence you to two years in the Nevada State prison.” Judge Franklin announced. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Finney hung his head. “Nah, guess not.”

It was the first time Finney Flannigan had shown even the slightest bit of remorse for his actions.

Judge Franklin looked seriously at the prisoner. “Because you are so young, Mr. Flannigan, I sincerely hope that after two years in prison you will have a greater respect for women and for the law. Sheriff Taylor you may take the prisoner back to jail. This case is dismissed.”

Ben shook hands with Cactus and the other men and then turned to Kate with a relieved smile. “Let’s get some dinner and get you home.”

Chapter 13

It was getting dark by the time they returned to the ranch. Cactus helped Kate down from the seat of the buckboard and Hank gave Ben a hand getting out of the back. Ben and Kate walked slowly toward the house as Cactus and Hank took care of the horses. It had been a very long day, emotionally draining for Kate and very physically taxing for Ben. Still, it was a relief to be done with Cass Breckenridge and Finney Flannigan; freedom that Kate had not felt in a very long time.

Kate hung up her shawl and rubbed her hands up and down her arms trying to muster some energy. “I’ll put on some coffee and then tend to your dressing.”

Ben sighed and smiled weakly. “That sounds good.”

He watched Kate moving around the kitchen, drinking in her every movement. He took more notice than usual of her curves and swells, and though painful and tired, a desire for her was building within him. Ben winced as he cautiously removed his arm from the sling and lifted it over his head. He pulled his shirttails from this pants knowing that allowing Kate to do it would send him over the edge. He was struggling with the buttons on his shirt as she set the ointment and clean bandage on the table.

Kate saw that he was having trouble. “Here, Ben, let me help you with those.” However, Kate did not realize until her fingers touched the first button how she would react to being so close to him this way tonight. The faint scent of his shaving lotion struck her senses as she opened his shirt. She had to desperately fight the urge to run her fingers through the thick hair on his chest; so she went around behind him and helped him shrug off his vest and shirt.

Kate felt like she could hardly breathe. She pulled a chair out from the table. “Please sit down so I can work on your shoulder.” It took all her willpower to stay focused on the task at hand.

Ben closed his eyes as she carefully removed the old dressing; not from pain, but because the nearness of her was driving him mad. Kate cleaned his wound, which was healing well, gently applied some herbal salve, and covered it with a clean bandage. She noticed that his muscles were taut and assumed it was from pain and fatigue. Caught up in her own feelings, she did not realize how much Ben was struggling to keep his desires in check.

Though she knew it was not a good idea, she decided to risk asking the question that was swirling in her head. “Would you like for me to rub your neck?”

Ben hesitated, knowing he should say no, but with his eyes still closed he whispered. “That would be marvelous.”

Kate went around behind him, reached toward his neck, stopped and pulled back as if reconsidering, and then gently placed her finger tips on his strong neck muscles.

Ben flinched, jumpy with anticipation.

“Sorry, did that hurt?”

“No, no. Please go on.”

Kate could feel him relaxing as she carefully worked his neck and shoulders. She took in the muscle definition on his back. These past few weeks of physical work had been good for Ben. She resisted her very strong desire to reach beyond his shoulders.

Ben’s body was tingling, her touch overwhelming his senses. A slight moan escaped his lips. And when he could take no more, he reached up behind him for her hand and brought Kate around in front of him.

With jagged breaths he told her. “I’ve got to go now…if I don’t…I won’t be able to leave.”

Kate nodded. She knew he was right. Ben was sparing her from the bunk house gossip were he not in his bunk tomorrow morning, and that made her love him all the more. She helped him with his shirt and Ben grabbed his vest and sling. Ben knew that he could not allow himself to kiss her; so stroked her cheek and permitted Kate to see for a moment the desire that was burning in his eyes. Then he left.

Kate was warm all over, her eyes glowing with love. After John died, she had been afraid to even hope that she might find love again. This was like a dream come true. Kate touched her cheek still able to feel his hand on her skin. But it was his eyes; they penetrated into her soul. Every woman dreams of having a man look at her that way.

Cactus was the only one still awake when Ben entered the bunk house. He was sitting in the corner by the lantern whittling. “How’s that shoulder?”

“It’s doing well. Kate got me all fixed up.”

“I’m sure she did.” The faintest of smiles crept onto Cactus’ lips.

Yet, neither Cactus’ inference nor the pain of getting out of his shirt and pants could spoil Ben’s reverie. He could still feel Kate’s hands on his body.

I need you, Kate.

Chapter 14

Once his shoulder was healed well enough that riding would not be uncomfortable, Ben started to visit the previous owners of the ranches that Breckenridge had swindled. The judge had turned over Breckenridge’ bank account to him so that he could properly compensate the ranchers for their land and cattle. Ben was determined to never again allow someone who worked for him so much free rein without first proving his trustworthiness. The Cartwright reputation had taken a serious beating, and it was much more difficult to undo the damage than it would have been had he stayed on top of things from the beginning.

Despite the problems with Finney Flannigan, the repairs on the McElroy ranch were almost complete. Taking a look around the homestead, Ben saw some new siding, fresh paint, straight fence posts, and a few new pieces of equipment. It was a place that Kate could be proud to own. Tomorrow the Ponderosa hands would pack up and head for home. Ben thanked them for their hard work. Even though no one had complained, he knew they were ready to get back to the main ranch and their regular routines. A night in Virginia City was definitely in order for the hard working crew. For their last night, Kate and the hired cook were working together to put on a big celebration spread for the hands. A steer was slaughtered and slow-roasted on a spit. Kate was making lots of mashed potatoes, green beans, corn of the cob, and baking berry and apple pies.

She was glad to stay busy because it helped to keep her mind off the fact that Ben had said nothing about what was going to happen with the two of them after tomorrow. Kate was sure Ben loved her, and she was certain that she loved him. Still his silence on the matter concerned her. He had already become part of her everyday life. She did not believe that he would just up and leave her, but then what would happen if he did ask her to marry him? What would happen to the ranch? Other than the cattle that would be coming soon, it looked like the place she and John had always wanted it to be. Marrying Ben would mean leaving it all behind. That thought left her heart sad. She had invested so much of herself here, but she knew in her heart that she was ready to give up the ranch to become Mrs. Ben Cartwright.

Ben was feeling a bit nervous all day and actually had avoided Kate. Over the years following Marie’s death, he had allowed himself to fall in love with several other women only to be left heartbroken. He was not sure he could bear it if Kate refused his proposal. He knew she loved him. He had heard her say the words, but he also knew that sometimes love was not enough. Others had said that they loved him, too, and still were not willing to marry him. This left him uneasy. His heart longed to have a woman in his life again. He relished the feelings of gentleness, warmth, and comfort that a woman brought to a relationship. Regardless of his reservations, Ben knew he that tonight he would lay his heart out once again for the woman that he loved, praying to God that she would return his love and want to be his wife.

The grand feast had them all in high spirits. Everyone ate their fill and then relaxed around a large bonfire. Kate enjoyed listening to the hands tell stories and sing songs with only an occasional, “sorry, Miz Mac”, when something was inappropriate for her ears. The moon was rising and the sky was full of bright stars which made Ben very happy that nature was cooperating to set the proper mood for his proposal. He felt like the emerald ring was about to burn a hole in his vest pocket.

“Would you like to take a little walk?” Ben nodded toward the grove of trees near the house.

Kate offered him a warm smile. “That would nice.”

It was time for her to leave the party anyway so that the men could truly cut loose and enjoy themselves. She noticed their laughter became more raucous after she and Ben stepped away. He reached for her hand, and together they walked toward the trees. Eventually they stopped under a large fir. Kate leaned against it and looked up into the night sky. Ben kept his eyes focused on her and her auburn hair that was aglow in the moonlight.

Kate gazed up into the glittering sky. “Beautiful moon.”

Ben leaned closed and whispered in her ear. “Yes, you are very beautiful.”

She turned toward him and their lips came together in a tender kiss. Kate moved her arms around his neck running her fingers through his silver hair as Ben wrapped his arms securely around her waist.

Their kisses grew from gentle to passionate and finally they broke off, breathless.

Ben looked intently into her eyes. “Kate, I love you so much. I just can’t imagine living my life without you. Please, marry me.”

Kate looked longingly into his deep brown eyes. “Yes, Ben, I will marry you. I want to be your wife and your partner. I do love you so.”

Ben took the emerald ring from his vest pocket and carefully placed it on Kate’s left hand. “You have made me an incredibly happy man!” He kissed her again.

Kate held her hand up so the moonlight glinted off the emerald. “Oh Ben, it’s so beautiful! Thank you!” She placed her hands on his cheeks and kissed him.

Ben drew in a deep breath. “I can’t wait for you to meet my boys, Kate. I know they will love you. Do you think you could be ready to travel to the Ponderosa tomorrow? I want to get married right away. In fact, my birthday is in five days. What a wonderful present that would be. We can have a great big celebration some time later. You can invite everyone in the world…”

His words were coming fast and frenzied. Kate looked at him wide-eyed. He reminded her of a little boy pleading for something he wanted so badly, and it melted her heart. Kate placed a finger to his lips, and his words came to a stop.

She laughed. “Yes, Ben, I will be ready to go to the Ponderosa tomorrow. Normally a woman would like a little more time for wedding plans, but seeing all that you have accomplished here, I’m sure you can pull a wedding together in five days.” She tapped a finger on his chest. “But I am going to hold you to that celebration.”

Ben gave her an embarrassed smile.

Kate returned his smile, but then grew serious. “And Ben, I will not leave you. I promise.”

Exhaling a heavy sigh, he murmured to her. “Thank you.”

Ben knew he was being unreasonable, but he felt a desperation, a fear of losing yet another love. And even though Kate did not know all the history, she sensed his need for reassurance. He had done so much for her, now it was her turn to give back.

He kissed her again, unable to get enough of her sweet lips, and then they held each other in a lingering embrace. Ben and Kate remained for a time leaning on the tree, basking in the glow of the moonlight and their happiness, neither wanting this night to come to an end. Eventually they began to make their way toward the house, Kate’s arm in his. They paused in front of the door for one last kiss.

“I love you, my beautiful Katherine McElroy.”

Kate’s green eyes danced as she teased him. “I love you, Ben Brown.”

Ben laughed heartily when he realized that they were standing in almost the exact spot where they had first met less than two months ago. “I’m truly thankful, ma’am that you decided against using your gun and invited me in for supper.”

Kate laughed, picturing him in her mind dressed as a saddle tramp and looking very forlorn. “Me, too.”

Ben gently touched her cheek. “Goodnight, Miz Mac.” He opened the door for Kate to go inside and closed it behind her. He whistled merrily as he strode toward the bunk house. He felt like he was walking about two feet off the ground.

She said yes!

Chapter 15

Elements from the season 12 episode “For a Young Lady” are mentioned in this chapter.

Ben and the Ponderosa hands were up early the next morning. Today they were heading home. Cactus noticed Ben was whistling a cheerful tune.

“Sounds like you’re happy to get back to the Ponderosa. I’d a thought maybe you wouldn’t be so anxious to leave and all.”

Ben looked at Cactus with wonder. “Oh, why would that be?”

“Well…you know…I mean…Well…you had supper with Miz Mac every night since you came back, that’s all.” Cactus huffed with frustration.

“You been spying on Miz Mac and me?” Ben eyed him smugly.

Cactus grunted and left the bunk house. A low, mischievous chuckle rumbled in Ben’s throat.

The six wagons were hitched and ready to go. The horses would have much easier time with the lighter loads for the return trip home. There would just a few hand tools, saddle bags and bedrolls. Ben had included maintenance on Kate’s buggy with the other ranch repairs; so it stood hitched up and ready beside the wagons with Buck tied on the back.

Ben walked to the house and knocked. Kate answered the door with her bag in one hand and a basket of food in the other.

“All set, Kate?”

“I think so…It just feels really strange to be leaving.”

“Here, let me have that.” He reached out and took her bag. “Kate, I promise we will be back soon for everything else that you really want.”

She nodded. Ben kissed her cheek, and they walked toward the wagons.

As Ben stowed Kate’s bag and the basket in the buggy as she chatted with Hank and Cactus. Ben gave a nod to Smokey who then let loose with a shrill whistle to get everyone’s attention. Though no seemed very surprised by the news, there were whoops, whistles and cheers when Ben shared the good news about upcoming wedding.

“Thanks for everything, Hank…Cactus.” Ben extended his hand to each man.

“Best wishes to you both.” Hank offered the couple a big grin.

“I feel badly that you two won’t be at the wedding.” Kate commented to Cactus and Hank.

“Oh, I ain’t much for getting gussied up for that kind of thing anyway.” Just the thought of it made Cactus nervously brushed the back of his hand across his mouth.

Kate put a hand on one hip. “Well, we will give you plenty of notice so that you both can be there for our wedding celebration, and I will expect you…” She pointed at Cactus. “to be there all ‘gussied up’ or you’re fired.”

Cactus raised his bushy eyebrows. “You’ve been spending too much time with him.” He pointed his thumb at Ben. “You’re startin’ to sound like just like him.”

Everyone had a good laugh. Ben helped Kate into the buggy, and they waved their goodbyes. It would take an entire day to get to the Ponderosa by road. Ben calculated that with only a few short rests for the horse, they should be pulling up to the house about sunset. The men with the wagons would be spending the night along the road and would not get in until late the next morning. Kate was quiet for quite a while enjoying the warm, sunny day. Ben finally broke the silence, worried that Kate might be having second thoughts.

“I hope you’re not too disappointed with a small, family wedding.” Ben offered apologetically.

“With my parents gone and the rest of my family back in Indiana, there really aren’t many people I would have invited anyway. But there are a few neighbors I would like to invite to our celebration.”

“Absolutely. So, tomorrow morning we will ride into Virginia City. I will talk with Reverend Thomas about handling the ceremony on Tuesday at noon. While I am doing that, you can pay a visit to a friend of mine, Clara Norton. She has a very nice dress shop, and I know she will be able to help you with a dress.”

“But it’s such short notice, Ben. Are you sure?”

“Clara is an excellent seamstress. She has done things on short notice before.”

Kate eyed him with uncertainty. “Yes but this is a dress for a very special occasion. And since when have you needed a dress? I thought you only had sons?”

Ben smirked. “Well, a man needs a dress once in a while.” His brown eyes were alive with humor.

“I’m listening.”

“Well there have been several occasions, but I’ll tell you about one. There was a young girl named Carrie staying with us at the ranch who was in need of a dress. She had been living with her grandfather, but sadly he passed away. As much as we liked having her in our home, a house full of men was no place for a young woman finish her growing up; so she also in need a family. I went to Clara’s shop to buy a dress for the Carrie and since Clara had no family of her own I asked her to consider adopting the girl. And she did.”

“That’s wonderful!” Kate gave him an embarrassed smile. “Ok, I won’t make fun about men buying dresses, especially since I may be in need of a new dress once in a while.”

“Your wish is my command, my lady.” Ben removed his hat and pushed it against his chest.

Kate laughed but then grew quiet.

“Ben, what is going to happen with my ranch?”

“For now, Hank, Cactus and Cam will handle things. In couple of weeks, I will send some of the hands to get the new herd.”

“I see.”

“Kate, I will not make changes without your consent, if that’s what you are concerned about.”

“I hope that you don’t think me ungrateful. It’s just that John and I worked so hard. The ranch was our life…I’m sure the Ponderosa is wonderful and eventually it will seem like home to me. It’s just hard right now.”

“I understand that I am asking a lot from you. It will take a little time for you to feel comfortable in the new surroundings, but I will do everything I can to make it a good transition.” Ben rested his hand on Kate’s.

Kate nodded. She was thankful for Ben’s understanding.

Back at the Ponderosa, the boys were anxiously awaiting Ben’s return. He had sent them a telegram the day of the trials telling them to expect him today, but there had been no time to send a wire that said whether Kate had accepted his proposal. The guest room was ready and Hop Sing had prepared a nice meal. Hoss was starving because Joe had told Hop Sing to plan for a late dinner. Pa could not get home soon enough to suit Hoss. Joe kept checking the door thinking he heard someone driving in.

Ben roused Kate when they were about a half mile from the house. She had managed to get a short nap and was hoping she did not look too bad after a full day on the road. Her nerves grabbed at her stomach. She hoped Ben’s sons would like her. Ben had talked about them extensively during their after dinner chats on the porch. If Hoss and Joe were anything like their father, Kate knew she would like them. Even though Jamie was not Ben’s son by blood, Ben had spoken very highly of him. Kate began brushing off the dust, straightening her hat, and tucking her hair back into place.

Ben gave her a reassuring glance. “You look lovely, Kate.” Then he leaned over and kissed her nose.

This time when Joe ran to the door he was sure he heard someone coming. When he opened the door he saw his father and an attractive woman pulling up to the house.

Joe yelled back into the house. “Hoss…Jamie, they’re here.”

He hurried out the door with a huge smile on his face. Ben stepped out of the buggy giving Kate his hand to help her down. Hoss and Jamie walked out and joined Joe.

“Hoss, Joseph, Jamie, it’s very good to see all of you.”

“Pa it’s great to have you home! Glad you’re home, Pa. Good to see you.” Ben’s sons shared their greetings with slaps on the shoulder and wide smiles.

Kate truly appreciated their warm smiles.

“Boys, I would like you to meet Katherine McElroy. Kate these are three of my sons, Hoss, Joseph, and Jamie.” Ben pointed at each one as he said the name.

Each one took her hand and gave his pleasantries. Kate returned each greeting with her thanks and a smile.

Ever the helpful one, Hoss spoke up first. “Pa, I’ll take care of the horses, Joe and Jamie will get your bags.”

Ben nodded his thanks, then took Kate by the elbow and led her into the house. She was immediately struck with its majestic beauty. It was very masculine, as she would have expected, but still, there was warmth in the wood and stone. And someone had placed some fresh flowers on the side table near the stairs. Kate stood wide-eyed taking it in.

Ben gave her some time to look it over. “Do you like it, Kate?”

She touched the sleeve of the coat. “Oh, Ben, it’s magnificent!. How could I not like it.”

Hop Sing came out of the kitchen and was stood quietly beside the dining room table.

“Kate, I would like you to meet our cook, Hop Sing. Hop Sing, this is Mrs. McElroy.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss.” Hop Sing bowed with his hands pressed together. “Supper ready in a few minutes.”

Ben led Kate toward the stairs. “I’ll show you to your room so you can freshen up.”

Before long, Kate came back down the stairs. Ben and the boys were sitting in the living room and stood when she reached the main floor. Kate dropped her head; she was unaccustomed to such gentlemanly manners. Ben stepped over and took by the her elbow, and led her to the table. After she was seated, Ben and the boys took their places. Hop Sing’s served a delicious dinner, and much to Kate’s relief the conversation flowed very well. She asked them to call her ‘Kate’ rather than ‘Katherine’ or ‘Mrs. McElroy’. Then she asked each son about himself and the boys enjoyed hearing her version of their father’s ‘Ben Brown’ escapades.

“Your father is a very determined man. I was pointing a shotgun at him the first time we met.” Kate’s green eyes sparkled with merriment.

“You were definitely worth the risk.” Ben took her hand in his.

The boys had a good laugh thinking about their trail weary Pa being held at bay by Kate with a loaded shotgun.

After dinner, Ben and Kate stepped outside for some air. Joe peeked out the window behind Ben’s desk. Hoss came up and looked over his shoulder. They could just make out the silhouettes of their father and Kate kissing in the moonlight.

“Hoss, isn’t it great to see Pa so happy?”

“Yeah, sure is.”

Joe looked thoughtful. “Kate sure seems like a wonderful woman. She must be or Pa wouldn’t have asked her to marry him.”

Jamie came in from the kitchen munching on a cookie. “Are you two spying on Pa and Kate? You know that’s not nice.”

Joe feigned innocence. “How can you be sure it’s Pa and Kate out there?”

Jamie folded his arms across his middle. “Reckon cause I saw them go out the door after supper, that’s how. So ARE you spying on them?”

Joe hit Hoss in the shoulder. “You shouldn’t be looking at them like that!”

Hoss looked at Joe in surprise. “What do you mean I shouldn’t be looking at them!” Then he shoved Joe into Ben’s desk chair.

Jamie was grinning as he ran upstairs. He could still hear them arguing back and forth.

Meanwhile outside, Ben stepped behind Kate and wrapped his arms around her. He nuzzled her neck as they looked up at the moon. Suddenly there was a commotion in the house.

Kate jerked. “What was that?”

Ben grumbled. “That, my love, was the sound of my boys being BOYS. I’m afraid you will have to get used to it.”

Kate laughed and snuggled into Ben’s warm chest.

Chapter 16

Early Saturday morning Ben and Kate took the buggy into Virginia City and drove straight to the dress shop. The bell jingled as Ben opened the door to allow Kate to enter. Clara Norton, a large woman with a happy face, was seated by a small table working on a dress. She had to remove a couple of pins from her mouth before rising to greet them.

“Well, Ben Cartwright. It’s been quite a while since you’ve been in. Good to see you. Hello ma’am.” Clara’s pleasant, booming voice filled her shop.

Ben removed his hat. “Clara, it’s good to see you too. How’s Carrie?”

“She’s fine, just fine. Carrie! Carrie, come say hello to Mr. Cartwright!”

Out from the back of the shop stepped a pretty, dark-haired girl in her teens. She greeted them with a shy smile. “Hello, Mr. Cartwright…ma’am. It’s nice to see you.”

Ben nodded to the girl. “Good to see you again, Carrie.”

Clara looked at Kate and then back to him. “Now Ben, I have the feeling that you didn’t just stop in to say hello. How can I help you?”

“Well Clara, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but this lovely lady is my fiancee, Katherine McElroy.”

“How wonderful! That’s so exciting! I’m very pleased to meet you, Katherine. Congratulations to you both! So when is the wedding?” The windows were almost rattling with Clara’s enthusiasm.

Ben looked at Kate with an embarrassed smile. “Tuesday.”

Clara looked at him in surprise. “Oh my goodness! That’s soon. You must have kept it a secret or I’m definitely slipping on keeping up with the news?”

“No, Clara, I’m afraid your wrong on both accounts. I just asked Kate to marry me two days ago.”

Clara laughed. “Oh good. Glad I’m not behind on things. Regardless that is happy news. Welcome to Virginia City, Katherine.”

Kate smiled, amused by Clara’s good-natured nosiness. “Thank you, Clara. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Ben tried to make light of his forthcoming request. “Yes, well, you know, Clara, there’s no point waiting around because I’m sure not getting any younger. Tuesday is also my birthday. Anyway, we’re just having a small, private ceremony at the ranch. Still, it is our special day and I would like Kate to have a dress fitting for the occasion. I know it’s a lot to ask, but do you think you can help us?”

Clara tapped a plump finger on her round cheek and thought for a moment as she eyed Kate, then she gave them both a reassuring smile. “Katherine looks like an easy fit. And truthfully, Ben, I am still very much in your debt. Without your help, I would not have Carrie.” Clara moved toward Carrie and placed her large arm around her adopted daughter’s shoulders.

Clara’s voice changed suddenly from sweet to commanding. “Now shoo, Ben Cartwright, and leave us ladies alone. We’ve got work to do.”

Ben gave Kate’s arm a gentle squeeze. “You’re in good hands, Kate. Thanks, Clara.” He was happy to escape unscathed.

“Oh Katherine, you are very lucky lady…you will be the talk of the town when this gets out…to have snagged Ben Cartwright…oh my goodness… Carrie don’t run off now, I’m going to need your help…Katherine, I’ve got this beautiful piece of material….” Clara’s steady stream of words rang in Ben’s ears as he closed the shop door behind him.

He let out a big sigh of relief and headed toward the church. Upon entering the building, he found Reverend Thomas seated at his desk in the alcove on the left side of the sanctuary.

The minister rose from his desk when he heard the door open. “Mr. Cartwright, it’s so good to see you.”

“Good day to you, Reverend. A pleasure to see you, too.”

“Is there something I can do for you today?”

“Yes there is, but actually it is noon on Tuesday that I came to ask you about. Would you possibly be available to perform a private wedding ceremony at our ranch?

“Yes I believe my schedule will permit it. And who would I be performing the ceremony for?”

“Me….and my fiancee, Katherine McElroy.”

“Really? That’s wonderful! Congratulations!” Thomas offered Ben his hand.

“Thank you, Reverend.”

“Yes, that should be fine. I will plan to come to the Ponderosa on Tuesday around 11:30. Is there anything special that you or your fiancee would like me to do?”

“No, Reverend, I don’t think so. We just want to be married.”

The minister smiled with understanding. “Yes, I believe I can manage that. I will see you on Tuesday, if not before.”

“Thank you, Reverend, but we will be seeing you here tomorrow for Sunday service. I want Kate to become acquainted with the people of Virginia City right away.”

“Very well, then. I will look forward to meeting the future Mrs. Cartwright tomorrow. Good day.”

Ben tipped his hat before turning toward the door. As he left the church, he noticed Sheriff Coffee crossing the street in front of his office.

Ben shouted. “Roy…Roy…wait up a minute.”

Coffee paused and waited for Ben to walk over. “Well, Ben. Haven’t seen you in quite a while. How have you been’?”

“I am well, Roy, very well, in fact.”

“Really? What’s up?” Coffee’s interested was piqued.

Ben tapped the sheriff on the chest. “Roy, now don’t drop over or anything, but I’m getting married.”

“Well, I’ll be doggoned. You could knock me over with a feather. Congratulations, Ben!” The sheriff clapped Ben on the shoulder and shook his hand enthusiastically. “That’s terrific! So who’s the lucky lady?”

“Her name is Katherine McElroy. I met her when I was up north taking care of that Cass Breckenridge mess I told you about a couple of weeks ago. Kate owns one of the ranches that Breckenridge was trying to get his hands on. Anyway, Kate is a wonderful woman, and I couldn’t be happier.”

“That’s great, Ben, just great. I can appreciate what it means to find someone at this time in your life.” Roy Coffee then shared his heart with his good friend. “I still miss Mary, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and wish she was still here with me.”

Ben placed his hand firmly on Roy’s shoulder. “I understand, Roy. Truly I do…Roy, I would consider it an honor if you could join us for the ceremony. We are keeping it small and simple, just at the ranch on Tuesday at noon.”

“I’ll plan on it, as long as nothing major comes up. Thanks, Ben.”

Ben gave the sheriff a gentle slap on the arm. “Hope to see you Tuesday. So long, Roy.”

Ben walked toward the general store. Mr. Watson, the owner, kept a few more expensive items in his safe, and Ben wanted to have a look. Watson usually had a few wedding bands and other pieces of jewelry. Ben was hoping to find something special for Kate.

“Good morning, Watson.”

“Morning, Mr. Cartwright. What can I do for you this morning?”

“I was wondering if I could have a look at your jewelry. I need a gift for a special lady.”

“And who might that be? That is if you don’t mind my askin’?”

“The woman I plan to marry.”

“Why Mr. Cartwright, what a surprise. Congratulations! Anyone I know?”

“I’m afraid not, but you will soon. Her name is Katherine McElroy.”

Watson took some items out from the safe. There were several gold bands, a few necklaces, and pairs of earrings. Among the items was a delicate emerald pendant.

Ben’s face lit up and he made his choice without hesitation. “I think today is my lucky day. The emerald pendant will be perfect.”

Watson looked a bit uncertain. “That one is quite a bit. It’s fifty dollars.”

“Kate is worth that and so much more.” Ben pulled the cash out of his wallet.

“I’ll wrap it up for you. It will just take a minute.”

Before long, Watson handed Ben a small package tied with a tiny satin ribbon bow. “My best wishes to you both, and thank you for your business.”

Ben nodded his thanks and stashed the package in his vest pocket. Then it was time to check on Kate and then get some lunch.

Back at Clara’s shop, Ben cautiously opened the door. Clara pulled back the curtain from the fitting room where she and Kate were working just enough to stick her head out.

“Oh, Ben, it’s you.”

Ben self-consciously turned to the side.

“We’re just about to the point that you can have Katherine for an hour or so. But then I need her back here again for about another hour. So, you just go wait out on the porch.” Clara waved him away. “I don’t want to risk you seeing any part of this dress until Tuesday.”

Ben gave her a quick salute. “Yes, ma’am.” He went right back out the door and walked up and down the boardwalk for several minutes before Kate finally came out the shop door.

Ben heard Clara say. “I’ll see you around two.”

Kate nodded and waved. “Thanks, Clara. See you then.”

Clara came to the window just in time to see Ben walk up and give Kate a kiss on the cheek. Clara had to fight a twinge of jealousy, as would most of the other middle-aged women in Virginia City, when they saw Kate on Ben’s arm. Yet, Clara smiled and wished them all the happiness in the world.

Ben and Kate were the cause of many heads turning. Kate felt a bit self-conscious, but Ben saw none of it. He only had eyes for her. During lunch at the International House, they discussed how the morning went. Ben assured her that everything was in order for Tuesday. Kate told him that Clara made sure to tell her everything a woman should know about Virginia City. So after lunch, back to Clara’s they went. Ben decided a beer at the Silver Dollar sounded good while he was waiting. A few minutes before returning to pick up Kate, Ben stopped at the telegraph office to send a wire to Adam. Ben had sent him a wire the day of the trials telling him about Kate and that a wedding might be forthcoming. It had been over a year since Adam and his family came from Boston for a visit. Ben hoped that with a month’s notice they might be able to come for the celebration.

Kate was ready when Ben arrived back at the dress shop. “Thanks so much, Clara, for doing this for Kate. I truly appreciate it. In fact, it would be wonderful if you and Carrie would come for the ceremony. I am sure that Kate would enjoy having some ladies there, too.”

“It would be an honor to be a part of your special day. Thank you. We will plan to come out a couple of hours early and bring the dress then.”

“Thank you, Clara, for everything.” Kate gave the seamstress a warm, sincere smile of gratitude.

“Your quite welcome. Bye now you two.”

On the way back to the ranch, Ben took the route that went past Lake Tahoe. The sun was beginning to drop in the sky sending glittering streaks across the water. The purple mountains stood majestically in the background.

“Oh Ben, it’s breathtaking. No wonder you settled here. Thank you for showing it to me.” Kate was in awe of the fantastic view.

“I come here when everyday life begins to wear on me. I call it my little piece of heaven on earth.”

Ben slipped his arm around her and pulled her close. “I wanted to share this special place with you, Kate. You have changed my life, made it fresh and new. I can’t thank you enough.” His heart was so full of gratitude that his eyes glistened with tears.

Blinking back her own tears, too moved for words, Kate ever so gently took his face in her hands, and kissed Ben sweetly on the lips.

Chapter 17

Sunday morning everyone got ready for church. Kate was in her best dress and the men were in their white shirts, string ties, and jackets. With no work except the basic chores on Sunday, Ben planned a picnic lunch down by the stream. So with the lunch basket and some fishing poles in the back, Ben and Kate took the carriage and the boys went on horseback into Virginia City for Sunday morning worship. After the service, Ben introduced Kate to Reverend Thomas and many of the church-goers. They all offered their congratulations and best wishes for Kate and Ben’s upcoming marriage.

It was a lovely late summer day with a clear blue sky. The short ride from the church to their favorite picnic spot along the stream was a pleasant one. Upon arrival, the men shed their jackets and ties and rolled up their shirt sleeves. They spread three blankets in the shade of some large trees. Hop Sing had packed a delicious lunch of fried chicken, biscuits, pickled vegetables, and apple pie, which they thoroughly enjoyed. After he finished eating, Hoss laid back with his feet crossed, and his hat over his eyes.

Joe thought that his father and Kate might want some time to themselves, so he kicked at Hoss’ boots. “Come on, big brother, let’s go fishin’.”

Jamie chimed in, too. “Come on, Hoss, you know want to.”

Hoss sat up and grumbled. “Oh, alright, dad burnit, I was just gettin’ into a good nap, but now you done spoiled it.”

Ben and Kate laughed at Hoss’ grousing. The boys grabbed their fishing poles and cans of worms and headed toward the stream.

Down by the stream, Joe sat baiting his hook. “Hey, what do you two think of Kate?”

Jamie was watching his line in the water. “I like her. Kate’s real nice.”

Hoss was still thinking on it when Joe jumped back in. “Yeah, she seems nice and all.”

“Now, Joe, iffin Pa wants to marry Kate, it ain’t our say. Sides he deserves to be happy after havin’ so much sorrow. You can see how much he loves her.” Hoss grabbed a big night crawler out the can.

“I know that, but I’m just thinkin’ Pa hasn’t known Kate very long, that’s all. Hope he’s not rushin’ into things. I know Pa gets lonely and all. I just don’t want him to get hurt again. You remember what he was like after Joyce Edwards, the widow Saunders, and Claire Armory. And Jamie, you can remember how he was with April Christopher. Pa really cared for her and it took something out of him when she died.”

Hoss looked at Joe. “Yeah, I remember all those ladies. I guess it just weren’t meant to be. But, Joe, what YOU don’t remember, cause you was just a little mite, was what happened after your Ma died. Pa went away, seemed like forever to me, but Adam said it was about a month. Pa just couldn’t manage without her for a long time. When Pa loves a woman, he loves em somethin’ fierce. And even if you wanted to, you ain’t gonna change his mind about Kate.”

Joe nodded as he jiggled his line up and down in the water. “You know this is going to change everything. Pa will probably never go on round-up or business trips anymore.”

“Well, I don’t know about never. Pa ain’t been doing much of the hard work lately anyway, and rightly so for a man who worked as hard as Pa has for so many years. Marrying Kate will give him a good reason to stick closer to the ranch, so maybe some of the other stuff won’t eat at him quite so much.” Hoss jerked his line as the float went under, but came up empty. “Dad burn, fish. Now I gotta find another worm. But, I see it like this, iffin Pa loves Kate, and she loves him, then I’d say they’re off to a good start. You got to remember, Kate and her first husband was ranchers; so she knows that life and the hard work it takes. That is definitely some points in her favor. With the weddin’ two days away, I say we just pray to the Good Lord that it all works out.”

Jamie shrugged. “Makes sense to me.”

Joe looked at Hoss with respect. “So big brother, when did you get to be so smart?”

“I ain’t book smart like Adam, but I know a few things. It just took you some growin’ up for ya ta figure it out.” Hoss winked at Jamie and gave him a toothy grin.

Meanwhile, Kate was sitting with her legs stretched out in front of her, leaning back on her elbows, watching the boys fish. Ben had reclined and was leaning on one elbow beside her, gazing at a certain place on her neck.

“This is a such a beautiful place. Your boys are wonderful, Ben. They have made me feel so welcome.” Kate spoke out of a glad heart.

“Uh huh”

Kate went on. “Hoss and Joe have a lot of you in them, and Jamie is such a nice young man.”

“Mmmm.” Ben was still focused on her neck.

“I don’ t think you’ve heard a word I’ve said. Now you can’t start that already!”

“I heard you.” He replied drowsily. “But I am more interested in this place…right here!” He growled and leaned over to nibble her neck.

Kate pushed Ben on his back and jumped up. She ran away, shrieking and giggling.

“Hey, come back here!” Ben jumped up and chased after her.

The boys looked back over their shoulders.

Hoss shrugged. “Wonder what that was all that about?”

Joe shook his finger at Hoss. “That, big brother, was just what you’re talkin’ about…love. Pa’s got it bad!”

“Yeah, reckon so.” Hoss looked at his brother with a goofy grin.

Jamie just shook his head. It was strange seeing his almost fifty-five year old father acting like a school boy chasing his first gal. But he remembered his birth father telling him how much he had loved his mother. Jamie was old enough to know that to love someone and have them love you back is a very special thing.

Out of sight from the boys, Ben caught Kate and wrapped his arms tightly around her, pressing her body to his, and kissing her like he never had before, full and deep. He ran his hands up and down her sides, taking in her curves, as she returned his kisses.

Kate wanted to surrender to him, it took all her strength not to, but she pulled away breathless. “Ben…Ben…”

“Kate, I want you.” He kissed her again. “I need you.”

“Ben…I want you, too…so very much…it’s only two more days…just two more days.” She looked intently into his eyes. “And I will be yours, totally and completely, yours.” She paused and then tried to look stern, but there was a twinkle in her eye. She held up two fingers. “Two days…just two.”

With the face of a disappointed little boy, Ben held up two fingers and sighed in resignation. “Two days.”

“Come on.” Kate grabbed his hand. “Let’s see how the fishing is going.”

Kate and Ben enjoyed watching the boys bring in their catches. Eventually they caught enough fish for Hop Sing to fix for supper; so they packed up and headed for home.

Chapter 18

It was still dark when Ben stretched his arms wide early Monday morning, his mind already going strong. He turned up the lamp, scooted himself and repositioned his pillow so he could sit up. It would be a very busy day. Mentally he began ticking off all the things he needed to get done; brush his suit coat, polish his dress boots, talk to the boys about the arrangements for tomorrow evening, help Kate put up decorations, check with Hop Sing about the wedding dinner, and get Kate’s wedding band out of the safe, just to name a few.

I’m getting married tomorrow! I’m really getting married tomorrow! I am the luckiest man alive to get married to the woman I love on my fifty-fifth birthday!

Down the hall, Kate was sitting up in bed. She was not hot, cold, thirsty, or in need of the chamber pot, but she just was not right. When she thought about it, she had not felt like this for about twenty years, the day she married John.

Marriage is a big commitment. You shouldn’t rush into it. Is Ben pushing me to get married? Do I know him well enough to marry him? His sons all seem very nice, but what if all of a sudden one of them decides he doesn’t like me? Better to call this off now than be married and wish I wasn’t. But I can’t do that, Clara has worked her fingers to the bone getting my dress ready. What was Ben thinking anyway?

These were some of the thoughts swirling in Kate’ s mind. She got up and slipped on her robe. She needed some air; so she crept quietly down the stairs and out the door, hoping not to disturb anyone this early.

Ben cocked his head. He was sure he heard the front door open. He quickly put on his robe and slippers and went downstairs. Pulling back the curtain on the window behind his desk, he saw Kate standing outside; so he carefully opened the door and went out. Kate looked back over her shoulder when she heard the door.

Ben came up and stood beside her, but Kate continued to stare up into the starry sky. “Kate, are you alright?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” She did not want to go headlong into the questions that were plaguing her.

“Is something bothering you? Please, tell me if there is.” He placed his hands on her arms.

Kate pulled away. She did not say anything for a moment, then she turned toward Ben crossing her arms in front of her.

“How well do we know each other, Ben? Do you know you’ve never asked me when MY birthday is?”

“I’m sorry, Kate. I intended to, but I just forgot. When is it?”

“Now is not the time to ask.”

Ben’s eyes grew wide. “I don’t understand.”

Kate paused and then cut loose. “What if we can’t make this marriage work? What if we fight about my ranch? What if I can’t be the kind of wife you want me to be? What if your boys decide they don’t want a step-mother? What if Hop Sing never lets me in the kitchen? What if the women of Virginia City hate me because I got the prize bull?”

‘Well, now Kate.” Ben chuckled low, and deep.

“What if?…..what if?…..” She started to sob. “What if ….something happens to you…..and I lose you?” Kate lost control and began sobbing uncontrollably.

Ben tenderly placed his arms around her and held her close. “Kate, shhhh, Kate.” He kissed her hair and held her until she grew quiet.

“Kate, look at me.” Ben lifted her chin toward his face. “Giving your heart to another is frightening. None of us are guaranteed anything in this life. All we can do is live each day, doing our best, working hard, giving love, receiving love, and try to make this world a better place. And if I have learned anything through the years, it is that it’s all so much better when you have someone who loves and cares for you by your side. I pray to God that we have many good years together, Kate, but even if there is no tomorrow, I am thankful for each day that you have been a part of my life. Come what may, I will always love you, Katherine McElroy.”

Kate buried her head in his chest and Ben wrapped his arms tightly around her.

“I do love you, Ben, will all my heart.”

They savored the moment and then Ben released his hold and kissed her forehead. “By the way, when is you birthday?”

“October 6th.”

“I won’t forget! I promise!”

 Chapter 19

Today is the day. Ben’s feet hit the floor almost immediately after he woke.

Everything was ready. He dressed quickly in his everyday clothes, planning to bathe in an hour or so and then put on his suit. He put Kate’s necklace in his vest pocket, hoping to catch her early this morning. Then he went downstairs to the kitchen and was surprised to see Kate, in her robe with a towel around her wet hair, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in her hand. She turned when she heard his footsteps.

“Oh, Ben, I came down early to bathe hoping no one would see me like this.” She stared down into her coffee cup.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I hope I’ll be seeing more of you like this, very soon.” He took her hand and pulled her up to him. “I have something for you.”

“Ben, please. Not now. Not like this.”

“Yes, now, because soon you will go and hide in your room and I won’t be allowed to see you until the ceremony.”

“Oh, alright, then.”

Ben pulled the package from his vest pocket and handed it to her. “Go on, open it.”

Kate immediately forgot about her current state of untidiness and began to untie the ribbon and lift the lid on the box. Her hand came to her cheek. “Oh, Ben, it’s lovely.” She looked up at him with shining eyes. “It will be perfect with my gown. Thank you.” She removed the towel from her head and pulled her damp hair to the side. “Will you put it on me, please.”

He fumbled it bit; his large hands having trouble with the clasp. “There, let me see.” He turned her to face him. “You look beautiful.”

Kate dipped her head.

Ben lifted her chin. “Kate, you will always be beautiful to me, even with wet hair.” He pushed back a few damp strands from her face and kissed her nose.

Suddenly the fact that it was also Ben’s birthday came to her. “Oh my goodness. You caught by surprise and I didn’t even wish you happy birthday. Happy birthday, Ben!” Kate gave him a kiss, but then she looked at him, dismayed. “But, I’m afraid with things happening so fast, I didn’t have time to shop for you.”

“You are all the gift I want.” With a reassuring smile, Ben stroked her cheek.

Kate smile at him sweetly. “I guess I do have something for you, though, I’m afraid you’ll think it a bit strange. Still, I want you to have it, but you will have to come to my room.”

Ben looked at her quizzically. “Alright.” He followed her out of the kitchen and up the stairs. In the guest room, Kate went to the bureau and pulled something out. She handed him a gray shirt.

“My shirt. But why do you have one of my shirts?”

“Unfold it.”

When he unfolded the shirt, he saw the frayed bullet hole in the shoulder.

“It’s the shirt I had on the night Flannigan shot me. But why?”

“It came in with the ranch hand laundry, and I kept it. I guess women in love do strange things.” Kate dropped her head in embarrassment. “I’ve been sleeping with it under my pillow.” Then she looked longingly into his eyes. “But, tonight I will have you.”

“Do you know how much I love you?” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently. Suddenly Ben’s eyes twinkled as he held up the shirt. “I certainly hope you think you are making a good trade.”

Kate swatted his arm. “Now, Ben, you must go so I can get ready. It will be noon before we know it.”

“Yes, and I can’t wait!” He touched a finger to her nose and left the room.

A few minutes past ten, Clara and Carrie rode up to the house. There was a large box tied with string in the back of the carriage. Hoss, Joe, and Jamie came out to help them into the house and take care of their horse.

Clara was all smiles as she greeted Ben Cartwright’s sons. “Morning boys. What a wonderful day it is. So exciting!”

Hoss looked relieved to see them. “So glad you’re here Miz Clara, You too Carrie. Now Kate can relax. She’s been calling downstairs every little bit ta find out iffin you were here yet.”

Joe carried the box and showed them into the house. “Just follow me upstairs. I’ll take you to her room.”

“Thanks, Joe.” Clara paused to give some instructions. “Carrie you wait down here and visit with the boys; they may need some help with things.”

Once upstairs, Clara knocked on Kate’s door.

Kate was very excited when she opened the door. “Oh Clara, I’m so glad to see you.” She noted the large box Clara was carrying. “I can’t wait to see the dress.”

When Clara lifted the dress from the box, Kate’s hand went to cover her open mouth. “Oh, Clara, it’s so beautiful. I just can’t believe it. How did you ever manage. Thank you, so much.”

“It was my pleasure, Katherine.”

Kate’s gown was made of ivory silk with a delicate yellow and green floral pattern scattered throughout. It had a modestly scooped neckline, short puffed sleeves trimmed with gold lace, a gathered full skirt, which was also trimmed with lace, that fell from a tightly fitted bodice that came to a “v” in the front and back.

Kate took the dress from Clara and held it in front of her and gazed admiringly into the mirror.

Clara gave her a satisfied nod. “Ben is going to need some rope for his jaw.”

Kate giggled. “Oh, Clara.”

Clara helped Kate with her corset and petticoats, and then into the gown. After fastening all the hooks and eyes, Clara placed a veil of ivory lace trimmed in the matching gold lace on Kate’s auburn tresses.

The image in the mirror greatly pleased the bride. “Clara, it’s absolutely perfect.” She touched the emerald pendant.

Clara noted the necklace. “And that’s just the finishing touch.”

“Isn’t it wonderful? It was a gift from Ben.”

Standing behind her, Clara placed her large hands on Kate’s arms. “I’d say he’s got good taste all the way around. You look lovely.”

With Kate dressed and ready, Clara went downstairs. In the mean time, Roy Coffee and Reverend Thomas had arrived. Ben was looking quite handsome in his long, gray wool suit jacket, dress pants, and silver brocade vest, as he greeted them warmly with a firm handshake. Joe kept a sharp eye on the clock because Hoss had turned the responsibility of escorting Kate down the stairs over to him. At two minutes till twelve, Joe got the nod from his father that it was time.

Joe went upstairs and knocked on Kate’s door. “All set, Kate?”

When she opened the door, Joe was struck by what he saw. “Wow, Kate, you look beautiful. I can’t wait to see Pa’s face.”

Joe went back to the head of the stairs to let everyone know that Kate was ready. Reverend Thomas motioned for Ben, Hoss, and Jamie to take their places, and Roy, Clara, and Carrie stood. Then Joe extended his hand to Kate and she moved to the stairs. Kate was a vision of loveliness in her stunning ivory gown. She wore her hair pulled up in a French twist and carried a bouquet of large yellow lilies wrapped with green satin ribbon. Ben looked at her in wonder. Kate was a beautiful woman, but today she was beyond anything he could have ever imagined. A wide grin came onto Joe’s face when he saw the look on his father’s face.

The Reverend nodded to the fiddler who began to play. Slowly and carefully, Joe brought Kate down the stairs. Her eyes were shining when she reached the main floor. Joe lead her forward and placed her hand in Ben’s, and then took his place between Hoss and Jamie.

Reverend Thomas began the ceremony. “Dearly Beloved; We are gathered here, in the presence of God and of this company, that Benjamin Cartwright and Katherine McElroy may be united in holy matrimony. Marriage is a holy and honorable state ordained by God…”

“Benjamin, do you take Katherine to be your wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love her, to honor and cherish her, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to be to her in all things a good and faithful husband as long as you both shall live?”

“I do.”

“Katherine, do you take Benjamin to be your wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love him, to honor and cherish him, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to be to him in all things a good and faithful wife as long as you both shall live?”

“I do.”

“Benjamin, what symbol of your love do you offer?”

Ben took the ring from Hoss’ hand. “This ring.”

“Then repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed…”

Ben placed the ring on Kate’s finger and looked intently into her eyes. “With this ring, I thee wed…”

“in token and pledge…”

“in token and pledge…”

“of my constant faith and abiding love.”

“of my constant faith and abiding love.”

Following a prayer of blessing for Ben and Kate Reverend Thomas made the joyous pronouncement. “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Ben you may now kiss your bride.”

Ben pulled Kate to him and her hands slipped up around his neck. Their lips met tenderly, sealing their love and commitment. Ben held the kiss a little longer than he should have by the embarrassed smiles of those looking on. He was thinking only of how much he loved Kate.

“And now I am very pleased to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Cartwright.”

Everyone clapped and cheered and congratulated the happy couple with lots of handshakes, hugs, and kisses.

The wedding dinner was a magnificent feast. Hop Sing, with the help of his cousins, had outdone himself. A large, elaborately decorated cake on the side table bore the inscription “Congratulations Ben and Kate and Happy Birthday, Ben”

Gradually the guests took their leave; first Roy Coffee, then Reverend Thomas, and finally Clara and Carrie. The boys retrieved their saddle bags from upstairs. Each one kissed Kate’s cheek, and Hoss and Joe shook their father’s hand with knowing smiles. Jamie just offered Ben a quick “see you tomorrow, Pa.” Hop Sing grabbed a few more items from the table and disappeared into the kitchen. He would be on his way to his cousin’s in minutes.

Kate and Ben stepped out onto the porch, hand in hand, to watch the boys leave and give them a final wave. Then Ben and Kate went back into the house and walked up the stairs together to their bedroom. Ben opened the door and turned to face Kate. Taking her hands in his, he brought them up to his lips, and with eyes full of love, he whispered to her. “I have had a glorious birthday and you, Kate, are by far the most wonderful birthday present I have ever received.” Ben’s expression suddenly turned mischievous, his voice was husky with passion. “And now, my love, I would like to unwrap my gift.”

Kate’s eyes were sparkling with anticipation as Ben closed the door behind them.


One month later the Ponderosa was crowded with happy guests for Ben and Kate’s wedding celebration. There was music, dancing, and bountiful food and drink. Dressed in their wedding day finery, the happy couple were standing on the porch taking a brief respite from the festivities. Ben had one arm around Kate and in the crook of his other arm sat two year old Elizabeth Cartwright. Kate had four year old Benjamin Cartwright by the hand. Ben reached around Kate and ruffled Benji’s dark curls and then gave the bright-eyed, little Elizabeth a kiss on the cheek. He pulled Kate in more closely and kissed her temple. As they stood watching Adam twirl his wife, Cecille, in and out of the other dancers, Ben’s heart was overflowing with unspeakable joy.


Next Story in the Ben Brown Series:

More Than Enough Love
More Than Enough Love – Part 2
Ladies Day Out


Other Stories by this Author


Author: Hart4Ben

6 thoughts on “Ben Brown (by Hart4Ben)

  1. Good for Ben! ? This was a very nice WHI for Saddle Stiff … can see it happening. I liked the character of Kate — you did a nice job with her, and she seems like a good match for Ben.

    Enjoyed, thx for writing!

  2. Before I started reading your series, I watched the actual episode immediately first so the details would be fresh in my mind and let me say that I loved the way you play with the characters and plot so seamlessly!! What a charming alternate story, I can’t wait to read the rest of the ”Ben Brown” series!!!

    I dearly love Ben and this is the first series I have found that is based solely on him! To me he holds a reserved place above the rest of the family and is not subject to favorites as the Cartwright sons are most often(myself as well being guilty as a hopeless AdamGal!!)—after all, he is in each of them and they all are in him so how could you not completely love the patriarch of the Ponderosa?!! Thanks, it will be an awesome read!!!

  3. Your take on Saddle Stiff was a wonderful read. I found the what if “Ben Brown” signed on with the widow” intriguing, and being another Ben gal myself, I love it when Ben wins the lady. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.